New to the Site? Click Here for a Primer!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Grappler Baki: "Ai Believe" in "Child Prey"

Debuting back in 1969 (and, yes, I'll be doing something to celebrate the 50th Anniversary this year), Akita Shoten's Weekly Shonen Champion magazine did start off with its own run of influential & iconic manga, like Go Nagai's Abashiri Family, Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Babel II, Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack, & Shinji Mizushima's Dokaben. Still, the magazine really didn't seem to truly find its place in the shonen manga landscape until the start of the 90s, when it started to become the place where the limits of what could honestly be considered "shonen" were constantly pushed. Eventually, the magazine would become infamous for gore-fests like Apocalypse Zero, absurd fanservice-fests like Eiken, & utterly insane interpretations of real-life things, like cooking manga Iron Wok Jan!. The man who undeniably started this new direction for Champion, though, was Keisuke Itagaki.

Making hid debut back in 1989 with MakeUpper (yes, a manga about hot-blooded makeup artistry), Itagaki quickly made a name for himself when he debuted Grappler Baki in Shonen Champion in late 1991. A former member of the Japanese army & practitioner of Shorinji Kempo, Itagaki used his passion for self-defense & martial arts to create what is today the most well known "MMA manga" out there. In fact, Baki actually predates organizations like Pancrase & the UFC by a couple of years, kind of making it ahead of its time. The manga became a giant hit for Akita Shoten, and is still running to this day, as Itagaki has split it up across multiple series, and right now is is at a total of 132 volumes. As for anime adaptations, the manga has so far seen three. First, in 1994, Knack produced a 45-minute OVA based on the very beginning of the manga; don't worry, Knack's OVA output of the early 90s was actually pretty good. Then, throughout 2001, record label Free-Will produced a 48-episode TV series, animated by Group TAC, that actually adapted all 42 volumes of the original Grappler Baki manga across two seasons. Most recently, in 2018, was TMS' 26-episode TV anime adaptation of the first 2/3 of the second manga series, New Grappler Baki: In Search of Our Strongest Hero (or simply Baki), which Netflix has so far made the first 13 episodes of available internationally. With the second half of Baki set to debut on Netflix next month, I figure now is the perfect time to check out & review what Group TAC did 18 years ago, and we're starting off with the first 24 episodes.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Obscusion B-List: The Most Important Fighting Games Forgotten with Time

Fighting games have definitely evolved over the years, and though Sega's Heavyweight Champ from 1976 & Tim Skelley's Warrior from 1979 did technically come first, it's Data East & Technos Japan's Karate Champ (Karate-Do in Japan) from 1984 that's generally considered the originator of the genre that we know today. That would make 2019 the 35th Anniversary of the fighting game genre (which would be the Coral or Jade Anniversary, if you're curious), and to celebrate I want to shine a light on some of the most important games, from a historical perspective, that you either don't know about, or simply didn't realize what they actually did for the genre as a whole. Sure, Street Fighter II created a standard that all have since followed, Mortal Kombat brought violence & gore to the equation, The King of Fighters '94 may be the first real "crossover", Virtua Fighter introduced polygons to the equation, & Battle Arena Toshinden took the genre into "true 3D", but everyone knows about those games & what they did. These, on the other hand, are six of the most important fighting games that have been forgotten by the sands of time... Or at least the clicking of the arcade sticks of bigger names.

The Genre Will Not Be Monopolized
When Karate Champ came out it was a notable success for Data East, and later that year a new version saw release in arcades that allowed for two players to fight each other; understandably, it was called Karate Champ - Player vs. Player internationally. Still, there wasn't really anything else quite like what Technos developed for Data East on the market, so it's only natural that it would inspire others to make similar games. One person in particular was Archer MacLean, a British computer programmer who made his gaming debut with 1984's Dropzone for Atari's line of 8-bit computers. MacLean then followed that up with his next game, International Karate, which saw release in late 1985 by System 3 for various European computers, like the ZX Spectrum. The game saw you play as a gi-wearing karateka, as you fight other karateka in locations around the world, utilizing a point system in order to win. To no surprise, this was similar to Karate Champ, which saw you play as a gi-wearing karateka, as you fight other karateka, & in Player vs. Player you fight in locations around the world. Sure, the reasons for the fighting were different, as IK utilized a simple kumite, while KC PvP was all for the affections of various women, but it's easy to tell that MacLean used the arcade game as the basis for his computer game.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Obscusion B-Side: Guilty Gear X Advance Edition vs. Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper: The Closest Thing to Sammy vs. Capcom

Fighting game ports on handheld gaming systems didn't really become anything that could be considered truly "viable" until right around the start of the 21st Century. Companies certainly tried to make fighting games on handhelds during the 90s, but for every Nettou/Dead Heat Fighters game by Takara on the Game Boy, Street Fighter Alpha on the Game Boy Color, Pocket Fighter on the WonderSwan, or (pretty much) every single fighting game on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, you had Pit-Fighter for the Lynx, Virtua Fighter Animation for the Game Gear, or Fighters Megamix & Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the Yes, those last two did indeed happen. Once the Game Boy Advance came out in 2001, though, the hardware finally started becoming more than capable of delivering an experience that could at least give the feeling of playing a fighter on a home console, if not being a great game on its own merit. When it comes to fighting game ports on the GBA, there's one game in particular that gets all of the attention, but there is another one that came out months prior that's arguably just as technically impressive, but gets next to no attention.

It's interesting to think back to late 2003, when it was announced at the Amusement Machine "JAMMA" arcade show that Sammy Corporation & Capcom would be producing a crossover game titled... Sammy vs. Capcom. Unfortunately, that collaboration would never go any further, so you can consider this Vs. Battle to be the closest approximation. Anyway, British studio Crawfish Interactive took on the challenge of porting Street Fighter Alpha to the Game Boy Color back in late 1999/early 2000 for Virgin Interactive, and the result was an amazing port. The sales were also good, so Crawfish was able to convince Capcom to let them do something even more grandiose: Port Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper, the updated version, to the Game Boy Advance. Crawfish was definitely super ambitious with this port, as I'll get to later, & Capcom only added to that ambition, which sadly would wind up costing Crawfish dearly. As revealed in an interview with Nintendo Life back in 2013, when the original planned release date of Christmas 2001 was seen to not be possible anymore, Capcom decided to stop paying the advance that it was giving Crawfish, and revoked the royalties the company was set to earn from sales. While Crawfish did manage to finish the port for the end of 2002, the company wouldn't be able to recover form its various other financial woes, and come 2003 Crawfish was dead. Still, the port of Alpha 3 was celebrated upon release, & today is looked at as one of the most iconic "miracle ports" in the history of gaming, right up there with something like Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64.

While all of that was going on, though, Daisuke Ishiwatari & his team at Arc System Works would release Guilty Gear X, the sequel to their breakout PS1 fighting game, to arcades in mid-2000. After that would come ports to the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, & Windows PC up through the end of 2001, but it would be the final port that may be the most interesting one of all. Originally released at the very beginning of 2002 in Japan, Guilty Gear X Advance Edition was just as the tin advertised, GGX on the go, and unlike Crawfish's endeavor this port was done completely in-house at ArcSys. In fact, Advance Edition was kind of the spiritual successor to the two Guilty Gear Petit games for the WonderSwan, which were SD-stylized original-ish games for Bandai's little handheld that tried (which even featured an original character [Fanny, a nurse who fights with a giant syringe] who has yet to return to the franchise), because Kazuya Yukino was the director for all three games. Sammy Entertainment would release Advance Edition internationally in mid-2002, still a few months before Crawfish's Alpha 3 port, but would receive more mixed reviews upon release. Still, where the GBA would be home more to remixed versions of fighting games, like the two King of Fighters EX games, Tekken Advance, or Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Revival, Guilty Gear X Advance Edition & Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper are pretty much the only two direct ports of fighting games to the handheld, and both are arguably "miracle ports" in their own rights.

Therefore... When Sammy finally takes on Capcom, who will be the victor?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: The Discs & the Streams Part 2

Today, if one wants to watch something anime, all one has to do is open up CrunchyRoll, FUNimation, Hidive, Netflix, Hulu, or even Amazon. Upon doing so, literally thousands of episodes, plus hundreds of movies, become available to choose from; so many, in fact, that it's overwhelming. Unfortunately, while the streaming option is so much more convenient than the home video option, it sacrifices the guaranteed longevity that home video can offer. In short, as I've said before on this blog, streaming requires one to watch by the terms of the site offering it, which in reality is by the terms of the licensing contract. For your big name franchises that will remain evergreens, this isn't a problem, as licenses will simply get renewed over & over. For anything else, however, there's always the dread specter of "license expiration", because once a license is not renewed, and no other company is willing pick it up, then that show becomes lost to time... At least legally. So, for this second half of the standard license rescue list, let's take a look at six titles that were once available via streaming, but today are nowhere to be found.

Can you believe that it's been nearly 10 years since simulcasting anime really started to become a normal thing? While CrunchyRoll was the first to standardize it, FUNimation wasn't too far behind, licensing its own small cadre of anime to exclusively simulcast. One of them was 2010's Rainbow ~Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin/The Seven of Cell 2, Block 6~, the 26-episode TV anime based on the Weekly Young Sunday/Big Comic Spirits manga of the same name by George Abe (story) & Masasumi Kakizaki (art). The story follows six juvenile delinquents & their mentor as they live out their lives at Shonen Special Reform School &, eventually, once they return to normal life. It also doubles slightly as a boxing story, as lead character Rokurouta Sakuragi ends up boxing to some extent. Obviously, the anime by Madhouse doesn't cover the entire manga, but it does reach a little before the halfway point, which isn't bad at all.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: The Discs & the Streams Part 1

Last year, I forwent the usual type of license rescue list, instead focusing solely on anime that are legally available for streaming in English currently, but deserve home video releases... And already that list is kind of dated, because all of Saint Seiya & Beast Player Erin have since been taken off of CrunchyRoll, leaving them completely unavailable for watching legally with English subtitles. You see, that's the problem with streaming that no one really thinks about, until it happens to a show that they personally enjoy. In fact, fans of older movies went through a massive crisis when WarnerMedia announced that Filmstruck, which was a streaming service for all sorts of classic movies (including everything the Criterion Collection currently owns the rights to), was announced to be going away; luckily for them, Criterion announced its own service, which should alleviate some of those fears. Still, it is something to think about, so I'm starting off this year's standard coverage by doing a proper license rescue list, this time split up between two categories: The usual "was once released on home video, but currently is out-of-print" & the more timely "was available legally via streaming, but is now gone". Because, in the end, that's what's really important: The wild anime, the wild anime, the discs & the streams, the discs & the streams.

Still, even though I started all of this by talking about "the streams", I'm going to start everything off with "the discs", because last year was all about the latter, so I think the former should see some focus again.

In November of 2004, Geneon announced that it would be entering a distribution agreement with Toei Animation that would result in Toei effectively entering the North American anime industry by way of its own US division. These first DVDs would start showing up in March of 2005, and Toei tried something interesting out by releasing the first two volumes simultaneously (at least, that's what info I can find indicates). Unfortunately, when anime fans started buying these DVDs, they found some pretty glaring problems with them, like episodes not having proper chapter breaks, the DVDs being programmed to return to the menu after an episode finishes (rather than go straight to the next episode, like usual), cheap-looking menus across the board, dubs which didn't really excel in any way, & subtitles that were a little too "localized" for fans' tastes; also, Toei effectively didn't market the releases at all, so no one really knew about them. After 2005, no more DVDs were coming out, and in 2006, Geneon announced that the deal was over. It's a shame, too, because Toei had a couple of really interesting anime that it had chosen, and one of them was Air Master.