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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Galerians: Rion: Screw Cocaine... Nalcon & Red are a Hell of a Drug!

Survival horror games are the perfect thing to experience during the month of October, but what about anime based on survival horror games? Well, to be honest, there really aren't many anime adaptations of the genre, with easily the most well known being the various CG movies based on Capcom's Resident Evil franchise. Obviously, that game series wound up inspiring plenty of "clones", but one of the most interesting to come about in the 90s was easily Galerians for the PlayStation. Developed by Polygon Magic (Incredible Crisis, Slap Happy Rhythm Busters) & published by ASCII Entertainment in August 1999, Galerians differed from the usual "Resident Evil clone" of the time by going for a heavy sci-fi aesthetic, in place of the usual zombies, vampires, & the like; also, the character designs by Sho-U Tajima (Madara, MPD Psycho) helped give it a unique look. Crave Entertainment would release it in North America & Europe in 2000, & in 2002 Enterbrain released a sequel in Japan for the PS2, Galerians: Ash; Sammy would release it internationally in 2003. To go with that new game, an full-CG OVA was also made that adapted the plot of the original game, releasing alongside the sequel; to match the naming style of said sequel, the OVA was titled Galerians: Rion.

A year later, the OVA was re-released in Japan in a new "Director's Cut" edit that turned the 3-episode OVA into a feature-length film, though only barely at just over 70-minutes; from what I can tell, little to nothing was actually cut out, aside from the OP & ED sequences. It would be this Director's Cut that would then get licensed by Image Entertainment for English release, first on DVD in 2004, followed by a release in 2005 on the most "universal" of "media"... Sony's UMD (you know, for the PSP). A few months after Image's DVD release, Galerians: Rion would actually start seeing heavy repeat airings on American television, and on a most-unexpected network at that: MTV2; this was during the network's short-lived attempt to air anime, like Heat Guy J. Therefore, there are actually people out there that would have some nostalgic memories of this OVA, especially because it aired on a well known network that didn't already have Toonami. Still, it's been a solid 15 years since Image's release, so I'd call it "forgotten" enough to be worthy of being covered on this blog. Also, the way Image handled the dub for this OVA is especially interesting, so let's see where on the infamous "video game-based anime scale" this endeavor comes out.

It's the year 2522, & an teenage amnesiac awakens in Michelangelo City Memorial Hospital strapped into a giant swinging mechanism, watched over by doctors. Hearing the calls from a girl asking for his help, he subconsciously breaks free, realizing that he has psychic powers based on various drugs that he was experimented with, like Nalcon (shockwave blasts) & Red (pyrokinesis); if he uses them too much, he risks shorting out, & without injecting himself with Delmetor, he'd die. After hijacking the hospital's computer, he finds out his name is Rion Steiner & where his family lives, leading him on his journey to find out who exactly he is, who the girl named Lilia Pascalle is that's sending him psychic messages, & what they have to do with Dorothy, the "Mother Computer" that's in control of Michelangelo City. Meanwhile, Rion & Lilia are being hunted by Birdman, Rainheart, Rita, & Cain, who are all Galerians, artificial humans with psychic powers created by Dorothy.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

(Not Really) Ahead of My Time, But Too Lazy to Care: 10 Years After Starting a YouTube Channel

Previously on the 2019 Anniversary Retrospective:
"Anyway, after that entire moment with GameSpotting came to an end, life pretty much returned to normal. I graduated from high school, went to Rutgers, graduated after five years, tried making zero-budget YouTube videos for a year..."

Oh, I guess it's time to go over THAT in detail, isn't it? Ahem...
"Hey There, Gamers & Anime Aficionados!"

This was YouTube's logo back in 2009. Today, the tagline would be
"Broadcast What We Approve of, or Else No One Will Know About It".

So, as mentioned above, after that "I got published on GameSpot" thing happened in late February, I graduated from high school the following June, right before my 18th birthday. I then attended Rutgers University for five years to get a Bachelor's Degree in "Journalism & Media Studies", and it was during that time that the way we as a people interacted & learned new things changed. For example, I remember in what may have been my very first day of school at Rutgers, back in September of 2004, being told about this new-fangled website called "Facebook", which had only launched earlier that February, where college students could intermingle online & talk about their professors; today, Facebook is an absolute behemoth of social media. One year after that site launched, though, another website would launch & become a phenomenon of its own kind: YouTube. This site allowed people to upload videos that they had produced, and while online video hosting wasn't anything new, it was the first of its kind that allowed essentially anyone to upload & share content. And when it came to video games, one man in 2006 essentially changed everything via YouTube: James Rolfe.

Starting in May of 2004, a few months after my GuestSpotting piece (amusingly enough), Rolfe would go on to produce a trio of short videos where he bemoaned how horrible he felt the NES games Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde, & The Karate Kid were. In 2006, he uploaded them onto YouTube after an idea by his friend Mike Matei, and not long later the "Angry Nintendo Nerd", later the Angry Video Game Nerd, became a hit. Naturally, this influenced others to produce their own videos about old video games. Some of them would take a more positively-attuned focus, but many followed Rolfe's lead & simply trashed games they hated; the main difference, though, was that Rolfe would exaggerate his hatred, for simple comedic effect. Personally, while I might have heard of YouTube around 2006 & 2007, I didn't actually really start going to it regularly until around 2008, while my first AVGN episode was the one about the Atari 5200, which was first released in early 2007 over at GameTrailers, but wasn't uploaded to YouTube until mid-2008. Still, it was stuff like what James Rolfe was making, alongside other YouTube channels like MN12BIRD (who actually came back this year, after a 4-5 year hiatus!), Classic Game Room (itself a revived version of The Game Room from 2000, one of the very first online video shows), & Happy Console Gamer, as well as much smaller producers like MJC Reviews & JQJDaMan who have stopped making videos a long time ago, that started making me wonder if I could do something like that, too.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Retrospect in Retrograde: The Fuma no Kojirou OVAs

Following up a massive success is a tough proposition, to say the least. You now have these major expectations that didn't exist previously, and should you not meet those you run the risk of failure. This is especially true in the world of manga, because not everyone is an Akira Toriyama or Rumiko Takahashi, who can follow up a major hit (Dr. Slump or Urusei Yatsura, respectively) with a second, arguably bigger smash (Dragon Ball or Ranma ½, respectively). Some, though, manage to follow a major hit with something that, though not similarly successful, is still a decent enough hit. A perfect example of that latter situation is with Masami Kurumada, who in late 1981 finished Ring ni Kakero, the "SF Boxing" manga that made his name known to the Japanese populace & would influence so much manga that Shueisha would deem it "The Hot-Blooded Fighting Manga Bible" in 2014. Naturally, Shonen Jump readers were excited for what Kurumada would follow that up with, and a few months later, at the start of 1982, they found out with Fuma no Kojirou/Kojirou of the Fuma, a story revolving (ostensibly) around ninja. While it seemed to be a success of its own merit for the time, though obviously not on the level of RnK, the manga still wound up ending after only a solid two years, finishing up at the very end of 1983, after 10 volumes. My theory is Kurumada prematurely ended FnK in order to finally start working on the series he had been planning out for a decade, Otoko Zaka, only for said series to fizzle out after not even a year. Kurumada would then aim for the mainstream, creating Saint Seiya in 1986, and here's where we return to Fuma no Kojirou.

Saint Seiya was a bona fide smash hit during the second half of the 80s, arguably influencing more people than they realize (in particular, what people associate Dragon Ball with was likely due to Toriyama being encouraged to follow Saint Seiya's lead). It was such a instant hit that Toei Animation debuted a TV anime adaptation before the manga was even a year into its run, which itself wound up becoming a big hit, especially around the world (except for "North of Mexico", of course), and would end in April of 1989, after 114 episodes; the manga would run until late 1990. Likely seeing that Seiya's anime was coming to an end, though, producers from MOVIC, retail arm Animate, & CBS Sony Group obviously wanted to continue riding whatever wave of Saint Seiya popularity was still cresting, before it crashed. The end result was Fuma no Kojirou (later given the subtitle Yasha-hen/Yasha Chapter), a six-episode OVA adaptation of the first story arc of the FnK manga that came out during the summer of 1989, with the first episode coming out only two months after Saint Seiya's final episode aired; they started working on the OVA before the show finished, obviously. Sales must have been good, as the following year saw Fuma no Kojirou: Seiken Sensou-hen/Sacred Sword War Chapter, a six-episode OVA adaptation of the second story arc that came out during the fall of 1990. Finally, after a two-year hiatus, a 50-minute OVA titled Fuma no Kojirou Saishushou: Fuma Hanran-hen/The Final Chapter: Fuma Rebellion Chapter, which adapted the third & final story arc of the manga, came out at the very end of 1992; today, the entire thing is generally counted as a single, 13-episode series. There were five DVD releases covering all three OVAs in Japan throughout mid-2001, put out by SME Visual Works (the former CBS Sony Group, & now currently known as Aniplex), but nothing else since; admittedly, it'd be nice to see these be given an HD remaster & Blu-Ray release.

I reviewed each of these OVAs long ago, the first in 2010 & the other two in 2012, and at the time there was no English translation whatsoever, fansub or official, for any of them; there was supposedly one back in the old VHS fansub days, but it's never surfaced. Today, however, there is actually an English fansub out there, though most of it (read: 11 of the 13 episodes) is based on a Spanish fansub, which means that it's mostly a translation of a translation. Sadly, though the translation itself is okay, the video quality is that of a multi-generation copy of a VHS tape, & Fuma Hanran-hen's fansub literally just plasters English subs over the Spanish subs; it's the best we got, sadly. Still, with Masami Kurumada having returned to Fuma no Kojirou recently with the Jou no Maki/Prelude Chapter prequel manga, and an "Ultimate Final Edition" of the original manga planned for a November release, I'd say now's as good a time as any to finally give these OVAs a new, comprehensive look, and see if I feel any differently about the anime adaptation of "Masami Kurumada's Fourth-Most-Well-Known Manga".

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Metropolis vs. Metropolis: Lang vs. Rintaro, with Tezuka as the Referee! A Robotic Battle of Babelic Proportions!

In 1927, German director Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis, based on the 1925 novel of the same name by his then-wife Thea von Harbou, debuted in German theaters, where it was originally received rather coldly & bombed hard, financially. H.G. Wells himself, whose works were a big influence, called it "quite the silliest film", while Lang himself would eventually admit dissatisfaction with it. Today, however, Lang's film is considered one of the all-time greats & one of the earliest pioneers of science-fiction, with it receiving all manner of restorations over the decades, most recently in 2010, though due to various cuts made to the film back in the day (along with the condition of the only surviving reel of the original cut), only 148 of the original 153 minute run time has been rescued & properly restored; it's likely this is the best we'll ever get. Twenty years later, in 1947, a 19-year old Osamu Tezuka had just made a name for himself with New Treasure Island, which helped prompt publishers into wanting to release more "real" comics, so Tezuka offered to make a science-fiction story. Said manga would eventually be 1949's Metropolis, with the name & main character being influenced by Fritz Lang's movie... Or rather, a single still image of "The Machine-Man", one of the film's most iconic characters, that Tezuka saw in a magazine around that time; Tezuka had never actually seen the film, nor known what it was even about. Regardless, the manga was a big hit, becoming another early example of the man who would later be nicknamed "The God of Manga".

As successful as Tezuka's Metropolis was, though, he also never saw any interest in adapting it into another medium, like animation. One man who did have an interest, though, was Shigeyuki Hayashi, better known to anime fans as Rintaro. A former Toei animator who worked on 1958's Hakujaden, the first color anime feature film, Rintaro moved over to Tezuka's Mushi Pro at the dawn of "modern" TV anime, working on the original Astro Boy series; he'd later help found Madhouse in 1972. While Rintaro wanted to adapt Metropolis into anime, though, it was the "God" himself who was the main roadblock... Until he wasn't after 1989. In interviews, Rintaro essentially admitted that he simply waited for Osamu Tezuka to die before finally starting work on that anime adaptation, but even then it wouldn't actually come to be until mid-2001, and Rintaro admitted that Tezuka likely would have hated it. The end result, though, certainly sounds amazing on paper: Rintaro directing, Akira's Katsuhiro Otomo doing the writing, animation by Madhouse (& produced by the legendary Masao Maruyama, who considers this production to be his favorite), conceptual support by Tezuka Pro, music by celebrated jazz composer Toshiyuki Honda, distribution by Toho (which, coincidentally enough, also distributed Lang's Metropolis in Japan), & a budget of 1 billion yen. Not just that, but Rintaro also added in elements of the original film, making this a unique fusion of both Lang & Tezuka's works. Much like Lang's film, though, it bombed in its home country, not making back its budget, but has since earned itself a cult following; both Roger Ebert & even James Cameron praised what Rintaro & crew achieved.

Therefore, with both films now currently available in English in HD-remastered Blu-Ray, it's time to ask the question: Which film is better? Is it Fritz Lang's seminal classic, or is it Rintaro's fusion of both the film & the manga? After all, Lang went on to not be happy with his final product (though some argue that this was mainly because the Nazi Party enjoyed the film), while Rintaro's film can be embellished as "The film Tezuka didn't want you to see!", so this Vs. Battle could very well be closer than anyone expects. This battle will be fought across the following categories: Story, Characters, Visuals, Music, Acting, & Execution. Therefore, let's not wait any longer for the Tale of the Tape, und lass es uns machen ("& let's get it on")!

[NOTE: The version of Lang's Metropolis I am going off of for this battle is the 2010 "complete" remaster, so as to judge the movie based on its original vision, as closely as possible. Sorry, but no Georgio Moroder version here.]

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Obscusion B-List: Unknown Japanese RenderWare Games

Video games, today more than ever, aren't easy to make, and one way to help alleviate some of that workload across multiple games is to rely on a previously existing engine or platform, also called middleware. Some examples of that are Epic's iconic Unreal Engines, Capcom's MT Framework, 3D Realms' Build Engine, & id Software's various id Techs (the "Doom Engine" & "Quake Engine", for example), but probably the most well known & iconic one of them all during the 00s, at least for console development, is easily RenderWare. First launched back in 1993, it was originally something that creator Criterion Software solely used for games like Scorched Planet & TrickStyle (though there was a game or two which saw some assistance from it, like Rayman 2: Revolution), but when the PlayStation 2 came out, the engine became almost legendary.

Sony's 128-bit Emotion Engine that powered the PS2 quickly became infamous for being, simply put, a pain in the ass to develop for, and what Criterion wound up doing was update RenderWare so that it became a way to more easily develop for the PS2, and its cross-platform support made it possible to port games over to the likes of the GameCube, Xbox, & PC with little fuss. So, starting with Take-Two's City Crisis in 2001, Criterion licensed out RenderWare to any & all interested companies, & even after EA bought Criterion from Canon in 2004, old contracts were still honored & new licenses continued to happen. While EA stopped supporting the engine around 2007, due to its lack of power for the likes of the PS3 & Xbox 360, supported games continued to come out through 2013, plus a one-time return in 2018 for Burnout Paradise Remastered; in total, somewhere over 200 games were developed using Criterion's middleware engine. Still, that RenderWare logo appeared on so many iconic games from that era, whether it was the Burnout franchise, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise, Manhunt 1 & 2, Sonic Heroes, Bully, Persona 3 & 4 (plus their respective updates), Crackdown, or Black. There were also tons of games you probably at least heard of but didn't know were developed using RenderWare, like Suikoden III, DreamMix TV World Fighters, kill.switch, Max Payne 2, RoboCop [2003], the pre-HD Mortal Kombat games of the 00s, killer7 (at least on the PS2), & even Fate/unlimited codes (a rare arcade appearance for the engine!).

Still, this is Obscusion B-List, so allow me to bring up some Japanese games you likely never heard of in the first place that utilized RenderWare!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Spectral Force Chronicle Divergence: Farewell, and Thanks for All the Hiyoko Bugs

From 1998 to 2005, video game company Idea Factory tried its hand at being a true multimedia company by releasing a baker's dozen of anime to help advertise its video game releases, most of which were literally nothing more than promotional OVAs that didn't tell a full story, of any sort... And nearly all of them aren't what anyone would exactly call "good". Back in 2013, I wrote reviews for six of the thirteen produced anime, followed by another five reviews across both 2017 & 2018. Among those, I've seen the ill-advised freshman effort of Spectral Force, the "much-too-soon" attempt at making a full-CG TV series with Run=Dim, the animated horrors of Gakuen Toshi Vara Noir (which in Japan is considered part of the "Yashigani Trilogy", alongside Lost Universe & Gundress), the apparent "worst of all time" in Mars of Destruction (spoiler: it's terrible, but not really "the worst"), and the lazy & seeming despondent final release of Rebirth Moon Divergence; throughout all this, Idea Factory truly showcased that it was "The Ed Wood of Anime". At the same time, though, not all of it was downright terrible, as there was the rather enjoyable introductory story of Generation of Chaos III & the legitimately good (if still beholden to the studio's quirks) & self-contained Kingdom of Chaos - Born to Kill. With only two more Idea Factory anime left to cover, on which side of the spectrum shall this next one fall?

Idea Factory was founded in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo back on October 26, 1994 (Happy Early 25th Anniversary, Idea Factory!) by Shingo Kuwana (a former Data East planner & designer for the Joe & Mac series' SNES entries) & Yoshiteru Sato (not an ex-Data East employee). Over the course of the next decade, the studio would find itself a bit of a niche with the IF Neverland franchise, which produced a wide variety of games (mostly RPGs, of some sort) that all took place in a shared timeline within the fantasy world of Neverland. While 1996's Spectral Tower is technically the first entry, it was 1997's Spectral Force, a spiritual successor to Sega Saturn cult-classic Dragon Force (& developed by a lot of the same staff), that truly marked the start of the first major storyline in the franchise, the First Neverland War. So, to celebrate the studio's 10th Anniversary, Idea Factory decided to return to that original story & show it in a new way. The end result was early 2005's Spectral Force Chronicle for the PlayStation 2, which acted as a "digest" retelling of the plot of Spectral Force 12, & Lovely Wickedness, but rather than the war simulator that the series was known for, it was instead a strategy/tactical RPG, similar to that of Tactics Ogre, Front Mission, or Super Robot Wars. It was also the only game from Idea Factory's partnership with Taiwanese studio XPEC Entertainment that did not see international release of some sort, with the others being 2003's Black Stone: Magic & Steel for the Xbox (Idea Factory's first international release; known as Ex-Chaser in Japan), 2004's Bakuen Kakusei: Neverland Senki Zero for the PS2 (released abroad only in Europe as Realm of the Dead), & 2006's Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage for the Xbox 360 (which used the same engine as SF Chronicle).

To go with this 10th Anniversary strategy RPG, Idea Factory also produced an OVA that came out two months after the game, titled Spectral Force Chronicle Divergence, featuring animation by Wao World!, the same studio that produced the anime cutscenes used in the game. Unfortunately, the last "Divergence" OVA I covered, the one that went with fellow strategy RPG Rebirth Moon, was literally just the various cutscenes from the game, with nothing more than a static image & narration to link each one in chronological order. Is that simply the modus operandi of the short-lived "Divergence" OVAs? And if so, does this first one at least make more sense than the broken mess that was the final Idea Factory anime?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Following the Blue Bird's Path: Experiencing Zone of the Enders Chronologically

Ask hardcore fans of the PlayStation 2 what one of the best series is on the console, and it won't be long before someone answers with Zone of the Enders. Though generally credited as the creation of the legendary Hideo Kojima, though he only acted as a (highly supportive) producer, the series was actually the creation of Noriaki Okamura, who had worked with Kojima on games like Policenauts & Metal Gear Solid. While most generally only consider the two main games when thinking of the series, Z.O.E was created as a bit of a larger & more multimedia production, which in turn all take place in a shared world & timeline. As someone who's never really given the series a chance before, I've always wondered if going through all of Z.O.E in actual chronological order would be a great way to experience it all. So, over this past summer, I finally went through a massive Orbital Frame bender, checking out Konami's (& Sunrise's) cult-classic franchise in a way that I'm sure most haven't really considered. While I will give my general feelings about each production here, this is going to be focused more on how what happens in each part of the story, and if going through it chronologically actually provides any benefit.

So "Kiss Me Sunlights", as I put a "Ring on the World" to go "Beyond the Bounds", because "You Know Where We're Going?"


Just using the Japanese logos for consistency.

Before we start, though, some quick set-up to establish things, for those unfamiliar. Zone of the Enders takes place in the latter half of 22nd century, specifically from 2167 to 2174, following mankind's colonization of Mars & space colonies being set up around the orbit of Jupiter. The eponymous "Enders" are what those in control on Earth call the Mars & Jupiter colonists, which in turn has resulted in harsh laws & taxes against them. This has resulted in various groups & organizations rising up to rebel on Mars, the most important for the overall storyline being the military force BAHRAM, based out of Vacilia County. As for the giant robots themselves, they come in two main forms: The standard Laborious Extra-Orbital Vehicle, or LEV, & the more advanced Orbital Frame. With those basics out of the way, let's start running!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Investigating the "Eva Clone" Part 2: Are Any Worthy of Kaworu's Grace?

*cues up "Komm, süsser Tod"*
Everybody thinks they understand Eva. (They never understood anything.) They thought it was supposed to be a world without copying... Without references. (That's because they thought that nothing else came before it.) He betrayed them! Anno betrayed their feelings! (They misunderstood from the very beginning. They just believed what they wanted to believe.) Nobody wants these "clones"... So they can all just cry. (Then what are their hands for?) Nobody cares whether or not they exist... Nothing ever changes. So they can all just cry. (Then, tell me, what is their heart for?) It would be better if Eva never existed... So it should just cry, too. (Then why are they all here?) ...Is it okay for them to be here?


Huh, looks like the "Evangelion discourse" from the Netflix airing has already long died out... Oh well, I might as well finish what I started. As I said at the beginning of Part 1, Neon Genesis Evangelion's influence went far beyond the world of mech anime. 1998's Serial Experiments Lain was touted as being "Pioneer's Eva" in terms of importance, and it was certainly an influential hit, in its own right. 1999's Betterman was more of a horror anime than a mech anime, though there were giant robots, but it definitely took some notes from Eva's handbook. And let's not forget the "sekai-kei" genre that people attribute Eva as having started, which found its own icon in the late 90s in the form of the Boogiepop light novel series. That being said, I've generally seen the term "Eva Clone" reserved mostly for mech anime, and generally as a quick & dirty way to deride a show, which if nothing else shows the shallow, vapid, & generally derogatory connotation it carries. For example, few would call Lain or Boogiepop "Eva Clones", but people have no trouble using it to describe something like Darling in the Franxx. I bring this up mainly to illustrate why I'm only investigating titles that can be called "mech anime", because that's where the term itself originates from. Also, I've already gotten 12 anime to look at, & I value my sanity; I want to believe my feelings at that time were real, & not simply an obligation.

Anyway, let's move on to the second half of this investigation, covering the rest of 2000 up through 2005, the 10-year anniversary of Evangelion.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Demo Disc Vol. 15: Jump Juku

Two years ago, I covered some anime pilots that went nowhere for Volume 9 of Demo Disc. Last year, Volume 13 covered what I called "precursors", as they weren't all "pilots", that did see later productions made. So, this year, it's time to check out some of what are probably the most synonymous of them all: The Jump Pilots. Most anime & manga fans are probably at least somewhat familiar with Shueisha's annual end-year Jump Festa, which has been going on ever since 1999, as it's where new anime announcements related to Shonen Jump (& the occasional other Jump magazines) are essentially guaranteed. In the past there was also Jump Super Anime Tour, a travelling road show where anime pilots for popular newer manga got showcased to the public to gauge interest in potentially making them into full-blown anime series; in turn, they usually become available to purchase for a short time at the later Jump Festa. While not a truly annual occurrence, and there hasn't been one since 2013, it has resulted in many pilots to Jump anime that, to this day, have not seen official release outside of Japan, even if their later anime productions have seen some sort of official release. Usually, this is due to licensing complications, as these pilots can have completely different companies involved (& Shueisha is the primary producing company here), and this has even resulted in most of these being without any sort of re-release in Japan.

So let's take a look at four Jump pilots for series that have all seen an official English release at some point, in some form... And where better to start than one of the very first Jump pilots?

Kimagure Orange Road: Shonen Jump Special
About a decade before the Jump Super Anime Tour ever became a thing, Shueisha's first actual road show was the Jump Special Anime Daikoushin/Big March in 1985, which appeared in 22 cities around the country. At this travelling event, Shueisha showed off its first two anime pilots: One for Kochikame, animated by Tatsunoko, & the other for Kimagure Orange Road, animated by Pierrot. While the former wouldn't actually see a TV anime adaptation for a little over a decade, the latter saw its own 48-episode TV anime adaptation in less than two years, debuting in 1987 & even featuring some of the same staff as the pilot, like director Osamu Kobayashi; Pierrot even returned to animate. These two pilots were then re-shown in 1988 as part of the Jump Anime Carnival, alongside an OVA conceived by Akira Toriyama titled Kousuke-sama Rikimaru-sama: Konpei-tou no Ryu, which also offered VHS copies of both pilots as prizes in a contest. Since then, neither pilot has ever been re-released, but while Kochikame's pilot has effectively become a "lost anime", as there isn't even a photo of the cover art anywhere online, Orange Road's pilot has since been discovered, ripped, & even fansubbed. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, Discotek has so far been unable to license the pilot as part of its recent rescue of the anime franchise, but at least it's out there, somewhere, so might as well see how things started out.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Investigating the "Eva Clone" Part 1: You Can (Not) Take Influence!

On October 4, 1995, Gainax, Tatsunoko, & TV Tokyo introduced Japan to Neon Genesis Evangelion, a mech anime created & directed by Hideaki Anno (Gunbuster, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water) that helped revolutionize not just the mecha genre, but anime in general; even today, its influence can be felt. Now, to be fair, "Eva" (as it's often shortened to) wasn't truly all that original, as Anno is an Übermensch of an otaku that few can truly match, and took influence from everything he loved, like Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, Eiji Tsuburaya's Ultraman, & Yoshiyuki Tomino's Space Runaway Ideon, while the various Gnostic, Kabbalic, Judaic, & Christian references were primarily put in simply because they sounded the coolest. Still, it was the fusion of all of those elements, alongside Anno's own bouts with depression at the time heavily affecting the writing, that wound up transforming Evangelion from a quirky love-letter to all of Anno's favorite things, plus some personal soul searching, into a generation-defining pop-culture icon; it's even considered the originator of the vague & debatable "sekai-kei" genre. Also, just to clarify, Eva originally aired on TV at 6:30 pm, actually replacing the Japanese dub of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not at late-night, as some online will often state; it'd later re-run during that time, after it had become popular. Late-night anime wasn't even a thing by 1995 (that started mostly in 1997), and Eva wouldn't have become a cultural icon if it had aired in the otaku-focused late-night hours.

Naturally, Eva's success resulted in similar anime being created, many of which came from other notable creators! Over time, anime fans abroad would categorize these alleged imitators with a simple, if not amusingly ironic, phrase: "Eva Clone".

Okay, now one of you Rei's MUST be able to sing as good as Kaye Ballard,
Frank Sinatra, Claire Littley, or Helena Noguerra... Or just don't even bother, like Netflix did.

Now, to be fair, it's not like people immediately chomped at the bit at simply copying Eva wholesale; this wasn't NG Knight Lamune & 40 debuting barely a year after Mashin Hero Wataru finished airing. No, no... They waited a year after 1997's End of Evangelion, the movie finale, debuted in theaters! But, in all seriousness, the term "clone" is a rather harsh one & honestly is only used by those who simply want to belittle or lessen the potential relevance of these anime. After all, mech anime in general is intensely iterative & runs primarily off of whatever becomes the next big thing. Mazinger Z started the super robot boom of the 70s & Mobile Suit Gundam started the real robot boom of the 80s, while Wataru & Matchless Raijin-Oh started the early-to-mid-90s trend of either making the robots more chibi-looking (though not fully Super-Deformed) or having young children (rather than older teenagers) pilot the robots, respectively. Without "clones" from those eras, we wouldn't have series like the Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy, Fang of the Sun Dougram, Armored Trooper VOTOMS, or the Brave & Eldoran Series, many of which advanced mech anime & became classics, in their own right. Also, while Eva is one of the most popular anime of all time, it is simply true that not everyone has seen it, or at least saw it before seeing any of these "clones"; for them, those later productions are the valuable & influential ones. In fact, I'm one of those heathens who honestly has no major interest in ever watching Neon Genesis Evangelion in full; let them who is without sin cast the first stone (Wait... No one is shamed about sin on the internet!). However, I am still somewhat familiar with Eva's themes, characters, & some of its important scenes, simply due to a mix of cultural osmosis (i.e. I couldn't NOT know something about it), playing a bunch of Super Robot Wars games (which Eva sees inclusion in somewhat often), seeing the first Rebuild of Evangelion movie (which was mostly a recap of the first six episodes, with some differences), & seeing the climax of End of Eva years ago (because how could I NOT have seen it at some point?!).

Therefore, to celebrate Neon Genesis Evangelion's long-awaited return to legal availability in English via Netflix's streaming option (complete with a [controversial] new English translation!), I want to investigate these so-called "Eva Clones", and see what they tried to bring to the table; I will only be seeing the first 5-7 episodes of each, though, as this is merely a basic look at them. Also, as someone who hasn't seen all of Eva before, do these other productions truly showcase their "clone" status? After all, even the greatest in scientific research can result in a copy showing flaws in a way that even the most lay of people can tell at first glance. I'll be covering up to Eva's 10th Anniversary in 2005, because that's around the time the term itself stopped really being used for most newer imitators (it's still used, but nowhere near the frequency it used to be), but that still gives 12 different anime to cover, so I'll be splitting this up across two parts, & we're starting with 1998 to 2001.

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.