Tag Archives: robotics

Next Gen (2018 Movie)

Netflix with Baozou Manhua, Alibaba Pictures, & Tangent Animation

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Ever since her father left when she was just a kid, Mai’s life has been a rage-filled, lonely mess. Her mom doesn’t really pay attention to her, the kids at school bully her, she doesn’t have any true friends. It’s only a matter of time until all that anger finds a target; for Mai it becomes the robots that dominate her mother’s attention and give the other kids at school the power to hurt her. And when she stumbles upon a robot that’s different–on that has true artificial intelligence and that wants to be her friend–she suddenly has the power to do something about all the rage and hurt that’s built up inside herself. But Mai isn’t the only one with an agenda, and perhaps nearly losing everything is enough to make her realize that lashing out isn’t the answer.

I have kind of mixed feelings about Next Gen. I mean, it’s a good movie. The CG animation is solid and visually catchy; technically, it’s well done. But I find myself incapable of not comparing it with Big Hero 6, and it keeps coming up short. There’s the whole robot friend thing for starters, and 7723 (the robot here) is enough like Baymax that I can’t help but make comparisons, and yet it is not nearly so cute or so prone to push the protagonist towards good choices. There’s actually a lot of violence here, and a lot of it is caused by Mai and 7723 . . . and it’s not all against obvious “bad guys” either. Mai also reminds me somewhat of Hiro–more than even just the angsty teenager vibe, there are just aspects of their personalities that are pretty similar. Only, Hiro is an example of someone like that who has good friends and family supporting him and helping him make good choices, while Mai is a clear picture of someone completely out of control with no one bothering to notice enough to help her or stop her. On a completely tangential note, I feel like the big overarching storyline (the bad guy trying to destroy humanity part) was 1) too over the top to be credible and 2) not sufficiently related to the basic story (Mai’s life and struggles), although they certainly do interact over the course of the story. So yeah, on the whole, while Next Gen is a solid enough movie, it just doesn’t strike me right, partly because I just don’t enjoy stories that are so fueled by rage and hurt. On the other hand, Bookriot presents a differing perspective on this movie in their excellent post (which I recommend reading), pointing out that this movie provides much-needed discussion for kids on appropriate versus inappropriate ways to handle anger, bullying, and the like. Which, yes, I can see their point. Thus the mixed feelings. I probably won’t watch Next Gen again myself, but I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it,” either.

Based on 7723 by Wang Nima/Written & Directed by Kevin R. Adams & Joe Ksander/Music by Samuel Jones & Alexis Marsh/Starring John Krasinski, Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Peña, David Cross, & Constance Wu

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

Choice of Robots (Text-Based Game)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Kevin Gold

My rating: 5 of 5

You may just be in postgraduate studies right now, crafting the initial designs for your first real robot, but you know your creations are destined for greatness. One way or the other, you’re going to impact the world. But will you be a humanitarian, training your robots to work with people and crafting them to be useful in the medical field? Or will you create robots that are useful for the military, regardless of the consequences? Or hey, your robots are intelligent enough, will you just give them their freedom and let them decide for themselves what sorts of beings they should become?

Okay, so first off, I’m hesitant to call Choice of Robots either a video game or a visual novel–but I don’t really have a good word for what it is other than those. This is an entirely text-based computer game, devoid of pictures or background music entirely. Sounds kind of boring, right? It’s totally not. This is an indie choices matter sort of game that is just fabulous, truly. It’s smart, for one thing; the writer has a Ph.D. in computer science, and it shows. It’s very well thought out and organized. The game is like a visual novel in that you read a block of text and are offered a variety of choices you can make based on that text. Your choices are meaningful, and even small choices can have a big impact on what happens later in the game. Choices also influence your stats (empathy, grace, autonomy, and military appeal for your robot, plus your own wealth and fame) as well as your relationships with various other characters. I can see this game as having a great deal of replay value due to the huge number of story paths available; I’ve played through it three times already, and have only unlocked a few of the possibilities. If you’re willing to look past the surface simplicity of such a purely text-based game, I think Choice of Robots is an excellent game, and I will be trying other games by this group.

Note: I played Choice of Robots through Steam, and you can find out more at the Steam store page or on the game’s credits page.

2 Comments

Filed under Media Review

Little Robot

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke

My rating: 4.5 of 5

A box tumbles out of a moving truck, only to be discovered by a little girl exploring outside. She opens to box to find a little robot, just the right size to be her friend. These two develop an understanding and a growing friendship, although like any friends they must work through their share of misunderstandings. All is not well, though, as those that made the little robot come searching for it–whether or not it’s willing to go.

The creator of the adorable Zita the Spacegirl has brought us another excellent children’s graphic novel in Little Robot. This is a perfect story for basically anyone; it’s charming, creative, simple, yet engaging. It would actually make a pretty solid easy-reader for children learning to read for themselves. Most of the text is reasonably simple–I actually love that in a few instances where a more difficult concept was being expressed, Hatke actually used a picture in the text bubble rather than trying to use too many words to explain or worse trying to oversimplify the idea. There’s a mild amount of peril, but the ending is happy and satisfying. The little girl in this story (who is never actually named) seems to only be about 5 or thereabouts, although she’s surprisingly precocious in some ways for that age. She’s got a fun personality. Also, points for making her not white and giving her a wrench to carry around and fix stuff. The art in this whole story is Hatke’s typical style–in other words, it’s fabulous. The colors, the lines, the textures, and the angles are all just perfect. Basically, I loved Little Robot and would highly recommend it to anyone of any age.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Robot Dreams

Author/Illustrator: Sara Varonrobot dreams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Dog brings home a build-your-own-robot kit and finds his new best friend–Robot. The two do everything together: library trips, movies, the beach. Well, the beach was a bit of a mistake. Or rather, the water was a mistake for Robot. He rusts up so he can’t move! Dog doesn’t know what to do, so after trying everything, he quietly slinks away, feeling guilty for leaving his friend. Gradually, Dog tries to move past the guilt and loneliness by making new friends . . . with mixed results. Meanwhile, Robot lies abandoned on the shore, daydreaming about all sorts of might-have-been’s and could-be’s. But maybe there’s hope for both of them yet.

I really enjoyed this cute graphic novel, Robot Dreams. The art is simple but bold, not especially beautiful, but oddly attractive and expressive nonetheless. It works well for the story. And the story is unexpected, to be sure. At first, it’s all happy and sweet–the kind of story you give an upbeat soundtrack with birds singing in the background. Then everything gets all sad and poignant–somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I love that the story resolution is at the same time unexpected (not at all the stereotypical happy ending I had figured would come) and cathartic; there’s a great message of healing and forgiveness there that I think is great for readers of all ages. And that’s something else that is great about this graphic novel–it really is appropriate and enjoyable for everyone from pretty young kids to adults.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Operation Sherlock

operation sherlockAuthor: Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5

The A. I. Gang, vol. 1

Wendy, Ray, Trip, Rachel, and Roger all find themselves dragged across the ocean to a new home on the island of Anza Bora–all because their parents are involved in some sort of super-secret artificial intelligence research project. Determined to make the best of a situation none of them are particularly happy about, the five children become friends and begin exploring what the island has to offer. But soon they discover that things just aren’t right. Bugs, explosions, and other unexplained events catch the gang’s attention–especially when they begin receiving threatening messages on their personal computers that ought to be un-hackable. There’s only one thing for it: they determine to put together their (considerable) intelligence and computer skills to create their own crime-solving A. I. in the interest of solving this mystery.

In terms of serialized middle-grade mysteries, Bruce Coville’s Operation Sherlock has to be pretty high on my list. While it follows the basic patterns you’ve seen in everything from The Mysterious Benedict Society to Nancy Drew and innumerable others, this particular book fails to get mired down in the way that many of this sort of book do. The plot manages to be typical of the style and yet fresh at the same time. The slightly cyberpunk setting adds a lot, being well-developed and yet not overly emphasized. I think the character creation is where Coville’s skills truly shine, though. He manages to craft a group of individuals who truly show developed, distinct characters without ever falling into stereotyped characters. I feel like his development of the gang is subtly done, and I really enjoyed the interactions between the kids. Nice dialogue as well, which helped the progression of the story a lot. I think for anyone who likes the genre, Operation Sherlock is a significantly above-average choice, and it’s sure to be a hit with anyone (like myself) who loves Bruce Coville’s writing in general. I’m looking forward to trying the second volume.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Big Hero 6

Walt Disney StudiosBig Hero 6

Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams/Produced by Roy Conli/Screenplay by Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson, & Robert L. Baird/Music by Henry Jackman/Based on the graphic novel by Steven T. Seagle & Duncan Rouleau

My rating: 5 of 5

Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada has a great brain, but he’s not exactly motivated to put it to use . . . until some well-placed encouragement from his brother Tadashi and four of Tadashi’s “nerd friends” inspires him to join them at their college’s robotics program. Hiro seems set on a course for great success when the unthinkable happens: an accidental fire at the school kills his brother Tadashi and destroy’s Hiro’s robotics project as well. Overwhelmed with depression over his brother’s death, Hiro again finds himself completely unmotivated to do anything with his life. That is, until he accidentally activates Baymax, a nurse-robot that his brother had been working on. With Baymax, Hiro discovers that the fire at the school may not have been as accidental as it seemed–and so, Hiro, Baymax, and Tadashi’s four college friends team up to find the truth and bring justice where it’s due. True superhero style.

Big Hero 6 was one movie that I was actually excited to see from the time I first saw the previews, although it didn’t work out for me to see it until it came out on DVD. I wasn’t disappointed when I watched it either. Unlike many of Disney’s movies recently, I felt like this one came together extremely well. The characters were great; you could definitely tell that they were, well, based on stereotypes of sorts (probably because that worked better with their superhero transformations later), but they were also full of personality and individuality. Hiro himself is adorable in a punk sort of way . . . I think the first few minutes of the movie give a very good idea of his general character, but he also is someone who grows a lot during the story. (On that topic, the “hugging and learning” aspect of the story might be a bit much, but I guess we know it’s that kind of story going in to it.) Not that she shows up particularly much, but I really think Hiro and Tadashi’s aunt is an awesome character–I wish we saw more of her. I really appreciated the balance that was found in a lot of areas here: the combination of Japanese and American (especially in the architecture–wow), the meld of science and “superhero” tradition. It’s neat that this is based on an actual comic-book series (one I haven’t read, but it sounds interesting) by the same title . . . it sounds like the movie is almost something of an origin story from what I can tell. In any case, the use of science to explain/create the hero capabilities is fun. Also, bonus points for pretty art–I know CG has come incredibly far in just the past few years, and that’s not really even what I’m talking about–more like, the creators intentionally made pretty stuff (cloud patterns, incredible architecture, cool carp-kite wind machines, etc.) even when it wasn’t necessary. I appreciate that. So yeah, I would definitely recommend Big Hero 6 to anyone, say, elementary school and up who enjoys a solid, fun action movie with, yes, some hugging and learning mixed in.

3 Comments

Filed under Media Review