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Detective Pikachu and its Cyberpunk overtones

Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Ever since I laid eyes on the release date poster for this movie, I was struck by how Cyberpunk the aesthetic felt. Perhaps it was just the marketing? Of course, it makes sense that it would fit the stereotypical neon-lit vibe of Cyberpunk. It’s a detective movie and the videogames were all set in downtown Tokyo-like cities, after all. But after seeing the film this week, I’m happy to say that while not entirely cyberpunk, Ryme city definitely matches the theme perfectly. What’s more, there were a lot more cyberpunk tones to this film than I was expecting.

From re-watching the second trailer, and then after seeing the movie in theaters, I knew that I loved this film. But I’ve been trying to figure out WHY this film works so well. Because it’s hard to pinpoint, and by first glance, this film shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s a film about Pokemon, that takes itself seriously, and is based on a video game. Video game films have historically been major failures (such as the Mario Bros or Mortal Combat adaptations) and although there have been some successful films ABOUT video games (such as Ready Player One or Jumanji 2), ones BASED on video games have still floundered.

So why is it that Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is rated by some as the most successful video game adaptation film to date in history?

Well, as best as I can tell, this has several factors.

The first is that while it is technically a Pokemon film, the movie is really more of a comedic action-mystery film, set in the Pokemon world. Although I usually hate films that explain themselves at the beginning of the film, this one just touches on its world-building to explain Ryme city in a brief 30-seconds before getting on with the story, in a way that doesn’t ruin the film at all. It also starts with a scene that sets into motion the mystery of the film, the driving question, and then continues by setting up one of the main characters–Tim Goodman, played masterfully by Justice Smith. And this is one of the main reasons why the film works so well. Ryme city is a city where Pokemon and humans live side-by-side in co-existence, and as such it feels more like a Star Wars planet of unfamiliar inhabitants that are minding their own business doing everyday tasks. Pidgeys fly in the sky in flocks like Pigeons would, and Snubbulls accompany their partner humans much like a dog would accompany its master. There are Machamps using their multiple arms to direct traffic and rattatas scurrying along the streets and sidewalks. There are squirtles working with firefighters to put out fires. During the day Ryme city is filled with energy and color, while at night the neon lights and steam from the sewers give it a darker tone, although it never feels like an unsafe city like Gotham. Rather, it felt very reminiscent of how New York City is today, complete with its plethora of lively characters going where they need to go and construction always in progress.

As soon as we get introduced to Goodman, a loner who makes it clear that he doesn’t mind being alone (no, really! It’s fine!) something happens to him that sets the entire plot into motion: he gets a letter saying his father, whom he hasn’t seen in quite some time, has passed away. It’s now up to him to collect his affairs and take care of the apartment his father left behind. Simple enough, right?

But at the apartment, he would then meet an amnesiac Pikachu who can mysteriously speak to him, and him alone.

Because, see, in this world, Pokemon can speak to each other but to humans it sounds like they’re only saying their own name, or parts of their name. This matches how language works between humans and Pokemon in the video games, so a Pokemon speaking fluent English is understandably something unusual and quite valuable–something that only Meowth and Mewtwo were able to pull off in the animated series.

And this is the second reason why this movie works so well. A lot of the film hinges on the hilarious and relentless banter between the pokemon-with-a-mouth Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) and Tim. And what they’re talking about is relatable and makes sense given the world they inhabit. Any other Pokemon they run into offer only very brief dialogue, which means that the silliness of talking to an adorable-looking Pokemon who keeps on repeating its own name is kept to a minimum. In fact, the longest they do try to talk to a Pokemon is with a Mr. Mime, who hilariously mimes the entire time and the duo end up playing along.

When we see a human peer into Pikachu’s eyes and he says “Pika-pika”, we are instantly reminded that this is for kids. So the fact that that doesn’t happen in most of the movie means that we can take it more seriously, and delve further into the mystery and action part of it all. Why doesn’t Pikachu remember anything? Why is it that Tim can understand Pikachu, and vice versa? And is Tim’s father truly dead, or simply missing, as Pikachu believes? And why?

The audience is kept guessing, and the answers, for me at least, weren’t apparent at all. There’s a couple big reveals in the end, which in retrospect I guess I could have predicted but I was too busy having so much fun taking in the world and enjoying the film to have predicted it anyways. And that’s another reason why this films works.

The pacing in this film is perfect. It keeps the action going, and adds a great balance of seriousness to humor and lightheartedness. There were times when I remembered this was a PG-13 Pokemon film, but other times when I felt like it was just a very creative action thriller, like Avatar.

If I could have one complaint, I would say that the other characters of this film are too simplistic. Tim ends up partnering with Lucy Stevens, played by Kathryn Newton, who at first seems a bit irritating in her idealistic zeal for rising up the ranks from unpaid intern to high-profile investigative journalist and reporter. Although she grew on me as the story continued, her motivations stay the same, without any backstory provided whatsoever. The villain(s) are also equally simplistic.

Ultimately, however, that didn’t ruin the story for me, as the creative team of this film clearly had a fun time taking the premise of the Pokemon world and seeing where they could run with it. There were some pretty epic scenes that I wasn’t expecting as well, which made me glad I caught the film before it left the theaters.

Without giving away any spoilers, I can say that there is more Cyberpunk to this film than simply being set in a neon-soaked Tokyo-inspired Ryme city. The city itself was designed by a visionary billionaire as a Utopia to allow Pokemon and humans to co-exist without any Pokemon battles, unlike the rest of the world. As such, it seems more advanced, with media billboards and skyscrapers filling the skyline.

There are also several scenes with futuristic tech, such as holograms, although admittedly the “high-tech” is not a dominant theme in the film.

There are also scenes of bio-modifications and gene tampering, which will come as no surprise if you are at all familiar with the origins of MewTwo.

So let’s recap. Neon-drenched Tokyo-inspired city filled with endless capitalistic billboards and advertising, and no robots or cyborgs but Pokemon coexisting with humans. Utopian city that may not be what it seems, created by visionary billionaire, with gene-tampering and some high-tech elements. Also, gumshoe mystery-solving detectives. There’s even a scene with an illegal underground cage match!

Sounds Cyberpunk to me.

I would give this film a 9/10, with 1 point off because it could use deeper supporting characters. Go see this movie! It’s a great escape and a lot of fun. Ryan Reynolds is brilliant, the pacing and creative direction is great, and it’s an all-around delight.

Love, Death & Robots: Review

Love Death & Robots: il trailer della serie Netflix creata ...

A Series of Animated Shorts

The latest Cyberpunk series, Love, Death & Robots, is finally out! Or rather, the latest sci-fi/fantasy animated short anthology is out.

Love, Death & Robots is a wonderful combination of short films loosely connected around the theme of the title, combining visually stunning stories from some deep concepts to ridiculous tales of sentient yoghurt.

No, I’m not kidding. It’s episode 6 and is called “When the Yoghurt Took Over”.

With 18 episodes in total running between 6 minutes and 17 minutes each, there are only five stories that could truly be considered “Cyberpunk”, with a few others similar in style and the rest simply unrelated. I’ll be covering these

1. Sonnie’s Edge: An Instant Cyberpunk Classic

A well-delivered tale in an interesting world, Sonnie’s Edge reminded me of Pacific Rim meets Altered Carbon a la death-cage-match. Visually stunning, this first episode set the bar too high for me, resulting in my disappointment that (practically) no other episode could compete in quality and themes touched upon. It has the Cyberpunk visuals, the Punk vibe, Cybernetics and Sexuality to make it excellent. I’ve purposely decided not to share the premise, since it does a great job world-building and part of the fun is finding out how the world works.

2. Suits

The second Cyberpunk-like tale is Suits, and tells the tale of a community of farmers from the southern US that need to protect their turf against alien creatures that threaten to invade their land and destroy their crops. It’s basically what would happen if the deep south had to contend with alien wolves attacking their farms, but instead of guns, they were equipped with lasers, mech suits and overpowered artillery. A lot of fun, and a heart-warming tale of killing and community.

3. Aquilus Rift

The next Cyberpunk tale, Beyond the Aquilus Rift, is more Pseudo-cyberpunk and feels more like a tale of “Aliens” if you added a layer of fractured reality. It involves a ship’s crew who begin a routine deep-freeze to travel a long distance through space, only to end up widely off-course upon their awakening. This episode felt more like a Black-Mirror type animated short, with a tale that starts off well enough but slowly gets worse and worse as the episode continues. Great story-telling and visual effects again, but personally not my cup of tea.

4. Zima Blue

Zima Blue was my favorite episode of the entire first season of Love, Death & Robots. Its premise is simple: a reporter is invited to interview a famous artist who is about to reveal his latest piece of work. Although a lot more animated cartoon than digital CGI (it felt reminiscent of Samurai Jack in terms of sharp ages and defined exaggerated features full of vibrant colors and beautiful shapes), the short tale comes full circle in a way that surprised me in the end, and although devoid of action or any fast pacing, replaces it again with a tranquil simplicity in the metaphor it tells of life. Definitely the most profound episode for me, which is perhaps why it’s the one that left the most lasting impact.

5. Blind Spot

Finally, Blind Spot is the second perfect example of Cyberpunk, featuring a high-octane heist of punks trying to steal a valuable microchip from a convoy protected by robots. Another great set of visuals with a fun twist at the end, the artistic style of this episode reminded me more of Cartoon Network’s cartoons, and perhaps something that might show up on Toonami. No CGI digital effects here but also very stylistically different from Zima Blue. It’s a fun fast-paced tale with the right amounts of action and punk attitude.

Final Verdicts:

Overall Love, Death & Robots is a great series highly worth a couple of hours to watch. I would give Sonnie’s Edge 9/10, Suits 7/10, Beyond the Aquilus Rift 6.5/10 simply because I don’t like those kinds of stories as much, Zima Blue 9/10, and Blind Spot 8.5/10.

You can watch Love, Death & Robots streaming on Netflix.

 

The Dawn of delivery drone 6-wheelers?

Is 2019 the year delivery drones will finally take off? Or at least, roll out (pun intended)?

After we saw Amazon’s flying drones capable of delivering parcels in the air, we now have a glimpse of what that might look like on land: cute autonomous 6-wheeler robots delivering food and possibly other small parcels to specified location. The idea was first started by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis back in 2014, when they founded the robotics firm called Starship Technologies (I know, we love the name too). In the UK you can already find these fun autonomous bots wheeling around Milton Keynes, fulfilling grocery deliveries. Just this week, Starship just announced a partnership with George Mason University to allow their robots to deliver food anywhere on campus as well.

And it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Not only do the robots look cool and futuristic, but it’s also very practical for those who are stuck in the library or on campus without much time to spare, or simply for those students who have the munchies and don’t want to venture far from their dorm room. In the age of Uber, why not have an app for food delivery to your door as well? Not to mention it’s 100% eco-friendly.

Not to be outdone, Amazon has created its own 6-wheeler system as well, called “scout”. Able to accommodate small and medium-sized parcels, scout would only work with Amazon Prime accounts, of course, and is currently still being tested at Washington State University. However, sources indicate it looks considerably less cute, and is surprisingly quite late to the party, all things considered.

Revolution in Progress as National Assembly Leader Proclaims Himself President

venezuela protests

This is truly a revolution of the people happening in real time.

Due to the hyperinflation, rampant homicides and countless food and medical shortages wracking the country, the 35-year-old head of the national assembly declared himself de-facto president on Wednesday, claiming the current president illegitimate due to the questionable nature of his electoral win last year. Guaido is trying to create a transitional government to help reshape Venezuela’s government, in the process painting himself a target as he attempts to save Venezuela from itself and Maduro.

Surprisingly, Donald Trump was the first to recognize the new leader, along with Mike Pence. Many other countries then followed suit, such as Brazil, Chile, Peru, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Western Europe. As a response, Maduro decided to cut ties with the US, giving US diplomats 72 hours to get out of Venezuela. However, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo refuted the statement, claiming Maduro doesn’t have the authority to break diplomatic relations. Mexico and Bolivia, however, still support Maduro, along with Russia, China, and Cuba. Some are denouncing the interference from the US and other countries in Venezuela’s affairs.

Many are worried about a potential disaster if the military support Maduro instead of Guaido, such as civil war. Internet watchdogs have also noticed that Maduro seems to be limiting social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, in order to try to contain the rampant protests against his government.

Why are thousands and millions of people taking to the streets to protest Maduro’s government, you ask? Simply because after Maduro took power, Venezuela has become a country with rampant hyperinflation. Shortages for everything from food and medical supplies to basic necessities like toilet paper and diapers have crippled the entire country, along with the highest homicide rate in Latin America due to all the corruption. The ‘Maduro diet’ has led to hundreds of thousands starving, with some resorting to killing animals in zoos in order to eat, and many avoiding hospitals because the facilities are more disease-prone than simply staying at home.

As a result, three million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014 in a mass exodus.

This story is developing and is surely a turning point for the country, as leaders around the world are deciding which side to support. We have yet to see how this will affect the world stage, with countries taking different sides in the economic and humanitarian crisis.

Cyberpunk 2077: Gameplay review

Alright, fine. Since 45 minutes of Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay has been released, I guess I have to join the bandwagon and give some of my thoughts. I mean, considering how fast Neon Dystopia wrote their review of the gameplay despite their usually very slow write-ups of current Cyberpunk news (they take time to write their content because of the high quality and extensive write-ups, an understandable limitation), I can understand how this is breaking news and indeed very exciting.

I should preface this review, however, by stating that I am very cautious to write about Cyberpunk 2077. The reason for this is that the hype over this game is, honestly, quite exhausting. It seems in the cyberpunk community that every day there’s a new story with gossip about news-that-isn’t-news, from the night/day cycle, featured car that can be driven, characters and their costumes, lighting, if you can imagine an element about the game there’s probably been some write-up about it hyped up in the lack of concrete news about the game. This is why I’ve been hesitant to comment about the game. Hell, if you google “Cyberpunk” and click the news section, all you’ll find will be news about this videogame. I shouldn’t have to tell you, dear reader, that Cyberpunk is a lot more than just one upcoming videogame. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog, so people can know about synthwave music, Neon music and video festivals, and upcoming movies and news. You know, things other than just Cyberpunk 2077.

It’s my suspicion that Cyberpunk is currently experiencing a revival, facilitated in part by Altered Carbon and the sci-fi push in Netflix, as well as a series of recent box office hits these past couple of years with movies such as Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, and this year’s Ready Player One movie adaptation with none other than the great Stephen Spielberg.

If you ask a common person what cyberpunk is, however, I bet they won’t know exactly what it is. That will soon change once this game finally comes out, because it’s in the name of the game itself.

What comes after that is anyone’s guess.

Anyways, on to the review of the gameplay footage.

I think whether or not you’re excited by this game depends a lot on the type of gamer you are. Do you like sinking hours upon hours into a videogame, or do you like having a simple storyline to start and finish because you have a job and responsibilities? Do you prefer stealth games, fighting games, racing games, or first person shooters?

Well, regardless of what you like, it sure seems like Cyberpunk 2077 will have a bit for everyone.

It seems like it has equal parts Grand Theft Auto, Deus Ex, Fallout, and Mass Effect. You can get into cars and drive around, and complete missions, but there are main missions and side missions, and all your choices matter. There is no right or wrong, only grey areas. The game is visually similar to Deus Ex or Mass Effect, with the ability to go a bit into stealth, but an interesting choice is to have the game be exclusively in first person (except for the car racing parts). I personally love this choice, and the fighting gameplay style looks so smooth and fluid that I could mistake it for a cyberpunk-y version of Halo mixed with Gears of War in its cover system (plus it has bullettime!). I’ve always felt that first person games will always make the game more immersive, which is why I played almost all of Skyrim and Fallout in first person when I had the choice.

The dialogue in this game at first glance looks extensive, which is great. The voice acting also looks like it’ll be pretty good. I’m of the impression that too many choices and paths can be overwhelming–I’d rather only have a few options and I usually stick to the main stories before I play through the game again completing more side quests. So I’m concerned the amount of side missions in this game might be too much.

I must say, though, the visuals in this game look absolutely gorgeous. If you’ve read my review for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you’ll note how much of a missed opportunity I felt it had by making literally everything everywhere orange and yellow (something they remedied in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided). Not so with this game, it seems. I’ve seen in some cyberpunk boards that people wanted night all the time, with even more neon and less bright-harsh-natural sunlight, but I’m perfectly happy with the natural sunlight. There will be plenty of places to go inside that will hide the sunlight, and I think living in a constantly dark world would seem a bit unrealistic anyways.

What are your thoughts on the gameplay reveal? Are you excited for this game as well? Let me know below.

48 minute gameplay video can be found here.