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Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2015!! Part 1

Another Boxing Day, another first part of my list of my favorite posts from the past year. It may also be the last one, but I'll get to that in a moment. First, however, allow me to bluntly ruminate. I feel that most critics tend to look at the all-time greats as the bar to be matched for something to be worth their time. These may be people who interpret Sturgeon's Law as "90% of everything is crap" as a way to dismiss any & everything they don't care about, even though that interpretation, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation, was originally used by Sturgeon as sarcasm to negate how critics of his time dismissed science fiction as being mostly crap (so he stated that, by that logic, most of everything is crap). But, let's face it, most people will interpret "not everything is the all-time best", which is a better translation of the law, as "90% of everything is crap", so what can you do about it?

I don't follow that concept, so would that mean that I have "lower standards", as I've been told I supposedly have by others? I don't think so, personally, and I think people who use that term are probably trying to put their own tastes & opinions on a special pedestal over others. Seriously, why should you care if people like something that you don't to the point that you're labeling them as having "lower standards"? Couldn't that be interpreted as the other people having standards that are so high that they are so rarely pleased? I understand being snobby & whatnot, because some people are proud about being that, but I just see some of this as being down on others being positive about something you may not be as positive on. If someone enjoys an anime/manga/movie/game/etc that I'm not big on, then so be it. Let that person enjoy it; who am I to judge that person as having "lower standards"? That could just be my own wacky way of seeing it, though. After all, I don't think that 90% of everything is crap... I just think that 90% of everything isn't the greatest ever, which doesn't mean that all of it is crap.

Anyway, to stop feeling down, as for this being the "last" favorite posts list, it's at least the last one in the way it's always been, i.e. a two-part list done every year. Depending on how much I'll be doing next year, I may either reduce the list to only one part or simply make it a biennial (a.k.a. once every two years) thing. With that being said, what did I write this year that I felt was the best, or at least made me happiest the most to write? (It's technically type, but semantics)

Para - The Parabiotic Guy (February 25)
I certainly took my time to get back to writing an actual anime/manga review after covering The Legend of Black Heaven, but I finally returned after two months with a manga that I'm sure 99.999999% of people have never heard of, which made it a perfect thing to review, personally. Still, just because (effectively) no one has ever heard of it doesn't mean that it's automatically a bad product, because Para definitely isn't. It's a pretty silly series with a completely wacko concept, sure, but it is not a bad manga by any means. A perfect example of something that isn't meant to be a "thinking man's manga", Para detailed the journey of Toshihito Hara as he went from "Wandering Yankii" to CIA agent because of his ability to possess nearby women after climaxing that he got after bashing his head against a rock during a random fight.

Yes, that is the actual synopsis of an actual manga that actually exists in this actual world.  I don't think I could make up such a concept if I tried.

Luckily, writer Kazumasa Kiuchi actually went with the higher ground, turning a concept that would normally be used for a fanservice-filled, nigh-hentai execution into one that's actually about showing that, sometimes, a regular life is more ideal than the seeming dream life you want for yourself; there's barely any fanservice in it, even. Combined with Yutoku Inoue's extremely expressive artwork that almost speaks for itself without needing speech, Para is way better than it kind of has any right to be, and I'm glad that I (more or less) accidentally came across it by random one day. That being said, there is no English translation out there, legal or not, & there's absolutely no info on it across the internet, even in Japanese, so this is a manga that you'll only likely ever hear about from me & then never hear of again. Sad, too, because there's some amusing, slightly dirty fun to be found here.

Obscusion B-Side: Fehérlófia & Az ember tragédiája (March 26 & October 23)
Obviously, the focus on this blog is on Japanese animation & comics, but with the advent of Obscusion B-Side I wanted to be able to give the rare opinion on non-Japanese products. I found two specific opportunities to do that for animation, and I decided to write about movies that came from the country of my heritage, Hungary. Over there is a man named Marcell Jankovics, who has actually been nicknamed by some as "The Walt Disney of Hungary", and his animated productions are considered to be the apex of that country's output. I wanted to see for myself, so on the two months that feature Hungary's National Days I watched his two most iconic movies, 1981's Fehérlófia/Son of the White Mare & 2011's Az ember tragédiája/The Tragedy of Man.

The end result of these viewings was me realizing just why Jankovics has the pedigree he's renowned for. Both of these films are sheer visual masterpieces, whether it's Fehérlófia's free-flowing & morphing animation style or Az ember tragédiája's anthology film-esque use of various visual styles for each of the different time periods showcased. Truly, if you consider yourself a fan of animation in general, then there is no excuse to not check out either of these films... Well, okay, I guess the fact that neither movie has left Hungary is a valid excuse, not to mention Fehérlófia not having any sort of official English subtitle translation at all (there are fan translations over on YouTube, though). Still, even if neither film ever sees release outside of its home country, if you ever get the opportunity to watch either film, don't miss out on it. These are both truly products of an absolute master of animation, someone who should really be up there with the likes of Walt Disney, Don Bluth, Osamu Dezaki, or Satoshi Kon, among others.

Normally I'd use the covers, but this image is more iconic.

Otoko Zaka [The Original Run] (May 24)
If there's at least one constant for this blog on a yearly basis, it's that I will cover something from Masami Kurumada to some extent. I've covered more or less all of the anime adaptations (not counting spin-offs like Saint Seiya Omega or The Lost Canvas, which were not directly made by Kurumada), & I've been working my way through the man's manga output, with this year springing forth two reviews. The first was for the original manga version of Fuma no Kojirou, but the one that gets the slot on this list is the second one. Made in between the serializations of Kojirou & Seiya, Otoko Zaka/Man's Hill was conceived to be Masami Kurumada's magnum opus, the series that would best showcase what kind of storyteller the man from Tsukishima, Chuo, Tokyo is. Unfortunately, Kurumada's tale of how Jingi Kikukawa goes from a rowdy fighter into the potential leader of all of East Japan's young gangs in order to take on an incoming invasion from international intruders was purposefully executed in an oldest school fashion, done to pay homage to the manga that made Kurumada want to draw, Hiroshi Motomiya's Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho. By 1984, though, shonen action had changed greatly compared to the 60s & 70s, with over-the-top & fantastical feats becoming the way to go. Ironically enough, Kurumada's genre defining work Ring ni Kakero, which established the way shonen action would operate, screwed over his dream manga's chances of success.

It's a powerful shame, too, because the three volumes that came out of Otoko Zaka's original Shonen Jump run showcased tons of excellent potential. Jingi is a very charismatic lead, the concept is a neat update to the classic tale of someone having to stand up to prove his worth, & the story was building up to something much greater, showcasing that Kurumada truly spent about a decade planning out how his story would be told. As the decades went on, Kurumada would show a little love to his aborted opus via a "theme song" is his 2005 album Seisei Ruten - Kurumada-ism, and then last year (as part of his 40th Anniversary in the industry) actually brought back Otoko Zaka & continued the story where he left off 30 years prior; it's currently on hiatus after two volumes worth of new content, but a return has already been teased. Will Otoko Zaka ever see completion, especially since Kurumada is also still doing Saint Seiya Next Dimension & supposedly has had hand pain for the past number of years? Who knows, but I think it's awesome to see a manga creator be able to return to a work that obviously means a lot to him, even if fans of his more popular work tend to complain about it.

Obscusion B-Side: Hydlide [Windows 95/98] (July 5)
Another reason why I debuted the Obscusion B-Side series of posts was to be able to write about more video gaming, as it's something that I've been enjoying way longer than anime & manga. One game I wanted to cover then was a title generally deemed by most as one of the worst games of all time, even though 90% of the people who say that are either dismissing history or are simply ignorant of it. Sadly, respecting history is something that video gaming, both in the fandom & the industry itself, is not a commonly done thing. There's good reason why Hydlide is considered an all-time hated game internationally, yet is beloved as a cult-classic in its home country of Japan, but even if some people knew that they would still side with the majority, because negativity is popular & few are willing to break away from the majority. If everyone says that something sucks, then why say different, even if you have valid reasons why it's not the case?

Because Hydlide is a big part of why Japanese Action RPGs even exist. Tokihiro Naito & T&E Soft's PC-88 game was one of the first RPGs made in Japan to focus on non-stop action without relying on menus for combat, feature an open world that could be (mostly) freely explored, & gave you regenerating health. What screwed Hydlide over here, however, was that gaming evolves, so by the time we finally received the NES port of the game outside of Japan, we had already seen games like Ys & The Legend of Zelda, which took the baton that Hydlide first ran with & greatly expanded upon. I'm not calling this game an all-time favorite of mine by any means, because it is flawed in ways that can't simply be fixed without changing the entire game, but I do have a ton of respect for it because of what it did for JRPGs; respect is also rarely given proper due in gaming, sadly. Really, though, the best way to play the original Hydlide is by way of the Windows 95/98 port I reviewed, which included nice looking "Arranged" visuals, made minor alterations to gameplay to make it slightly easier to play, & included an "Overdrive" ability that greatly removed the tedium of leveling up. I understand why people hate Hydlide, but to call it one of the worst video games of all time not only is greatly exaggerating (not to mention only going off of one of the rougher ports) but also highly disrespectful to history.

You don't have to like Hydlide, but without it Japanese action RPGs of the 80s would have likely been very different.

Shadow Star Narutaru & Bokurano (October 31 & November 30)
Mohiro Kitoh is a man who likes take something whimsical & originally aimed at kids & turn it into something dark & meant for adults. He first did it with Narutaru, which took the idea of having a monster partner of some sort, that products like Pokemon, Digimon, & Monster Rancher made popular, & twisted it into something dangerous. It gave the monsters, or "dragon children" in this case, threatening & deadly consequences, and had their human children partners filled with all sorts of flaws & even some psychological issues. While the TV anime adaptation obviously had to tone down some of the content, with even the director initially wondering how to put something so "extreme" on television (even via late-night), the end product was still a great show all on its own. The last three episodes in particular still feature some of the most chilling storytelling to be found in anime, in my opinion.

Kitoh's follow up, Bokurano, took the concept of early-90s mech anime Matchless Raijin-Oh, & gave it a nihilistic bend. Instead of having the idea of children piloting a giant robot to save the world from destruction feel cool & fun, Kitoh made the very idea terrifying & fatalistic by having each child that gets the opportunity to pilot die after the battle is won; if a battle was lost, then Earth is destroyed. It was the epitome of "You win, you die; you lose, you die", and each child in Bokurano handled their eventual deaths in various ways. While the director was an admitted non-fan of Kitoh's original manga, the end result doesn't seem to feel that way, because it still feels just as fatalistic & bittersweet as I can only guess the original manga is. It's kind of an odd miracle that both anime series even saw complete releases here in North America, and both are well worth watching... Just make sure you watch something happier after either one.

Pachislo Kizoku Gin (May 2)
The first part of this list began with an uber-obscure manga, so it only makes sense for it to end with an uber-obscure anime. While pachislo (or pachislot, your choice) is now very entrenched into the anime industry, with both anime being licensed out for use as pachislot machines & popular pachislo machines being expanded into actual anime series, there still seems to be only one example of an anime being actually about playing pachislo. Interestingly enough, too, this series was made before the two industries became as intertwined as they are now. What's even more interesting is that Pachislo Kizoku/Slot Noble Gin is actually a pretty damn good show, mixing together character drama with an adult-oriented take on the kinds of stuff you'd see from a show based on a children's card game.

Telling the rise of Ginya Otonashi from lowly pachislo magazine writer to being one of the greatest players in the underground Slosseum, Pachislo Kizoku Gin both featured a wide variety of wild & crazy foes for Gin to go up against, including the immediately memorable Cutie Honey/Annie Oakley fusion Annie Kisaragi, as well some really neat personal stories that relate back to pachislo in some way. Whether it was Gin's own past involving his father, who originally made pachislo machines for a living & left his family after the death of Gin's mother, or the sad past of Gin's ultimate rival Ryo Daiba, the "Ultimate King" of the Slosseum, this anime was surprisingly better than I ever had any expectations of it being; it even showcased how people can become broken emotionally by becoming too reliant on the game. The end of the series itself was also so absolutely bittersweet that I was both shocked & surprised but also impressed by how gutsy it decided to end. Sure, the animation by A-Line (generally an assistance studio, with this being its sole lead production) made no attempts at hiding its flaws, but this was a series that had more than enough other things going for it that I was able to forgive the flawed-at-times animation.

Much like Para - The Parabiotic Guy, though, I highly doubt that Pachislo Kizoku Gin will ever see any sort of English release, official or otherwise. It's not just extremely obscure & forgotten (to the point that I was able to import the Japanese DVDs for super cheap), but it's also about a game that most anime fans will never have the opportunity to play, let alone even want to play. Such is the path for a show like this, and there's nothing that I can really do to change that.
That's one half of my favorite posts of this last "full-time" year for the blog (consider next year on to be the equivalent of "part-time"). Check back before the end of the year for Part 2, where I include some stuff that weren't reviews alongside the usual fare.

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