Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: Simple 2000 Series Vol. 31: The Earth Defense Force: Do You Like Death? Then Die!

Technically, this game isn't really "mecha"... But it still features giant robots, and it's very creation came from a game about controlling giant robots, so I'm going to count it. Plus, it's the game that birthed one of the absolute greatest video game franchises in history, so how can I not review it, especially when the timing is pretty good? First, though, let's (once again) look at a bit of history.

Video game developer Sandlot was founded back in March of 2001 by former employees of then-not-long-ago defunct Human Entertainment (creators of the Fire Pro Wrestling & Clock Tower series). Namely, the team had worked on 1999's Remote Control Dandy for the PlayStation, and was hoping to continue that game's concept of controlling a giant robot, limb by limb. The studio's debut game was 2002's Gigantic Drive, released in North America as Robot Alchemic Drive (which was also one of the last games released by Enix of America, months before the Square-Enix merger), which was acclaimed for its novel idea of controlling a human who has to find good viewpoints in order to control a giant robot for battle. Japanese gaming company D3 Publisher, intrigued by the engine powering the game, brought Sandlot on board for its very successful Simple Series of budget-priced video games. Sandlot's response, the 31st entry in the series' main PlayStation 2 line, was 2003's The Chikyuu Boueigun/Earth Defense Force, a game whose franchise is now celebrating 12 years of life & next month will see a simultaneous North American release of updated versions of its second & fourth entries by XSEED on the PlayStation Vita & PlayStation 4, respectively. What about the first game, though? Did it provide a proper basis for what would come later, and does it hold up well after more than a decade? Let's find out.

The year is 2017 & we now know that we aren't alone in the universe. Unfortunately, we only know this because we are being attacked the mysterious "Invaders", who have at their disposal giant ants, flying UFOs, giant walking versions of those UFOs, & even hulking behemoths that can breathe fire. The only possible way of surviving is to rely on the Earth Defense Force, EDF for short, who have at their disposal assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenades, flamethrowers, & shotguns, among other weapons. With some skills, & maybe a little luck, the EDF may be able to save the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Twelve Mech Anime Yet to Hit SRW, But Aren't Lost Causes Part 2

Banpresto's Super Robot Wars franchise will likely never truly die out, especially when there are always new mech anime to bring into the fold. In the end, it's that very mix of the old-school with the new generation that makes the franchise so appealing, and even if the original character leads wind up being less than memorable one can always look to the licensed properties for enjoyment. Without a doubt, SRW is a big part of why I've become a fan of mecha & why I have learned so much about various mech anime in general. Making this list is reminding of how little I've played of the franchise for a good while, and one day I'll have to rectify that. In the meantime, however, let's look at another six titles that I think aren't completely hopeless in their chances of making it to mecha Valhalla.

Heroic Age (2007)
Mech anime featuring Hisashi Hirai character designs are no strangers to SRW, what with Gundam Seed being one of the most popular entries of the franchise in Japan, as well as the occasional use of Fafner here & there (with the currently-airing sequel Fafner Exodus obviously making it to the franchise within the next couple of years). Now I could be facetious & list Gin-Iro no Olynssis, as that would fit this specific criteria, but considering how utterly bland & aimless that show was, or at least I didn't like it much, I'm not even sure if Banpresto's staff could make that anime work any better. Therefore, I'm going to go with the only other option, the more well-received & liked mech epic Heroic Age. Detailing the journey the "Iron Tribe" of humanity departs on to find their savior & help bring about peace between the various other Tribes of the universe, Heroic Age was a Greek myth-inspired series that featured a bit of a change to the genre. While still generally considered a "mech anime", the giant beings called Nodos were in fact the transformations of human-sized characters, like the eponymous lead Age. Still, the show (as I've been told) followed a lot of the standards & traditions of mecha, not to mentioned featured actual robots, making it still viable as a choice for SRW.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Twelve Mech Anime Yet to Hit SRW, But Aren't Lost Causes Part 1

Welcome to the fourth annual Mecha Month on The Land of Obscusion! Once again, this month will be nothing but giant robots & the people who pilot them, and for this year I want to bring back a side-focus that was lost the previous year. Therefore, let's talk SRW...

Debuting back in April of 1991 on the Game Boy, the Super Robot Taisen/Wars franchise has become more than simply a crossover of popular mech anime, like Gundam, Mazinger Z, & Getter Robo. Instead, it's also become a bit of a celebration of the genre itself, bringing all sorts of series, both old & new, together in ways that are usually just awesome; in some ways it's even improved on some entries (SRW Z's take on Gundam Seed Destiny, for example). Personally, the coolest thing about this franchise is that it's brought to light so many lesser known mech anime, titles that have generally been forgotten with time. In fact, there have been a few games that specifically relied on lesser-celebrated shows, I've reviewed two/three of them via Compact 3 & GC/XO, & given them their extra 15 minutes of fame. Escaflowne, Betterman, Mechander Robo, God Sigma, the 80s version of Tetsujin 28, Dai Guard, the J9 Series, the Eldoran Series, Acrobunch, Daltanious, & GoLion are just a spatter of the lesser known shows (in Japan) that have been given the Banpresto push, and this year's entries (BX on 3DS & X-Ω on iOS & Android) have seen the SRW debuts of Giant Gorg, Panzer World Galient, Albegas, & freaking Dorvack! It's, quite frankly, amazing at times.

Naturally, though, there is still a metric ton of mech anime that still has not been given such an opportunity, and in some rare cases may never see inclusion. For example, franchise producer Takenobu Terada coyly hinted in a radio interview a few years back that his team couldn't get Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru for SRW Neo on the Wii, as it would have fit the 90s motif perfectly, due to licensing issues (they went with NG Knight Lamune & 40 as a replacement), and it's been stated that Takara Tomy will "never" allow any Brave Series show, outside of GaoGaiGar, from being in SRW for unknown reasons. At the same time, there are plenty of forgotten mech anime, especially from the glut of seemingly random shows that came about during the late-70s & 80s, that will likely never be included because people just don't care about them. I can nigh-guarantee you'll never see the likes of Astroganger, Gowapper 5 Godam, Ginguiser, Baratack, Daikengo, Govarian, or even God Mazinger in an SRW game. Still, there are plenty of series, both forgotten & celebrated, that I think may still see inclusion in this massive franchise one day, & I'm going to list off twelve of them. So enough of me babbling, let's get to the list, where I can continue babbling.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Shadow Star Narutaru: 'Cause I'm One Step Closer to the Edge, and I'm About to Break

Let's see, taking aside the recent B-Side detour, I reviewed two anime that featured music composed by Susumu Ueda, and now it's time for the annual Halloween post... So let's just get another anime Ueda composed for out of the way, especially since I think it fits the general theme of the holiday well enough. First & foremost, though, let me introduce someone who understands how to take something magical, something for little kids, and turn it inside out so that we can see all of the nasty guts housed within.

Mohiro Kitoh technically debuted as a manga artist back in 1987, but didn't see a real professional debut until 1996 with a seinen manga called The Wings of Vendemiaire in Afternoon magazine. It lasted only two volumes & was a series of stories about living puppets called Vendemiaire which try to help people that they encounter, & sometimes it's not pretty; it you're curious, you can probably find it online, but that's up to you. Following that, though, is the manga that truly put Kitoh on the map, Mukuronaru Hoshi, Tamataru Ko/A Decaying Star, A Pearlish Child. Known better under its shortened title, Narutaru (the "Shadow Star" title was created for non-Asian markets), the manga ran from 1998-2003 in Afternoon & featured Kitoh taking a successful concept & giving it a twist. Seeing the success of products like Tamagotchi, Digimon (the original 1997 digital pet toy), Monster Rancher, & Pokemon, Kitoh asked a simple question for Narutaru: What if these creatures existed in the real world, a world where children aren't ideal & perfect, but instead are just as potentially horrible as adults? As the manga was wrapping up in 2003, a late-night TV anime adaptation of the first half of the story ran on Kids Station (which does run non-children programming on late-night, oddly enough) & was animated by Planet (The Galaxy Railways, Moetan). Fitting for a holiday that's based on darker elements, let's examine how the anime does at answering Kitoh's question.

Shiina Tamai is a twelve-year old girl who has a generally cheery demeanor, even though her parents are separated & her mother rarely sees her. During her yearly visit to the island that her grandparents live on, Shiina tries swimming to a ancient gate stranded in the water in an inlet. She makes it there, though completely tired from the current, and goes underwater for a look. She sees a star-shaped creature before passing out from exhaustion & suddenly appearing at the local medical center. That night she visits the beach & comes across the creature, which silently expresses its wish to be with her. Shiina decides to take the creature, which she names Hoshimaru, home with her, not knowing the truth behind her new little buddy. Shiina will now slowly learn about the mysterious "Dragon's Children", the various children that associate with them, & the dark (& deadly) mission of those very kids.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: Az ember tragédiája/The Tragedy of Man: How Does Humanity Suck? Let Lucifer Count the Ways

This past March I did a first for the blog by reviewing a non-Japanese product. To be specific, I wrote about Fehérlófia/Son of the White Mare, the 1981 animated movie from Hungarian auteur Marcell Jankovics, who some have called "The Walt Disney of Hungary". I wrote about that film on that month because that was the month that had the National Day celebrating the 1848 Revolution the Hungarians had against the Habsburg monarchy. In turn, today, October 23, is the second National Day for Hungary, this one commemorating the start of the 1956 Revolution against the Soviet Union, one which prompted Time magazine to name the 1956 Man of the Year the "Hungarian Freedom Fighter". Much like Fehérlófia, the subject of this B-Side review is another Marcell Jankovics animated film that was started during Soviet occupation, but unlike that film, which only took two years to make, this film took much longer to finish & is now looked at as the magnum opus of Jankovics' catalog. Too bad Hungarian film is next to unheard of in America, because this could very well be a true cult classic over here.

Imre Madách's The Tragedy of Man, or Az ember tragédiája (Uhz Em-behr Tra-gay-dee-ai-uh) in Hungarian, was first published in 1861, and is generally considered one of the most epic & lengthy plays ever written. It's commonly compared to John Milton's 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost, as both focus on the biblical Adam, Eve, & the Fall of Man, and in its home country Madách's play is apparently as much required reading in school as something like Shakespeare is over here; at least, my mother recalls reading it back when she was in school in Budapest during the 60s. The play has been staged in countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, & Poland, it's been adapted into two different operas by György Ránki & Clive Strutt. The only known live-action cinematic adaptation came from 1984's The Annunciation, a Hungarian film that was cast with nothing but child actors & done in the style of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Marcell Jankovics decided to make an animated adaptation in 1983 & started animating in 1988, with an expected six year production timeline, but a year later Hungary became a free country, and with that came a completely different production model for how movies were funded; under Soviet rule, movie production was fully funded by the government. Because of that, Jankovics looked to any bit of independent funding, making a new portion of the film whenever he had the money; since the play was slit up across 15 segments, this worked out well enough. In the meantime, Jankovics would showcase completed portions of the film throughout the years at film festivals, and in 2008 received a notable amount of funding by allowing his 1974 short film Sisyphus to be used for a GMC car commercial during the Super Bowl. Finally, in 2011 the production received enough funding from the Ministry of Natural Resources to allow final completion, putting the end to a 23-year development cycle & resulting in a total budget of 600 million forint, or ~$2.5 million. In fact, fitting for such an epic play, the final runtime is 159 minutes, or 2.65 hours, which may make it the third-longest animated film in history, behind 1983's Final Yamato (163 minutes via 70mm) & 2010's The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (164 minutes); oddly enough, no one's apparently ever made a proper list of longest animated films. In fact. the theatrical release in Hungary needed an intermission, which bumped screenings to a solid three hours... And we complain that movies over here are getting too long.

So, was the wait worth it? I've imported the Hungarian DVD (there is also a Blu-Ray, but I can't play Region B BDs), which does include English subtitles (done in archaic English at points, at that!), so I'm going to take the plunge into what may be one of the most ambitious animated films in history. I might need to take an intermission myself, if not two...