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Monday, July 16, 2018


Katsuhiro Otomo may not have a large catalog of work, but he remains one of the most iconic & influential names in both anime & manga, and his magnum opus is most definitely Akira. Debuting first as a manga in Young Magazine back in 1982, Otomo would work on it here & there while also working on anime productions like Neo Tokyo & Robot Carnival, before finishing it up in 1990, with a total of 6 volumes. On July 16, 1988, a host of companies decided to bring the manga into anime form as a theatrically released movie, with Otomo only agreeing to such an idea if he was given total creative control, which resulted in him becoming the director of the movie itself, and animation so fluid & mind-blowing (in general, let alone for its time) that the movie came with an absurdly high ¥1.1 billion, or roughly $10 million, budget that it obviously just could not recoup in its home country; only when you account for worldwide that the movie made its money back. Today, however, the Akira movie is looked at as one of the all-time greatest anime ever made, if not simply one of the best movies, in general; to this day, it remains the sole anime that The Criterion Collection ever released (Laserdisc #151).

So pinball sounds like the perfect tie-in for a movie about a mad, newly-powered psychic causing havoc & destruction everywhere he goes... Right?

Obviously, with hype of a scale such as this at the time, there were going to be video games to go with it. Unfortunately, this movie has had nothing but a rough time when it comes to this medium. The first game was 1988's Akira for the Nintendo Famicom, which was a visual novel-esque adventure game by Taito that was notorious for its ridiculous difficulty, with decisions that can kill you instantly, & sometimes requiring the player to pick painfully obtuse & illogical decisions, multiple times at that, in order to advance; even Famitsu gave it a 17 out of 40, or an average of 4.25/10 from each reviewer. For the longest time afterwards, the only other Akira game to see release was a British-developed action game for the Amiga & CD32 by International Computer Entertainment in 1994; it, too, was lambasted for its poor quality. Around the same time, THQ was developing a few Akira games for the Atari Jaguar, SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Game Boy & Game Gear, but all of them were postponed before eventually being canceled; prototypes for some of these unfinished games have since been retrieved & preserved, and now can be found online. After all that, there wouldn't be another Akira game until 2002, when Bandai worked with the video pinball meastros over at KAZe for Akira Psycho Ball for PlayStation 2, which came out to help promote the newly-remastered DVD release of the movie; Europe would receive the game in 2003 by Infogrames, using the 2001 Pioneer dub for audio. Unfortunately, there isn't much in terms of useful information regarding this game, at least in English, as nearly every review you can find online more or less dismisses Psycho Ball, either because the reviewer simply associates it with the piss-poor games that came before (including THQ's unreleased games), or outright downplays its relevance simply because it's a pinball game.

Therefore, to both celebrate Akira's Pearl Anniversary & put an end to my coverage of KAZe's video pinball legacy, let me tell you what Akira Psycho Ball really is all about, because this might very well be the best, if most forgotten, entry in the Digital Pinball franchise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Demo Disc Vol. 13: Feisty Forerunners

After taking a season off for the newly-debuted segment Retrospect in Retrograde (that will return in September), it's the return of Demo Disc! Back in April of last year, for Volume 9, I looked at four pilots that were originally meant to lead into something more, but none of them went anywhere. Whether it was to an attempt to produce an English dub for Space Adventure Cobra back in the 80s or simply trying to get actual series made via Transformers Zone, Genjiku Senki Shiden, & Justeen, they were all examples of pilots not going anywhere. Therefore, for this (maybe unlucky?) Volume of Demo Disc, let's do the opposite & look at the other side of the spectrum: The forerunner (I've also used the term "precursor" before, but I'm trying to eventually use every letter of the alphabet for Demo Disc...). Unlike those prior four, every product I'll be "Demoing" here was simply the first anime product of something that would eventually see more anime made for. In fact, of them all, only one is actually intended to be a "pilot", so let's start with that one. The fact that it helps celebrate the Golden jubilee of an iconic series that I've actually covered on the blog before is a just a sweet bonus... Also, I always do Demo Disc in chronological order, so there's that, too.

Ashita no Joe Pilots
No matter what name you decide to call it by, Ashita no Tomorrow's Champion Rocky Joe will forever be one of the most influential manga ever produced, even 50 years later, and its original anime adaptation directed by Osamu Dezaki is arguably just as important. Still, back in late 1969, it's not like the anime was simply going to be instantly greenlit. Therefore, Mushi Pro's Osamu Dezaki & Masao Maruyama decided to produce a couple of pilots, both around 10 minutes long, in an effort to find a TV station willing to help produce it, all because they were fans of the manga. In fact, they made these pilots without the knowledge of Mushi's founder Osamu Tezuka, because they felt that he wouldn't approve it, since it'd be "competing" against Tezuka's own work. In the end, Dezaki & Maruyama found an interested party in the form of Fuji TV's Koji Bessho, and the rest is all history. So now, with 50th Anniversary anime Megalobox having just ended, let's see the earliest forms of Ashita no Joe in anime form!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball: Wait... Isn't Getting "TILT" a Bad Thing?

So while going over the legacy of game developer KAZe's double duology legacy of Super Pinball & Digital Pinball, I mentioned that Super Pinball II: The Amazing Odyssey was done by a second team, while the first game's team was working on what would become Digital Pinball: Last Gladiators. Lead by Naruaki Sasaki, some of the people on this team would assist on the Digital Pinball games, usually in bug finding, artwork, or more general "Special Thanks" positions, but while Norio Nakagata & Takashi Kobayashi were making the first of two of the best video pinball games of all time, Sasaki was put in charge of another pinball game at KAZe, this time based on a licensed property: Saban's Power Rangers.

Debuting back in 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a franchise that I don't think needs any introduction. At this point, everyone at least knows that Haim Saban & Shuki Levy took a Japanese TV show, in this case Toei's Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger from 1992, removed (more or less) every single bit of footage featuring the original Japanese cast, leaving only the footage of the Rangers in their suits, the monsters, & the giant robot fights, and mixed in original footage featuring an American cast, telling its own story. Needless to say, it was massively successful, but eventually Saban had to move on to actually acknowledging the fact that each new Super Sentai show utilized (at the very least) a new outfit for the team. The first entry to do this was 1996's Power Rangers Zeo, which utilized footage from 1995's Choriki Sentai/Super-Powered Squadron Ohranger, but while the "Mighty Morphin" series received numerous video game adaptations, Zeo only received three, all in 1996. The PC & (intensely forgotten) Bandai Apple Pippin received platformer/beat-em-up Power Rangers Zeo vs. The Machine Empire, the Super Nintendo received racing game Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers, & the PlayStation received Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball; in fact, this was the last season to even get video games, until Lightspeed Rescue. While the first two are not considered all that good, I want to focus on the third game, which is the only one to see release outside of North America. Japan received the game around the same time as America, two months before Digital Pinball: Necronomicon's release & under the simpler name of Power Rangers Pinball, while Europe wouldn't receive it until roughly a half year later in mid-1997.

So, does this pinball game manage to keep up with the legacy of KAZe's output, or did Sasaki & crew fail at forming the Zeo Megazord?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: KAZe/Pinball: The Super Digital Legacy

While not technically a "video game", especially since it predates them by decades (if not over a century, if you want to count the earliest predecessors), pinball is probably most associated with them in modern knowledge, due to the two of them cohabiting arcades ever since the 70s. Today, though, while pinball is still around in some form via companies like Stern & Jersey Jack, most people likely experience the classic game in the form of digital experiences, either via 100% original means like Zen Pinball, or through outright recreations of actual tables via The Pinball Arcade. The latter is especially poignant now, as Farsight Studios' product will be suffering a major loss at the end of this month, when its licensing agreement that gave players the ability to purchase & download classic Williams & Bally tables will come to an end. In that regard, it's Zen Studios' original experiences that might win out in the long run, but before that company, there was another company that became a cult legend for its dedication to bringing players the most accurate feeling pinball experience one could find on a video game console.

That company was Tokyo's KAZe.

Founded back on February 2, 1987 as Live Planning, KAZe Net Co., Ltd. made its debut with Abarenbou Tengu, a 1990 Famicom shooter that was heavily modified into the (now expensive) NES game (Samurai) Zombie Nation, with the giant tengu face that you controlled being changed into a giant, decapitated head of a dead samurai... It was really weird, to put it lightly. Following that, KAZe stuck with publisher Meldac & developed Game Boy games like Heiankyo Alien & Tenjin Kaisen (known internationally as Mercenary Force), as well as numerous pachinko video games, but in 1994 Zombie Nation director Norio Nakagata teamed with a new designer named Takashi Kobayashi to do something that had never really been done before on a console: Recreate the pinball experience in as accurate of a form as possible, and on a Super Famicom, no less!

Monday, June 11, 2018

AnimeNEXT 2018: Hitting the Vertical Limit

I first started going to AnimeNEXT back in 2009, when it moved to Somerset, NJ & became a "local con" for me. When it moved to Atlantic City in 2016, I stuck with it, even though it now became much more expensive, due to hotel reservations. Still, the move to the Atlantic City Convention Center was instantly a major improvement. The venue is much larger than what Somerset offered, with more than enough room to grow, and the fact that the ACCC is a four-floor building gives the entire convention a verticality that you just can't find in most other cons, which only tend to feature two floors, at most, which feel more self-contained & seperate than anything. Simply put, it's awesome to be at AnimeNEXT, look above & below you, & always see people moving about. It also helps for special features that utilize the atrium, like Cosplay Pro Wrestling, as the multiple floors create an arena-like experience. Still, if I've been continually going to ANext, why haven't I reported on it?

Well, to be frank, it was because I tend to only report on cons that I do panels at; they double as an info guide for what I showed. In 2016, I only went for a single day, just to get a feel for the new venue. I did apply for panels in 2017, but communication problems meant that I didn't know all of them were denied until the schedule itself came out. This year, though, I finally returned to doing panels at my "local(-ish) con", and I got two approved. Overall, AnimeNEXT has become a rather challenging convention to do panels at, mainly from a content perspective. As AniGamers' Evan Minto said a day ago, it's effectively a mini-Otakon, especially when it comes to panels. ANext has given a lot of priority towards really informational & researched presentations, which in turn make them all the more interesting to check out, so much so that plenty of people I know had put in panel applications that sounded awesome, only for them to get nothing approved.