Saturday, October 31, 2020

Obscusion B-Side: 40 Years of "Chicken" Humanoids, Mindless Robots, & Evil Otto: A Berzerk Retrospective

Prior to games like 1983's Crystal Castles, most arcade games with a single-player or cooperative multiplayer style were technically endless, not including any sort of actual "ending". If you think about that from a storytelling perspective, that means that many of the most iconic "Golden Age" arcade games always had "bad endings". In Space Invaders, the aliens successfully invade Earth. In Pac-Man, our titular hero will succumb to the ghosts. And in Missile Command... Everything you fought to protect is reduced to rubble. Sure, many of these games didn't actually go on forever, as integer overflow would result in a stage/screen that effectively forced the end of the game, but even those weren't exactly "good endings"; they were called "kill screens" for a reason. Of course, very few arcade games of the time were actually designed with this storytelling concept in mind; the designers were just thinking of fun ways to get people to keep pumping change into a machine. Still, I feel that one the arcade classics of this time to truly nail that feeling of helplessness, that all your efforts are truly for naught since you'll eventually lose in the end, is Stern Electronics' Berzerk, which turns 40 this year.

Man, Atari 2600 artwork was just amazing.

By 1980, Stern Electronics was known solely for its pinball machines, but decided to expand into arcade video games after seeing that market expand, due to the success of Space Invaders. While it'd mainly be responsible for being the American home for many of Konami's early arcade games (Scramble, Amidar, Super Cobra, etc.), the company also had its own division for creating games, called Universal Research Laboratories. One of the employees of URL was a man named Alan McNeil, who one night had a dream about a video game in which he had to fight a never-ending barrage of robots. With that inspiration in mind, McNeil got started on development, though the original intention for it to be a black-&-white game was eventually replaced with color; only the earliest versions of the game used B&W monitors, but with a color overlay on top. When it came time to give this game a name, McNeil had a fitting inspiration: Berserker, a series of science fiction novels by Fred Saberhagen about a never-ending robot menace that aimed to kill all life. Come late 1980 (a Stern production note says November 12), Berzerk was unleashed to the general public, so let's take a look at the game, some of its ports, its lesser-known sequel, & the legacy it's left behind.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Demo Disc Vol. 18: Xenophilic Xiphoi

All of the previous volumes of Demo Disc so far have followed one of two styles. The first is "Multi Series", where I cover a single episode or pilot (though I've done up to three in rare instances) of various anime, with there being some sort of thematic link between all of them. The second is "Single Series", which is effectively the same as my traditional reviews, except that it doesn't cover the entire thing, and therefore is not eligible to be part of my review numbering. The thing with the latter style is that they have all covered 13-26 episodes, with generally ranges from 1/4 to 1/2 of the entire show. Not every anime (or manga) that I have considered eligible for Demo Disc necessarily hit that fraction for a "Single Series" volume, but I feel that they're just a little too large to include in a "Multi Series" volume; even three episodes pushes it, honestly.

Therefore, this is a bit of an experimentation, one that I'll be calling a "Double Series" volume, as it'll be covering only two series, but each one gets a little more detail in their write-ups than "Multi Series" volume entries would normally get. The theme for this volume of Demo Disc? "Foreign Swords"!

Am I the only one getting a Berserk vibe here... for Zorro?!

If there's one thing Japan isn't shy about, it's adapting foreign works into things like anime & manga so as to tell them to their own domestic audience in a way that works for them. A good example of that is Zorro, known in Japan as Kaiketsu Zorro/The Extraordinary Zorro, which was originally created back in 1919 by American pulp writer Johnston McCulley in All-Star Weekly magazine. McCulley's creation, which is one of the earliest masked heroes with a double identity, didn't seem to come over to Japan until the 50s, by way of translations done by Kazuo Inoue, but ever since has maintained some bit of notoriety in the country as an iconic foreign creation, most notably via Yutaka Hara's ongoing children book series Kaiketsu Zorori, which is inspired by Zorro. In 1996, Toho & Ashi Pro teamed up to produced an anime based on the work, using the same Kaiketsu Zorro title that Japan had known it as for decades, and this series would run for 52 episodes, ending in early 1997. I actually have covered this anime before in the past, but that was back in 2017 via the absolutely terrible compilation movie by Mondo TV called The Legend of Zorro. Since then, I've always been curious about how the original Japanese version was, and luckily the first five episodes were fansubbed into English back in the day, so let's see how Japan's take on the American-made Spanish hero started off.

Monday, October 12, 2020

It was a Blog Before Time: Looking Back at the "AoD Proto-Blog"

Last year I put out two retrospectives about stuff I did online prior to the creation of The Land Obscusion, one about how I got published on GameSpot back in 2004 & another about my short-lived, half-hearted attempt at making YouTube videos. In between those two, though, there was something else I did, though it was nowhere near anything "notable". Still, with the 10th Anniversary of this blog coming in less than two months time, I figure I should complete the trifecta & see what I can wring out of writing about what I like to now call the "AoD proto-blog", something I had only previously mentioned in passing on rare occasion.

For a generation of online-savvy anime fans, was an iconic website that helped grow not just fandom in North America, but also the industry itself, namely through its forums. During the first half of the 00s, the "AoD" forums became known for being the home of very tech-focused anime fans, especially those who wanted the anime they cared about being given the best releases possible. In turn, actual industry reps visited the AoD forums & communicated with the fans, taking what they learned about what those fans wanted in their DVD releases & implementing what sounded like good ideas; it's sometimes stated that the AoD forums are why anime releases wound up being the best they could be. When I first started entering the fandom myself in 2004 I eventually found my way to, and I signed up for the forums, where I definitely found a bunch of posters who were... passionate, to say the least; I mean this in both the good & the bad. Still, there was only so much AoD founder Chris Beveridge could do to expand on the site by himself, so in April of 2008 (the 10th Anniversary of the site itself) he sold AoD to, a more general entertainment news site. Beveridge & the AoD staff stayed on board to continue covering anime & manga, though, wile the forums would transition over as well, with the URL for said forums even literally including the phrase "aodvb" (as in "AnimeonDVD vBulletin"). Things more or less continued as usual after the move to Mania, but the new home did bring about something new for the AoD forums: A blog section for forum posters.

Through the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, some bits & pieces of the "proto-blog" can still be accessed, so let's go over everything that still exists, if only to look back and see if I cringe at all while writing this.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Quiz Magic Academy - The Original Animation 1 & 2: Is This a Daily Double... Or Just a Whammy?

Out of the entire English alphabet, the letter Q is, statistically speaking, one of the least used of all, alongside J, X, & Z. This is all the more true in Japanese, which doesn't actually have a proper equivalent to the letter, resulting in it being solely used via the katakana "キュー", which itself isn't even a single character, as it's the "ki" kana being followed up with a mini "yu" kana as a "yō-on" so as to palatalize it into sounding like the letter Q. However, unlike the English quartet mentioned, J & Z are actually "seen" slightly more often via romanization, because those actually have proper equivalents in Japanese, namely "じ/ジ/ji". That leaves just Q & X, which a quick visit to the ANN Encyclopedia (though not 100% comprehensive) shows that they have the least amount of anime starting with those letters, after romanization. However, I actually had already reviewed an anime starting with X back in 2015, when I wrote about the Xanadu -Dragon Slayer Densetsu- OVA, so all that remains from the alphabet for me to do a review of is Q.

But this is The Land of Obscusion, so I can't take the easy way out & cover something like Queen's Blade, Qwaser of Stigmata, the Queen Emeraldas OVAs, or even Qualidea Code. No, this is "Final Jeopardy", so I'm going to "Press My Luck" on a game of "Twenty-One" (hopefully it's not rigged), and that IS my final answer!

While never managing to succeed in North America, Japan really enjoys its quiz video games, especially in the arcades; SNK had a bunch on the Neo Geo, for example, while Capcom has made a few, as well. Wanting a piece of that pie, Konami debuted Quiz Magic Academy in Japanese arcades on July 24, 2003, with its main appeal being that the cabinets could be connected online via Konami's e-AMUSEMENT service, allowing up to 16 players to compete against each other at once, though this was reduced to 9 starting in 2016; that's still a wild amount of players for a quiz game, though. Being online also allows Konami to run tournaments, update cabinets, correct mistakes in questions, & even add new questions to keep things fresh; using a touch interface also allowed for more variety in the types of questions asked, instead of just multiple choice. Every year a new entry debuts, and the previous one goes offline, with the latest being Kibou no Koku/Time of Shining Hope this past June. With that kind of success, it's no surprise that the series eventually made its way to things like old mobile phones, modern smartphones, & even two entries on the Nintendo DS. Not just that, but QMA has also seen adaptations to webcomics, books, and (finally) the focus of this review: Anime.

On September 12, 2008, to help promote the release of Quiz Magic Academy DS that same day, a half-hour OVA titled Quiz Magic Academy - The Original Animation came out on DVD. Two years later, on February 11, 2010, another half-hour OVA titled Quiz Magic Academy - The Original Animation 2 saw release to promote Quiz Magic Academy DS: Futatsu no Jikuu Ishi/The Two Spacetime Stones that same day. Since the two OVAs share the same cast & staff I'll just review them together as a single entity, so let's see what happens when an online-connected arcade quiz game gets turned into anime.