For me, one of the big surprises of the season is that the token 70's remake is so miserable and bleak. As it isn't available in English, I've never watched the original Casshern series, and I skipped the live-action movie altogether. But here's the opening of the TV series. I mean, sure, a guy puts his brain into a robot body, but he seems like he's doing pretty alright knocking the heads off bad-guy robots. Certainly not, in any case, suffering from crushing guilt and depression at all times.
Well, in Casshern Sins, something seems to have happened. At the start of the show, neither we nor Casshern know what exactly that thing was: just that the world lies in post-apocalyptic ruin, and everybody seems to be in agreement that it's all Casshern's fault. On top of that, every robot but Casshern is in an irreversible state of decay: in a likely parallel to the African urban legends about curing AIDS (I will spare you the details), there's a rumor going around that if you eat Casshern, you'll be granted robot immortality. The robots that come after Casshern know it's an insane idea, but they're desperate beyond reason.
This is a running theme: everybody Casshern meets is either desperate to live or praying for death. Casshern himself is a brooding wreck played by Tohru Furuya, who's your go-to man for a "conflicted hero" voice. As he's an apparent amnesiac, he's forgotten absolutely everything about humans, robots, and living: about all he's hung on to is his guilt. Casshern's prone to being taken over by murderous rages when he's cornered: graceful, agile, but brutal in a way that makes the character feel like less a superhero than a simple killer. From Casshern's doomed acquaintances to the oppressively bleak atmosphere to the deep, dark colors, there's really nothing about this show that isn't a total bummer. The catchy, lightly melancholic theme song by Color Bottle is about as high as the mood ever gets. The episode titles are things like "The World Is Filled With The Cries of Death". The execution is great, even if the budget is shoestring, but God, the show makes you feel like shit every week.
Some of my favorite anime to come out of the last couple years have been Madhouse's adaptations of the works of suspense manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto. Akagi and Kaiji were both gambling stories that carried themselves by diving deep into the psychological warfare that takes place over a gamble: as a gamer who deals in that kind of thing, it's a lot of fun to watch the mind games unfold. The shows have apparently met with great success, as the Akagi adaptation begat the Kaiji adaptation by the same staff, with a second season of Kaiji coming next year. Meanwhile, the staff is adapting One Outs, which isn't by Fukumoto at all, but, well... it's about a nihilist genius gambler who will remind Fukumoto fans of nobody so much as nihilist genius gambler Shigeru Akagi. He's even voiced by the same guy!
One Outs is an underground gamble that's basically an extreme simplification of baseball: a pitcher goes up against a batter. If the batter strikes out, or hits the ball in the infield, he loses. If he hits it past the infield, he wins. That's it. You don't really need to know or care about baseball to understand this. Case in point: Akagi was about Japanese-rules mahjong, which few viewers actually comprehended while watching the show. But the show worked anyway. A lot of those viewers, myself included, went out and learned mahjong after watching Akagi, because Akagi was a spectacular badass. For Akagi, and for One Outs, it's not really about the game at all.
It's about the gamble, man: it's about the bluffs and the second-guessing, the intimidation, the fear. It's about seeing people in do-or-die situations doing or dying, and sometimes both. Yuzo Sato and his staff bring all the tense atmosphere they put into Akagi and Kaiji here, sans Fukumoto's famous "zawa...zawa" sound effect. From the omniscient play-by-play narration to the repeat use of Masato Hagiwara as the hero (he played sad sack Kaiji as well), the show is pretty much built in the same mode. Don't expect particularly outstanding animation: all the action is taking place on the inside.
I should note that the staff is selling really hard to the huge fujioshi following that the Fukumoto manga have had for a long time: the opening sequence consists almost entirely of long, slow pans of our hero, who is, of course, shirtless and wearing leather pants. I guess they want to make sure the fangirls don't leave. I think it'd totally rule if the OP was just the hero kneecapping people with fastballs over and over again, but the staff already knows they've got me eagerly awaiting the next episode. Meanwhile, I'm going to read Liar Game, by One Outs author Shinobu Kaitani, and hope it's good.
You know a game is big when you play the first fifteen levels and only feel comfortable enough with it to give impressions. But such is SRW: "motto, motto" is still the name of the game. More and more. If I were one of those publishers who listed how many numbers their videogame has on the back of the box, I'd have to cancel publishing this game because my tiny plastic videogame box could not accommodate it. The closest phenomenon to SRW that exists in videogames is probably Smash Brothers, whose last installment many gamers awaited as Nerd Event of the Century. But Smash's scale and ambition are miniature compared to SRW, which, in this outing and many others, not only smashes together 40 years of robot anime (!), but writes some more pages in its own original mythology. That mythology has grown so large that it's branched off into its own successful franchise-- completely devoid of licensed characters-- which has made it to three games and, ironically, two anime series. Frankly, SRW is convoluted and silly, but we love it, and the team working on Z has never made it more evident that they love it too.
I've addressed battle animations, but now that I'm playing the game I want to make the point that it's not just the big-ticket attacks that get this kind of attention to detail: it's every stupid little thing the robot or the minor support character ever did. Animations for weapons that were even boring in the anime (Gundam head vulcans, for example) have taken on a bit of a grand scale. Series producer Takanobu Terada says he's got 14 people working on these animations, and I'm pretty sure that whatever they're getting, they deserve a raise. This past generation, SRW been showing us the hands-down best in videogame 2D animation (disclaimer: it's not actually interactive), and the work in Z is on a whole other level even from the recent and stunning Original Generation games. I've been giving you Youtube clips, but Youtube doesn't really do justice to the clean, sharp look of the sprites: when I first saw the game on my TV, my jaw dropped yet again. Still, battle animations have been made to serve the game, not vice versa: because sometimes you just want to play the damn game, loads are extremely fast, you can fast-forward, skip, or outright turn battle animations off when need be.
And when hyping SRW, we often forget there's a really good strategy RPG down there somewhere, with, perhaps, a bit more emphasis on the latter than the former. Right now, non-readers like myself are pretty much out of luck knowing whatever the hell is supposed to be going on here, but it's apparent that Orguss is serving as the framework of the plot, with the original hero characters frequently being teleported from one reality to another: hijinx ensue early on when the cast of Zeta Gundam find themselves in the world of Gundam Seed Destiny and, presumably, stare in slack-jawed horror at botched plagiarisms of themselves. Speaking of plagiarisms, the main villain seems to be a silly evil twin of a certain established SRW character. I won't spoil this mysterious character's mysterious and not at all transparent identity, but to give you an idea, his name is Asakim. Head in my hands, over here. To help the player sort all this funny business out, most of the PS2 games have a "library" mode where players can look up arcane terminology or get a refresher on the cast of hundreds. This is probably really helpful if you can read Japanese: I played Original Generation 2 in English and I only barely understand what the hell happened in that game.
The engine itself isn't too far from what it was, with some tweaks on certain systems: Z has really cracked down on the systems that were easy to abuse in OG and forced some more strategic play by making your guys a little weaker and enemies a little more dangerous. The game's also added an avalanche of new units, and-- since we have to be just like the original shows here-- some of them have had really good gameplay devices cooked up to accomodate them. And of course, you can micro-manage your favorite units into your strongest units: I'm putting all my money into Team Tomino Gone Mad: King Gainer, the Walker Galliar from Xabungle (of the famous ICBM Toss), and Turn-A Gundam.
Also, as ever, the difficulty level is player-adjustable: collect "SR Points" by finishing special tasks in-game that range "not so tough" to "ugh FUCK YOU FUCK YOU", and game difficulty will increase accordingly. If that isn't enough for you, EX Hard mode unlocks when you beat the game, and having played much of EX Hard mode in OG2, I can assure you that you will be completely miserable and have no fun playing it whatsoever. If that's your thing.
In other "unfun things in SRW" news, quicksaving and reloading is so fast that your game is reloaded before you can even let go of the Select button. Hell, you don't even have time to read the load screens. Either of them. This is a game that knows its players: if you decide to get the SR Points, for example, you're going to find yourself reloading constantly so that everything goes just right. You usually have to in order to accomplish the goal you're given. Of course, you don't have to get the SR Points. They don't do anything in this game but make it a bigger pain in the ass. But some of us-- myself included-- are compelled. It's a pretty vicious circle. I just had to skip a point today because, God damn it, I didn't want to suffer anymore with the mission.
So I guess you should ignore me and just play Easy mode. That's what Terada does, and I'm starting to see his point.
As with LoGH, I am not going to try and sum up what is going on in Tytania after just one episode, instead opting to repeat the catchphrases "foppery and whim" and "FABULOUS". Because why else post?
This show is so foppish and whimsical that it opens with a battleship drawing-room scene: a fop with a whimsical lock of hair up front likes his tea so much that he buys out the planet it comes from. Also, the drawing room has a curtain that can open and close when drama calls for it. Now that's bad and beautiful.
From there, you know, a plucky underdog deals a ridiculously powerful and comically arrogant empire a humbling military defeat, and the Emperor gets pumped. None of this is too far off from LoGH, so if you like that, you'll enjoy this episode, at the very least. Of course, it's really too soon to say much more than that: while a lot of the stuff that happens in this episode is kinda nuts, the show also retains the sobriety and the leisurely pace of LoGH. The situation hasn't really taken shape yet, so it's outright unfair to make a call just yet. Here's hoping for a fabulous ride.
Do you have any idea where I can get a copy of Phantom Blood? I really, really, really, really want to see that movie.
Boy, do I wish I did. For those of you who don't know what we're talking about, the first arc of Hirohiko Araki's shonen fighting epic Jojo's Bizarre Adventure was turned into a theatrical anime movie early in 2007. When it came out, we fans who weren't in Japan quietly lamented and hoped for the eventual DVD release to come soon, so we could see the movie too. Only one problem: as far as I know, Phantom Blood never came out on DVD. As such, the movie never really made it out to the internet, never mind fansubbers. The website for the movie is blank, and it's as though the thing never existed.
It doesn't look bad, but the only possible conclusion I can make is that it was. Over 18 months since the movie released, it's completely forgotten. With even the website taken down, I get the feeling that somebody wanted this movie forgotten. Maybe it was a Gundress-level fiasco? Or perhaps Araki just wasn't happy with it. Hopefully the movie surfaces one day, but I'm getting the feeling we'll never know.
First: I went ahead and bought subatomicbrainfreeze.com, and it redirects to the Typepad site. Kind of an overdue move, but there it is. You can link there now, if you like. I'll be using it in the future.
There's a review of the City Hunter manga up on Colony Drop! What a cool website, not to mention a cool bunch of guys. We sure hate everything over there!
In closing, FUCK YES TYTANIA
Check this shit. Have you seen this shit? Oh my god. Check out all these spaceships and all these stoic motherfuckers with opera man in the background, because this is what I am talking about. And then ships start exploding, and you see that one guy with his fist up like YES because that's exactly what I am thinking, YES. Spaceships are exploding to opera music and the world is great right now.
THEN A GUY SHOVES A SWORD THROUGH THREE SPACESHIPS.
That son of a bitch just reached through dimensions-- fucking defied reality-- just to wreck somebody's shit. With the blade of metaphor.
I have so much enthusiasm left from LoGH that this opening, just by relation, is completely riveting to me. I hope this show is actually good.
Everybody's been doing a lot of buzzing about Megaman 9-- well-deserved, the game is brilliant-- but it got me thinking about an overlooked retro remake that I've given a lot of play: Star Soldier R. When you try to buy this game on the Wii Shop Channel, you're immediately offered a disclaimer which spells out for you the fact that you're about to buy a game whose total length is five minutes. If you don't measure the quality of a videogame by the length of playtime, you are rewarded by a damn fine videogame.
If you're at all familiar with the Star Soldier, you might already know why Star Soldier R is five minutes long. In addition to having a full-fledged and more traditional shooting game, the PC Engine Star Solder games always had a score attack mode, often called "Caravan stages" after the tournaments held on Hudson Japan's nationwide Caravan tours. This was big shit: check out all the kids who showed up! They were all there to score attack on these two and five-minute courses. The courses were really tightly-designed deals with a huge amount of content packed into them, waiting to be discovered. The length is perfect, because after just two minutes, you always want to play just two minutes more: note that Geometry Wars 2 picked up on this idea to great effect.
Anyway, there is no main game in Star Soldier R: it's just the two score attack levels. You take out everything you see, as fast as you can, including the scenery. The faster you blow stuff up, the more enemies the game throws back at you. You have infinite lives and it's not hard to finish the level on time, but those shooting for high scores will find that getting hit even once-- downgrading your weapons-- is completely disastrous to your run. I usually reset if I'm hit.
Because the game is so short, it's extremely tightly designed, and the player has to make the most of the restraints imposed. There are a lot of very subtle mechanics at work here, like the support units that can be used in offensive or defensive formations, but weaken if you simply leave them out in offensive, forcing you to time their use wisely. There's also an abundance of trick shot bonuses for doing things that may never actually occur to you to do while playing, but that you'll eventually do by accident.
Every time you play the game, something new pops out at you: you try something you hadn't thought of, or you see something that wasn't there, and your score goes up accordingly. These five minutes are truly packed: two-minute mode is, by itself, deep enough to practice for weeks. I should know: I did it and I just broke the local top 30 on the leaderboards, and the top 700 or so worldwide. To get started on your score attack, check out the official website for some helpful stuff from Master Higgins (Takahashi Meijin), the Adventure Island guy who doesn't so much play Star Soldier as forcefully demolish it.
Sorry, guys, it's been a busy week, and I really hate to make another lazy Youtube post like this, but... oh my god.
You're amazing, Niconico. You. Are. Amazing. I cannot let off enough steam right now.
Super Robot Wars Z has been out for a little while, and I can't afford to buy it or anything, but you only need to look at Youtube for proof of its brilliance. Original Generations had really amazing sprite animation, but SRW Z has boiling, raging blood that demands it push forward and go beyond: a lot of these battle scenes break past the sidescrolling videogamey look into outright recreations of the source material.
IT'S GRAND FINALE!
By contrast to those last two, you'll note that the battle scenes for the classic Dynamic Pro robot shows like this Getter Robo G scene take great pains to replicate the 70's Toei animation look, down to the Go Nagai shading and the famously choppy explosion animation that would be parodied for years and years to come. The Final Dynamic Special this time around is awe-inspiring, but I won't go spoiling that for you.
Meanwhile, the Banpresto originals-- those ultra-modern, ultra-excessive mechanical designs I came to love in the OG games-- are not being skimped on. Not even their theme songs. Though you could say Gunleon is a lot like Gaogaigar. Except with a wrench instead of a hammer. But otherwise they're pretty close!
The really good, mainline SRW games are labors of love, and if this game were just a compilation of battle scenes, it would still be soaked in love all the way through. Never mind that you can actually play a videogame on this thing, too! I sure wish I could justify the $80 that it costs to myself, but until then, I'm going to listen to the new JAM Project theme song while I wait for my copy of the single to come in. I can wait on buying SRW, but I can't wait on buying JAM.
Dear Reader: HOW CAN YOU NOT BE PUMPED RIGHT NOW?!