Monday, June 21, 2021

Speak Softly & Carry a Gravitational Beam Emitter: Blame! & Its Long Anime Journey

Tsutomu Nihei is probably one of the most unique mangaka out there, and a lot of has to do with what he was originally doing prior to entering manga. Namely, Nihei originally had planned to work in construction, & even attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, but it's that very experience that eventually allowed his debut work to become one of the most striking manga ever, visually. That manga is Blame! (technically pronounced "Blam!", but screw it), which ran from 1997 to 2003 in Kodansha's Monthly Afternoon magazine for 10 volumes. The manga follows Killy (or "Kyrii", depending on the translation), a silent man who wanders throughout "The City", an immense & ever-growing technological structure that has existed for so long that it has encased not just the Earth & the Moon, but is also indicated later on to have reached as far out as Jupiter's own planetary orbit. Specifically, Killy is looking for a human (amongst the few that still exist), on order from a group called the Authority, who has "Net Terminal Genes", which would allow humans access the Netsphere, which in turn would allow humans to finally put a stop to The City's never-ending expansion, as it's allowed to continue because of a group called the Safeguard, which utilizes killer cyborgs knows as Silicon Creatures.

However, to say that Blame! features traditional storytelling would be a bit of a lie.

Seriously, how exactly does one adapt something like this to anime?

Minus the occasional part where story actually gets the focus, reading Blame! is mostly a visual experience, one where Killy (& sometimes his occasional partner, Cibo), without saying a word, simply traverses various sections of The City, almost all of which are empty & lifeless... yet also absolutely beautiful in their scope, scale, & design. As Jason Thompson stated in his write-up of the manga for ANN back in 2013, it kind of feels like a procedurally-generated dungeon you'd find in a Roguelike, with even the back of every Japanese tankouban describing Blame! as being about "Adventure Seeker Killy in the Cyber Dungeon Quest", and considering how The City is designed to expand it makes perfect sense. However, while this extremely visual style of sequential art storytelling might work well for manga, and even then it's something that just won't work for some, it does result in a bit of a conundrum for animation. That being said, Blame! has seen a handful of anime adaptations ever since the 00s, and true to Nihei's most non-standard debut work, there's a long & interesting journey towards its final destination. So let's go over these anime in the order they were made, and see if any of them manage to capture the desolate & (generally) isolating nature of Blame!.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Guilty Gear X ("Vanilla", Plus, & Ver. 1.5): Are You Ready? It's Cool! Let's Enjoy a Great Show Time!! good luck

Back in early 2015, to celebrate the release of Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- a few months prior, I reviewed the original Guilty Gear from 1998 for the PlayStation. Six years later, we now have the release of Guilty Gear -Strive-, the fourth main entry in Arc System Works & Daisuke Ishiwatari's iconic fighting game franchise. So I feel that there's no better way to celebrate this new game's release on this blog than to do a review of the second game ever released in the Guilty Gear franchise... Though, contrary to common belief for a long time, it isn't actually the sequel to the first game, despite taking place afterwards, chronologically. Also, this game would mark the franchise's penchant for iterating upon itself over & over again, though in this case said later iterations are not as well known.

So let's take a look at Guilty Gear X, the game that truly started the franchise's rise into stardom, & its two updates.

Prior to the release of Guilty Gear in 1998, Arc System Works was known as nothing more than a for-hire development studio, either for porting one game to other hardware or for developing games based on licensed properties. That changed in 1995 when the studio started developing & releasing its own games, like Exector or Wizard's Harmony, but in the end Daisuke Ishiwatari's 2D fighting game was the one with the most potential. Therefore, Ishiwatari & his "Team Neo Blood" staff were told to make a follow-up, but this time around there were loftier ambitions. With gaming company Sammy Corporation handling the publishing duties, this second game would be developed for Sega's NAOMI arcade board, which allowed for much more 2D graphical power than what the PlayStation could ever possibly handle. So in July of 2000, Guilty Gear X (technically pronounced "Zecks", and sporting the subtitle [By Your Side "G.Gear"]) started appearing in Japanese arcades, while an arcade-perfect port to the Sega Dreamcast (due to similar hardware as the NAOMI) come out later that December. At the time, there were hopes that GGX would see release on the Dreamcast internationally, as Sammy had planned to support the console until the end. Unfortunately, all Sammy would ever release for Sega's final console outside of Japan was light-gun rail shooter Death Crimson OX in August of 2001; combined with Capcom USA not releasing Capcom vs. SNK 2, this really annoyed Dreamcast supporters.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1993

The Atari Jaguar, the final console produced by (anything that even remotely resembles) the company that had produced the Atari 2600 way back in 1977, is undeniably one of the most infamous failures in video game history. Originally part of a two-console project lead by Flare Technology, the Jaguar was Atari's attempt to rise back up from the "it'll do" performances of the 7800 & Lynx, but a variety of reasons (unfinished & overly complicated hardware, Atari's lack of real support for it, blatantly false advertising, becoming outdated within a year, Atari's death, etc.) resulted in it becoming one of the least-selling game consoles of all time. From its test market release at the end of 1993 to the bulk of its inventory being liquidated at the end of 1996, no more than 225,000 consoles were ever actually produced (100,000 of which were unsold by the end of 1995), and up until Hasbro (which had purchased Atari & all of its properties in 1998) declared the console an open platform in 1999 only 50 games ever saw officially licensed release. Even a CD-drive add-on released in late 1995 did nothing to help things, with only a paltry 20,000 units apparently only ever being produced.

Without a doubt, the Atari Jaguar was an unmitigated mess. Still, the console has managed to have a surprising post-Atari life.

The box art for the console was seriously awesome, though.

After being declared an open platform, the console has seen a shockingly healthy continued life via releases from the likes of AtariAge, Songbird Productions, & Piko Interactive, which have released a mix of unreleased games originally planned & developed back in the 90s as well as ports of games from other consoles, while a variety of homebrew developers have made a wide variety of original titles. However, what I have been interested in for a while is taking a look at what came out on the Jaguar officially, specifically those 50 cartridge releases. Unfortunately, almost anything Jaguar-related has since become absurdly expensive, but now that RetroHQ's Jaguar GameDrive flash cart has come out in a more readily-available fashion, I can now get started on this endeavor; trust me, ~$180 to play the entire Jaguar library (& more) is an amazing deal. So welcome to Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog, an 11-part series that will cover the 50 official games released for (the original) Atari's final console in the (more or less) order they came out in back in the day, as this was still before the time where exact release dates were guaranteed; the best you can find for some is just the month & year. I'll be covering 4 or 5 games at a time, and I'll also be bringing up notable events in gaming that happened throughout, namely other console releases, so as to point out how "The Jag" would quickly become more & more outdated over time. Also, due to the GameDrive's lack of easy Jaguar CD support (it does support them, but only by way of converting them to a proprietary format, which I can't get working), I won't be covering the 13 CD games; maybe by the time I finish this series things will have changed, though. I'll also bring up some idea of sales figures for some games, which goes off of this document that tracked sales up through April 1, 1995, but only for games released in 1993 & 1994, i.e. it's not definitive by any means, but it's the best we've got.

Finally, don't expect any sort of consistent schedule to this series, though I will try to make sure that this doesn't wind up becoming an unfinished concept. With all that out of the way, let's see what the Atari Jaguar had to offer in 1993, i.e. the barely-over-a-month it was on the (test) market.