Monday, June 26, 2023

Samurai Deeper Kyo (GBA): Not Quite First to Arrive, But Definitely Last to Leave

Launching in Japan on March 21, 2001, with a worldwide release a few months later throughout June, the Game Boy Advance has an interesting & kind of contradictory history behind it. It was the long awaited "true" follow up to the long-lived Game Boy, which first launched all the way back in 1989 (the Game Boy Color in 1998 was more of a color-supporting stopgap update), yet the GBA itself would only really be seen as Nintendo's main handheld for a scant few years before the release of the Nintendo DS in 2004/2005 (depending on the region), which almost instantly overtook the GBA as the handheld of choice, especially since the DS could also play GBA games. While the GBA would continue to see releases alongside the DS for a few years, it didn't take long for the GBA (& the Game Boy name itself) to be relegated to mostly just licensed tie-in games for movies, TV shows, & the like, with only the rare outlier, like an Yggdra Union or Summon Night: Swordcraft Story. That "relegation" does technically apply to the subject of this review, as we'll be looking at a tie-in to a TV anime, but depending on where it came out it's either one of the GBA's earlier releases... or one of its very last.

Japanese title screen, but all that's different
is the copyright & the logo being slightly smaller.

Debuting in the pages of Weekly Shonen Magazine in mid-1999, Samurai Deeper Kyo by Akimine Kamijyo was a little different from the usual Magazine fare by being more focused on wild & over-the-top action, something you'd expect more from a Jump or Champion manga than Magazine. Still, the tale of the wanderer Mibu Kyoshiro, the feared samurai Demon Eyes Kyo that co-inhabits the same body as Kyoshiro, & the mysterious Mibu Clan (and rumored Crimson King) that seemingly runs all of Edo-Era Japan in secret found itself an audience, resulting in a 38-volume run that ended in mid-2006, during which a 26-episode TV anime adaptation by Studio Deen would air in Japan throughout the second half of 2002. Said anime, though, was wildly different from the manga, with all of the normally human (if still super-powered) villains now being revealed to be demonic creatures called Kenyo that came to Earth via a meteorite that crash landed during the Battle of Sekigahara; it's easily one of the most wildly different anime adaptations of a manga ever made. However, it's this anime interpretation that would define Samurai Deeper Kyo outside of Japan for the most part, as while TokyoPop did release the manga in English during the 00s (with Del Rey Manga finishing things up in 2010 after Kodansha pulled all of its licenses from TP), it was Media Blasters' DVD release of the anime throughout 2003 & 2004 that easily became more well known.

Media Blasters would keep the anime in print with a boxset re-release in 2005, but the next re-release was the most interesting one of all. In an effort to expand out to other mediums, MB eventually decided to also license the Game Boy Advance game based on the Kyo anime, one that had come out in Japan back in December 2002, more or less alongside a 2D fighting game for the PS1 that would remain Japan-exclusive. Media Blasters would do the localization work for the game itself under the Anime Works Game Shop name, but since it wasn't a video game publisher it had to find a partner to handle that, eventually finding one in the form of Destineer (via its Bold Games label), a company that actually had prior anime game experience after releasing two Fullmetal Alchemist games for the DS in North America. Media Blasters would release the GBA game as a bonus with the anime boxset re-re-release, while it's not really known if Destineer ever actually released the game as a standalone product, though today it's readily sold as such online (good luck getting it for cheap today, though!). However, the most interesting thing about this whole endeavor is that, while the game originally came out in Japan in late 2002, the English release in North America wouldn't happen until February 2008(!), making it the last individual release for the Game Boy Advance anywhere in the world; Europe would receive a handful of double-packs later in 2008, but those were all re-releases. So, while my expectations aren't exactly high, let's see how this experimental endeavor for Media Blasters worked out (MB would only ever release one more game, though that was digital-only), and judge whether Samurai Deeper Kyo for the Game Boy Advance is a good "final game" for the console... and, let's face it, that's not exactly a high bar to pass, considering some other "final games" for other consoles.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Celebrating 55 Years of "Weekly" Manga Goraku, Manga's Island of Misfit Toys

I've celebrated notable anniversaries (i.e. 5s & 0s) for various manga magazines here over the years, whether it's numerous ones regarding Weekly Shonen Jump (wink wink nudge nudge for next month), a singular entry for Monthly Shonen Ace, or even a Theory Musing for the amusingly semi-shared trilogy of Weekly Shonen Sunday, Weekly Shonen Magazine, & Weekly Shonen Champion. However, there's a commonality between all of those, and it's the simple fact that they're all shonen magazines, i.e. they're primarily aimed at adolescent boys, and while titles from those kinds of magazines tend to to be the most popular & appeal to a much wider audience than intended (at least, in concept), there is much, much more to manga than just those kinds of magazines. I will fully admit that something like shojo manga (& anime) is a rather notable hole in the Master List (what can I say other than "I'm can be a bit of a stereotypical guy at times"), so while this piece won't be about the genderal "opposite" of shonen manga in any way, we can at least age things up a bit & take a focused look on a seinen magazine, and how its unique editorial stance has turned it into a bit of a refuge for various mangaka & franchises of old.

The left isn't the literal first issue of this magazine's entire history,
but it is the first issue that the current issue numbering is connected to.

In January 1964 publisher Nihon Bungeisha released the very first issue of Manga Goraku Dokuhon (all written in kanji; literally "Comic Entertainment Reader"), a biweekly manga magazine aimed at adults, specifically those in their 30s to 50s. Alongside Weekly Manga Times by Houbunsha (allegedly the first ever weekly manga magazine, launched in November 1956) & the now-defunct Manga Sunday by Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha (launched in August 1959), Manga Goraku Dokuhon was one of the earliest seinen manga magazines ever published in Japan, and in 1968 the title was altered typographically, with "Goraku" now written in katakana & "dokuhon" written in lower case English, before being changed to its current name of Weekly Manga Goraku (kanji-kanji-katakana) in August 1971. However, despite dating back to 1964, which means that it technically turns 60 next year, the actual issue numbers that Goraku currently uses only date back to 1968, i.e. when the magazine had its first (typographical) name change & switched over to a weekly publishing rate, and unlike most other manga magazines doesn't reset its issue numbers every year, so issues that come out right now actually are in the 2,800s! Likewise, Goraku has a long history of allowing series to run for seemingly as long as their creators feel like, resulting in numerous manga that have run for literal decades (Sake no Hosomichi, Edomae no Shun, Tenpai: Mahjong Hiryu Densetsu), some of which are still running to this very day. 1992's Minami no Teioh tops them all at 171 volumes & counting, making it the fourth longest manga of all time by total volume count (third longest for a single series); for context, this is a series about a notorious loan shark who effectively charges an additional 1% interest per day!

However, another aspect of Weekly Manga Goraku has defined the magazine to a notable extent, and that is the editorial policy of welcoming in mangaka & series that were once popular & successful, but eventually "lost their place" (in a sense), whether it's because of a change in magazine or editorial interests elsewhere, readers' tastes changing with the times, or (at least for one instance) the mangaka themselves becoming unwanted by most other publishers because of scandal & controversy. In the end, Nihon Bungeisha's iconic seinen magazine has a history that's like a coin with two faces: One is of the long-running series that have continued on for literal decades, resulting in a variety of stories that have continued to "entertain" readers across generations, while the other is made up of the various series & creators that have been able to make various comebacks over the past half-century+, allowing once-iconic franchises to continue to thrive... and, trust me, some of these have certainly thrived in this magazine! So, to celebrate Weekly Manga Goraku's 55th Anniversary this year (or, at least, the 55th Anniversary as a weekly magazine), let's go over various manga & mangaka that were given new leases on life via this seinen juggernaut & see why Weekly Manga Goraku truly is, in some way, manga's equivalent to The Island of Misfit Toys.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1995 (Part 2)

Previously on Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog:
"On the one hand, the Jag would wind up being Atari's second-most appealing console for third-parties, with 10 different companies releasing games without Atari Corporation itself co-publishing. On the other hand... we've already seen the end of Ocean, Virgin, & Williams' support for the console, and aside from Telegames... all other third-party publishers we'll be seeing in this series will literally only release a single game for the Jaguar, with only one exception that will publish two. It's only early April, & already things aren't looking much better for the Jaguar..."

The year 1995 continues on into its second quarter, following a quintet of third-party releases, something that the Jag desperately needed. With the first ever Electronics Entertainment Expo on the horizon, Atari Corporation has some things ready to showcase at the show & needs all the help it can get in making sure that the Jaguar looks appealing when compared to the incoming Sega Saturn & Sony PlayStation, both of which were already out in Japan but were planned for release later in September abroad & were ready to be showcased at E3. Luckily, two more games would see release for the Jaguar sometime in April, roughly a month before E3, so let's start this second of a five-part look into the Atari Jaguar's 1995 with Atari Corp's first release of the year!

While the Atari that currently exists no longer actually owns the rights to it, after Rebellion bought them during the 2013 bankruptcy proceedings, Battlezone was arguably one of Atari's most iconic games, right up there with Pong, Breakout, & Missile Command. Therefore, it's not shocking at all that a new Battlezone was one of the very first games that was greenlit & announced for the Atari Jaguar back in 1993, alongside Cybermorph & Tempest 2000. Originally titled "Battlezone 2000" (as that numbering would become a commonality with other Jag-developed updates of classic Atari titles), the game would go through numerous changes over development, so much so that after being showcased during Summer CES 1994, the dev team at Atari Corporation decided to rename it to Hover Strike, partially due to the fact that the traditional tanks of Battlezone had since been changed into hover tanks, among other changes from the original source material. Amusingly enough, Atari Corp's split-apart sister company Atari Games, which by this point was 100% its own completely separate entity, had its own Battlezone knock-off for arcades in 1994's T-MEK, with a Jag port in development that never came out; ports to the 32X & MS-DOS did come out, though. Interestingly, while Hover Strike managed to come out for the Jag in April 1995, a mere six months later, in October, saw the release of Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands, a complete remake released on the ill-fated Jaguar CD, & was even first showcased at E3 mere weeks after the original cartridge version came out; this was almost like the Osbourne effect, but for a game instead of hardware! Regardless, let's check out the original cartridge version of Hover Strike & see how it holds up all this time later.