Monday, October 31, 2016

Vampire Hunter D (the Game): D Doesn't "Survive"... Everyone Survives Him!

Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D is easily going to go down as the man's magnum opus. Considering how iconic & successful the series is, with over 40 novels (& still going), two anime adaptations (one a cult-classic & the other beloved), five audio dramas that covered three stories, a manga adaptation of the novels (which sadly only lasted seven volumes [eight in Japan & France]), an upcoming CG animated series, & even an upcoming five-issue American comic series that was crowdfunded via Kickstarter, you'd think something like video games would be a no-brainer, right? Well, you'd be right by thinking that, but only just. Developed & published by Victor Interactive Software (formerly Pack-In-Video, & now Marvelous Entertainment), the sole Vampire Hunter D video game is a survival horror-influenced affair that was released in Japan on December 9, 1999, just a couple of weeks before (the also vampire-themed) Countdown Vampires saw release, with an international release in 2000 by Jaleco in North America & JVC in Europe; in fact, this was the last game released in North America with the original Jaleco logo. Acting partially as a pre-release tie-in with Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, does this game work as an adaptation of the single-lettered dunpeal hunter's adventures, and is it even a good game in the first place?

Well, the answer to the first question is easy, but the answer to the second is tougher.

When playing on a PS3, the title splash & menu is just a black screen.

A "Noble" vampire named Meier Link has kidnapped a woman named Charlotte in the supposed name of love, and her father wants her back. He has decided to hire the half-vampire dunpeal D to retrieve Charlotte, with D's search ending at the Castle of Chaythe, where Meier & Charlotte are hiding. At the same time, though, the hunter group called the Marcus Brothers have also arrived at the castle, as they've been hired by Charlotte's brother to bring her back. As D searches the castle for Charlotte he slowly comes to the realization that Meier may not have actually "kidnapped" Charlotte, and that the castle hides something truly sinister inside.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Different Type of "DD": Comparing Both Vampire Hunter D Anime

In terms of iconic Japanese horror authors, there may be none more prolific than Hideyuki Kikuchi. From the moment his debut novel, Demon City Shinjuku, saw its first release in Japan in 1982, the man was identified as something special, and in the years since the now-67 years old university student of Kazuo Koike has created a truly iconic catalog of Japanese prose, & even manga, dealing with either horror, the occult, or any combination of the two. Titles like Wicked City, Darkside Blues, A Wind Named Amnesia, & the novel adaptation of Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko are likely all familiar with older anime & manga fans due to nearly all of them having received an anime adaptation of some sort (or were an anime first in Leda's case), but out of all of Kikuchi's work, there is probably one series that trumps them all, and it stars a man known only be a single letter.

Debuting back in 1983, Vampire Hunter D features Kikuchi's celebrated writing as well as artwork done by the similarly legendary Yoshitaka Amano, with the two working together often in general. The novel series takes place in the extremely far future, 12,090 AD is often stated, after a nuclear war in 1999 destroyed humanity, with vampires having taking over as the apex species of Earth. In the ten millennia since then, though, the "Nobility" (as the vampires call themselves) have slowly started dying off, with professional killers called Vampire Hunters becoming more & more popular among the human populace. The most successful, powerful, & beautiful of them all, though, is a man known as "D", though his status as a dhampir/dunpeal (i.e. a half-vampire) makes him hated by his professional rivals. VHD has gone on to be a highly inspirational novel series in Japan, & still sees new works to this very day. Currently, there are 43 novels comprising 30 stories, and that's not including the various spin-offs, side stories, & even prequels that have been made or are still being made. Naturally, this would result in anime adaptations, but so far there have only been two... And they are honestly pretty different from each other.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Obscusion B-List: Survival Horror Firsts Not Done by Resident Evil

Last month I celebrated the 20th Anniversary of The House of the Dead, but we all know what horror game franchise is getting the pomp & circumstance that a double-decade anniversary deserves this year. March 22, 1996 saw the original Japanese release of Capcom's Biohazard on the Sony PlayStation, and a week later the game saw North American release under the name Resident Evil, due to the word "Biohazard" not being copyrightable over here. The game not only marked the directorial debut of Shinji Mikami (Dino Crisis, God Hand, Vanquish), but also coined the phrase "survival horror" that has gone on the define an entire genre. The phrase is so defining that even Frédérick Raynal's Alone in the Dark, which first came out in 1992 & helped inspire Mikami's team, has been retroactively deemed to be survival horror. This also applies to an extent to 1989's Sweet Home, a Famicom RPG by Capcom based on the horror movie of the same name; in fact, Resident Evil was originally conceived as a remake of this game.

In the end, while Alone in the Dark & Sweet Home did introduce a lot of concepts that Mikami & producer Tokuro Fujiwara also used in their game, Resident Evil still did a number of things first for the genre it coined... Or did it? Yes, the franchise did do some things first, but many things that RE is generally credited for are not actually concepts & ideas that were done first via that franchise. This is not me trying to lessen the impact or importance of one of Capcom's biggest franchises, but rather I want to take the opportunity to give credit to six "survival horror" video games that did introduce concepts to the genre before Resident Evil eventually utilized them; in fact, one of them has yet to even be used by the series. I guess think of it as me celebrating the 20th Anniversary of "survival horror" more than anything. Regardless, let's get going before a zombie comes up from behind & bites me in the jugular.

Starting off this list is easily the most obscure one of them all, but is probably the most important of them. When Raynal made Alone in the Dark, PCs at the time could render some 3D polygons, but in the end his team decided on using polygonal characters on top of bitmap-rendered 2D backdrops, with cinematic camera angles to create tension. Similarly, when Mikami & Fujiwara made Resident Evil, they decided that having it be completely 3D was too much for the original PlayStation to handle, so they went with polygonal characters on top of pre-rendered environments alongside cinematic camera angles. Capcom wouldn't create a full-3D survival horror game until 1999's Dino Crisis, & the first full-3D RE games wouldn't be until 2000 with Survivor & Code:Veronica, but the fact of the matter is that survival horror went full-3D six years prior to when Capcom did it. In fact, it did so before Resident Evil was even fully developed.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Haunted Junction: There's a Review on the Grounds! All Readers on the Double!! WELCOME!!!

Two years ago, I decided to make the entire month of October all about horror, minus the first post (which was conceptually a carryover from September). Well, this year I'm in the same situation, where the first post was originally planned for the month prior, but wound up being an early October piece. Therefore, let's just do a repeat of 2014 & make the rest of this month all about the eerie & mystic. Unlike usual, though, we'll be starting things off with the mirror image of what one assume when things like monsters, ghosts, & things that go "bump" in the night is thought of. Instead, let's start with some levity.

The hiragana used for "Junction" actually looks
a little like the word would in English. Nice touch.

Back in 2012, I did an overview of the early days of modern late-night anime (i.e. treating TV anime like infomercials for the upcoming home video release), and one of the earliest proponents of this method of producing & airing anime was Studio DEEN. The studio's first Eat-Man anime from 1997 was the second-ever modern-day late-night anime, following Group TAC's Those Who Hunt Elves, and DEEN would follow that up with a bunch of early anime made for those wee hours of the night, with Next Senki Ehrgeiz, Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy, Shadow Skill, AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-, Eat-Man '98, & the studio's various output for TBS' Wonderful time slot (Iketeru Futari, Let's Dance With Papa, Nippon-ichi no Otoko no Tamashii, Momoiru Sisters); one could even count 1996-1997's Violinist of Hameln, which felt like a late-night anime. In fact, minus Rurouni Kenshin (which DEEN took over from Studio Gallop for the much-maligned final third), some assistance work & two OVAs, Studio DEEN's entire 1997 & 1998 output was put towards late-night anime. I did leave one anime out of this list, though, & that's where this review comes in...

When it came to where the material for a lot of this early late-night anime came from, one of the sources was MediaWorks' now-defunct Monthly Dengeki Comic GAO!. This is the same for Nemu Mukudori's Haunted Junction, which ran for 13 volumes from 1996-2001. This manga is generally considered Mukudori's most iconic, so its no surprise that it received a late-night TV anime adaptation during the Spring of 1997 by Studio DEEN. Interestingly enough, the anime still remains without a DVD release in Japan (VHS & LD only over there), but when it was picked up by for North American release, it not only received a full VHS release in 1999 (half of which was positively reviewed by ANN way back when), but also found itself a sub-only DVD boxset when the company was renamed Bandai Entertainment in 2000. Nowadays, Haunted Junction is a highly forgotten anime from a time when DVD was just starting to gain prominence (hence why we got a DVD, while Japan has yet), but the few who do remember it seem to look back on it fondly. That's why, as someone who got into anime years after its last release, I want to see if this is a lost gem that should be given a new release over here (or even in Japan), or if it's been forgotten for good reason.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Demo Disc Vol. 7: Badd Banned Broadcasts

Mistakes are a natural part of life; everyone will make them, & some are embarrassing. When these mistakes happen, there tends to be two main solutions to them, which is either accept it & ask for forgiveness... Or sweep it under the rug & act like it never happened in the first place, even if it results in there being an obvious lump in said rug that everyone notices but few actually ask about because it'd be rude to do so. When it happens in media this can result in what one can deem to be "banned" productions. They don't happen all too often, and sometimes it only extends to certain countries, but this is a rare occurrence that has even affected the anime & manga landscape. Therefore, this volume of Demo Disc will differ from the usual multi-entry offering in that I won't be looking at just the first episodes of various shows (at least, not all are the first episodes), and they don't have anything in common from a content perspective. Instead, these are four anime episodes (plus one manga chapter!) that have been banned to varying extents across the world. Technically, I shouldn't be able to check these out & write about them for you, but some other fans just don't care.

Let's take a look at what we actually aren't allowed to, shall we? Hell, two of them come from Pokémon!

(WARNING: As these are mostly not the introductions for each of these series, spoilers may vary wildly in importance... So don't complain if I wind up spoiling something to some extent. Sorry.)

Cucuruz Doan's Island
Our first example is proof that the act of "banning" something can be solely due to personal vendettas, and who better to showcase that than Yoshiyuki Tomino. A man of very specific tastes, it isn't exactly hard to disappoint the creator of Gundam, especially in his younger years, and what he does when he isn't happy varies wildly. For example, he was the director for the first half of the iconic Sunrise mech anime Brave Raideen, but supposedly left the production because he didn't want to direct a seemingly derivative super robot toy commercial; Tadao Nagahama would then take over & turn it into a prototype of his more story-focused Robot Romance Trilogy. Later on, if Tomino wanted to kill off his entire cast then he would, and if he never wanted an episode of anime to ever see the (official) light of day outside of Japan because he had a personal vendetta against someone... Well, then you get Episode 15 of Mobile Suit Gundam, which aired on July 14, 1979.

After managing to land on Earth to join the One Year War's Terran front & defeating Garma Zabi in battle, Gundam pilot Amuro Ray & the crew of the Earth Federation's White Base come across an automatic SOS signal emanating from Point 305. What Amuro finds is an island inhabited only by four children & Cucuruz Doan, a former Zeon pilot who went AWOL after refusing to kill said children after a wild shot from Doan killed their parents; he instead took them & fled. After being knocked out by Doan in a short skirmish, Amuro tries looking for his Core Fighter, which Doan hid away, before a Zaku scout happens across the island.