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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Obscusion B-Side: Hypothesizing a Sega Master System Mini

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Obscusion B-List: Longshot Xbox One BC Hopefuls

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Odds & Ends of Masami Kurumada: Artwork & Music

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 29, 2019

Retrospect in Retrograde: Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War

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

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

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

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