Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Video Games (Special Mention – Cult & Pulp): Tyris Flare, Lady, Nariko & Bayonetta

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF VIDEO GAMES (SPECIAL MENTION – CULT & PULP): TYRIS FLARE, LADY, NARIKO & BAYONETTA

 

 

TYRIS FLARE – GOLDEN AXE (1989)

 

Golden Axe was a series of ‘hack and slash’ video games from 1989 – which seemingly incarnated the pulp barbarian fantasy art of Franzetta or Vallejo in sprite form. I mean – you just have to look at the cover art of its three heroes, from the absurdly muscular Ax Battler (his actual name in the game) to the axe-wielding dwarf Gilius Thunderhead and of course our fantasy girl entry, the Amazonian Tyris Flare.

 

 

As for the series itself, it involved the usual quest to recover the titular Golden Axe in a medieval fantasy kingdom pitted against various dark lords with unambiguously villainous names like Death Adder.

 

 

And as for Tyris Flare, she had the usual Amazonian flair (heh) or barbarian fantasy girl chic of the chainmail bikini, albeit in a nice white with red trim.

 

As one reviewer wrote, “this sexy Amazonian fighter is a firm favourite with players due to her excellent fire magic and extremely flimsy clothing. Another commented “thinking back to when we first saw that enormous dragon head hove into view and roast the occupants of the arcade cabinet to charcoal while Tyris strutted her stuff in a medieval bikini. That was something you didn’t see every day back then.”

 

 

The last version of the game, Golden Axe: Beast Rider, only had Tyris as a protagonist, upgraded to a newer (or older) style of barbarian cave girl chic – sadly, it did not do too well with its poor animation and other flaws.

 

 

LADY – DEVIL MAY CRY (2005)

 

Devil May Cry is Resident Evil, except with demons.

 

Seriously, it was originally intended to be a sequel in the Resident Evil series, but developed such a different style that it was developed into a new series, centering on the protagonist Dante’s goal of avenging his mother’s murder by exterminating demons (as you do). As the protagonist’s name suggests, the game was a loose allusion to Dante’s Inferno. (What isn’t? My life resembles Dante’s Inferno…)

 

Lady was introduced in the third instalment of the game in 2005 as a freelance demon hunter. (Wait, what? There are professional demon hunters?). She starts as something of an antagonist to Dante, but of course comes round to Dante’s side by the end of the game. For most of her debut, she “could convincingly be read as a gun-toting Catholic schoolgirl with a skirt made of rifle magazines. who has an incredibly violent grudge against demons”.

 

 

Otherwise, she has black hair and that soft spot of mine, heterochromia (or differently colored eyes). Lady is of course not her actual name but an epithet attached to her by the protagonist Dante (“Whatever, lady!”). She does have an actual name (Mary) but has renounced it (it’s complicated). But who needs a name when you have big guns – a customized missile launcher no less, as well as a pistol and submachine gun with a bayonet attached to it.

 

 

She proved so popular that she had an expanded role in later games, albeit swapping out her schoolgirl outfit for some sort of pant suit. And spending her time lounging around with Dante’s other female friends…

 

 

NARIKO – HEAVENLY SWORD (2007)

 

Another ‘hack and slash’ fantasy girl entry, Nariko is the wielder of the titular Heavenly Sword in the 2007 game, “set in an ambiguously Asian empire where everyone speaks with British or Australian accents.”

 

 

Nariko’s duty is to protect the sword from the villainous King Bohan (with voice acting and motion capture due to the involvement of Andy Serkis and Weta Workship) and…who needs a backstory when you’re a fiery redhead and she-devil with a sword in the style of Red Sonja? A damn big, magical sword in this case. Although, is that a big sword or is she just pleased to see her enemies (or the angle we see it in the art)?

 

 

BAYONETTA (2009)

 

How could I resist a fantasy girl with guns?

 

And not just any guns. She’s got guns on her shoes and she’s not afraid to use them – doubtless, the craziest female footwear in any video game.

 

Cosplay by Katyuska Moonfox

 

Not to mention a skin-tight body suit that is literally her shapeshifting magical hair.

 

 

 

And glasses – don’t forget those glasses (upon which the game creator insisted, “intended to differentiate her from other female characters as well as give her a sense of mystery and intelligence – or possibly just his preference for women with glasses).

 

Bayonetta is the titular heroine of the 2009 game, a ‘bullet witch’ who is capable of shapeshifting and using various firearms or magical attacks (and hair when she’s not wearing it) to kick the asses of angels run amok in a fictional city in Europe.

 

Those guns also come in blue. What? Surely you didn’t think she only had the one pair of gun shoes?

 

 

Apparently, the game’s theme was “s€xiness” and the characters were designed to be “fashionable”.

 

And how!

 

Well this model doesn’t have guns on her shoes but she’s still nailed this cosplay

 

In the words of TV Tropes, “Bayonetta is a third person Stylish Action Beat ’em Up…starring the title heroine, a badass witch who uses her hair as her clothes, guns on her feet, and a fathomless fondness for camp”.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Funk – Top 10 Music (Mojo & Funk): (6) Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Funk) – Welcome to the Pleasuredome (1984)

 

FRIDAY NIGHT FUNK – TOP 10 MUSIC (MOJO & FUNK): (6) FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (FUNK) – WELCOME TO THE PLEASUREDOME (1984)

 

“In Xanadu did Kublai Khan

A pleasuredome E-RECT!”

 

Welcome to the Pleasuredome – or the Leopard Lounge!

 

I’ve revised my Top 10 Music (Mojo & Funk), essentially so that the second half of the top ten replicates the Leopard Lounge, my exclusive and boutique night club with its rotating playlist of funk. And despite that rotating playlist, the Leopard Lounge traditionally opens with this thematic retro entry from the 1980’s – the title track from the debut album of Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 1984 (one of my favorite albums and well worth listening to as a whole).

 

 

Of course, their single Relax achieved more popularity (and notoriety) and while I also like it, my preference has always been for Welcome to the Pleasuredome in its album version, even at its epic length of 13 minutes or so.

 

“We’re a long way from home

Welcome to the Pleasuredome

On our way home

Going home where lovers roam

Long way from home

Welcome to the Pleasuredome”

 

After all, what’s not to like about a song adapted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, albeit one that transforms that poem’s celebration of creative energy into a paean of more overtly sexual energy?

 

Welcome to the Pleasuredome, indeed.

 

HOO HA! HOO HA!

Monday Night Mojo – Top 10 Music (Mojo & Funk): (1) The Doors (Jim Morrison) – L.A. Woman (1971)

 

MONDAY NIGHT MOJO – TOP 10 MUSIC (MOJO & FUNK): (1) THE DOORS (JIM MORRISON) – L.A.WOMAN (1971)

 

“Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light

Or just another lost angel?”

 

And here we are at the apex of mojo – The Doors with their “dark, theatrical blues-influenced psychedelic rock”, led by the poetic lyrics, deep silky voice and charismatic persona of Jim Morrison “aka Mr. Mojo Risin’ aka The Lizard King”.

 

At the suggestion of Morrison, their name came from the title of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, itself taken from William Blake – “When the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite” (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).

 

The Doors well deserve (and will get) a Top 10 of their own, drawn from their six studio albums, from their self-titled debut album through to their final studio album before Morrison’s untimely (but not exactly unexpected death, even to him), L.A. Woman. I enjoy all six albums, but those two albums are my favorite.

 

 

And for this entry, there can only be one song, the title track of that final album – a song with so much mojo that it famously features as Mr. Mojo Risin’, an anagram of Jim Morrison no less, in the song’s break with its rising crescendo of unmistakably sexual rhythm (and a figure I’ve adopted into my own pagan mythology – I believe in L.A. Woman and Mr. Mojo Risin’).

 

Mr Mojo’ Risin’ indeed. Whoa yeah!

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Video Games (Revised)

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FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF VIDEO GAMES

 

I’ve revised my Top 10 Girls of Video Games – adding another 2017 entry in tenth place, Ann Takamaki or Panther from Persona 5, knocking former eighth place Rayne from Blood Rayne into my special mention cult and pulp roll call. I’ve also shuffled other entries, particularly for a new top three including D.Va from Overwatch – as, in the words of Zoolander, she’s so hot right now.

 

If anything can compete with comics for their notoriety for, ah, idealized female figures, then it is video games – reflected in the game graphics or designs themselves, in art as prolific as that of comics (including adaptations of games into actual comics) and in the usual ubiquitous cosplay.

 

Although I'm not entirely sure why Duke Nukem has schoolgirls hanging off his legs...

Although I’m not entirely sure why Duke Nukem has schoolgirls hanging off his legs…

 

These are my top 10 girls of video games.

 

 

(10) ANN TAKAMAKI / PANTHER – PERSONA 5 (2017)

 

Skintight red catsuit? Check

Mask? Check

Whip? Check – o yes!

 

 

The game Persona 5 made its worldwide debut in 2017 and is, as the numbered title indicates, an instalment of the Persona series of fantasy role-playing games (which in turn are part of another franchise which is – look, don’t ask me, I just come to these things through the art and cosplay not the games).

 

 

The game is set in Tokyo – which is connected to the fantasy Metaverse. More about that later. Essentially, the roles for the role-playing are those of students, who can become superpowered Personae (hence the title) – manifestations of their psyches which do battle with supernatural enemies. They also assume identities as masked vigilantes known as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts – the hearts in question referring to darker desires, which take actual shape within the Metaverse, a realm of manifested psyches (perhaps like the realm of Dream in the Sandman comic or the realm of Madness in the Shade the Changing Man comic). And it only gets weirder from there (one of the characters is a weird cat-thing from the Metaverse), all in an anime-influenced style. Again, don’t ask me – I only come for the cosplay.

 

 

Interestingly, many of the characters within the game represent Major Arcana from the Tarot deck – indeed, with all but the World card represented by characters – I’m a sucker for the Tarot. (And yes – I have a Top 10 Girls of the Tarot). The Seven Deadly Sins also pop up as adversaries, not surprisingly in a realm that manifests the darker side of the human psyche. I’m also a sucker for the Seven Deadly Sins, both their personification in fiction and my enjoyment of them in life.

 

Art by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau

 

Anyway, our entry is the conspicuously blonde Japanese student Ann Takamaki, although in fairness she is actually identified to be of American origin (and her surname is actually Finnish – it’s got one of the those umlaut things over the last a). She’s also a model, because of course she is – it’s a video game.

 

 

Her Phantom Thief persona is Panther. Meow – or rowr! That’s persona in the lower case as opposed to the upper case Persona. Remember her Persona is her superpowered manifestation of her psyche (ultimately the goddess Hecate in her case) – her Phantom Thief persona is her masked vigilante costume identity.

 

 

Or in this case her kinky masked vigilante costume identity – skintight red catsuit, cat-mask, pink gloves…

 

Where was I? Oh – and her weapon of choice is a whip. And she whips it good.

 

Vampy Bit Me putting the me into meow

 

Sorry, where was I again? And naturally her Tarot Major Arcana is the Lovers.

 

Cosplay by Katyuska Moonfox

 

So yes – what’s not to love for her fans and cosplayers?

 

 

(9) 2B – NIER AUTOMATA (2017)

 

This game also had a spectacular debut in 2017, at least in terms of art and cosplay – Nier: Automata (or as it is stylized, NieR: Automata).

 

The game is apparently a sequel to post-apocalyptic game Nier – and things are even more post-apocalyptic. Post-post-apocalyptic, perhaps? It is the far future (11495 AD). Humanity, which wasn’t doing too well in Nier, is doing even worse in Nier: Automata. For centuries, humanity has been locked in a seemingly endless war against an alien invasion and its armies of machine lifeforms. The last remnants of humanity have fled to the Moon, deploying combat androids to liberate Earth for them. Actually, both humanity AND the aliens are conspicuously absent from their machine proxy wars – something which is explained in-game.

 

Anyway, the combat androids, dubbed YoRHA, are dispatched from an orbital base called the Bunker. The main protagonist is YoRHA No 2 Model B, or 2B for short – a female model android.

 

 

And what a female model! A white-haired pretty girl that has taken the world of art and cosplay by storm with her elegant steampunk appearance and long-legged look in a dangerously short skirt or her white leotard underneath it.

 

I’m not entirely sure why a female combat android model (and interestingly all the combat android models appear to be female) would wear what appears to be an elegant black lace dress – with thigh-high high-heeled stiletto boots and thigh-higher stockings (leading to the thigh gap dubbed zettai ryouiki in anime culture). She also wears a combat visor, which resembles a blindfold (for extra appeal).

 

 

 

Or for that matter why our most advanced military technology (in 11495 AD) seems to consist of…swords. In fairness, the androids do seem to have ranged weaponry and combat drones or pods to assist them, but they like getting up close and personal. Of course, the two things – combined into the proverbial hot girl with a sword – may just happen to be related to the fact that it is a video game (with the sword offering more in the way of gameplay).

 

 

 

Also in fairness, 2B seems marginally more practical than the A2 model, which resembles her in appearance but with longer hair and what appears to be a corset with suspenders.

 

 

 

There is also a male reconnaissance or intelligence model android – No 9 Model S or 9S – accompanying them, but he seems pretty useless and certainly not as fun.

 

Cosplay by disharmonica

 

“Emotions are prohibited.”

 

Well, for 2B perhaps, but she certainly has aroused a few emotions for game-players and cosplayers alike…

 

julietstarling

 

(8) JULIET STARLING – LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW (2012)

 

Juliet Starling has it all – she’s the top cheerleader at San Romero High School in California, she has her boyfriend Nick and she’s celebrating her eighteenth birthday after school.

 

There’s just the “minor matter of a zombie apocalypse tearing through San Romero High”, which is the premise of her “comedy horror action hack and slash video game”, Lollipop Chainsaw (of which one of the creators was James Gunn, more notably known now as the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films).

 

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Among the victims of the zombie apocalypse is Juliet’s boyfriend Nick, after he saves her from a zombie and is bitten in her place. But what’s a little zombie death compared to true love? Fortunately, in a line of inspiration drawn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Juliet is a zombie hunter – with enough knowledge of magic to separate Nick’s head from his infected body, while keeping it alive and hanging from her belt as her companion through the game (to voice his displeasure about his predicament).

 

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Armed with her magic chainsaw of the title – and with her ‘health’ fueled by lollipops that are the other half of the title – Juliet sets out to stop the overlords of the zombie apocalypse.

 

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In the words of TV Tropes:

Armed with her magical chainsaw to keep any grope-happy zombies at bay and aided by the support of her family and utterly bewildered disembodied boyfriend, Juliet becomes the last line of defense against disgruntled classmate/emo-goth-wannabe Swan and the Dark Purveyors, a group of Rock’n’Roll Zombie Lords who want to rip the entire world’s collective head open and gnaw on the brain matter therein.

And if that happens, who’s going to help Juliet celebrate her birthday?

julietgallery_pic_6906_0_63163

 

Of course, apart from her iconic cheerleader’s uniform, Juliet has a number of different costumes available through gameplay, including some anime cosplay characters (such as the thematically similar Rei Miyamoto and Saeko Busujima from High School of the Dead) – and particularly including her pink rider body suit, possibly painted on.

 

However, it is her iconic cheerleader’s uniform that lends itself most to cosplay – including the queen of cosplay herself, Jessica Nigri, who was official spokesmodel for the character in the marketing campaign for the game.

 

juliet-starling-larry-alan

 

Of course, other cosplayers have also donned their cheerleader costumes as Juliet.

 

 

Go, San Romero Knights!

 

 

(7) KASUMI – DEAD OR ALIVE (1996)

 

You spin me right round baby

Right round like a record baby

Right round round round!

 

No – not that Dead or Alive.

 

We’re talking about Dead or Alive as in the “big, bouncy 3D Fighting Game franchise” in which “even though the male fighters (initially) outnumber the female fighters by a slim margin, it’s the women who are the real stars of the show”.

 

 

And yes – we’re talking bouncy as in its prolific use of Jiggle Physics, also known as Soft-Body Physics, “the art and science of simulating the behavior of non-rigid objects and materials in a computer”. In fairness, the earliest uses for Jiggle Physics were not for simulating, ah, anatomy but hair and clothing – and there’s some pretty impressive programming behind it. Mmm…programming.

 

 

Anyway, the plot of Dead or Alive is “about the dealings of the sinister DOATEC corporation, who hold the Dead or Alive tournament as a front to finance the genetic research in creating the ultimate fighter. A runaway ninja named Kasumi gets tangled in the struggle, using the tournament as a means of escape and to look for her lost brother Hayate, and take revenge on her traitorous uncle, Raidou.” Other characters enter the tournament, including Kasumi’s half-sister, Ayane and – wait, there’s a plot?! Like virtually every martial arts game and many martial arts films, the plot boils down to a setpiece for martial arts combat – usually in the nature of something something martial arts tournament something. They don’t tend to be too memorable. I only vaguely remember the plot of one of the most famous, Mortal Kombat, as some sort of extra-dimensional martial arts tournament – FINISH HIM! FATALITY!! Similarly, one of my favorite films of all time is Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, but no one watches it for the plot – essentially revolving around a martial arts tournament held by a drug lord hoping to build a “fighting force of extraordinary magnitude”. Not without guns, you’re not. (And yes, I know that quote is actually from the parody “A Fistful of Yen” in Kentucky Fried Movie, but still).

 

 

As the ‘plot’ synopsis indicates, Kasumi is the main heroine of the series (“the face of DOA and eternal heroine”) – a ninja princess in exile whose signature fighting costume seems particularly conspicuous for a ninja (evoking the highly visible ninja trope), or indeed, lacking in any practicality for actual martial arts combat, but hot damn, it looks good.

 

 

Of course, she has had other styles of costume in her different game incarnations – with her appearance in the Ninja Gaiden game series actually resembling something more…ninja-worthy. According to Wikipedia, her character design is height 1.57 meters or 5’2”, 48 kg or 106 pounds and – of course – measurements 35-21-33.

 

 

Somewhat infamously, after their fights all the girls “tend to get together and play beach volleyball” – and to give their Jiggle Physics a real workout – in the spin-off series Dead or Alive: Xtreme, because of course they do. And of course there was a beach volleyball scene in the film adaptation, with Devon Aoki in the role of Kasumi – in fairness, it was probably the only memorable thing about the film.

 

 

 

Needless to say, Kasumi has been acclaimed for her, ah, visual appeal as well as for her martial arts ability (“She kicks high!”), as well as proclaimed as “nothing short of an icon”:

“This sultry redhead is also a fan favorite, and it’s not difficult to see why. In addition to being gifted as a fighter, she’s been graced with one of the finest digital bodies ever. Also, she is a freaking ninja.”

 

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(6) MORRIGAN AENSLAND – DARKSTALKERS (1994)

 

Darkstalkers was a fighting game series, with the twist that the game’s characters were based on classic literary or film monsters (although its Little Red Riding Hood character was the “biggest psycho of the bunch”).

 

Morrigan

 

Yet despite its large cast, the “most recognizable, prominently featured and iconic character” of the series – and video games in general – is its bat-themed succubus, Morrigan Aensland, which is only fitting as succubi just don’t get the attention they deserve.

 

morrigan

 

Of course, a large part of that is due to her appearance – “one thing that video game babes have over the real–life variety is that it’s much easier for a girl who’s made of pixels to rock an absolutely ludicrous outfit and still look hot … her appearances across the Capcom fighting franchises prove that the company has an excellent eye for the female form”.

 

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Her iconic appearance is as a beautiful young woman (belying her actual demonic age of centuries), with that aforementioned female form and long green hair, although the shade of green varied between art styles or artist. Her “absolutely ludicrous outfit” is essentially a black bustier leotard with purple nylons and black boots. She is described as 172 cm (or 5’8″) and 58 kg – and of course the game also has her measurements (86-56-83).

 

 

As for her bat theme, she out-bats the Batman. Her nylon tights are emblazoned with bats. She has bat wings – from her back of course, but also, more inexplicably from her head. And her outfit as well as her wings can themselves transform into swarms of supernatural bats.

 

And as for her backstory, she IS a succubus (with all the demonic sexiness that entails), but apparently of demon aristocracy – the adopted daughter of the demon king Belial – and born in Scotland (in 1678) of all places, although it doesn’t show in her game accent.

 

morrigan17edf181a37e1b61f10074fb3c344821-d7zrr1y

 

Given her iconic status, she might rank a little higher – but for the fact that there hasn’t been a new Darkstalkers game since the 1990’s. Oh – and those bat wings from her head. Also, there’s her sprite art in the game itself, but fortunately there is her extensive fan art and cosplay…

 

 

(5) MAI SHIRANUI – FATAL FURY / KING OF FIGHTERS (1992)

 

I do like my ninja girls!

 

Not surprisingly, they are a staple of the fighting game genre of video games. Mai Shiranui is yet another ninja girl or kunoichi. And as usual for ninja girls in popular culture, her signature fighting costume seems distinctly un-ninja-like or particularly conspicuous for a ninja (that highly visible ninja trope again). Firstly, there’s not much of it, all the better to display her, ah, jiggle physics (literally her trademark fighting stance – or bounce). Indeed, it was a challenge finding art that wasn’t, ah, exploitative. (Apparently that aspect of her character was inspired by tales of kunoichi using their bodies for seduction and distraction – I’m certainly distracted!). Secondly, it’s red – and rather weird in its design, not least in those weird tassel and ball things (although I like her little ninja footwear or tabi).

 

The many faces of Mai Shirunai. Actually, they’re pretty much the same face

 

She made her debut in the Fatal Fury fighting game series in 1992 – a series which consistently features that usual plot excuse of martial arts action set pieces, a martial arts tournament (which also strangely seem to be run by crime lords). The original game was set in the imaginatively named South Town in the United State (with its protagonist Bogard brothers, one of whom is the object of Mai’s infatuation). From there, it becomes insanely complicated – as the Fatal Fury characters then featured in King of Fighters, a crossover series combining the company’s other fighting game series.

 

 

The development of her character is quite intriguing, from her intended origin as a “sexy and beautiful kunoichi” (with her official character description in games as the “Gorgeous Ninja” or the “Knock-Out Ninja”). Apparently, her, ah, bust and buttocks were modelled after two different Japanese actresses (and her costumes certainly don’t let them go to waste). Otherwise, she “represents the ideal of a Japanese woman – or Yamato nadeshiko. Her profile lists her height, weight and measurements, because of course it does (1.64 m or 5’4”, 48 kg or 106 pounds and 87-55-91 or 34-22-36).

 

 

Her first name Mai is the Japanese word for dance and her surname is the Japanese word for an atmospheric ‘ghost-light’ phenomenon, referencing her pyrokinetic abilities. She has the ability to create and control fire – which she can use to cloak herself in fire, channel it through her clothes or weapons and cause explosions. Speaking of weapons, her weapon of choice is the characteristic kunoichi set of folding fans or tessen.

 

Cosplay by Giorgia Vecchini

 

“Largely due to her sex appeal, Mai has become one of the most popular, recognizable and celebrated female characters of the fighting game genre and video gaming in general, especially in Japan, China and some other East Asian countries”.

 

 

She has been a recurring character in the franchise as it has crossed into other games or media – anime, comics and the usual mediocre live-action film loosely based on the game, as well as the ubiquitous cosplay.

 

That’s one of her folding fans, by the way

 

In the words of Anime News Network – “Like it or not, Mai Shiranui is the most popular character from The King of Fighters…it’s Mai that everyone remembers for one reason or another” (I can think of at least two reasons). “And it’s Mai who gets the most merchandise, Mai whose absence from The King of Fighters XII set off a fan chorus of “No Mai, no buy,” and Mai who crosses over to other series – indeed, to other characters, as according to Hardcore Gamers magazine, Mai became a “leading figure in fighting games to the point that many fighting games characters feature characters looking oddly like her” (not least one other top ten entry, Kasumi from Dead or Alive).

 

 

(4) TIFA LOCKHART – FINAL FANTASY (1997)

 

I could well (and will) do a top 10 girls from the Final Fantasy game franchise alone, at least judging by its insanely popular cosplay. The game series itself is highly popular, in its fifteenth incarnation as of 2016, with the franchise also extending to anime or manga, CGI films and novels. Its popularity is helped by its outstanding production values and photo-realistic art in later versions.

 

 

It is a fantasy adventure role-playing game, in which the characters fight to save the world from evil. You know, usual fantasy stuff. And it has color-coded schools of magic, always a fascination of mine in fantasy – black magic or mages that focus on harming enemies, white magic or mages that focus on healing or helping allies, red magic or mages as a combination of both and so on (as well as more thematic schools of magic, such as summoning). However, the magic is combined with more advanced technology than the usual default medieval technology of high fantasy – airships and vehicles, guns and machines.

 

 

Tifa Lockhart is introduced as a character in Final Fantasy VII, the seventh edition of the game – which coincidentally (or not) was the same version of the game that broke through to widespread popularity in the Western world, as opposed to the Asian gaming market. The plot is too convoluted for a brief synopsis – Tifa is a childhood friend of (and has a crush on) protagonist pretty boy Cloud and joins him in what boils down to some sort of environmental resistance to a power company. That sounds mundane for a fantasy world, until you consider that it is a world-controlling corporation using the planet’s life essence as an energy source. You know, usual corporate stuff, even in our world.

 

 

Like any good role-playing game, Final Fantasy has character classes – and Tifa is of the monk character class, a combination of martial arts and mystical training (although a reasonably useless character class in Dungeons & Dragons). Her character design, however, is unlike that of your traditional monk – white tank top and black mini-skirt (with braces). The costume does vary, although the mini-skirt is a recurring staple. Apparently, there was a consensus amidst the game staff about the mini-skirt, giving her freedom of movement – or perhaps more honestly, “giving a considerable degree of exposure”.

 

“Exposure” – Tifa demonstrating the perils of a mini-skirt in a fantasy role-playing game

 

Most of all, she has distinctly un-monk-like measurements, because of course she has measurements, as all female characters in video games seem to do – 36-24-35″ (or 92-60-88 cm), standing at 5 feet 6 inches or 167 cm.

 

Tifa demonstrating her measurements

 

Not surprisingly, she has been named the pin-up girl of the “cyber generation” by no less than The New York Times.

 

You didn’t think I was going to have this entry without some Vampy Bit Me cosplay, did you? Of course not!

 

And of course she’s been a pin-up girl for cosplayers, albeit eclipsed in recent times by our third place entry.

 

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(3) D. VA – OVERWATCH (2016)

 

“Nerf this!”

 

My third place entry is one of the newer girls on the block – D. Va from Overwatch, a “team-based multi-player first person video shooter game developed and published” in May 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment, the same people behind World of Warcraft, and which has become equally as prolifically popular, at least in art and cosplay.

 

dva-screenshot-001

 

It was hard to choose as there are an number of female player characters, some of which came very close to claiming this spot (hello Widowmaker!), but ultimately I went with D. Va because she’s simply too adorable – and iconic of the game (and gaming in general).

 

As for the game background story, Overwatch is an “international task force of soldiers, scientists, adventurers and oddities” that was formed in 2046 in response to the global catastrophe known as the Omnic crisis – that standard trope of SF, a Robot War, after the so-called Omnic line of construction robots went rogue and militarized themselves. It was subsequently de-commissioned, only to be called for again thirty years later (in 2076) due to the activities of the mysterious Talon terrorist organization.

 

dvathumb-1920-703553

 

As for D.Va herself, that’s the call sign of South Korean girl Hana Song, a 19 year-old professional gamer – who reads something like a characteristic blend of anime and gamer dream girl, with some K-pop diva thrown into the blend. Her combat strength comes from her mecha robot suit, with the archetypal anime mecha backstory to match. During the Omnic crisis, an Omnic robot ‘monster’ rose like Godzilla from the East China Sea (presumably from a background of constructing deep sea rigs or something like that) to wreak devastation on coastal cities in South Korea and neighboring countries.

 

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In response, South Korea developed the Mobile Exo-Force of the Korean Army (MEKA). Originally a unit of drones, they had to adapt to piloted mecha (due to disruption of the drone units), but struggling to find suitable pilots, they turned to the country’s professional gamers, because of course they did – it’s set in a video game. Top stars were drafted, including reigning world champion D. Va.

 

dvathumb-1920-715394

 

And how! Clad in a skin-tight cat suit with a pink bunny girl theme – “her gameplay icon consists of a white bunny, she has a bunny decal sticker on her chest, and her gun even has a pink rabbit keychain”. For that matter, her mecha suit even resembles something of a stylized pink bunny and she often resembles a bunny girl herself, with her face markings evoking whiskers and her headset bunny ears.

 

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Of course, this is often emphasized in art and cosplay by placing her in a Playboy bunny costume.

 

D.Va Bunny Suit Cosplay Costume2

 

And speaking of cosplay – she’s an animesque South Korean gamer girl in a cat suit with a pink bunny theme. So of course she’s a popular subject of cosplay.

 

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That’s too much cuteness right there!

 

 

(2) AHRI – LEAGUE OF LEGENDS (2011)

 

Foxy lady!

 

I could just continue with the lyrics of Jimi Hendrix’s song but…

 

League of Legends (or LoL – lol) is a multiplayer online fantasy role-playing game in a similar style to World of Warcraft, although it has surpassed the latter in popularity since its release in 2009. The game’s popularity has also extended into merchandise and other media. The game mechanic is essentially that players control a character or ‘champion’ with distinctive abilities in the fantasy world of Runeterra, who then battles against other champions – “the champions and setting blend a variety of elements, including high fantasy, steampunk, folklore, and Lovecraftian horror”.

 

 

This insanely popular game has an insanely massive backstory or ‘lore’ to match – it has evolved from the original titular League of Legend (a magical battle arena used used to settle disputes between the competing fantasy factions) to the aptly named Universe, an extensive encyclopedia website (as well as written stories, artwork, comics, animations and other media).

 

 

So the choice of fantasy girl for this entry was tricky (and indeed deserving of its own top ten list), as there are again an insanely large number of characters from which to choose – 136 champions as at April 2017 – of which there are a number of female characters that are insanely hot. That’s even more so as each character has a number of variant appearances or ‘skins’, as well as other customizations.

 

 

In the end, however, there could be only one – Ahri the Nine-Tailed Fox. With her shapely form in her revealing, ah, skins, she has consistently appeared at the top of lists or polls for “the most desirable girls in the League” – which is only apt, as it reflects her seductive nature in the game itself. “To wit, she is so attractive that the sheer amount of s€xiness she puts out is a canonically-accepted game mechanic”. So much so that even other girls, not to mention otherworldly beings and eldritch abominations can find her attractive – and if they don’t, she can make them, as the most distinctive of her game abilities is a charm spell in the form of a blown kiss and shape of a heart.

 

 

As for her backstory, she was a literal fox, albeit smarter than the average fox, given that she was that foxy magical being known in Japanese folklore as a kitsune (or more precisely the somewhat more vampiric Korean equivalent known as a gumiho) – with intelligence and magic (including enchantment, illusion and shapeshifting) right down to the additional tails they grow as they get older, up to nine in total.

 

However, Ahri had ambitions to shift to a human shape and so she absorbed the life essence of a dying mage on a battlefield. With her newfound humanoid form, magic and seductive charm, she continued to absorb the life essence of men, until she contracted a case of conscience from – and about- sucking souls. (She can still do it but she’s just nicer about it).

 

 

In-game her character is a “deadly mage-assassin reliant on a heart-shaped Charm spell with a seduction-heavy theme and backstory”. She has taken to her human shape, although she retains such fox-like characteristics (or vulpine characteristics, if you want to be fancy about it) – her brightly colored eyes, whisker-like facial markings, cute fox ears and above all those nine fluffy  and incredibly agile tails, which resemble luxurious pillows on which she often lounges seductively.

 

And how! She’s seductive in her classic variant, but then there’s her variant ‘skins’ (some of which sound like various fashion or fragrance lines) – Arcade, Challenger, Dynasty, Foxfire and Midnight.

 

Perhaps the most notorious of her alternative ‘skins’ is her K-pop Popstar (or Generation) ‘skin’.

 

 

And then there’s her bikini or swimsuit style, which doesn’t seem to originate in any particular ‘skin’ but in fan adaptations or art and cosplay

 

Those tails sure do look comfy…

 

Love those tails!

And one can see why. Foxy lady, indeed! Now cue the Hendrix…

Foxy, Foxy

You know you are a cute little heart breaker

Foxy yeah,

And you know you are a sweet little lover maker

Foxy

I wanna take you home, yeah

I won’t do you no harm

You’ve got to be all mine, all mine

ooh Foxy Lady

Foxy, Foxy

 

 

(1) LARA CROFT – TOMB RAIDER (1996)

 

Could there be any doubt? Just as for my top girl of comics and my top girl of animation, there could only be one girl in the top spot as THE most famous, THE most iconic and THE most enduring action girl in video games (or indeed, video games protagonist in general) – the first (if not only) female video game character most people would name as such: Lara Croft, tomb raider. (Indeed, she holds a Guinness World Record for most recognized female video game character).

 

 

Tomb Raider is a video game franchise with Lara as the titular tomb raider and adventurer archaeologist (who, along with Indiana Jones, made archaeology seem adventurous rather than the boring dusting of broken pottery that it is in reality). The games have her trotting the globe, raiding tombs for treasure while avoiding rival hunters, wildlife, and various death traps.

 

 

Since its debut in 1996, the games have sold millions of copies and extended into comics, films (with Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander in the title role) and an animated series.

 

 

As for Lara herself, does she need any introduction? “A British archaeologist who has a knack for descending into trap-riddled tombs and ruins, and loves every bit of it”.

 

 

Armed with her wits and her trusty dual pistols” (with seemingly limitless ammunition, “Lara uncovers secrets across the globe stopping at nothing to get what she wants”. She is the archetypal video game action girl, “practically the trope codifier” for female video game protagonists of this type, and “at the height of her popularity, she was probably the best recognized and most popular video game character originating in the western hemisphere”.

 

 

Of course, two continuity reboots have led to three radically different Laras, while changing game design has multiplied these Laras even more, with alternate outfits (as well as magazine advertisements) from wet suits to bikinis to cocktail dresses.

 

 

Throughout her incarnations, she has been a s€x symbol, one of the earliest in the video game industry to achieve widespread attention, portrayed by official models and licensed for promotion or appearances – “as of June 2016, Lara Croft has been featured on over 1,100 magazine covers surpassing any supermodel”.

 

 

In appearance, she is depicted with brown eyes and reddish-brown to brown hair, frequently kept in a plait or ponytail, with her classic costume of turquoise tank top, light brown shorts, boots and socks (although, as noted above, there are variations on the theme and different costumes).

 

 

Her basic (or classic) costume makes for prolific cosplay – not to mention her official models. All hail Lara Croft, Tomb Raider and goddess of video games!

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Video Games: (10) Ann Takamaki / Panther – Persona 5 (2017)

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF VIDEO GAMES: (10) ANN TAKAMAKI / PANTHER – PERSONA 5 (2017)

 

Skintight red catsuit? Check

Mask? Check

Whip? Check – o yes!

 

 

It’s time to update my Top 10 Girls of Video Games with a new entry from a game that made its world-wide debut in 2017, resulting in some impressive art and cosplay. (This new entry effectively displaces Rayne of Blood Rayne from my top 10 to my special mention roll call of cult and pulp entries).

 

The game Persona 5 is, as the numbered title indicates, an instalment of the Persona series of fantasy role-playing games (which in turn are part of another franchise which is – look, don’t ask me, I just come to these things through the art and cosplay not the games).

 

 

The game is set in Tokyo – which is connected to the fantasy Metaverse. More about that later. Essentially, the roles for the role-playing are those of students, who can become superpowered Personae (hence the title) – manifestations of their psyches which do battle with supernatural enemies. They also assume identities as masked vigilantes known as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts – the hearts in question referring to darker desires, which take actual shape within the Metaverse, a realm of manifested psyches (perhaps like the realm of Dream in the Sandman comic or the realm of Madness in the Shade the Changing Man comic). And it only gets weirder from there (one of the characters is a weird cat-thing from the Metaverse), all in an anime-influenced style. Again, don’t ask me – I only come for the cosplay.

 

 

 

Interestingly, many of the characters within the game represent Major Arcana from the Tarot deck – indeed, with all but the World card represented by characters – I’m a sucker for the Tarot. (And yes – I have a Top 10 Girls of the Tarot). The Seven Deadly Sins also pop up as adversaries, not surprisingly in a realm that manifests the darker side of the human psyche. I’m also a sucker for the Seven Deadly Sins, both their personification in fiction and my enjoyment of them in life.

 

Art by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau

 

Anyway, our entry is the conspicuously blonde Japanese student Ann Takamaki, although in fairness she is actually identified to be of American origin (and her surname is actually Finnish – it’s got one of the those umlaut things over the last a). She’s also a model, because of course she is – it’s a video game.

 

 

Her Phantom Thief persona is Panther. Meow – or rowr! That’s persona in the lower case as opposed to the upper case Persona. Remember her Persona is her superpowered manifestation of her psyche (ultimately the goddess Hecate in her case) – her Phantom Thief persona is her masked vigilante costume identity.

 

 

Or in this case her kinky masked vigilante costume identity – skintight red catsuit, cat-mask, pink gloves…

 

Where was I? Oh – and her weapon of choice is a whip. And she whips it good.

 

 

 

Vampy Bit Me putting the me into meow

 

Sorry, where was I again? And naturally her Tarot Major Arcana is the Lovers.

 

Cosplay by Katyuska Moonfox

 

So yes – what’s not to love for her fans and cosplayers?

Monday Night Mojo – Top 10 Music (Mojo & Funk): (2) Jimi Hendrix (Mojo) – Voodoo Child (1968)

 

MONDAY NIGHT MOJO – TOP 10 MUSIC (MOJO & FUNK): (2) JIMI HENDRIX (MOJO) – VOODOO CHILD (1968)

 

“Well, I stand up next to a mountain

And I chop it down with the edge of my hand

Well, I stand up next to a mountain

Chop it down with edge of my hand

Well, I pick up all the pieces and make an island

Might even raise just a little sand

‘Cause I’m a voodoo child

Lord knows I’m a voodoo child”

 

It doesn’t get much more mojo than Jimi Hendrix.

 

Well, obviously it does in my first place entry, but not apart from that.

 

Hendrix could make that guitar sing (and sing the Star-Spangled Banner as he did at Woodstock). Or set it on fire – literally.

 

In the words of his Wikipedia entry, “he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century” – and “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

His three studio albums – Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland – are three of the best and most iconic albums in music, while his songs could well (and will) have their own Top 10.

 

Ultimately however, there is one song with the most mojo for me – Voodoo Child, or more precisely, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), from his Electric Ladyland album in 1968.

 

 

Again to quote a review in Wikipedia – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is “a perfect example of how Hendrix took the Delta blues form and not only psychedelicized it, but cast an even more powerful spell by delivering the lyric in the voice of a voodoo priest…”Opening with a simple riff on the wah-wah pedal, the song explodes into full sonic force, the guitarist hitting the crunching chords and taking the astral-inspired leads for which he became infamous. The real guitar explorations happen midway through the song, while the basic, thundering riff is unrelenting”.

 

Joe Satriani said it simpler – “It’s just the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity.”

 

“I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time

I’ll give it right back to you one of these days

I said, I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time

I’ll give it right back to you one of these days

And if I don’t meet you no more in this world

Then I’ll, I’ll meet you in the next one

And don’t be late, don’t be late

‘Cause I’m a voodoo child

Lord knows I’m a voodoo child”

Top 10 Girls of Anime (Special Mention) – Cult & Pulp

 

TOP 10 GIRLS OF ANIME (SPECIAL MENTION) – CULT & PULP

 

I’ve revised my Top 10 Girls of Anime (Special Mention – Cult & Pulp) entries to add in a few entries shuffled from former honorable mention.

 

Essentially, I round out my Top 10 Girls of Anime with my roll call of cult and pulp favorites that fall short of the ongoing interest (typically as in more prolific art or cosplay) of my honorable mentions or the iconic (or idiosyncratic) status of my special mentions.

 

 

(1) LUST – FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST (2003)

 

Mmm… slinky! But also, ah…spiky?

 

Lust is one of the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins in Fullmetal Alchemist. Or rather, ah, homunculifications?

 

You see, Fullmetal Alchemist is set in a fantasy world ruled by alchemy, typically by official State Alchemists (who automatically earn the rank of major in military forces). Alchemy is capable of producing almost anything through Transmutation Circles, although it is governed by the Law of Equivalent Exchange – in which you have to give up something equivalent in exchange for what you want. Almost anything, that is but for gold and humans – I’m not sure of the reasons for the former (which after all was the point of medieval alchemy transmuting lead into gold) but there’s a heavy exchange for the latter and success has proved elusive. That includes the two protagonist brothers of the series, who attempted to use alchemy to resurrect their mother – literally costing an arm and leg for the one and his whole body for the other. (He gets better – his brother sacrificed his arm to restore his soul to a suit of armor).

 

 

Anyway, it is possible to use legendary Philosopher’s Stones to short circuit the Law of Equivalent Exchange – and also to create (and ‘power’) homunculi, artificial humans with superhuman abilities. That includes the main antagonistic force in the series, the homunculi created from and named for the Seven Deadly Sins by the primary antagonist of the series known as Father. Each homunculi is identified by their bearing of the mark of the Ouroboros somewhere on their body (guess where on Lust) and possesses a heightened regenerative ability, rendering them nigh indestructible, though not invincible.

 

 

Which brings us to the homunculi Lust the Lascivious – and with a name and personification like that, it’s not hard to see why she’s one of my fantasy girl entries. That and, well, vavoom! Or in other words, a statuesque figure (the author has admitted that she likes drawing buxom women) poured into a slinky black dress to match her own dark brunette red-eyed beauty.

 

 

Just don’t get too attached – although she does evoke the usual definition of her namesake, her primary lust is blood lust and she can extend her fingers into absurdly long and sharp femme fatalons. You know, like Wolverine’s adamantium claws. Only sexier.

 

Of course, she has been a favorite with cosplay models, including two of my favorites featured here – Vampy Bit Me and Katyuska Moonfox.

 

 

(2) KAN’U UNCHOU – IKKI TOUSEN / BATTLE VIXENS (2003)

 

Well you can’t go past that English title of Battle Vixens!

 

But seriously, it was essentially the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but with Japanese schoolgirls.

 

 

No, seriously. The majority of anime or manga seem to be set in school – or with schoolgirls – in any event, no matter how incongruously, so it’s not too much of a leap.

 

After all, there’s an anime with schoolgirls to evoke every arm of service in the Second World War:

 

There’s Girls und Panzer, which depicts a competition between girls’ high schools practising tank warfare with Second World War tanks as a sport, or more precisely, martial art – sensha-do or the Way of the Tank. Actually, that sounds so wild as to be awesome. Then there’s Strike Witches – an alternate history in which an invasion by a mysterious alien force diverts all nations on the eve of the Second World War to resist the invasion, naturally using animal-themed schoolgirl witches named after ace pilots in aerial combat, which admittedly sounds even more wild (and more awesome). And then there’s my favorite one of them all, Kantai Collection or Combined Fleet Girls Collection, which apparently originated as some sort of game – in which schoolgirls personify or incarnate Second World War naval vessels against an abyssal opponent.

 

And for the fangirls, there’s Axis Powers Hetalia – in which nations, particularly the Axis Powers of the Second World War, are inexplicably (and possibly offensively) anthropomorphized as handsome young men and in which Germany seems to have some sort of crush on hopeless but cute Italy. Anime…is weird.

 

So the Romance of the Three Kingdoms as high schools battling for turf supremacy seems positively normal by comparison.

 

 

And the fan favorite as well as one of the strongest warriors was Kan’u Unchou, a third year student at Seito Academy (apparently corresponding to the Shu Kingdom). Her signature appearance was a school uniform with a dangerously short skirt, equally dangerous short shirt that extended only to midriff and the baggy socks that are common aspects of style among Japanese schoolgirls.

 

 

More relevantly to her battle prowess, she carries the nearly invincible Blue Dragon Crescent Blade as well as the legendary sword Kusanagi.

 

Art by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau

 

(3) REIKA SHIMOHIRA – GANTZ (2004)

 

I do like posthumous fantasy – and Gantz is apparently a posthumous fantasy, in which students killed in a train accident find themselves part of some weird game in which they and other recently deceased people are equipped with advanced technology and directed by the titular spherical entity to fight aliens. And vampires later on. In the words of TV Tropes, imagine wanton gore and nudity “with Doom’s disturbing nature and Neon Genesis Evangelion’s outright insanity” and then “put that on crack and toss it in a septic tank”.

 

 

That’s pretty much all I know – Reika Shimohira, a pop idol from high school who is killed and also finds herself in the game, came to my attention through cosplay by Vampy Bit Me

 

 

And Katyuska Moonfox

 

 

(4) WITCH BLAIR – SOUL EATER (2008)

 

Soul Eater is another weird (and particularly cartoonish) anime – in which the Grim Reaper himself trains human warriors or ‘Meisters’ and their ‘Weapons’ (other humans that bond with the Meisters and shapeshift into weapons) to hunt down corrupted human souls and Witches. Yeah, I didn’t really follow that either – and I’ve seen it.

 

 

Witch Blair – and yes, she’s named in tribute to the Blair Witch Project – initially presents as one of the Witches that are the primary antagonists, but is benevolent and her status as a Witch is deceptive. She’s actually just a cat with magical powers, including the ability to transform herself into human form – or perhaps more precisely, catgirl form (since she retains her ears and tail while her eyes remain somewhat feline).

 

More Katyuska Moonfox cosplay!

 

Cosplay by Jannet Incosplay

 

She seems to prefer her human form – and I mean human form, given that she has little concept of modesty. Indeed, she’s introduced in the bath, and remains prone to wardrobe malfunctions (losing her towel and so forth) thereafter. Her character does seem to capture the essence of what a cat would be in human form – if that cat was equal parts mischievous and incredibly flirty. But is there any scene that Blair can’t make better just by showing up. No. No, there is not – she is fun personified.

 

 

(5) BLUE ROSE – TIGER & BUNNY (2011)

 

“My ice is a little bit cold but your crime has been put completely on hold”

 

Yeah, she’s required to say that as her catchphrase (to her distaste). She’s also required to wear that costume (which she also dislikes). And advertise her sponsor’s product, Pepsi NEX (although her advertisement is something to see).

 

 

She’s Blue Rose, celebrity corporate sponsored superhero – her sponsor company took part in producing the first true blue rose through genetic engineering, hence her alias and impractical rose-themed costume- and she is from the anime series Tiger & Bunny. The series is set in an alternate history – with the focus on a fictional and futuristic version of New York City called Stern Bild City – in which superpowered humans known as NEXT (Noted Entities with eXtraordinary Talents) have emerged over the last 45 years, some of which becoming superheroes. Corporate sponsored superheroes that is, sporting logos or advertising on their suits – and their profile depends on the popular reality TV show HERO TV, through which they are awarded ‘hero points’. Of course, the focus of the series are the titular heroes, veteran Kotetsu Kaburagi (or Wild Tiger) and rookie Barnaby “Bunny” (as he is nicknamed by Tiger) Brooks Jr, who are forced to team up by their respective sponsors to improve their profiles (in essentially an anime superhero spin on the buddy cop storyline).

 

 

Blue Rose is the superhero identity of Karina Lyle, a young NEXT with freezing powers (who adds blue color to her natural brown eyes and blonde hair as well as other feature for her superhero appearance). Although she is quite competitive with other heroes, she forms something of a bond with the eponymous pair, namely because she has a crush on Tiger. However, she’s not as effective as she might be, at least initially, as she has a habit of comically retreating from fights if they get too difficult for her, a move Hero TV dubs as the Cutie Escape. In fairness, much of it is prompted by her ridiculously impractical costume and stiletto heels – she genuinely wants to save people and improves her abilities as an action hero as the series develops (particularly as the series develops in a darker direction), even as her sponsor pushes for a skimpier costume (“a thong and masking tape” as she complains).

 

Art by Sakimichan

 

(6) RIAS GREMORY – HIGH SCHOOL DXD (2012)

 

“My name is Rias Gremory, and I’m a devil….Not only that, but I’m your master too. You’re mine now”

 

Need I say more?

 

 

It would be remiss of me not to award special mention to Rias Gremory, literally queen of the devils in…school. Yes, where else? It’s anime after all. Unknown to its human students, the prestigious Kuoh Academy actually also hosts warring supernatural beings – primarily devils, angels and fallen angels. Despite being a devil, she’s actually quite nice. It’s the fallen angels you have to watch out for…

 

 

(7) LUCOA – MISS KOYABASHI’S DRAGON MAID 2017

 

Behold the Aztec feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl! Or Lucoa for short. And to paraphrase the old joke about God, she’s blonde.

 

Yes – something was changed from Aztec mythology in this anime, Miss Koyabashi’s Dragon Maid.

 

As for the anime itself, TV Tropes summarizes the plot:

 

“Kobayashi was just a hard-working, otaku software programmer living in Tokyo until one night she got drunk. In her drunken stupor, she climbed a mountain, came across a wounded dragon named Tohru, and pulled a giant, divine sword out of her, saving her life. Before going home, Kobayashi told Tohru she could come live with her if she wanted. When she wakes up the next day, remembering nothing, she rushes off to work and runs into Tohru outside her apartment door. Having heard Kobayashi’s drunken rants about maids, Tohru magically transforms into a mostly-human maid and devotes her life to being Kobayashi’s maid. Knowing nothing about maids or human society, of course.”

 

 

So in other words, your standard anime. Additionally, Tohru’s presence attracts other dragons, gods and mythical beings to her new home – which is where Lucoa comes in.

 

Of course, there’s Tohru herself, a female dragon of the Chaos faction (whatever that is). Like all dragons, she changes to human form, although retaining her horns (which seems to be common throughout dragon shapeshifting) and her literally big-ass tail (less common). In a maid’s uniform, which she conveniently explains away as cosplay.

 

 

However, the titular dragon maid Tohru is overshadowed by the divinely voluptuous Lucoa – Aztec dragon goddess, who lost her divine status centuries ago after getting drunk and causing a scandal (much like the Quetzalcoatl of the original mythology). Needless to say, she’s a favorite with fans and cosplayers – with her standard outfit of cap, tank top, shorts, thigh-high socks and shoes.

 

 

Of course, this being anime, there’s the ubiquitous beach episode – in which Lucoa wears barely there swimwear and is bounced (literally) from the beach. Twice.

 

Her most striking feature is her heterochromia – differently colored eyes (although it is hard to notice as she mostly has both eyes or one eye shut), right eye with a blue iris and large yellow pupil, and her left eye with a black-bordered, dark-green iris. What can I say – I’m a sucker for mismatched eyes, in fiction at least.

 

So bonus points to all cosplay with heterochromia. Also bonus points for being Jessica Nigri

 

In the anime, she lives with a boy convinced that she is a succubus after she interrupted his summoning spell to prevent him from summoning a dangerous demon. Mind you, her appearance and behavior doesn’t do much to dispel this belief. A running gag involves him scolding her as “bad demon” whenever he bumps into her bust, which in fairness, seems hard to avoid.

 

Hmm – now there’s a Meso-American deity I can get behind!

 

Fantasy Girls – Top 10 Girls of Anime (Special Mention – Cult & Pulp): Lucoa – Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid 2017

 

FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF ANIME (SPECIAL MENTION – CULT & PULP):

LUCOA – MISS KOYABASHI’S DRAGON MAID 2017

 

Behold the Aztec feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl! Or Lucoa for short. And to paraphrase the old joke about God, she’s blonde.

 

Yes – something was changed from Aztec mythology in this anime, Miss Koyabashi’s Dragon Maid.

 

Mainly this guy…

 

As for the anime itself, TV Tropes summarizes the plot:

 

“Kobayashi was just a hard-working, otaku software programmer living in Tokyo until one night she got drunk. In her drunken stupor, she climbed a mountain, came across a wounded dragon named Tohru, and pulled a giant, divine sword out of her, saving her life. Before going home, Kobayashi told Tohru she could come live with her if she wanted. When she wakes up the next day, remembering nothing, she rushes off to work and runs into Tohru outside her apartment door. Having heard Kobayashi’s drunken rants about maids, Tohru magically transforms into a mostly-human maid and devotes her life to being Kobayashi’s maid. Knowing nothing about maids or human society, of course.”

 

 

So in other words, your standard anime. Additionally, Tohru’s presence attracts other dragons, gods and mythical beings to her new home – which is where Lucoa comes in.

 

Of course, there’s Tohru herself, a female dragon of the Chaos faction (whatever that is). Like all dragons, she changes to human form, although retaining her horns (which seems to be common throughout dragon shapeshifting) and her literally big-ass tail (less common). In a maid’s uniform, which she conveniently explains away as cosplay.

 

 

However, the titular dragon maid Tohru is overshadowed by the divinely voluptuous Lucoa – Aztec dragon goddess, who lost her divine status centuries ago after getting drunk and causing a scandal (much like the Quetzalcoatl of the original mythology). Needless to say, she’s a favorite with fans and cosplayers – with her standard outfit of cap, tank top, shorts, thigh-high socks and shoes.

 

 

Of course, this being anime, there’s the ubiquitous beach episode – in which Lucoa wears barely there swimwear and is bounced (literally) from the beach. Twice.

 

Her most striking feature is her heterochromia – differently colored eyes (although it is hard to notice as she mostly has both eyes or one eye shut), right eye with a blue iris and large yellow pupil, and her left eye with a black-bordered, dark-green iris. What can I say – I’m a sucker for mismatched eyes, in fiction at least.

 

So bonus points to all cosplay with heterochromia. Also bonus points for being Jessica Nigri

 

In the anime, she lives with a boy convinced that she is a succubus after she interrupted his summoning spell to prevent him from summoning a dangerous demon. Mind you, her appearance and behavior doesn’t do much to dispel this belief. A running gag involves him scolding her as “bad demon” whenever he bumps into her bust, which in fairness, seems hard to avoid.

 

Hmm – I suddenly have a renewed interest in Meso-American deities…

Monday Night Mojo – Top 10 Music (Mojo & Funk): Carlos Santana (Mojo) – Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen 1970 (Mother’s Daughter 1970)

 

MONDAY NIGHT MOJO – TOP 10 MUSIC (MOJO & FUNK): CARLOS SANTANA (MOJO) –

BLACK MAGIC WOMAN / GYPSY QUEEN 1970 (MOTHER’S DAUGHTER 1970)

 

“I got a black magic woman

Got me so blind I can’t see

That she’s a black magic woman

She’s tryin’ to make a devil out of me”

 

My mojo entries tend to be more about their lyrical quality than musical quality, but here the mojo is definitely more musical – Carlos Santana became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his eponymous band, Santana, which pioneered a fusion of rock and Latin American music with his “melodic, blues-based guitar lines set against Latin and African rhythms featuring percussion instruments such as timbales and congas not generally heard in rock music”.

 

This entry is the definitive example of that. The song itself is a cover of a Fleetwood Mac single (indeed a number of Santana’s hits were cover versions) but Santana makes it his own, with the vocals (sung by Santana band member Gregg Rolie) merely forming the skeleton for the body of exuberant instrumentals, particularly with the high-paced ‘outro’ – which is technically another song Gypsy Queen but was paired with Black Magic Woman on the original album and generally ever since.

 

 

Speaking of the original album, that was mystically titled Abraxas and released in 1970, with the memorably psychedelic cover art of Mati Klarwein’s 1961 painting Annunciation. Abraxas remains for me the high point of Santana’s music and an album well worth listening to in its entirety.

 

 

Which brings me to my close runner-up, also from that album but not released as a single from it – the equally exuberant Mother’s Daughter

Top 10 Fantasy & SF TV Series (Revised 2017)

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TOP 10 FANTASY & SF TV SERIES (REVISED 2017)

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I’ve revised my Top 10 Fantasy & SF TV Series to add new series, particularly Stranger Things, but also American Gods, Black Mirror and The Magicians (which displace previous entries into honorable or special mention). The Walking Dead has also started its free fall through my top ten towards special mentions, as my interest has waned with the latest seasons (although perhaps I shouldn’t have overtaken the series with the comics).

 

For many – perhaps most – people, fantasy and SF is a cinematic or screen experience rather than a literary one – and in this present so-called Golden Age of Television, that screen often tends to be the smaller screen of television rather than the larger cinematic screen.

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These are my top 10 fantasy & SF TV series here on Stark After Dark, judged by their mythic effect on me – the way in which they changed or shaped the way I see the world (my mythos as it were), or defined the way I view fantasy or SF on TV. This makes my top ten lists for television among the most fluid of my top ten lists, because with some notable exceptions, they typically consist of series presently screening or ongoing, as they are the ones that continue to engage my interest or imagination (particularly as it is their ongoing mythos that engages me). Once a series is past or finished, I tend to relegate it to special mention – or, for that matter, when a series has waned over time. And that is where it gets still more fluid as, again with notable exceptions, fantasy or SF series have a habit of waning in quality with ongoing seasons, often (or perhaps especially) after the opening premise of their first season (or in terms of TV Tropes, moving beyond seasonal rot to jumping the shark).

 

 

(10) THE MAGICIANS (2015 – PRESENT)

 

In a nutshell, The Magicians combines a dark adult version of Harry Potter with a dark adult version of Narnia.

 

In my Top 10 Fantasy Books, I confessed my fantasy fan secret that I don’t particularly like Harry Potter. I don’t particularly dislike it either. It’s…okay. Which is to say it just pales in comparison to some of the other children’s or young adult fantasy out there, some of which are wild rides indeed, and I evoked Australian writer Garth Nix by comparison.

 

On screen (albeit the small screen), the Magicians offers a more intriguing comparison – as I said, it combines a dark adult version Hogwarts in its Brakebills University with a dark adult version of Narnia in its Fillory.

 

The TV series adapts Lev Grossman’s novel series of the same name and premise – protagonist Quentin Coldwater enrolls at Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy to be trained as one of the titular Magicians, where he discovers that the magical world from his favorite childhood books is real and poses a danger to humanity. Over time, the series develops a number of intriguing and overlapping narrative threads.

 

In The Magicians, magic is dangerous. And it costs, usually in sacrifice or profound loss. That’s whether it’s the curriculum of spells in Brakebills University or so-called hedge witches scrounging for scraps of magic elsewhere. Magical creatures and gods are dangerous. The magical land of Fillory is dangerous – particularly as the seat of power of the Beast, who has made it over in his image (and whose face is shrouded in a swarm of moths).

 

To paraphrase Hemingway, magic tends to break everyone (although most of the magicians are somewhat broken in the first place) – but those that will not break, it kills.

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(9) I-ZOMBIE (2015 – PRESENT)

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This entry, iZombie, is based on a Vertigo comic series (albeit one I have not read). It’s a spin on the zombie apocalypse, or perhaps more precisely, the zombie virus (which of course is potentially a zombie apocalypse). With the titular zombie, it features what must surely be the zombie pinup girl, Olivia “Liv” Moore – certainly the most attractive zombie in popular culture (with the arguable exception of Jenna Jameson in the deplorable film Zombie Strippers, although that was the premise of the film’s ‘joke’, such as it was). Of course, it helps that she is not, you know, decomposing – although her zombification has resulted in a pale emo white-haired appearance.

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The premise of the series is summarised by TV Tropes:

 

“Olivia “Liv” Moore is a young, upwardly-mobile go-getter who has it all. She’s pretty, perky, has a hot fiance, and is on the fast track to becoming a heart surgeon. Well, she was“.

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What she is now is a zombie – after being scratched in a zombie outbreak at a party, she emerges from her body bag (much to the alarm of emergency services personnel) to find that she is now undead herself. As a zombie, she finds she can preserve her bodily and mental faculties as well as retain her personality by eating brains, so to do so she now works in the morgue rather than as a surgical resident. However, a side effect of eating brains is that she picks up some of the memories, skills and personality traits of the original – ah – brain ‘donor’, which she then channels into assisting a police detective to solve their murders (the usual source of the morgue’s bodies) by posing as a psychic (while collaborating with her supervisor, who is aware of her condition, to find a cure).

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It’s a genre-bending series – combining elements of urban fantasy, horror and police procedural drama amongst others, not to mention the various conspiracies, both living and undead, to exploit the zombie virus for fun and profit (not least the corporation whose energy drink lead to the initial outbreak).

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

 

(8) ASH VS EVIL DEAD (2015 – PRESENT)

 

Hail to the king, baby!

 

Well, not quite – Ash is back (played gloriously by the chin himself, Bruce Campbell), but things haven’t turned out quite so well for him. What’s worse – the evil dead are back as well, due to a moment of characteristic idiocy by Ash. (Pro tip – do not get stoned and read books of the dead. Although it does set the tone for the series). O well – it’s only the end of the world. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

Ash vs Evil Dead flows directly from the Evil Dead film franchise – which, as I said when I placed it in the top spot of my top 10 horror films, is not high art, but it embodies (in virtually every sense of that word) the archetypal B-grade horror movie in all its fun and glory, with tongue ever more firmly in cheek. Of course, the TV series starts with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Well, in someone’s cheek at least. Probably a whole lot of cheeks.

 

Need a recap? Ash helpfully provides it in the first episode:

 

“Thirty years ago, my friends and I spent the night at a cabin. We found the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the book of the dead. Certain passages were recited. It awoke something in the woods. Something evil. I was the only one to escape. But now, the evil has found me.”

 

And it certainly has – from the opening ass-slapping scene onwards. Hold on – you’re in for a wild ride! All the iconic elements from the film franchise are there – the Book of the Dead, the Evil Dead, the chainsaw, Ash’s hand(s), that cabin with its eldritch architecture, all that dark fantasy comedy you loved from the sequels and all that splashing of gore that defines the franchise. And a lot of new elements, including some genuine touches of nightmare fuel amidst the dark fantasy comedy – as well as Xena’s Lucy Lawless.

 

Groovy!

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(7) THE STRAIN (2014 – PRESENT)

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It’s a vampire apocalypse in a box!

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My fifth place entry is one of two (or perhaps three) genuinely horror series in my top ten fantasy and SF TV series – and a vampire horror series at that, something of a rarity in television.

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And one that portrays vampires as the blood-sucking parasitic abominations they are. (Yes – I have fantastic racism against vampires. Stake them all in the sun, I say. Except hot vampire girls, of course. And there’s none of those in this series). In this case, vampirism is spread by the worm-like parasites that crawl from their bodies, one of which was depicted burrowing into an eye in an infamous promotional poster. (It’s reminiscent of the Lovecraftian vampire parasite things in the pulpy Necroscope book series by Brian Lumley).

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It’s a welcome relief from the sexy (or worse, sparkly) vampires of True Blood (or worse, Twilight) and most vampires in popular culture these days – the vampires in The Strain are distinctly unsexy vile abominations of extreme body horror. It’s hard to be sexy when your (male) genitalia have atrophied and dropped off, while your excretory organs have fused together into a cloaca. Eww!

 

The series is the brainchild of Guillermo de Toro (yes, THAT Guillermo de Toro) and Chuck Hogan, based on their novel trilogy of the same name (albeit one originally conceived as a story line for a television series). The series opens with CDC medical staff called to an airliner in which everyone appears to have succumbed to a mysterious viral infection or disease. Or at least, so authorities surmise – instead, it is worse. Much worse.

 

Soon, New York finds itself battling for its very existence against an ancient enemy with humanity itself at stake.

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(6) THE WALKING DEAD (2010 – PRESENT)

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The zombie revolution WILL be televised!

 

Zombie apocalypse television series, The Walking Dead, is based on the Image Comics series of the same name, although if anything the comics are even more bleak and brutal. Anyone can die – and when they do, they become zombies. However, the zombies play a larger role in the first few seasons, with the apocalypse looming larger in the later seasons. In later seasons, the zombies recede somewhat into the background, mostly as an ever present lurking threat, but manageable. Like weeds. Although unlike the comics, no one ever seems to refer to them as zombies – always using terms such as walkers, biters or whatever.

 

Anyway, the true villains are amongst the post-apocalyptic human survivors. The Governor. Terminus. Wolves and Saviours.

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They are the antagonists for our focal group of survivors, led by former police officer Rick Grimes – and with an ever rotating roster, as members are munched by zombies or killed off by post-apocalyptic villains. The group forages for survival and refuge on the southern Atlantic seaboard of the United States, originally in the surrounds of Atlanta. And it is particularly known for its post-apocalyptic pinup boy Darryl, who’s just too cool for zombie food despite the disadvantage of not being in the original comic.

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Yeah, he's not going anywhere

Yeah, he’s not going anywhere

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Finally, it also has one of my favorite opening sequences, changing over the seasons, but consistently evocative images in faded color of the detritus of the post-apocalyptic United States – with just a hint of zombie.

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

 

(5) BLACK MIRROR (2011 – PRESENT)

 

Black Mirror – the cyberpunk Twilight Zone of the twenty-first century!

 

Okay, that cyberpunk label may be overstating it, but it certainly is a series of dark and satirical twists in the tale of the unanticipated or unintended consequences of technology and social media in modern society – or, in the words of series creator Charlie Brooker, “the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”

 

It is an anthology series with no continuity between episodes – each episode has a different cast, a different setting or even a different reality, so you don’t have to watch them in order. Personally, I’d recommend starting with the third season and working your way backwards (at least until the awaited fourth season) – particularly as the very first episode doesn’t extrapolate so much on technology or social media and can be a little confronting (although unforgettable – let’s just say you won’t feel about pork the same way again).

 

As for the premise and title of the series, it’s back to Charlie Brooker:

 

“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”

 

Black Mirror episodes deserve their own top ten list – some episodes appeal more than others, although there have been no dud episodes to my taste. However, the third season is a definite highpoint (although that is not to exclude The Entire History of You in the first season, White Bear in the second and the White Christmas special) – with the series’ most acclaimed episode of San Junipero (a touching love story with some virtual twists and turns) as well as Nosedive (in which society is stratified into castes based on social media popularity) and Men Against Fire (with its chilling dehumanization in a dystopian war).

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

 

(4) AMERICAN GODS (2017 – PRESENT)

 

“Believe”

 

American Gods is worth it for the psychedelic opening title sequence alone.

 

But of course it’s worth it for much more than that. It adapts the novel by Neil Gaiman, who (as I opined in my Top 10 Fantasy Books) may simply be the greatest living writer of fantasy – and my favorite Gaiman novel at that (as well as my favorite fantasy book short only of The Lord of the Rings).

 

Both novel and series focus on Shadow Moon, one of my favorite fantasy protagonists – although series Shadow is less of an unfazed everyman than novel Shadow, as the latter would work less well on screen. Shadow accepts a job offer as a ‘bodyguard’ for a mysterious man named Wednesday after being released from prison (particularly as he finds himself at a loose end after his wife and best friend are killed in a car accident in a compromising position with each other). This takes him into a world of gods and mythic beings that exist because people believe in them – and even more so, a looming war between the waning old gods of traditional mythologies and rising new gods of modern society.

 

One of the most striking features of the novel was Gaiman’s lyrical invocations of gods and goddesses, which the series adapts into striking visual invocations of gods and goddesses – reflecting that Gaiman is “very involved with the production of the series as well as the vision of series creator Fuller in adapting the mythic world of the novel.

 

The series expands on the mythic world of that novel – a joy to someone such as myself who loved that world and wanted to explore it further – as well as the events of the novel. And so we see an expanded role for Laura, Shadow’s magically revenant wife and one of my favorite characters from the novel.  We also see a role for Jesus, the subject of a throwaway line from the novel by one of the envious old gods – “there’s a lucky son of a virgin”. Or more precisely, ah, Jesuses, as there are often different incarnations of gods based on different beliefs – perhaps most powerfully in an incarnation by Mexican immigrants.

 

The series also perfectly captures the thematic power of belief from the novel – one of my favorite sequences involves Shadow making snow from belief (under Wednesday’s tutelage) in the episode named for it, “Head Full of Snow”. And then there are the gods themselves, brought to life (along with the other characters) by inspired casting choices – particularly with the new gods fleshed out from the novel, led by the trinity of Mr. World (played to creepy awesome effect by Crispin Glover), Media and the Technical Boy.

 

Above all, the series perfectly depicts how the gods and magic can turn our mortal world inside out. The gods are dangerous, even the old gods as shadows (heh) of their former selves

 

Believe. O yes – believe.

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

 

 

(3) STRANGER THINGS (2016 – PRESENT)

 

I assume this series needs little introduction – the Netflix Original series to rival HBO’s Game of Thrones!

 

And what’s not to love for fantasy and SF fans?

 

Eleven! The Upside Down! The Demogorgon and Mind Flayer! Steve Harrington’s magnificent hair (and its secret)!

 

 

More broadly, 1980’s nostalgia and pop culture references aplenty! Psychokinetic girls (reminiscent of Charlie, not to mention her adversary, the Shop, in one of my favorite Stephen King novels, Firestarter). Extradimensional alien invasion – evoking Alien and Aliens in Seasons 1 and 2 respectively (with more than a touch of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos)! Mysterious government agencies to rival the nastier versions of men in black (with their black helicopters) – so that’s what the Department of Energy does?

 

And of course there’s all those Dungeons and Dragons references for this fantasy fan – “I’m our Paladin, Will’s our Cleric, Dustin’s our Bard, Lucas is our Ranger, and El’s our Mage”.

 

To quote Wikipedia, series creators the Duffer brothers “developed the series as a mix of investigative drama alongside supernatural elements with childlike sensibilities, establishing its time frame in the 1980s and creating a homage to pop culture of that decade. Several themes and directorial aspects were inspired and aesthetically informed by the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King, among others”. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980’s, the first season focuses on the investigation into the disappearance of a young boy amid supernatural (or rather paranormal) events centered on the nearby Hawkins National Laboratory – and the second season is even, ah, more upside downier.

 

On the other hand, I can suspend disbelief in the Demogorgon and Upside Down – but no one ever made it that far in the Dragon’s Lair videogame…

 

RATING – IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

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(2) GAME OF THRONES (2011 – PRESENT)

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House of Stark! HOUSE OF STARK!

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Of course, you saw this coming. Adapted from George R. R. Martin’s (unfinished) book series A Song of Ice and Fire (and sharing the same title with the first book), executive producer David Benioff jokingly suggested a tagline of The Sopranos in Middle Earth.

 

Or rather, I’ll make my own Middle Earth – with blackjack and hookers!

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More accurately, it has a plotline drawn from history, if history was much more interesting with dragons and zombies – the English War of the Roses (with the northern House of Stark substituted for the House of York and the southern House of Lannister substituted for the House of Lancaster) mixed with Hadrian’s Wall (with a zombie apocalypse brewing north of it), with more exotic elements (the Mongol Dothraki horde and Khan Khal Drogo).

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Anyway, the combination has proved wildly popular – “Game of Thrones has attracted record numbers of viewers on HBO and attained an exceptionally broad and active international fan base. It has received widespread acclaim by critics, particularly for its acting, complex characters, story, scope, and production values”. Even better, it has contributed to “the popularity of fantasy themes and mainstream acceptance of fantasy fandom”, so that “you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t a fan of some sort of epic fantasy”. Of course, the nudity, sex and violence helps.

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As for me, I was hooked from those awesome opening credits and opening scene of the first season – with the Night’s Watch looking into the heart of the night north of the Wall. The scenes of the Night’s Watch and the Wall have tended to be my favorite throughout the series.

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And of course, the series is a positive boon to people with the name of Stark (yes – that is my actual surname), although our House hasn’t been doing too well.

Sigh - honor before reason

Sigh – honor before reason

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Like little miss badass Arya Stark, I have my list of characters who must pay for their crimes against the House of Stark (with Littlefinger in top spot). O yes, they will pay…

 

The North remembers – and winter is coming.

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

 

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(1) BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (ANGEL) (1997 – 2003)

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“Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a Chosen One. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers. She is the Slayer”.

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And in the end, just like the Slayer, there can only be one TV series in the top spot – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For me, just as The Lord of the Rings defined literary (and cinematic) fantasy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer defined television fantasy – hence its top spot. In the words of TV Tropes (which itself originated as a Buffy fansite), “nobody can deny or ignore the influence of Buffy on the TV shows that followed it, both within and outside the genre”, notably in longer story arcs within seasons. Robert Moore of Popmatters wrote “TV was not art before Buffy, but it was afterwards,” and similarly Dr Who executive producer Russel Davies has said “Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed the whole world, and an entire sprawling industry, that writing monsters and demons and end-of-the world is not hack-work, it can challenge the best. Joss Whedon raised the bar for every writer—not just genre/niche writers, but every single one of us”.

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As for Buffy herself, she is one of the most iconic female figures in fantasy (and certainly in television fantasy). The premise of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with the name as part of the premise) is an inversion of the horror trope in which the doomed (dumb) blonde girl (typically of the appearance of a cheerleader, if not an actual cheerleader) is attacked by monsters in dark alley. In Buffy’s case, the blonde cheerleader is the Slayer, a mystically empowered warrior of whom the monsters are afraid.

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In the story, Slayers are called or chosen by fate, one at a time (passing on with the death of the previous Slayer), to battle against vampires, demons and other forces of darkness. (The prehistoric origin of the Slayer was explored in the seventh and final season of the TV series. Indeed, the Lovecraftian origin of demons and vampires is set out in the very outset of the show – demons originally ruled the world, before some sort of mystical realignment moved them into other dimensions, with vampires remaining behind as a lower form of demon in the bodies of their mortal victims). This mystical calling endows them with superhuman physical strength, endurance, agility, accelerated healing, intuition, and a limited degree of clairvoyance or precognition. (On one occasion, Buffy refers to her spider senses tingling). Like previous Slayers, Buffy (famously played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is aided by her “Watcher”, a member of an ancient conspiracy dedicated to finding and training Slayers to fight the forces of darkness. However, unlike her predecessors (and critically for her unusual longevity as a Slayer), she has a circle of loyal friends who dub themselves the Scooby Gang.

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The starting point of the television series is the original film (both the brain child of Joss Whedon) – Buffy has learned that she is the Slayer and hoping to elude her responsibilities (as well as being forced to move schools after setting the school gym on fire to kill the vampires inside it), moves with her mother to Sunnydale, an apparently sleepy little town in southern California. However, things are never so easy, as she soon learns that Sunnydale sits on top of the Hellmouth, a mystical source of energy (and portal) which accounts for the never-ending stream of monsters drawn to it (and for Buffy’s own presence there). The series continues as Buffy battles various hellbeasts and spawn while juggling her double life as a schoolgirl (and while Sunnydale’s adults for the most part seem to be unable to acknowledge the evil brewing right under their feet).

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Apocalypse? Just another day in Sunnydale. Or as her tombstone read (she got better), she saved the world a lot.

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One of the greatest strengths of the series was its metaphorical and thematic depth – “given that demons on Buffy are walking metaphors for existing evils — reptilian authority figures, suddenly-soulless boyfriends, and so on — the B-horror trappings take on an entirely new meaning, usually with a sly feminist wink inserted”. The premise of the early seasons was ‘high school as hell’, extending to life in general in later seasons (and its spinoff series, Angel). Indeed, real life arguably became the antagonist in the sixth season (although that season had a mixed reception). Of course, there were still supernatural antagonists – a trio of fanboy nerds who suddenly decided to become supernatural supervillains, and more apocalyptically, Buffy’s own friend Willow, crazed on (and addicted) to magic (which, in the betrayal by a close friend, perhaps brings us back full circle to real life as antagonist). One episode from this season (and perhaps my favorite episode) illustrates this best, while also presenting itself as an alternative (and arguably more plausible) storyline for the entire series – with Buffy a patient in  an asylum, lapsing into catatonic fantasies of herself as Slayer. Although one aspect of the real life as antagonist bugged me – Buffy’s financial difficulties. Surely the Council of Watchers, who seem to have extensive resources acquired over centuries or millennia – including the means to purchase rare magical books and to infiltrate their members as librarians in schools – could pay for their most valuable asset, the Slayer herself?

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Our Lady of Sunnydale

Our Lady of Sunnydale

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Close-runner up is the spin-off series Angel, although one might well regard it as intimately part of the ‘Buffyverse’ as the parent series itself – with characters (and storylines) shared between the two series. It featured Buffy’s vampire boyfriend (the vampire with a soul) setting himself up as a mystical private investigator in Los Angeles facing the forces of evil (and worse, their lawyers), broadening the scope of storytelling well beyond the suburban Hellmouth of Sunnydale – “part horror, part melodrama, part neo-noir, with a helping of comedy (a given for Whedon)”.

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****