Nan desu ka in Japanese means, “what is it?” which is a very appropriate name for an anime convention. Anime conventions harbor some of the most ambitious cosplay, attracts the most interesting people, and is a place where passion comes out to play. From standing in line for panels, to making jokes in the back row of the viewing rooms where anime plays 24/7, there are plenty of social opportunities at conventions and events like Nan Desu Kan.
Like most anime conventions, Nan Desu Kan will have a cornucopia of activities to see and do. Every corner of the nerd world is on display at Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, the home for Nan Desu Kan. With a myriad of activities and guest to keep you entertained, I would be surprised to find someone nose deep in their phone – unless you’re playing Pokemon Go.
This year, Nan Desu Kan is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is taking place on September 2-4th, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nan Desu Kan staff and coordinators have a petty good lineup of guests that will be appearing here. Chris Bevans, (voice actor for hits like Sengoku Basara, .hack//Quantum, Samurai 7). Also there will be Johnny Yong Bosch (played the Black Ranger on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as well as a voice actor for Kaneda in Akira, Renton in Eureka Seven, Albert in The Count of Monte Cristo, and Kiba in Wolf’s Rain). As well as Richard Epcar (voice of Batou in Ghost in the Shell) among many other voice actors and industry types.
Are you an AV type? Well they have an anime music video contest. I used to watch those things nonstop in the days of LimeWire and Kaza peer to peer sharing applications. You fancy yourself an artistic type? Well enter in some work into a contest, auction off some of your work or just come in and gaze! You want to know more about specific things in the industry? Well, check out the assortment of culture and industry panels. You will also have game rooms for designer board games and video games. Along with, workshops, and the before mentioned anime viewing rooms. Musical guests and dance parties are present if you’d like to get your groove on. Finally, there are the dealers rooms where you will learn to hate your wallet and all of its contents within.
With over 7,500 attendees last year, Nan Desu Kan will be a much smaller con than I am used to. I originate from Dallas, Texas where we have Project A-Kon. In 2016 its attendance was over 32,000 super fans. A smaller event than what I am used to actually has me very excited. While A-Kon is mega fun, it is too crowded, and becomes a beacon for unsavory types alongside the nerd crews I seem to get along with more.
If visiting with voice actors isn’t your bag and you have the incurable need to dance, don’t forget to attend the multiple concerts that will be occurring. Eyeshine, an American edge rock band from West Hills, will be the musical talent for a show as well will be there running a panel. DJ Bullock will be handling the Saturday night rave, and Onemadcow will be setting the tunes for the J-Pop dance party on Friday night.
I recently moved to Denver, Colorado, a beacon of outdoors activity. Being a huge fan of all things nerd culture, it’s easy to become worried about how the scene is here. I have lived a lifetime indoors digesting media and evading the sun. Living with no regrets, I still knew wanted a bit more. Combining some old passions with the new in a nice juggling act I like to call, “My Life.” So how does one jump into the nerd scene here in Denver? I could try awkwardly meeting people out in the wild like some insane person. Maybe instead I could seek a location where I know my kin will be located. So I decide on Nan Desu Kan, the Rocky Mountain region’s largest anime convention.
I have a peculiar relationship with Japanese animation. Loving anime was easy growing up as a kid in the 90s and early 2000s. However, slowly I fell off the boat as the newer stuff did not resonate with me. Reminiscing about anime has me realizing that I grew up in the golden age of Japanese animation. That late 80s to early 2000s was just a special time for the medium. Anime was different back then, and to me it was just better. All of that aside, I still very much enjoy the culture. Going to conventions like Nan Desu Kan allows me to live and breathe for 3 solid days with other like-minded individuals as we geek out about all things Japan. After all, anime conventions are hardly ever just about the anime, it’s about nerd culture in general.
With my time at Nan Desu Kan you can expect tons of pictures of cosplay. Also some quick reviews of anime I pop in and watch in the viewing areas. You can also expect some coverage over useless purchases made. Expect a couple more articles chronicling my experience at the con.
Nan Desu Kan takes place on September 2nd to the 4th at the Sheraton Denver Downtown. You can get all the information at the official website, and there is still time to pre-register for the event as well! Sub Cultured will be on hand to cover every aspect of the convention in real time on Twitter and Facebook, but you can also visit right back here at Sub-Cultured to read up on my review surrounded by a culture and people I just love. More to come on Nan Desu Kan!
It is not often that I am stricken with an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I love new things, new content, and new ideas; so while nostalgia does not elude me completely, it is hardly ever the feeling I am aiming for when digesting media. When something like Stranger Things comes out, it not only reminds me that the reminiscing on the past is great, but it is also a gateway into why we love the things we love.
Stranger Things is the orgy love child of old movies like ET, Goonies, and Monster Squad, with genetic hints of great directors like Spielberg and John Carpenter. While Stranger Things dances on the line of homage and Netflix original, it does so with extreme grace. And though it is going to be difficult to navigate around spoilers, as the premise of the show revolves around one giant mystery, I will not spoil this increasingly interesting series. The less you know about Stranger Things going in, the better for this fresh take on the thriller genre. If you were an 80s kid, strap on your denim jacket, your mop top, and your Duran Duran T-Shirt and prepare to get weird because as the title suggests, Stranger Things is a delightfully bizarre experience.
The show is elevated by an amazing cast of both familiar faces and new young performances. Winona Ryder and David Harbour carry the torch for the adult arcs while newcomers Finn Wolfhard (as Mike Wheeler), Millie Bobby Brown (as Eleven), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair) all carry the very intriguing kid’s arc. Though the adult and child arcs are different in terms of characters on screen, everyone is working towards the same solution – finding the answers to the overarching mystery.
While the adults do great with their conflict, the real heart of the show comes from the child actors who feel handpicked by Spielberg himself. Finn Wolfhand really takes the role as the star of the show and plays well off of Millie, who is sure to have oodles of work here in the future. This dynamic duo has a bright career ahead of them as working actors.
Though shorter than most series at only eight episodes long, the viewer gets a satisfying ending – despite the elements of cliffhangers and eventual continuations. The creators of this show, the Duffer Brothers, have the elements of being the next Russo Brothers (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Civil War), and I have a feeling we will be hearing plenty more from this team.
I can’t help but have a rant about how this show tugs on the strings of nostalgia throughout its entire run time. The first episode opens up with the kids playing a session of Dungeons & Dragons and manages to recapture what it was for me to be a kid at that time. Drinking soda, riffing each other, and calling each other names while trying to figure out exactly what the Dungeon Master wants us to do. That opening scene has a flood of childhood memories flow into me that have a very homey feeling, just like movies like Super 8 did that tackle a similar story/era.
The music is fully synthed and harkens back to classic 80s horror and slasher flicks, and the way the sounds hits the ears is pleasing in every sense of the word. Hats completely off to “Survive,” a band from Austin Texas, who did the opening theme for this show, which is perfect in setting up the tone. The style of music chosen coupled with the aesthetic of the sets brings to life a lived in 1980’s style world that feels as real now as it did back then. The billboards, the store fronts, the wall posters, the clothing, and the lingo all work in tandem together to bring this era back to us in ways that will have our childhood racing to the forefront of our frontal lobes.
Background aspects can only add more realness to the story, and this is where Stranger Things really shines. In terms of plot, the mystery is solid, and has you guessing from start to finish. By the show’s finale, the viewer ends up in completely new spaces where the laws of our universe no longer apply to the ones previously created in this show. The journey is as amazing as the destination itself.
Stranger Things is a hard recommend for the consumers who love weird and outlandish mysteries. This Netflix Original is the embodiment of the 80s, and a reminder that this generation was the thriller genre’s golden era. Netflix has been on a roll over the last two years and Stranger Things continues that trend. We don’t get shows this special as often as I would like, so it’s an obligation to check them out whenever they manifest themselves into our dimension of consumerism.
Over the past week I’ve been hitting Star Trek Online pretty hard. Ever since the developers announced that they were creating regular content that resembled and was based on episodic Trek content and blessed by CBS, I’ve been a fan. It makes the stories created by Cryptic not exactly canon, but close enough for the inclined fan. Agents of Yesterday launched on July 6th, and is the latest batch of Trek added to Star Trek Online, based loosely on the Original Series. In the end, it ends up being an interesting romp through original Trek, the new Kelvin Timeline Trek, and all Trek in-between. Okay, maybe not the animated series, but, really, the animated series? C’mon.
A little, maybe obvious, warning: Some Mild Spoilers Ahead. Overall, although Star Trek Online is officially calling their new content an “expansion”, I’m not completely sure it lives up to that description. Agents of Yesterday overall added 10 new missions, a handful of new queues (multi-player “dungeons”), and a new early 23rd century “faction”, which is really just the Federation faction with a few added UI elements, some extra loot, some flavor text, and a new introduction. Half of the new missions can only be performed by starting a new character from this faction. So, as far as an overall content drop, it really doesn’t hold a candle to the other expansions Star Trek Online has offered over the years. Legacy of Romulus added a new zone, faction, and new missions for every faction. Delta Rising added a whole new space map, zone, and level cap for everybody. Agents of Yesterday an expansion? Not so much.
That’s not to say the missions themselves weren’t really enjoyable, though. The attention to detail given to the level of cheese the Original Series had is top notch. In all of the missions taking place in the 23rd century, a soft filter was added to the background of every mission to replicate that old TV rabbit-ear style. It was so effective that I saw some complaining that they thought something was wrong with their video cards.
Time Travel? Again?
However, if anyone was expecting the expansion to be completely about the Original Series, as the name sort-of suggests, well, sorry. It only takes about 3 missions in before they start with the *real* meat of the expansion: time travel. Yeah, time travel is one of the oldest and misued tropes in fiction. Star Trek has used it time and time again, and the quality has stretched from the odd Mark Twain shenanigans during Next Generation to the excellent Trials and Tribble-ations of Deep Space Nine. Mostly one or two-off episode arcs.
The time travel used in Agents of Yesterday, though, focuses mostly on one of the most obscure and confusing time travel arcs in all of Star Trek, Enterprise‘s Temporal Cold War. A storyline not for the casual Trekkie, which makes it an odd combination, especially when one is expecting the schmooze of original Trek and the everyman of Kirk. It does conclude one of Star Trek Online‘s more obscure story arcs as well, Future Proof, which, sadly, didn’t quite have the same story punch as the recent Iconian War or Delta Rising.
The Kelvin Timeline Strikes Back
And finally, somewhere in there, they also include a relatively shoe-horned feeling mission in the Kelvin Timeline! The Kelvin Timeline, by the way, is now the official name that has recently been given to the universe shown in the series of movies created by J.J. Abrams and others, named for the fated ship, the USS Kelvin. The Kelvin was destroyed at the point of universe fracture, when the Romulan mining vessel, the Narada, entered the split-universe via black hole and attacked. The legitimacy of the universe within the Trek community has been rather contentious since the 2009 Star Trek movie released, but mostly the contention has been coming from the Trek purists who aren’t as big a fan of lens flare as Abrams thought they were.
That, and although the timelines are completely different, they destroyed Romulus! To say the Prime universe’s canon wasn’t hugely affected would be overlooking a major race’s entire home world. Plus, there’s already the Mirror Universe, which is very canon. Like it or not, the different timelines are inexorably intertwined. It’s been officially named, it’s been legitimized, and it’s here for good. If the new upcoming CBS Star Trek series doesn’t acknowledge Romulus’s destruction in the first few episodes, I’ll be shocked (but technically, citizens of the Prime universe shouldn’t know the *name*, like they do the Mirror Universe, as the Prime’s USS Kelvin wouldn’t have been a part of the incident… but that’s a minor detail).
The mission feels shoe-horned, though, because it’s a one-off mission that doesn’t even really give a good reason as to how your ship even gets to the Kelvin timeline or a big reason why, aside from the timey-whimey shenanigans of Trek’s local Time Lord, Daniels. I don’t blame the developers at all for trying to capitalize on the new movies, though. In fact I enjoy it when, say, Marvel Heroes brings in any of the fun stuff from the plethera of Marvel movies and comics out there. A bit of “trans-media synergy” adds that extra layer for fans, which isn’t bad. However, although it’s just one mission that was added, they also dropped a special themed Kelvin Lockbox to go along with it. It contains on its loot table a bevy of costumes, weapons, and abilities or even ships for the very lucky or wallet-heavy (0.33% chance of acquiring the movie Enterprise or any ship, last I checked. 0.33%, don’t overlook that decimal). The trade of one mission for one lockbox, when they could’ve really opened up a whole arc of Kelvin Timeline stories, seems a little underwhelming. Now that they’ve opened the can of worms, hopefully they add to it more in the future.
Right, But How Was It?
Overall, though, I’ve liked the expansion. Those first few missions in the Original Series timeline, though a little awkward in their use of sound bites, are really quite fun. The use of voice actors related to the series like Walter Koenig, the late Leonard Nemoy, Christopher Doohan, and Joseph Gatt is also not to be overlooked if you’re a fan. It may not have as much bulk or heft as previous expansions, or really offer anything truly game-changing, though, but it is still entertaining. Enough to convince me to start up a new character and replay all of Star Trek Online‘s already fantastic story, but with the bonus of figuring out what those pesky Na’Khul are up to.
So, if you’re a new player looking to get into Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday at least offers a new path to do so, one that tugs oh-so-affectionately at the nostalgia strings. And if you’re a current player, I highly suggest making a new 23rd century character, at least to try out the TOS missions.
Smaller experiences, or “indies” as they are called, are the heart of the video game industry right now. Over the years we have been blessed by the gamer gods with experiences such as Journey, Brother: A Tale of Two Sons, Gone Home, Ori and the Blind Forest, and more recently Firewatch. Now we are bestowed Inside upon us. Inside is an Xbox One console exclusive (also available on Steam), and if you own an Xbox One, you are required to play it…it’s just that simple.
Inside comes from the studio, Playdead, who brought us all Limbo back in 2010. Limbo was known for its ambient storytelling, interesting art style, and clever puzzles. Inside is the obvious step forward for this studio as they take everything they learned from creating Limbo, and implement those lessons and new ideas into what is easily one of the greatest gaming experiences I have played this year…nay…this generation.
Inside starts off very much like Limbo. You are a young boy, in a dark forest, running to the right of the screen as you complete simple but smart environmental puzzles. The ambient story telling that was in Limbo returns here and it works even better this time around. Right off the back I get the conflict, and I understand the story. My goal is to survive in this dystopian world by any means necessary. Strange men in masks chase the young boy, sending dogs after him, and hunt him down using vehicles and flashlights as a sense of tension is created that not only has me caring about my survival, but has me clutching my controller as I make close calls, and quick escapes. “Go, go, go go, go!” seems to be my inner mantra as I run daringly across the levels and make leaps of faith into the unknown, in hopes for a brief respite. The sense of atmosphere is so cleverly pieced together, as the hauntingly beautiful aesthetic works for the bleak story they are trying to convey. Part of that tension building is accompanied by the outstanding soundtrack that again is more ambient than it is present. The game is all about having the story pieces on display, but making you put them together by being observant. The environment tells a better story than most games with spoken word, which this game lacks completely. The implementation of color is also noteworthy. What starts of as muted blacks and whites we are then slowly introduced to more colors as the pallet expands itself out but never to the point of being colorful. The game retains its tones through its implementation of these muted colors and this works majorly to its themes, and tone.
The game controls are simple and smooth. Directional joysticks control you character, and one of the face buttons act as your jump while another acts as your “interaction” or “grab.” At no point did I ever find myself fighting against the control layout or the mechanics themselves. The puzzles are frequent but never overbearing. I am not a puzzle fan at all, and not once did I ever find myself checking my watch for how much time I spent on a section or even worse, getting bored. I found myself using the word, “smart,” over and over again. Smart is the way I felt when I completed a puzzle, and it was what I kept saying out loud when seeing the mechanics and layout of said puzzles. The design of this game is just brilliant, in every sense of the word. The Inside experience had a stranglehold on me, and has me rethinking how I feel about the puzzle/platforming genre in general.
It took me about two hours to complete Inside, and the average seems to be in that range, or around 3 hours for those who take in the sights a bit more or get caught longer on a few of the less hand holding puzzles. It is an experience I highly suggest you play in one sitting, so you get the full immersion of what the story has to offer.
While this game is very much about the journey, it is equal parts about the destination. Thankfully, Inside’s ending delivers in every way. No worries, I refuse to spoil it here because it needs to be experienced, heck I doubt I would do it any justice. What I will say, is that the ending is thought provoking, head scratching, WTF inducing, and very much so open to interpretation. I suspect people will be talking about the end of Inside much like gamers talked about the ending of Journey for years after its release. Even right now, there are thousands of discussions happening between players of Inside who are bouncing theories, ideas, and their own interpretations off one another. If a game can spark so much conversation, then to me that makes it more than the sum of its parts. All the praise and accolades this game has gotten from players and critics alike are warranted. If you own an Xbox One, or are part of that ever so loving PC Master Race, you need to do yourself a favor and drop everything you are doing and purchase Inside. You want to be part of this conversation because this will be a game that inspires many, inside and outside of the industry.
You can count on my having been an all purpose nerd for pretty much my entire life – to the tune of getting the call at age 10 to hook up my friends’ new SNES. And after I made the recommendation of A/V cables over the RF switch to connect it, he pulls out a shiny fresh Street Fighter II cartridge to bless the console with. Thus started the age of fighting games, round robin style – friends in a room where the winner victoriously clenches a controller, while his/her defeated adversary reluctantly passes theirs on. Now, take into account that this was 1991. I didn’t have a fast internet connection let alone a computer. So this was social gaming for us – no XBOX Live Lobby or PSN connections. Trash talk was live, and we were absolutely hype out of our minds.
This continued through college (fast forward 10 years to 2001) where Soul Calibur became my new jam. My next door neighbor and I both became so good at it that we used to play in versus mode using Edge Master vs. Edge Master for added challenge to see who could hit 99 wins first. The only time we ever made it that far we were tied at 98-98, and when tension was at maximum on round 197, we double KO’d each other. We shook hands and decided never to do that again.
Sodas and chips turned to beer and pizza as we got older, but trash talk and admonishing each other for cheap ring-out victories stayed the same. But of course there were times when ridiculous things like classes and homework and labs got in the way. During those times, if you couldn’t get a quorum together, then you played alone. And that was OK! Most of the fighters I played had a built-in arcade or story mode, where you could follow a selected character’s storyline through after beating a final boss and seeing an ending. Characters were actually, well, characters. And you had a favorite, not necessarily because you “owned” with them, but just because you liked them.
And up to a point, if the arcade mode wasn’t enough for you, the Soul series went a step further in SC2 and SC3, by giving you a full scale additional single player campaign, allowing the player to create a character for a full scale RTS-type experience. And it was excellent. I could sit alone when the weather outside was frightful and go knuckles deep into a solo mission.
But then the decay started. Soul Calibur 4 replaced their secondary single player mode with some strange tower game. Then Namco robbed me of my money that I spent on the Soul Calibur 5 Collector’s Edition for what started off as a story mode but fooled me good. There was no story. Characters just came from some sort of abyss with no explanation and no backstory. I dubbed the game “incomplete,” but became clear to me later that this was intentional, and was tuned for online play in PvP.
Street Fighter V did the same thing, by entrancing me with FMV video in their commercials leaving me to guess all the character relationships and who was fighting who else for what purpose. It pointed to some sort of story mode in the game, but as we all saw earlier this year, Capcom opted to not include single player arcade content. This was again, clearly intentionally incomplete. The quicker a PvP version of the game came out the quicker it could be played in video game tournaments. Problem is, that leaves out the con-competitive player in a series of games that traditionally had something for us – especially on CONSOLES, I mean come on. And if they’d advertised as such, I’d be ok with it. But that’s where it seems like it’s going with 2 of the major fighter franchises purposefully omitting single player options when they used to be (at least in the Soul series) extremely rich and deep.
I’m a cranky old man now, and I’ve always enjoyed fighters to play with my friends – or even moreso – play alone. I don’t want to pull a pro-level gamer who does this 10 hours a day to trounce the hell out of me to “lol”s. Screw that. I have a job and other things to do, and it may be old fashioned to say so but I’m only willing to buy a game if I’ll get an hour enjoyment out of each dollar I spend. I’m set in my ways, and when I can’t play a fighting game on a console with people I know then I’d like to have a option to satisfactorily play alone. And that’s what the story/arcade modes have always been. I want my gaming downtime to be enjoyable, not frustrating on the so called Capcom Pro Tour. So if this is the way fighting games are going, well then I may be done with them.
Yoshinori Ono, Street Fighter Producer, did however say earlier this month that he underestimated the popularity of single player features.” Now if something comes from that, I’ll consider strapping on the gi and red headband once more, Ono San.
Everyone is talking about wearable tech, especially smartwatches. Comparisons on the latest and greatest feature, practical designs,and discussions on the right manufacturer provide an array of options for every need. There is even a wearable one with built-in biometric sensors that can help you better understand the patterns in your emotional, behavioral and physical wellbeing.
Recently I was given the gift of a Microsoft Band 2. It has a heart rate monitor, notification center, calorie counter, and even a sleep monitor. While the technology is cool and the idea of having multiple types of information almost at my fingertips was appealing, it seems that this watch and other items like it has other possible benefits on the psyche, anxiety, and emotions that was unexpected and certainly surprised me.
“There is even a wearable with built-in biometric sensors that can help you better understand the patterns in your emotional, behavioral and physical wellbeing.”
Are you the type of person who finds themselves constantly wondering what your friends are up to, what might be happening online at this moment, or wanting to stay on top of the latest news and memes? I’m not. I AM the type of person who has an amount of incoming emails that would bury me in about 3.5 hours should they be made of actual paper, a constant stream of PMs both work and personal, and a work schedule that requires me to be globally available for emergencies. Sadly, both these states are fairly typical of the average working individual. This can make it completely normal to be caught in photos and around the house with your phone 12 inches from your face, create the ability to both walk and read simultaneously, and cause the words “just one minute ,honey” to pass your lips far too frequently.
I’ve become used to this state of mind until the advent of this gift. Suddenly, there was something that could allow me the ability to glance at my wrist and see what needed to be prioritized or ignored on all the social media and email programs simultaneously. I was able to look up from that phone and actually participate in events and activities again without the anxiety and panic of missing something essential that needed an immediate response. The extra benefits of the pedometer made me more aware of the importance of getting up and moving around after sitting too long, and the sleep tracker was interesting and had a built in alarm that is touted as waking you at the optimal point in your sleep pattern.
Can all this technology create a sense of control? Yes, it does and that can be advantageous or set you on a path of extreme micromanagement. Balance here is key. I find it calms my mind and allows me a type of freedom while being informed to have this incoming information that can wither be ignored or replied to. So much so that I recently backed the Pebble 2 Kickstarter in anticipation of wanting another “smarter” watch in the future.
Have you used tech to help center yourself and did you find it had an effect on your anxiety?