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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Arc the Lad: Sing Me a Song of a Lad That's Wanted by the World!

While I wouldn't consider myself to be a truly identifiable "anime fan" until 2004, when I started following the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime via fansubs, I had already been a fan to some minor extent before then. I'd say that I first started knowing what "anime" was back when Digimon Adventure, Ultimate Muscle, & Escaflowne were airing on FoxKids & Kids WB, and I became more of a fan when I found Toonami via G Gundam in 2002. But it wasn't until 2003 that I decided that I really wanted to own an anime on home video, and much like how I originally got into JoJo's Bizarre Adventure back in 1999 because of the Dreamcast port of Capcom's 2D fighting game, my first anime DVD purchase was because of a video game.

When Sony debuted the PlayStation in Japan in late 1994, one thing the system needed in its home country was a killer RPG. That would come in June of 1995, when Arc the Lad saw release; it'd become the best-selling Japanese PS1 game that year, at ~1.11 million copies sold. What's most surprising is that it wasn't really a complete game, as developer G-Craft (Front Mission), later Arc Entertainment, had loftier plans, but knew that it wouldn't get the game out in time, so it was decided to split the game into two, with the first title really being more of a prologue to the REAL plot. Arc the Lad II came out in Japan November of 1996, also selling over a million copies, & told a truly epic (& tragic) tale that, sadly, didn't see international release at the time... Though not for a lack of trying. You see, as soon as the first game was announced, Victor Ireland wanted his company Working Designs to bring it over into English, but Sony Computer Entertainment of America played hardball, denying the idea because of how it was a strictly 2D game, which SCEA wanted to downplay in light of the PS1's polygon-pushing capabilities. In the end, it wouldn't be until April of 2002 that Working Designs finally released the game, but only as part of a giant Arc the Lad Collection that contained Arc I, Arc II, spin-off monster battling game Arc Arena: Monster Tournament, & 1999's Arc the Lad III.

At that time, the release was very hyped, & I made sure I got that collection as soon as it came out. I wound up loving the hell out of the release, though I never did finish Arc II (got to the final dungeon, though) or even play Arc III. Then, one day at my local Best Buy, I came across the anime section & saw a DVD boxset for an Arc the Lad anime; to say that I got excited about it would be an understatement. Anyway, this was a 26-episode TV adaptation of Arc II that originally aired in Japan throughout 1999 via satellite network WOWOW, and ADV would release the anime across six dub-only VHS tapes & six dual-audio DVDs throughout 2001, & the collection I saw came out in mid-2003; the Arc the Lad Collection was originally announced in 2000, so ADV likely tried to take advantage of that. As soon as I could save up the money, I bought that boxset & watched every episode, first via the dub & then about a year or so later via the original Japanese audio (with English subtitles, of course).

So now, roughly 15 years later, how will I feel about my first anime purchase? I still own that boxset, so it's finally time to take it off the shelf & pop those discs back in... They should still work just fine, right?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Obscusion B-Side: Hypothesizing a Sega Master System Mini

So Sega has now finally revealed all 40 (+2) games that will be included in its Sega Genesis Mini (Sega Mega Drive Mini, outside of North America) that will see release later this September, and it's seriously an outstanding roster of games for each variant (America/Europe, Japan, Asia). Sadly, it's next to impossible for Sega to really continue this line, hypothetically, by moving forward, as doing a Saturn or Dreamcast Mini would be much tougher (especially for the former), and would likely become much too expensive to really be worth releasing. However, a tweet from Sega City made me think of another possibility... Going backwards one generation.

At least a Pause button would get added to the controller now... Right?

Admittedly, if Sega was to actually go & make a Master System Mini, based on the company's competitor to the NES, it would be primarily aimed at two markets: Europe & Brazil. The console just wasn't able to really find footing in North America due to the NES' sheer dominance, & Nintendo's possibly illegal exclusivity agreement it forced upon third-party publishers, & Sega's only true success story in its home county of Japan was with the Saturn. Still, Europeans downright fell in love with the Master System (& later the Mega Drive), as Nintendo didn't really manage to take that market over due to the strong computer scene, & in Brazil the Master System is literally the best-selling video game console ever, due to Tectoy's marketing, exclusive releases, & continual re-releases of the hardware (among other reasons). If nothing else, make a hypothetical American release more of a limited product, though sharing Europe's roster, give Japan a Mark III Mini with its own roster that could even include some SG-1000 games (&, likewise, make it a limited release product), & let Tectoy go crazy with a Brazilian version that's filled with a bunch of its own exclusives (& winds up being the most coveted, in general).

Beyond all of that, though, is the major question: What games would even be included in a hypothetical Sega Master System Mini? Well, after looking over the list of games for the console, I came up with what I feel is a relatively realistic (if still semi-wish-list-y) roster, at least for a shared North America/Europe variant.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Obscusion B-List: Longshot Xbox One BC Hopefuls

[6/2019 UPDATE: Microsoft announced at E3 2019 that the Xbox One BC program would be ending with a final batch of Xbox 360 & OG Xbox games, none of which are the games in this list, sadly. It did announced that the next Microsoft console, currently codenamed "Project Scarlett", will include its own BC program, however, so who knows what the future may hold...]

With "the video game" getting closer & closer to the age of 50, at least if you're counting 1971's Computer Space as the "first" (if you count stuff like Spacewar! or Tennis for Two, then it's already well over 50), the concept of "game preservation" has become more & more relevant, and one method that has supported preserving games is emulation. Go back even just 15 years ago, and emulation was kind of a dirty word to the industry, but today it's become much more welcome, as it's allowed the preservation of so many games that would have otherwise been lost to time. A sort of variant of that has been consoles featuring backwards compatibility (or "BC", for short) with previous generations. While some made this possible by simply having a previous console's necessary hardware in the new console's design (see: the Atari 7800, Sega Genesis, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 2, & the earliest models of the PlayStation 3), most have done this via emulation of some sort. Still, if there's one system that's effectively changed the BC game, it's the Xbox One.

The funny thing is that, when Microsoft originally released the Xbox One in late 2013, having compatibility with previous consoles' games was the furthest thing from the company's mind. In fact, then-head of Xbox Don Mattrick was quoted in 2013 with saying, "If you're backwards compatible, you're really backwards." When Phil Spencer became head of Xbox in 2014, though, he secretly made BC a priority, creating an entire team in Microsoft solely to handle it. The end result came on June 15, 2015, when the first batch of 20 Xbox 360 games, both disc-based & digital-only via Xbox Live Arcade, were added. Unlike most BC efforts, though, these games were not just guaranteed to play on Xbox One exactly like they did on their original console, but would play better. Due to the sheer power of the One, 360 games can play with higher frame rates (or at least maintain their caps better), hit their max video resolutions more consistently (if they use dynamic resolutions), are given 16x anisotropic filtering (i.e. visuals look better at all angles & distances), & forced V-sync prevents screen tearing; when the Xbox One X was introduced in 2017, some games were even given new enhancements! Since then, Microsoft has been consistently adding more games to the BC service, at least 1-3 every month, & currently is at around 560 Xbox 360 games, which is about 26% of the console's total of roughly 2100 games; that's honestly super impressive.

Obviously, not every single game is going to be made BC with the Xbox One, so for this B-List I want to bring up six disc-based 360 games, plus one XBLA game, that I feel are definite longshots, but would love to see added to the BC program at some point. Note that I am not including games released on the original Xbox, of which only 33 have been made BC, mainly because there hasn't been any update to that in roughly a year, and licensing makes those exponentially harder to add; also, I could make an entire list just around those games, so maybe another time. So let's get started, shall we?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Odds & Ends of Masami Kurumada: Artwork & Music

Hey, I'm back after a month hiatus! You miss me?

*silence quieter than deep space, with not even a cricket chirping*

Ahh, same as it ever was. Anyway, no better way for me to come back than to write something about my favorite mangaka, Masami Kurumada.

Over the years, I've written a lot about the works of this man, & ideally I'd love to one day cover all of his lesser known manga. To be fair, there are only so many titles left to cover, namely 1976 one-shot Mikeneko Rock (which was included in Volume 2 of Sukeban Arashi, so I may never cover this one), Jitsuroku! Shinwakai (a collection of gag short stories from 1979 to 1983), 1992's infamous Silent Knight Sho, 1993's Bakumatsu Era story Akane-Iro no Kaze -Shinsengumi Keppuroku-, & finally Ring ni Kakero 2; there's also the occasionally ongoing Otoko Zaka that I'll continue reviewing in chunks. I still hesitate to cover his various Saint Seiya manga, namely due to the series' notoriety, & I don't count the various spin-offs done by other artists in this list. I take my time getting to these, though, mainly because of a lack of English translation, official or otherwise, as well as a simple lack of availability at the moment.

Something I have also wanted to cover, though, is the various other bits of artwork Kurumada has done over the decades for stuff not related to his catalog. Most of it is simply for promotional purposes, but they are still interesting little pieces of his oeuvre, and some of them have neat stories behind them. Therefore, as a quick little return to blog, allow me to show you the "Odds & Ends" of Masami Kurumada's history.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Retrospect in Retrograde: Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War

Before co-founding anime studio Bones in 1998, the late Hiroshi Osaka worked on a bunch of mech anime, like Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Panzer World Galient, Blue Comet SPT Layzner, Jushin Liger, both Victory Gundam & G Gundam, & The Vision of Escalfowne. During the last nine years of his life with Bones, he continued to work with mech anime, like RahXephon & The Mars Daybreak. Therefore, it's not all that surprising that the first anime Bones would lead production on was a mech anime... Kind of.

"Wah, wa wa wau"... "Degaregeda, degaregadou!"... "Jam Jam!!"

Working with Noboru "Sho" Aikawa, who would become a reliable & stalwart companion to the studio to this very day, Karakuri Kiden Hiwou Senki debuted in late 2000, running until mid-2001 after 26 episodes, & was actually only the second original concept Aikawa ever put to animation, following 1998's Neo Ranga. Not just that, but it's also the only anime Bones ever did using hand-drawn cels, i.e. the "traditional" way. Apparently, Aikawa originally envisioned the story for older audiences, & a manga version drawn by Hajime Jinguji did run in Magazine Z, a seinen magazine, from mid-1999 to 2001 for four volumes, eventually going in its own direction. Instead, the anime wound up being reformatted as a family program, airing in the same "Satellite Anime Theater" time slot on NHK that would later air anime like Gakuen Senki Muryou/Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars & Kakutou Ryouri Densetsu Bistro Recipe/Fighting Foodons (one of these things is not like the others). After the anime finished airing, Bones would slowly earn more recognition via shows like Angelic Layer & RahXephon, before truly hitting it big with Fullmetal Alchemist in 2003. Meanwhile, Bones' first series would stay in the shadows, until Bandai Entertainment finally picked it up for English release in the mid-00s, using the name Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War, which honestly was for the better, as the actual translation is more like Fantastical Clockwork Tale: Record of Hiwou's War. While Bandai did hope to get the entire series out across three double-disc DVD singles throughout the second half of 2006, production & replication problems resulted in it taking close to two years to finish the release, ending in early 2008; former Bandai rep Robert Napton even called the release "cursed". Because of this, & the sheer obscurity of the series, it kind of became slightly infamous for a time, as FYE was selling brand new, sealed copies of Volume 1 for literally just $1.99! Even today, you can get all three volumes for super cheap, & there's next to nothing regarding the anime online, aside from the few reviews of the Bandai release, which tended to not like the show.

I originally reviewed this anime back in August of 2011, going completely off of memory, and I've always had the urge to rewatch it, seeing as it's now been a little over a decade since I last saw it. Is Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War still "proof that kids' anime can be good for everyone", or will all these years of new learning, like now knowing that Sho Aikawa was not the "creator" of Angel Cop (he only co-wrote the first episode), make me see this series with new eyes, & will it be for better or worse?

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Land of Obscusion's 10 Most-Wanted Anime Licenses from the Past 100 Months Part 2

Welcome back to my list of the 10 anime licenses I'd love to see happen the most, with the only restriction being that I had to have reviewed it at some point across the past 100 consecutive months. Still, I guess before I detail the final five, I should mention the titles that I had considered, before whittling things down to only ten. These "honorable mentions" include Arion, the Fuma no Kojirou OVAs, Kamen no Maid Guy, GaoGaiGar Final (Grand Glorious Gathering), One Outs, Ozanari Dungeon, & (yes) even Gundoh Musashi. Also, if you're curious, the manga & "others" that I'd also count would be Devil King (man, would I love to have a physical release of that manga), Otoko ZakaPara - The Parabiotic Guy, the Fuma no Kojirou J-Drama/tokusatsu, & Team Astro. So, with those out of the way, let's move on to the second half, which coincidentally features the more truly obscure anime that I've reviewed.

Hmmm, I could have organized these better, right?

Hareluya II BØY
I will fully admit that I am not someone who puts that much stock in the actual quality of the animation when I watch anime. Sure, I definitely appreciate & love seeing absolutely stunning & beautiful animation when I see it, and even I have my limits, but I generally treat the visual side of anime like I treat the graphical fidelity of video games, i.e. I focus more on the actual content of what's being offered than how good it looks; a sakuga nut I am not. I say this because the 1997 anime adaptation of Haruto Umezawa's 1992-1999 manga Hareluya II BØY can definitely be on the rougher side of animation, to the point where I would definitely see people poke fun at some its more awkward drawings, had this anime actually been more well known; instead, all there is online are three episodes fansubbed into English, & a crappy Chinese TV rip. Really, this is all likely because this was an early example of modern-day late-night "infomercial" anime, it was also the first time a Shonen Jump property aired in late-night, and a lot of anime from that time aimed to be as cheap as possible, resulting in some really shoddy work. What made me forgive BØY's sometimes really chintzy animation when I reviewed it, though, was pretty much everything else about it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Land of Obscusion's 10 Most-Wanted Anime Licenses from the Past 100 Months Part 1

Over the course of these past 100 months (yes, seriously, it's been that long), I've written 204 anime reviews (remember, I count my manga, game, & "other" reviews for the total #) covering a variety of series, movies, & one-offs. Of those, a fair amount of them either have seen an official English release in the past, or are currently available somewhere legally at this very moment. There are some I even reviewed back when they weren't licensed (Kaiji, Akagi, Doamygar-D, the Legend of the Galactic Heroes movies, the 1980s Saint Seiya movies, etc.), but have since received official English releases, either physically or at least via streaming. Still, I'd hazard a guess that the majority of my anime reviews are of titles that have never been given an official English release before, if even an English translation of any sort, official or fansub, whatsoever. Therefore, as I prepare to take a month-long break & move into fewer articles per month starting May, allow me to list off my the 10 anime I've reviewed from these past 100 months that I'd love to see licensed for English release the most.

Why not 12, like usual? Because that'd require me to wait until 120 consecutive months, and I'm not doing that. Still, for anyone that knows me, you can guess what one of these titles is, so let's just get the obvious one out of the way first.

Ring ni Kakero 1
If it seems like I try to make any excuse to harp on this subject, to the point where it might seem like I'm beating a dead horse, it's only because it literally feels like I'm the only one who actually cares about this series that speaks English. Seriously, to say that was shocked to have found Honey's Anime & Bounding into Comics bringing up this series within the past year would be an understatement. Also, I can almost guarantee that, had this anime simply been licensed back during the 00s, or simulcasted at the start of this decade, I'd probably only bring it up on absolutely rare occasion, simply because I would have been happy enough to have seen this anime be given even a basic attempt in North America. Instead, though, it's essentially lavished in obscurity, being given an inadvertent mass ignorance by people to the point where not even those who make it their duties to finish up fansubs that were dropped by others seem to care about giving even that much of a glance to this anime. Seriously, the second half of Season 3 & all of Season 4, a total of just 9 episodes, have yet to see any sort of English translation in general, almost a decade later; hell, most people don't even know that these last two seasons even exist at all. But I think I've gotten way ahead of myself, so let me explain what Ring ni Kakero 1 even is, in the first place.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Obscusion B-Side: Big in Japan, 25 Years Ago? The 3DO's Secret Japanese Life

In September of 1991, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins founded The 3DO Company with an interesting concept: Developing a video game console that would be produced by partner companies. Yes, instead of manufacturing a console by itself, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer was only designed by The 3DO Company, with the likes of Panasonic, GoldStar, Sanyo & even Creative Labs being the ones that produced the actual console itself (or a PC-compatible ISA card, in the case of the last company); Toshiba & AT&T even had units in the works, but never saw release. When the first model of the 3DO, Panasonic's FZ-1 R·E·A·L, finally saw release in October of 1993 in North America, it was hailed as Time magazine's "Product of the Year", but was also frowned upon by the general public for being sold at an MSRP of $699.99; that's nearly $1,220 in 2019! Now to be fair, the machine was conceived of as being more than simply a video game console (hence the word "multiplayer"), and even the company's name was meant to represent the next form of media (video, audio, 3DO... get it?), but after a year the price was cut down to $399.99, or ~$700 in 2019. In the end, the 3DO console wound up being discontinued in late 1996, selling somewhere over 2 million units (though this could just be across Panasonic's products, which were the best-sellers), and today has become nothing more than a cult-favorite amongst some retro gaming fans. Still, all talk you can find about the 3DO revolves around its North American presence, but what about its time in Japan?

Hmmm, this isn't the 3DO most people think of, now is it?

Releasing in March of 1994 at an MSRP of 79,800 yen, though most places actually sold it for 54,800, the 3DO actually had a moderately successful launch, shipping about 70,000 units to 10,000 stores, & it was promoted alongside the image of Alfred Einstein, interestingly enough; the fact that it was a Western system did give it a slight stigma, though. While the console didn't last long in the country, with the last game being Capcom's Ide Yusuke Meijin no Shin Jissen Mahjong in mid-1996, would you believe that there may have been more potential interest in the 3DO in Japan than anywhere else in the world? For example, over the three years of life the console had, about 286 games saw release, but only 162 of those, or roughly 57%, were released in North America, with only 65 of those being exclusive to the region. In comparison, the Japanese 3DO saw 214 games released, and 139 of those were only ever released in Japan. Yes, nearly 50% of the 3DO's entire lineup of games was Japan-exclusive; in fact, ~75% of the entire library saw a Japanese release, in general. It wasn't just games that Japan had more of, either, as the country also saw two region-exclusive machines: Panasonic's "ROBO" CD Changer, a modified FZ-1 that had a five-CD tray, & Sanyo's TRY, which saw release in March of 1995 (see above). South Korea even had its own exclusive unit, GoldStar's Alive II, which looked like a round-edged PlayStation; the Alive I is the model most people associate with GoldStar's 3DO.

There was also a Japan-exclusive Memory Expansion Unit that added another 256 KB of save space to utilize; like (most of) the games, though, it is region-free. Another Japan-exclusive accessory was one that plugged into the console's (otherwise never utilized) expansion port that allowed the console to play Video CDs, similar to how the Sega Saturn could be given that capability through plug-in cards. Finally, in the past year or so people have found out that a later, Japan-only revision of the FZ-1 included a "Mode A-B" switch on the back, replacing the RF output, which allows the user to have the console display at the original 240p video resolution, instead of the 480i upscale that the 3DO usually does. This results in games looking much crisper than usual, and there can even be some improved performance, since the console now has extra power to use, as it's no longer up-converting the signal; some games, like Another World or Escape from Monster Manor, do run too fast by using Mode B, however.

Sure, a number of the more notable Japanese-developed 3DO games did see release around the word, like Guardian War/Powers Kingdom, both Iron Angel of the Apocalypse/Tetsujin games, Burning Soldier, Lucienne's Quest/Sword & Sorcery, Starblade, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble, & Strahl. Still, what about those other 139 Japan-exclusive games that comprise nearly half of the console's entire library? Therefore, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the 3DO's launch in Japan, here are 14 of the most notable Japan-exclusive releases (plus one special bonus) that I feel you should know about.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Grappler Baki: Maximum Tournament: "All Alone" with Yet More "Child Prey"

The "tournament arc" is possibly one of the most iconic & representative pieces of an action manga, and it makes perfect sense. It's an arc that represents the most basic of desires in this kind of story, the urge to become stronger to combat tougher foes, and the reasons behind the fighting don't need anything more than "being the best", though one can always add in something extra to give it a little more "oomph". Similarly, people love tournaments in pretty much any form of combat sport, so it was only the natural way of things for Keisuke Itagaki to eventually tell his own take on the tournament arc in Grappler Baki. In fact, out of a total 42 volumes, this tournament covers roughly 22 volumes, or just slightly over half of the entire manga! So, after Baki's early days as a 13-year old boy & his days as the champion of the Underground Arena, what kinds of insanity can be found within Grappler Baki: Maximum Tournament, the second season of Free-Will & Group TAC's adaptation of the original manga?

Baki Hanma has proven himself to be the undefeated champion of Mitsunari Tokugawa's underground arena for a few years now, and even the likes of the Shinogi Brothers & Mt. Toba have proven to be incapable of besting him. Therefore, Tokugawa decides to try something different to help keep things fresh & give his champion a true test of his abilities: The Maximum Tournament. A 32-man tournament, split up into four blocks of 8 (plus four reserves, just in case), featuring the absolute toughest in the world, spanning various fighting styles. From known faces like Doppo Orochi, Kaoru Hanayama, the Shinogi Brothers, Mt. Toba (as a reserve), & Baki himself, to top professional fighters like boxinc champion Ian McGregor & wrestling legend Kanji "Antonio" Igari, to infamous names like biker gang leader Chiharu Shiba, Doppo's foster son Katsumi Orochi, legendary jujutsu fighter Goki Shibukawa, & Chinese kempo master Retsu Kaio, plus unheard of warriors like Yujiro Hanma's personal pick Yu Amanai or Canadian pit fighter Jack Hammer, this will be a tournament unlike any other.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What Hath GameSpot Wrought?! 15 Years After "32X: Short Name, Short Life, Big Fun"

What did you want to be when you were a kid, and did you actually follow through on it? For some, they dreamed of being something more "traditional", like a firefighter, police officer, or business owner, while others might dream a bit more extravagant, like an actor, musician, or even politician. While some do stick with those dreams & end up fulfilling them, others just don't. As for me, when I was a kid I wanted to be a game show host; a reasonable dream, I know. Obviously, that didn't come to pass, though I have had host-like experiences, so I guess I met my dream halfway down the road. Anyway, while also being a kid I loved reading gaming magazines like GamePro, & when internet access became more easily available I eventually found my way to gaming sites, like GameFAQs & GameSages (which would later become IGN), but the site that was my favorite, without a doubt, was GameSpot.

The early-to-mid 00s were just such a great time for GameSpot, and it was really due to the staff of writers & editors it had. People like Greg Kasavin, Brad Shoemaker, Alex Navarro, Ryan Davis (RIP), Ryan MacDonald, Joe Fielder, Andrew Seyoon Park (who single-handedly made GameSpot the only major outlet still covering the Neo Geo in its last years), & Jeff Gertsmann just all had this knack for writing reviews that hooked me, and the on-screen presence of them for video productions was undeniable. Eventually, as I grew older & entered high school, I decided to move away from my game show host dream & go for something more reasonable by becoming a journalist, and it wouldn't be too much of a leap to say that the people at GameStop were a notable influence towards that change in life direction for me. Still, what really made me want to stick with journalism, at least enough to get an actual bachelor's degree in it from Rutgers University, was one opportunity that came about 15 years ago which allowed me to be published on GameSpot... And it all started because of a happy little accident, as the late Bob Ross would put it.

During this 00s era, the people at GameSpot tried a bunch of wild ideas; for example, remember when they had a game show? One of those ideas was GameSpotting, which was effectively a weekly blog that some of the writers would contribute to, giving their own personal feelings about some sort of gaming-related subject. It was a really cool idea, essentially predating the actual rise of blogging by a few years, and wound up running for 149 weeks, from August 8, 2001 to June 29, 2005. What was easily the most interesting part of GameSpotting, though, was GuestSpotting, which was a contribution from a fan that the GameSpot editors liked & wanted to put up on the site; sometimes, they even dedicated entire editions to nothing but fan contributions. Yes, after one year, GameSpot actually solicited fans to submit their own articles, and one day I had a thought:

"I wonder if I could write something like that?"

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.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Obscusion B-Side: Hey, You've Got Your Comics in My Video Games!

Video games & comic books have been close companions for at least 40 years, with one of the earliest games based on a comic being Superman for the Atari 2600 back in 1979. Eventually, the inverse started happening, with comic books based on video games coming to fruition, and now game-based comics are a pretty popular category; almost every one of the biggest game franchises today have at least one comic, of some sort. In rare instances, though, the game developer and/or publisher decides to take a more direct route with this sort of cross-promotion, and commissions a comic to be made to go with the game itself. Now these tended to be short mini-comics meant simply to help establish the backstory, because not everyone is into reading paragraphs of text inside the instruction manual (especially if the game itself doesn't explain much), but with the death of the perfect bathroom reading material for video games, these direct comics tend to be limited edition-exclusive products. Still, let's start off the new year with a fun look at five examples, from my personal collection, of video games that had some sort of comic inclusion, with having to go to your local comic shop or bookstore to read it.

Yeah, I don't know why the side banner
used the wrong color order, either.
The game that Hideo Kojima headed up after the original Metal Gear put him on the map in Japan, 1988's Snatcher remains an iconic title, both amongst "Cyberpunk" & "Adventure" games. When it got ported from the PC-88 & MSX2 to the PC-Engine CD in 1992, Konami added something cool to the instruction manual: A full-color manga Prologue. When the game was ported over to the Sega (Mega) CD for international release in 1995, the manga was actually included & translated into English, though it was sadly done in greyscale to match the rest of the manual. Though it only runs for a scant 10 pages and doesn't credit anyone for the artwork, though I'm guessing that maybe it was original character designer Tomiharu Kinoshita, let's see how it does at getting newcomers up to speed about the world Kojima created.

December 2047, Neo Kobe City. Currently, mankind is under secret attack by "Snatchers", bioroids that kill people & then take their identity using artifical skin, with their ability to sweat & bleed making them nigh-impossible to identify. To combat the Snatchers, a special police force has been formed called JUNKERs, or Japanese Undercover Neuro-Kinetic Elimination Rangers. A man is being chased after & even shot coming out of an alleyway into a crowd. Everyone sees the man, whose face is now uncovered to show that he's actually a Snatcher, before his head is blown up by the man chasing after him. When asked if he's a Junker by the police, the man only responds that he's a "Bounty Hunter". Meanwhile, Gillian Seed is meeting up with his girlfriend Jamie to tell her that he's going to become a Junker, much to her disappointment. The two suffer from extreme amnesia, with the only memory Gillian having being the word "Snatcher", so he thinks becoming a Junker will help him remember who he really is, even though Jamie is afraid that doing so will result in something terrible happening. A transport arrives to pick up Gillian & take him to Junker HQ, and while Jamie can't hear Gillian's words due to the transport's jets, she still waves him off & wishes him well.