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Thursday, June 16, 2022

Obscusion B-Side: The IF Neverland Reportage: The First Neverland War

On October 26, 1994, an ex-Data East employee named Shingo Kuwana, who had previously worked on the Joe & Mac series as a planner (& was "Game Designer" for early 1994's Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics), started a new company called Idea Factory out of Shibuya, Tokyo. Helping him out was Yoshiteru Sato, who had previously worked at Studio Dub, which assists larger animation studios with both key & in-between animation; Sato himself is credited with key animation on five early episodes of Mobile Police Patlabor TV, for example. At first, Kuwana & Sato started simple, releasing a quartet of games in 1995 that utilized the Photo CD system (i.e. the "Beige Book") to create two visual novels (Dark Chaser & Mars Blade), a mystery adventure title (Steelwood - Private Eye), & a quiz/puzzle game (Inu-Oh Chikyu wo Sukuu/Rescue the Dog King From Earth); because they're Photo CDs, these are technically playable on PC, 3DO, Sega Saturn, & even the CD-i. Idea Factory would start releasing "traditional" video games with Yaku: Yuujou Dangi/Bad Luck: Suspicious Friendship, a "sound novel" for the Sony PlayStation in January of 1996 that was developed by Axes Art Amuse & apparently featured designs by horror mangaka Hideshi Hino (Panorama of Hell, The Town of Pigs). However, it's with IF's third PS1 game (after another sound novel by Axes Art Amuse) that would set into motion the trajectory that would eventually lead Idea Factory to the success it sees today.

It marked the start of a massive franchise that would define Idea Factory for many years (both good & bad), & in 2004 would be given a label to call its own: IF Neverland.

Now one might wonder why I'd bother to do something like cover the IF Neverland franchise like this. Ask some people online, both in Japan & abroad, and you might get a common response that winds up being similar to how some felt about Idea Factory in general, especially during the 00s: They're all (or at least most of them are) "kusoge", i.e. abjectly terrible games. However, aside from the simple curiosity factor (& a feeling that their "crap factor" is likely overblown to varying extents due to online echo chambering, as I've played good & fun Idea Factory games, mainly from pre-2010), there's also just the sheer size & scale of this franchise. From 1996 to 2009, Idea Factory released 35 different games (plus another 10, if you include the various ports to other consoles with altered titles that included some sort of new content!) that took place in the fantasy world of Neverland, creating a massive timeline of events with over 1,000+ years of in-universe lore & an utterly enormous cast of characters, many of which would debut in one game or another, only to become recurring characters in various other games, sometimes as supporting cast & sometimes as major players in the plot. To just cast this franchise away as nothing special & not even try to understand even a basic level of everything that was put into this 13-year stretch of releases (most of which were only ever released in Japan) would be a disservice, I feel. Also, I don't think it'd be an exaggeration to say that, without IF Neverland, the Idea Factory that exists today (IF, IF International, Design Factory, Otomate, Compile Heart, etc.) would likely not even be around, especially since there were a couple of years in which IF released nothing but IF Neverland games.

Obviously, with so many titles to cover here, this won't be a series of traditional "reviews" but rather more of a general overview, though I'll still include my personal feelings on them when possible, & I can't guarantee any sort of consistency as to when all five parts of this series will come out; they'll come out when they're ready, essentially. Still, we might as well start with the easiest place there is: The Beginning.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Anime Boston 2022 as a "Featured Panelist" & My "11 Best Obscure Anime You Don't Know!"

With the pandemic still not technically over yet, despite things generally rolling into becoming more of an endemic, I try to keep things to a minimum when it comes to attending a big gathering, like an anime convention. So, like how last year I only physically attended Otakon, this year my only con is the one I just returned from, Anime Boston. However, while I have attended the con before in 2013 & 2014, this third time around had extra meaning to it, as I was actually invited over to it as a "Featured Panelist". In other words, all I had to really pay for was my own travel expenses (in this case going to Boston by train), and in return I was asked to present 5 different panels, plus I was invited to be a part of the "Featured Panelist Roundtable" panel on the first day, which I accepted.

So, how were things?

To be honest, it really wasn't all that different from my usual time attending a con, except for the fact that I didn't have to book a hotel myself, I didn't have to deal with the registration process, & I had five different panels to get ready for the con (plus one more that I was simply a part of), which is definitely a new record for me. Aside from one little hiccup early on, the Anime Boston staff & Tech crew were very polite & helpful, even teaching me at least one thing that I'll definitely be doing from now on, and I had a great time overall. The con required all attendees to prove that they were up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations & masks were to be worn at all times when at the con itself, and while that won't mean that absolutely no one will contract the coronavirus (since Boston's a big city, & attendees definitely went other places, when not at the con itself), it will ideally reduce the viral footprint immensely, which I certainly appreciated.

As for me as a panelist, I produced five panels: Gundoh Musashi, The Disaster Anime, which was all about that anime that I absolutely adore to hate & had a mostly-full room of attendees that had a great time, complete with tidbits of info from that legendary Game Lab interviewHareluya II BØY, Hidive's Secret Streaming Gem, which only got a literal handful or so of attendees but was my chance to promote a show I love that even Hidive itself didn't bother to bring up during its own panel at the con (& the rep didn't even seem to know what it was when I asked about it); Idea Factory, The Ed Wood of Anime, where I went over the rocky (to put it lightly) run of anime that Idea Factory self-produced from 1998 to 2005; Saint Seiya's Masami Kurumada, The Man Who Defined Shonen Action, a very self-explanatory panel which actually managed to get between 10-20 attendees who stayed all throughout & seemed to absolutely love it (which I'll totally credit my lucky Dunkin' Donuts receipt for); &, most importantly for this recap, The Land of Obscusion's 11 Best Obscure Anime You Don't Know!.

Curious about what titles I featured in that last one? Then just read on!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Retrospect in Retrograde: Hareluya II BØY

So this is a first for the blog: A Retrospect in Retrograde re-review for something that I did NOT initially review based mostly (if not solely) off of sheer memory. Back in October of 2012 I watched all of the 1997 TV anime Hareluya II BØY, which was based on the 1992-1999 Shonen Jump manga by Haruto Umezawa, technically known simply as BØY in Japan (an homage to J-rock legends BOØWY), & reviewed it. At the time, I had to rely mostly on what I can easily say were the worst "materials" I have ever come across for the blog: Chinese TV-sourced "raws" with super low video resolution that was blown up, terrible audio quality, all manner of visual glitches, hard-encoded watermarks AND Chinese subtitles (two episodes were even only available with Chinese audio!), & the audio literally de-synced at some point in every single episode, which I had to manually fix using the video editor I use, VideoPad; I managed to buy two laserdiscs of the show at that time, and eventually got all seven LDs. The first three episodes did also have an old & forgotten English fansub, but the translation for those was not good at all, and Eps 2 & 3 still had the hard-encoded Chinese subs. I finished that old review with this line:

"As it is right now this show, though awesome & definitely worth the watch, is also viewer beware."

Boy, what a difference a literal decade can make!

Multiple eyecatches, so you get four of them!
Hallelujah, Hareluya!

In February of 2020, just before the pandemic started, various Japanese digital outlets suddenly started offering the Hareluya II BØY anime, quite literally from out of nowhere. Considering that this was an early example of "modern" late-night anime, & especially the production committee model, I had the feeling that there was something bigger behind this, as there's no way that Shueisha, TV Tokyo, King Records, & Yomiko Advertising (the members of this show's production committee) would just suddenly come back together & make the show available in full digitally in Japan for no real reason; something had to bring this committee back together. My hunch would end up being right, as in November of 2021, Sentai Filmworks announced that it had licensed Hareluya II BØY, & that Hidive would start streaming it later that December with one new episode every week, almost like a "retro simulcast", if you will; seriously, Hidive should have promoted it like that. Now that all 25 episodes are readily & easily available on Hidive, with a complete home video release planned in the future (the first since the VHS & LD release in Japan!), I think it's time to finally re-watch the Hareluya II BØY anime, this time with a full English translation (by "Twin Translators" Alethea & Athena Nibley) that's actually good, & see if there's anything new I can appreciate from this show, now that I can fully understand it from start to finish.

The fact that 2022 is also the 25th Anniversary of the anime, & 30th Anniversary of both the BØY manga & the original Hareluya that came before it, is just fun & cool coincidental timing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1994 (Part 3)

"When the main competition at the time, the Sega Genesis & Super Nintendo, were offering the likes of The Lion King, Mickey Mania, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, & (exclusive to the SNES) a little game called Donkey Kong Country during this very same end-of-year time frame, these new games so far on the Jag just weren't doing it, chief; Doom can only do so much on its own. Can the second half of the Holiday roster pull up the rear?"

It's December of 1994, the end of the Atari Jaguar's first complete calendar year, and things are... mixed, to put it nicely. Out of the 13 games I've covered so far (which averages to just under one new game per month), I'd argue that only four of them are actually must-owns (Tempest 2000, Wolfenstein 3D, Alien vs. Predator, & Doom), while a fifth (Cybermorph) remains the pack-in game, i.e. you're stuck with it; the remaining eight games are either just OK or utterly terrible. Luckily, just in time for the Holiday season, the Jag's got four more games coming out in December, three of which all on the same day as Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales! So let's finish up 1994 & see how exactly the Jag closed out its first calendar year.

"Prepare to Enter the Combat Zone!"... Awww, here it goes!

Even with a catalog of only 50 officially licensed games released on cartridge, there are some Jag-exclusive games that have come to truly "define" the console, i.e. the ones that are almost instantly brought up right away. So far, we've managed to only cover the ones that are excellent (Tempest 2000 [at the time, at least] & AvP), but now we comes to one of the ones that's used to disparage the console: Kasumi Ninja. Developed by UK-based Hand Made Software, which had previously developed games for the Atari Lynx, this December 9 release (though some places also say December 21) was originally codenamed "Ninja Puncher" & was actually one the very first games announced to be in development for the Jaguar. Not just that, but the game itself was very different from the final product, as while it was always intended to be a 2D fighter using digitized actors, in an attempt to replicate the success of Midway's Mortal Kombat, Hand Made Software originally went with a different visual style than the final product & planned on a roster of 20 playable characters. Atari Corporation, though, meddled a lot during development, resulting in the final product only having eight playable characters, partially due to Atari also forcing the game to be shipped on a cart with less memory than originally planned, likely to keep production costs down. However, the final game was on a 4 MB cart, the largest the Jag offered, so how big was going to be, originally? So... is Kasumi Ninja as bad of a Mortal Kombat wannabe as it's generally deemed to be online?

Monday, April 25, 2022

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XII: Duodenary Decisions Part 2

In an English anime industry that's now only become more & more contracted over time (remember, FUNimation technically dies after this May!), it is something to think back at the 00s bubble days & considering how many "major" names there were, all vying for the biggest slice of the pie, and each of them having at least one or two titles that made them giants for a period of time. Because of that, though, I have been able to continually make license rescue lists like these consistently for 12 years, and as titles go out of print for long enough I could theoretically keep it going until the end of time. Who knows, maybe I can at least stretch this out for another 8 entries & make it to #20!

Speaking of something being made to celebrate a 20th of some sort.... G-Saviour!

On the very first license rescue list back at the start of 2011, I included both G Gundam & Gundam Wing as a double entry, and while both have since happened as part of Right Stuf's working relationship with Sunrise, in retrospect it was a little silly to do that, since Bandai Entertainment was still actually around at the time; that company wouldn't get killed off until 2012, an entire decade ago! Even after Bandai Entertainment got killed off, though, I still pretty much never really considered adding another Gundam production to any of these lists, mainly because I figured that the franchise was too big to never be given another chance. Not like I would have had much time to consider them, anyway, since Right Stuf announced its partnership with Sunrise in 2014, with said partnership still going strong to this day. That said, there really isn't much left in the Gundam vault for Right Stuf to release that hasn't been released before, let alone stuff that actually did see release in English back in the day...