Assassination Classroom, Volume 7 by Yusei Matsui

Volume 6 ended with the cliffhanger of looming exams and Volume 7 starts with those exams taking place. Once again, these are represented as epic battles between the students and large monsters. Though I generally don’t find exam storylines to be as exciting as other, I do have to admit that this is a clever way of portraying the in a visual medium.

However, once the exams are all wrapped up, the action moves to a tropical island resort. Here the students plan out the perfect assassination – something which could they’re sure could never go wrong. I really appreciated this change of setting as keeps the story nice and fresh (rather than just always being in the classroom.)

I have to say, this volume does just about everything right. There’s a lot of comedy and affability from Koro-sensei, but also a lot of high-stakes drama. I really enjoyed the big attempt on Koro-sensei and the consequences of that (I won’t spoil anything) and by the end, things are much more serious than they have ever been in any volume up to this point. It’s hard to stop reading. But at the same time, some of the moments in this are some of the funniest so far. There’s a good mix.

So, if you’ve read up through the first six volumes and are wondering whether or not to get the next, definitely do it. This is such a good instalment and I regret not instantly starting to read the following volume when I finished it. I’m reading something else now, which I’ll force myself to finish first. It’s by no means bad, but Assassination Classroom is just in this sublime realm of its own.

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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The Best Stories are Balls of String

I’ve been thinking about what makes a story a good one and I’ve come up with something that was never really taught to me when I studied Creative Writing. A lot of people think of plots as a simple progression from point A to point B, which you can visualise as a piece of string. But I think this is far too simple, in fact, as you can probably tell from this post’s title, I think the best stories are, in fact, balls of string.

Know what I mean? Perhaps not, so allow me to unpack that metaphor for you. One string is one person’s story, going from point A to point B and each novel is going to contain quite a number of characters. All of these characters should have their own complete and distinct stories which intersect with the main stories, until you have a whole ‘ball of string’ of overlapping stories and ideas. The prospect of two of the different characters’ stories intertwining should be as exciting as introducing two old friends.

I’ll admit, it might not be quite a ‘ball’ of string, maybe more like a tangle, but ‘ball’ sounds more interesting. A perfect example of a novel which does this is Les Mis√©rables, which is one of my favourite novels – there are so many characters in it and their lives are all connected in different ways. While this approach may not work for every type of novel, I still think that it’s something worth keeping in mind. If you think of a character and have an idea for the story you’d like to tell with them, it would then be good to come up with another character whose involved with that story, but who’s on a different story of their own. At very least, this will make the world of your story a more believable one.

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Apple Pie Jewellery

Take a look at this incredibly cool and stylish bracelet that I have. Where did it come from? Why, it’s a piece of Apple Pie Jewellery. It was created by a dear friend of mine who happens to be very good at creating jewellery. Not only does she provide bespoke designs, such as the one I have here, but also a fantastic range of pre-made items. And where can you find this amazing jewellery range? You can find it here.

With Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably looking to buy gifts for the people you like and buying from the Apple Pie Jewellery Etsy shop will ensure that the gift you buy is nice and unique and not just something you’ll find in any Poundland or wherever you usually buy your jewellery. And I get it: Poundland is affordable and our economy is awful – but I feel as though the Apple Pie Jewellery prices are all pretty decent as well.

I hope that does a good job of persuading you – in previous jobs I’ve persuaded people to buy products I have much less interest in and this is something I genuinely want to be successful! You know what to do.

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Halo 2

In the video game world, successful games nearly always get sequels – so the fact that Halo 2 was released a few years after the success of Halo: Combat Evolved is no big surprise. Still, I am pleased that it did get a sequel because while the first game was pretty good – this one was even better. I know that some people go so far as to consider this one of the greatest games ever made – is that how I feel too? Well, you will have to keep reading if you want to find out.

In every way, this game is better than its prequel. First, there’s the story. The first game focused mainly on the conflict between the humans, the Covenant and later the Flood. I have no issues with the original story – but I have to admit that it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking (though I did really like how the Flood were used.) This time, the Halo universe is much more fleshed out, because in some of the levels you play as the Arbiter, an alien who fights for the Covenant. Honestly, I found him a more interesting character than Master Chief – partly, because he receives a much greater degree of character development. All of a sudden, the war is much more three dimensional and the world more believable. Sadly, the ending leaves a lot to be desired (it pretty much just ends all of a sudden) and it wan anti-climax for me, but I feel that it was probably their way of luring people into a sequel… not that I agree with it.

In terms of gameplay, it’s much the same as the first game: a first person shooter with a sequence of somewhat open levels to get through. One of my issues with the first game is that the levels were clearly copy and pasted to make them bigger, which meant that they were easy to get lost in and that they could get monotonous. Thankfully, none of the new levels in this game have that problem. Plus, as well as being better designed from a gameplay perspective, they’re also much more aesthetically pleasing. I guess graphical capabilities had improved in the few years that had passed.

I should also mention that this game originally had online multiplayer via Xbox Live, which was a new and unusual thing at the time. These online services have been discontinued, but it does highlight that this was quite an innovative game for its time. (Though it does also highlight the fact that online content in games has a very short life span…)

Overall, I definitely understand why people have such a high opinion of this game. It’s fun to play, it controls well, it looks good, has a nice soundtrack, an engaging story and provides a perfect escape into the world of sci-fi. Definitely worth giving a try.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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An Update on Finger Puppet Show

Regular readers will have probably realised that it has been quite a long time since one of these blog posts ended with “(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)” and the reason for that is because I have not updated it in over a year now.

It’s a shame, because I wasn’t planning to take such a long break – it just ended up happening that way. When I was creating my 500th strip, it ended up taking up a lot more time than I expected. It was silly of me, really, because my idea for that strip isn’t really that good, but it’s creation is still going to be very time consuming. I actually thought I’d get it done right on time to post as part of a regular update, but when it ended up taking longer than planned, I made a strip which said that it might take a little longer than usual before the next update…

Sadly, after I had acknowledged that there was going to be a gap, I used it as an excuse to be lazy. At the time, I was working in a call centre and had a ridiculously erratic schedule which made it hard for me to do things in my free time. Thankfully, I have a good job again now and I’d easily have time to continue my webcomic – and this is something I want to do. I’m committed to resuming it before the end of the year, hopefully sooner rather than later and I’m a little ashamed in myself for letting it get so out of hand – so I do apologise to the very small number of people who enjoyed reading it!

Okay – disregard what I just said. I just looked at my webcomic and it seems that I last updated it in May this year. My memory is really getting bad these days… I feel less bad about the gap now, because it’s less than half the size I thought it was! It is true that the call centre job slowed me down though and I still aim to get back on track ASAP!

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Fitness Instructor

I don’t really do all that much exercise – just a few runs throughout the week. I should probably do more, but a lot of my time is taken up with eating ice cream and pizza, so there’s not much more room in my schedule. Anywho, for today’s blog post, I wanted to share the story of the greatest fitness instructor I ever knew.

Earlier this week, I was out on an evening run. Quite often I will go through the woods on these runs – they’re quite peaceful and actually I find it less tiring to run in complete darkness. The wooded area that I run through isn’t too far away from the train tracks which run through Corsham and as I was running along, a train drove past me. The noise of the train caused a rustling in the bushes as, presumably, an animal had been scared by the sound.

It was at that moment that I met them. The fitness instructor I referred to in the introduction of this post. You may wonder what a fitness instructor was doing in the woods, so I’ll be honest with you, the fitness instructor was this ambiguous animal. And in what sense was it a finess instructor? you ask – well, allow me to explain.

As the scared animal ran out of the bushes, it stopped right in front of me, so I narrowly avoided it as I moved around it. Once I had passed it, I heard that it was starting to run after me. Rather than risk getting my ankles bitten by an angry badger (if it was a badger) I decided to quickly sprint so that I could outrun the creature – and I did. Never before has any living being persuaded me to run so quickly, which is why I consider this the best fitness instructor I have ever had.

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

After the first two novels (which were both very good), Arthur Conan Doyle started writing short stories about Holmes and Watson. Despite my love for the full length novels, I actually feel that short stories are a better format for their adventures and the first twelve of them are collected in this book. Here are my reviews of each of these books:

A Scandal in Bohemia
As much as I love him, I have to admit that Holmes does have some rather negative attitudes about women and in this story, he kind of gets his comeuppance. This is the story which introduces us to Irene Adler who never actually appears again in any of the original stories, but who has been used a lot by later authors. Personally, I think it’s one of the best Sherlock Holmes short stories and I really enjoyed its unexpected ending.

The Red-Headed League
Another of my favourites – in this one, Holmes and Watson are approached by a red-headed man who tells them of his successful application to join The Red-Headed League, which pays him quite well to simply spend four hours a day copying out the contents of an encyclopedia. Naturally he’s suspicious – especially when he shows up one day and finds it has disbanded without explanation. An enjoyable, lighthearted tale.

A Case of Identity
A woman comes to see Holmes to help her in regards to the disappearance of her fiance. It seems like quite a run of the mill mystery, but I’m sure you won’t guess what’s actually happening in this one. It’s quite out there, really, which I like. It may be a bit shorter than some of the other stories, but it’s still good.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery
This is more of a ‘straight’ murder mystery after the previous two stories had Holmes and Watson investigating rather more bizarre cases. Holmes is called in to try and defend a man who appears to be guilty based on the evidence so far. We get to see Watson’s wife for the first time since her introduction, we get to see Holmes making side remarks to Inspector Lestrade and I felt like the story and solution were all quite satisfying. Classic Sherlock Holmes.

The Five Orange Pips
An alternative title for this story could be “Sherlock Holmes vs. the KKK” because that’s basically what happens in this story. It’s a little darker than the average Holmes story, but I really like the premise. What I particularly enjoyed about it, is the fact that we get to see that Holmes and Watson (and, of course, Conan Doyle himself) were on the right side of history, in regards to racism.

The Man With The Twisted Lip
A woman comes to Holmes to tell him that her husband has disappeared. He was last seen looking distressed in the window of a known criminal – who then denies he was ever there. I don’t think anybody is likely to guess exactly what happened to him, because the resolution of this story is so bizarre, but it’s also quite comical. We also get a glimpse of the kind of things Holmes gets up to when Watson’s not around, which I appreciated.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
A nice Christmassy tale which all starts when a client comes to Holmes to tell him that he has been erroneously given a Christmas goose that he never ordered. This ultimately turns out to be part of a much larger case. I like the Christmas setting and, while I don’t want to spoil anything, I like that this story gives us a bit of moralising from Holmes.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band
This is actually the one which Conan Doyle himself thought was the best Sherlock Holmes story. It’s a good one – although I don’t quite think it’s the best. A woman tells Holmes that her sister died after a bizarre experience a couple of years ago and is now worried because she has had that same bizarre experience. The ending is quite dramatic. I liked it.

The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb
This might just be the best story in this collection – or, at very least, a contender (a lot of the stories here are pretty great). Watson finds himself with a patient who has recently lost his thumb under some concerning circumstances, which ultimately leads to Holmes getting involved. While some of the stories are quite lighthearted, I find this one pretty darn disturbing and it has some rather violent imagery too. Really tense, really suspenseful, interesting and satisfying!

The Adventure of the Nobel Bachelor
Unfortunately, what may be the best of these stories is followed immediately by what is probably the worst. Holmes investigates the case of a woman who disappeared on her wedding day. I didn’t think the general premise was that interesting and the resolution wasn’t particularly exciting either. Nonetheless, this is still an enjoyable read because it’s full of that Holmesian charm! It’s entertaining to read about Holmes interacting with Lestrade and his client. I think Sherlock Holmes is generally one of those characters who I’ll always enjoy reading about – regardless of the story he’s in.

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
While the previous story is my least favourite in this collection, that brief dip in quality is instantly rectified with ‘The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet’ – in it, a man has found himself responsible for a very valuable gem (the beryl coronet) and wakes up one morning to find his unreliable son holding it in his hands (with some gems broken off it and missing) and he asks for Holmes’ help in finding out where they are. What I like about this story is that you’re given a house with several people in it, you’re given a crime and you’re given their alibi and you can kind of piece things together yourself. I’d figured out what really happened before the end and that felt good.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
The anthology ends with another rather menacing story. A young woman has been given an opportunity to work as a governess for exceedingly good pay, but has been told she needs to cut her hair short and do various other bizarre things on a regular basis, making her, understandably, concerned. It’s really hard to figure out what’s going on in this one and it’s one of the darker stories in the collection. I was genuinely concerned for the woman as the story went on, as the other characters were very sinister. It definitely ends on a high note.

On the whole, a fantastic collection and one which I think most people would enjoy. I am very, very fond of these short stories and many of the best ones are contained within this anthology. If you want to get into Sherlock Holmes stories, it could be a great place to start.

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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50 Pop Funko Figures I’d Like to See

Something I really enjoy is the range of Pop Funko figures. It’s cool to see so many different characters from different mediums and backgrounds all being recreated and presented in the same way. It reminds us that everything is truly connected. It’s amazing how many different characters they have in their collection, because it’s very comprehensive. Having said that, I have noticed a few significant absences, so without further ado, here are 50 characters I’d like to see receive Pop figures in the near future.

  1. John-Boy Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  2. John-Boy Walton, from the TV movie The Homecoming.
  3. John-Boy Walton, from the 1990s Waltons reunion films.
  4. John-Boy Walton, as portrayed by Robert Wightman, from the eighth and ninth seasons of The Waltons.
  5. Olivia Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  6. Olivia Walton, from the TV movie The Homecoming.
  7. John Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  8. John Walton, from the TV movie, The Homecoming.
  9. Zebulon Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  10. Zebulon Walton, from the TV movie The Homecoming.
  11. Esther Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  12. Jason Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  13. Mary Ellen Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  14. Erin Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  15. Elizabeth Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  16. Ike Godsey, from the TV series The Waltons.
  17. Ike Godsey, from the TV movie The Homecoming.
  18. Corabeth Godsey, from the TV series The Waltons.
  19. Mamie Baldwin, from the TV series The Waltons.
  20. Emily Baldwin, from the TV series The Waltons.
  21. Earl Hamner (The Narrator), from the TV series The Waltons.
  22. Miss Rosemary Hunter, from the TV series The Waltons.
  23. Rev. Matthew Fordwick, from the TV series The Waltons.
  24. Reckless the Dog, from the TV series The Waltons.
  25. Chance the Cow, from the TV series The Waltons.
  26. Rose Burton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  27. Jeffrey, from the TV series The Waltons.
  28. Serena, from the TV series The Waltons.
  29. Josh Foster, from the TV series The Waltons.
  30. Verdie Foster, from the TV series The Waltons.
  31. Harley Foster, from the TV series The Waltons.
  32. Sarah Jane Simmons, from the TV series The Waltons.
  33. J.D. Pickett, from the TV series The Waltons.
  34. Ep Bridges, from the TV series The Waltons.
  35. Ep Bridges, from the TV series The Waltons.
  36. John Curtis, from the TV series The Waltons.
  37. Cindy Walton, from the TV series The Waltons.
  38. Flossie Brimmer, from the TV series The Waltons.
  39. Yancy Tucker, from the TV series The Waltons.
  40. Amy Godsey, from the TV series The Waltons.
  41. Maude Gormley, from the TV series The Waltons.
  42. Hank Buchanan, from the TV series The Waltons.
  43. Marcia Woolery, from the TV series The Waltons.
  44. Stanley Perkins, from the TV series The Waltons.
  45. Janet, from the 1990s Walton runion movies.
  46. Rover the Peacock, from the TV series The Waltons.
  47. Sissy Tucker, from the TV series The Waltons.
  48. Hawthorn Dooley, from the TV movie The Homecoming.
  49. Charlie Sneed, from the TV movie, The Homecoming.
  50. Donkey Kong

It’s weird that these cultural icons have been over looked, but in the near future I am sure we’ll see that changed. Soon you won’t be able to walk into a shop without seeing all of these.

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Nintendo Switch)

Since the Wii U was a bit of a failure, it seems like a lot of the games which were originally exclusive to it have jumped onto the life raft that is the Nintendo Switch in order to extend their life spans and to reach more people. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was one of the best games on the Wii U and it’s now also one of the best games on the Switch. If you’re thinking about buying it, please do read my earlier review before I go over the benefits of this version.

The biggest and most marketed addition is that you can now play as Funky Kong (and for the first time in a Donkey Kong Country game!) who is much more capable than the other Kongs. He uses his surf board to stand on spiky surfaces and, to do double jumps and to slowly float downward from his jumps. He uses a snorkel so that he can breath under water, can roll infinitely and can take five hits. Some people say that he makes the game boring, but I find him really fun to play as. It’s great to be able to speed through the game’s hard levels and I think that Funky might be a good choice for those who are new to the series (as the game can be quite hard for newcomers.)

Funky may not seem like much, but after beating the final boss in Original Mode, I started a new file on “Funky Mode” and felt that going through as him was a fun and different experience. There are lots of small little extras too. Donkey Kong will now play with a Nintendo Switch in his idle animation. Levels now load more quickly. A new character called Tawks (a cool parrot) replaces Funky as shopkeeper when you play as him. (I hope we see Tawks again in the future.) In Funky Mode, players now have the option to play as Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky, but with extra hearts. Finally, the song used in the credits has been replaced with a new song – I like both equally, but it’s always good to get more David Wise music.

The improvements are small, but I say that this is definitely still worth buying if you have the original and, if you don’t, then this is a great way to play the game for the first time. Honestly, it’s better than the original. Oh, also, Donkey Kong’s nose has been redesigned for some reason and I’ve seen people who are angry about that. I have not feelings about that subject. #DonkeyKongsNoseDonkeyKongsRules

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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Super Mario 3D World

I don’t know why, but Super Mario 3D World never looked that appealing to me. I just thought it seemed like a rather generic Mario game, so for a long time, I just didn’t buy it. Earlier this year, I was bought it as a gift and I realise that my initial reaction was all wrong. I can only say that I wish I’d bought it sooner, as this game is a delight.

While many of the core games in the series uses the storyline of Peach getting kidnapped by Bowser, this one changes things nicely by having Bowser kidnap Sprixie Princesses (which are small fairy creatures) instead. This may sound like a minor, insignificant detail, but it has one benefit: it allows the team from Super Mario Bros. 2 to return, with Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad all playable and all quite different. The only very minor niggle I have is that it’s a blue Toad, rather than the Toad, as it was in the earlier game… but it doesn’t really matter.

The game is a lot like an enhanced version of Super Mario 3D Land and not just in terms of having more playable characters. The levels have a much greater level of diversity and, as a result, were more memorable: you get to ride Plessie (a dinosaur) down a river, you explore a spooky old haunted house in black and white, find keys to progress a baron snowy wilderness, use a canon power up to attack enemies in space or get though a level on the back of a moving train. Many of these new levels felt like a breath of fresh air, after some Mario games had used the same archetypes so many times.

The soundtrack is also really entertaining. There’s a very jazzy sort of feel to it, which is quite new for the series. Instead of remixing the same old tunes over and over, this is a game that makes the catchy tunes which will get remixed in later games. Bowser’s new theme song, in particular, was a favourite aspect of mine.

It’s also worth mentioning the game’s new power up: the Super Bell. Collecting it gives your character a cat suit which makes them walk on all fours, gives them the ability to climb walls, gives them a new pounce move and lets them swipe at enemies. At first it felt like a bit of a gimmick and I wasn’t too fond of it, but over time it grew on me and at this point I really like it. I hope that we will see it return in future games.

This is also the game which introduced Captain Toad as a playable character (though he had been an NPC before) which ultimately lead to him being the star of his own game. What makes him different to all the others is that he is unable to jump and he appears in special, smaller levels specifically designed with his limited abilities in mind. They were pretty fun and added a nice new type of challenge every now and then. There’s also a secret unlockable character – I won’t say who it was (to avoid spoilers) but I will say that once I unlocked her, I didn’t really use anybody else anymore…

Overall, a solid installment in the series. While I may generally prefer the more open 3D games, I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun with this game. I played it alone, but there is also the option to play with up to three other people at the same time, which must be fantastic. As a nice bonus, you also get the game Luigi Bros. which is¬†Mario Bros. but with Luigi as the main character (as he should be). As it’s very easy to find this quite cheap these days, I definitely recommend it.

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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