Order of the Stick Volume 3: War and XPs Review

War and XPs is the third of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #302-484, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

** Note: there are no spoilers for War and XPs in this review but are some for the first two OotS volumes. **

This being the third volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

Wars and XPs is, as the author relates in the forward, the first OotS book entirely plotted with the overarching story in mind. This really comes through in the pacing, ebbs and flows of the plot, and sense of scale present in the story across these strips. 

We resume our tale in Azure City, and after the revelations from Shojo last volume Roy and company set out to find a new lead on Xykon. Other long running plot threads will also take center stage, including Haley’s speech impediment and the Linear Guild’s nefarious plans. 

The story as a whole is magnificent in War and XPs. There are consequences for actions and oversights, well developed character arcs, and incredibly escalating stakes for our heroes. 

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. The humor grows fairly organically out of the characters and situations, and by this point readers should have an idea if it’s to their tastes. 

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art as time progresses.

I highly recommend The Order of the Stick in general, and War and XPs is where the comic truly begins to feel epic. An outstanding volume of an already impressive comic.

Order of the Stick Volume 2: No Cure for the Paladin Blues Review

No Cure for the Paladin Blues is the second collection of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #122-300, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

This being the second volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

Particularly since Paladin Blues is where our story starts really starts to build. While humor remains a vital (and generally excellent) part of the comic, there are less “D&D jokes for the sake of D&D jokes” than in volume 1 and the humor is intertwined more tightly with the escalating story. Volume 1 was a dungeon crawl, and while it had a decent progression it was in some ways a prologue. We’ve met the main players and now the Order leaves the dungeon and begins to face a much larger world (with much larger threats).

Roy has to find a reason to keep his party together now that they (incorrectly) think they’ve accomplished the task he hired them for, and various consequences from volume 1 will plague our heroes. This leads to Roy starting to learn what it really means to be a leader, as well as the expected rip-roaring adventures. The Order (and the readers) learn a great deal about their world, a major threat, and what their next mission should be.

We also see glimpses of other characters and forces putting their own plans into motion. The threads and conflicts that will be woven together in future volumes begin here.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor is still used, but less so than the first volume and the comedy grows more organically out of the characters and situations from here out. 

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art compared to volume 1.

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and No Cure for the Paladin Blues is an excellent follow up to Dungeon Crawling Fools that raises the stakes for our heroes considerably and gives the first glimpses of the sprawling epic it would become. 

Order of the Stick Volume 1: Dungeon Crawling Fools Review

Dungeon Crawling Fools is the first collection of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #1-120, plus 18 new comics and author commentaries.

OotS has become an epic tale and is the most consistently excellent webcomic there is. It features a group of adventures in a Dungeons and Dragons setting. Literally – these are the adventures of D&D characters who are self aware, and a lot of the comedy in this first volume revolves around the author’s skillful blending of game mechanics into his characters’ dialog and actions. The fourth wall is optional when it comes to the good of the comedy here, and in this case it’s a great choice.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, and no doubt make some of the jokes funnier, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor and stand alone jokes are particularly prevalent in this volume as Burlew starts to decide what direction to take with his comic, but grows more organically out of the characters and situations in later volumes. Even by the end of Dungeon Crawling Fools, the plot starts to coalesce and several twists and key confrontations have occurred. 

OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly. 

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and the beginning, of course, is the best place to start. Dungeon Crawling Fools itself is highly amusing and comprises a complete story arc, but still plants the seeds of future adventures.

ChocoPro 1 & 2 Live Thoughts

March 28 & April 1, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan

Choco Pro is a new effort from Gatoh Move’s Emi Sakura and DDT’s Antonio Honda to bring live wrestling from Ichigaya to fans all over the world. 

The shows are streamed live from Ichigaya Chocolate Square with no crowd. As I like to explain to start my Gatoh Move reviews, the Ichigaya events are held in a small room with no ring. With no crowd the two large sliding windows on one wall which are left in, but opened as needed for some unique high risk maneuvers.

There was a ton of immediate buzz and anticipation for the first event with the pre-announced participation of Minoru Suzuki!

ChocoPro 1

Baliyan Akki is helping with translation of Sakura’s opening remarks and Antonio Honda is behind the camera. There’s another angle being filmed from the side, which becomes an extremely fortuitous choice.  

1) Emi Sakura vs Rin Rin 

This immediately set the tone for ChocoPro as something fun and a bit unique, even compared to the shows Gatoh Move normally runs at Ichigaya. Sakura was playing quasi-heel, and little things like seeing booing in the YouTube comments for her dastardly actions made watching live particularly amusing. Good start to the show that saw a determined Rin Rin come up a bit short and lose to the Gatoh/Choco founder. 

2) Mitsuru Konno & Lulu Pencil vs Sayaka & Yuna Mizumori

This was incredible. They kept it extremely fast paced and frantic to adjust for the lack of crowd and it came across really well. There were cool, creative double teams in abundance and I laughed out loud a few times in the ways Mitsuru used poor Lulu as a weapon. Want to see them team again. However things still aren’t quite going Lulu’s way and she ends up being pinned by Mizumori to give Yuna & Sayaka the victory.

3) Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Suzuki 

What a fantastic opportunity for Akki and it’s so surreal (and awesome) to see Suzuki in Ichigaya. Akki had the homefield advantage as the rest of the roster was out and soundly on his side. Their cheering and Honda’s running commentary really made the atmosphere energetic (and I’m sure the small venue enhanced the effect. 

They hit the hell out of each other, and this was a great match with awesome back and forth as Akki held his own against the imposing outsider. Highlights included a gorgeous splash by Akki from the windowsill and Minoru confronting (ok, so kind of terrorizing) the defiant Gatoh roster. 

During the match the live feed cut out, then it happened again as soon as Suzuki won and mere notes of his music started. As such the replay up now, using footage from the previously mentioned second camera angle, has all the music silenced out. 

That small technical hiccup aside, which isn’t an issue with the replay anyway, this was simply great.

Originally planned for the next day, ChocoPro’s second effort would be delayed just a little bit due to weather. In the meantime there was a watch party of the first event with Mei (who missed the first show due to commitments to wrestle at Sendai Girls), Akki, and Sakura, as well as broadcast of footage from Mei and Lulu’s trip to London for Pro-Wrestling Eve. Each was preceded by watching Mei cook dinner (yes, really) which was highly amusing with Emi and Akki goofing around a bit and providing commentary (and the food looked delicious too 😉 ).

I’m really grateful for Sakura and the rest of Gatoh Move/ChocoPro to be doing so much to provide good natured content aimed connecting people in this time of isolation and bringing smiles to everyones faces. 🙂 It’s much needed. 

ChocoPro 2

Smaller crew this time around, with the participating wrestlers handling all the camera, refereeing, etc duties in turns. Akki once again translates Skura’s opening comments in a much appreciated touch, with Sakura tormenting him a bit by asking who was cuter between her and her opponent for today. The pre-show group exercise squats are done to the sound of Honda singing “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

1) Yuna Mizumori vs Antonio Honda 

No music this time, so Yuna and Honda both sing their own entrances. Akki’s behind the camera (in place of Honda) and providing running commentary and Sakura is ref.

This was pretty standard Honda ridiculousness, which again fits with the nature of what ChocoPro is trying to accomplish. I was generally amused, and bigger fans of his style of comedy will get even more out of this. He did a particularly funny sequence playing around making faces with an immobilized Yuna’s hair (although he wasn’t breaking at the count of 4 so I’m glad Emi stopped counting at all because her having to artificially pause so she wouldn’t have to DQ him was annoying) and the banana stuff was inspired. Solid action between the nonsense too. Despite being in trouble late Honda persevered to win with a rollup.

2) An-Chamu vs Emi Sakura 

Honda’s back behind the camera and Mei’s reffing.

Again, it’s nice to see An back regularly. Lots of posing from the gravure model to taunt Sakura and a bit of responding in kind here and there. Good match that kept picking up as it went leading to Sakura winning with La Magistral.

3) Ryo Mizunami & Mei Suruga vs Mitsuru Konno & Baliyan Akki

I can’t properly explain how happy I am to see Mizunami in Gatoh Move, and she of course fits right in. This was full speed ahead from the get-go, and a great main event. Mei and Akki taking advantage of having the windows in to try to crush each other is on cool, innovative example of how much thought is always being given to how to capitalize on the exact conditions of any given show.

Everyone was spot on here. Awesome to see Mitsuru continuing to evolve her sweet submission holds, as mentioned Mei and Akki were brining the creativity, and Mizunami barreling through everyone was a delight.

I correctly suspected I would have to see Mitsuru take the loss here, but the match was excellent and seeds were sown afterwards for her to use the loss as motivation for a singles match against Mizunami. YES PLEASE.

Akki translated after the show thoughts from Mitsuru and Miznami, and the latter’s miming of Akki’s translations was riot.

Things wrap up with a one-day rock-paper-scissors tournament. Sakura wins and throughly enjoys the piece of chocolate that is her prize. 🙂

——-

It’s amazing the atmosphere they created for the no crowd shows, enhanced by Honda’s energetic running commentary, cheering from the other wrestlers, and the wrestlers being aware of and playing to the camera without breaking the feeling that they were trying to win a match. Wonderfully done. As I said above I really enjoy and appreciate what ChocoPro is trying to do, and I can’t wait for more.

Replays of ChocoPro 1 (parts 1 and 2) and ChocoPro 2 are up on Gatoh Move’s YouTube channel.

The Girl from the Other Side Volume 8 Review

Choices, prophecies, and consequences…

The Girl from the Other Side is a slice of life tale in a dark, fantastical world but also has significant overarching plot threads that are coming together in these recent volumes. Best to start reading with volume 1.

After the intense, dread filled tension of last volume things continue with a different kind of crisis. I continue to be amazed at the skill with which Nagabe continually weaves meaningful revelations large and small about both current and prior events seamlessly together without any unevenness in the pacing and presentation of his tale.

There’s a lot to this volume, and the emotional impacts can practically be felt. It’s packed with meaningful character moments and development while moving the plot along quite a bit and introducing new levels to ongoing mysteries. There’s enough here to feel satisfying while also greatly ratcheting up anticipation for the next installment. One of the best volumes so far. Going to be pondering the themes here for quite a while.

Hemlock Volume 5 Review

This is planned to be the penultimate volume of Hemlock, with significant reference to what’s come before. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

Lumi’s story is building to a crescendo and this volume shares a lot of context and insight into both the present and the past. Some things were easy to predict and others well done surprises, with it all developing in a natural feeling way. A bit of this feels like a breather after last volume’s developments and revelations, but done well without any loss of story momentum and while putting pieces in place for the finale. I have no real idea where it’s all leading, but there have been tons of little hints throughout all the books who’s significance I’m sure will continue to become clear.

Hemlock has been on hiatus for couple of years now, with no set timeframe for return. But Fenton has given updates and does still intend to complete the next (final) chapter at some point. Even with a rather harsh cliffhanger and the uncertainty behind of when this may continue, I’m still glad I revisited it and caught up. I find Hemlock extremely engaging, and I look forward to hopefully following Lumi’s tale through to the end.

Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook Review

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was an interesting and overall enjoyable batch of puzzles in a fairly unique format. There was obviously a lot of potential to expand on the idea, and here I’ll take a look at the sequel Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook.

Like the original, Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook is a series of puzzles presented via a deck of cards. There are 74 cards total, made up of 59 puzzle cards, 10 solution cards, and 5 instruction cards. It stands alone and does not require Doctor Esker’s Notebook or any knowledge of it to play.

The solution to each of the 10 puzzles in the deck is a 2-4 digit numeric code. The solution cards are numbered 0-9 on their backs, and when arranged in the correct order for each solution they will identify the next puzzle to be played (via seemingly random elements on the answer cards coming together to form words, pictures, etc). It’s a very clever, elegant way to handle solving the puzzles and as with the original game is well implemented here.

Like with the original, I played this solo but felt it would also work well with a small group (I’d probably cap it at 4 players rather than the “1-6, or more” the box suggests).

There was a wider variety of difficulty in these puzzles, although I thought they were a little easier on average. I found several of them really clever and well executed though, and the game built to a nice crescendo with some of the best puzzles coming toward the end.

I particularly loved the fact that the final puzzle parallel that of the first game without really feeling like a repeat. The minor production issues from the first were missing here, making things feel more polished.

However I did feel a couple of the puzzles tried too hard to be accessible. These puzzles aren’t really deep enough to have multiple paths to solve, so when one puzzle was actually two completely separate, simplistic puzzles that lead to the same answer it completely felt like unnecessary padding.

Even more annoying was that one puzzle had essentially included instructions on how to solve it. It was weird and unwanted. It would have been a great puzzle otherwise, but was instead reduced to a rote exercise.

Outside of those issues though I found the remaining puzzles engaging and fun.

The online only hint system is exactly the same here, with several hints for each puzzle allowing players to choose how much help they want. I like the approach a lot, but it’s worth mentioning that the hints and solutions are strictly available online so if players get stuck on a puzzle visiting the website is required to continue on.

Despite some minor criticisms the Doctor Esker series is continuing to be quite good for what it is, which is a fun little collection of decent puzzles presented in a cost friendly, portable, and reusable way. Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook doesn’t really break the established mold at all, but there’s nothing wrong with more of a good thing.