Review | 2021.11.27

Back 4 Blood suppressed Beretta graveyard

Rewind 19 months:

ChrisChris Two weeks ago it was uncertain how this covid thing would play out. I don't think much has changed. I get the feeling we'll look back on this as either the biggest overreaction since terrorism or the epic disaster we absolutely could have avoided.

Omicron seems to be taking off worldwide and while we have some idea of what to do with pandemics now, if this variant resists vaccines we could be in pretty bad shape. If the markets are any indicator, people are worried that this will break our already stretched finances/medical staff/supply chains/public calm.

icantfuckinreddit icantfuckinreddit Does the knot go on the side of your neck or the back of it?

So let's escape all that and talk about streaming, books, video games, and fish.
Streaming (also some fish): Cowboy Bebop

The anime

Cowboy Bebop anime Swordfish Earth reentry

I'm always on the lookout for an anime that is, well, not tropey. That is, no mechs, no high schoolers saving Japan, no superweapon final form only used for the final boss battle, etc. Cowboy Bebop was recommended to me long ago, but only recently was it added to a streaming service that I had.

I blasted through the single season and was pretty happy with it. The speculative sci-fi world is charmingly nonsequitur - like a cousin of retrofuturism. There are neat storylines and great nuggets of dialogue that shine through if you can suspend disbelief about various unlikely aspects of the near future. The show hops around the solar system from episode to episode, letting the viewer see unique and interesting worlds. Similarly, it's refreshingly unformulaic.

Cowboy Bebop anime Spike shotgun

I recently read someone praise the protagonist for being a remarkably complex character. I'm not sure I agree, you find out Spike's major (non-)motivator late in the series and that pretty much lays out his whole shtick. He's mildly OP (and thankfully not completely OP) in combat situations, though the outcome bounces between Spike emerging victorious and the baddie getting away.

For me, Jet and some of the extended cast are far more interesting.

Cowboy Bebop anime Edward Ein silhouette

One of these is not Edward. As a cerebral character to rival Jet, I expected more from her. Instead she just sings and dances in the background of the scenes set on the Bebop. Edward was introduced as a cybercriminal that RCE'd both a police car and the Bebop but proceeds to spend the rest of the series using these valuable skills to do the occasional web search. And her AI buddy disappears altogether.

While some of the episodes are kind of campy (rival cowboy, fridge disaster), some of them are superb. The Scratch/Heaven's Gate episode is a creepy nostalgia trip.

The live action adaptation

Cowboy Bebop Netflix live action ship jump gates

Unbeknownst to me, Netflix aired the anime because they were creating a live action adaptation with John Cho as the lead. I'm three episodes deep and probably going to finish the season though I'm not itching to binge it.

Cowboy Bebop Netflix live action Vicious fish

This adaptation appears to be a remix of the stories from the anime (and manga?) - some plot arcs occur in different order and paired differently. Having just watched the anime, I'm happy it's not a shot-for-shot remake and that there are some nondestructive partial rewrites.
Streaming: The Wheel of Time

Wheel of Time Amazon series

Since the mainstream success of GoT, streaming services have tried their hand at making a fantasy/sci-fi smash hit. The most recent Amazon endeavor is thematically closer to GoT than the others; The Wheel of Time series.

Three episodes in, I'm not sure I'm going to last the season. Somehow they converted a classic book series into a story that feels very much like it's from the young adult section of the Amazon online bookstore. While my friend (who read the books) confirmed that the protagonists get chased throughout the first book, this plot mechanic feels flogged to death in this adaptation. Rather than using gentle urgency like LotR (running from Nazgul, journeying to Mount Doom), WoT has Teen Chosen One Squad constantly having their heels bitten by monsters and wolves, only to escape by passing through an invisible wall of various forms (river, forbidden town, lol the wolves were just guiding us).

And so we have a thematically-exhausted messiah plot arc coupled with a bunch of squabbly teens either being petulant or shouting "run" to each other as they are already running. I really hope there's more to the story than this. I'll be optimistic since the book series is pretty well-reviewed. For a few more episodes, anyway.
Books: Ringworld

Larry Niven Ringworld book cover

This past week I finished the Ringworld audiobook I had bought for kid time/construction. While I applaud the worldbuilding and (successful?) commitment to scientific legitimacy, the story's execution fell short. The story quickly goes from grand adventure to Crichton-esque disaster and escape. This plot shift is a pretty big let down after the tease of a massive, artificial, inhabited halo world. While the galactic history of the titular artificial world is kind of neat, so much of the book's conversation is wasted on lengthy explanations of building materials and mindless romance. And yeah, while the novel is fifty years old I still expect a higher standard of how women are written in sci-fi.
Video games: Back 4 Blood

Back 4 Blood zombie train car

Left 4 Dead holds a special place in the hearts of the lolbaters crew - whether it's retro gaming sessions or shout outs to the greatest driver of all time, Jimmy Gibbs Jr. We were pretty excited to try the unofficial sequel, Back 4 Blood.

Back 4 Blood gauntlet zombies MP5

The core elements of the original games remain intact:
Back 4 Blood decks

New to the game:
The focus seems to have been to do some lightweight modernization (adding shooter-looter elements) as well as randomization for replay value.

Video games: Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven Steam video game football Raiders

WFH has left something of a Gloomhaven gap in my life. Chase said the Steam version was true to the tabletop game, so I put together a squad with Ted, Jon, and Rob.

Okay, we need a guild name.
Charterstoners Jon
Fantasy memes also play.
Fellowship of the RNG
The Mildlings
Oh I better buy the license. Ted
??? I won't get any Harry Potter references.
Leatherbound Books
Blood Ocean

We played some scenarios on Guildmaster; this is both recommended and also by accident because I didn't read up on the campaign types. I expected kind of a tabletop simulator version with sprites and whatnot, but this game got the full 3d treatment. The production value adds some immersiveness, though since the game is so heavily based on card mechanics the animations and such might be a bit confusing. I might be overly concerned and this can be filed under learning curve, but a lot of the cards displayed in the tabletop game are less obvious on the computer screen. While not needing to figure out enemy actions is a huge blessing, it also probably feels more like X-Com to neophytes.

In any event, Steam GH is a lot of fun and a great opportunity for me to play classes I didn't try in the tabletop game.
Video games: Nioh 2 is pretty long

Nioh 2 demon Tokichiro

I think me and J are like three or four story missions from the end? We fought and killed our bff. Then he killed us because he was a demon. Then we went to the afterlife (I think). Then came back. Then fought our bff's bride on their wedding day (she's a large house with an eye and numerous very large tentacles).

I'm not sure what's next but hope we can achieve the thing that we want to do.

In all seriousness though, the game has a lot of content and while the combat has become somewhat repetitive, the environments remain fresh, attractive, and interesting.
Video games: roundup

Risk of Rain 2 RoR2 Guragura the Lucky

Maybe if omicron has us back in lockdown, I can dust off some of the backlog - Cyberpunk, Intruder, RoR (new DLC), and Squadrons.

Mass Effect 3 Legendary Citadel Turian

My offline gaming is still ME3-focused, I just haven't done any of that in a bit. J and I downloaded Magicka 2, a charming top-down brawler with a crazy elemental magic system and a Divinity-esque sense of humor.

Fish: really, I wasn't joking

Aquarium jellies

We weren't sure if a nine month old would enjoy looking at fish and other sea life. Happily, Dani had a great time at the aquarium and (separately) a pretty okay time at hot pot.


The Ritchie family lost someone this month. We're still processing it and I can't bring myself to write anything except that we look fondly on our twelve years with the Kaf dog. In time, thinking of our many experiences with him will bring us joy and not a sense of loss.


On repeat

Final thoughts on the live action Cowboy Bebop, diving into Far Cry 6, and the Back 4 Blood final boss.


Election day, commentary, and fallout. The Nioh journey comes to an end. A sprinkling of BL3, Among Us, Risk of Rain.

Lambos or shambos

PLTN, SPCE, and RIDE. I watch the China Hustle (recommend!) and some video games are played.