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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Kinnikuman II-Sei Part 1: Let the Generation "Get You"!

In mid-1998, following a 5-part "Legendary Prologue" from mid-1997 to the start of 1998, the mangaka duo called Yudetamago debuted Kinnikuman II-Sei (a.k.a. "Nisei/Second Generation") in the pages of Shueisha's Weekly Playboy magazine for adults. Despite becoming a notable hit for its specific age range, other companies obviously felt that there was potential for this next generation sequel to be marketable to younger audiences, much like the original Kinnikuman had been during the late 70s & the majority of the 80s. Naturally, this resulted in the anime studio behind the prior Kinnikuman anime productions, Toei Animation, getting involved to adapt this new manga, and after a mid-2001 theatrical short to help get people ready, the Kinnikuman franchise returned to Japanese TV screens in early 2002, roughly 10 years since Kinnikuman: Kinniku-sei Oui Sodatsu-hen/Scramble for the Throne finished airing back in late 1992.

However, unlike all of the prior anime productions for this beloved franchise, this new one would get an official English release...

Debuting on January 9, 2002 on TV Tokyo at 18:00 (a.k.a. 6:00 PM), the Kinnikuman II-Sei TV anime would replace s-CRY-ed (yes, that show was actually family programming in Japan!) & run for pretty much all of 2002, ending after 51 episodes on Christmas Day that same year; it would then be replaced with Shutsugeki! Machine Robo Rescue. Unlike the original Kinnikuman though, which only ever saw localization in North America by way of the Kinkeshi collectible mini-figures under the name M.U.S.C.L.E. (& a sole NES game to tie in with that), the Kinnikuman II-Sei anime did catch the interest of English localizers, specifically those at 4Kids Entertainment, then known most for its edited dubs of Pok√©mon & Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters that aired in North America as Saturday morning cartoons on Kids' WB. 4Kids would quickly license Kinnikuman II-Sei & debut it on September 14, 2002 (while the original Japanese version was still airing!) as part of the launch line-up for the new FoxBox block that replaced Fox Kids, alongside Fighting Foodons, Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, & a dubbed version of Ultraman Tiga. Now renamed Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy, this dub would go on to be a surprise hit for 4Kids, so much so that the company even commissioned Toei to produce another 26 episodes, bringing the total up to 77, so that the story arc that the original TV series had just barely started before ending could actually be fully adapted. We'll get to those bonus 26 episodes in a later review to finish out this 20th Anniversary retrospective, and I should point out that I will NOT be covering Ultimate Muscle in any of these reviews in any real detail, because in some ways it's kind of its own show. That said, I will reference characters' UM names when I first mention them from here on out, for clarity, & there will be a minor comparison here & there, for effect.

Instead, we'll be starting with the first 26 episodes of the original Japanese version of the Kinnikuman II-Sei TV anime, which were the only episodes that actually did see release unofficially via bootleg DVD boxsets one could find in various Chinatown districts (like the one in New York City, for me). Shockingly enough, the English subtitles for these bootlegs are actually pretty good, all things considered (though they still have tons of the usual awkward translation, as expected), and the bootleg DVDs for Kinnikuman II-Sei are the only ones left that I still own & have not used to review an anime on this blog. So are you ready to "Do the Muscle"?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Obscusion B-Side: Cybernetic Empire: Wolf Team's Last Stand with Telenet

Founded in October of 1983, Telenet Japan was a Japanese video game developer that got its start on Japanese PCs of the time, but would become most well known from the late 80s up through the mid-90s, when it released a wide variety of games from its various subsidiaries, like Reno (which would be the namesake of its North American division, Renovation Products), its successor Riot, & Shin Nihon Laser Soft. This resulted in games like the Cosmic Fantasy Series, Last/Red Alert, the XZR/Exile Series, & the cult classic Gaiares, as well as ports of other companies' titles, like Ys III (Genesis version), the Xak Series (PC-Engine CD version), & even Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei (PC version). Easily the most iconic subsidiary of Telenet, though, was the "Game Creative Staff" at Wolf Team, which was founded in 1986 before going independent in 1987 under Masahiro Akishino's leadership, only to then become a Telenet subsidiary again in 1990 after disputes with Akishino lead to him leaving & founding J-Force (which is its own story altogether). In 1993 Telenet merged all of its subsidiaries together into Wolf Team, which itself lead to staff leaving & founding Media.Vision (Wild Arms) & the now-defunct Neverland Company (Lufia & Rune Factory) and Media Entertainment (Strahl). While Wolf Team's games weren't always the most polished, much like most of Telenet's output, they were still filled with tons of personality & charm, not to mention excelleny music, which has allowed the likes of El Viento, Earnest Evans, Granada, Arcus Odyssey, & the Final ZoneValis Series (which were both started by Wolf Team) to remain in people's minds to this very day.

However, things would change in late 1995 with a Super Famicom RPG called Tales of Phantasia...

Based on an unpublished novel titled Tale Phantasia that was written by Wolf Team's Yoshiharu Gotanda, the studio had grand ambitions with this RPG, so much so that the studio felt that Telenet itself wasn't the right choice for publisher, due to a mix of already rough relations with the company & the fact that Telenet wasn't the same, financially, by this point. In fact, following Tokyo Twilight Busters for the PC-98 earlier in mid-1995, Telenet would almost exclusively publish pachinko, pachislot, & mahjong games until the early 00s, when it'd then publish two golf games for GameCube & PS2, and then sully the Valis & Arcus names with porn spin-offs, before dying in 2007. Wolf Team would eventually find a publisher for its Super Famicom RPG in Namco, though conflicts both internally & with Namco would result in a bunch of staff, including Gotanda himself, leaving to found tri-Ace after Tales of Phantasia's release, leading to the creation of Star Ocean. Afterwards, Wolf Team would live out the rest of its life developing Tales games, before Namco would become majority owner of the studio in early 2003, renaming it Namco Tales Studio (which itself died in 2012, after merging with Bandai Namco Studios), with the last game to ever bear the Wolf Team name being Tales of Destiny 2 for the PS2 (i.e. the real ToD2, not Tales of Eternia) in late 2002. However, there is one non-gambling title from Telenet Japan from the late 90s... and it's also Wolf Team's last non-Tales video game.

On August 5, 1999, in between the releases of the PS1 remake of Tales of Phantasia in 1998 & Tales of Eternia (i.e. "Tales of Destiny II") in 2000, Wolf Team & Telenet teamed up one last time for Cybernetic Empire, a "3D Action Adventure" game for the PlayStation that featured character designs by Akihito Yoshitomi, who at the time was serializing the manga Eat-Man; Telenet often hired mangaka to do character designs for its games, like Nobuteru Yuki & Kazutoshi Yamane. Ironically, two months earlier, Konami's Gungage came out on PS1 in Japan, which also featured Yoshitomi designs, though Yoshitomi actually shares the copyright with Telenet's release. Cybernetic Empire would be the last game to feature the Wolf Team logo on the cover & during start-up, though modified from its original design, but is almost never brought up when the studio is discussed, with most talk of Wolf Team being split between its early 90s output & its pre-buyout Tales games. Is Cybernetic Empire any good, and is it truly representative, in any way, of the old Wolf Team/Telenet days of yore during a post-Tales time? Let's find out.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Ports That Shouldn't Have Been Possible... But Actually Happened... Yet Again

It's been a couple of years since the last time we looked at six "impossible" ports of video games, and while I have a proper video game review in the works for Obscusion B-Side, I figure it's always good to have something light & fun in between all of the various reviews & overviews that I've been doing for a good while; in fact, there hasn't been an Obscusion B-List in over a year! While today we do still get that feeling of "this shouldn't be possible on this hardware" with the Nintendo Switch & some of its ports (The Witcher 3, Doom Eternal, etc.), it still can't quite hit the same exact feeling that prior generations had. It was a time when certain arcade machines were capable of things that consoles wouldn't be able to match for nearly an entire decade, when PCs were undoubtedly superior to their TV-based counterparts (this is still generally true today, but the gap is nowhere near as wide now), and yet publishers still wanted to bring those experiences to console, because they were hot. Some developers had to find ways to simply offer a similar general experience, but still noticeably different in execution, while others went crazy & decided to be as close to the original as possible... even when it felt like that shouldn't have been possible (&, sometimes, was in fact just that).

In that regard, I don't think there's any better place to start this third foray than with the console port of one of the most infamous PC games ever made.

Getting his first game published in the Apple II-focused inCider Magazine back in 1984, John Romero would find his most iconic & influential time as a game designer & programmer after co-founding id Software in 1991 alongside Adrian Carmack, John Carmack (no relation), & Tom Hall. Romero would be a massive part of the development of Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom I & II, and the original Quake, before leaving id in 1996 to co-found Ion Storm with Tom Hall, after having various creative differences with his fellow co-founders, especially John Carmack. As part of the public unveiling of this new game studio in 1997, a game was announced: John Romero's Daikatana. An ambitious first-person shooter that took influence after games like Chrono Trigger & The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, in particular the idea of travelling through different time periods & having sidekicks to fight alongside you, Daikatana was originally made with the Quake engine in mind, but after seeing id's new engine for Quake II get shown off, Romero decided to switch engines... not realizing that the two engines were more or less incompatible, resulting in the game essentially needing to be started over from scratch & necessitating numerous delays; it's entirely possible that Carmack made the engines so different so as to screw over Romero. Anyway, after so many delays (& an infamous piece of advertising, based on Romero's penchant for trash talk during multiplayer games, that Romero has since regretted approving), the game finally saw release for Windows PC on May 22, 2000, where it was understandably trounced by all; that being said, though, it's nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Kinnikuman II-Sei "Double Feature": A Beef Bowl for All Ages

Meeting for the first time in 4th grade, Takashi Shimada & Yoshinori Nakai became fast friends and after finishing up middle school they started working together on manga, which then led to them submitting one-shots for awards after graduating high school. Eventually, a one-shot named Kinnikuman/Muscle Man (which starred a character Shimada had first thought up way back in 5th grade) won the 9th Akatsuka Award in 1978 & this led to Kinnikuman becoming a serialized manga that debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump in early 1979. By this point, the duo had started using the pen name Yudetamago (literally "Boiled Egg"), which came from either a lunch they were eating while thinking of a pen name or the smell of a fart one of them let out, depending on who you ask; Shimada's the writer, while Nakai draws. Needless to say, Kinnikuman went on to become a smash success for Jump, transitioning from a gag manga that parodied Ultraman to a slapstick superpowered wrestling action manga (after seeing the success their friend Masami Kurumada was having with Ring ni Kakero) & running all the way until 1987, totaling 391 weekly chapters across 36 volumes, second only to Kochikame at the time for longest Jump manga; obviously, it's since been bested by plenty of other series. This success would also lead to an anime adaptation by Toei Animation that aired from 1983 to 1986 for 137 episodes (& 8 theatrical movies), a second (46-episode) anime from 1991 to 1992 that adapted the final story arc, & even a 12-volume spin-off manga (Tatakae!! Ramenman) that ran from 1982 to 1989 in Fresh Jump (essentially the entire magazine's run, minus a year-long gap in the middle) & even had its own TV anime adaptation (plus a movie) in 1988!

After that kind of massive success, it's only understandable that Yudetamago were seemingly never able to follow it up with another hit manga, though not for a lack of trying... until a decade later.

Following the end of Gourmand-kun in Kadokawa Shoten's Weekly Shonen Ace, which ran from 1994 to 1996 for just four volumes, Yudetamago made a 60-page one-shot called Muscle Returns that appeared in Fighting Ace magazine. This was actually a sequel to Kinnikuman, and astonishingly enough Shueisha simply allowed Kadokawa Shoten to publish it, apparently not caring about any potential royalties, as it had published the wideban edition of the original series back in 1994; times were different, people. Kadokawa would publish the one-shot with some new bonus Kinnikuman stories as its own book, & it might actually also be included in Volume 37 of Kinnikuman itself, which was the first new volume released by Shueisha when the manga returned to serialization in 2010/2011; it's currently now at 79 volumes, literally 2.19x the length it originally was in 1987! However, Muscle Returns still had a great response to it, so in 1997 Shueisha allowed Yudetamago to create another sequel one-shot in adult magazine Weekly Playboy (no relation to America's Playboy; that was the now-defunct Monthly Playboy), a solid decade after Kinnikuman had originally ended. This second one-shot, Kinnikuman II-Sei (as in "Nisei/Second Generation"), introduced a new generation of "Chojin/Superhumen" & was the first of a five-part "Legendary Prologue" that would then lead to a proper serialized run in Weekly Playboy from mid-1998 to mid-2004, totaling 29 volumes. The success of Kinnikuman II-Sei also resulted in a "Revival Manga Boom", where old classics were brought back with "next generation" sequels, like Akatsuki!! Otokojuku, Ginga Legend Weed, & Ring ni Kakero 2. Despite being made precisely for adults who more than likely read the original Kinnikuman as children back in the day, there was definitely an appeal to Kinnikuman II-Sei that could be marketed to younger audiences as well, & this included Toei, which obviously would be all for recapturing the success that the original manga's anime had.

So, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the 2002 TV anime adaptation of Kinnikuman II-Sei, better known abroad as Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy, let's start a four-part series of anime reviews with a theatrical "Double Feature"!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Demo Disc Vol. 21: Valiant Varsity

We're coming down to the last stretch of letters remaining for Demo Disc, as my goal has long been to do one for each letter of the English alphabet (& I doubled up on S early on, so this will wind up totaling 27). Not just that, but I have mentioned before that the gimmick with this "column", from a naming standpoint, has become trickier to continue with ever since I started it back in 2014, due to the fact that many of the titles that I had planned to cover in this format have since been given some sort of complete English translation now, making them ineligible. Because of that, I now have to find a way to not only figure out what titles I can cover via Demo Disc, but also figure out a way to match them with the remaining letters I have left.

For example, I have a trio of sports-related (even if only slightly) titles in mind, & the word "varsity" has a sports-related definition to it, so let's get "V" out of the way, even if it only really relates directly to one of them!

I swear, there is some sports-related stuff in this Volume!

A Giant Desperate Turnabout in One Shot!
While something like Gatchaman or Speed Racer may be Tatsunoko's most iconic franchise the world over, over in Japan I imagine that there's a good argument to be made for the Time Bokan Series, which ran on a weekly basis from 1975 to 1983 across seven different entries, plus an celebratory two-episode OVA in 1993/1994, an eighth installment in 2000, & re-imaginings of the first two entries from 2008-2009 & 2015-2018. While I have covered the original Time Bokan & both the original Yatterman & its late-00s reboot way back in 2015, those were not via Demo Disc, so this is actually the first time this iconic franchise appears here. And since Demo Disc always goes in chronological order, that means that we start this Volume with Gyakuten/Turnabout Ippatsuman, the sixth Time Bokan anime (& the penultimate of the original continual run), which originally ran from 1982 to 1983 for 58 episodes, making it the third-longest entry; the titular hero also appeared as a playable character in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom on the Wii in all regions.

What does this series have to do with sports? Honestly, not much beyond Ippatsuman himself having a slight baseball theme to him (his base of operations is literally called "Home Base"), & his real name (Go Sokkyu) being a pun on the Japanese word for a "blazing fastball", but I'll take what I can get, at this point. So let's see how the first episode of this anime, the only one ever fansubbed, fares when it stands up to the plate.