Welcome to BINGE-READ MANGA, a new monthly feature where I look at a manga series that's been running for a while and has a good back catalogue built up. Just as Netflix exists well for cramming seasons of TV into a sitting, so too do these manga exist for tearing through six or seven volumes back-to-back.

To start us off, we're headed deep into the culinary craziness territory of Yuto Tsukada and Shun Saeki's Food Wars.

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THE STORY AND CHARACTERS


The way I've pitched this to the uninitiated is it's Harry Potter by way of Iron Chef - you know, that really awesome old Japanese cooking show where a flamboyant man who owns a Kitchen Stadium gets chefs from around the world to compete with his own masters of specialty cooking, which had a really, really goofy (and excellent) English dub? Yeah, that Iron Chef. That's the tone Food Wars sets right from the off.

Culinary prodigy Soma Yukihira helps run a self-titled family restaurant with his father, Joichiro. A revitalisation of his former famous cooking career leads Joichiro to leave the restaurant, sending Soma to learn better cooking skills at the prestigious Totsuki Institute. Upon arriving at the Institute, Soma learns that the people there take cooking seriously to an absurd degree; the Institute is presided over by an absurdly powerful student council of ten cooking masters who might as well be big black slabs with red numbers of the front (that's an Evangelion joke, by the way). Soma vows to do his best and show the snooty, upper-class culinary masters that his own grounded, down-to-earth training can still compete with the best of them.

The series mostly follows Soma and the friends he makes at Totsuki, including Megumi - a shrinking violet who quickly learns how to assert herself - and Isshiki - an always-naked carefree member of the student council and one of Soma's dorm-mates. They all cook under the prideful eye of Erina Nakiri, granddaughter of the Institute's Dean and a young woman blessed with a pallet so discerning that her first words were a critique of her mother's breast milk.

While Food Wars is definitely good when it comes to plot and pacing, its true strength lies in the characters. Especially once the premise is established, the characters and their respective developments take centre stage and become more interesting than the narrative thread running through them all. At times it's even questionable as to whether Soma's the main protagonist; so many of the others are fleshed out and expanded on that it becomes more of an ensemble piece than a hero's journey. Even as an ensemble story, Soma's personal narrative still works well in amongst the other tangling character arcs vying for dominance. Food Wars is very much a bildungsroman - a coming-of-age story - at heart, a factor that bleeds into many other characters' arcs as well.

As much as it contains the odd serious moment, Food Wars is a largely absurd and comedic manga. The characters take cooking battles as seriously as a duel with pistols at dawn, and strange metaphors for the taste of food - such as tasting like "being hit over the head with a jukebox" - give a constant impression of a narrative outside the realistic sphere. That's probably par for the course with a shonen like this, but at times it can be a little too ridiculous.


If I have one concern about the story - in fact, the reason I list it as a binge-read - is the constant use of end-of-volume cliffhangers. There were a couple of moments (including and especially the end of Volume 4) where I would've groaned at the thought of not having the next volume immediately to hand. While it's not as bad as Attack on Titan or Fullmetal Alchemist in the cliffhanger game, there are still moments where Food Wars yanks the chain by leaving a character's fate or a cooking battle up in the air. So really, if you're keen on checking it out, maybe grab a bunch of volumes instead of one or two; you'll thank me for it later.

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THE ART AND VISUALS


Food Wars is food porn; every illustration of a dish by artist Shun Saeki is beautifully and lovingly drawn, and even in black-and-white the meals look good enough to eat (also helpful is the recipes included of dishes cooked by the characters in each volume). The shift in art styles when characters eat great food works well, though there are a few NSFW panels when characters try food that's so good, they imagine their clothes flying off. Very funny, but you probably don't want your boss to glance it over your shoulder.

There's a distinct shift between the realistic sections, used for character interaction and plot movement, and the exaggerated, over-the-top style used in the cooking battles. Seriously, those battles look almost like epic Dragonball Z fights with the amount of auras, insane food flips and lightning bolts on display. When Soma whips his bandanna off his wrist and ties it to his forehead in heroic style, you know you're about to see some epic culinary clashing.

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DOES IT HAVE AN ANIME?


Sure does. It's currently available for streaming here. I've only seen a few episodes, but it seems like a largely recitative version of the anime. Great stuff, and nice to see it in colour; reading the manga, I keep forgetting Soma's actually a redhead.

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HOW MANY VOLUMES ARE OUT?


In Japan, they're up to 14, but over here we currently have 7 of the English version. They're coming out around every two months at the moment, so that's a fairly decent rate.

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WHY IT'S BINGEWORTHY


As I said, there are volumes reliant on cliffhanger endings, so you'll want to read a few in a row for that alone. But even in the volumes without them, it's still a story I kept wanting more of each time I finished a chapter. The characters expand and become so engrossing that even some of the actual plot doesn't matter as much to me. There's a distinct sense of family growing between the protagonists (and even a few of the antagonists), even amongst all the shadowy dealings of the student council and the impending massive cook-offs the characters have to constantly prepare for.

It's not perfect - again, it can get a little too silly at times - but it's a damn good read. If you're someone like me who liked the balls-out craziness of Iron Chef, this is basically a lot of that in manga form. I'd say that's a recipe worth checking out.



Food Wars Volumes 1-7 are available in English now wherever Manga is sold.
Volume 8 is available in November 2015.

Review copies of Volumes 1 and 2 supplied to Geek of Oz by Madman Entertainment.
DISCLAIMER: As this review is a First Impressions of a game that is still in development, there will be no */10 Geeks score at the end. There is also a slant towards the positive aspects and, unless otherwise stated, any mention of negative elements or bugs may be attributed to the game still being made.

Some who wish to remain clean of any foreknowledge may also find MINOR SPOILERS in this review.

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If you'd asked me three years ago whether I'd be up for covering Dark Souls III, I'd've probably said no. By most accounts, the first game was both overwhelmingly difficult and known to lead to players literally snapping their controllers in half. But then my housemate birthday gifted it to me, and I found it pretty enjoyable in a maniacal, clearly-I-have-no-will-to-live kind of way.

The second game, simultaneously improving on and mucking up elements of the first one, was also pretty great. I did like the greater emphasis on the main character, as well as the tightening of the graphics for the new console generation.

Now we have a third one. You know that old adage, 'second verse, same as the first', or that other one, 'rinse and repeat'? Change 'second' to 'third', and you're getting close to defining the essential experience of Dark Souls III.

Let me put up a disclaimer before I go in: what I've played of Dark Souls III was not bad by any stretch. If you're an existing fan, you'll love it. If you're new to the franchise, you'll probably find it accessible. Aside from a few technical glitches - which, in a tech demo like this, are expected - Dark Souls III was not bad. What it was, instead, was staid. Un-evolved. More of the same.

It's my belief that From Software may be moving into the safe, comfortable territory that various Mario, Legend of Zelda and Call of Duty games inhabit; namely, they've found a pattern and are sticking to it. Why fix what isn't broken, if what you've got works so well? Innovation for innovation's sake is pointless, and can kneecap a franchise if it's already got a good groove going on, right?

Well, yes and no. It's comforting that Dark Souls III presents more of the same, and will be quite streamlined for new fans to get into as well as the old-hand Souls crowd. You're still a nameless fighter traversing a gorgeous, gothic landscape and fighting all manner of medieval and Lovecraftian horrors who all have designs on your entrails. You're still blocking, dodging, running out of stamina and stabbing for all your might against said foes. Even though the layout and specifics of the world have changed - the demo takes place in the suitably-named 'Wall of Lodeleth' - there's a cozy sense of familiarity from the get-go. All that muscle memory you've honed playing the first two Souls will pay off, veteran players!

But at the same time, I did have to double-check and confirm that yes, I am actually playing the third Souls game as opposed to the first or second. The visuals, gameplay and implied storyline all bear the hallmarks of the series thus far, and without much in the way of change it feels more like an expansion pack, or DLC, than a game in its own right. I'd even suggest, as others already have done, that perhaps From Software are angling the series into becoming an annual occurrence, a la Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty. If they're going in that direction, with minimal changes and maintaining most of the status quo, then an appropriate qualifier for Dark Souls III might be that its a 'challenge pack' rather than a 'sequel'.

I can see the value in releasing annual Souls games, even if I'd disagree with it. Since the franchise is predicated on players getting involved with its uber-hard, grindy qualities, you could almost have it as a new set of challenges released every twelve months to see how good your skills are, or present another puzzle for you to eclipse. It's the kind of challenge that's better and more involved than those of the repetitious FPS and third-person action games that are released each year. Hell, maybe even pick a release date and make it "Souls Day", an annual event where games are purchased, livestreams flared up and controllers snapped in displays of boss-homicide frustration.

But honestly, I find the concept of sequels coming out way too hard on the heels of their forebears frustrating. It'll be clear, both from this demo and the timeframe between Souls II and III, that not much will change. We might get a new story, some new toys to play with, a new setting to plunder for Titanite Shards, sure. But it'll become repetitious. Routine. Run-of-the-mill. Something regular. I dunno, I might be talking crazy but I feel like that robs the games of their value somewhat.

I've kinda talked around the game rather than about it, but as I said, it's more of the same with some new enemies and a fresh coat of paint. My experience was split between an outdoor castle-type area and the inside of a cavernous church playing host to a monster that is the bastard child of a Ringwraith and one of the Crones from The Witcher 3. Both areas were expansive as far as demos go, and the challenge was pretty good. There were some zombies on their knees, seemingly praying to the desiccated corpse of a dragon, its scales literally flaking off and floating away in the breeze. A skeleton erupted suddenly into an oil-slick-dragon-worm-demon thing, which was equal parts unexpected and grotesque.


It's not that Dark Souls III was without its moments, and as I said it's a perfectly acceptable repetition of what's come before. But if innovation and change are what you, like me, seek in a sequel, we may just need to stick with Bloodborne for now.

This weeks episode is a quick one as Stu and I discuss the trainwreck that is the latest Fantastic Four film.

Listen as we don't hold back on our thoughts of the film as we record post screening. Seriously it was almost like therapy recording this episode.

Be warned there are spoilers in this review (but honestly we're saving you money watching this film), and also apologies in advance some bad language was used during this episode.


As always it would make our day if you could take a couple of minutes to rate and reviews us on iTunes or drop us some feedback below! Really keen to have your input in the show.

-Billy

This week's discussion topic: Post Fantastic Four review (Spoilers)


Get it from Podomatic here

Get it from Itunes here


Stu (stu@geekofoz.com)

Billy (@aqualec, billy@geekofoz.com)



So this weeks a big 'un.

Yes, I am well aware we say that every time, but this episode is actually our longest yet! Plus for the first time since episode one we are back to four panellists WOOOOOO.


Joining me in the studio, and by studio I do mean my lounge room, are Stu (who is yet to miss an episode), Chris (The prodigal son of Geek of Oz) and special guest Paul Caggegi. Paul is a Sydney based comics creator, know for his sci-fi series Pandeia.

As well as dad jokes, Paul had a lot of great insights into the comics making process, visual storytelling, indie comic economics and marketing your books. Seriously this is episode is a must for all you aspiring comics creators out there!!!

You can find out more about Paul and grab PDF's of Pandeia volume one (collects issues 1-5) and Pandeia issue 6 here. Be sure to get in quick as they are currently on sale for the low-low price of just 99c!

As always we thrive on your feedback, so please let us know what you like/love/don't like/hate/super hate about the show. We want to hear from you!!!!!

Till next time!

-Christof

Get it from Podomatic here

Get it from Itunes here



Upcoming events: 

  • The Ritz cinema will be screening a Dragon Ball Z double feature - showing Battle of the Gods and Resurrection F back to back Thursday August 6. Tickets are just $10 per feature. For more details check out the website.
  • SMASH is on again at Rosehill gardens August 8-9. Guests include Japanese cosplayers Reika and Kaname, voice actor Noriaki Sugiyama (bleach) and blogger Danny Choo just to name a few. Plus be sure to say hi to this week's special guest Paul Caggegi who will be sketching up a storm in the artists circle. 




Paul (@pandeiacomic, http://www.paulcaggegi.com) 

Read: The Martian
Watch: Antman, Stargate Atlantis
Play: Fez, The Witcher 3


Chris (@ChrisComerford3, chris@geekofoz.com) 

Read: Superior Spiderman Hardcover volume 3, Small Favour (Book ten in The Dresden Files series), Words of Radiance (Book Three in The Stormlight Archive series)
Watch: Sense8
Play: The Witcher 3, Rocket League

Stu (@stucoote, stu@geekofoz.com) 

Read: -
Watch: Amy, Trainwreck, Mission Impossible 5, The Imposter, Creep, Far from heaven
Play: Red Dead Redemption


Christof (@weeklygeek, christof@geekofoz.com) 

Read: Fables #150 (a.k.a volume 22), Hawkeye volume 4, East of West volume 4, Zero volume 4
Watch: -
Play: Batman: Arkham Knight, The Unfinished Swan





Love or hate him, Cruise still delivers action that thrills.

- Stu



Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation hits cinemas this week. If you see it and agree or disagree with my extensive review feel free to drop a line below. 

THE SHORT VERSION


I'm not sure if it'd be fair to call Godzilla a movie tie-in game, but it certainly feels like one. It's the kind of exercise in brand management designed to give the illusion of wish-fulfillment - "Wow, I get to play as Godzilla after watching him smash buildings for two hours? Awesome!" - and instead delivers an experience that admirably disappoints (I'll explain that odd dichotomy later).

Godzilla is not the game I expected, nor was it the game I was hoping for. Other reviewers have already savaged it to kingdom come, but I don't feel as strongly as they do. It was definitely flawed, but in an endearing way, like a paperback novel scribed by a crayon-wielding Kindergartener. There have been worse attempts at monster-destruction simulators, and there have been better. Whether you'll want to play it or not depends heavily on that dichotomy I mentioned, which I'll endeavour to explain below.

STORY


You are Godzilla. You smash things. The end.

Did you really come to Godzilla for a great story, a well-thought-out and compelling narrative with
sharp dramatic turns and character arcs? No. Of course not. You came here to wreck stuff. Come on. Admit it.

Part of what makes Godzilla endearing is its almost complete disregard for something resembling a story. Oh, there is one, it's just presented the same way the stories of Just Cause 2 or Angry Birds are: on the margins, there if you want them, able to disregarded without ruining the experience.

You are Godzilla, and, depending on which gameplay mode you choose, you're either striving to do as much damage to a human city as possible or you're trying to defeat six other giant monsters to become King of the Kaiju. That's really as far as it goes, and as I said you can ignore the narration from human characters and feeble attempts at dramatic dialogue to instead concentrate on beating your previous "Buildings Toppled" record.

What more could you ask for?


GAMEPLAY


Well, for starters, you could ask for some slightly smoother controls.

While the tutorial at the start of the game does a good job of outlining how to play, I still feel like the control scheme doesn't quite work. All but one of your buttons are melee attacks, and the one that isn't is a ranged attack (GODZILLA LASER BEAMS, HELL YES). Given that your large-limbed lizard player character moves only at a speed slightly faster than a golf cart, this means you'll spend a lot of your time either plodding towards something or smacking it with the button-mashing instincts of a Tekken player. This isn't so much a problem in the city-destroying mode, since the human forces attacking you have the threatening qualities of a one-winged butterfly, but in King of Kaiju mode it makes it hard when you're facing enemies who can move out of claw-smacking range and deliver nothing but laser beams spams towards you at long range.


That mode in particular has problems, which may have been because the only monsters I had unlocked were variations on Godzilla. The kaiju encounters are randomised, meaning you could be facing the doormat-like MechaGodzilla, who goes down in a few hits, then move onto a flying moth-butterfly-laser-beam-thing who take you down with a few well-placed attacks. Maybe the playing field becomes more leveled after unlocking more monsters to play as, but as it stands it's a very difficult mode to get into from the beginning.

Godzilla's main problem is that it feels like a very insubstantial game. My glib summary of the story at the top of this review is largely it: you're Godzilla and you smash things. Every button you press is designed to smash things, like you're a slightly bigger version of 'Splosion Man. The goal for pretty much every mode is to smash things. That's really all there is to it.

This feels like it could've been a fun, 15-minutes-at-a-time downloadable title rather than a full-blown Triple-A release. The battle and combat animations are fairly long and drawn out, but they have the Dark Souls quality of not being able to land damage if you're hit by an enemy midway through your claw swing animation. The buildings and destroyable things take a few good hits before they can fall - seriously, you're telling me a giant TV aerial can take more hits than an aircraft carrier, Godzilla? - and when they do, the animations of their destruction feel wonky and more like the kind of stuff you'd see in a PS2-era game. The lack of a story works for the game's benefit, but the constant narration from the oblivious human characters telling you (and, by proxy, Godzilla) how to kill them get annoying after the first half-dozen lamentations.

But y'know, all of the above is endearing. It's a goofy game that wants to be taken seriously; you're playing as Godzilla smashing buildings and battleships, battling giant monsters for control of the world. How could you not experience the game with a complete lack of seriousness?

The problem really is its release format. As a nice little $15 downloadable title, it'd be a fun diversion. As a $69 full-priced Triple-A release, it doesn't cut the mustard.

VISUALS


I want to give immediate props to the opening tutorial level, done in greyscale as a direct homage to the old-school Japanese Godzilla films where your objective is to stride through a city and destroy a radio tower. It was fun and pretty cool to play through what is essentially a scene from one of those old schlock-festivals, so if nothing else that was a highlight.

The graphics for the rest of the game are a little basic. As I mentioned above, this feels very much like a PS2-era game with fairly simple graphics and battle animations. Godzilla certainly doesn't get its mileage out of the PS4's advanced graphics capabilities, and does look somewhat dated despite the fact it's a recent release.

Godzilla himself, as well as the other monsters, are quite nicely done, and resemble their selves from the Japanese films well. There is a certain coolness to the rapidly-destroyed battlegrounds you fight them on, with flames rising from destroyed oil tanks adding some good background detail to your climactic Clash of the Kaiju.

SOUND AND VOICE ACTING


The sounds and music are taken almost verbatim from the old movies, including Godzilla's iconic onomatopoeia roar. They do a good job at adding to the atmosphere, and it really does feel like you're recreating aspects of the films.



WRAPPING UP


Godzilla is, objectively, not a very good game. Its graphics look dated, its gameplay is monotonous, the story doesn't quite work and it feels like it should've been released at a much lower price point. As I said, other critics have mauled the game beyond all recognition for how slighted they feel at its poor quality.

But really, I didn't mind it. It's definitely a time-killer that's fun for a good half hour rather than a prolonged weekend stint, and there is definitely some fun to be had in smashing up buildings as the world's most famous killer reptile. It is admirably disappointing; it could have been better regarded for the things it does right if it weren't overshadowed by the things it does wrong.

Do I recommend it? Possibly. Maybe wait for the bargain bin on this one.

- Chris








Bridget Jones 2.0, raunchy comedy with heart. Amy Schumer rocks!

- Stu



Trainwreck hits cinemas this Thursday, if you see the film and agree or disagree with my thoughts then you know the deal, just yell at me in the comments below.