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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Xevious: It's Dangerous... It's Devious.... It's Nowhere to be Found!

When it comes to old-school 2D shooters, Namco's Xevious is definitely one of the most well-known. Debuting in arcades back in 1982, Xevious became a bit of a cult-classic around the world, but in Japan the game is loved by many. Game creators and even musicians in Japan have been inspired by the game, and it has had multiple sequels and spin-offs created since then. Personally, I do enjoy Xevious and have even bought the recent 3D Classics version of the game for the Nintendo 3DS. It's mix of shooting enemies in the air while bombing enemies and facilities on the ground is still not a widely-used game mechanic and the game does indeed get difficult very quickly, requiring lots of replays and memorization in order to not only reach the point of the game where you start repeating stages but to also reach an uber-high score. So, naturally, when you have something that the Japanese love an anime sounds like a reasonable thing to make. Xevious is no exception here, but this specific anime is special as it is not only supremely obscure but also 100% unattainable. Since it cannot be bought or even downloaded I naturally haven't seen this movie, but I do feel that the story behind this movie should be told.

In 2002, the 20th Anniversary of the game, Namco teamed with a company called Groove Corporation with the intent of creating an animated movie based on Xevious. The result was an all-CG, 75-minute movie. Sshooters aren't really known for their story, but Xevious' creator, Masanobu Endo, truly loved this game (he just about did everything himself when making it) and even created stories based on the world of the game, one of which was even featured on the insert of an album of Namco remixes. Oddly enough, though, Endo's name looks to be nowhere on the credits for this movie. Endo was involved with the overall production of the Tower of Druaga anime, which was based on another of his game creations, but his name looks to be nowhere found when it comes to Xevious. As for what the story of the movie is about, here is what I can gather from the multitude of Japanese synopses you can find on the internet:

In the year 2150 A.D. space pilot Takeru and his human-type computer Martha come across a giant battleship in space. In it they find a mysterious girl named Ru Mi, who warns the two about a race of aliens called the Gamp, who are planning to attack Earth and make it their own. Takeru decides to take the fight to the Gamp himself so he enters his fighter ship, the Solvalou, and heads for the Gamp's home base on the planet Andor.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War: Proof That Kids' Anime Can Be Good For Everyone

The anime studio BONES is barely 13 years old yet has become a very prominent force in anime today. From Angelic Layer to Fullmetal Alchemist (both TV series) to Darker Than Black to Eureka Seven and many other titles, a new BONES work is usually anticipated fairly highly.... But this is the Land of Obscusion, so let's instead look at BONES' very first solo work! Though the studio debuted in 1998 and helped out with productions such as Escaflowne: The Movie, it wasn't until late 2000 that the studio came out with a production of its very own: Karakuri Kiden Hiwou Senki. And, honestly, I fully believe that the only reason Bandai Entertainment licensed this show back in 2006, calling it Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War (a more or less accurate translation), is because they hoped that the BONES name would help out with sales. Either that, or BONES threw it in with another title as part of a package deal (much more likely). But regardless of why this show was licensed it must be said that Hiwou's War is, in fact, an enjoyable and pretty original take on a mech anime.

On July 8, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy came to Japan with four battleships, demanding that Japan open trade relations and end their era of isolation. The Japanese would call these the "Black Ships", and a year later Japan would open itself to the influences of modern civilization. It's been eight years since the Black Ships came and now both steam power as well as karakuri/clockwork creations have become very popular with the Japanese. In a small village lives a boy named Hiwou, who with his family and friends run a clockwork festival every year, showing off their great skills with these new creations. Hiwou's father, though, left his family a few years back with the hopes that he could return one day with a better life for his family. One day, though, a group calling themselves the Wind Gang, who use clockworks and steam in order to force Japan into a new Industrial Era, invade Hiwou's village, causing great destruction and even resulting in the death of Hiwou's mother. During the attack Hiwou and the others come across a giant clockwork that his father made called Homura, which has the ability to transform from a carriage-like device into a large, human-esque figure. Using Homura, Hiwou and the others head off in search of Hiwou's father, who they hope can help them take on the Wind Gang and maybe even show the citizens of Japan that peace is still what's most important.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Majuu Sensen: The Apocalypse: The Other Dynamic Armageddon

Manga legend Go Nagai's studio, Dynamic Productions, is just about as well-known as the man himself. But one must remember that Go Nagai is only half of what made Dynamic Pro the name it is. We must never forget about the late Ken Ishikawa, who met Nagai back in the 70s and had been just as important as Nagai up until his unfortunate death back in November of 2006. Still, there are similarities between these two men. Aside from having their own giant robot series (Nagai's Mazinger to Ishikawa's Getter Robo), they both also have their own stories about the apocalypse. Unlike Mazinger and Getter, though, Nagai and Ishikawa's takes on the end of the world aren't anywhere near as equally-known. As a fan of anime & manga it's very easy to hear about Devilman and Violence Jack, which are Go Nagai's stories about the apocalypse and what happens afterwards, respectively, but Ken Ishikawa's Majuu Sensen/Demon Beast War is nowhere near as well-known.

Majuu Sensen originally ran in Futabasha's Shonen Action magazine, debuting back in 1975, and lasted four volumes. As you can tell, the manga was Ishikawa's personal story about the apocalypse. In 1990, a 3-episode OVA adaptation was made, directed by Shunji Oga, who also directed the Amon Saga OVA and would later be the chief director of Golgo 13 TV in 2008. Majuu Sensen would go into hiding pretty much after that, outside of some references in later Dynamic Pro anime like Getter Robo Armageddon (where Ryoma's character design is based on MS's main character Shinichi Kuruma), until 2003 when animation studio Magic Bus (Mad Bull 34, Play Ball, Cobra the Animation [2010]) created a 13-episode sequel of the story with the TV anime Majuu Sensen: The Apocalypse.

On a seemingly normal day an entire city is destroyed by two gigantic and godlike beings, which signified the beginning of the coming apocalypse. Professor Genzou Kuruma is the leader of a cult who wish to awaken God so that humanity can finally be destroyed, but in order to awaken God he needs a specific type of blood. There are two people who carry this type of blood: Shinichi Kuruma, Genzou's own son who left his father, and Ayaka Sanders, a normal teenage girl who has a similarity to a woman named Maria, who Shinichi cared for up until her death. Genzou sends his genetically-altered beast people, called "New Humans", after Shinichi and during his adventures Shinichi meets up with Ayaka as well as a boy named Tomizoro (who claims is a descendant of ninjas). The only thing on Shinichi's mind is revenge against his father, since Genzou has experimented on his own son and wife, the results of which left his wife dead and Shinichi with the ability to absorb the power of beasts from his enemies as well as summon one of three animals from his body (a lion, a bear, and a hawk), and he will do anything to kill Genzou and protect Ayaka from harm.

Monday, August 15, 2011

DD Hokuto no Ken: There's no Need for "Hidebu"!

It's natural for any big-name title to get spin-offs. Saint Seiya had it's movies and live-action musicals, Dragon Ball has a ton of movies, OVAs, and even spin-off mangas, and even Ring ni Kakero apparently got a reality show where potential boxers can enter to make it big, just to name a few. Hokuto no Ken/Fist of the North Star is certainly no exception, as it's had a bunch of spin-off mangas (all of the "Gaiden" manga based on the major characters, with the most-well-known being Raoh Gaiden/Legends of the Dark King), OVAs/movies (the New Savior Legend series of films), etc. But there's also a smaller name spin-off to FotNS that some fans might write off simply due to the use of super deformed character designs. That title is DD Hokuto no Ken.

DD Hokuto no Ken, which doesn't exactly translate as easily as it should (the "no" in this title is not the hiragana の but rather the kanji 之, which is an antiquated usage & done as a pun), is a gag manga that takes the characters of FotNS and puts them in a 199X world that isn't destroyed by nuclear apocalypse. Therefore, the Hokuto brothers live normal lives (Raoh works in construction, Kenshiro works in an office [Hokuto Hundred Crack Fist does wonders for his typing skills!], and Toki is jobless due to illness; Jagi is still a crook, though), but the big part of the comedy is that all of these characters still maintain the character traits they have in the original series. The manga runs in Monthly Comic Zenon, which is the replacement magazine for Comic Bunch after it shut down, and at the beginning of this year a 12-episode anime adaptation aired on television. Comprised of 3-minute episodes, 3:30 if you count the opening sequence, this show takes no time in getting straight to the jokes and purposefully-awkward situations and can easily be watched fully in one go. But is it good?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Not-So-Rise & Absolute-Fail of Illumitoon Entertainment: Can Anything Be Salvaged?

Readers of this blog might remember me mentioning the name Illumitoon Entertainment a few times already, but something interesting happened to me today in relation to this company. After listening to some music from B't X Neo, which I will review one day, I was reminded that the license was still owned by Illumitoon, who at the beginning of this year changed the copyright listing on their website to 2011, indicating that they were indeed still alive. But today I went to their website for laughs and noticed that in place of the usual black background and pretty rough layout was a message that said this: "This Account Has Been Suspended". It's interesting to see this, as it means that there is a high chance that Illumitoon didn't pay to keep their site up and running, and that hopefully means that the company is either dead or very near to death.

Now normally the death of an anime company should be mourned, but in Illumitoon's case there is nothing to mourn. The company formed back in 2006 and was the brainchild of Barry Watson and others who helped create FUNimation back in the 90s. Illumitoon's goal was the be similar to that of 4Kids, where they would license anime that they would then get aired on television here in North America, but with the major difference being that Illumitoon was also going to offer uncut, dual-audio DVDs for the anime they licensed; it was an attempt to serve both markets. Overall that sounded like a fair idea: The mainstream audience get to watch these shows on TV while the core anime audience gets to own the shows uncut on DVD. Illumitoon also went big and hard with their license choices: Beet the Vandel Buster, which was made up of the original 52-episode TV series from 2004-2005 as well as the 25-episode Excellion sequel series from 2005-2006; B't X, which was made up of the 25-episode TV series from 1996 as well as the 14-episode Neo OVA sequel from 1997-1998; the 51-episode Get Ride! AM Driver TV series from 2004-2005; and finally the 76-episode Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo anime from 2003-2005 (which also aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami block from 2005-2007). Most new companies tend to start small with either a number of shorter series (i.e. OVAs or 12/13-episode TV series) or simply one larger title, but Illumitoon's shortest series had a total of 39 episodes (B't X) and the longest went for 77 episodes (Beet the Vandel Buster)!