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Isaac Sher
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Isaac's #Nerdy9th  Wrestling Primer, Part the Eighth:  Reality Creeps In.

Sorry for the delay since the last installment; it's been a hell of a week, but let's get right down to it.

As things stand right now, WWE is still unquestioned master of the pro wrestling world, and Wrestlemania is still the industry's "super bowl".  Over the last decade, John Cena rose through the ranks, slowly shedding his "white boy rapper" gimmick, and becoming the company's uber-dominant All-American Face -- a Hulk Hogan for the 21st century, if you will.  However, he's starting to slow down, and the WWE is clearly thinking hard about who is going to eventually replace him.  

Right now, the top two contenders are Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns.  It would've been top three, with CM Punk in the mix, but about a year ago, he apparently just got fed up with how he was being treated and quit very abruptly.  Fans would like nothing more than to see Punk return, and you still get "CM PUNK" chants from the arena crowds on a regular basis, but Punk's made it clear that at best, he needs a break from Pro Wrestling, and never wants to work for WWE again.  That being said, there have been more explosive real-life disputes between famous wrestlers and their companies that have eventually settled down, like with Bret Hart, so I wouldn't be shocked of Punk eventually made his way back.  Wrestling has a way of getting into people's blood, and even the most jaded fans and performers eventually turn up again.  

Of the two top guys left, Daniel Bryan is the clear choice of the fanbase.  He's brilliant in the ring, a seasoned veteran, seems more accessible and easier to identify with on account of being smaller than most wrestlers, and has nurtured a fantastic gimmick revolving around the "YES! Movement", where he's presented as the ultimate underdog, the little wrestler that could.

Unfortunately, Vince McMahon has a long-standing and well documented bias against smaller wrestlers, convinced that "big men" are the way to true mainstream fame.  Thus it became clear over the last year that Roman Reigns would be the company's first choice to become the new big hero.  Reigns is a staggeringly impressive physical specimen; he's tall, with long and muscular arms and legs, he's incredibly handsome, making the most of his rugged Samoan features, making him look like a cross between The Rock (who is his cousin) and Jason Momoa.  And he's great in the ring, but a little rough on the microphone.   The fans have made it clear that while they do like Reigns, they like Bryan more, and resent Reigns getting shoved down their throats, so where the WWE goes with this in the future is anyone's guess.

In the meantime, many hardcore wrestling fans are actually more interested in what's going on in the WWE's "farm league", the mini-fed known as NXT, based out of Full Sail University in Flordia.  The brainchild of Triple H, an Attitude-Era wrestler who ended up marrying McMahon's daughter and becoming one of the top men in the company boardroom (and still occasionally gets into the ring), NXT puts a greater emphasis on in-ring action over complex storylines (especially for women wrestlers), emphasizing wrestler's past work with other companies rather than pretending they've never been anything but under WWE contract, and being willing to experiment and take risks. 

This period in wrestling is referred to mostly as "The Reality Era", and is generally considered an upswing in quality overall.  The name comes from the fact that the WWE has gotten in on the Reality TV craze, not only in how some of its backstage segments are handled, but even having an actual reality show of their own, "Total Divas" -- and it's rumored that they'll be bringing back the "Tough Enough" competition show as well, that follows wanna-be wrestlers competing for a WWE contract.  The name also comes from the fact that the line between kayfabe and reality is exceptionally blurred these days, making the job of writing storylines for wrestling much more difficult than it's ever been, especially with the need to be able to change course on the fly if storylines don't go over as well as expected -- like the current Roman Reigns push.

There are other feds around, of course.  TNA is still limping around, although most of their best talent has jumped ship.  Ring of Honor is still out there, among a multitude of other small feds, and new ones are popping up all the time -- like Lucha Underground, produced by famed film director Robert Rodriguez, which meshes Hollywood-level production values with Mexican-style Lucha Libre wrestling, important many Lucha veterans and attracting a surprising number of former WWE wrestlers, like John Morrison, Alberto Del Rio, and even Matt Striker as their primary play-by-play announcer.  

Overall, the future of Professional Wrestling looks very bright.  It's anyone's guess as to where the Next Big Thing will come from -- if someone already working in the ring will suddenly capture the world's attention, or if some newcomer or new idea will rear its head.  
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I've been meaning to, but I never get around to it.  Got any specific suggestions as to shows or matches to look for?
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Just watched the first episode of "Ranpo Kidan (trans. "Mysterious Stories of Ranpo"): Game of Laplace", a new anime based on the works of Edogawa Ranpo, a mystery author who died fifty years ago.

I'd never heard of Ranpo, but when the opening credits specifically points out that this is based on his story, and written in honor of the 50th anniversary of his death, I couldn't help but be curious.  A quick google search turns up that he's apparently much beloved across the Pacific, and that his name is a pen-name, a sort of transliteration of how the Japanese would pronounce "Edgar Alan Poe", one of Ranpo's biggest influences.  He did quite a bit of mysteries of the "boy detective" type, but not in the Rated G "Encyclopedia Brown" mode -- there's blood on the walls in these stories, literally.

This first episode is quite interesting.  There are a lot of very interesting directorial choices on display, that not only give the show a distinct visual identity, but also potentially illustrate some significant details about the characters' mindsets.  It's also surprisingly subdued for an anime that starts with the aftermath of an extremely brutal murder and dismemberment.  It also doesn't go for the viewer's throat to horrify them in the way that something like WIRE IN THE BLOOD does, whose first episode was so profoundly disturbing that I don't think I'll ever be able to watch the second episode or beyond of that -- but I digress.  

I'm curious to see what more experienced mystery fans like +Curt Thompson think of Ranpo Kidan, and I'll definitely keep watching -- the first episode does a very good job at making you ask, "what happens next?", and getting you to care about what the answer might be.

#AYearOfAnime  
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Hm, I'll have to see if that's on Crunchyroll.
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Well, no time like the present.  I decided to put together a photo catalog of my entry for the +Mecha and Makeup custom gunpla contest, run by the wonderful +David Hill and +Filamena Young.   

GUNDAM AGINCOURT

In the "Gundam Build Fighters" setting, this is the gunpla of a young American gunpla fan named Felix Solomon, who would love nothing more than to elevate his game to where he can hold his own against the grandmaster builders that seem so numerous over in Japan.  

He's studied hours of video logs of professional matches, and while his building skills are not nearly at the level of someone like Iori Sei or a Meijin, he hopes that his piloting skill and conceptual work to develop his gunpla's abilities will help equalize things somewhat.

The Agincourt is built on the basic frame of the EZ-SR, but with considerable modification and a lot of hidden tricks.  Combining aspects of all three versions of the EZ-SR, this gunpla has firepower versatility to be dangerous at all ranges, with all different kinds of attacks.  His greatest asset is his powerful targeting computers, not only giving him pinpoint accuracy, but able to target multiple foes in multiple directions at once.

The back-mounted Longbow cannons fire physical rounds, but can be swapped out for beam cannons between matches if needed, and are his longest-range weapon.  There are shoulder-mounted missile launchers for medium range, a hand-held beam submachine-gun for close-range, the usual head-mounted vulcan cannons, and a beam katana for melee combat.   The Agincourt has powerful thrusters, but is only a little faster than your basic gunpla, and not especially manuverable.  To make up for this, the Agincourt has thicker armor than most.

However, the real danger the Agincourt poses comes from the two shields this gunpla carries.  Heavily modified adaptations of the Star Build Strike's absorption shield, these two shields can gobble up incoming energy-weapons fire, but are also a bit more durable than the Star Build's oft-destroyed shield -- and even if both get destroyed, there's also an Energy Siphon built into the Agincourt's reinforced chestplate, although it's not as effective as the shield-mounted versions.   

Once energy has been captured, the Agincourt can use it in several ways:
1) Fire out blasts of destructive energy directly from the emitter ports on each shield.
2) Raise a "skin-level" energy field for brief periods that can blunt physical weapons fire.
3) Afterburners that boost speed further (but makes him about as manuverable as a brick on a roller skate)
4) Create "plavsky gates" similar to the Star Build Strike, usually in a bow-like shape at the end of the longbow cannons, which boost the firepower of those guns considerably.  If given a few seconds, he can raise the shield emitters to physically dock with the longbow cannons for a full-power blast.  It's not as powerful as the Star Build Strike's big blast, much less the Maoh's Satellite Cannon, but it's still a useful trick to pull out when fighting larger and less mobile enemies, like big mobile armors.

Felix's main tactic is to hang back and use his range advantage to best effect as long as possible, absorbing incoming fire whenever possible.  He's won more than a few battles by picking people off at long range with his targeting computers before they could get him in range of their own guns.  That being said, the submachine gun is more dangerous than many realize, since his targeting prowess means that he's not going to be "spraying and praying" -- and his katana's not just for show, he is able to hold his own with it if necessary.

David, Mena, if you need any additional pictures or close-ups or whatnot, just let me know.  :)
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New Gundam-kit poll, folks!  I won't have time to build for at least a couple of days, so this one will have a chance to rack up a bit more votes than the last one before I pick a winner.  

So, which kit should I build next?
9 votes  -  votes visible to Public
Star Build Strike Gundam Plavsky Wing
0%
Gyanko's R-Gyagya
11%
Gundam Astray Gold Frame Amatsu Mina
22%
Denial Gundam
56%
Try Burning Gundam
11%
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Le Résultat Est Là
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The Summer of Gunpla continues!  When I was ready to start on a project tonight, Gundam The End was ahead on the poll votes, so I went ahead and cranked it out.  For a relatively complex kit, I'm quite proud of the fact that I had this done in less than two hours.  Not bad, if I do say so myself.  I didn't assemble the chest-burster thing, because quite frankly, that's my least favorite part of the design, and I have no intention of posing the mech with that attached.
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It's a lovely color.
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Time to decide my next Gundam kit project!  As always, I will also take any suggestions on customization/paint-jobs on these.
10 votes  -  votes visible to Public
Try Burning Gundam
20%
Denial Gundam
10%
Gundam Astray Gold Frame Amatsu Mina
20%
Gundam The End
30%
Gyanko's R-Gyagya
20%
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Starting in on Gundam The End tonight, then!
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Sometimes, you just need the movie equivalent of comfort food, and there are few fight scenes that SING like this one from KUNG FU HUSTLE -- the fight between the Axe Gang and the Three Masters of Pig Sty Alley.  My understanding is that Sammo Hung was brought in to help put this sequence together, and it really is something special.

The real secret ingredient, however, is the soundtrack.  This scene wouldn't be nearly as exciting without that brilliant music backing it.   I don't feel like dealing with Youtube comments today, so just remove the spaces from the URL below to find the scene I'm looking for.

https://ww   w.youtu  be.com/watch?v=PDQPIJSO0XA
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The fight between the Zither Assassins and everyone else from Pig Sty has a slightly bigger "wow" factor, but it needed this first fight to set up the context.  
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The summer anime season of 2015 has officially begun -- and I confess to being a bit nervous about it.

The preview articles I've found show a heavy dosage of "ecchi" titles, meaning shows that lean heavily on T&A fanservice.  That's not to say that fanservice is always bad, but when the season seems overloaded with it... hrm.  Only one mecha show that I've spotted so far.

An odd newcomer is one that I actually got to watch today, "Gangsta", which is apparently set in America, but does not use the word "gangsta" in the way we would -- which is to say, referring to gangsta-rappers and its related subculture.  No, this seems to be more focused on the more typical Mafia, although the viewpoint characters are a pair of street mercenaries -- a white guy with long-ish hair and an eyepatch, and a Japanese guy who's a short katana-toting powerhouse whose incredibly potent eyesight more than makes up for his deafness.

And the first episode deals with them being hired by the cops to murder a brutish up-and-coming gang of pimps and pushers, and at the end of which, they take in the dead boss's favorite abuse-target whore and give her a job as their secretary.

I... don't know what to think about this yet.  It's well animated, but the character designs are just dull, as is the color palette.  The latter can be a valid deliberate choice, to emphasize a bleak life for the people in that setting, but dull character designs just doesn't do anyone any favors.  The "rescue the lovely whore" thing just feels a bit icky, because all that we know about this character is that she's a whore, she hated her now-dead pimp (gosh, what a stretch), that she's got a rather attractive bustline, and that the guys feel kinda sorry for her.  I really, really hope that they try to develop her as a character, and not just have her be The Busty Window Dressing.

Also, this is yet another show where you can tell that the director has massive COWBOY BEBOP envy... oh, and lo and behold, it looks like two of the show runners are actually Bebop alumnus!  Yeah, not shocked by that.  The problem is that this show has yet to show the charm or humor that BEBOP was so good with.  It's all Brooding Dudes In Suits with a western civilization edge, and the opening credits give the strong impression that this show is going for Edgy For The Sake Of Edgy.  I'll give it another couple of episodes to improve.
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Symphogear may or may not be up your alley. It's the kind of Nanoha "it's really a mecha show but the mechs are all people" type of deal, though it gets kinda dark at times.

My Monster Secret is pretty popular and one of those things that takes overused situations and turns them on its head. The closest comparison is with Nozaki-kun in that it's all about the cast being goofy idiots together. 
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Thinking of nerdy filk concepts...

"Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry, with lyrics describing a weekend of hardcore tabletop gaming.  Hmmm.

Andy Grammar's "Honey, I'm Good", making some sort of joke about Paladins resisting breaking their Lawful Good alignment code?  Not sure.

Hrm... maybe Andy Grammar's previous single, "Keep Your Head Up", transcribing a tough game?   

...Janelle Monae's "Tightrope", renamed "Cleric", about the troubles a Cleric faces keeping a party of adventurers alive despite their own best efforts?   There's potential there, hmm!
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+David Formosa That's the rough idea, yeah.  :)
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For some reason of late, I find myself thinking about the communities and cultures that might be formed in various story settings, from dungeoneering fantasy, to superheroes, to wuxia.

In Wuxia, there's a word -- "Wulin" -- which basically refers to the martial arts community.  Evil or Good, kind or cruel, anyone with a certain level of martial skill or close knowledge of those with such skill are part of the Wulin, and there are certainly many different factions and sub-factions and cliques and philosophies that make up this community.

Superhero stories aren't much different.  There was a JLA one-shot written by Patton Oswalt, long before he became famous, that talked about a young hero-fan blogger who got embroiled in a Justice League adventure (circa the Grant Morrison years), and became part of the DCU's "wulin" in a big way.  We got to see people having dance parties on the Watchtower while the Big Seven were away on adventures, for example.  Or Identity Crisis, for all its problems, had some fascinating scenes of what the hero and villain communities were like on their offtime -- like villains getting together at some quiet house in the burbs to play cards and trade Joker stories.

I could imagine any given D&D world being similar, where those who have lived the live of Adventuring would frequent certain taverns or certain neighborhoods in the big cities, would trade Those Damn BerkenDor Kobolds stories, chuckle over the latest Gnoll Loveline dispatches, and share knowing glances over a plate of spiced bread, about what it's like to live with your life on the line, deep inside some forbidden crypt where no one would ever find your body, should you make the slightest mistake.

I have NO idea what I want to do with this line of thinking, only that it's really jumping around the inside of my head right now.
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+Jeff Johnston​ Haha, it's been ages! I played Celine, the paladin Angulaar's little sister.... Sorcerer and troublemaker.
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My latest article on Threat Or Menace​ is up, with my thoughts on the recent loss of Sir Terry Pratchett, one of the greatest authors of our time.
 
I was fortunate enough to meet Terry Pratchett once, over fifteen years ago.  He was in Chicago for a book signing at the amazing (and sadly departed) bookstore, The Stars Our Destination, and was a gracious, jovial presence.  He didn’t have a lot of time…
I was fortunate enough to meet Terry Pratchett once, over fifteen years ago.  He was in Chicago for a book signing at the amazing (and sadly departed) bookstore, The Stars Our Destination, and was ...
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And this is why I like living in the city.  :)
lovingly rendered pictures of cocks. the wilds should try combing its hair.
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They are, but I'm still not going.
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