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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Obscusion B-List: The Oddities of Xbox's Backwards Compatibility Program

Debuting on November 15, 2001, the original Xbox marked the start of PC giant Microsoft's true entry as a console gaming competitor (after initially assisting Sega by having the Dreamcast run an optimized version of Windows CE), and while it has had its ups & downs over the past 21+ years, today the Xbox brand remains a rather strong one. One thing that has remained generally consistent with each new generation of Xbox hardware, minus a period of time during the Xbox One's first couple of years where it was considered unnecessary, has been the idea of supporting backwards compatibility with prior Xbox console's software. Buy an Xbox Series X|S today & you not only have the ability to play any game released for that or even the Xbox One before it (minus a handful of games that require "The Bone's" Kinect, which the Series is incompatible with), but you also have access to most of the 632 Xbox 360 games (or ~29.34% of that console's entire library) & 63 "OG" Xbox games (or ~6.3% of that console's entire library) that are supported via the backwards compatibility program; a portion of digital-only games have since been delisted from the Xbox Marketplace, sadly, while others are "disc-only" compatible. Now, being a company based out of North America & the Xbox brand's generally apathetic response in Japan (which has only recently started showing somewhat promising improvement), it's only understandable that the wide majority of "BC" games for Xbox are ones that saw international release of some sort. However, there is a small selection of games that never saw North American release that are BC, and this doesn't solely apply to the One & Series BC program, but also the 360 BC program that came before it!

While we certainly may never know how exactly these came about in terms of being added to the lists, let's still take a general look at these "oddities", starting with what (technically) works on the Xbox 360.

Support for OG Xbox games on 360 was done via an emulator named Fusion that was developed in-house at Microsoft, and because of just how different the two consoles were it was even deemed "impossible" by half of the Xbox team; even those who worked on Fusion called it "magical". While all 996 OG Xbox games are supported by Fusion in theory, Microsoft limited official support to just 463 games, or ~46.49% of the entire catalog, due to a wide variety of games having some sort of technical issue (& even many supported games don't exactly play 100% like they should). Two years after the console launched, the Xbox Originals program debuted, which digitally re-released certain OG Xbox games that were already BC, and it turns out that the two Japan-exclusive BC titles were also re-released as Xbox Originals! First up is 2003's Magatama, which is arguably the most interesting Japan-exclusive OG Xbox game, as it's not only one of only five games published by Microsoft itself that wound up being exclusive to the region but also the first one that was actually developed in-house at Xbox Game Studios Japan, the same studio (though with a different team) that would later make cult-classic Phantom Dust. Specifically, it was produced by Hiroshi Kawai, an ex-Sqauresoft employee who was actually the main programmer behind Final Fantasy VII & IX, two of the most beloved entries in the entire franchise; the actual director was Daisuke Fukugawa, who would later direct cult-classic RPG Lost Odyssey. A third-person action title, Magatama is today in Japan considered both a "Fukishin/Unscrupulous Game", due to it directly addressing a major real-world event (in this case the Warring States period), & an example of "Kiku/Chrysanthemum Taboo", as it criticizes or parodies the Japanese Imperial Family, which is generally considered off-limits; the Imperial Family crest is a Chrysanthemum, hence the name. Likely due to its immensely Japan-centric focus, & a lack of interest from any other publishers, Magatama never saw release outside of Japan, and due to the OG Xbox's region lock it's not easily playable today, outside of getting a Japanese Xbox or soft-modding a console. Sadly, said region lock also applies to the Xbox 360, so you can't simply buy a physical copy, put it in just any 360 console, even change the "Region" to Japan, & start playing; it has to be a Japanese 360.

If you want more detail about Magatama, Import Gaming FTW! covered it well back in 2014. With both Phantom Dust & Metal Wolf Chaos having received great HD remasters on Xbox One, maybe we should finally get one for Magatama on the Xbox Series, so that it can finally see release outside of Japan.

Monday, January 9, 2023

An "Overdosed" History of Manga?! Translating & Examining the Yarisugi Manga Timeline

Without a doubt, one of the most disappointing aspects of English-speaking anime & manga fandom, though mainly the latter for the purposes of this piece, is the lack of proper knowledge of its history amongst the large majority of those very fans. Some of this is admittedly due to a relative lack of interest (not everyone is interested in history of any sort, sadly), but this is also due to a relative lack of context to properly explain it, especially from the people who actually lived it in Japan. Yes, there are various books out there that go over certain aspects of anime & manga history in English, but just about all of them come from English-speaking writers who did their own research, and even then most usually have the perspective of how the mediums came abroad, while the rest are more encyclopedic in nature (which makes any in-depth exploration of titles nigh impossible). When it comes to the Japanese side of things, almost no books have ever been licensed, translated, & released in English, with the handful of exceptions focusing more on the production process itself, which is simultaneously shocking yet not really all that surprising.

Take, for example, the book Yarisugi Manga Retsuden, or Legend of Overdosed Comics (seriously, great title).

Released in 2015 by Kadokawa Shoten, Yarisugi Manga Retsuden was written by "Nobunaga Minami", the pen name author/editor Nobunaga Shinbo uses when he writes books as a "manga kaisetsusha/commentator". Shinbo is also the husband of "shojosei" mangaka Naoko Matsuda & is even a character in Reiko Saibara's self-reflective manga Dekirukana, as he was her editor. Yarisugi Manga Retsuden is the third of currently six books written under the Minami name between 2008 & 2021, which include books about tracing the various assistant-to-professional lineages of mangaka, recipes for meals found in various cooking mangamanga characters who have bronze statues erected of them throughout Japan, an examination of the various "miracles" that happened in 1979 (like the Sony Walkman & the debut of Mobile Suit Gundam), & most recently a history of how various mangaka portray themselves via self-portraits; I'll be using the Minami name from here on out, for consistency. As for Yarisugi Manga Retsuden, it goes over 32 different manga that are known for their penchant for "overdoing" things, whether it's actions, content, storytelling, concept, etc. I feel I shouldn't have to point this out, but from what I can tell Minami includes these titles out of either love or respect, and not to belittle them (at least, not solely), because I'm sure an English perspective of this same concept would be more like "Get a load of these titles, am I right?!". As Minami himself says in the introduction, "Yarisugi = Overflowing Excess Energy" & "A Miraculous Balance Gives Birth to Yarisugi Manga", so while I can't really read this entire book I can absolutely see that this comes from a place of legit intrigue & extrospection.

As for what the 32 manga covered in Yarisugi Manga Retsuden are, you can check this list I made over on Twitter, but we'll get to them over the course of this piece, because...

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2021 & 2022!! Part 2

Well, here we are with the final entry of this blog for 2022. "What to expect in 2023?", you may or may not (but more than likely the latter) ask? Well, I think I should finally focus on ideas that I have had in mind for literally years, but simply always held off on for other stuff, usually simply because I can be a bizarrely lazy person, in some ways. The death of an iconic SF mangaka that was only announced earlier this month has made me decide to finally move forward with one of those writing ideas, and I have another 8-9 of those kinds of ideas (where I literally have had some images ready to go for years!) to continue on with, so I feel it's time to force myself to move forward with them. I also have other ideas in mind that are just concepts on Windows Notepad, so some of those might also get done. However, that's for next year, so what are the other six "posts" that I am most proud of from these past two years?

On November 26 of this year, Albert Pyun passed away at the age of 69, after having dealt with both multiple sclerosis & later dementia. Even though he literally was able to work as an intern to Takao Saito, a director of photography who was most known for his repeated partnerships with the legendary Akira Kurosawa, Pyun would go to on be considered a modern-day equivalent to Ed Wood, due to his notoriety for directing B-movies, oftentimes very cheesy ones. However, upon news of his death, what came about was more a sense of gratitude towards a director who knew the kinds of films he wanted to make, and the joy many had in watching those films, among which includes the likes of 1989's Cyborg with Jean-Claude van Damme, the 1990 Captain America film, or 1997's Mean Guns with Ice-T & Christopher Lambert, the latter of which would praise Pyun for his passion about filmmaking in a French interview for the film. Coincidentally enough, just seven months prior to his death, I happened to make an April Fools' Day piece where I pitted his 1994 film Hong Kong '97 against the infamous unlicensed Super Famicom game of almost-nearly the same exact title, Hong Kong 97 (the apostrophe is paramount!), and while I'm absolutely sure he never actually came across this piece in those last months of his life, I would imagine he would have found it amusing.

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2021 & 2022!! Part 1

Happy Boxing Day!

Another two years have passed, and with it the first two years of The Land of Obscusion's second decade of operation! Needless to say, both 2021 & 2022 were... a lot to take in. In the midst of all that happened in the real world these past two years, including the good, the bad, the ugly, & the sad, I can only hope that this little blog has acted as a fun little reprieve for some, a place where one can relax & read about something that you'd normally not see covered in other corners of the internet. After a pandemic-induced attempt at staving off things like lockdown resulted in a more active 2020 than I had initially planned, with me averaging 3-4 writings per month, the following two years returned things to the more relaxed idea I originally had in mind after 2018, with an average of only 2-3 writings per month; it may not seem like much, but one less thing to write can be a lot. I also managed to somehow find myself getting paid twice for writing about stuff, with 2021 seeing the publication of Hardcore Gaming 101 & Bitmap Books' A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games (which I contributed a single page to, covering the Super Robot Wars series), while 2022 saw me do what I thought was impossible & actually get published over on Anime News Network with The Apocrypha of Hareluya II BØY & Why It's Worth Watching.

However, as those two were NOT written for The Land of Obscusion, they are not eligible for this very list I'll be going over. With that in mind, what were the "12 posts" (i.e. it's actually more like "12 subjects" than "12 individual writings") that I was most proud of over the course of 2021 & 2022? Let's get started with the first six...

That last cover has some real "Everything is Fine!!" energy.

Mars 45th Anniversary Retrospective Trilogy (March 9, 16, & 24, 2021)
Pretty much any year can be a notable anniversary for an anime and/or manga, & by that I mean "five & zeroes". 2021 wound up being just that for Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars, which celebrated its 45th Anniversary that year, as it originally debuted in the pages of Weekly Shonen Champion magazine back in 1976. Yokoyama was a legend in manga that arguably rivaled the likes of Osamu Tezuka & Shotaro Ishinomori in setting standards when it came to certain genres & the like, but unlike either of those names there has never been an official English release of any Yokoyama manga; his legacy in English-speaking fandom has exclusively been experienced (officially) only via adaptations. However, to showcase just how influential & inspirational Yokoyama was, even some his shorter works have gone on to achieve notoriety, and one of them was Mars, the tale of an amnesiac who discovers that he's actually an alien meant to decide the fate of Earth itself by being able to command a giant robot named Gaia. Despite being able to command Gaia to instantly destroy the planet, because of humanity's history of violence making it a potential threat to the rest of the universe, Mars decides to believe that humanity can learn from its mistakes, despite this decision making him a marked man by his own kind, who have their own giant robots to kill Mars with, as Mars' death will still cause Gaia to destroy the planet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Oh Me, Oh My, OVA! γ: Deus ex Rota

It's been well over a year since the last installment of Oh Me, Oh My, OVA!, a segment where I cover four different anime released straight to home video in Japan, with the only prerequisite being that it can only be no more than two episodes long, i.e. the "Short-Form OVA". The past two entries have followed what the victor of the initial poll in April of last year decided, "Theme Each Set of Four", though the very first entry also followed the second-place winner, "Go in Chronological Order", but I must admit that there is an appeal in the third option from that poll, "Just Pick at Random". However, going with that idea means that I can't simply pick on my own, as I will have my own inherent biases that would likely keep me from checking out certain titles, and I'd like OM, OM, OVA! to be something that can, on occasion, push me outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, though, while there are websites out there that can randomly pick for you out of a list you make, there's something bland & robotic about letting a website just pick things for you. No, if I'm going to have a quartet of short-form OVAs be picked for me at random, I want it to feel fun for me, even if it's only fleeting in execution.

And then I discovered an Irishman named Sean Seanson.

Not the actual wheel that was used, though the titles are accurate,
but it certainly makes for a good visual, doesn't it?

For those unfamiliar, which is likely a fair amount of people as he has less than 11,000 subscribers as of this piece, Sean Seanson makes videos on YouTube where he covers "retro" video games, with a primary focus on the original Sony PlayStation. While he does also make videos about individual games or games with a shared theme (same franchise, same publisher, etc.), his most interesting videos are from his two series where he covers "Obscure & Forgotten PS1 Games" & "Japan Only PS1 Games", i.e. he's pretty much the video equivalent to me, but with the PS1. In those, he leaves the selection of games for each video up to chance by randomizing which games are up for selection, before having a literal prize wheel make the decision for him; the specific site Sean uses is Wheel of Names, if you're curious. After seeing how Sean does it, I must admit that I was kind of inspired, to put it likely. Therefore, starting now, every third entry of Oh Me, Oh My, OVA! will be a random selection "provided" by the wheel, and this apparently is being done with the approval of Mr. Seanson himself. We have 122 different OVAs on board for this initial selection, so which four has the "God from the Wheel" chosen for me?

While I'm not showing the wheel selections themselves (I'm already copying Sean Seanson enough as it is), I promise that I did indeed use the wheel to decide for me. The only thing I've done is organize them in chronological order, as per OM, OM, OVA! tradition, but that's actually a lie as the wheel literally gave them to be in order already. Up first... (Possibly) Women's Erotica!

Well, that certainly is me being pushed out of my comfort zone, isn't it?