Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yakitate!! Japan Part 2: What Does Everybody Need? Bread!!

lortnoc ni eno eht ma I niaga ecnO

Previously on the Yakitate!! Japan Review:
"The first 27 episodes of Yakitate!! Japan are an outstanding start to the anime adaptation of Takashi Hashiguchi's manga, adapting the first six volumes & somewhat into the seventh. The characters are instantly memorable, the humor is on-point, the puns silly & stupid (what other kind of pun is there?), the competition handled very well, & the various bread made insanely mouth-watering."

It's been a good while since I reviewed the first DVD boxset of Yakitate!! Japan from Right Stuf's Nozomi Entertainment label; nearly a half year, in fact. Since that review, the second & third sets have both been released, fulfilling something that I never thought would seriously ever happen. Viz releasing the original Takashi Hashiguchi manga was surprising enough (& I seriously need to grab the many volumes I'm missing of that release), but for Shawne Kleckner & his team to release the anime just over a decade after it's debut is simply outstanding. Anyway, while the first story arc, the Pantasia Rookie Competition, is generally looked at with a lot of love, it's the second story arc (of three) where Yakitate!! starts entering "love it or hate it" territory; some people love how ridiculous the series becomes, while others miss the way it used to be. Where am I on this matter & where might you be? Well let's investigate, shall we?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Full Motion Anime at the Arcade Part 2: I Guess 80s Gamers Weren't Ready for "Interactive Movies" Yet, But Their Kids Are Gonna Love 'Em

The whole concept of the laserdisc arcade game wasn't something that really hit it big, when all is said & done. Dragon's Lair was a giant hit, but almost everything after that had no hope of even reaching a modicum of that success; even Don Bluth's follow-up Space Ace only did so well. Still, companies tried their hardest, but 1985 was the last year that these "clones" of Bluth & RDI's game saw a real push. Therefore, let's see what Japan tried to get out in this last chance year, and then see what stragglers came out following that. Luckily, I'm starting with an LD game that's generally considered one of the all-time best.

The third LD game from Data East, and the second from its partnership with Toei Animation, Road Blaster came out in arcades in August of 1985; don't confuse it with Atari's RoadBlasters from 1987, though they both involve car-on-car violence. Compared to Thunder Storm before it, this game is a bit simpler as the only prompts given are to turn left or right & to either press the brake or activate the turbo, but to an extent it really doesn't matter. Road Blaster tells the tale of an ex-police officer who swears revenge on a diabolical gang after getting horrifically run off the road during his honeymoon, which resulted in the death of his newlywed wife. Indeed, the entire game takes place from the perspective of being behind the wheel of the lead's sweet ride, and while Thunder Storm features some really nice animation, Road Blaster simply looks to be the more memorable game.

Though Hideki Takayama directed once again, the animators behind the second Toei co-production were completely different from the Studio Z5 staff of Thunder Storm. Leading the crew as "Chief Key Animator" was Yoshinobu Inano (an animation director on Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack), and alongside him were the likes of Naoyuki Onda (character designer for Gantz, To-Y, & the Berserk movie trilogy), Hiroyuki Kitazume (characters for Bastard!!, Gundam ZZ, & Urotsukidoji), Hidetoshi Oomori (director of Dan Doh!! & Zaizen Jotaro), & even Satoshi Urushihara (of Langrisser & Growlanser fame). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Kitazume & Oomori's work on this game helped get them to be part of the group of directors that helmed the different parts of 1987 anthology movie Robot Carnival; Kitazume did Starlight Angel, while Oomori did Deprive. The end product features a lot of great animation & the constant movement keeps the game feeling exciting & energizing.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Full Motion Anime at the Arcade Part 1: The 80s FMV Hype Hits Japan

I won't hide that I have a fondness for the FMV genre of video games, & that interview with American Laser Games' Robert Grebe has gotten me looking more & more into full motion video games again. So, to bring this subject back to the majority of this blog's focus, let's go back to FMV's first mini-era of popularity in the mid-80s, back when they were called laserdisc/LD games, & see how anime got involved in it... Because there's a lot more of it out there than most would think.

While Sega technically did it first with Astron Belt, which itself spawned numerous shooting-based FMV imitators, it was Advanced Microcomputer Systems (later RDI Video Systems) & Cinematronics' Dragon's Lair that really made people look at the laserdisc as a new way to make video games. Even though it wasn't exactly big on overall gameplay, as the reliance on nothing but animated video resulted in the player only being able to react to specific moments in each scene, it was the sheer beauty of Don Bluth's animation, combined with the fact that it was a relatively simple game to play, that made Dragon's Lair a giant hit in arcades when it came out on June 19, 1983; it was more than worth the 50 cent charge (the first to do so & double what games of the time asked for). The success of this title didn't simply stay exclusive to North America, however, as another country was inspired by it, and it was the country where the very Pioneer laserdisc players that the game used came from: Japan. Seeing that gamers were interested in playing interactive animated features, a few Japanese game developers decided to try their hand at making their own Dragon's Lair-esque arcade games, and with the country being home to numerous animation studios of its own there were plenty of companies to choose from. The best way to start off, though, was to keep it simple... Why make brand new animation when you can simply take footage from a movie that's still in the minds of the populace?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: The Full Motion Vita of American Laser Games with Robert Grebe

While the concept of the FMV/Full Motion Video Game technically debuted in 1983 with Sega's Astron Belt, the first laserdisc game, & became popular for a short period due to the success of Dragon's Lair, it kind of died down until the 90s, when it made a resurgence that lasted for, more or less, the entire decade; the surge died down around 1995, but the FMV genre was still used to a notable extent up up through 1999. The company that put the genre back into the spotlight was a small group from Albuquerque, New Mexico called American Laser Games, which made its debut in 1990 with the arcade light-gun shooter Mad Dog McCree.

This is the second logo, which most gamers associate with the company

American Laser Games saw its fair share of success during the early-90s with its variety of FMV rail-shooters, which used completely live-action footage in place of traditional graphics of the time (i.e. sprites). Around the time the FMV genre started to die out, though, so too did ALG, eventually being bought out by spin-off company Her Interactive, which is still in business to this day & makes the Nancy Drew series of adventure games for girls; ALG titles still see the occasional re-release nowadays by way of Digital Leisure, though. With FMV making a slight comeback in the past couple of years, with indie games like Her Story, Contradiction - Spot the Liar!, & Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure, I was curious if there was any sort of retrospective on the company that brought the genre back to the gaming populace for its biggest run, and there was none. I decided on a whim to look for a way to contact the man who founded ALG, and once I did I sent him an e-mail asking for an opportunity to talk about the old days... For some reason, he said "I would be happy to."

I now give you two ways to experience the conversation/interview I had with Robert Grebe:
-Watching it on YouTube, with video of various ALG titles accompanying it, by this link
-Reading a transcription of the entire thing, by simply continuing to read. In this text version, I added in some post-interview clarifications, which will be housed in italicized brackets.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Theory Musing: The Six Mysteries of Anime & Manga That Need Answers

This is a bit of a spontaneous post for the blog, more so than usual, and it's because I've been recognized by another site. Anime/manga blogging duo the Reverse Thieves, who host the annual Anime Secret Santa (which I was a part of last year), were "nominated" by Anime Madhouse for a Free Spirit Award. Though technically not an actual award, it still showcases a sign of respect & appreciation for the work of another, with the added challenge of having to answer a question given by the nominator. After answering the question on his/her/their blog, the nominee(s) then nominate other people/sites for the award, alongside a question of their choosing.

Well, turns out that Kate/Narutaki & Alain/Hisui decided to include me as one of their five nominations at the end of their response post. First off, thank you both for the nomination; it's just nice to be assured that people really do read my blog & enjoy it. Second, I must now respond to the question they had for their nominees, and it's appropriately related to the Thieves' general blogging theme.

“What are five mysteries of anime and manga you need the answers to?”

There are plenty of things that we, as fans of anime & manga, know about when it comes to these mediums, and there is plenty of info that can be found out with some research. That being said, though, there are tons of things that we still don't know the answers to, no matter how much you look; even Japanese Wikipedia & the like are useless in these cases. So, to answer Kate & Alain's question, I will look at five different mysteries in anime & manga, and each will follow a step in the "Kipling Method" of investigation, research, & journalism, a.k.a. the Five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, & Why. (Hey, I have a BA in Journalism & Media Studies, so I better use it in some way, right?) Not just that, but I'll even go another step forward & include a bonus mystery that goes off of the occasionally-included sixth step: How. Finally, to stay true to the "Theory Musing" category that I'm putting this post into, I'll bring up my personal theories as to the answers behind each of them.