Best in Series #1 – Relive Past Wimbledon Glory With Virtua Tennis 2

Welcome to a new regular feature entitled Best in Series. Expect analysis and reasoning behind my personal favourite entries across entertainment medium franchises. This first edition revisits a truly classic sports simulation celebrating its 20th anniversary of release both in the arcade scene and at home.

Wimbledon is so quintessentially English. With the worlds most distinguished Tennis gland slam tournament returning following its pandemic-induced cancellation in 2020, tennis fever is gripping the British isles once again. For two weeks of every English summer, come rain or shine, everyone becomes a tennis fan. Throw in the nation’s fondness for queuing, along with strawberries and cream, and you have the complete Wimbledon experience. There’s the matter of some actual tennis in there somewhere too. And be on the lookout for Cliff Richard if rain disrupts the occasion. You’ll thank me later. Probably not.

What, no strawberries left?!

The Queue, as it is officially known for Wimbledon, is often half a mile long or more, full of potential punters trying their luck for entry tickets. Why wait three hours or more in the current searing SW19 heat, with no guarantee of any entertainment? Why indeed, when the greatest video game tennis experience has been in the palms of our hands for the best part of 20 years.

Sega’s Virtua Tennis series laid the marker for tennis simulations in both the arcades and at home for the majority of the 2000’s. I won’t bore anyone with yet another Sega Dreamcast history lesson, but the console’s significance and popularity was largely due to arcade-perfect home conversions such as Virtua Tennis and in particular its sequel, Virtua Tennis 2. The Dreamcast delivered what the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation simply could not; arcade-level visuals and gaming in the home. For the home console market the Dreamcast served as the biggest corner turn for arcade-quality entertainment, and the industry has never looked back. And Sega’s now-absorbed Hitmaker development team were one-time masters of it.

The clue is of course in the name. Hitmaker did just that: make hits. Hits that easily still stand up today. Despite two sequels coming in the years and gaming generations after, nothing has touched the tennis scene better than the first sequel in the series. Released in 2001, Virtua Tennis 2 was quickly ported to Dreamcast on the back of the original’s success. It is arcade-perfect both aesthetically and mechanically in every way, a concept none-too-common at the turn of the century. Hitmaker added bucket loads of content, particularly for the single player, to an already coin-grabbing classic.

In today’s sports simulations, a.i-reliant single player modes sometimes prove to be a drab, soulless affair (I am literally staring at my copy of FIFA 21 right now). No sign of that here, particularly in career mode where you create your own tennis pro. The matches are in a calibre of their own, with increasingly-challenging CPU opponents thrown in. But it’s the developmental mini games that really serve up the aces. One such mini game sees you practice serves across court into bowling pins to reach a target score. It’s simple, it’s challenging, and most importantly, a lot of fun. In FIFA, the would-be cute mini-games and training set pieces offer little more than a meaningless preamble for the most part. Virtua Tennis 2 began using such training regimen to better your player before it was cool. Today realism may be the demand, but often at the expense of the concept of fun; you know, that feeling a game is supposed to bring to our fingertips and brains.

Mastering the career training paths, multiple match wins and rank-climbing culminates at Wimbledon, or the “English Championship” as it is referred to here. Sega may not have acquired the licensing for the Grand Slam occasions, but they certainly made up for that with its roster. Anyone with a historical knowledge of tennis past would recognise such names as Tim Henman and Pat Rafter, names synonymous with my own tennis-crazed years. Rafter, the Australian heavy hitter was a personal favourite of mine, such a joy to watch. Now-legend Serena Williams, sister Venus and Monica Seles, all Wimbledon finalists, form part of the female roster, a new addition to the series.

This game is almost twenty years old and still remains the greatest nod to the world’s greatest tennis championships. It’s better than its sequels and predecessor largely due to its more balanced roster, but mostly because as a tennis sports sim package it is perfect in style, content and the most importantly, the tennis. The female roster added a new dynamic to the tennis video game at the time; mixed doubles matches, more base line play, less serve and volley, more ground-strokes and decisive rallies. The male and female attributed differences also means two different dimensions to career mode. You’ll engage in hours of entertainment regardless, and is also perfect to dip in and out of between matches and mini games.

In today’s world of online sports gaming, sports simulations are frequented by players hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. There is no such option here, as Virtua Tennis 2 is from a different era. People, actual people, need to attend somewhere physically for the multiplayer experience. Imagine that. Actual banter in your face. Or someone else’s. Plus you don’t look like a tit like many a Wii Sports player often does, as if the more wildly the arm is swung the better the shot will be. It won’t, mate. Have a lie down.

Fans of queuing, strawberries and/or cream will of course be disappointed with the lack of digital equivalent. Don’t judge us Brits, we’re weird like that. We queue, then we die. If it were possible, the English would probably queue to die. But there is a solution. Only got 2 controllers between your friends? Why not make those waiting their turn queue at the door? Maybe while stuffing their faces with – you guessed it – strawberries and cream. Problem solved.

You see, any sports fan, maybe even players of the sport, needs to realise that Virtua Tennis 2 is as pure a sports gaming experience as they come. As far as the real thing goes I have sparsely watched a single rally of tennis since the 2012 Olympics in truth, but just 30 minutes of Virtua Tennis 2 pulled me right back in. I might even dust off my old racket and have a rally myself. Who says video games aren’t good for you?

Virtua Tennis 2 serves as a perfect reminder of a time when sports games were more immediate. No installation times. Miniscule loading times. Huge fun. And best of all, no queuing required. Sure, you won’t see centre court for real. But for a third of the queuing time you could have a blast with the best tennis players of yesteryear. And, most importantly, you won’t have to keep an eye on the weather in case Cliff Richard shows up.

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 Season 2 (19/20 Data) – Conclusion

The end.

THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.

THE CAVEAT: Any transfer bids must be accepted.

Greetings one and all, especially faithful readers of this series. Firstly, I owe everyone an apology. The last instalment of this Championship Manager challenge was back in June 2020. At that time, tragedy struck. The device running the game, as well as completed screenshots at the time, went kaput. With three months left of the season to go, it was a season derailed. However, a few weeks ago, said device was finally recovered. Given this challenge used data from the 19/20 season, I have no intention of riding the wave of that season, like Liverpool FC are at the moment week after week. Instead, and with the intention of a new season with more recent player data, I bring to you a round-up of the remainder of this challenge. Enjoy.

March

Premier League:- 

February ended with Chelsea improving in the Premier League, yet still twenty seven points away from runaway leaders Manchester City. Even the possibility of Champions League qualification is a longshot unless a near flawless final ten games is achieved. Or winning the competition itself. Sounds familiar….

March’s fixtures are as follows: Man Utd (H), Liverpool (A), and Newcastle (H). Ouch. Here’s the results.Transfer Ban mar 2

Transfer Ban mar 9

Transfer Ban mar 10

Not too shabby. The win against Liverpool a particularly impressive one. Although, they are used to losing at home these days. Boom boom. Here’s the table after those results:-

Transfer Ban mar 12

Man if only five of those eleven draws were wins, eh? Still, with twenty-one points still up for grabs the Champions League places are still possible, just. Speaking of the Champions League, lets see how Chelsea faired there.

Champions League:-

In group stage phase 2 (I really don’t miss those days), there is a home tie against Shakhtar Donestsk and a sure-fire battle at the Bernabeu against serial Champions League winners, and general shithouse team Real Madrid.

Transfer Ban mar 3Transfer Ban mar 6

The final group games include a first defeat in this stage for Chelsea against Madrid, just, but it has no bearing on the final group table. Chelsea power through the knockouts. Against the other Madrid.

Transfer Ban cl table

Transfer Ban mar 7

FA Cup:-

Finally for March there’s the next round of the FA Cup. This quarter final is an away tie against the runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City. Yikes.

Transfer Ban mar 4

Ah well. A good effort but ultimately a defeat, and another competition draws to a close for Chelsea this season. Only the Champions League remains for a chance of silverware. And now, onto April.

April

Premier League:-

Chelsea are nine points off of fourth place in the Premier League, but have played a game more than most. Results need to start going their way for any real chance of climbing the table. Four games await, with two at home and two away.

transfer ban apr 6transfer ban apr 8transfer ban apr 22transfer ban apr 26

Wow. Just wow. Four wins on the spin throughout the whole month. Maybe a manager of the month award is on the cards? And what about everyone else?

transfer ban apr 30

Those four wins have really closed the gap on nearest rivals Leicester City. Just one point in it now. The upturn in form is so strong that only Manchester City have lost less games than Chelsea. Considering where they were as the January transfer window approached, this is a run only Frank Lampard could have dreamed of. Speaking of City, they of course wrapped up the title despite just their second defeat of the season, almost mirroring their historic 2018-19 campaign. For now though, its Champions League knockout football. 

Champions League:-

Chelsea powered through to the knockouts alongside Real Madrid, but its to the other end of Madrid for the quarters.

transfer ban apr 1

A 90th minute hammer blow from Joao Felix means Athletico take three away goals back to Spain for the second leg. Never say never, but its a uphill task.

transfer ban apr 13

And by half time, Chelsea are rising to the task! Batshuayi going off is of course a concern, but so far they are on course for a great knockout victory.

stransfer ban apr 15

They have done it! After Kovacic made it 0-3 on the night, Athletico burst back with two goals in seven minutes, which would level the tie and bring extra time. That is until the Chelsea midfielder completed his hat-trick with ten minutes to go for a famous 6-5 win on aggregate. Phew! Next stop, Barcelona!

transfer ban apr 21

May

Premier League

This is it, the final fixtures of yet another Premier League season. A tough away day at Arsenal, followed by a home tie with already-relegated Sheffield United, ending the season with a home tie with Everton. Lets do this…

Transfer ban May 2

That’s one down. A late win but comprehensive in the end. But how does that affect the table?

Transfer ban May3

With two games left it couldn’t be much title, with even second place a possibility. None of which no one would have predicted at the start of the year. Done, done, onto the next one.

Transfer ban May7

Batshuayi’s goals are what have ignited Chelsea’s form this season. These FOUR, including a seven-minute hat trick, means he is on 35 goals for the season. Incredible.

Transfer ban May8

But elsewhere, Leicester leapfrog Man Utd and Liverpool into second place by beating both of them consecutively. A big statement there with leaves Chelsea now just goal difference away from Champions League football guaranteed. And here is how the final fixtures ended.

Transfer ban May9

Sadly, Chelsea’s 4-1 victory is not enough. With Liverpool narrowly beating West Ham 2-1, and Leicester claiming a last-minute victory at Watford, it means Chelsea miss out on Champions League football with an inferior goal difference. By one goal. Gutted. Here’s the final table.

Transfer ban May10

Norwich, Newcastle and Sheffield United drop to the Championship once again. Chelsea’s championship form in the last three months just wasn’t enough in the end. And now, the small matter of the Champions League semi-final.

Champions League

Transfer ban May1

Oh dear. A disastrous start thanks to Christensen’s red card, and Barcelona take full advantage. They will get one hell of a fight at Stamford Bridge, but is this a mountain too tall?

Transfer ban May4

Ultimately, it is. But Chelsea’s performance was superb, with only coming short in the goals department. They can hold their heads high after that. It’s a Liverpool/Barcelona final.

Transfer ban May11

And it’s Barcelona’s once again after an extra time winner. An all-English final in a British stadium might have been a bigger spectacle, but this was a tight, competitive final.

FA Cup Final:-

Transfer ban May6

The closing fixture of the English season is always the FA Cup final. Manchester City were going for a league and cup double against the 2006 finalists West Ham United. A spirited 2-goal comeback from the Premier League champions triggers extra-time, but West Ham have the final say, restoring their 2-goal lead for an unlikely victory.

And that’s the season wrapped up. I do hope you enjoyed it, I am certainly pleased to get it finished so those of you who followed can savour

And that’s the season wrapped up. I do hope you enjoyed it, I am certainly pleased to get it finished so those of you who followed can savour the end. If this is your first instalment, please take a look at the previous monthly segments and let me know your thoughts. Maybe I’ll do another season with 2020-21 data. Cheerio!

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here:-

August September October November December January February

Championship manager and its fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.

Covid-19 Lockdown: the Sequel – Video Game Picks for Survival

Like an inevitable movie sequel, the UK, among many other countries too, are back in Covid-19 isolation. As the virus continues to spread across the globe, many have been told to work from home and isolate where possible. Restaurants, bars and most non-essential shops have closed once again, and many people’s lounges have become their office. For others that may mean not being able to work at all. Staying indoors for long periods can of course take its toll in different ways to all of us. But don’t fear, as in between those Zoom/Teams/Skype meetings there is a plethora of incredible video game across a variety of platforms to catch-up on. Here is a list of suitable candidates to sink your teeth into.

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

There isn’t a soul in the world who doesn’t like Studio Ghibli, is there? Whether you have seen just one of their movies or the whole collection, it is easy to see why they’re loved unanimously around the world. So imagine the excitement of many when Ghibli decided to lend their talents to the video game industry. The recently remastered first Ni No Kuni entry, Wrath of the White Witch, adopted the standard JRPG style of open-world adventure with an active-time battle system. Revenant Kingdom retains the open-world aesthetic but with free-roaming battles, for a more action-RPG affair. Add to that a completely new set of characters and story, all animated by the Ghibli team, and you’ve got yourself an adventure well worth your time. It took over 100 hours of mine, and that was before lockdown.

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is available on PS4/PC.

Vanquish: 10th Anniversary Remastered

One of Shinji Mikami’s lesser-known titles, Vanquish is an action tour-de-force that is short but oh-so-sweet on the fingertips. You play Sam Gideon, an agent of DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), as he teams up with an army of US space marines to retake a Russian-occupied US space colony. Armed with the prototype Augmented Reaction Suit, Sam can wield three weapons of varying types at a time, from assault rifles to sniper rifles and laser cannons. Against the backdrop of an almost exclusively greyscale colonial fortress, you guide Sam to shoot, run, roll, duck, cover, even slide through six acts of intense, robotic-destruction action. A quick flick of L2 while rolling initiates a slick slow-down feature, which is critical as swarms of sentient soldiers breathe down your neck. Whilst a little dull in appearance, the 60fps upgrade to the speed of Vanquish is a real highlight. And if you’re a trophy/achievement hunter, this is a really fun and often-challenging title to exploit. And for less than £20, its a tough one to ignore if you need a few hours of unadulterated entertainment.

Vanquish is available for PS4, Xbox One, PC. Please check out my full review here.

Fall Guys

If you have access to a PS4, and a PS Plus membership, the likelihood is that you’ve had at least one round of Fall Guys. Visually a vibrant, multicoloured Gang Beasts meets Takeshi’s Castle (including the wacky costumes), Fall Guys pits round after round of sixty online players across several challenge games until just one remains to take the crown (By the way, that first victory crown still eludes me). Simple, fun and on the right side of frustration, a round of Fall Guys is the perfect way to pass on a few minutes.

Fall Guys is available on PS4/PC.

Streets of Rage 4

There are some positive events amongst the shit-cloud that is 2020. The announcement of one of Sega’s most beloved 16-bit franchises receiving a sequel over twenty-five years on was initially met with mighty scepticism. However, all those fears were crushed as publisher Dotemu, on the back of the excellent Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, teamed up with Guard Crush Games to deliver the finest scrolling fighter since Streets of Rage 2. Ex-cops Axel, Blaze and crew are back. Ten years on from the death of criminal overlord Mr. X, his children have taken over as the new masterminds of crime. Streets of Rage 4 not only delivers top fighting action, it is a sequel that always has its predecessors at heart in all the right ways. Intuitive, challenging, exciting, wonderfully animated with an absolutely masterful soundtrack, Streets of Rage 4 is a retro-revival everyone should experience.

Streets of Rage 4 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man is the most accomplished comic-book-hero video game ever made. Developer Insomniac Games have come a long way from platforming series Spyro the Dragon. Honing that platforming with a narrative adventure in the Ratchet and Clank series has led to this, a licensed comic-book adventure that is, at times, a storytelling masterpiece. As a long-time Spider-Man comics fan I needed to adjust somewhat to these new takes on Peter Parker and supporting cast. But Insomniac certainly stuck with the courage of their convictions to deliver an excellent Spider-Man tale that is a unique and universal experience for anyone willing to pick up their gamepad and play. It’s open-world Manhattan environment contains seemingly unlimited tasks and missions to complete, and that’s outside of the main storyline. Visually it ranks among the greatest looking games on Sony’s console, with a ton of top action and storytelling that makes Spider-Man an absolute must.

Spider-Man is available on PS4, with a remastered version available for the PS5 also.

There is still a fair amount of time left in this current lockdown, if it even is one (don’t go there now – ed.). If you’re having to isolate or stay home for any reason at the moment, hopefully these suggestions will keep the spirits up as we head towards Christmas and the next generation of consoles. Stay Safe.

Covid-19 Lockdown: the Sequel – Anime Picks for Survival

“In between those Zoom/Teams/Skype meetings there is a plethora of quality Japanese animation to catch-up on, so here is a list of easily accessible Anime to get you through these difficult times”

Like an inevitable movie sequel, the UK, among many other countries too, are back in Covid-19 isolation. As the virus continues to spread across the globe, many have been told to work from home and isolate where possible. Restaurants, bars and most non-essential shops have closed once again, and many people’s living rooms have become their office. For others that may mean not being able to work at all. Staying indoors for long periods can of course take its toll in different ways to all of us. But don’t fear, as in between those Zoom/Teams/Skype meetings there is a plethora of quality Japanese animation to catch-up on. So here is a list of easily accessible Anime to get you through these difficult times. Because even a month can feel like forever. All the best to those struggling during these unprecedented times.

Dragon Ball Super

What better way to spend your abundance of free time than bingeing on a long-running, instant classic? Dragon Ball Super is the sequel series to the incomparable Dragon Ball Z. So, forget about that Dragon Ball GT boxset on your shelf and watch the real thing. 131 episodes and 5 sagas should pass the time on nicely. Even if you have already watched the DBZ movies Battle of Gods and Resurrection F it is still worth catching the whole action-packed series. The later sagas boast some of the best looking animated visuals ever seen on screen, and with a Crunchyroll account, the entire series (subtitled only) can be viewed for free.

Dragon Ball Super is also available on Blu-Ray/DVD by chapters or complete box set.

Cowboy Bebop

Let’s all be honest with each other here. We all have it on our DVD/Blu-Ray shelf, sitting pretty amongst all the other anime. But now is the best time to sit and watch those classics you worked so hard to get the best bargain online. Cowboy Bebop certain ranks amongst the all-time classic anime series. Experience a future of legal bounty hunters, otherwise known as ‘Cowboys’, as they chase bad guys across moons orbiting around a now-inhabitable planet Earth. Although only twenty-six episodes, it is an intergalactic crime caper entertainment of the highest order. It also stands as quite possibly the best single-season anime of all time.

Cowboy Bebop is available on DVD/Blu-Ray, and to stream for free via All 4.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

The prominence of anime on Netflix in recent times is remarkable. In the last twelve months alone, the contingent of classic anime additions bolster an already impressive library of latest releases. One such classic is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Seemingly left in license limbo, Netflix also went to town on this acquisition by having the English dub track re-casted and re-recorded. Make of that what you will (believe me, many have), but nevertheless, Evangelion truly does rank among the greats. What starts out as high school kids piloting world-saving robots against prophesised alien lifeforms known as Angels, descends into a fascinating crescendo of mental health, trauma and depression against an ever-escalating apocalyptic landscape. You can feel that director Hideaki Anno has poured his absolute heart and soul into this, and remains a work that Anno himself confessed was left completely burnt out after its conclusion. Twenty-five years on, Neon Genesis Evangelion remains as remarkable and essential anime viewing as you’re ever likely to see.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is available to stream on Netflix.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn

This original video animation adaption is another Netflix entry worthy of your watch list. This series of seven, mini-movie length episodes were released over a period of four years. MSG: Unicorn follows Banagher Links, a schoolboy, like many, residing in the space colony Industrial 7. His life turns upside down after meeting and rescuing disguised princess Audrey Burne and encountering a new Gundam armour. What follows is seven and a half hours of amazing action-adventure storytelling, and an audio-visual spectacle. MSG: Unicorn could easily be thrown in among the space opera genre on its appearance alone, which does it no harm, but at its heart and soul it is a highly-entertaining quest story. For those concerned, you do not need to be cultured in the way of Gundam in any way to know what is happening. Just sit back, relax, and let the fantastic action guide you through.  

Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn is available to buy on Blu-Ray and to stream on Netflix.

Devilman: Crybaby

The best Netflix-produced anime out there, Devilman Crybaby, is one of the most batshit crazy and apocalyptic series you’re ever likely to come across. This modern-day retelling of the 1970’s Go Nagai manga powers through the origin of Devilman, AKA Akira Fudo, and how becoming the ultimate anti-hero changes his life and of those around him. Love, betrayal, violence (a LOT of violence) and drama come together in this ten-episode onslaught on the senses. Forget the hilariously-dubbed Manga effort, Devilman Crybaby is as raw as they come.

Devilman Crybaby is available to stream on Netflix.

We’re a few days into the current UK national lockdown, what have you watched so far, or intend to whilst at home for the next three weeks?

Five Fearsome Horror Games of the Last Decade

“just because the 31st of October has passed, it doesn’t mean Halloween can’t remain for a few days thereafter. Enjoy my Halloween horror videogame picks”

Hands up, I’m a little late with this one. But just because the 31st of October has passed, it doesn’t mean Halloween can’t remain for a few days thereafter. After all, no matter what the supermarkets show you, it ain’t Christmas yet! So without further ado, enjoy my Halloween horror videogame picks.

The Walking Dead Telltale Series

Telltale’s The Walking Dead follows zombie apocalypse survivor Clementine across four emotionally gripping episodic games. Growing up and evolving from a little girl hiding in a tree house through to adulthood, as a more than capable survivor, The Walking Dead offers a new and refreshing perspective to the hugely successful TV and comic franchise. From an emotionally provocative perspective it is arguably better than its parent’s narrative. As you make your own informed decisions as the story progresses, Clementine’s world develops around you as a result of these choices. Some choices literally play with people’s lives. The series began in 2012, and really put Telltale Games on the map. The Final Season however, marked the final chapter of Telltale as a development entity altogether, before it was even completed. Thankfully, Skybound Games saved the license, and Telltale has since been reborn. The Walking Dead is a perfect harrowing tale, perfect for Halloween, that few will ever forget.

The Evil Within

The Evil Within is Resident Evil-creator Shinji Mikami’s latest horror franchise. As expected, it is a highly-crafted, horrifying and intricate and immersive story that invokes tension and anxiety.. Whilst investigating the scene of a gruesome mass murder, detective Sebastian Castellanos encounters a powerful force that allows him to wander amongst the dead. The Evil Within is not for the faint of heart. Mikami has created a horrific, twisted world, as well as a formidable challenge. Halloween doesn’t get much more interactively harrowing than this.

The Wolf Among Us

Another entry from the ill-fated but now resurrected Telltale Games, The Wolf Among Us is a very different tale to The Walking Dead. Based on the DC Vertigo comic series Fables, this episodic adventure pits you as Bigby Wolf as he investigates the murder of a woman in the mystical enclave location of Fabletown. As the investigation develops, the choices made not only progress this very dark fairy tale, but also lay out the difficult path of Bigby as a protagonist. Nothing is as it seems, and there is more than enough horror-laden mystery and violence to satisfy any Halloween urges. More good news – A sequel is on the way.

Dead Space

Another ill-fated developer tale, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Visceral Games perfected the third-person survival horror formula with the original Dead Space. Engineer Isaac Clarke and team venture to a mining spacecraft after a blackout in communications, only to quickly discover it has been overrun by monsters. The monsters, who turn out to be mutated versions of the ship’s crew, require Isaac’s various nifty, upgradable cutting tools in order for them to be eliminated.

Before Alien: Isolation hit our screens, Dead Space was the perfect substitute for old-school survival horror. The required limb cutting instils both panic and preservation in equal measure. There are jump-scares and uneasiness aplenty, set against a bleak yet fantastic looking visuals. Possibly its greatest success is all this comes with a minimal plot, as the action does all the talking.

Zombi U

Zombi U was an early pleasant surprise for the Nintendo Wii U, and arguably the best non-Nintendo title to use the second-screen dynamic. Inevitably, it received a much bigger audience when it was ported to PS4 years later. Set in a zombie-apocalyptic London, you guide survivor after survivor through a Zombie-laden English capital with the hopes of escape. As you scrounge for weapons and health, you soon realise that to survive you need to avoid zombie combat as much as possible. When you die – and you will – you pick the trail up as a new character, with anything collected left where you previously bit the dust. Its a bleak, slower paced affair, with the feel of a George A. Romero movie. Only this time, you’re in it.

Oh, what’s that, no Resident Evil 2 remake, even with the featured image as a nod? Red herring! I am still yet to play it. What are your Halloween horror choices for this past spooky season?

A History of Manga Entertainment UK (Part 1)

“As the UK’s first anime outlet, Manga has distributed and produced some of the best (and worst) the genre has to offer in years gone by”

Manga Entertainment, as it is known today, was originally founded in 1987. It is famous, or infamous in some cases (yes, I’m looking at you, Legend of the Overfiend) for introducing Anime to the United Kingdom. As the UK’s first anime outlet, Manga has distributed and produced some of the best (and worst) the genre has to offer in years gone by. This ‘Manga Video’ brand was a name synonymous with the Anime genre throughout the 1990s, dominating the world cinema sections of HMV’s and Virgin Megastores (remember those?) across the country. The genre quickly grew to have a home of its own, as other Western-based publishers and distributers burst onto the Anime scene. The word ‘manga’ is of course the Japanese word used for comic, often of which are the source materials used to create anime series, movies and direct to video productions. Here is a brief insight into a company that has hit great highs and lows, and is now on the rise once again.

In the late 1980s, a new subsidiary of Island Records was created, withmarketing director Andy Frain placed in charge. By 1991, the company purchased the distribution rights to Akira. It was subsequently released into cinemas and was a massive success. Suddenly, a huge window of opportunity and potential opened; the western world was ready for Anime.

The Manga Video introduction present on most of its VHS catalogue, and contains footage from its very first releases.

From Akira’s success came the creation of the Manga Video label later that year. Managed by Laurence Guinness day to day, Laurence went on to become executive producer on almost every Manga Video release throughout the 90’s. Timing was everything; Manga Video acquired many of the big licenses, and the partnership with American publisher Central Park Media allowed the English dub costs to be shared. This gave Manga the tools to hit the UK market with many releases in the nineties VHS generation. By the time Manga’s first collector’s catalogue was published for its club members in 1995, there were 74 titles logged within it, with many more on the horizon. Retail success came from monthly OVA episode releases (e.g. The Guyver, Giant Robo), collections that were made very affordable due to the even cost spread of around £5.99 – £9.99 per volume.

Single-VHS episodes proved very popular for Manga’s sales

As the catalogue grew and grew, Akira had continued success in the home market, as it remained at the forefront of the Manga Video label. It came at a time when dark science fiction (Robocop, Aliens, and Escape from New York) was at its peak in Hollywood. Early releases such as Venus Wars, Lensman and Doomed Megalopolis gave Manga a clear target audience, that being young men, and quickly became the label’s marketing strategy. Manga’s regular release schedule of edgy, dark and often very violent productions soon became the bulk of its catalogue.

An early Manga Video advertisement, published in Super Play magazine

The English dub tracks were often scripted to include extra, and often unnecessary, profanity to increase the age rating classification (a process known as ‘fifteening’) to keep in line with this target demographic. Some releases had their soundtrack compositions completely replaced, with mixed results (Cyber City Oedo is a prime example of both methods). Over time however, the lack of subtitled releases, which would not arrive until the DVD line materialised, would be a constant source of complaint from the growing UK Anime fan-base.

A prime source of ‘fifteening’, with profanity deliberately included to give certain productions a more adult approach

Despite Manga Video’s VHS success, the success of Akira could never be replicated. Seeing potential in a new feature, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Andy Frain was instilled as co-executive producer. This allowed Manga to release the movie on a worldwide scale. This ultimately led to a US-relationship, expanding the Manga Video catalogue even further. When Ghost in the Shell arrived in 1995, it performed well, but not to the levels Akira reached, with many of its new direct-to-video releases faring better for sales. The direct investment into GitS did not lead to a return in profits, and led to Andy Frain stepping down. And thus began troubling times for the label that began so well….

Join me next time as I explore what becomes a difficult, transitional period for Manga Video, as it aims to carry its legacy into the DVD market under a new, US-led leadership. Ta ta for now!

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 Season 2 (19/20 Data) – February

“And so, to the transfer market. I think it is time to target the indifferent midfield. It needs an injection of attacking flair and sharpness”

THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.

THE CAVEAT: Chelsea are back in the transfer market.  But as before, any transfer bids must be accepted.

February. That treasured month of the year that was long associated, for all non-Arsenal fans anyway, with many a season’s demise for the Gunners. The Champions League is back. The League Cup final looms. The FA Cup hits crunch time. It’s all happening. For Chelsea, a new look side will enter the fray as the league season also enters the final third. And after all, its the final third that determines the outcome for all.

January Manager of the Month: Pep Guardiola

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Pep does it again. 4 wins and 2 draws (1 of which was against a certain plucky Chelsea side) resulted in City keeping top spot throughout January, as well as progression in the FA Cup. Pep’s side are as currently devastating as they are decisive.

December Player of the Month: Sadio Mane

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Liverpool’s Senegal forward has 18 goals for the season going into February. 7 of those came in January alone, including 2 in the 7-2 romp of Manchester United. Oof. An award never in doubt.

Premier League Fixture #25 – Wolves (Home)

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Boom. February starts with a bang. Batshuayi continues with his fine form, netting his 21st and 22nd goals of the season in just 25 games. I think Chelsea have found their star forward. Olivier Giroud continues his fine form also with his 15th of the season. Both target men are hitting top form at a great time. Ruben Neves, one of many January transfer dealings for Chelsea, namely from their opponents here, nets his first goal for the club, crowning the victory in the final moments.

Its another defeat that, with Sheffield United pulling off a much-needed victory of their own, pushes Wolves down into the relegation zone in their place.

Transfer ban feb 3

And that is the final action of Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. In his place comes one of Barcelona’s most decorated players and manager – Luis Enrique!

Transfer ban feb 2

That storming win in the West Midlands means Chelsea keep up the pace on Bournemouth, who also win. What a season they are having. That aforementioned victory for The Blades means they leapfrog Aston Villa as well as Wolves. And while that is a massive step towards Premier League survival….

Transfer ban feb 4

…It appears that a new prospect was more tempting for manager Chris Wilder. Football can be a ruthless and opportunistic world. At the top, City have a tight one against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, but a win is a win. And it’s a win that puts them 7 points clear at the top as all sides reach their 24th fixture. 14 games to go, 42 points potentially up for grabs.

Speaking of ruthless, another manager loses the fight to keep his job. Mauricio Pochettino, with Spurs languishing in 10th on a mere 30 points, has been replaced with…

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..someone who has at least had a better season thus far. Bournemouth are currently 4 places higher, and 7 points better off. Howe’s win rate is among the top 6 for the season. But, they have also lost almost as many matches as they have won. The problem for both sides is defending, so it will be interesting to see how this develops. Given that the now-abandoned Bournemouth were in a much better position for a European place.

Premier League Fixture #26 – West Ham (Away)

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After an unbeaten January, it feels surreal enough to go a further 2 games unbeaten. Let alone win 2 in a row. This Chelsea side is hitting top form perhaps a little too late in terms of the Premier League. However, its perfect for the remaining cup competitions. The only blemish is the injury to top scorer Batshuayi. Nevertheless, this is away win number 5 of the season.

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So, its 2 weeks out for the Chelsea top scorer at such a key time. He will miss the home game against Spurs and the FA Cup 5th round tie against Aston Villa. But far more significantly he will miss both Champion’s League group stage ties against Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Fixture #27 – Tottenham Hotspur (Home)

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Unfortunately, nothing to report here. Any dropped points at home can be considered a failure of sorts. Given Spurs were on the back foot throughout, with Hugo Lloris literally saving them from defeat, that narrative rings true once again. Looking on the bright side, its another point added to the tally. Next up is Dortmund at home.

Champions League Phase 2 Group A: Fixture #3 – Dortmund (Home)

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Unprecedented. Unthinkable. Unbelievable. What. A. Win. Dortmund are completely dominated from start to finish. Even with it being pulled back to 2-1 at one stage. Any other outcome simply wouldn’t have been right. It almost eclipses the 5-1 drubbing of Real Madrid, but this performance was better. 7 points from this tough group so far. Amazing.

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In more domestic news, Sheffield United have replaced the departed Chris Wilder with Lee Bowyer. Down on the coast, Bournemouth have hired Paul Lambert to fill the Eddie Howe void. Lambert is typically a more conservative manager, it will be interesting to see how much the Bournemouth dynamic changes at this crunch time of the season.

FA Cup Fifth Round – Aston Villa (Away)

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Phew. This was a close one. On the back of the tremendous Dortmund victory, Chelsea looked tired in this cup tie. But even with Christensen having to go off early on, Chelsea’s turn of the year resolve continues, with the incoming Pedro snatching a win at the death. We go on!

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As for the rest of the round, no replays and very few surprises. Newcastle’s woeful league campaign is masked as they proceed at the expense of Paul Lambert’s new side Bournemouth. Norwich’s rocking defeat at home to Championship side Fulham is the biggest shock of the round. Wycombe Wanderers of League One gave it a good go against Eddie Howe’s Spurs, but just lose out.

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It was inevitable. Man City are far and away the best team in the country, and are very unlikely to be caught in the league. But this is a different chance to have a small margin of bragging rights domestically. And just like that, it’s back to the Champions League.

Champions League Phase 2 Group A: Fixture #4 – Dortmund (Away)

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Another close one, with Lacazette’s second half double looking to have settled the tie. That is until five minutes from time, when Giroud pops up with his fifth goal in this Campions League campaign to salvage a point. Chelsea remain unbeaten with 2 games left and in pole position to qualify. Fuck yeah.

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Over in Spain, in the same group, Real Madrid unload on Shakhtar Donetsk after their 2 previous defeats. They could even afford for their self-proclaimed talisman Sergio Ramos to go off injured. To be fair, they were already 7-0 up, plus Shakhtar were already 5-0 down when they went down to ten men. A walk in the park for the competition’s most successful club.

Premier League Fixture #28 – Watford (Away)

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Jorginho has been in scintillating form, and this match was more of the same from him. A stunning free kick gave Chelsea the lead, and a brilliant by-line cross meant an easy headed goal for Giroud. Another man whose form cannot be understated. Batshuayi is back. His assist for Pulisic at the death capped another fine away win for the boys in blue.

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Elsewhere in the gameweek, Man City take another step to Premier League glory. Their easy 5-0 away win at West Ham is topped by Man Utd only managing a draw at home to Lee Bowyer’s Sheffield United, who are desperate for Premier League survival. Eddie Howe’s Spurs are gradually improving, and their win over Everton puts them just below his previous side Bournemouth. Liverpool maintain their chase for Champions League placing with their 17th win of the season, which keeps Arsenal at arm’s reach away from a similar placing. More good news for Chelsea, that.

Premier League Table, end of February

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Man City’s lead at the top grows to 9 points, and look unstoppable right now. February was indeed a month of some real progress for Chelsea. One place gained, with 10/12 points obtained. The Champions League placing gaps could be too much, but with 30 points up for grabs, it’s still possible. But it is certainly worth noting that Chelsea’s last defeat in the league was against Everton in December. That was 10 games ago. There are 10 games left. After utter inconsistency, we finally have consistency. Now more than ever, there is no room for complacency. See you next month.

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here:-

August September October November December January

Championship manager and its fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.

 

 

 

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 Season 2 (19/20 Data) – January Transfer Bonanza!

“And so, to the transfer market. I think it is time to target the indifferent midfield. It needs an injection of attacking flair and sharpness”

THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.

THE CAVEAT: CHELSEA CAN BUY PLAYERS AGAIN. Any transfer bids must be accepted.

Following the decision last month to reduce Chelsea’s transfer ban, we’re back in the transfer market once again. Time to refresh and replace in order to contest some silverware. Hang on tight.

December Manager of the Month: Pep Guardiola

Guess who is back, back again. How many times is that now, Pep?

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After beginning the month with a 2-2 draw against local and title rivals Manchester United, six straight wins followed. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

December Player of the Month: Moise Kean

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Dancing aside, Kean has been on fine form for the blue side of Merseyside. Key performances include, naturally, his 2-goal man-of-the-match performance in the win against Chelsea.

And so, to the transfer market. As close as November I was thinking of hunting for a new striker, but Michy Batshuayi really has hit form since then, with 6 goals just in the last month. I think it is time to target the indifferent midfield. It needs an injection of attacking flair and sharpness.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, Chelsea have been left were a mere £1.25m to spend on players. What happened? Wages happened, along with 2 or 3 major contract renewals. £40m came in, but just shy of £40m also went out. Including recieved transfer fees.

Now at first glance this looks like a disaster. If the team cannot be strengthened, then a disappointing season is surely on the cards. However, with the squad having depth in numbers, its time to offload the stagnant for some more vibrant talent. Championship Manager style. But first, back to the football.

Premier League Fixture #21 – Leicester (Away)

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Finally some resilience. Despite being pegged back by Pereira’s penalty in the first half, Chelsea kept up the pace with the one-time leaders of the Premier League throughout. Having being second best against most sides above them this season, this is a sign of Chelsea’s capability. Now just to hopefully add some quality too.

Transfer Funds Required

The problem this season has been goals. As mentioned before, Michy Batshuayi’s place is cemented with a great run in the first team so far. But he needs help. Pedro is on and off, Pulisic only seems to have a decent game from time to time. But furthermore, some of the younger players with high value could be the key. After all, I won’t be buying anyone with just £1 million in the bank.

First let’s take a look in the reserves. Old Antonio Conte favourite Victor Moses is still at the club and I wasn’t the only one that didn’t realise it. He is rated at a cool £7 million too. Unfortunately in Championship Manager you have to be ruthless, so on the transfer list he goes. Marco Van Ginkel is one of Chelsea’s many European youth purchases, joining the club at just 20 years of age. After a career-threatening anterior cruciate ligament injury, the major of Van Ginkel’s Chelsea career has been on loan at other clubs. Again, a handsome valuation of £5m will help towards first team reinforcements. Both are listed for sale, with immediate interest from Wolves and Tottenham respectively.

But what about the first team? I look at Callum Hudson-Odoi, a great youngster no doubt, but that £12m valuation just screams ‘sale’ to me. He simply hasn’t performed to the standard required. So, on the list he goes. Ross Barkley is another under-performer who will be shown the door for the right fee. Given the current state of Chelsea’s season, the managerial position is definitely on the line. There is still Champions League qualification up for grabs. There is still an FA Cup to win. There is still the Champions League itself to win. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

And now, it’s time for the FA Cup run to begin.

FA Cup Third Round – Burnley (Away)

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As soon as youngster Dwight McNeil is shown a red card for a dangerous two-footed lunge on Christian Pulisic, with Batshuayi putting away the subsequent penalty, this FA Cup third round tie is plain sailing for Chelsea. Marcus Alonso comes in and bags himself the cherry atop an easy third round victory. And now back to transfer news….

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And it isn’t the good kind. Olivier Giroud, a somewhat peripheral figure, yet useful, figure this season, could be on his way to the other part of north London. It wouldn’t be a popular move for sure, given the number of years spent at Arsenal.

Transfer ban dec 4

Or not, as the Frenchman quickly clarifies. This doesn’t happen very often in Championship Manager, but with some big games to come, it is a welcome decision by the forward.

Transfer ban dec 5

Spurs also tried a move for the transfer-listed Ross Barkley, with similar results. What a steaming pile of Hotspur.

Transfer ban dec 6

There is success for Spurs however with Marco van Ginkel. Off he goes to north London. Did Spurs have any players in the first place?

Transfer ban dec 18

Now it’s Chelsea’s turn. Time to inject some new blood and crank things up. Wolves’ Ruben Neves is hopefully one that is capable. At just over £6m, its a chance worth taking.

Transfer ban dec 8

Tottenham’s back again, this time for another out of favour midfielder, Danny Drinkwater. Despite winning the Premier League with Leicester, Danny’s career has nosedived ever since, and regular football just hasn’t happened for him. Hopefully this move to Spurs will work for all parties. It certainly does for Chelsea’s transfer balance.

Transfer ban dec 10

Another sale, this time of reserve starlet Reece James. A cool £4 million in the bank. Thank you to the blue side of Merseyside.

Transfer ban dec 7

Following the formality at Burnley, Chelsea next face a home tie against League One opposition in Ipswich Town later in the month. Hopefully a good chance to proceed further. And now, back to some actual football.

Premier League Fixture #22 – Manchester City (Home)

Transfer ban dec 11

A big fixture against the league’s form side. Chelsea were so, so close to getting the win. Man City found their saviour in Sergio Aguero with just a few minutes to go. Proof that one goal is often never enough.

Back to transfer news, a quick check on expiring contracts prompted a punt on another Wolves midfielder, Joao Moutinho. Instrumental in getting Wolves into the Premier League, and ensuring they have remained there, Moutinho has opted to move to the blue side of London from next season. Chelsea’s midfield is looking stronger day by day.

Transfer ban dec 12

Transfer ban dec 13

And what of Tottenham? Following bids on various Chelsea players, a further surpise emerged in that Dele Alli showed up on the interested transfer listings. Upon further investigation it appears Dele is having an awful time. Out of action, out of favour and now, out of Tottenham. Dele Alli is now a Chelsea player.

Premier League Fixture #23 – Brighton (Home)

Transfer ban dec 14

Batshuayi’s form could not have hit at a better time. Brighton might not be the strongest opposition, but putting teams to bed has been a problem for Chelsea all season. A hat trick for the Belgian secures a dominant home win. Let’s hope for more wins than draws as the season hits the final 15 games.

Transfer ban dec 17

Back to transfer developments, and it looks like more money for the Chelsea transfer kitty. Wolves have come in for the transfer listed Victor Moses. The bid was of course reluctantly accepted….

Transfer ban dec 15

…and splashed on Everton’s Lucas Digne almost immediately. The left back position hasn’t been secured by anyone consistently this season, so some major competition can only be a positive step.

Transfer ban dec 19

The squad is looking transformed already. Certain signings are also resonating with the rest of the squad also. Positive vibes all around. An its about to get better…

Transfer ban dec 20

Hudson-Odoi was the first player placed on the transfer market in this window. His £10m price tag seemed a bit much, and was left as a hopeful money earner. Now it has come in big. Thank you AC Milan.

Transfer ban dec 21

BREAKING NEWS: Tottenham confirm they have officially lost the plot with a counter offer of £12.25 million for Callum Hudson-Odoi. The player decides to stay in London, with close to an additional £3m going into Chelsea’s bank. Booyah.

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And so comes a final signing. With the departure of Rudiger earlier in the season, a cool £5m on England international Michael Keane should help bolster the defensive line nicely. I think Chelsea might be ready.

New Squad Tactics

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Now that is looking much better in terms of balance. As the season has progressed Mason Mount has emerged as the partner for Jorginho, who sometimes steps in Kante’s role when he is unavailable. Batshuayi and Giroud are on form up front, and Alli loves the number 10 role. Things are looking up.

Premier League Fixture #24 – Bournemouth (Away)

Transfer ban dec 22

Blimey. What a start for Deli Alli. Within 20 minutes of his first appearance as a number 10, he is off the mark for Chelsea. Despite the topsy-turvy score-line this was a match Chelsea were always in control of, and more importantly, winning. A month unbeaten for the boys in blue.

FA Cup Fourth Round – Ipswich Town (Home)

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Another easy cup victory. Another 4 goals too. Good to see defenders getting a share of the spoils too. Onto the next round against Aston Villa!

Transfer ban dec 24

Transfer Round Up

To start out with the disappointment of having virtually no transfer money, and concluding with the signing of 4 key players could really turn the season around.

Transfer ban jan players out

What of the departures? With so much sale activity, the return of Ross Barkley to Everton was completely missed. £82m raised, and just £24.5m spent. I’d say that’s pretty good business.

Transfer ban dec 25

Elsewhere, across the globe, the Inter-American cup, otherwise known as the Copa Libertadores, came to its conclusion. River Plate came up trumps after a penalty shootout against Monterrey.

Premier League Table, end of January

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2 big wins and 2 good draws opens a gap between the top 7 and everyone else. Chelsea are by no means going to win the Premier League this season. But 5th is now only a 4-point gap. Hopefully Chelsea will also finally get that 10th win of the season.

At the top, City continue to dominate. The battle for 2nd is more interesting, with just 3 points between 3 teams. At the bottom, Newcastle looked doomed with just 2 wins all season. But somehow they are only 6 points from safety. Relegation zone mainstays Southampton and Sheffield United remain in trouble, with Wolves and Villa perilously close to the bottom also.

14 games to go. 42 points up for grabs for all. With the return of European competition also, its a make or break month for a new-look Chelsea. Until next time, TTFN!

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here:-

August September October November December

Championship manager and its fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.

 

 

 

The 11 Best Episodes Of ‘X-Men The Animated Series’

As the 2010’s leave us like a bullet train passing through a station, franchise reboots and re-releases are as ingrained into our brains and bookshelves as the wealth of more recent material. Retro is back, and seemingly here to stay.

Recent examples of note include the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series getting the Blu-Ray treatment in 2018, more than 20 years on. 2019 marked the 20-year anniversary of Batman Beyond (1999-2001) with a similar effort. But enough about DC’s glorious gems, what about Marvel?

X-Men: The Animated Series is one such deserving gem. It originally ran from 1992-1997 for five, fun-packed seasons. With it came concepts more associated with TV dramas, such as progressive storylines, season-long narratives and multi-part adaptions derived from some of the most famous stories from the comic books.

Unfortunately, there is no high-definition re-release on the cards anytime soon. However, with the arrival of Disney Plus, as well as the handy aqcuisition of Fox, all episodes are indeed part of the gargantuan streaming service. With Disney Plus finally arriving in the UK on March 21, I for one am keen to revisit a near 30-year old animated classic.

So, without any further ado, and in no particular order, sit back and enjoy my favourite episodes from the series.

Night of the Sentinels Parts 1 + 2

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Where best to start than right at the beginning? Right off the bat, this 2-part opener sets the scene and tone of the show perfectly. We are introduced to the X-Men through the perspective of one Jubilation Lee (AKA Jubilee: “I blow stuff up”) as she seeks salvation from mutant prejudice. The pubertal manifestation of her mutant powers has all but ended her normal life. Even the authorities are out to get to her through the government-funded Mutant Control Agency, supposedly set up to help mutants, but is in fact a front to eliminate them.

Real issues such as racism and xenophobia are a constant throughout the series. X-Men: TAS does an excellent job in exerting such issues, through that of teenagers, even young adults, in a terrifying, relatable manner. I’m well aware that none of us are going to be hunted by giant, malevolent robots because we can blow stuff up with our bare hands. But these emotional notions can directly be transferred into the real world of teen angst; here it is simply in a alternative, fictional guise.

The threat posed to these would-be heroes, who are forced to operate outside the law, pulls no punches, with an initial tragedy thrown in to cement that. This is no origin story. You are thrown straight into the X-Men’s world and all that comes with it. All suitable for Saturday mornings, of course.

Deadly Reunions

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By the fourth episode we’ve already been introduced emphatically to Magneto, Charles Xavier’s long-time friend, and one of the X-Men’s main rivals. The X-Men prevented a Magneto-powered missile attack in just the previous episode, but Mr Maniacal Magnetic Mutant is far from done. Magneto attempts to draw out Charles for a reunion years in the making, and is prepared to put human lives on the line to do so.

What follows is the first psychological pitting of two very differently motivated mutant minds. Charles’ idealism that all mutants follow his vision is also put to the test. It is so important that this rivalry is introduced so early in the series, as it will continue to become a backbone throughout. As will the animosity between Wolverine and Sabretooth, whose very physical battle also test’s Charles and his methods.

Cold Vengeance

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This Wolverine-centric episode widened my eyes (“Deadly Reunions” had certainly pried them open) to the brutal relationship between Logan and Victor Creed, otherwise known as Sabretooth. After their brief yet destructive battle in Deadly Reunions, “Cold Vengeance” takes it up to eleven. They’re both literally trying to kill each other and, given the array of claws on offer, the intensity is maintained without the need for graphic violence. A true testament of the show for sure.

Elsewhere, the adaption of the “mutant friendly” nation of Genosha comes into play. Cyclops steals the show as his tetchy tendencies are unleashed on the charismatic but often-cocky Cajun, Gambit. Whether it’s combat or conjecture, Cold Vengeance really turns up the heat in a series just six episodes strong at this stage.

Days of Future Past Parts 1 + 2

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A story so synonymous with the X-Men universe it was even adapted in the movie universe, Days of Future Past is up there with the best on offer. Kitty Pryde, the comic book’s original time-travelling saviour, is completely absent from the show, despite being the front of the original pilot from the show’s producers. Instead, Days of Future Past becomes the platform to introduce another time-traveller, Bishop, into the show. The switch is admirable, and even with a completely new dynamic as a result of the change, it works handsomely.

Days of Future Past taps into everything the X-Men’s world is all about; why they fight against persecution. The bleak tone of their potential future resonates from the page to screen perfectly. It is a 2-part adventure that casts doubt on the characters you’re just getting to know, interspersed with a nice dose of science fiction to boot.

The Final Decision

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Artificial intelligence goes self-aware and runs amok in this first season finale. After the fallout of “Days of Future Past”, Senator Kelly is kidnapped by Magneto. This in turn leads to anti-mutant protest rallies, with the X-Men in the middle trying to keep the peace. The Final Decision really hammers home the nobility of the X-Men and Charles’s hope for human/mutant peace.

The sentinel program comes to a head, even rebelling against its creator, Bolivar Trask. What follows is the X-Men putting their lives on the line against an army of mutant-killing robots in a spectacular battle sequence that is among the best the series has to offer over its five seasons.

Time Fugitives Part 1 + 2

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It wouldn’t be a true X-Men show without everyone’s, me included, favourite time travelling mutant, Cable. The show casts Cable as a hardened warrior, A non-killing Rambo, if you’ll pardon the reference. Cable fights the good fight, albeit in his own way. That is to say, helping the X-Men’s cause, just rarely directly or by the same methods.

In Time Fugitives, it is Cable’s future that’s on the line. Bishop is also back, and another time jump to the present day is subsequently erasing Cable’s timeline. The only probable solution? Take out Bishop. Time Fugitives is a 2-part adventure told in a before-then-after format, with direct comparisons drawn as an open-and-shut version of the Legacy Virus comic book storyline.

Above all else, this interlude in the show’s most progressive season showcases some of its best action sequences. With regards to Cable, TAS always did an excellent job of painting Cable as a top supporting character. The show manages to tease its audience with Cable’s true meaning to the team, particularly Cyclops, without feeling the need to delve any deeper. It’s a perfect nod for comic fans of the show, and enough for newcomers to be left asking themselves provocative questions that may or may not be answered down the line.

Reunion Parts 1 + 2

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The second season of X-Men: The Animated Series, emboldened by the groundwork already laid in the first season, explored a TV concept usually reserved for adult shows: The season-long story arc. The season opener “Till Death Us Do Part” saw an X-Man, previously thought long gone, luring both Xavier and Magneto to The Savage Land. What begins as a secondary storyline becomes the foundation for this, the 2-part season finale.

Stripped of their powers, Xavier and Magneto must set aside their differences and work together to survive in a prehistoric land. These segments, usually on the back end of episodes throughout the season, explore the more distinctive element of their relationship: friendship. The mastermind of season 2 is an undoubtedly Sinister character (wink wink), whose obsession with Cyclops and Jean Grey’s mutagenic possibilities results in a battle for all the X-Men’s lives. His ability to even manipulate Xavier ranks Sinister above most if not all the foes the X-Men face throughout the entire series.

What were your favorite episodes of “X-Men: The Animated Series?” Leave a comment with yours! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 Season 2 (19/20 Data) – December

“The game is long gone before his hat trick is complete, but that makes it all the more worth it against shithouse Sergio Ramos and company. This result has been a long time coming.”

THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.

THE CAVEAT: This time, they can’t buy it. Any transfer bids must be accepted. No players can be purchased.

November Manager of the Month: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Well, it was never going to be me, was it? I had a feeling on this one, and yet upon inspecting the stats, I’m inclined to question it. Of their 6 matches in December, only 2 were wins. 3 draws (albeit 2 of them against City and Leicester) were also clocked, as well as their first defeat of the season against a mid-table Spurs side. Hmmm.

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Alright then, dickhead.

November Player of the Month: Sergio Aguero

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As far as Premier League memories go this past decade, Sergio Aguero already takes the crown with his now-iconic 2011-12 title-sealing effort. Now in his ninth season at City, the Argentine attacker continues to cement his legacy in Premier League folklore. The 4-time champion has taken the monthly award 6 times, so this is simply another one for the cabinet. 2 keys goals, an assist as well as an 8.3 average rating make him the best player for November.

Transfer ban dec 2

As for Chelsea, the board seem a little happier than “satisfied”. Quite surprising considering the stuttering league form. Speaking of which, next up is Norwich away.

Premier League Fixture #14 – Norwich (Away)

Transfer ban dec 3

As Jurgen Klopp once famously said “Boom”. This one was over in the first half, a fact cemented following the red card to Norwich keeper Fahmann. Only another injury scare to Kante being a blemish on the day. Thankfully he is out for just a few days. And now…..

Transfer ban dec 4

Remember this? It is likely going to one of the season’s defining moments.

Transfer ban dec 6

Bit of a problem there Jody, HE LEAVES THE CLUB IN TWO WEEKS.

Transfer ban dec 7

And just look at this. He was the club’s top scorer, played every match, then took the Barca bait. Yes, I subsequently dumped him in the reserves as a result. But pleading that the move is to acquire first team football? Good one pal. You had your chance. 

Champions League 2nd Group Stage Game 2 – Real Madrid (Home)

Transfer ban dec 5

Now here comes the boom! Giroud is preferred in the striker role, and the return is Champions League gold. The game is long gone before his hat trick is complete, but that makes it all the more worth it against shithouse Sergio Ramos and company. This result has been a long time coming.

Premier League Fixture #15 – Sheffield United (Away)

Transfer ban dec 8

ARGH. More frustration on the return to the domestic front. Sheffield United simply had the answer to almost everything Chelsea threw at them. The introduction of Champions League hero Giroud gave them a chance, but Chris Wilder’s men held off Chelsea for a great win in front of their own fans. The indifference continues.

Transfer ban dec 9

In other results, Manchester United get another win, and relegation-threatened Southampton pick up a vital win against European-placed West Ham. So, a chance for Chelsea to catch up is lost for now. Bottom of the table Newcastle are well beaten yet again, and Spurs maintain mid-table mediocrity with a high-scoring thriller at Wolves. And now news from the upcoming third round of the FA Cup….

Transfer ban dec 10

Could have been a much easier draw for sure. Turf Moor is rarely an easy place to go. Could be interesting.

Transfer ban dec 11

Big transfer alert! French international striker Alexandre Lacazette is on his way to Germany for a big fee. He has surprisingly only featured in 2 fixtures for Arsenal this season, and with Aubameyang running away with the goals this season, Lacazette is taking his chances (hopefully) at his compatriot’s former club.

Transfer ban dec 12

In the league cup, Chelsea’s next challenge will be away at Wolves in the quarters. Another difficult prospect. And it is up next.

League Cup Quarter Final – Wolves (Away)

Transfer ban dec 13

And so, the first cup elimination of the season. Hopefully the last of course. A topsy-turvy first half ends all-square, but Wolves come out on top in a tight second half. I guess you can’t win them all.Transfer ban dec 14

The other London club playing the same evening also go out at the quarter final stage, after a more comprehensive defeat to Sheffield United, who have started December very well.

Transfer ban dec 15

Over in Japan, Champions League winners Liverpool take on Boca Juniors, following their own Copa Libertadores glory. And it’s the Premier League side that come out as World Champions. Nice.

GettyImages-1189865020

And now for more transfer news…..

Transfer ban dec 16

Blimey. As far as transfer fees going in CM 01/02, this is as big as they come. Not content with turning Tammy Abraham’s head, Barcelona bring back the Brazilian moody midfield marauder to La Liga.

And now, title-chasing Manchester City await….

Premier League Fixture #16 – Manchester City (Away)

Transfer ban dec 17

Nothing. Not even a sniff. So far this season it has been blank after blank against the top 3. Not even a goal. Let’s move on to other results.

Transfer ban dec 18

That win for City cements 2nd place behind Leicester, who obliterate lowly Newcastle United, who surely look doomed. With both Manchester United and Liverpool drawing in their respective matches, the top 2 pull away a little bit more.

Transfer ban dec 19

With just 4 wins all season, this comes as no surprise. What is a surprise is the timing, with Southampton on a 2-match winning streak when the trigger was pulled. Will Southampton come to regret this decision?

Premier League Fixture #17 – Burnley (Away)

Transfer ban dec 20

A disastrous first half saw Chelsea well behind at 2-0. Thankfully swapping out the awful Pedro for Pulisic at half time sprang the midfield into life, as Chelsea clawed the game back for a draw. Jorginho, after securing the draw, is out for a few days with a twisted knee. With 3 matches left in this month alone, could it be a costly few days?

Premier League Fixture #18 – Everton (Away)

Transfer ban dec 21 The answer is… sort of. Chelsea are not short of quality in midfield for sure, but Jorginho has certainly been key to any success. Unfortunately, it is Kante who has a stinker, and is removed before being removed by a second yellow card. Once again shot to goal conversion rate is the big question mark here – the team simply isn’t delivering on the chances they are creating week in, week out.

Transfer ban dec 22

Well now, this is an interesting appointment. Gerrard has had enough of the dizzy heights of the SPL and jumped at the first available Premier League job that came up. I guess we’ll now see what he is truly made of.

Premier League Fixture #19 – Arsenal (Home)

Transfer ban dec 23

4 goals? That’s fantastic! Problem is, after going 3-0 with a little over 30 minutes to play it obviously went to Chelsea’s head. The missed penalty obviously wasn’t a heeded warning, as Arsenal go on to score with almost every attack. You know, to see it unfold on your screen, 6 goals scored in what felt like less than 60 seconds. The lead truly was too good to be true, but thankfully there was enough resolve to scrape a last-second draw. Phew. We’re halfway through the Premier League season, and Chelsea literally sit halfway in 10th.

Transfer ban dec 24Other picks from the gameweek include a demolition at Carrow Road as Man City hit them for FIVE. They also move into top spot for the first time this season, as the battle between 2nd and 3rd ends in a stalemate.

Steven Gerrard’s first match as Southampton boss also leaves them hit for 5 at home, by Sheffield United. Ouch. Newcastle lose yet again at home, this time to Bournemouth. It doesn’t look good at all for Steve Bruce. Maybe it’s time to return to penning football-related mysteries. One can but dream.

Transfer ban dec 25

Now this is a strange one. There was no news article advising Nuno Espirito Santo had left the club in any capacity. So, what on earth happened? A quick search for Wolves’ most important manager in decades shows he has moved onto the Portugal national job. Huh.

Premier League Fixture #20 – Burnley (Home)

Transfer ban dec 26

This one deserves a big poof of the cheeks. Only the second win in 7 league matches in December. Not the best month by a long way.

Premier League Table, end of December

Transfer ban dec 27

That last win puts Chelsea back up to 8th. Looking at Spurs in 14th, they have 2 games in hand which could see them nudge out Chelsea. The departure of Nuno from Wolves actually shows they’ve been left perilously close to the relegation zone, with just 4 wins all season.

Speaking of which, Villa, Southampton and Newcastle are locked at the bottom. They are also in danger are falling further away from the rest of the league.

And now, time for a potentially season-changing piece of news……

That’s right, Chelsea are back in the transfer market! Tune in next time for a bumper January review and transfer special!

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here:-

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Championship manager and its fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.