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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Obscusion B-List: Survival Horror Firsts Not Done by Resident Evil

Last month I celebrated the 20th Anniversary of The House of the Dead, but we all know what horror game franchise is getting the pomp & circumstance that a double-decade anniversary deserves this year. March 22, 1996 saw the original Japanese release of Capcom's Biohazard on the Sony PlayStation, and a week later the game saw North American release under the name Resident Evil, due to the word "Biohazard" not being copyrightable over here. The game not only marked the directorial debut of Shinji Mikami (Dino Crisis, God Hand, Vanquish), but also coined the phrase "survival horror" that has gone on the define an entire genre. The phrase is so defining that even Frédérick Raynal's Alone in the Dark, which first came out in 1992 & helped inspire Mikami's team, has been retroactively deemed to be survival horror. This also applies to an extent to 1989's Sweet Home, a Famicom RPG by Capcom based on the horror movie of the same name; in fact, Resident Evil was originally conceived as a remake of this game.

In the end, while Alone in the Dark & Sweet Home did introduce a lot of concepts that Mikami & producer Tokuro Fujiwara also used in their game, Resident Evil still did a number of things first for the genre it coined... Or did it? Yes, the franchise did do some things first, but many things that RE is generally credited for are not actually concepts & ideas that were done first via that franchise. This is not me trying to lessen the impact or importance of one of Capcom's biggest franchises, but rather I want to take the opportunity to give credit to six "survival horror" video games that did introduce concepts to the genre before Resident Evil eventually utilized them; in fact, one of them has yet to even be used by the series. I guess think of it as me celebrating the 20th Anniversary of "survival horror" more than anything. Regardless, let's get going before a zombie comes up from behind & bites me in the jugular.

Starting off this list is easily the most obscure one of them all, but is probably the most important of them. When Raynal made Alone in the Dark, PCs at the time could render some 3D polygons, but in the end his team decided on using polygonal characters on top of bitmap-rendered 2D backdrops, with cinematic camera angles to create tension. Similarly, when Mikami & Fujiwara made Resident Evil, they decided that having it be completely 3D was too much for the original PlayStation to handle, so they went with polygonal characters on top of pre-rendered environments alongside cinematic camera angles. Capcom wouldn't create a full-3D survival horror game until 1999's Dino Crisis, & the first full-3D RE games wouldn't be until 2000 with Survivor & Code:Veronica, but the fact of the matter is that survival horror went full-3D six years prior to when Capcom did it. In fact, it did so before Resident Evil was even fully developed.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Haunted Junction: There's a Review on the Grounds! All Readers on the Double!! WELCOME!!!

Two years ago, I decided to make the entire month of October all about horror, minus the first post (which was conceptually a carryover from September). Well, this year I'm in the same situation, where the first post was originally planned for the month prior, but wound up being an early October piece. Therefore, let's just do a repeat of 2014 & make the rest of this month all about the eerie & mystic. Unlike usual, though, we'll be starting things off with the mirror image of what one assume when things like monsters, ghosts, & things that go "bump" in the night is thought of. Instead, let's start with some levity.

The hiragana used for "Junction" actually looks
a little like the word would in English. Nice touch.

Back in 2012, I did an overview of the early days of modern late-night anime (i.e. treating TV anime like infomercials for the upcoming home video release), and one of the earliest proponents of this method of producing & airing anime was Studio DEEN. The studio's first Eat-Man anime from 1997 was the second-ever modern-day late-night anime, following Group TAC's Those Who Hunt Elves, and DEEN would follow that up with a bunch of early anime made for those wee hours of the night, with Next Senki Ehrgeiz, Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy, Shadow Skill, AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-, Eat-Man '98, & the studio's various output for TBS' Wonderful time slot (Iketeru Futari, Let's Dance With Papa, Nippon-ichi no Otoko no Tamashii, Momoiru Sisters); one could even count 1996-1997's Violinist of Hameln, which felt like a late-night anime. In fact, minus Rurouni Kenshin (which DEEN took over from Studio Gallop for the much-maligned final third), some assistance work & two OVAs, Studio DEEN's entire 1997 & 1998 output was put towards late-night anime. I did leave one anime out of this list, though, & that's where this review comes in...

When it came to where the material for a lot of this early late-night anime came from, one of the sources was MediaWorks' now-defunct Monthly Dengeki Comic GAO!. This is the same for Nemu Mukudori's Haunted Junction, which ran for 13 volumes from 1996-2001. This manga is generally considered Mukudori's most iconic, so its no surprise that it received a late-night TV anime adaptation during the Spring of 1997 by Studio DEEN. Interestingly enough, the anime still remains without a DVD release in Japan (VHS & LD only over there), but when it was picked up by for North American release, it not only received a full VHS release in 1999 (half of which was positively reviewed by ANN way back when), but also found itself a sub-only DVD boxset when the company was renamed Bandai Entertainment in 2000. Nowadays, Haunted Junction is a highly forgotten anime from a time when DVD was just starting to gain prominence (hence why we got a DVD, while Japan has yet), but the few who do remember it seem to look back on it fondly. That's why, as someone who got into anime years after its last release, I want to see if this is a lost gem that should be given a new release over here (or even in Japan), or if it's been forgotten for good reason.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Demo Disc Vol. 7: Badd Banned Broadcasts

Mistakes are a natural part of life; everyone will make them, & some are embarrassing. When these mistakes happen, there tends to be two main solutions to them, which is either accept it & ask for forgiveness... Or sweep it under the rug & act like it never happened in the first place, even if it results in there being an obvious lump in said rug that everyone notices but few actually ask about because it'd be rude to do so. When it happens in media this can result in what one can deem to be "banned" productions. They don't happen all too often, and sometimes it only extends to certain countries, but this is a rare occurrence that has even affected the anime & manga landscape. Therefore, this volume of Demo Disc will differ from the usual multi-entry offering in that I won't be looking at just the first episodes of various shows (at least, not all are the first episodes), and they don't have anything in common from a content perspective. Instead, these are four anime episodes (plus one manga chapter!) that have been banned to varying extents across the world. Technically, I shouldn't be able to check these out & write about them for you, but some other fans just don't care.

Let's take a look at what we actually aren't allowed to, shall we? Hell, two of them come from Pokémon!

(WARNING: As these are mostly not the introductions for each of these series, spoilers may vary wildly in importance... So don't complain if I wind up spoiling something to some extent. Sorry.)

Cucuruz Doan's Island
Our first example is proof that the act of "banning" something can be solely due to personal vendettas, and who better to showcase that than Yoshiyuki Tomino. A man of very specific tastes, it isn't exactly hard to disappoint the creator of Gundam, especially in his younger years, and what he does when he isn't happy varies wildly. For example, he was the director for the first half of the iconic Sunrise mech anime Brave Raideen, but supposedly left the production because he didn't want to direct a seemingly derivative super robot toy commercial; Tadao Nagahama would then take over & turn it into a prototype of his more story-focused Robot Romance Trilogy. Later on, if Tomino wanted to kill off his entire cast then he would, and if he never wanted an episode of anime to ever see the (official) light of day outside of Japan because he had a personal vendetta against someone... Well, then you get Episode 15 of Mobile Suit Gundam, which aired on July 14, 1979.

After managing to land on Earth to join the One Year War's Terran front & defeating Garma Zabi in battle, Gundam pilot Amuro Ray & the crew of the Earth Federation's White Base come across an automatic SOS signal emanating from Point 305. What Amuro finds is an island inhabited only by four children & Cucuruz Doan, a former Zeon pilot who went AWOL after refusing to kill said children after a wild shot from Doan killed their parents; he instead took them & fled. After being knocked out by Doan in a short skirmish, Amuro tries looking for his Core Fighter, which Doan hid away, before a Zaku scout happens across the island.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Theory Musing: Is Advertising Anime as "So Bad It's Good" Actually a Good Idea?

The concept of "So Bad It's Good", for those somehow unfamiliar with it, is that someone can enjoy something terrible because of how terrible it is. This has been applied to all sorts of mediums, whether it's movies, books, video games, TV series, comic books &, yes, anime & manga. The thing about "SBIG" (for lack of a better contraction), though, is that it's just like any other type of judgment by being completely subjective. Just like how one person can like something that another just can't enjoy, one person can love something because of how bad he/she feels it is, while another will feel that it's just outright terrible & not "ironically enjoyable"; some others may legitimately enjoy it & don't think of it as bad in the first place, even. Therefore, when FUNimation revealed the cover art for its upcoming, December 6 to be exact, DVD/BD combo set for Ninja Slayer from Animation, it received a mixed reaction due to FUNi trying to purposefully sell it as "SBIG".

Instead of using traditional quotes for promotion from sites like ANN or The Fandom Post, Ninja Slayer's packaging features quotes from seemingly random forum (or even YouTube) comments. Whether it's, "LOL NO." or, "This is easily one of the worst shows FUNimation ever licensed, maybe even THE worst.", it's easy to see that FUNi is advertising this anime as being enjoyable because of how bad it is. Even the trailer the company produced & put online recently, though giving off the feel of a badly worn & used VHS tape from the 80s (which is perfectly fitting), pushes the message that Ninja Slayer is really bad with the quote, "Hot garbage."; oddly enough, there's also a, "Pretty good." quote, which I guess is supposed to even things out? Now, yes, Ninja Slayer has been & will always be a very divisive anime, with the biggest point of contention being the wildly varying quality of animation each episode has. That's mainly because the anime was directed by Trigger's Akira Amemiya, the man behind the similarly minimalist & absurd Inferno Cop, who has admitted to deciding the frame rate for each episode by rolling a 24-sided die (one for each frame that's generally shown for each second of film), as if he was playing Dungeons & Dragons. For some fans of both of Amemiya's shows, they found FUNi's tongue-in-cheek promotion to be amusing & fitting for Ninja Slayer.

Personally, though, while I understand where FUNimation is coming from in this regard (while I haven't seen this show, I did see & highly enjoy Inferno Cop), I don't think trying to push the whole "SBIG" concept is going to be a smart idea in the end... At least, not in the way the company is executing it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Star Dust: "Mr. Itano, Will This Be on the Final Exam?" "THIS IS THE FINAL EXAM!!!"

Ichiro Itano may not exactly be on the lips of the general anime fan, but for those who admire sleek & stylish animation of the 80s, then this man is one of the most cherished & beloved. After graduating high school in the 70s, Itano eventually joined the anime industry, becoming an animator for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, both the innovative 1979-1980 TV series & the 1981-1982 movie trilogy. He would make his name truly known, though, when he was offered a spot over at Studio Nue to help work on 1982-1983's Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. While working as a mechanical animation director (i.e. he oversaw how the giant robots animated), Itano decided to give the iconic Valkyries a little something extra whenever they fired their missiles. Simply firing off a lot of missiles at once did nothing for Itano, so he decided that every one of them would fly all over the place while in transport, with each having its own specific trajectory & motion. While he technically had done this visual flair before Macross, it was this anime's portrayal that would lead to it being deemed the "Itano Circus", which is now what any sort of wild & crazy multi-trajectory projectile scene is called, regardless of whether it was animated by the man or not (yes, even Pokémon has done it). Not many people have an actual example of animation named after them, so props to Itano.

Itano would eventually direct his own anime, as well, & I even previously reviewed his directorial debut when I wrote about Megazone 23 Part II International. His successive resumé in the director's chair is admittedly pretty small compared to other legends, with only Battle Royal High School, Violence Jack: Evil Town, Kujaku-Oh 2, & the infamous Angel Cop, followed by a large hiatus for the most part. Sure, he did the occasional bit of animation direction or "special direction" during the 90s, mainly for Macross-related products, but Itano didn't actually return to directing until the mid-00s, when he headed up Gantz & Blassreiter for Gonzo; after that, he's assisted on anime here & there. The man's hiatus was mostly because he wound up becoming a teacher, working at Yoyogi Animation Academy, "YoAni" for short. It was seemingly while working at YoAni that Ichiro Itano wound up directing what it easily his most unknown & forgotten work. It's so obscure that I never even heard of it once until a few months ago, when a VHS rip found its way online, there's no entry for it at all over at ANN's Encyclopedia, Wikipedia Japan has nothing on it, I can't find any cover art or even an Amazon Japan listing, & I didn't even realize Itano was involved with it until somewhat recently.

So let's see if there's anything special about Star Dust, a 30-minute OVA from 1992 that was seemingly a pet project done by Itano & his very own YoAni students.