Tools of the Imagination – LEGO Chima Ring of Fire

LEGO Chima Ring of Fire
produced by LEGO, released 2013

Anthropomorphic Evel Kinevel

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(Image courtesy of Lego.com)

LEGO is a wonderful case-study in selling out.
Starting in 1949, The Lego Group began manufacturing interconnecting building blocks that allowed for the construction of larger and increasingly complex structures. Much of the premise of the company and its toys was that anything could be taken apart and build up again, perhaps better, perhaps cooler, perhaps both.

In 1999, LEGO released its first officially licensed set, an X-Wing Fighter from the Star Wars franchise. This would lead to a long and prosperous shift in the company structure, prioritizing licensed play sets and themed figure sets. This conflicts heavily with the stated corporate beliefs, and yet it has helped LEGO to become and remain one of the most successful toy manufacturers in the world.

Background
Beginning in 2013, LEGO launched a new line of figures and play sets, this time based around anthropomorphic animals. Chima was originally intended to replace LEGO’s Ninjago toy line but ended up complementing it.

The story, as told through the television show and other related media, follows the members of warring animal tribes as they form alliances and truces in an attempt to find and control a magical natural resource known as Chi. The Chi is represented with little orbs found in almost any play set, which the figures can wear or attach to weapons and vehicles to give them extra power.

Chima play sets are no different from earlier, more-generic LEGO play sets you may remember. They vary from little more than a single figure to full-on castles and other legendary sites replete with moving parts and nifty specialized pieces. And it’s these specialized pieces that may prove problematic.

Appearance – 5 out of 5
Razar, the figure included in the play set, looks spot on like his figure in the show. That is more a function of the show looking and moving much like the Chima toys than the other way around. It also should be noted that the figure is not ambitiously colorful or elaborate. Yet, the end result is that the figure in hand looks exactly like the character in the show.

Construction – 4 out of 5
LEGO toys are known for their ruggedness and Chima definitely has inherited some of those traits. Mother figure is as tough and solid as any of its predecessors and the motorcycle is likewise a sturdy piece of construction. Even the fiery wheel is more solid and secure than a first glance might suggest. In truth an act of true destructive malice would be needed to seriously damage these toys.

Movement – 3 out of 5
Movement with LEGOs is hard to score because their movement is pretty much uniform across the whole line. And yet, they also get a lot of mileage out of seven joints in an inch-tall figure. The motorcycle goes straight with minimal turning potential, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. Ultimately, no surprises, just what LEGO does and does well.

Extras – 3 out of 5
Where LEGO has always excelled has been in the extras, the little pieces that help expand and flesh out the toys. The Chima figures are a little lacking, but the inclusion of two hand-weapons, two flame spurts, and six Chi balls, is a good array.

Packaging – 4 out of 5
LEGO’s packaging has always been great and the Chima line is no different. Beautiful art work that is distinctive from all other LEGO lines (and other toy lines on the shelf), it also clearly shows off this toy spectacularly.
The one missing element is that, gone are the days when the back of the packaging showed other possible constructions using the pieces in the package itself. That loss, and the challenge they represented, is not trivial.

Overall – 4 out of 5
I feel like a Four is being a little generous, but I just can’t deny that this is a well-made playset. The motorcycle-jumping-through-fire gimmick may not work as smoothly as one might like, but that won’t stop an enthusiast from keeping at it. All in all, the Chima line has some real promise.

Touching Base

To all my American readers, (belated) Happy July Fourth.

I’ve recently fallen for the siren’s song of free-to-play games. With my new nifty iPad replacing my beloved (and gone) laptop, I thought I’d see what there was to do.

It’s interesting to play these games, because – having studied game theory and talked with some of the leading minds on the academic study of game theory – it’s blatantly obvious how they manipulate you. You see the game and how it’s rigged and yet, it’s still so bloody fun, you can’t stop playing. Mi am grateful that my willpower has held out to not spend money, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I succumb and hand over real-world money for digital-world advancement.

The print editions of Rhest for the Wicked should be hitting Amazon and other digital retailers in the next week or two, with in-store appearances soon to follow. My next novel through Haven Publishing creeps slowly towards it’s (tentative) September release. And with the final episode of New Phase gone live, I am preparing for the August launch of the next serial.

Stay tuned! ๐Ÿ™‚

Mobility vs Flexibility

In a post I wrote a while back on warming up, I mentioned the difference between flexibility and mobility but I didn’t go into detail at the time. Today seems like a good day to do so. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hold out your arm, straight in front of you. Now, keeping it straight, pull it back behind you as far as it can comfortably go. You may start to feel a bit of a stretch, but probably nothing major. This is the edge of your mobility.

Now, walk over to a doorway and put your hand against the door frame. Turn away from your arm. You should be in the same position, only you should be able to go further. Much further. This is your flexibility.

Mobility is your ability to move your body, while flexibility is your ability to be moved. Mobility is active, while flexibility is passive.

Want another example? Keeping your knee straight, lift your leg straight out in front of you. See how high you can go. Now, get a friend to support your leg and lift it even higher. You will almost invariably be able to go higher than you could under your own power.

Athletically speaking, mobility is what we want, not flexibility. It’s not clear where – historically speaking – the mistake of one for the other took place, but somewhere down the line, we mistook the ability to to have our bodies moved awkwardly for control of our bodies in awkward positions.

This isn’t to say flexibility doesn’t have a benefit. It most certainly does, but that benefit is almost always injury-avoidance when something goes wrong. Meanwhile, the active pursuit of mobility often gets neglected. And when mobility issues appear, they are incorrectly addressed with techniques and drills meant to address flexibility, namely stretching.

Mobility is improved through movement. To improve one’s flexibility, you identify the range of motion you wish to improve and simply work your way through it, pushing yourself slightly but never exhaustively. The range of motion invariably comes. Stretching one’s self, an act meant to improve flexibility, will have little benefit on mobility, while the inverse is not true; improving one’s mobility will also improve one’s flexibility.

How do you improve your mobility?
The long answer involves specific mobility training (where I can make some recommendations), sometimes not unlike yoga.
The short answer, however, is simple: move. Just move, and move more. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tools of the Imagination – Ultraman: Towards the Future

Ultraman: Towards the Future
produced by South Australian Film Corporation and Tsuburaya Productions, directed by Andrew Prowse, originally aired January 1992

Ultraman with Westerners!

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(Image thanks to the Ultraman Wiki)

Most people think it started with Power Rangers. A giant alien monster appears and threatens the city, only to be stopped by a crack team of specialists wielding advanced powers and weaponry. But no, a year and a half before the chromatically-ambitious teens would grace Western television, Ultraman: Towards the Future would bring sentai goodness to the small screen.

Background
The Ultraman franchise dates back to the mid-1960s when the original Ultraman Tv series would air in the wake of the Godzilla and Gamera franchises’ rise to popularity.

Each Ultraman series focuses on a member of the ‘Ultra Family’ merging with a local human as they try to defeat the source of the monsters that are attacking each week. The Ultramen are almost without exception morally upstanding, as well as potent fighters, capable of firing energy and other feats of martial super heroics.

In Towards the Future (called Ultraman Great in Japan), Ultraman is engaged in battle with his archness is Goudes when he inadvertently allows for the destruction of a human space vessel, killing Stanley Haggard and stranding Jack Shindo. Ultraman bonds with the surviving astronaut and, an undefined time later, they appear on Earth to try and combat the evil Goudes virus that has infected the planet.

Story – 3 out of 5
The setup of Ultraman, at least when viewed on its own merits and not part of the larger franchise, has very little exposition. It’s never explained where Ultraman comes from, where Goudes comes from, or why they’re fighting.
The individual episodes can also be a little hit-and-miss. ‘A Child’s Dream’ focuses on a supporting character’s relationship with an orphan…for no real given reason and no explanation ever really offered. Meanwhile, ‘Bitter Harvest’ has a really fascinating build-up to the appearance of the monster, as well as some ecological commentary that’s surprisingly profound.
Like most shows, the early episodes were a little rocky, but letter episodes showed some real promise.

Characters – 3 out of 5
The supporting cast of the show are given an episode or two each to start to develop their characters. ‘Tourists from the Stars’ shows the show’s resident nerd falling in love, while ‘Forest Guardian’ shows the political games that the military tries to play on our protagonists. There really are no truly outstanding characters or characterizations, but they do a good job with what they have.

Acting – 3 out of 5
Much like the characters, the acting in the show isn’t great but it’s okay. Above-average in places, but otherwise just middle of the road. There are a few notable performances, namely when the Goudes story arc comes to an end (‘Blast from the Past’ and ‘Showdown’) and the series finale (‘Age of Plagues’ and ‘Nemesis’).

Visuals – 3 out of 5
Adequate is really about the best praise this show’s visuals can be given. The monsters are kind of neat-looking but Ultraman himself looks a little cheap. The props look pretty good but the sets often seem a little lackluster. All in all, it all balances out to adequacy.

Music – 2 out of 5
The music is adequate, much like the visuals, but is absent enough so as to not really suffice. The Ultraman theme itself is beautifully done, but the rest of the music is a little trite and sparely played throughout the show. It’s not bad, simply a little lacking.

Overall – 3 out of 5
Ultraman: Towards the Future is a solid show, one that errs a little on the cheap side but still delivers all it promises. Sure the production value could be higher and the action sequences could be a little more ambitious, but all in all, the show really is a nice middle-of-the-road production. Fans of the middle years of Dr Who (like the 6th and 7th Doctors) might especially enjoy this series, as would any fan of sentai and kaiju alike.

Life After Anime Mid-Atlantic

AMA 2014 was amazing. Plain and simple. ๐Ÿ™‚

I want to thank everyone who came to all my panels. Starting with the Sexuality in Classic Anime panel Friday, each panel seemed to grow until Sunday morning’s Best Anime You Aren’t Watching was standing room only. Thank you all so much. You guys are awesome.

I also want to thank the AMA staff and crew who were all amazing.

Likewise, I want to thank my publisher, Haven Publishing House, for all the help and support.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend. Now, I transition from convention prep back to novel prep. We’ve got a lot planned in the second half of the year.

Stay tuned! ๐Ÿ™‚