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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Psychic Force: A Fighting Game-based Anime? That's Absurd!

In the mid-90s fighting games went through a big change with the advent of the third dimension. Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Battle Arena Toshinden all revolutionized the genre in some way, but there was another game from that time that also was very different from the others: Psychic Force. Created by Taito in 1996 for arcades and then ported to the Playstation the same year, Psychic Force had two characters, who each had some sort of psychic or elemental power, fight in a floating transparent cube. Because of this the fights could easily happen in vertical and diagonal directions rather than the usual horizontal plane and overall it was an enjoyable change of pace. A sequel was made in 1999 called Psychic Force 2012 which added more characters and some new game mechanics, but that was the last of the series (the PS1 did get a updated version of 2012 simply called Psychic Force 2 and there was a Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move game that used the characters). In North America the series was mostly a second-tier series that never went far, but in Japan the series was a slight hit... And every hit fighting game needs an anime!

Released in 1998, the Psychic Force anime is a two-episode OVA that, oddly enough, was recorded in Los Angeles. No, I don't mean that the dub was from L.A... I mean that the original Japanese voice cast actually traveled to L.A. to record their lines! But that's not important in the long run. What is important is whether or not this OVA is any good, because fighting games haven't had the best track record when it comes to anime adaptations. Most people tend to ignore the Tekken anime movie (not to mention the recent live-action movie), for example, while the Virtua Fighter TV series is considered enjoyable but is pretty obscure (not to mention North America never got the last 11 or so episodes, which was a second season of sorts). So let's take a look at Psychic Force...

It's the year 2010 (you know...  "the future"), and humanity now knows of psychiccers, a.k.a. people with psychic powers. Naturally, psychiccers are looked at with disdain and are actually hunted down by the governments of the world. An organization named NOAH, lead by the ice psychiccer Keith Evans, is talking about creating their own nation where psychiccers can live in peace, but there seem to be hidden goals for Keith's second in command, the time psychiccer Richard Wong. Also, for the past three years a man named Burn Griffith (guess what element he uses...) has been searching for Keith, who he helped those years ago and was taken away from him by the government.

That's the basic idea behind the story of the OVA, and one thing that actually surprised me is how story actually got a focus in this OVA... At least in the first episode. Most of that first episode focuses solely on Burn and Keith meeting up back in 2007 and how they became friends while Keith lived with Burn and his family for a while. Whereas most other fighting game-based anime, specifically the OVAs, try to focus on the fighting and character appearances all the way through, Psychic Force actually tries to to focus on story for the first half, and I commend Taito and Broccoli for doing that. The second episode, though, is definitely the more scattered episode of the two. It's not exactly confusing, but a lot happens in the episode and not every plot point is actually given a proper focus. For example, you have Wendy and Emilio, two child psychiccers who were taken in by Keith, who both have backstories that are barely talked about by the time the OVA ends and others like NAOH members Sonia and Brad are there solely for fighting and nothing more. In fact, Genma and Gates, who weren't psychiccers in the game, have appearances in the OVA that are nothing more than cameos. Genma's importance, in particular, pretty much amounts to him saying "Stuff is going down," and nothing else.

In fact, the focus on story makes the fights suffer in the end. While they aren't the worst fights you'll see they are all really short and don't excite one bit. Gates, for example, is given a quick piece at the beginning that explains why he became a badass cyborg solider in the first place, psychiccers killed his wife and daughter, but his fight is barely a minute long and he's never shown again afterwards. Really, you don't watch the Psychic Force OVA for the fights, oddly enough. The last thing I will point out is that this OVA is surprisingly violent. Random grunts are turned into nothing but blood pools on occasion and while it never goes into "hyper-violence" I have to admit that I was surprised by how violent the OVA actually got at times. But for all that's wrong with this OVA I still have to say that I enjoyed it; the characters that were given development were enjoyable to watch, the animation in general was very nicely done, and the characters in general are interesting enough to potentially make people want to play the game... And that's what OVAs like these really amount to: They are partially advertisements for the games they are adapting from and they are also partially fanservice for fans of the games.

The music, done by the great Ko Otani, is appropriately fighting game-esque and I wouldn't be surprised if he just remixed the music from the original game itself (my experience with the games is solely with 2012, so I don't know the music from the original game). Whereas the games all had hot-blooded opening themes done by "The Prince of Anison" Hironobu Kageyama the OVA instead uses a different song, "Friends" by Tomokazu Seki (who voices Burn), and while it isn't hot-blooded one bit it's still a really enjoyable rock-ish theme. The ending theme, "Love Can Save the World" by Tomokazu Seki and Kyousei Tsukui (who voices Keith), is also a slower theme that works well as an ending theme for these episodes. The Japanese voice cast seems to be the exact same people from the original game and they do their job well. The English dub isn't bad either, outside of some performances, but isn't anything great in the end.

The OVA was brought over to North America by Image Entertainment on both VHS and DVD back in 2002, three years after Acclaim released 2012 on the Dreamcast. Yeah, by then the series was dead in both countries but Image did a mostly fine job. There are some problems, though, mostly with the subtitles. For examples, outside of one instance the subs continually uses the simple term "psychics" rather than the specific term "psychiccers" (it's especially odd since the dub uses the actual term). Also, Image oddly transliterated Brad's name as "Booladon", which the dub also does, making me wonder how good Image was with katakana. But one area where Image delivered was with the extras. There are interviews with Seki, Tsukui, and Mitsuaki Madono (who voices Wong), commercials for both the OVA and 2012, a promotional video that uses the full version of the opening theme, and a video of Psychic Junkie Fair Three, a Psychic Force promotional event where some of the cast and crew talk about the characters, do a live voice over session, and have a cosplay contest. This last extra is especially funny since Tsukui pokes fun at the relationship between Burn and Keith, mentioning how the director gave Keith some extra eyelashes during a specific scene and how Keith at times was more of a heroine than a hero. Overall you can tell that the cast had fun with these characters and genuinely enjoyed themselves with the production.

So, in the end, how is the Psychic Force OVA? I'll admit that if the OVA was even just one episode longer it would have been a hell of a lot better, but for what there is it isn't too bad; it's just scattered. The focus on story was nice, even if it made other parts of the production suffer, and the general idea behind the series isn't bad at all. And, hey, even if you didn't like the OVA the games generally are enjoyable. Taito hasn't touched the series since 2005 when the company released a complete collection for the PS2 containing PS1, 2012, and most of PS2. Now Taito is a subsidiary of Square-Enix, so who knows if Psychic Force will ever come back, but I wouldn't mind seeing it return.

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