My Forays into Anime Cel and Original Art Collecting, a lost Otaku Hobby.

Back in around 2001 or 2002, I was poking around an internet forum and discovered the hobby of animation cel collecting. At that time, you could get some cels super cheap online so I jumped in and snagged a few. Cels (or celluloids) are paintings on transparent plastic sheeting used to create an animation. Each cel is one “frame”, and they are filmed and then put behind one another to give the illusion of a continuous motion. Since it takes hundreds of these to do a few seconds worth of film, there are ones that are similar out there, but no two are exactly alike. The cool thing (to me at least) with these was that they are all unique and original, and I that I got to own a piece of my favorite films or TV shows!

I honestly didn’t collect a ton of these because they can be pretty expensive and sometimes VERY rare. Certain shows did not keep their cels to sell; in fact, many of these cels ONLY exist on the secondary market because people fished around in studio dumpsters and hauled huge armloads out to safety. This was also the way people were able to obtain cels for bootleg Korean animation projects that I might review on here as well. At pretty much that exact same time period that I started buying these, animation had really shifted away from animation cels and into digital animation – now I know you can get digital scan sheets used in much the same way as some of the coloring sheets you are about to see, but I haven’t followed up on this, and don’t know the lingo.


Anyway here’s a few I’d like to share with you guys!

These first two are for Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995). Notice that  have pencil drawings for each. These are called “Douga” and are sometimes stuck to the cels they accompanied. Thankfully these are separated.

Note: these are crap pictures I took with my phone, my apologies.


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This one is from one of the Tenchi Muyo animes, probably Pretty Sammy (1995)

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These are from Great Teacher Onizuka (1999) – The one of Tomoko in the talent contest is actually multiple cels and a background, that is unfortunately stuck together. sometimes the paint from the cels acts like glue, and trying to force it could ruin the artwork.

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This one is in rough shape, but it’s from Galaxy Express 999 (1978), sadly the cel is stuck to the douga, and the black lines appear brown, meaning that the color was probably sun-bleached. All I’m concerned with is that I have it!

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Akira (1988) This is my prized cel! it appears to be a “key cel” of Kei since the number is circled, but I’m no expert in these things.

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I also have a few pieces of original artwork by two manga creators. These are in marker on  white Shikishi Boards.

dscn0018  Leiji Matsumoto

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Toohru Fujisawa


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The Monday Meme: Poor Billy

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Source – Mr. B Natural via MST3K

Concert Review – Kraftwerk (2015)

I know some folks see hundreds of concerts before they even graduate high school, but that was never really a part of my life growing up. At one point, I was even more into music than anything else (more than anime, sci-fi, or wrestling GASP! ) but I went through a few phases of changing musical tastes, and grew up poor, so my exposure to new bands and concerts was at the mercy of MTV and VH1. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve had both the disposable income and friends that enjoy live music that I have been attending more concerts than I ever have in my life. I’m one of those guys that usually won’t go to the theater or see live entertainment by myself because, to me, that’s super lame.

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One thing I’ve especially been trying to do is see shows from bands on my “musical bucket list”, especially ones where band members are getting old, and it might be close to time for them to be retiring….or worse. I still feel sad that I never got to see David Bowie in concert, that is assuming I would ever have had the cash sitting around to do that when he was touring on a consistent basis, but the thought is still there that I missed out.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to see the legendary German electronic quartet, Kraftwerk, when they went out on a North American tour about a year and a half ago. Apparently, they had not been to Kansas City since the mid seventies, with that sort of frequency, this was basically a once in a lifetime show! Why didn’t I post about this then? Well, this blog wasn’t as open to this sort of topic then, and I wasn’t posting as much due to personal stuff going on. Now that Arcadia Pod is open to whatever I want to write about, I plan to review some concerts I attended recently as well.

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We knew we were in for a treat when we were handed 3D glasses. What IS a 3D concert anyway? we were about to find out!

 

 

When we were seated, a guy that I will characterize as an aging yuppie (as well as a gaggle of the drunkest and most-drugged out fiends he could find) looked back at my wife and I, both in our early 30’s (I’d assume they were 50-ish), and remarked at how confused he was to see folks our age at a Kraftwerk show. Indeed, Kraftwerk is ostensibly a band of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but they have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Anyone that is a fan of electronic music, new wave music, or even hip hop music should know about Kraftwerk and their contributions as they were decades ahead of their time.

I recall many days in rural Kansas where I would watch educational TV on PBS; these were the days before I had cable, as satellite was the only real way to get anything other than local channels out into my neck of the woods. I watched PBS more than anything else, and I honestly credit that with the fact that I was slightly accelerated in a few topics in elementary school. A few of my favorites were an old show called 3-2-1 Contact, and another called Newton’s Apple, the latter having an amazing theme song that I loved.

I would later find out that this theme song was in fact, a song called Ruckzuck by a band called Kraftwerk that my mom had a few records by – most notably 1974’s Autobahn. I won’t pretend that I was enamored by the full length LP of Autobahn at that age, because it was far too complex and long for me (22 minutes for the title song alone!) but the band’s name stuck with me. It wasn’t until we moved to Kansas City, and got cable, that I would sometimes see Kraftwerk Videos on Vh1. I immediately fell in love with their sound. So yes, annoying drunk guy at concert – I do know who Kraftwerk is, turn around and let me enjoy the show!

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The biggest thing that caught my eye going into this concert was the promoter tagline and marketing listing this as “a 3-D concert”. “What does that even mean?” I said to myself, was this just a bit of marketing goofiness or was there really going to be a 3-D element to the show? Fast forward to us standing in line, and being handed small red envelopes with 3-D glasses in them (seen above). I knew that Kraftwerk usually employed giant media screens as a way to make concerts more exciting, as four guys standing at keyboards can be sort of boring, what I didn’t know was how much this 3-D was going to change the concert game for me.

Considering Kraftwerk also actively pretend to be robots on stage, a lot of stage charisma is sort of out of the question, they need gimmicks like this to enhance the music. Upon the opening few seconds of the song “Numbers” the awesomeness of this 3-D was made clear as the theater was filled with huge lime-green numbers floating in the air and loud cheers from everyone in attendance.

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This picture really doesn’t do it justice, I’d love for a home video release with glasses.

 

All of the songs (over two hours worth without an opener) were arranged in album suites with some featuring full-length cuts of longer songs such as Autoban and Tour de France. They opened with five tracks from 1981’s Computer World, starting with Numbers as mentioned above. this was followed by songs from Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and more. Almost all of their major albums had some sort of representation here, minus the first two albums that were more “stoner rock” than the electronic sound they eventually settled on.

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The famous song Radio-Activity, got a new line added about Fukushima

This was the full set-list, honestly do yourself a favor and see this show if it continues past this leg.

Numbers; Computer World; It’s More Fun to Compute; Computer Love; Pocket Calculator; Metropolis; The Man-Machine; Spacelab; The Model; Neon Lights; Autobahn; Airwaves; Intermission/News; Geiger Counter; Radioactivity; Electric Cafe; Tour de France: 1983, 2003 (Etape 1), 2003 (Etape 2); Trans Europa Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug. Encore: The Robots; Aero Dynamik; Planet of Visions; Boing Boom Tschak; Techno Pop; Musique Non Stop.

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Perhaps my favorite Kraftwerk concert thing is where they take a break and are replaced by actual robots for one song.

One of the cooler parts of the concert, for me, were those small hints of improvisation that were sprinkled in from here or there. I know some folks try to bad-mouth acts like Kraftwerk and Daft Punk as being guys that press play on stage, but that isn’t how this works at all. you could tell that the guys were up on stage actually mixing samples and re-arranging things as they went. while it might have been tightly controlled German engineered chaos, it was still cool to hear.

The highlight of the night was probably Tour De France, there was just something about the mix of video and songs that I wasn’t really expecting. My favorite Kraftwerk album has always been Trans-Europe Express, and perhaps I have ignored Tour De France, but it really caught me off guard in a good way. Since this show, I have listened to it more because of the concert. Honestly the whole concert stood out as awesome, with no real dud anywhere in the set. The only let-down was when the lights came back on.

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Metropolis had the best video presentation

I will chalk this up as, perhaps, my favorite concert that I’ve ever been to. The attention to making this an “event” that you can only experience live was exhilarating, and I wish more bands would do stuff like this. this was a great show that is suitable for all ages, as there really isn’t any vulgarity or sexual content anywhere in their repertoire. That’s not a big thing for me, as I see stuff that’s definitely not for kiddos all the time, but it’s good to know that it’s out there without it actually being “for kids”.

Glancing at Kraftwerk’s website, it looks like they are currently in the middle of a long European tour – so if I have any UK based readers that have yet to see this show, I’d recommend seeing if it’s coming to your town in May. As for US readers, fingers crossed that it isn’t another 40 years before the robots come back to town. In the meantime, check some videos out on Youtube, that’s almost as good.


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ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Mid-Season Thoughts

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Every year it seems like a billion anime TV shows get released, and with each season having upwards of 50 shows, one can safely assume most of those are mediocre at best. I work a LOT, so I can’t watch everything I would like to, and truthfully, it’s very easy to burn out of anime fandom if one tries to be a completionist of any sort. I have to be VERY selective of what I watch, and usually I go for off-the-wall stuff that strays from the mainstream shonen fighting shows and paranormal adventure shows that everyone seems to absolutely love.

This year I decided to re-subscribe to Crunchyroll in order to watch the relatively recent live action Great Teacher Onizuka show, and have found a few gems from the “simulcast” section of the app. I’m not sure of it was the eye-catching art style, or the fact that it may very well have been the first thing on the list, but I decided to give ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department a try, and I’m very glad that I did.

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Based on a popular Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, ACCA (as I will refer to it from now on) tells the story of Jean Otus, who acts as the second-in-command of the ACCA inspection agency. Jean’s job is to travel to the various major cities within the Kingdom of Dowa (which is, itself divided into 13 districts) and visit other ACCA offices to look for corruption, government waste, and other things that may destabilize the Kingdom. ACCA had been created over one hundred years in the past, during a lengthy period of unrest, in order to bring order to the masses. Many feel that ACCA is no longer relevant, but murmurs of revolution seem to be in the air. Small hints of possible revolution have been cropping up, such as scenes where various people start remarking on the increasing number of fires that have been occurring.

I jokingly told my wife (after viewing episode one) that this show could be summed up as “office politics – the anime” which was perhaps a bit flippant considering the way the show has progressed these past few episodes. To some, ACCA might seem slow – as it is free of the ridiculous exposition dumps and false world building that a lot of modern anime seems to be comprised of. Instead, the story is left to breathe while the viewer is allowed to see some sites, and understand the culture of the various districts within Dowa. This almost makes it a animated travel show ala Anthony Bourdain. Jean travels to places, buys gifts for his co-workers and sister, and samples the local cuisine. Food, in particular, takes such a large role in some episodes that one wants to sample the exotic sandwich breads and pastries that everyone seems to be obsessed with.

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I think the main reason this show has endeared itself to me so much, is that it reminds me a LOT of a few other shows from a number of years ago that had a similar traveling theme – Kino’s Journey, and Mushishi. Kino’s Journey was a philosophical show that saw the titular hero visiting various towns that all seemed to be examples of philosophical conundrums, and example being a town where everything was handled by majority vote to the conclusion of there being one person left alive in the entire city. Kino would go to these places and observe the issues these people have and rarely take action to alter the path that fate was going to take. Mushishi was a  bit different but involved a traveling apothecary / exorcist as he went from town to town saving people from paranormal creatures and other bad things.

ACCA is very similar in the way Jean interacts with the other districts, he’s there to inspect these towns, not to do anything to alter them in any way. in some cases, he is even witness to an attempted rebellion, and decides that preserving the status quo is better than reporting this to his superiors. One of my favorite “visits” is Jean’s trip to a city that is full of gigantic people that eat enormous food. It’s never made abundantly clear why this is the case, but I’ll pretend that the produce all has growth hormone in it or something, because nothing else makes much sense. it’s obviously a slight softened jab at America from an outsider’s perspective, but it still gave me quite a few chuckles. Seeing Jean and company try to eat strawberries the size of basketballs and sandwiches that would make that guy from Man Vs. Food blush.

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Jean soon finds himself to be the object of a persistent rumor, one that places himself at the forefront of a suspected Coup d’état that he has no knowledge of. It seems that many feel he is in some way an information broker for coup leaders, and that his travels are actually a cover for bad things that he may be doing. People think he is rich, and privileged due to his large house and his smoking habits (smoking seems to be very scarce and an extreme luxury) so him being some sort of spy makes sense to many. Sure, he has heard the same murmurs from around his office, ones of fires and killings, but has no clue why he is suspected, or why the rumor is so specific. Many see him as non-caring or naive about this situation, but Jean is pretty stoic and street smart. something like a baseless rumor isn’t going to rattle him.

I won’t actually spoil anything here, but episode seven delivers a huge bombshell in the plot department, one that will likely move the narrative to the season finale and hopefully beyond. I have not read the manga or kept up with ratings, so I have no idea how much story is left or how cost effective more would be, but I really hope the show continues for a while instead of stopping at episode twelve. assuming the ending is good, ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department could end up being a personal classic of mine – an anime that may not be the next Dragonball Z or Naruto, but I will end up remembering for a long time. Here’s hoping it stays this way as we move into the back half of the series!

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the entire show in a few months!


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Omon Ra (1998)

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I’m fascinated by the concept, albeit pretty much firmly in the realm of fantasy, of lost cosmonauts. The idea that the USSR was so obsessed with besting America in the space race that they would stop at absolutely nothing to do so is interesting and horrifying at the same time. In a way, this is a sarcastic book about that very subject as well as a criticism of blind nationalism and the concept of “national heroes”.

One of the more outlandish things in the book takes place when the main character, Omon, enlists in a flight school only to discover that they do not create any pilots, but push their students through a series of grueling ordeals (like forced foot amputations) in order to turn them into national heroes. He thankfully escapes this fate and goes to cosmonaut training which is even more disturbing. I did a bit of research and (according to Wikipedia) this whole thing is a reference to a famous Soviet ace-pilot Alexey Maresyev, “who despite being badly injured in a plane crash after a dogfight, managed to return to the Soviet-controlled territory on his own. During his 18-day-long journey, his injuries deteriorated so badly that both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee.” In the World of Omon Ra, this is seen as the quickest way to create national heroes.

This book reminds me of Doctor Strangelove in many ways – it’s very surrealist, a dark comedy, and very acerbic towards the failings of the USSR. This book is not for everyone, but if you have an interest in history, dark comedy, or the space race this might be a fun read, and at only 150 pages or so, it’s a quick one. Perhaps my only big quibble with the book, and with many translated books, is that the writing is very simplistic, meaning that much of the nuance of the original book was probably lost in translation. I will definitely have to find more books by Victor Pelevin in the future.


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Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation & Digital Devil Story 2: Warrior of the Demon City (1986-8)

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It’s no mystery that one of my favorite videogame franchises is the venerable “MegaTen” series, which is shorthand for Shin Megami Tensei and encompasses a “main series” and its spinoffs. The first entry in the series, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, was released in 1987 on the Famicom (NES) and its success spawned the entire franchise that still has new games coming out yearly. Few people realize, however, that this entire franchise was originally a book by Aya Nishitani.

I’ve wanted to read the original novella that started the whole thing for quite a while, but the lack of an actual translated book and my desire not to read thousands of words on a computer screen kept me away until now. Apparently a fan translation has been circulating for a while, and Goodreads thankfully had a link directly to it. After a few clicks and a bit of formatting, I was all set. Side-note: I did see an old anime OVA based on this book years ago (check youtube for Megami Tensei OVA) but it’s pretty bad despite being largely true to the book.

Akemi Nakajima attends a prestigious school called Jusho High (the gifted class no less) and despite being a genius, is having trouble in his classes. He is distant, ignores his schoolwork, and has few friends. This all seems to stem from the bullying he deals with from day to day. The book opens with Nakajima fighting with a male and female classmate because he ignored her romantic advances and is some kind of lunatic and gets her boyfriend to beat Nakajima up. He is plagued by nightmares of ancient gods Izanagi and Izanami, the gods from the Japanese creation myth, roughly the equivalent to Adam and Eve in Christian culture.

Instead of being a mature adult, Nakajima uses his vast intelligence with computers and new found fascination with the occult to create a demon summoning program for his computer. He plans, with some success eventually, to get a demon to take revenge on his bullies and make him more prominent at school. What he doesn’t know is that he should never trust a demon and has his life thrown into utter chaos. It’s hard to pin Nakajima down as the “hero” of this story as he is basically a giant sociopath for about half the book. It isn’t until the presence of his love interest, a transfer student named Yumiko, that he stops being a total D-bag. I don’t mean benign either – his is directly responsible for rapes, murders, and brainwashing until he flips a total 180 to being a heroic lover this side of Shakespeare’s Romeo.

This weird characterization is one of my big issues with this book – yeah, I see all of the building blocks here that eventually became one of my favorite videogames of all time, but the characters seem one-dimensional and switch personalities half-way through the book. Perhaps this is the fault of the translation I have, or characterization was not the purpose of this story. To me, Mr. Nishitani excels at describing horrific gore and body horror, and the majority of his descriptive prose is there to make the reader’s stomach turn.


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Not much to say about book two that wasn’t posted up there.

When I read Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reincarnation I characterized it as a mediocre book with bland characters (or awful ones) that had amazing descriptions of body horror but not much else. Granted, it did sow the seeds of one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, but it was a shell of what I expected.

While this book is still slightly hokey, the main character, Nakajima, is written slightly less unlikable, so at least you can relate to him this time around. The secondary cast is decent and the villain is cool. Most notably, this chapter brings in tropes like a somewhat post-apocalyptic setting and a demon-fighting mechanic that proved so popular that even Pokemon ripped it off years later.

This was very much better than the first book. If I was still rating stuff on here (I don’t because that’s dumb) I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to give it more than an average score, but this might just be worth reading. I wish I could read part three, but as of 2017 there is yet to be any sort of English translation. It seems the guy thaat was doing it got a real job translating stuff and never went back. Maybe one day we’ll see it surface


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Heavy Metal Magazine Bargain Bin Dive

To change up what I was reading a bit (lots of superhero books), I decided to get a handful of European comics from a sale that was hosted by Heavy Metal Magazine. Heavy Metal is known to be an “adult” comic company, and while this is not for children it isn’t crass or filthy – it just has a bit on skin. You may remember a film based on the Heavy Metal license back in the 1980’s – same books. Almost all of these were around $3.00 which is almost cheaper than most modern comic books. If you want to check some of these out, here is a link to the bargain bin on the Heavy Metal website:

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For this round, I chose four books that caught my eye from the cover alone. Since this turned out to be a success. I will probably get more. All four of these books turned out to be beautiful hardback editions, about the same size as most children’s storybooks. I’m not sure of this format is particularly great as I’m more used to omnibus editions, but they are quick easy reads.


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Ulysses (1974)

I believe this comic was originally written in 1974, and I really enjoyed the artwork a LOT – very much Jack Kirby meets 70’s drug chic. The plot is a “modernized” (1974) version of the classic Story by Homer. The Olympians and associated monsters are aliens, which are mistaken for gods by humans that cannot comprehend their technology. They enjoy putting humans in peril and watching their follies as some sort of twisted reality show. Ant that was long before that particular strain of television mind-rot became a thing.

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The only downside is that this volume leaves the story incomplete, as Heavy Metal (as far as I can tell) did not release the second volume with this 2006 reprint.


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The Bible 

I would have loved something like this when I was a kid even though this isn’t a kids book. Since this ran in the french version of Heavy Metal I know this is meant for an adult audience so it’s cool to see that they did something like this.

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This book contains an illustrated version of The book of Genesis, and while it’s pretty short, all of the important information is there without getting bogged down in minutiae. Unlike other illustrated bibles, this one isn’t watered down for kids – Yahweh is a jerk, and people try to swindle or kill each-other all the time – an honest representation of what the Bible is actually like. This isn’t a bad thing – I prefer not hiding things no matter how rough they may be. I wish there was more re-published by Heavy Metal, but it seems that this was the only book re-released, or at least the only one available in English.


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Attila (Hombre #5) 1991

I love Post-apocalyptic stories, and I especially like ones that aren’t the run-of-the-mill post-nuclear cold war stories – something different. The world of Hombre, the main anti-hero of this book, has been devastated for some reason (this is book five so it isn’t explained, sounds like social collapse they way it is discussed) and he travels around as a lone survivor much in the same way Max Rockatansky does in the Mad Max series. This world is basically like the American old west – full of lawlessness and hardship as well as horses. This particular volume opens with Hombre trying to live a normal life, when a group of evil men rip that from his arms. He meets up with a young Barbarian girl named Attila that shares his common goal of revenge against said man – but she makes him realize how dark he has truly become.

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Hombre was a Spanish comics series written by Antonio Segura and drawn by José Ortiz, first published in 1981 in the magazine Cimoc. This translation was run in Heavy Metal magazine at some point in the 1980’s and contains many of the trappings of many adult comics including gratuitous naked women. This isn’t a bad thing, but I wanted to point this out in case somebody rolls in assuming this is a wholesome book or something.


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The Odyssey

Wait didn’t you already read this? Nope, it was a different comic based on the same story. I ended up with two very different versions of the same story – Ulysses which is a psychedelic French comic and this one from Spain. Francisco Navarro and Jose Martin Sauri manage to cram the entirety of he story of Odysseus into a fairly small book, and while it’s missing stuff all of the major plot points are there. The art is an amazing heavy ink style in high contrast black and white, if anything this is the highlight of many European comics.

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That’s it for now – stay tuned and I may just be getting a few more of these…


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Queen Emeraldas Volume 1

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I am so glad to finally read this! I’m a big fan of Leiji Matsumoto, so I was pretty disappointed with a now defunct anime company called ADV only releasing half of the OVA animated series that was loosely based on this original 1978 manga. That was like a decade ago, and there wasn’t really a good way to get the rest of the story legally. Flash forward to 2016 and not only can you buy things like a legit copy of Captain Harlock on DVD, but one can also buy this original manga in a beautiful hardcover edition!

If you like space operas, I’d definitely recommend checking out some of Leiji Matsumoto’s works if you are unfamiliar. He is, perhaps, most well-known (by a casual audience) for inspiring the fabulous animated music videos for the French House music duo Daft Punk during their Discovery era. These videos were later collected into a film called Interstella 5555. Older fans may, no doubt, recognize his other works such as Star Blazers (Yamato) or Captain Harlock – it’s all the same guy.

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Matsumoto has woven a fine tapestry of interconnected stories with stoic characters that anyone can love; unfortunately, most younger anime fans ignore classics and he has somewhat fallen out of the mainstream as of late. I was assuming that some of his older comics would never come out here, until I read a recent news article from Publisher’s Weekly, touting VERY strong sales of older comic titles at Anime Expo such as pre-orders for this very book!

“At the Kodansha Comics panel on Saturday, Ben Applegate, director of publishing for Kodansha Comics, cheered the ongoing rebound in manga print sales. “You’re probably seeing all the industry people here smiling, so you know that the manga industry is doing really well,” he said. “This resurgence of manga is allowing us to take chances on different series we wouldn’t usually in the past.” […] An example of a title that, in the past, Kodansha might have thought was too risky to publish in English is Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas, which the publisher is releasing in August. An older, classic SF adventure, the advance hardcovers of the book were sold out by weekend’s end.”

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As for the book itself, the story surrounds a boy named Hiroshi Umino, who strives to be a powerful star captain so that he can live by his own rules and sail the “sea of stars” like his heroes. His run in with Emeraldas changes his life forever, as she slowly becomes his mentor (of sorts). Emeraldas is basically like Xena in this book, a total badass that kicks booty and takes names. You often see supposedly feminist comic characters that end up being some sort of fetishistic dominatrix-style sexual wish-fulfilment trope, but that’s not how Emeraldas rolls. I wouldn’t name my very own cat after a character with skeevy undertones like that! We see Hiroshi and Emeraldas sharing eerily parallel origin stories until they meet again later on.

If you are also a huge fan of Matsumoto’s works, or are familiar with stories like the aforementioned Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, Galaxy Railways, Arcadia of my youth or Maetel legend, you will absolutely love this. This story adds more substance to a somewhat overlooked character that constantly shows up in various shows as a background character. Otherwise, this book stands on it’s own well, and acts as an introduction to a character that thankfully appears in a ton of material. If you become a fan you will want to branch out and see more. And hopefully, if this book ends up selling well Kodansha will release more Matsumoto manga!


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Captain Midnight, Volume 1: On the Run

Captain Midnight, Volume 1: On the Run

This is a book I’ve had for a while lost in my “to-read” shelf from a period of time when I was subscribed to a service called Comic Bento. I was somewhat familiar with the concept of Captain Midnight since I’ve read of various radio serials of the 1940’s, but was not actually familiar with the character itself. Captain Midnight was a U.S. adventure franchise first broadcast as a radio serial from 1938 to 1949 then later turned into all sorts of other media such as comics. This current book is from Dark Horse and is part of a line of books called “Project Black Sky” that feature superheroes. To me, this is an area Dark Horse hasn’t really dabbled in too much, but it’s cool to see the market not just dominated by “the big 2”.

As for the book itself, Captain Midnight: On the Run, is basically a copy of Captain Americas’s origin, albeit slightly tweaked, applied to another old character. The Captain was busy fighting Nazis in World War II and is suddenly lost in the Bermuda Triangle. flash forward to the present day and he shows up to continue his fight against some very familiar villains. Honestly the plot is very generic and the characterization of the Captain is sort of silly at times.

Captain Midnight

I hate to make this comparison again, but one of the main good things about Captain America is how he comes to terms with his time displacement and how America has changed in his absence. Captain Midnight, however shows up in 2014 and is basically like “cool, I can fly modern planes because I’m a genius”. This unfortunately makes the character REALLY one-dimensional since he can seemingly do anything and is never fazed. His assistant Charlotte is the voice of the audience, and we see her react to the reappearance of a man that shaped her grandmothers life, and one that she grew up hearing endless stories about.

Honestly, this book isn’t great, but the art is nice and it’s good to see Darkhorse at least try to enter the Superhero market so I’m giving it three stars since I can’t do 2 1/2. Had this been presented in a “pulp” manner or pure camp nostalgia I think it would have worked better, but what we have is what we have.


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Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (2003)

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Soon to have a major motion picture coming out, figured I ought to read it!

I’ve been a fan of the largely underground strain of heavy metal known as “black metal” for around 17 years or so, but I fell in love with it for how it sounded rather than how it was created. In the late 90’s / early 2000’s black metal had, well there’s no better term, “sold out” and started to become mainstream, so it was largely distanced from the events that happened nearly a decade previous. The wall of sound, misanthropic minimalist themes, and the theatricality were all awesome to me, so I decided to do some research on some of the original black metal bands – whoops. The sort of music I enjoyed turned out to be comprised largely of extreme right-wing murderers and arsonists that had basically formed a nihilist cult and ran around committing crimes in a naïve quest to end Norwegian Christianity.

This book focuses on the culture surrounding the black metal scene in Norway between 1990 and 1993. This is a cautionary tale on how a group of impressionable kids fell into, what can only be described as, a cult and nearly brought Norway to its knees. The first few chapters give an outline of the progression of heavy metal from bands such as Black Sabbath, Coven and Black Widow to proto-black metal bands such as Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Venom, and finally to the early Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Then about half of the book follows the exploits of Black Metal’s most famous record label Deathlike Silence Records, and the events leading up to the death of its owner, Øystein Aarseth, and the imprisonment of his murderer Varg Vikernes. Finally, the book chronicles the aftermath of the murders and church burnings and the media circus that ensued.

I have known about this book, Lords of Chaos, for years now, but have not read it until now. Luckily (for the most part) the book has been out long enough that a second edition was put together a number of years ago to delve into some newer information about its “protagonists” like Vikernes. Unfortunately, this allows the book to go in weird directions such as Vikernes’s descent into conspiracy theory, as he discusses, at length, about UFOs and how they influenced heathen religion. Some additions are great, but others like Varg’s tales of Atlantean Wars break the flow of the chapters up a bit too much and make me feel as if I’ve accidentally started reading a Zecharia Sitchin book. The authors try to stand back and let the subjects say whatever they please, they do make an effort to not let this book be a soap box for their political belief and are not scared to step in and contradict any falsehoods that may have been spoken in the interview process.

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One of my favorite parts of this book is a series of interviews that try to culturally place “satanism” into Norwegian society, and a conclusion seems to come up that paints this Norwegian strain of anti-Christianity as some kind of naive copy of the fictitious Satanic underground that was the boogeyman of America during its “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s and 90’s. For those unaware, America and parts of Europe, were made into constant media zoos when people started coming out of the woodwork describing things like grave desecration, satanic ritual abuse, and ritualized murder by hooded members of a worldwide cult. This hysteria has been totally debunked at this point, and zero cases of any of this have every turned out to be true, but if you watched TV or read papers during that time – our world was a battlezone between Jesus and Satan 24/7. These kids, wanting to be Anti-Christian, may have taken this cartoonish “religion” and given it life.

I had read a few reviews of this book (on Amazon) prior to purchase and was worried because the general tone of the reviews was that this was some sort of Neo-Nazi book and that the author was somehow promoting the stuff said within. On the contrary, Moynihan’s neutrality towards the ideologies portrayed in the book means that they are not censored, but they are often directly criticized or it is often implied that they have the ideology of angsty children in editorial sections. In fact, this is written a lot like a newspaper article, most comments are left to stand on their own, and the author jumps in to tie everything together. I wonder of these reviewers have largely not read the book to be honest.

As a true crime book, I will admit that this book is not perfect. It meanders a bit, means little to those that are not in some way “into” metal music, and is written in a manner that is by no means top journalism. What this book does have is a treasure-trove of information, newspaper clippings, media reports, and images from a ten year period that has been infamous for many metal fans, and until a better book comes along this is the definitive history of this genre of music and all the baggage that comes with it. This is with Varg’s UFO tales and all.


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Roadside Picnic (1972)

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I have recently been on a big Russian science fiction kick these past few months (We, Omon Ra, Night Watch etc), and discovered that this book inspired a video game I like, so I figured that I should pick it up. The game in question, “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl“, is not really a remake of this book, but after reading the story – it borrows many plot points. It’s weird to know how old this book is (1972) and to see how it predicted the way people would treat an exclusion zone that folks try to sneak into. Granted, Chernobyl was a huge nuclear disaster, and the incident that creates tension in this book is a low-key alien encounter.

It seems that, years prior, an alien invasion of some sort occurred. These aliens, thinking that we were basically ants to them, ignored us completely, left a bunch of trash everywhere, then simply left. A comparison is made that it was like a situation where humans have a Roadside Picnic and leave garbage everywhere – animals would be scared and confused, and have no idea what we left behind. Their trash, however, isn’t just regular trash, it’s so bad that the areas affected end up called “zones”. These areas exhibit strange and dangerous phenomena not understood by humans, and contain artifacts with inexplicable, seemingly supernatural properties. Of course, a huge black market pops up to take advantage and folks start making a career out of sneaking in and stealing this stuff.

I really enjoyed Roadside Picnic, but it wasn’t perfect. It seems so short and has a somewhat unsatisfying open-ended finale. One can surmise what happens at the end, but you never really know. If you want to read something a bit different, this is a decent quick read that keeps you on the edge of your seat.


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Two new Final Fantasy VII Remake images Revealed at Monaco Anime Game International Conference!

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but we finally have a glimpse of gameplay footage of the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake. These were apparently revealed today at a convention called The Monaco Anime Game International Conference (MAGIC). As you can see from the images below, the initial bombing raid is in full force as members of AVALANCHE infiltrate the Sector 1 reactor of Shinra Electric Power Company. It’s hard to tell 100%, but the game appears to be running on some version of the Final Fantasy XV engine which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Here’s hoping E3 gives us a new trailer or something this year.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 was also showing off some new screens

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The Multiversity

The Multiversity

I’m torn between thinking this was good, and thinking this was somewhat pretentious. I like Grant Morrison, but he has a tendency to let his ideas get away from himself and we end up with something like Multiversity. This is a fine collection of one-shots that show obscure versions of DC characters in a lot of different circumstances all vaguely related to a possible apocalyptic event in all 52 universes of the DC “Multiverse”. The problem lies in that the “cement” that holds this book together, the story of a cursed comic book created by an evil organization to destroy reality, is easily the weakest part of the series.

This book comes across as far too ambitious for Morrison, who perhaps was trying to create a Watchmen-esque satire of DC’s obsession with these large cross-over events, and ended up making something that barely makes any sense. There is also an attempt to make the reader part of the story – ala The Neverending Story, that feels forced and unneeded.

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Some of the one shots were good – really good. I’m a sucker for Captain Marvel, so anything starring that character is always right up my alley, as was S.O.S, and The Uncle Sam vs Nazi Superman story. A few others were sort of bland. There was one in particular about a world of entitled DC teen superhero reality TV stars that overstayed it’s welcome to me pretty quick.

Perhaps the Most ambitious story here was Pax Americana, Morrison’s send-off of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. The Watchmen was based on old Charlton Comics characters that ultimately were modernized to better work with the material. Here Morrison goes back to the original characters and weaves a story that is more of an art piece than an actual comic. The story is told backwards, that is each page turn reveals more about what happened before, and the reader is made to read in a bizarre figure-8 pattern that is a meme in the story. I kind of wish it would be it’s own book, but it was a bit over-the-top and considering Morrison’s hatred of Moore (and vice versa), could have been a jab at his nemesis in some way.

All in all, this is worth reading, but as a whole “Graphic novel”, it fails to seem like anything other than a stack of one-shots. It’s a shame because something like this could have been huge.


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BROAD EXPERTS LLC Makes Me Wish I was Rich

BROAD EXPERTS LLC, has officially made me wish I could justify blowing money for no reason, as they have teamed up with legendary manga creator Leiji Matsumoto (my favorite if you can’t tell by now) to create some awesome, but very pricey art prints. According to a press release, “BROAD EXPERTS LLC is a Japanese company devoted to creating artwork with pop culture influences.” They will be starting pre-orders soon for a series of 6 limited edition ukiyo-e prints featuring characters and spaceships from Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato, and Captain Harlock.

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Source: Official BROAD EXPERT LLC home page


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The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine; one that was full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise.

The Tripods was actually a series of “young adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly, a third season died before it went into production.

The White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway…we know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that Jack, a neighborhood boy, has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

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Will (and later his cousin Henry) are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were. “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and sing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the Tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.

I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.


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Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows

Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows

I’ve stated in a few other reviews on here that I *usually* don’t like modern vampire fiction. This is largely because writers try too hard to make it hip and trendy to cater to the teenage audience. So, while everyone was obsessed with sparkly shirtless vampires, I basically stopped reading anything in the genre. I have, however, found that I actually do like this stuff, I’m just an old “stick in the mud” traditionalist when it comes to it. Even some of the more of-the-wall vampire stuff I enjoy (like Vampire Hunter D) is firmly based on stuff like Christopher Lee films from Hammer Horror.

When reading Vampirella Volume 1: Our Lady of Shadows, I was having a lot of fun. Despite the covers, the story doesn’t really get too outlandish and exploitative, and everything is fairly well written. This is basically my introduction to the character since I always assumed this book was nothing more than softcore porn – now I know it’s more of a “pulp” series, and I feel bad for ignoring it so long.

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The story follows Vampirella as she is sent by The Vatican to stop a long dead nemesis, a cult leader and warlock, that may have resurfaced. She ends up on a quest (aided by a Nosferatu no less) to consume energy from various “vampires” from other cultures to make herself able to stop him and his plan to start the apocalypse.

Honestly, my only real quibble here is that it ended in such a way that it really should have had at least one more issue. Everything seems rushed at the end, thus making the whole story-arc unbalanced. There was even a point where the “monster of the issue” feel is thrown out in order to speed things up (what previously took a full issue was resolved in two pages), making Vampi’s quest seem pointless. It was good that a “prequel” issue was included, but I wanted a better ending. I will have to look at more Vampirella titles from Dynamite and possibly read more as I am starting to really enjoy these retro “pulpy” titles they are doing.


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IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park: volume 1

IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park: volume 1

Cast your time machines to about a decade ago, during the US anime/manga explosion (sadly followed by an implosion a bit later). It was during this time that I was in an anime club at college and started buying tons of manga since I got a huge discount at the retail chain I worked at. I got hooked on the anime Great Teacher Onizuka and started buying the books and other merch from the now defunct company Tokyopop. After a while Tokyopop tried to release like 40 releases a month, so I had to stop my crazy buying habits quite a bit.

I haven’t really bought or followed that much manga since this time due to space limitations and the general taste in this product shifting away from what I actually enjoy (not a fan of the Moe genre), but every once in a while I get a wild hair to try a new series, and here we are. I got this book from a sale that Akadot Retail was having, and figured that a book for $2.00 was too good to pass up. I may get more if this experiment goes well, and truthfully I never purchased much from Digital Manga Publishing.

Apparently Ikebukuro West Gate Park is based on a popular 2000 TV series in Japan, I have not seen this series so I cannot comment, but I see that according to Wikipedia the book and show are somewhat different to eachother. It’s funny that I mentioned GTO up there, because this book reminds me a lot of the general tone of GTO. Yeah Fujisawa’s Onizuka stuff is generally written much better, but this book has a balance between gags and drama that I enjoy quite a bit, although the balance is a bit off at the beginning. I would say the first quarter of the book is a bit too light-hearted considering that this is a mystery novel about a potential serial killer and a street gang trying to stop him.

IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park: volume 1

The story follows a guy named Makoto that seems to have all sorts of connections to street gangs and other illicit activities despite seemingly not being a part of said activity. He runs a shop with his mother and has some sort of oddly close Batman/Commisioner Gordon relationship with the local police that has yet to be fully explained. He and a few friends meet a couple of girls at a New Year’s Eve party (the over-hyped 1999-2000 millennium celebration in particular) and hits it off with a girl named Rika. Ikebukuro is plagued with reports of a serial “strangler” that seems to be attacking girls that go on dates with older guys for money, and this has everyone scared. Some bad stuff happens and it’s all up to Makoto to stop it (to not go into spoiler-land too much).

Not much else to say about volume one, other than I will be seeking out the second book and that this is definitely a mature book so make sure you are okay with that if you give this a shot.


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Update Your iPods! Check Out These Awesome Anime-inspired tracks from Peter Zimmerman

Peter Zimmerman
One thing that often confuses folks about my musical tastes, is that I am huge into both metal music and 80’s New Wave music. I might wear metal shirts and a patch vest to concerts, but I almost entirely listen to Sirius XM 1st Wave in the car commuting to work. These are two genres that seem to clash a lot, but I can always make it work in my head, and that’s all that matters. In the past few years, I have been blown away by a “new genre” that goes by many names – some call it Outrun, Others Retrowave, or even Synth-wave. I would consider Retrowave (my preferred term) to be the logical conclusion of 80’s synth music if acoustic guitars and grunge rock hadn’t nearly sent the electronic synthesizer to music heaven alongside the harpsichord and lute. This isn’t merely a nostalgia kick like some regressive genres can be, yeah it’s there but a lot of this never really sounded the same way in the 80’s, and thankfully that’s not what it’s going for.

I plan to cover more Retrowave stuff in the future, so if you like this keep your eyes peeled!

So, the topic at hand is one artist I have particularly fallen in love with – a German musician named Peter Zimmerman. In particular, I absolutely love his re-toolings of anime themes, some that have been so drastically altered to be entirely different songs than before, and usually it’s for the better somehow. One of my absolute favorites (which I will drop the video below) is a remix of one of the songs from Akira (Kaneda’s theme) turned into an Italo Disco song. Akira has an amazing soundtrack on it’s own, performed by a huge musical collective called Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Utilizing percussion instruments like marimbas and xylophones, there really isn’t anything else out there like it unless you get some actually tribal music of some sort. Zimmerman has taken this track and altered it ever so much into one of the best things I’ve heard all year!

Another favorite of mine is this gem, a remake of the opening them for an old school anime called City Hunter. dubbed Mikkori Chan, this new version is very energetic.

Next up is a track using a song made up of a few different samples, but I believe the majority of it is also from City Hunter Despite the Bubblegum Crisis video here.

And I could keep posting these, but I’ll do just one more. This track is comprised of one of the themes for Megazone 23 merged with another from Venus Wars.

 

If you want more, check out the following links:

Peter Zimmerman on Sound Cloud

Peter Zimmerman on Bandcamp


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Is the Valkyria Chronicles Franchise Dead in the West?

LONG Before I even decided to get a PlayStation 3, I would check the various recommendation threads and other such things on a lot of gaming forums to see what games were seen as the “killer apps” that I should definitely play. I was honestly sort of cranky with Sony after the PS3 launch, pricing especially. I needed something that stood out, a game that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and one game, more than any other, was constantly touted as being not only one of the most underrated games on the PS3, but one of the best RPGs out there on any system. That game was the first Valkyria Chronicles. I finally got the system, and immediately snagged a copy of it.

I was taken aback by how mature the game was, and no I don’t mean “blood and guts and boobs” mature like the many games that misuse the term today, but an honest mature game done in such a way that most folks of the teenage persuasion, except maybe anime fans, would probably scoff at it. Yes the game deals with war, but in concentrates on the heroics and struggles with fighting rather than the bleak horrors of any battlefield.

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The art style alone is worth the purchase

For those that haven’t heard of the series, all of the games follow a fictitious war that somewhat closely resembles World War II if you squint really hard and drop some pixie dust on it. In this fantasy world, a small country called Gallia suddenly comes under attack from a huge land grabbing conglomerate of nations dubbed the East Europan Imperial Alliance. This is a shock because these Nazi analogues (if you equate them to our terms) are at war with another federation of countries that dub themselves the Atlantic Federation, and there is no real reason for such an invasion to occur (other than energy reserves to fuel the war). The game places you in the shoes of a rag-tag group of militia members that are suddenly forced to repel the most powerful army on earth on the verge of world conquest. This is of course the stage for a game that breathed an icy breath of fresh air into a somewhat played out genre – the strategy RPG.

The immediate thing that struck me about both games in the series that I’ve played is that they have some huge balls, and exist as a true asset to the RPG genre, especially in how they portray war. For years we have been playing hundreds of World War II games, and very few of them have actually managed to mention the holocaust or the Jewish people for fear of getting the game banned in some random countries. Here, however, we have a game that revolves around a group of people called the Darcsens that have literally been blamed for just about every bad thing in the world for hundreds of years, and are the targets of ethnic cleansing campaigns (in Valkyria Chronicles 2 most notably) and even forced to work in labor camps. The fact that any series had the cajones to even attempt to have a storyline closely mirroring this sort of world event makes SEGA go up in my books quite a bit.

Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferir people to many people in the game, even protagonist characters.
Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferior people to many in the game, even protagonist characters. In my experience, race politics are rarely seen in JRPGs.

Flash forward just a few years and it seems that a series with such promise, critical acclaim, big sales in Japan, and a cult following in America should be running strong; sadly this is not the case. Valkyria Chronicles may already be dead, especially in the west. A few years back news rang out about the possible release of the third Valkyria Chronicles game in America specifically. SEGA West had been pretty tight lipped about it, and its no-show at E3 that year was amongst about a dozen or so games that seemed absent from localization plans. game journalists apparently talked to some of the SEGA reps at E3 and asked if the new Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star games would be heading to the west and the news wasn’t good.

Valkyria Chronicles III (or pretty much any other Japanese PSP game that year) never came to the west. This was largely because the PSP was on life support when the game released. You see, in their grand wisdom, Sega decided to make a quick buck by churning the games out far too quickly on a completely other system as before (more on that later). Valkyria Chronicles II, a direct sequel to the first PS3 game, was confusingly a now handheld title. Granted, at the time the PSP had a userbase of more than 50 million users (a lot more than the PS3 at the time), but how many outside of Japan would buy it? How many had the first game? Series Producer Shuntaro Tanaka told Famitsu that the second game was being developed for the PSP instead of the PS3, in order “to allow a broader spectrum of users to discover and enjoy what makes Valkyria special.” Tanaka added that the series could return to consoles in the future, though.

valkyria chronicles

There are rumors that SEGA decided to release the games on the PSP in order to capitalize on the TV anime that was running, using it to hock a host of toys and such that were hot on the market. Moving a flagship title for any series across platforms is a tough decision, and especially ludicrous when we have to realize that Valkyria Chronicles II was, not shockingly, only the second game in the series. Usually, handheld spinoff games come well into the lifespan of a series, ala Final Fantasy and it’s numerous side-games. While it did decently well in Japan, the sales were still under that of the first game, but the real story is the American Market. VGchartz has the game listed at an estimated 80k for the American Market. That’s basically an estimated eight times less than what the first game obtained in the same region.

Here are some graphs to speak for themselves, these are old screen-grabs I took when I first published this article but they still stand:

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Please note the scaling difference between the two graphs.

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I’m not going to jump on the anti-piracy bandwagon, but when you have a system that is cheap and easy to develop for, but is plagued with piracy and doesn’t perform well in all areas versus a system that does a bit better in all areas, and isn’t hit hard (until recently) by any sort of hackers, I wonder why you’d choose the former. SEGA obviously wanted a quick buck rather than letting a franchise grow a bit more naturally, and it’s hurt the series pretty bad. Since its release the third game in series had barely cracked 160k units in sales, a far cry from the previous games.

Sadly, Japanese gaming companies really hit a rut about five years ago, and honestly they are still there, they don’t take chances and seemingly have regressed back into a Japan-only mindset that pretty much guarantees failure. Putting anything on the PSP during that time, or the Vita currently, pretty much guarantees a niche game that few will play. But why is this happening? Take, for example, words by Keiji Inafune, the once prominent mind behind many Capcom classics such as Mega Man and Dead Rising:

Keiji Inafune
Keiji Inafune

“The mainstream industry in Japan is like a large tree that’s just begun to wilt. It’s still standing strong, it hasn’t collapsed just yet, but it’s not doing all that well,” Inafune told The Verge at BitSummit, a Kyoto indie-games festival in its second year. Inafune himself went independent in 2010, leaving giant developer Capcom to start his own studio called Comcept. He believes that indie games are the most exciting thing happening within the Japanese industry. “Indies have just sprouted above the ground. There’s still this monolithic large tree over the industry, but indies have popped up. Whether or not the big tree will fall, whether or not the indie scene will grow into a tree itself, I don’t know.”

Inafune is just one of many big name studio guys leaving “wilting trees”, perhaps the most prominent was Hideo Kojima and his epic battles with Konami leading up to the release of the last Metal Gear game. He now works for Sony and Konami is making cellphone and pachinko games.

I wish more of these big Japanese companies with American publishing arms would look at companies like Atlus (owned by SEGA now) and XSeed for how to treat localizations. XSeed, for example, has released a few games in the Record of Agarest War series digitally, that way they could obtain a cheap license and keep costs down. These smaller publishers also set realistic goals for sales of these games, instead of assuming that a niche strategy RPG will be a huge blockbuster, NIS and Atlus both learned a ton about the market, and learned how to market, publicize, and keep costs down on a ton of games like La Pucelle Tactics, Disgaea, and even Phantom Brave. They don’t always sell crazily well, but they have rabid followings that keep buying the games, and keeping them going.

A somewhat new game in the series.
A somewhat new game in the series.

So, where do we stand now? well, there might be a glimmer of hope shining through. While the third installment is still the last game in the series so far, many fans are hoping that a recent HD remaster of Valkyria Chronicles and a new spinoff game will re-ignite interest in the series. The spinoff, Valkyria Revolution, is planned to be released by SEGA in Japan on January 19, 2017, and in North America in early 2017. It is also planned to be released by Deep Silver in Europe in early 2017 as well. For the Western releases, an Xbox One version will also be available.

This shows a big change for SEGA in that they seem to be switching back to home consoles for games like this, and are trusting the west to support more niche games. Namco-Bandai recently did a similar thing and finally got the Tales series back on track over here, so who knows… As for Valkyria Chronicles III? I guess there is always hope that SEGA could do a PSP Remake edition for the PS4, but if they think the game won’t sell well, where is the incentive? Even a digital release with original dialog would be good, but I’m not holding my breath.

If Valkyria Revolution bombs, the fans are not to blame – a decade of poor and largely short-sighted business decisions are. If it does happen, only one thing comes to mind – Sorry SEGA, but you guys ruined your own franchise.

Valkyria Revolution looks promising!
Valkyria Revolution looks promising!

Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!

 


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Here’s an Interesting Thing From The New Yamato 2202 Trailer

A brand-spanking-new trailer for Uchū Senkan Yamato 2202 (Space Battleship Yamato / Star Blazers) just went up, and it looks pretty great. I confess that I have yet to finish the previous Yamato 2199 series as I was holding out hope that the American rights holders would eventually release everything over here eventually. Instead, they seem to be doing a Harmony Gold-styled rights squatting and have all but abandoned the project, but alas I’m used to going to weird lengths to watch my obscure anime that I enjoy.

I have no idea what this trailer says in Japanese, but one thing sticks out to me – that bad guy looks exactly like The Earl de Darkwood, the main antagonist from Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto’s Interstella 5555. Granted Matsumoto has common design tropes that he (or the directors using his ideas) use in every property – like a character that always is a waif thin woman with blonde hair (Maetel clones), or a man with a scar across his face (Harlock clones). But seriously check this out:

Gamilas bad guy dude

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 The Earl de Darkwood

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Unless the Earl has Hulk powers, I think it’s safe to say it’s a coincidence, but I’d be floored if they somehow had something to do with eachother.