Monday, January 30, 2023

The Boy with Kryptonite Hair: A Look at Locke the Superman's Anime Adaptations

On October 30, 2022 mangaka Yuki Hijiri (real name: Kiyotoshi Hasegawa) passed away from pneumonia at age 72, though this wasn't actually revealed to the public until later that December. Born on December 21, 1949, Hijiri would technically debut as a professional mangaka in 1971 with Bessatsu Shojo Comic magazine's Uchi no Aniki, before going on to also make his mark on the anime industry when he was hired to do the character designs for mech anime Voltes V, Fighting General Daimos, & Future Robot Daltanious for Toei, i.e. 2/3 of Tadao Nagahama's influential Robot Romance Trilogy of the 70s (plus its spiritual successor from the early 80s). Hijiri also did "comicalizations" of shows like Space Battleship Yamato (he made his simultaneously with co-creator Leiji Matsumoto's version, due to different magazines having their own versions), tokusatsu series like Kaiketsu Zubat & Daitetsujin 13, Daimos, & even magical girl icon Majokko Megu-chan.

However, all of this is what Yuki Hijiri did after going pro in 1971. Prior to that he had already made a name for himself in the doujinshi world for a few years with the manga that will truly be his legacy: Chojin Locke/Locke the Superman.

Just a small selection of Locke volumes,
from the OG to more modern ones.

Founded in 1962 by a junior high school student named Yoshiaki Baba, the Sakuga Group was a doujin circle that continued to exist all the way until July 2016, a month after Baba himself passed away on June 21 at age 68. During his second year of high school, a young Yuki Hijiri came across an ad promoting the Sakuga Group in an issue of Boy's Life that he had borrowed from his local rental bookstore, and with dreams of making manga in mind he got into contact with the circle. The end result of this was the publication of the first Locke the Superman story, later titled "Nimbus & the Negative World", in October of 1967, detailing the journey of a mysterious esper named Locke who helped people all around the galaxy. Locke the Superman was so instantly successful that the Sakuga Group became inundated with new applications, at one point maxing out at roughly 1,000 members! Hijiri would make five volumes worth of Locke the Superman until 1977, even making one doujin story after going pro, before finally doing Locke professionally, first via a story in Minori Shobo's Monthly OUT (Japan's first anime magazine) before starting a proper serialized run in Shonen Gahosha's Weekly Shonen King in 1979, which would run until the magazine ceased publication in 1988, totaling 37 volumes.

After that, Hijiri would continue to make Locke the Superman manga via various publishers, before finding two consistent homes from 2007 on with Shonen Gahosha's Young King OURs (yes, Locke ran alongside the likes of Hellsing, [maybe] Trigun Maximum, & Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer) & Media Factory's (now Kadokawa's) Monthly Comic Flapper. As of his death, there is close to 100 volumes of Locke the Superman manga published, in total, & according to the official timeline take place over the course of a little less than 1,400 years of time! Granted, some of these later runs retold early stories in more detail, but Hijiri literally kept making Locke (mostly) consistently from 1977 to 2020 (only missing 1990, 2003, & 2018!), and his last hiatus was only because he was recovering from a chronic sinus infection, cardiac arrest, a coma, & needing to be resuscitated! Yeah, he actually continued making manga after that, & only seemed to stop in 2020 after getting diagnosed with Parkinson's disease; otherwise, I imagine Yuki Hijiri would have continued making Locke manga until his death. However, with so much manga out there for this franchise (almost none of it being translated into English, fan or officially), I want to honor Yuki Hijiri by taking a look at something more reasonable: The anime adaptations of Locke the Superman. From 1984 to 2000 there were four anime produced based on Hiriji's life work, so let's go over all of them & see what made Locke the Superman so special that it was able to last for over half a century.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Obscusion B-List: The Oddities of Xbox's Backwards Compatibility Program

Debuting on November 15, 2001, the original Xbox marked the start of PC giant Microsoft's true entry as a console gaming competitor (after initially assisting Sega by having the Dreamcast run an optimized version of Windows CE), and while it has had its ups & downs over the past 21+ years, today the Xbox brand remains a rather strong one. One thing that has remained generally consistent with each new generation of Xbox hardware, minus a period of time during the Xbox One's first couple of years where it was considered unnecessary, has been the idea of supporting backwards compatibility with prior Xbox console's software. Buy an Xbox Series X|S today & you not only have the ability to play any game released for that or even the Xbox One before it (minus a handful of games that require "The Bone's" Kinect, which the Series is incompatible with), but you also have access to most of the 632 Xbox 360 games (or ~29.34% of that console's entire library) & 63 "OG" Xbox games (or ~6.3% of that console's entire library) that are supported via the backwards compatibility program; a portion of digital-only games have since been delisted from the Xbox Marketplace, sadly, while others are "disc-only" compatible. Now, being a company based out of North America & the Xbox brand's generally apathetic response in Japan (which has only recently started showing somewhat promising improvement), it's only understandable that the wide majority of "BC" games for Xbox are ones that saw international release of some sort. However, there is a small selection of games that never saw North American release that are BC, and this doesn't solely apply to the One & Series BC program, but also the 360 BC program that came before it!

While we certainly may never know how exactly these came about in terms of being added to the lists, let's still take a general look at these "oddities", starting with what (technically) works on the Xbox 360.

Support for OG Xbox games on 360 was done via an emulator named Fusion that was developed in-house at Microsoft, and because of just how different the two consoles were it was even deemed "impossible" by half of the Xbox team; even those who worked on Fusion called it "magical". While all 996 OG Xbox games are supported by Fusion in theory, Microsoft limited official support to just 463 games, or ~46.49% of the entire catalog, due to a wide variety of games having some sort of technical issue (& even many supported games don't exactly play 100% like they should). Two years after the console launched, the Xbox Originals program debuted, which digitally re-released certain OG Xbox games that were already BC, and it turns out that the two Japan-exclusive BC titles were also re-released as Xbox Originals! First up is 2003's Magatama, which is arguably the most interesting Japan-exclusive OG Xbox game, as it's not only one of only five games published by Microsoft itself that wound up being exclusive to the region but also the first one that was actually developed in-house at Xbox Game Studios Japan, the same studio (though with a different team) that would later make cult-classic Phantom Dust. Specifically, it was produced by Hiroshi Kawai, an ex-Sqauresoft employee who was actually the main programmer behind Final Fantasy VII & IX, two of the most beloved entries in the entire franchise; the actual director was Daisuke Fukugawa, who would later direct cult-classic RPG Lost Odyssey. A third-person action title, Magatama is today in Japan considered both a "Fukishin/Unscrupulous Game", due to it directly addressing a major real-world event (in this case the Warring States period), & an example of "Kiku/Chrysanthemum Taboo", as it criticizes or parodies the Japanese Imperial Family, which is generally considered off-limits; the Imperial Family crest is a Chrysanthemum, hence the name. Likely due to its immensely Japan-centric focus, & a lack of interest from any other publishers, Magatama never saw release outside of Japan, and due to the OG Xbox's region lock it's not easily playable today, outside of getting a Japanese Xbox or soft-modding a console. Sadly, said region lock also applies to the Xbox 360, so you can't simply buy a physical copy, put it in just any 360 console, even change the "Region" to Japan, & start playing; it has to be a Japanese 360.

If you want more detail about Magatama, Import Gaming FTW! covered it well back in 2014. With both Phantom Dust & Metal Wolf Chaos having received great HD remasters on Xbox One, maybe we should finally get one for Magatama on the Xbox Series, so that it can finally see release outside of Japan.

Monday, January 9, 2023

An "Overdosed" History of Manga?! Translating & Examining the Yarisugi Manga Timeline

Without a doubt, one of the most disappointing aspects of English-speaking anime & manga fandom, though mainly the latter for the purposes of this piece, is the lack of proper knowledge of its history amongst the large majority of those very fans. Some of this is admittedly due to a relative lack of interest (not everyone is interested in history of any sort, sadly), but this is also due to a relative lack of context to properly explain it, especially from the people who actually lived it in Japan. Yes, there are various books out there that go over certain aspects of anime & manga history in English, but just about all of them come from English-speaking writers who did their own research, and even then most usually have the perspective of how the mediums came abroad, while the rest are more encyclopedic in nature (which makes any in-depth exploration of titles nigh impossible). When it comes to the Japanese side of things, almost no books have ever been licensed, translated, & released in English, with the handful of exceptions focusing more on the production process itself, which is simultaneously shocking yet not really all that surprising.

Take, for example, the book Yarisugi Manga Retsuden, or Legend of Overdosed Comics (seriously, great title).

Released in 2015 by Kadokawa Shoten, Yarisugi Manga Retsuden was written by "Nobunaga Minami", the pen name author/editor Nobunaga Shinbo uses when he writes books as a "manga kaisetsusha/commentator". Shinbo is also the husband of "shojosei" mangaka Naoko Matsuda & is even a character in Reiko Saibara's self-reflective manga Dekirukana, as he was her editor. Yarisugi Manga Retsuden is the third of currently six books written under the Minami name between 2008 & 2021, which include books about tracing the various assistant-to-professional lineages of mangaka, recipes for meals found in various cooking mangamanga characters who have bronze statues erected of them throughout Japan, an examination of the various "miracles" that happened in 1979 (like the Sony Walkman & the debut of Mobile Suit Gundam), & most recently a history of how various mangaka portray themselves via self-portraits; I'll be using the Minami name from here on out, for consistency. As for Yarisugi Manga Retsuden, it goes over 32 different manga that are known for their penchant for "overdoing" things, whether it's actions, content, storytelling, concept, etc. I feel I shouldn't have to point this out, but from what I can tell Minami includes these titles out of either love or respect, and not to belittle them (at least, not solely), because I'm sure an English perspective of this same concept would be more like "Get a load of these titles, am I right?!". As Minami himself says in the introduction, "Yarisugi = Overflowing Excess Energy" & "A Miraculous Balance Gives Birth to Yarisugi Manga", so while I can't really read this entire book I can absolutely see that this comes from a place of legit intrigue & extrospection.

As for what the 32 manga covered in Yarisugi Manga Retsuden are, you can check this list I made over on Twitter, but we'll get to them over the course of this piece, because...