Who’s Johnny Long Arms?

Johnny Long Arms Cover

An audio drama short from UK arts nonprofit “Life you Choose,” “Who’s Johnny Long Arms” is a horror story with little to no suspense or actual fear for the characters. Life you Choose does’t work with trained actors and that’s apparent in the first few minutes. Doing a bit of research after the fact, it became clear the purpose wasn’t to entertain the masses. Instead, the goal was more than likely a confidence booster for the people playing the characters, and there’s nothing wrong with helping kids with learning disabilities try to come out of their shell.

Full disclaimer: Most if not all of my employment history has been with non-profits, whether it’s national ones like PBS or smaller organizations on an independent contractor basis, there’s a soft spot in my heart for 501(c)(3) organizations. That being said, those looking for quality in their audio dramas should look elsewhere. There’s plenty of professional material on iTunes and audible, if you’re willing to pay for it.

The story of “Who’s Johnny Long Arms?” is basic, but not simple. There’s unexplained subtext which doesn’t have time to be addressed in an eleven minute short. In summation, the story ends on an anti-climactic note, giving the listener a sense of incompletion and bored wonder. At various points it’s even hard to understand what’s being said. Part of the problem is the actors. Again these are by no means professionals and shouldn’t be judged the same way.

For their first audio drama, “Life you Choose” shows potential. Practice makes perfect and as someone with disabilities, I wish there was a organization like this growing up. There’s a need for programs like that. Going off script here: Support your local PBS station and help keep public broadcasting alive and well. Or if you’re in the UK, consider donating to “Life you Choose.” As for this review:

3.5/5 Stars

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Tales of the Otori: Across the Nightingale Floor

A historical Japanese fantasy set in the feudal period of the nation. The setting isn’t so much important as the places may or may not be real. It walks that line between “secondary world” and our “world, but with magic” well in some areas, but not in others. Overall, it doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the story, so its not worth going into further.

This story was highly influential—both subconsciously and perhaps consciously—in the writing of my book: Moon and Star. Not going to go into depth, except to say it’s available on Amazon for $2.99.

Moving right along, the way the first Tales of the Otori book handles multiple POV’s is wonderful. There are only two, but each one is handled in such a simple, yet brilliant way. The male protagonist scenes used first=person, where the female lead utilized third-person. It wasn’t until halfway through the audiobook that I realized the author was doing this. That speaks volumes on the immersive-nature of the story. The narrators certainly helped too.

The story centers around a young boy who watched his entire village destroyed by Iida and the Tohan. By fate, the boy is saved by a man who then goes out of his way to adopt him. The boy develops an attachment to the man, who later on reveals his true motive for being in the right place at the right time.

The twists and turns this story makes are most of the time predictable, but the way the overall arc unfolds is entertaining to the say the least. Unfortunately the ending kind of fizzles out after a the antagonist is defeated—in a non-satsifying, yet unexpected way. Aside from the slow burn out after the lackluster climax, this story is worth the time you spend listening.

4/5 Stars

The Table Round Episode 1

An Arthurian full cast production finally makes the pod-air waves and it sort of disappoints in terms of the production value. The first episode didn’t have good sound effects. This would be good for when audio drama first resurfaced, but nowadays it’s considered sloppy quality. For a first time go at an audio drama, this is still good. It’s the sound level issues that are the main problem.

This is also an interesting take, not on the King Arthur legend, but on audio drama. It both educates and entertains the listener. This is made clear at the end of the episode, when someone comes onto the microphone and tells the listener what happened during the events they’ve just experienced. Don’t worry it comes after the episode is complete and more of a pre/post credit teaser. Obviously there’s no factual history here, aside from the legends and writers who greatly influenced and added to the King Arthur mythology.

Regardless of whether there was a King Arthur, this first episode of an ongoing adventure recounting his adventures (real or not), shows some promise. The acting was good, but the quality of some people’s microphones was poorer than I’ve personally come to expect from independent audio productions nowadays. Still I will listen onward, keeping my optimism high.

Rating: 3.5/5

Zombie Hospital #1

At first glance, this looked like an interesting premise—an audio drama in ten minutes or less. However this doesn’t have a complete arc. While it was interesting, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to listen to future episodes. For those who are sick of the zombie scene, this will only make you annoyed. If you’re the kind of person who goes into a movie, expecting it to be bad, chances are good that you’ll be disappointed. There are cases of a movie surprising us, but they really have to wow. Unfortunately the first episode of Zombie Hospital didn’t do that for me.

The acting is good and the sound effects don’t disorient the listener. Other than that, in terms of story, there’s not much going on to investigate further into the series. It’s an unfortunate, and I hate giving “bad” reviews, but I’ve got to be honest and say that I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps I was colored by expecting this to have a complete arc. I was really looking forward to a “flash fiction” audio drama, as it was something I’ve heard very rarely.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Hadron Gospel Hour Episode 1: The Reluctant Hadronaut

Welcome to the multi-verse or at least one creator’s idea of a timeless science fiction trope. Dr. Who be damned, because there’s a new quirky comedy on the scene and it’s combining elements of Robot Chicken with Sci-fi comedy from the stylings of The Destiny of Special Agent Ace Galaksi. Hadron Gospel Hour promises to achieve both great storytelling and acts of random humor.

What makes this unique is how it uses the multiverse trope to justify the occasional random humor. That could be a turn off for some people. The beginning is way out there in terms of the randomness factor. It’s not until you get past the fake commercials for things like the awesome product that everyone needs that you get into the real meat and potatoes of the first episode. It’s an interesting way to set up the series and the world building behind it. In the essence of “show, don’t tell,” the creator(s) have achieved an interesting balance between explaining the world and showing you how random and unpredictable it can be.

The first episode has a whacky beginning, a comedic middle, and an ending that takes the whole thing up two notches. Honestly, the way they tied the main plot of this individual episode and the setup for the series together was outstanding. I certainly wasn’t expecting that kind of twist so early in the show’s debut.

Ender’s Game Alive

Ender’s Game Alive has a wonderful cast, powerful sound effects, and a story that has stood the test of time. Just like the novel changed science fiction, this adaptation does the same for audio drama. It says “this isn’t a worn out medium and here’s proof.” This version was my first experience of the story, having never read the book, and I enjoyed the story.

The opening scene was hard to get through because of the dialogue that was written on the page and I’ve heard the same complaint from people who’ve read the book that the opening was hard to get through. From what I understand, the book starts off with dialogue with no context. It’s essentially two people talking in a white room. Audio Dramas use dialogue all the time as do movies. It’s kind of their thing. I wasn’t sure of the first scenes purpose other than to inform the reader that in this society, having a third child is illegal and how Ender was allowed to be born, despite that law.

The ending felt a bit rushed, at least in the way it was presented, but I can see how it could’ve worked well in a book. The big twist ending was foreshadowed a few scenes before the reveal actually happened and the foreshadowing was like a hit to the head with a hammer. There wasn’t enough time to collect and process the information.

Having watched the movie, I have to say I like this interpretation of Colonel Graff better than Harrison’s Ford’s portrayal. In the movie, he didn’t have a lot of depth. In Ender’s Game Alive, you understand his motivation much more clearly. Those scenes with him and the psychologist were some of the more interesting bits of the story. I felt like Graff cared for Ender like his own son. The entire cast did a great job. Even though these characters were supposed to be kids, I was never knocked out of the story—even in the beginning.

Overall this production is fantastic and there was never a dull moment where I wanted to turn it off. It was more like I had to do it.

Trophy Case

A tale from 19 Nocturne Boulevard, “Trophy Case” is a story of extremely dark and graphic detail. Depending on who you ask, it’s a bit too graphic. That’s the camp I considered myself to be in while listening to this story. I’m all for a dark tone, but this just pushed it over the line. On the subject of dark tones in stories, this one takes the prize. I suppose it’s a good thing, because I did cringe a lot while listening. Again, it depends on who you ask.

One of the few positives about this story is that the pacing kept me interested in what was going to happen next. However at the end, I felt let down and that I’d been dragged over nails and broken glass to reach an unsatisfactory conclusion.

The characters in the story, aside from the american, are total misogynists. The characteristics border on stereotypes. The german and italian will do anything to win. However in order to win, they have to keep a women alive and the story and the characters treat them like objects—trophies if you will. They’re expendable. If one dies, simply get another seems to be a common theme in the story. I know this is based on a story written a while back, but I don’t see why anyone would want to retell this tale in our current society.

I’m usually not one for giving negative reviews, but when the cons are the ones that stand out the most, it’s hard to ignore them.