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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Obscusion B-List: "That One Song" from B-Tier (or Lower) Fighters

Back in mid-2015, I did the very first Obscusion B-List, and in it I celebrated six small-name, at best, fighting games that had soundtracks that were simply stellar. Simply put, it can be argued that if a fighting game doesn't have a truly memorable soundtrack, then it almost doesn't matter what kind of outstanding mechanics, flow, & gameplay it has. Granted, this does sound a bit like hyperbole, but consider some of the most iconic fighting games of all time, & then try to deny that at least one song from each of them won't suddenly start playing in your head. Almost any Street Fighter (even the first, honestly), King of Fighters, Guilty Gear, SoulCalibur, Vs. Series, & Tekken game, among others, has a wide variety of instantly memorable stage or character themes to them... Even if it's really just "That One Song".

Therefore, let me give credence, respect, & credit to six lesser-known fighting games that aren't quite known for their soundtracks as a whole, but each have "That One Song" that transcends their limited notoriety & should be celebrated. And since I ended that first B-List with a Toshinden game, let me start this list with another.

Recently, Sony announced the complete 20-game line-ups for the two versions (International & Japan) of this December's PlayStation Classic, and one pick that got people talking, for various reasons, was the original Battle Arena Toshinden. Originally released alongside the PS1's launch in every territory, the 3D fighting game was Tamsoft's second game ever, the first was the Game Boy version of Samurai Shodown a couple of months earlier, but Sony hyped it up beyond all belief as a killer app. I had polygonal graphics that were notably more detailed than Sega's original Virtua Fighter (VF2 just came out in arcades, & wouldn't be released on Saturn for another year), & its use of a sidestep maneuver made it the first "true" 3D fighter. Once more advanced games, like Tekken, came out, though, Sony dropped it like a hot potato (except in Europe, where SCEE would release up through BAT3), and reaction towards it since has been mixed, mainly due to its stiffer gamplay & how it's aged compared to some of its contemporaries. It also didn't help that Tamsoft was already working to port the game to the Saturn, which would see release in late 1995 in Japan as Toshinden S, & internationally in 1996 as Battle Arena Toshinden Remix.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Night Head Genesis: Carry On, My Psychic Sons... Wear Your Weary Minds to Rest...

Previously on the Sci-Fi Harry Review:
"Watching this show definitely makes me interested in watching Night Head Genesis, so that might just be a future review one day... There's always next Halloween, right?"

Five years later is "next Halloween"... Right? Oh well, better late than never. Happy Halloween!

Back in 2013, I celebrated All Hallows' Eve by putting out a review of Sci-Fi Harry (you can put the lead character's name in all caps, if you prefer), which was the creation of Joji "George" Iida. Today, the man is known as a master of supernatural movies, like Rasen (the original sequel to The Ring), Another Heaven (based on one of Iida's own books), & Dragon Head (based on the manga). Before all of those, though, there was the series that made Iida a name in Japan, Night Head. Airing from October 1992 to March 1993, Night Head was a supernatural live-action drama series featuring psychics & the like that ran for 21 episodes via late-night, because the producers felt that stories featuring espers weren't as appealing at the moment. Luckily for Iida, the series became a surprise hit, especially with women, so it received a side-story TV special, Night Head: The Other Side, half way through the show's run, and in November 1994 there was a theatrical film, Night Head: The Movie, which told a new story that took place after the TV series.

Being a writer, Iida also wrote various novels based on Night Head, either retelling the series, retelling the movie (NH: The Trial), telling another side-story (NH: Deep Forest), & even telling a brand new sequel story (NH: Inducer). There were also a few manga adaptations during the 90s & early 00s, a PS1 game (NH: The Labyrinth), & even a cell phone app for i-mode-compatible phones (NH: The Gods of Misofagata)! As for where 2000's Sci-Fi Harry fits into all of this, the only explanation I can find indicates that it's the original concept that Iida thought of back in the day before refining it into Night Head, kind of like how Go Nagai's Devilman was a refinement of Demon Lord Dante before it; admittedly, Harry's US-based storytelling would have been impossible to make in Japan. Anyway, Iida would make one last return to his breakout hit in 2006 with Night Head Genesis, a TV anime remake of the original series, where he'd handle the writing. The anime ran for 24 episodes throughout the second half of 2006, & like its originator also aired in late-night, and from 2008 to 2009 Media Blasters released the anime on sub-only DVD; there was also a three-volume manga version that Del Rey licensed, but only two saw release. So, to close another loose thread I've left open for years, it's time to finally check out Night Head Genesis.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: GamePro Presents The PlayStation 2 & PlayStation Encyclopedia

With "retro gaming" being as notable of a market as it is today, it's not surprising that some people have published their own "comprehensive" books detailing all sorts of old gaming subjects, especially about how specific games hold up. Hardcore Gaming 101 has published its own series of books covering specific publishers & genres, Pat "the NES Punk" Contri has his "Ultimate Guide" to the NES library (with one for the SNES in the works), & you can find books of this ilk for things like the North American Master System catalog & even the entire Game & Watch roster. Over a decade before all of these, though, was a curious spin-off published by IDG's GamePro magazine, then self-described as the "World's Largest Multiplatform Gaming Magazine", that dared to compile reviews for every game for a single console, the Sony PlayStation.

On October 26, 2000, Sony released the PlayStation 2 in North America, and with its precursor console absolutely dominating the market during the second half of the 90s, GamePro wanted to be a part of the PS2's launch. So, at some point around the console's launch, you could find a 160-page, magazine-sized book titled GamePro Presents The PlayStation 2 & PlayStation Encyclopedia, which sold for "Only $5.99" & claimed to be "The Ultimate Guide to Every PlayStation Game". As for a rough release date, the PS1 reviews contained within cover up to a few games released in October/November 2000, with the most recent looking to be Breath of Fire IV, so I'd put the magazine as having been released either November or December of that year. I actually bought this book back when it came out in the day, so I'm curious about how well this compilation of GamePro reviews holds up, or if it's nothing more than a look at how gaming journalism was like during the 90s.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Obscusion B-List: Longshot ACA Neo Geo Hopefuls

On November 1, 1999, the game division of Toshiba-EMI spun-off into a company named Hamster Corporation, and from its very conception the entire purpose of Hamster has been to re-release video games. It started off with your standard physical re-releases of PS1 games, like Overblood, Magical Drop F, Shienryu (a.k.a. Gekioh: Shooting King), & Wolf Fang, before moving into new releases of old arcade games on the PS2 through the Oretachi Game Center Zoku series, & then helping release PS1 & PS2 games digitally on the PS Store via the "PS Archives" line, better known as "PSOne/2 Classics" internationally. What people know Hamster for the most today, however, is the Arcade Archives series, which strives to release the original arcade versions of various old-school games to modern formats via the absolute best emulation possible, and "ACA" has been the first ever home release many of these games ever received; most of it is only available on PS4, but the Switch has been seeing some games as well. Starting back in May of 2014, Arcade Archives has since released (& is planning release of) 83 arcade games, but after just two years Hamster started a spin-off of this series, one with a more laser-targeted focus.

On October 27, 2016, Hamster released The King of Fighters '94, the first in the ACA Neo Geo sub-series, which would be solely dedicated to re-releases of games originally put into arcades via SNK's Neo Geo hardware; this line is available on PS4, Switch, Xbox One, & Windows. Take note that these re-releases are specifically of the MVS versions released in arcades, unlike the Wii Virtual Console, which re-released the AES versions for home. As of this article, Hamster has since released (& is planning release of) 95 Neo Geo titles, which is more than the main series, and with only 156 games ever officially released for the hardware, that means that roughly 60% of the entire Neo Geo catalog is now available for purchase on modern consoles, which is amazing. In fact, similar to the main series, ACA Neo Geo has resulted in the first-ever home releases of some games, like Gururin, Prehistoric Isle 2, Zed Blade, & ZuPaPa!. Now while I'm sure Hamster's ideal goal is to eventually release all 156 games, I'd imagine that some just aren't going to be possible, due to various reasons. For example, licensed games like Eight Man, Legend of Success Joe, & Chibi Maruko-chan: Maruko Deluxe Quiz might be too unlikely to happen, while untranslated & Japan-centric titles like the various mahjong, shogi, & quiz games may either never see re-release or will simply remain Japan-exclusives; to be fair, Hamster has released Japanese-only games internationally via the main line, like Ikki.

Still, even after all of that, I found six games that I feel are longshots for ACA Neo Geo, but still have some hope of a chance for them to see inclusion one day. Also, I found an unreleased, 157th Neo Geo game that could possibly see its first ever official release.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Waffenhund Panzer: A Metal Max Retrospective

Post-Apocalyptic visions of the future have been around in fiction for longer than anyone can remember, & Mary Shelley's The Last Man from 1826 is generally considered the first "modern" example of the genre, but in the past 30 or 40 years it's really started to become much more focused, defined, & expected. Today, it's easy to think of fallout-riddled wastelands filled with road warriors & legendary omega men that roam about metal jungles on planets of new dawns due to the fact that war never changes. Out of all of the countless takes on the post-apocalypse, though, one has always dared to be different, challenged the status quo, and found no hesitation in being the most bizarre of all...

In 1986, Hiroshi Miyaoka was a 27-year old college drop-out from Shinjuku's Waseda Unversity, working as a "free writer" for video games. He eventually was brought on to work as a scenario assistant & dungeon designer for a new RPG on the Nintendo Famicom being lead by Yuji Horii, a friend from his little "Wizardry Club"; the game was called Dragon Quest. Yes, Miyaoka was a part of the iconic franchise's earliest days, and wound up being an essential part of "The Roto Trilogy" that comprised the first three games. Following the release of Dragon Quest III in early 1988, though, Miyaoka decided to start up his own development studio, Crea-Tech, with the intention of creating his own RPG. Unlike Horii's creation, however, Miyaoka's would be the complete opposite, conceptually; ads for the game even said, "We've had enough of dragon slaying!". Where Dragon Quest was generally linear & fantasy-based, this new RPG would be as non-linear as possible & influenced by post-apocalyptic works, like George Miller's iconic Mad Max Trilogy. In fact, Crea-Tech made no attempt at hiding the influence of those movies, because the game would be called Metal Max.

With today marking the English release of Metal Max Xeno, the latest entry in the franchise, I figure now is the perfect time to give a detailed overview & retrospective on Metal Max, from it's humble start on the Famicom, to the death of its original trademark holder & creation of an offshoot series, to its revival for the modern era. So let's head out in our tanks, with our rocket launcher-strapped dogs, & get into a "Battle with the Wanted"!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Retrospect in Retrograde: B't X (from Masami Kurumada)

I've mentioned this on the blog before, but Saint Seiya is NOT how I got into the works of Masami Kurumada, which is totally unlike most people around the world. I remember seeing ads for DiC's Knights of the Zodiac back it was getting ready to air in 2003, and they didn't make me interested at all; rather they made me actively want to avoid it. Now that I've just seen that dub, though, I worry that, had I seen it back then, I'd have never given anything else by Kurumada a chance. After I started becoming a full-on anime fan in 2004, though, I started looking for shows to see via fansubs, and one that caught my eye was B't X (pronounced "Beat X"); if anything, the interesting spelling made me curious. At first, I was hesitant, especially after finding out that it was from the same creator as KotZ, but I decided to not hold this anime accountable for something that I had no interest in seeing, so I watched it. Needless to say, I really enjoyed what I saw, & after then giving the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime a try & liking that, I finally decided to give Saint Seiya a try, but through the manga this time around. Now, 14 years later, I'm a true-blue "Masamist", though today Kurumada seems to prefer the term "mabudachi/true friend", according to his site.

Of course, little did I know until recently that I actually first "saw" B't X via one of its Newtype Magazine posters making a cameo in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, years before it first became officially available North America... So maybe me becoming a Kurumada fan through B't X was just my destiny.

Therefore, when Illumitoon Entertainment announced in 2006 that it would be releasing the B't X anime on DVD here in North America, I was ecstatic. So imagine my disappointment in 2007 when Ilumitoon's first release, Beet the Vandel Buster Volume 1, came with "dubtitles" in place of proper subtitles (which weren't even timed to the Japanese audio!), an English dub that jammed in its own music, & the original Japanese OP & ED sequences being tossed aside as extras with video encoding so poor that I think I could have done a better job back then. Granted, B't X's first DVD didn't have that last problem, but the other two were still there, and with a sad heart I refused to buy it. To no surprise, Illumitoon stopped putting out DVDs before the year was over, with one of the final releases being B't X Volume 2, which was at least a proper release with accurate subtitles (plus a silly "from Masami Kurumada" on the top of both the cover & the DVD itself); it was too late by then, though. Then, in 2008, it was announced that B't X & AM Driver's dubs would be made available on-demand via The Anime Network, just for people to eventually realize that Illumitoon only dubbed up to Episode 14 for both shows. Since then, TokyoPop showed one last hint of a heart by finishing up the B't X manga in late 2010, following a two-year hiatus, and after that I pretty much gave up hope for B't X ever being given another chance here... Until 2016, that is.

At AnimeFest that year, Anime Midstream announced that it would releasing B't X on DVD in North America, complete with a brand-new English dub, and said release finally happened just last month in the form of a complete TV series boxset; in fact, it even became the #4 Best-Selling DVD release at Right Stuf for a week or two! So I think it's time for me to revisit the anime that started my path to becoming a fan of Masami Kurumada for the first time in roughly eight years, and see if it still makes me feel the same way it did back in 2004. Also, I want to see what Anime Midstream & Sound Cadence Studios brought to the table with this new English dub, & I even decided to buy those two Illumitoon DVDs so that I can finally see what the original dub was like for the first eight episodes. Battle Gear... ON!!!!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Theory Musing: Ehrgeiz is Cyberbots!?

Licensed properties can sometimes be a tricky thing to work with, especially since it's owned by a different party than the one working with it. In fact, sometimes said licensed property can be taken away from the production, which just throws a giant wrench into the works. A perfect example would be cult-classic 1990 NES game Journey to Silius, or Rough World in Japan, which was initially meant to be based on The Terminator, but had to be altered after Sunsoft lost the rights. Now while this resulted in the plot of the game having to change, there are still some bits & pieces in the game that hint at what it was originally meant to be, simply because it'd be impossible to remove or alter every little aspect before release. It does make one wonder, though, if something like this ever happened with anime. Well, at least according to various Japanese blogs & even Wikipedia Japan, there might just be an instance of an anime getting the Journey to Silius treatment...

I've written numerous times about the late 1997 TV anime Next Senki/Record of Next War Ehrgeiz before, & how I will forever have a soft spot for it, even though it's been completely forgotten with time; it just "clicks" with me. Now when it comes to the first ever mech anime to air in late-night, most people will quickly assume that it has an association with the 3D fighting game of the (almost same exact) name, 1998's Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring, especially since the game came out in arcades around the same time the anime was receiving its (only) home video release in Japan. Those people would be wrong, though, since the two Ehrgeiz-es have absolutely nothing in common, aside from both using the German word for "ambition" in their titles; they also share a couple of voice actors, coincidentally. But what would you say if the anime may actually have a link to another video game, one that is mech-based? Specifically, was Next Senki Ehrgeiz really an aborted adaptation of Capcom's Cyberbots?

For those unfamiliar, Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness originally came out in April 1995 for Capcom's CPS2 arcade hardware, & was a 1-on-1 fighting game where you took control of giant robots piloted by a variety of different characters; it was the spiritual successor to 1994 beat-em-up Armored Warriors, as they used the same mechs. While it did become a bit of a cult favorite over time, today it's best known as the game that Marvel vs. Capcom 1 & 2 pulled Jin Saotome (& his mech Blodia) from. Unlike most Capcom fighters of the time, though, Cyberbots wasn't ported to home consoles for a whole two years, with the first being the Sega Saturn version on March 28, 1997. Now, in terms of any relation to Next Senki Ehrgeiz, the Saturn port still predated the anime's debut later that year on October 2, but the second console port is where things get interesting. You see, the Sony PlayStation wouldn't see a port of Cyberbots until December 25, 1997... The same day (sort of, since the show aired at "25:15" on December 24) that Ehrgeiz's final episode aired on TV Tokyo! While one can chalk up the port's delayed release down to the PS1 not being as friendly for 2D fighting games, though the Saturn version didn't require the RAM expansion cart to play (it did improve performance, however), maybe the port was also delayed so that an anime adaptation could be made to help promote it... At least, that's if these Japanese blogs are correct. So, to change things up for Theory Musing, allow me to ruminate on a theory made by others & see if there's something to this idea that Next Senki Ehrgeiz was originally meant to be a Cyberbots anime.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

DiC's Knights of the Zodiac: I Just Ran, I Ran So Far Away, But I Couldn't Get Away...

Today, in the year 2018, it's not hard for someone in English-speaking anime/manga fandom to give Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya a try, especially when it comes to the anime side of things. In fact, almost every single Seiya anime production currently made is fully available in English, either via streaming or home video, with the only exceptions being the last two movies & the entire second half (Episodes 74-114) of the original 1986-1989 TV anime adaptation by Toei; some of these options even have English dubs. Come next year, I don't think this will change in any way once the Saintia Sho & all-CG Netflix reboot anime series both debut, either, since the former will obviously be simulcasted over at CrunchyRoll, at the very least, while the latter is meant for international distribution, especially in English. However, things were completely different in the year 2003, as before then Saint Seiya had never seen any sort of official English release, either via anime or manga. Fifteen years ago, this series finally came to the United States of America & Canada, i.e. "North of Mexico"... But I'm sure even Toei Animation & Masami Kurumada himself would prefer that you forget all about it.

In June of 2003, ICv2 reported that DiC Entertainment had licensed the Saint Seiya anime & was producing an edited version that would air on Cartoon Network later that year titled Knights of the Zodiac, which was the English version of the name that the anime had become known as when it was exported around the world during the 90s & became a smash hit, especially in European & South American territories. As DiC CEO Andy Heyward pointed out, "There has never been a Japanese series that has been a mega-hit in Asia, Europe and South America that has failed to become a mega-hit in the U.S.", and considering the success DiC had with Sailor Moon previously, it made sense to give Seiya a go. So KotZ debuted in the U.S. on August 30, 2003 at 7:00 PM, being the new lead show for Cartoon Network's Saturday Video Entertainment System block, or SVES, which acted as a sort of weekend counterpart to Toonami, which aired on prime time on weekdays. The show kept that lead time slot up through October, which covered the first nine episodes, before getting moved to a 12:30 AM "death slot" that November, where it would stay until SVES was outright killed off after April 10, 2004; the block would be replaced by Toonami's move to Saturday evenings, but KotZ was left behind. Of the 40 episodes of Saint Seiya that DiC had adapted into Knights of the Zodiac, only 32 actually aired on Cartoon Network, 23 of which were barely seen by anyone, due to the "death slot". Canada's broadcast on YTV, which started a day after the US, did air all 40 episodes, however.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary: Well... It's Definitely a Different Take on the Series, I'll Give it That

Back in May of 2011, plus the end of that prior April, I reviewed the four non-canon movies made for Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya during the run of the original TV anime, plus the fifth movie from early 2004 that was meant to lead into a proper continuation of the manga story, but wound up being made non-canon by Kurumada's eventual Saint Seiya Next Dimension manga. At that time, that's all there was when it came to movies based on that series, but in February of 2012 a "New Masami Kurumada Project" was announced, as the first "Masami Kurumada Project" from late 2010 was Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen. The only things known were that it was tentatively titled "Saint Seiya the Movie", would be directed by Keiichi Satou (Asura, Tiger & Bunny), & looked to an all-CG affair, similar to Shinji Aramaki's Harlock: Space Pirate that would come out a year later; both films were co-produced by Toei & Marza Animation Planet (Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, next year's Sonic the Hedgehog movie). Following this, there was no new info whatsoever until October 2013, when it was revealed to be titled Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary & later given a June 2014 premiere at the Annecy Animated Film Festival. It'd debut in Japanese theaters ten days later, followed by numerous showings around the world... Except for the United States & Canada, of course. Since then, the movie has yet to be given any sort of "North of Mexico" release, even though the Japanese Blu-Ray & DVD both have a perfectly fine English subtitle translation, likely the one used for Annecy.

So how is this sixth Saint Seiya movie, the one meant to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary as a mangaka, & even featured Kurumada himself as an often-consulted "Chief Executive Producer"? Well... It's... "Interesting", to say the least.

Saori Kido is the adoptive granddaughter of the late Mitsumasa Kido, a rich mogul, & has special healing powers, but doesn't know why. On her 16th birthday, her butler Tatsumi says that her powers are that of "Cosmo", the inner strength inside all beings, and that she is actually the Greek goddess Athena. Mitsumasa & Tatsumi came across her as a baby 16 years ago in the Himalayas, when she was taken away from Sanctuary by a wounded "Saint", the guardians of Athena, named Sagittarius Aiolos, as he discovered that the Pope of Sanctuary wanted to kill her & install a fake in her place; in his last breath, he gave Saori & his Sagittarius Cloth to Mitsumasa. In turn, Mitsumasa searched for young boys who he then sent out around the world to train to become Saints who will protect the real Athena. Saori & Tatsumi are then attacked by assassins from Sanctuary, only to be rescued by Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Andromeda Shun, & Cygnus Hyoga, who were the boys that Tatsumi was taking Saori to meet at the airport. Saori has no time to come to terms with all of these revelations, though, as later that night she & the Bronzes all attacked by Leo Aiolia, Aiolos' younger brother, only for him to realize that Saori may actually be the real Athena, after all. Saori & the Bronzes decide to head to Sanctuary & put an end to all this confusion, especially when Saori is hit with an energy arrow by Sagitta Ptolemy, which allows the Pope to absorb Saori's Cosmo over time.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Otakon 25 in 2018: Remaining Steadfast Against Great Odds

Back in 2013, Otakon went all out for the 20th iteration of the "Convention of Otaku Generation", but I wonder how many people actually realized that this year was the 25th (read: not the 25th anniversary, which will be next year). To match that, some have argued that the roster of guests this year was a bit lacking, even though icons like voice actor Nobutoshi Canna & Macross creator Shoji Kawamori came over for the weekend; sure, Mr. CreepyPasta was an odd choice, but I won't complain. Still, the panels themselves were mostly outstanding, or at least the ones I went to, the Washington DC area is starting to feel more & more familiar, & the convention center still felt really open & uncrowded, even with this year being the fifth-most attended Otakon ever; don't be surprised if they go past 30,000 once again next year.

Sure, there are still some problems, like the autographs always feeling like a work-in-progress after 25 years of experience to figure out what to do(!), but Otakon has proven that the move to DC is truly for the best, and the fans came to the city in such a large number that a white supremacist rally planned for Sunday wound up being absolutely innocuous, partially because there wasn't enough space in the hotels for them! Anyway, as always, allow me to go over what I personally held at Otakon, because I was more than pleased with the results.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Ages of Jump Redux Part 2: The Iron-Forged Future is in "Our" (read: Japan's) Hands

So in the two(-ish ) years since the original Ages of Jump, a lot of things have happened related to the mangaka & titles I brought up back then. Play Ball received a currently-running sequel, 2017's Play Ball 2 by Yuji Moritaka, & I've heard it's very faithful to the style of the late Akio Chiba. Kochikame surprised everyone by ending in late 2016, after 40 years & 200 volumes, and a new anime TV special was made to celebrate. Captain Tsubasa finally saw a new anime adaptation by David Production, which is still airing right now & about to make its English debut on Primo TV. Speaking of David Pro, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind's anime adaptation will be debuting this October, after having its first episode premiere at Anime Expo. Dragon Ball Super ended not long ago, for the time being, & a new movie is in production. City Hunter is getting a new anime film by Sunrise that's set to debut on February 8, 2019, featuring the original cast & director. Goku!! Otokojuku ended, & has since been followed up with Shin/True!! Otokojuku. Saint Seiya is getting a full-CG remake series that will air on Netflix in 2019, under the Knights of the Zodiac name, and spin-off manga Saintia Sho is getting a Toei-produced TV anime that same year.

Yes, this is nothing but re-purposing already existing artwork... But it still looks awesome.

The Hana no Keiji spin-off manga franchise will be coming to an end later this year. Yu Yu Hakusho is getting its first new anime production, an OVA, in over 20 years. Hoshin Engi finally received a new TV anime adaptation, almost 10 years after Shomei TV's alleged attempt at gauging interest. Hiroyuki Takei left Shueisha & moved to Kodansha, taking all of the Shaman King rights with him... Oops. Bleach finally came to an end in 2017, totaling 74 volumes. Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation finally received an anime adaptation that just debuted last week! Toriko ended in 2016, totaling 43 volumes. To-Love-Ru Darkness ended in early 2017 after 18 volumes, giving that whole franchise a total of 36 volumes. Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan received not one, but two seasons of TV anime; you might know it better now as The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.. World Trigger has been on an unfortunate indefinite hiatus, due to Daisuke Ashihara's health, ever since the end of 2016. Hinomaru Zumo is set to debut a TV anime adaptation this October. Finally, My Hero Academia has truly become Jump's new smash hit, all around the world, both in manga & anime form.

Oh... And Nobuhiro Watsuki was revealed to be in possession of a ton of child pornography, yet was given nothing more than a slap on the wrist & allowed to return to his Rurouni Kenshin: Hokkaido Arc manga after only a few weeks. Compare that to Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, who had his manga Takeshi! outright cancelled, was pretty much exiled from Shonen Jump for six years following his "incident", & needed the good word of Eiichiro Oda just to be given a second chance to prove that he had changed. Hey, they can't all be good news, unfortunately. Anyway, let's see what noteworthy manga I let fall between the cracks from the Silver Age of Jump, shall we?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Ages of Jump Redux Part 1: We Can Be Heroes, Just For One Week

Back in 2016, I did something absurd & ridiculous by giving a giant, two-month overview of the history of Weekly Shonen Jump. I did so by covering the 123 most notable manga to ever run in the history of the magazine as of that moment (plus mentions to a bunch of other, smaller series), covering up through the end of Naruto, which I deemed the end of "The Silver Age of Jump". At the end of that year, when I included the entire "Ages of Jump" in my favorite posts of the year list, I finished up with this quote:
"Still, at least I completed this foolish journey, and that means that I'll never have to do it ever again, so there."

Hi, I'm George J. Horvath... I'm a dumbass.

Hey, Shueisha finally acknowledged a manga that predates Kochikame!

Of course, with this year being the 50th Anniversary of Jump's very existence, how could I NOT come back to what will likely be my most successful series of posts? Seriously, while none of them have entered most-read of all time territory yet, the "Most Read of the Week" sidebar almost always features at least one part of The Ages of Jump in it, and to this very year I still get the occasional response to it. So, to follow this year's theme of "Unfinished Business", let's celebrate Weekly Shonen Jump's Golden Anniversary (yes, I know that the literal 50th Anniversary was on July 11... I was busy that month) by giving credit to the other notable manga that I neglected to properly include in the original 2016 overview... And how about we just split this up across two parts, just to keep things consistent?

So, for Part 1, let's do the time warp again & see what I "forgot" from the Bronze & Golden Ages!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Nekojiru Gekijou - Jirujiru Original: Cats May Have Nine Lives, but They Give Zero ****s...

Back in September of 2012, I watched & reviewed the short 2001 OVA Cat Soup, which was known for its surrealistic visuals & it's bleak worldview. The former was due to the OVA being the first time Masaaki Yuasa would be allowed to go all out, by director Tatsuo Sato, while the latter was due to the fact that the OVA was based on the works of the late Chiyomi Hashiguchi, better known by her pen name, Nekojiru/Cat Soup; in fact, the OVA's Japanese name was Nekojiru-sou/Cat Soup Grass. In that review, though, I had mentioned that the OVA was not the first adaptation of Nekojiru's work. Instead, the tales of her two cat siblings Nyako & Nyatta were first brought to animation back in mid-1999, as part of TV Asahi's Bakushou Mondai Boss Chara Ou/Bakusho Mondai's King Boss Character program. Said anime was Nekojiru Gekijou/Cat Soup Theater - Jirujiru Original, a series of shorts that ran for 27 episodes that were adapted from stories that were compiled in the books Nekojiru Senbei, Dango, & Donburi; Nekojiru always named her collections after snacks & the like. Of course, nearly six years ago, I said that "since that show was fansubbed years ago I might review that at a later date"... Promises like that are why I made this a year of "Unfinished Business".

Nekojiru Gekijou has no overarching story by any means, to no surprise. It's simply a collection of stories that range somewhere between one or two minutes each, though a couple go slightly longer, and every single one of them features a pretty cynical view of everything. Nekojiru became known for her bleak, blunt, & very cruel outlook when it came to her manga, and she admitted that her ideas often came from her dreams. Unfortunately, it's possible that this very extreme cynicism led her to eventually commit suicide on May 10, 1998, and that could potentially affect how you react to the stuff that happens in this anime series. I bring this up, because Nekojiru Gekijou can be dark... Really, shockingly dark, and possibly even vile at times, but all in an amusing way, nonetheless.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Matchless Beat is on the Horizon: An Interview with Anime Midstream's Jimmy Taylor

Back in August of 2016, Anime Midstream announced at that year's AnimeFest that it had license rescued B't X, the 1996 anime adaptation of Masami Kurumada's manga of the same name; previously, Illumitoon Entertainment gave the anime a (poorly done) try back in 2007. For those unfamiliar with Anime Midstream, which is understandable, the company first broke onto the scene back in 2008, when it licensed early-90s mech anime Matchless Raijin-Oh. From 2009 to 2014, the company released the first half across five dual-audio DVD singles, once per year, followed by a sub-only boxset for the second half. Over the next two years, Anime Midstream went silent until about a month before AnimeFest, & almost nothing has came out in terms of information regarding B't X's release since the con, except for a teaser image in March of 2017 saying that "Season 1" would be "Coming Soon...", and what looked to be an indication of dub work being done a month before that.

Huh, now there's a Shueisha credit in the copyright, instead of Kadokawa Shoten...
Haven't seen that happen with an anime before.

Now that we're coming up on two years since the original licensing announcement, I decided to see if I could get some answers from Anime Midstream regarding not just B't X, but also about Raijin-Oh, the change in the anime industry since 2008, and other topics. Thankfully, Midstream's founder Jimmy Taylor was able to find some time during the hectic, final weeks leading up to release, he plans to make an announcement by the end of this month, to answer my questions via e-mail.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Katsuhiro Otomo may not have a large catalog of work, but he remains one of the most iconic & influential names in both anime & manga, and his magnum opus is most definitely Akira. Debuting first as a manga in Young Magazine back in 1982, Otomo would work on it here & there while also working on anime productions like Neo Tokyo & Robot Carnival, before finishing it up in 1990, with a total of 6 volumes. On July 16, 1988, a host of companies decided to bring the manga into anime form as a theatrically released movie, with Otomo only agreeing to such an idea if he was given total creative control, which resulted in him becoming the director of the movie itself, and animation so fluid & mind-blowing (in general, let alone for its time) that the movie came with an absurdly high ¥1.1 billion, or roughly $10 million, budget that it obviously just could not recoup in its home country; only when you account for worldwide that the movie made its money back. Today, however, the Akira movie is looked at as one of the all-time greatest anime ever made, if not simply one of the best movies, in general; to this day, it remains the sole anime that The Criterion Collection ever released (Laserdisc #151).

So pinball sounds like the perfect tie-in for a movie about a mad, newly-powered psychic causing havoc & destruction everywhere he goes... Right?

Obviously, with hype of a scale such as this at the time, there were going to be video games to go with it. Unfortunately, this movie has had nothing but a rough time when it comes to this medium. The first game was 1988's Akira for the Nintendo Famicom, which was a visual novel-esque adventure game by Taito that was notorious for its ridiculous difficulty, with decisions that can kill you instantly, & sometimes requiring the player to pick painfully obtuse & illogical decisions, multiple times at that, in order to advance; even Famitsu gave it a 17 out of 40, or an average of 4.25/10 from each reviewer. For the longest time afterwards, the only other Akira game to see release was a British-developed action game for the Amiga & CD32 by International Computer Entertainment in 1994; it, too, was lambasted for its poor quality. Around the same time, THQ was developing a few Akira games for the Atari Jaguar, SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Game Boy & Game Gear, but all of them were postponed before eventually being canceled; prototypes for some of these unfinished games have since been retrieved & preserved, and now can be found online. After all that, there wouldn't be another Akira game until 2002, when Bandai worked with the video pinball meastros over at KAZe for Akira Psycho Ball for PlayStation 2, which came out to help promote the newly-remastered DVD release of the movie; Europe would receive the game in 2003 by Infogrames, using the 2001 Pioneer dub for audio. Unfortunately, there isn't much in terms of useful information regarding this game, at least in English, as nearly every review you can find online more or less dismisses Psycho Ball, either because the reviewer simply associates it with the piss-poor games that came before (including THQ's unreleased games), or outright downplays its relevance simply because it's a pinball game.

Therefore, to both celebrate Akira's Pearl Anniversary & put an end to my coverage of KAZe's video pinball legacy, let me tell you what Akira Psycho Ball really is all about, because this might very well be the best, if most forgotten, entry in the Digital Pinball franchise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Demo Disc Vol. 13: Feisty Forerunners

After taking a season off for the newly-debuted segment Retrospect in Retrograde (that will return in September), it's the return of Demo Disc! Back in April of last year, for Volume 9, I looked at four pilots that were originally meant to lead into something more, but none of them went anywhere. Whether it was to an attempt to produce an English dub for Space Adventure Cobra back in the 80s or simply trying to get actual series made via Transformers Zone, Genjiku Senki Shiden, & Justeen, they were all examples of pilots not going anywhere. Therefore, for this (maybe unlucky?) Volume of Demo Disc, let's do the opposite & look at the other side of the spectrum: The forerunner (I've also used the term "precursor" before, but I'm trying to eventually use every letter of the alphabet for Demo Disc...). Unlike those prior four, every product I'll be "Demoing" here was simply the first anime product of something that would eventually see more anime made for. In fact, of them all, only one is actually intended to be a "pilot", so let's start with that one. The fact that it helps celebrate the Golden jubilee of an iconic series that I've actually covered on the blog before is a just a sweet bonus... Also, I always do Demo Disc in chronological order, so there's that, too.

Ashita no Joe Pilots
No matter what name you decide to call it by, Ashita no Tomorrow's Champion Rocky Joe will forever be one of the most influential manga ever produced, even 50 years later, and its original anime adaptation directed by Osamu Dezaki is arguably just as important. Still, back in late 1969, it's not like the anime was simply going to be instantly greenlit. Therefore, Mushi Pro's Osamu Dezaki & Masao Maruyama decided to produce a couple of pilots, both around 10 minutes long, in an effort to find a TV station willing to help produce it, all because they were fans of the manga. In fact, they made these pilots without the knowledge of Mushi's founder Osamu Tezuka, because they felt that he wouldn't approve it, since it'd be "competing" against Tezuka's own work. In the end, Dezaki & Maruyama found an interested party in the form of Fuji TV's Koji Bessho, and the rest is all history. So now, with 50th Anniversary anime Megalobox having just ended, let's see the earliest forms of Ashita no Joe in anime form!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball: Wait... Isn't Getting "TILT" a Bad Thing?

So while going over the legacy of game developer KAZe's double duology legacy of Super Pinball & Digital Pinball, I mentioned that Super Pinball II: The Amazing Odyssey was done by a second team, while the first game's team was working on what would become Digital Pinball: Last Gladiators. Lead by Naruaki Sasaki, some of the people on this team would assist on the Digital Pinball games, usually in bug finding, artwork, or more general "Special Thanks" positions, but while Norio Nakagata & Takashi Kobayashi were making the first of two of the best video pinball games of all time, Sasaki was put in charge of another pinball game at KAZe, this time based on a licensed property: Saban's Power Rangers.

Debuting back in 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a franchise that I don't think needs any introduction. At this point, everyone at least knows that Haim Saban & Shuki Levy took a Japanese TV show, in this case Toei's Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger from 1992, removed (more or less) every single bit of footage featuring the original Japanese cast, leaving only the footage of the Rangers in their suits, the monsters, & the giant robot fights, and mixed in original footage featuring an American cast, telling its own story. Needless to say, it was massively successful, but eventually Saban had to move on to actually acknowledging the fact that each new Super Sentai show utilized (at the very least) a new outfit for the team. The first entry to do this was 1996's Power Rangers Zeo, which utilized footage from 1995's Choriki Sentai/Super-Powered Squadron Ohranger, but while the "Mighty Morphin" series received numerous video game adaptations, Zeo only received three, all in 1996. The PC & (intensely forgotten) Bandai Apple Pippin received platformer/beat-em-up Power Rangers Zeo vs. The Machine Empire, the Super Nintendo received racing game Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers, & the PlayStation received Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball; in fact, this was the last season to even get video games, until Lightspeed Rescue. While the first two are not considered all that good, I want to focus on the third game, which is the only one to see release outside of North America. Japan received the game around the same time as America, two months before Digital Pinball: Necronomicon's release & under the simpler name of Power Rangers Pinball, while Europe wouldn't receive it until roughly a half year later in mid-1997.

So, does this pinball game manage to keep up with the legacy of KAZe's output, or did Sasaki & crew fail at forming the Zeo Megazord?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: KAZe/Pinball: The Super Digital Legacy

While not technically a "video game", especially since it predates them by decades (if not over a century, if you want to count the earliest predecessors), pinball is probably most associated with them in modern knowledge, due to the two of them cohabiting arcades ever since the 70s. Today, though, while pinball is still around in some form via companies like Stern & Jersey Jack, most people likely experience the classic game in the form of digital experiences, either via 100% original means like Zen Pinball, or through outright recreations of actual tables via The Pinball Arcade. The latter is especially poignant now, as Farsight Studios' product will be suffering a major loss at the end of this month, when its licensing agreement that gave players the ability to purchase & download classic Williams & Bally tables will come to an end. In that regard, it's Zen Studios' original experiences that might win out in the long run, but before that company, there was another company that became a cult legend for its dedication to bringing players the most accurate feeling pinball experience one could find on a video game console.

That company was Tokyo's KAZe.

Founded back on February 2, 1987 as Live Planning, KAZe Net Co., Ltd. made its debut with Abarenbou Tengu, a 1990 Famicom shooter that was heavily modified into the (now expensive) NES game (Samurai) Zombie Nation, with the giant tengu face that you controlled being changed into a giant, decapitated head of a dead samurai... It was really weird, to put it lightly. Following that, KAZe stuck with publisher Meldac & developed Game Boy games like Heiankyo Alien & Tenjin Kaisen (known internationally as Mercenary Force), as well as numerous pachinko video games, but in 1994 Zombie Nation director Norio Nakagata teamed with a new designer named Takashi Kobayashi to do something that had never really been done before on a console: Recreate the pinball experience in as accurate of a form as possible, and on a Super Famicom, no less!

Monday, June 11, 2018

AnimeNEXT 2018: Hitting the Vertical Limit

I first started going to AnimeNEXT back in 2009, when it moved to Somerset, NJ & became a "local con" for me. When it moved to Atlantic City in 2016, I stuck with it, even though it now became much more expensive, due to hotel reservations. Still, the move to the Atlantic City Convention Center was instantly a major improvement. The venue is much larger than what Somerset offered, with more than enough room to grow, and the fact that the ACCC is a four-floor building gives the entire convention a verticality that you just can't find in most other cons, which only tend to feature two floors, at most, which feel more self-contained & seperate than anything. Simply put, it's awesome to be at AnimeNEXT, look above & below you, & always see people moving about. It also helps for special features that utilize the atrium, like Cosplay Pro Wrestling, as the multiple floors create an arena-like experience. Still, if I've been continually going to ANext, why haven't I reported on it?

Well, to be frank, it was because I tend to only report on cons that I do panels at; they double as an info guide for what I showed. In 2016, I only went for a single day, just to get a feel for the new venue. I did apply for panels in 2017, but communication problems meant that I didn't know all of them were denied until the schedule itself came out. This year, though, I finally returned to doing panels at my "local(-ish) con", and I got two approved. Overall, AnimeNEXT has become a rather challenging convention to do panels at, mainly from a content perspective. As AniGamers' Evan Minto said a day ago, it's effectively a mini-Otakon, especially when it comes to panels. ANext has given a lot of priority towards really informational & researched presentations, which in turn make them all the more interesting to check out, so much so that plenty of people I know had put in panel applications that sounded awesome, only for them to get nothing approved.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Sweet Home: It's About Family... It's Always Been About Family!

Video games based on licensed properties, like movies, are generally known to vary wildly in quality, primarily due to their heavy need to be released alongside the product it's based on. More often than not, the game winds up being either downright terrible or simply underwhelming, but sometimes they wind up being extremely good, if not even considered a classic over time. All that being said, the game still remains noteworthy to some extent due to its connection to the licensed property. It's absurdly rare for a video game based on a licensed property to be so good that it winds up being more synonymous than the product it's technically based on. One of those rare instances is with Sweet Home.

Come 1989, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) was a graduate of Rikkyo University, & student of film critic Shigekiho Hasumi, who had only two pink films to his name as a professional film director. Working with notorious film director & producer Juzo Itami (director of 1985's Tampopo), Kurosawa made his horror debut with Sweet Home, which he both wrote & directed. Debuting in Japanese theaters on January 21, 1989, the movie would then see a home video release on VHS & laserdisc that September, and on December 15 a video game adaptation would see release on the Nintendo Famicom by Capcom. Directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, the game was technically an RPG, but would go on to become a major influence on the creation of what would become the first Resident Evil in 1996; in fact, the earliest plan was to simply remake Sweet Home into 3D.

As the decades have gone on, the Famicom game has become a cult-classic, especially after a fan translation saw release, while the original movie has mostly become forgotten, even as Kiyoshi Kurosawa went on to become a notable name in Japanese cinema, following films like Cure, Seventh Code, & Journey to the Shore. Unfortunately, a major part of this is due to the film's lack of any sort of re-release, which has its own story that I'll get to later in this piece, but in the meantime let's see what the movie itself had to offer.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 2

Normally, whenever I make a "twelve anime" list, I compile the entries based on my own research & whimsy, which means that there's a strong tendency for them to be picked more on personal attachment or interest than neutral logic. On rare occasion I put out a call for outside input, but the end result tends to only give me one or two picks, if even any at all. When I asked for this streaming purgatory list, however, I got the complete opposite. This is obviously something that other people may have thought about in the back of their minds, because I received a bunch of responses, almost all of which giving multiple answers. Because of that, I can easily make a second list another time (likely next year), so let me see which six either seem to be the most wanted or at least catchy my interest to some extent.

Polar Bear Café
I am admittedly more on the side that prefers action-oriented stories, or at least something with a feeling of conflict to it, but I can definitely see the appeal of watching an anime just to relax & feel good. These tend to get categorized under the genre of iyashikei, or "healing", anime due to their soothing & mentally non-straining execution. Admittedly, I'm not 100% sure if Polar Bear Café technically counts as an iyashikei anime, but I do remember watching an episode or two of it years ago, and it was very chill. Anyway, this 50-episode TV anime from 2012-2013 was based on the Aloha Higa manga that ran in josei magazine Flowers from 2006 to 2014, where it then moved to Cocohana magazine, under the name Polar Bear Café: Today's Special, & still runs to this day. It told the everyday lives of the walking & talking animals (& humans) who both work at & frequent the Polar Bear's Café, which is run by a Polar Bear who loves making bad puns.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 1

Back in 2011, I made a pair of lists where I compiled anime that had once seen release in North America via home video & I felt deserved being "rescued", i.e. licensed once again & given a re-release, ideally with improved video, audio, translation, etc. Around the same time, streaming really started making its mark with anime fans, especially with the advent of simulcasts, where brand-new anime productions were being made available legally around the world within hours of them airing in Japan. As anyone can easily tell you, though, there is just a metric ton of anime being produced every season, let alone every year; some will even tell you that there's "too much anime" being made.

Because of that, the dream of having "(almost) everything" is only half way there, because while streaming gives us access to those new shows, not all of them get the opportunity to become a part of a fan's collection. Instead, they become victims of licensing agreements, and once those licenses expire, and a site like CrunchyRoll decides to not renew, that anime becomes lost, officially, and this time around there isn't a home video release for people to rely on to keep things on the up-&-up later on. Now this list isn't about those anime that were once streamed but are now gone, as those are worthy of being "license rescued" & that's not what this list is about. Instead, I'm going to list off twelve anime that are still legally streaming, as of May 2018, but have yet to be given home video releases. Luckily, I asked for some help, and I got a ton of responses, so for the first time I have split this list evenly between my own personal picks, and what others have told me deserve being rescued from "streaming purgatory". Still, this is my blog, so we're starting with my picks first.

Saint Seiya Hades
It's absolutely astounding how seemingly hard it is for the works of Masami Kurumada to receive any sort of complete release here in "North of Mexico", especially when it comes to Saint Seiya; I even once called it a "Kurumada Curse". Luckily, the past few years have been slightly better in that regard, and that's due to the advent of streaming. Still, even there we have some notable blank spots when it comes to the "OG" productions, like the entire second half of Saint Seiya TV, i.e. Episodes 74-114. Instead, we have the first 73 episodes, which cover through the Sanctuary Chapter, and the final 31 OVA episodes from 2003-2008, which cover the Hades Chapter. Still, even those officially-available original series episodes are only partially saved from purgatory, and it all comes down to one company, Cinedigm.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Monkey Turn V: I Wonder if the Kyotei Champion Goes to Tokyo Disneyland...

The year 2004 was an interesting time for anime, especially when it came to late-night. Before this year, the late-night "anime infomercial" was still a niche, though it was expanding ever since the end of 1996. This specific year, though, saw around 60 different anime series air in late-night TV slots, establishing this format as the future. At the same time, though, 2004 was the end of airing a single series over the course of an entire year (if not more) in late-night; longer series have more recently come back slightly, but it's been mostly shorter shows since then. I bring this up because Monkey Turn was one of those "last" year-long, late-night runs. However, unlike Monster or Hajime no Ippo, which both ran as gigantically long single shows, the kyotei racing anime was split up across two 25-episode seasons, though there was no hiatus between episodes. That being said, though, I can fully understand why there was a split between seasons here, because Monkey Turn V offers a concept that's different from Monkey Turn. Where the first season was your standard "rising to the top" story in concept, the second season goes in a direction that's not seen too often in sports anime & manga: What happens after you achieve your dream?

Upon graduating from Yamato Kyotei Academy, Kenji Hatano made a promise to everyone, including his girlfriend Sumi Ubukata, that he would become Japan's #1 kyotei racer within three years. While he got close to doing so when he made it to an SG tournament in his third year, it wouldn't be until after 3.5 years that he finally beat the likes of "Boat King" Yusuke Enoki, "Wolf of Hokuriku" Gunji Inukai, & rival Takehiro Doguchi, becoming SG Champion. Now Kenji has to not only maintain his new spot among the best, but he also has to watch out for new challengers, like female expert Chiaki Kushida or local favorite-turned-SG-competitor Hidetaka Gamou. Before he can do any of that, though, Kenji suffers an injury, as a horrible capsize during a race results in his left wrist & hand getting sliced open by another racer's propeller, potentially ending his racing career right as it finally hit its stride.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Retrospect in Retrograde: Monkey Turn

One thing about the "Year of Unfinished Business" is that I finally plan on getting back to series & franchises that I covered years ago, but never really followed up on. Of course, after all these years, I don't feel 100% comfortable about just jumping into a second season or later productions with only potentially vague recollections about what came before. Not just that, but my first couple years of doing this blog saw me write entire reviews based on nothing more than what I remember an anime being like; not every review was like that, but a fair number of them were, especially in those first few months. Therefore, I feel like enough time has passed that I can go back & re-assess anime that I reviewed way back when, & see if I still feel the same about them now; also, I want to this give them the proper write-ups I should have given them back then. So, in place of this season's Demo Disc (don't worry, it'll be back this Summer), I would like to introduce a new concept to The Land of Obscusion.

Welcome to Retrospect in Retrograde, and for my first revisit, I can't think of anything better: Monkey Turn.

On Februaru 25, 2011, I looked back fondly on my memories of the 2004 TV anime adaptation of Katsutoshi Kawai's 1996-2005 Shonen Sunday manga about kyotei/mini-hydroplane racing, and called it "the best sports anime that you've never seen." Since then, I've learned a bit more about this 25-episode anime, specifically two interesting things. First, this anime (& it's successive season) ran in a late-night slot, which honestly surprises me, both because that means that Monkey Turn ran for a solid year in late-night, which just doesn't happen nowadays, and also because of the pedigree the manga had. Kawai's manga tied with Hikaru no Go for the Shogakukan Manga Award for "Best Shonen Manga" in 1999, so I simply figured for the longest time that the anime had a prime time slot, just like its fellow award winner's anime adaptation had; both even aired on TV Tokyo. Second, back in 2011 I had no idea how much of the 30-volume manga the anime adapts, & I really still don't today, but I now do know that the anime kind of pulls a Ring ni Kakero 1 by skipping over an early portion of the manga, so that it can focus on the primary focus, i.e. the actual professional kyotei racing; some of the early parts are done via flashback at points, though. So enough re-introduction, it's time to see if Monkey Turn still comes out as one of "the best" out there, personally, when it comes to sports anime.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Localizations We Almost Got... But Didn't

Nothing major can happen without a plan being made, first & foremost. At the same time, though, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, sometimes to the point of never coming to fruition in the first place. When it comes to video games, I'd say that any region of the world will receive more or less an equal amount of localized games from another region as it would get those made domestically. Like anything, though, there are a lot of steps to making a localization happen, & those steps have to be laid out in a grand plan. Unfortunately, while most localization plans do indeed come to fruition, there are some that were planned for release, and maybe even officially announced, but wound up being exclusive to the region they were originally released in.

So let's take a look at these transposed translations, these retracted reveals, & these candid cancellations that all had hopes for English localization, only to be stopped for a variety of reasons, with at least one even threatening legal action! But... Yes, I'm totally aping Guru Larry, so I'll stop right here & go straight to the first entry.

Sony Computer Entertainment of America has always been a bit of an infamous division of Sony, especially in regards to the lives of the first two PlayStation consoles. For example, there have been complaints that SCEA was "anti-2D", i.e. being downright dismissive to certain video games & publishers that wanted to release games based around 2D sprite work, simply because SCEA wanted to focus on 3D polygons. Working Designs' Vic Ireland admitted that such a policy existed during the PS1 era back in 2012 during an interview with ANNCast, & even Mega Man 8 was initially rejected for release, until SCEA found out that the Sega Saturn was also getting it, so the decision was reversed with the request for some sort of exclusive content (which wound up being a mini-booklet with artwork). Obviously, there were some games & even companies that were exceptions to this, & the policy did relax over time, but SCEA still maintained some variation of it into the PS2 era, but now this even applied to polygonal graphics. In other words, if SCEA simply felt that a video game that a publisher wanted to release in North America didn't look good enough, 2D or 3D, then that would be enough reason to deny release. While proof of this is scarce, Agetec did submit evidence of this back in 2004 with the game Shadow Tower Abyss.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Truth Behind "The Disaster Anime": Game Lab's Musashi Gundoh Interview Translated!

Happy Easter, All You April Fools!

Way back on December 1, 2011, to celebrate the blog's first anniversary, I wrote a review of the infamous 2006 TV "kuso/crap anime" Gundoh Musashi, or Musashi Gundoh (seriously, either order seems to be official), making it the first milestone review (#50). Even back then, though, I had heard of an interview that had been done after the anime had aired in Japan. As the years went on, I managed to actually find where said interview came from: Volume 140 of Sansai Books' Game Labo Tokubestsu Henshu Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyu/Game Lab Special Edition: Modern Visual Culture Research, released December 2006.

While the main feature in this mook was a 36-page article titled "Kono Anime ga Yabai!/This Anime is Dangerous!", likely a parody of Takarajimasha's "Kono ___ wa Sugoi/This ___ is Great!" series of guide books, it actually had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Instead, in the middle of this Volume was a six-page pair of interviews with Nobuyuki Sugaya & Yuki Kinoshita, the respective producer & director of Gundoh Musashi. In fact, these two interviews were conducted literally days after the anime finished airing on satellite network BS-i on October 29; technically, the final episode aired on October 8, but after that came three "summary" episodes. For years, I was curious about what was said in this mook, and since this is a year about "Unfinished Business", I finally found an Amazon Japan seller that was willing to ship a copy overseas (& for cheap, too), & put my money down. So now, with a translation from Anne Lee of Chic Pixel, I give you the raw & (then) fresh feelings about what exactly went down with what I once called "The Anime Equivalent to The Room", & now nickname "The Disaster Anime", starting with the interview done with ACC Production producer Nobuyuki Sugaya. Specific notes by either myself or Anne will be included via italics for clarification, when needed.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Run=Dim: CG=Too Soon?

While the large majority of anime that Idea Factory self-produced were released in the form of "Original Video Animation", i.e. they went straight to home video, the video game company didn't wait too long to enter broadcast television. Debuting back in 2000, Run=Dim (you don't pronounce the "=") was a short-lived series where you took control of giant robots, with three entries to its name: 2000's turn-based combat game The Mechsmith: Run=Dim for PS2, 2001's strategy RPG Run=Dim as Black Soul for the Dreamcast, & 2002's 2D shoot-em-up Run=Dim: Return to Earth for the WonderSwan Color. Idea Factory wasn't the only company involved with the series, though, as Seoul-based Digital Dream Studios was involved from the very start, and Yuki Enterprise (now known as Examu) handled development for Black Soul.

Both IF & DDS had grand plans for Run=Dim, though, as in between the releases of The Mechsmith & Black Soul was "the first full 3D CG animated TV series in Asia" version of the series, one that IF & DDS co-produced & animated. Running for 13 episodes during the Spring 2001 season on TV Tokyo (yes, this aired on mainstream television on Friday mornings!), the two companies had hopes for this to only be the beginning. As indicated via the Wayback Machine, DDS was advertising a theatrically-released movie later that October, plus a second season the following July. Unfortunately, the anime that, according to DDS, "was praised as one of the finest 3D CG animations by the Japanese and Korean press," never received more than that single season of anime, & the later WonderSwan game didn't even feature Idea Factory's name in it, whatsoever. So only a single questions remains now: How the hell did an all-CG TV anime series produced by a couple of game companies fare back in 2001?

At the end of the last century (you know, the past), global warming resulted in the polar ice caps melting, creating titanic tsunamis that completely flooded various nations of the world, including Japan, completely changing the way humanity operated. It is now the year 2052, & the Japan Established Security Army for Space, JESAS for short, is in the midst of a battle with the UN-supported Green Frontier over who will take command of expansion out into space. This battle is a literal one, too, with JESAS having to rely on young teenagers who possess potential with humanity's 6th sense, which they've called "AI", to pilot giant robots called RBs to take on Green Frontier, which has a yellow RB named Run=Dim as its trump card. One of these teens is a boy named Kazuto Moriguchi, but after being deemed expendable when an experimental weapon named the e4 is fired during a battle, he defects over to Green Frontier, even if it means having to fight those he had started consider to his friends.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Rebirth Moon Divergence: Or, as O~3 Entertainment Would Have Used, Reverse Moon Diva Gents...

From 1998 to 2004, Idea Factory more or less made its own anime productions, both for anime & the occasional game sequence. While there were "actual" animation studios involved, they tended to either only assist or work alongside IF as co-producers. The only exception at this point was 2001 TV anime Mamimume Mogacho, a claymation/CG mix that was based on an Idea Factory game, but was co-animated by Sega & Swimmers Animation Studio, though IF's staff were still directing & producing. Starting in 2005, though, Idea Factory decided to stop making animation in-house & simply hire an animation studio to handle that workload. The studio of choice was Wao World, which was established in 2000 as a subsidiary of educational company Wao Corporation, and at this point had only operated as an assistance studio on anime like Wind -a breath of heart- & Zoids: Fuzors. Wao's sole primary production by 2005 was the historical movie Nitaboh, the Shamisen Master the year prior, but has since been the main studio for series like Showa Monogatari, Time Travel Girl, & Anime-Gataris, as well as other historical films directed by Akio Nishizawa, head of Wao Corporation.

Yeah, those are French fansub credits... They're the best I could work with.

Wao World's involvement with Idea Factory wouldn't last too long, as after 2006 IF moved on to simply using still character portraits for things like intro sequences, with the final game to feature actual animation throughout being Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage on the Xbox 360. Not just that, but Wao World didn't really make all that much for IF, with only four games actually bearing any fruit. Aside from the aforementioned 360 game, there were three PS2 games that saw Wao do both in-game cutscenes & OVA prologues. The most infamous was IFMate dating sim Mars of Destruction, which was the second Wao/IF production, but the other two had a curious subtitle for their respective OVAs. Both early-2005's Spectral Force Chronicle & late-2005's Rebirth Moon were strategy RPGs, and both of their OVAs were given the word "Divergence" in their titles. Anyway, while I've been unable to get a hold of the former's OVA in any way, shape, or form (at least for a decent price), there is a French fansub out there for the latter that I can at least worm my way through. Rebirth Moon was the first (& only) game in the IF Type-0 label, which was meant to be for more experimental forms of gameplay. In the end, though, the only thing that came out of the game was that its radial-based combat system would be carried over to Chaos Wars & IF Neverland spin-off game Spectral Gene. The game would also be given an enhanced HD port on the 360 under the name Diario: Rebirth Moon Legend in 2007. So let's see how Idea Factory ended its foray into anime with Rebirth Moon Divergence, which came out alongside the PS2 game.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven: Do Androids Dream of Digital Love?

Back in that initial run of Idea Factory anime reviews, I covered Mars of Destruction, a mid-2005 OVA meant to act as a prologue to the IFMate brand's sixth dating sim of the same name for PS2. Since its release, it's gathered a bit of notoriety as being one of the "worst anime of all time", with it even being the #1 spot on the ANN Encyclopedia's "Worst Rated Anime" list for years upon years; I don't even know how long it's been there, but it's easily close to (if not more than) a decade at this point. In my review, though, I felt (& still feel this this day) that its status as one of "the all time worst" may be a bit overstated, but that's mainly because I feel that I've seen much worse, and have even covered some on this blog, like Legend of DUO, Twinkle Nora Rock Me!, & Gundoh Musashi, the last of which remains my #1 pick for that title. Now, to be fair, Mars of Destruction is bad, but for essentially just as long on that ANN list has been the #2 spot, which is another Idea Factory anime. Therefore, I think it's finally time to tackle the Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven OVA, and see if the people who use ANN truly know their "worst anime of all time".

The fourth game in the IFMate brand, Tenkuu Danzai/Sky Conviction Skelter+Heaven saw release in Japan on the PS2 on November 25, 2004, with its major hook being that it revolved around young women who piloted robots, with action sequences relying on Quick-Time Event-esque gameplay. A month later, on December 8, Idea Factory released a ~20 minute OVA to help promote the video game. Seeing as 2005 would see the company hire Wao World to do the animation for both games & OVAs, Skelter+Heaven is notable as being the final Idea Factory anime that the game company actually animated (primarily) itself. After a (surprisingly) decent, if annoyingly self-defeating, turn out for Steady x Study, does Idea Factory's final self-produced anime show some true advancements in capabilities... Or is this truly worthy of being called second worst (of all time)?

In the year 2030, Tokyo is invaded by a giant, squid-like creature that comes from space, with the military being helpless against it. Defense corporation Altamira Agency, however, has been working on technology for the pace 15 years, just in case interstellar invaders were to come: Wet Props, artificial beings made to look like women, who pilot giant robots named Skelters. With guidance by male commander Otoya Funagai, the Prop-piloted Skelters go into their first ever battle, and though they wind up succeeding in killing the alien invader, Funagai is deemed a failure as commander by Hiroaki Mishima, CEO of Altamira. Unfortunately, just one year later, an entire squadron of giant squids come down to Tokyo...

Friday, March 9, 2018

Steady x Study: Money for Nothin'... & Chicks for Free?

Back in early 2013, I dedicated some of two months to reviewing a bunch of OVAs that were all produced by video game company Idea Factory, back when it was trying to be more of a multimedia production house. Whether it was any of the three Generation of Chaos OVAs, Gakuen Toshi Vara Noir (the first episode, at least), Mars of Destruction, or Kingdom of Chaos: Born to Kill, nearly all of them were, quite frankly, rather poor & not even all that enjoyable in an ironic, "so bad it's good" fashion. The only exceptions were GOCIII, which was actually more than decent, & Born to Kill, which was honestly pretty damn good (though it still had the same visual "quirks" that all the others had). After those reviews, I had always planned on returning to the Idea Factory anime well, but so far the only time I actually did so was last October, when I reviewed the Spectral Force OVA, IF's first ever anime, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of that series. Therefore, with this year being about finally going back & covering stuff I left behind, let's return to this poorly-rendered CG well that was made by "The Ed Wood of Anime," as I deemed Idea Factory last year.

In 2004, Idea Factory started up a new brand called IFMate, which focused on what people internationally call dating sims; in Japan, they word "ren'ai" is used, which uses the two kanji for love, "koi" & "ai". Unlike visual novels, a.k.a. otome games aimed at women, dating sims are technically made for male players, as the goal is to have one of the female characters fall in love with the male protagonist. The IFMate brand wouldn't last long, dying out post-2007 after moving over to being based on anime properties, but the first entry was Steady x Study for the PS2, released on March 25, 2004. Today, the game is probably most known for its tangential relation to the IF Neverland brand, as "lead" female character Koyuki Saito may very well be the girl that Jadou summoned to the fantasy world of Neverland in the original Spectral Force, who would be known as Little Snow. Though the only game to outright make that connection is crossover RPG Chaos Wars, so the canonicity is purposefully tenuous, there is the fact that Koyuki translates directly to "Little Snow", and the white-haired witch was originally a brown-haired schoolgirl, like Koyuki is in her own game. Anyway, on May 26 that same year, Idea Factory decided to release a ~25 minute OVA for Steady x Study. Today, this is likely the most obscure & forgotten Idea Factory OVA out there, so what better place to start than here?