It Came From Netflix: Stranger Things

Happy Halloween! When I was a kid, Halloween was tied with Christmas as my favorite holiday. There’s just something about it that really appealed to me. Even today, I love everything about the holiday. The crisp fall air, pumpkins, spooky costumes, horror movies – it’s just magical. This year, both of my children decided they were too old to go trick-or-treating so we stayed in and watched spooky stuff on TV instead.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, Netflix is certainly what I’d recommend as your first stop. There’s no shortage of great paranormal selections in Netflix’s lineup. But if you’re not sure where to start, allow me to make a recommendation: Stranger Things.

Netflix has been producing it’s own films and serials for quite a while, but Stranger Things is what caused everyone to pause and take notice. In fact, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to discuss the show. Everything about Stranger Things fits right in with the content on this blog; 80’s nostalgia, Dungeon & Dragons – it’s all there. Heck, even the titlecard is modeled in the style of the old-school Stephen King book covers.

At the time of this writing, two seasons of Stranger Things are available to view. But be warned, once you start it is hard to stop. This is the show that made the term “binge-watching” a household term.

The first season takes place in 1983 and it follows a group of young outcasts. These kids are what you would commonly refer to as “nerds”. They are not into sports or other popular activities. Instead, they sit around and geek out over things like D&D and comic books. Early in the show, one of the characters, a boy named Will, goes missing. The remaining friends band together in an attempt to find out the fate of their friend. As it turns out, Will’s disappearance is linked to a nearby secret Federal facility where some rather unorthodox experiments are taking place. During their investigation, the friends come in contact with a strange young girl (an escapee of the previously mentioned facility). After working together, the group learns the shocking truth behind Will’s disappearance and now has to try to convince the adults in their lives that he’s still alive (and part of an unbelievable government conspiracy).

If all that sounds a little over-the-top, that’s because it is. But, the way the story plays out is flawlessly executed. This show takes a number of classic 1980’s tropes and mythology and blends it perfectly into a gripping and unforgettable story. If that wasn’t enough, the second season takes the weird-level and cranks it up even higher. The end result is a fantastic homage to retro-geekdom. I mean that. This show is truly gift to nerds everywhere.

If you’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing this series yet, do yourself a favor and watch it tonight. Take whatever steps you need to to minimize distractions, turn off the lights, make yourself a snack and enjoy. This is one show that I can’t recommend enough. Plus, it is perfect for a rainy Halloween night.

Target Audience: Retro lovers, kids of all ages and paranormal fans. No matter what genre of horror you might enjoy, there’s likely to be something for you in Stranger Things.

Mature Content: YES – Mild language, gruesome imagery, horror & peril

Number of Episodes: 17 (Two seasons)

Score (1 out of 4): 4

It Came From YouTube: Cobra Kai

For my second “It Came From…” entry, I’m going to change things up a bit. I’m jumping from Netflix to YouTube. That’s right, in case you weren’t aware, there actually is a paid version of YouTube called “YouTube Red”. Until recently, there was never a lot of discussion about it as a platform because… well, there was really nothing of value to talk about. Most people knew YouTube Red only as a paid option that allows you to skip those pesky YouTube advertisements. For me personally, it was included as a bonus with my Google Play Music subscription. I certainly enjoyed the ad-free experience of YouTube Red, but I never considered it of any real value by itself. It seems like I was not alone in that sentiment…  Very few people paid YouTube Red any real attention when compared to other streaming services like Netflix of Hulu.

Finally, the day came where Google took notice of this and decided to make a push for better and exciting content. They needed something that would be instantly recognizable and that could generate buzz. Well, They found it. On May 5th, YouTube Red became the home to Cobra Kai. This ten episode continuation of the Karate Kid franchise took off like rocket and hasn’t stopped yet.

Who doesn’t love Karate Kid? As a child growing up in the 80’s, watching it was a rite of passage. I saw both the first and second movies on HBO back in the day and became an immediate fan. When my family moved to Okinawa in the late 80’s, the island was still booming from the sudden interest that Karate Kid 2 had brought to the local culture. Everywhere you looked street merchants were peddling headbands or daiko drums. So to me, the series holds a special place in my heart.

When I heard that a sequel series was coming to YouTube, I was cautiously optimistic. I loved the first two films, but the third film was a bit of a dud for me. So much so, that I never even bothered with the fourth movie. A big part of me was worried that any attempt to resurrect this series was sure to fall flat on its face. Karate Kid is a period piece. As such, trying to emulate the vibe of that film in a modern setting is likely to fail. Thankfully, the creators of Cobra Kai recognized this and avoided the traps that most writers would easily fall prey to.

Cobra Kai takes place in modern times. It’s been 30-odd years since the events of the Karate Kid films. Daniel LaRusso is now the owner of a successful auto dealership. His childhood rival Johnny Lawrence has not been so lucky. In today’s world, Johnny finds himself barely scraping by. He floats from job to job and spends most of his money on booze and child support. His life changes when he is inspired to begin teaching karate to a young man who lives next door. When Daniel discovers the Cobra Kai school of karate has been reopened, it sparks a new rivalry with Johnny.

It is easy to imagine that this series would end up doing nothing but paying homage to the original films. But the great thing about this show isn’t really the nostalgia trips (and there are some), but it is actually the quality of the story being told. Daniel is not the star of Cobra Kai, but then again neither is Johnny.  There are a number of powerful compelling characters in this show. These characters and their stories are what make Cobra Kai such a pleasure to watch. It’s like you’re watching a brand new television show, but you already know the last few decades of backstory.

Again, I can’t stress this enough, the attention to the various characters is the best thing about this series. You get to know the character of Johnny Lawrence in a whole new light. You get to experience the story of Karate Kid from his perspective. You find out that he’s not just the “bad seed” portrayed in the original film. In fact, nearly every main character in the show gets this treatment. By the time you’re halfway through the series you have no idea who’s side you’re on anymore. But you can’t wait see what happens next. All of this makes Cobra Kai some of the best television I’ve seen in a long time. It’s funny, inspiring, and worthy of your attention.

Target Audience: This is a show that actually aimed for general audiences. It’s a must-watch for fans of the original Karate Kid films, but anyone who enjoys a good story will find something to like about Cobra Kai. 80’s nerds and retro-fans will be in for the ride of their lives with this.

Mature Content: YES – Language, mature humor, sexual references, contact violence.

Number of Episodes: 10

YouTube Red Exclusive?:  YES

Score (1 out of 4): 4

 

It Came From Netflix: Final Fantasy XIV – Dad of Light

Welcome to the very first “It Came From Netflix…” post! If you’re not sure what this is all about, you can read my announcement here: “It Came From Netflix…” – In my first review for this new feature, I will be discussing an interesting Japanese drama; Final Fantasy XIV – Dad of Light.  Since Final Fantasy games are a big part of this site, I thought this show would make a perfect segue into this new series of articles.

Netflix has recently introduced a number of foreign films and television shows. Dad of Light is one of them. Now, let me state of up front that this show does not chronicle the events of a particular Final Fantasy game, nor does it feature characters from the series. Instead, it’s a show about the game. More specifically, it’s a story about a father and son who bond through the online world of Final Fantasy XIV.

The plot is simple, it revolves around a young adult named Akio and his father. Akio works a full time job but still lives at home with his family. When he was a little boy, Akio and his father used to spend time together playing old Final Fantasy games. These days, they have drifted apart. One day, Akio’s father suddenly announces his retirement with no explanation. In an effort to rekindle the relationship with his dad, Akio purchases a Playstation 4 and a copy of the online game Final Fantasy XIV and presents them as a gift to his father. His plan is to secretly meet up with his father in the game and befriend him. Then, eventually reveal his identity in hopes of forging a stronger bond through the experience.

The series takes place largely in the real world. But occasionally, certain scenes are shown from an in-game perspective. A large part of the comic relief comes from the interactions between the father’s character and Akio’s in-game persona. The show itself is presented in Japanese with English subtitles. As is the case with most Japanese dramas, it can be oddly quirky at times. But is overall, very charming. There are a few adult situations but for the most part, the show is largely family friendly.

When the series was originally announced in Japan, it went by the rather unflattering name “Daddy of Light”. Yuck… I’m glad to see that Netflix took some artistic privilege when bringing the title to US viewers. I first heard about the series online, shortly after it’s Japanese release. It was no secret that the production company was shopping the series around to American distributors. I was nearly certain that it would be snapped up by Crunchyroll, a company that specializes in Asian media. But, much to my surprise, Netflix got the exclusive rights to the show.

The good thing about this series is  that even viewers who have no interest or knowledge of Final Fantasy XIV will be able to watch and enjoy this show. Of course, players of the game will certainly recognize certain elements and may get a bit more out of the experience. I watched this series with my entire family, and it was enjoyed by all.

All in all, Dad of Light is a heartwarming series. The storyline is very self-contained and there’s pretty much no chance of a second season. Many Japanese television dramas typically only last for one run. In a way, they could be compared to what US viewers know as a “mini-series”. So there’s very little time investment if you simply want to try something new.

If you’re new to foreign media, this series is a pretty good starting point. It’s familiar enough to comfortable, but it still has just a touch of foreign “strangeness” to stand out on its own.

Target Audience: This show is aimed towards a general audience, but fans of Japanese culture, anime, and Final Fantasy are likely to be more drawn to it than others.  It’s a good launching point for Western audiences who are not familiar with the Asian Drama genre.

Number of Episodes: 8

Netflix Exclusive?:  YES

Score (1 out of 4): 3

 

New Feature: “It Came From Netflix…”

Today, I’m proud to announce a new feature on Retrosensei.com:  “It Came From Netflix…”  – This is the silly name for my long planned review of strange and wonderful things that can be found deep in the dark depths of the Netflix streaming library. Of course, there are other streaming services like Hulu that also carry some obscure and interesting content, and I’m sure at some point I’ll touch on that too, so perhaps the name “It Came From Netflix” is a little too specific… but let’s not worry too much about that right now.

So where did this idea come from? Well, anyone who spends more than a few minutes digging through the Netflix menus will undoubtedly find some pretty interesting suggestions. Sure, you have blockbuster movies, popular TV shows, and even a good selection of Netflix original content. All of that is fair game for this feature. But, Netflix also gives us some real obscurities as well. Cheesy foreign films, low budget horror flicks, indie comedies… it is like an endless vault of pop culture potential.

I remember the day I was browsing and accidentally discovered the film Thankskilling. This movie was hosted by Netflix for several years before finally being cleared off to make room for something else. It was a cheap horror film about a phantom turkey that would rise from the grave to seek revenge against modern American teens for the atrocities suffered by the Indians during the early colonial days. The turkey could talk (and cuss), the characters were shallow, the whole film was obviously a parody of the genre – but it was wonderful! But that’s not all. Over the years other strange and mind-bending horror films have been given the spotlight thanks to Netflix. I’ve seen movies about consciously aware killer tires, ginger bread men, zombie beavers, the list goes on and on.

These days, Netflix has recently ramped up the introduction of foreign films and television. Bollywood films from India, Chinese action flicks, Japanese anime and dramas – it’s a virtual smorgasbord of entertainment. And I’m going to share with you some of the nerdiest, strangest and most interesting things Netflix has to offer. I hope you enjoy these new articles.