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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.