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?

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GASP!

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.

Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay

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I have seen the Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever many times, and it’s definitely a great episode, but I had no idea what I was in for when I picked this up. I knew that Gene Roddenberry was notorious for altering many scripts that came across his desk – sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse (There is even a film called Chaos on the Bridge about this). What I had no idea about was the bad blood between Harlan Ellison and Roddenberry over the script for this story. It was deemed un-filmable, large portions were changed and entire characters were removed – all to make it more “Star Trek”. Granted, the episode went on to win a Hugo award, but I wonder what it could have been in its original form? Luckily thanks to IDW we have a graphic novel which adapts the second draft by Ellison, and in his own words “moved him to tears”.

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One of the main differences between the two versions of the story is the inclusion of an antagonist that is somewhat replaced by a drug addled Doctor McCoy (accidental of course) in the actual aired episode. Enter: Lieutenant Richard Beckwith, a drug dealer selling the illegal “Jewels of Sound”, kills Lieutenant LeBeque after he threatens to expose Beckwith’s activities to Kirk (selling drugs to people on away-missions). He storms the transporter array and goes to the planet where he later alters time. This one change already drastically changes the tone of the episode to a much darker story-line. I’m pretty sure censors would not have let that fly in 1966, but one never knows.

Another few shocking moments are racist overtones Spock has to deal with (everyone thinks he is Chinese) and a moment when Spock almost commits murder in desperation to “make things right”. Honestly this book contains enough new material for a full second part of this episode including a disturbing fate for our villain.

All in all, this is the superior version of this story and an amazing book for sci-fi fans and Star Trek fans alike.

The Code of the Woosters

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I’ve been a fan of the television show Jeeves and Wooster for quite some time, but I have never got around to actually reading any of the novels or short stories that the series was pulled from until now. I had heard they were hilarious, but for some reason, never had a chance or reason to snag one. I recognized the plot of this story as one of my favorite episodes from the aforementioned show and figured that I’d give it a try – my verdict: Wodehouse is a genius!

The story is as follows: “When Aunt Dahlia demands that Bertie Wooster help her dupe an antique dealer into selling her an 18th-century cow-creamer. Dahlia trumps Bertie’s objections by threatening to sever his standing invitation to her house for lunch, an unthinkable prospect given Bertie’s devotion to the cooking of her chef, Anatole. A web of complications grows as Bertie’s pal Gussie Fink-Nottle asks for counseling in the matter of his impending marriage to Madeline Bassett. It seems Madeline isn’t his only interest; Gussie also wants to study the effects of a full moon on the love life of newts. Added to the cast of eccentrics are Roderick Spode, leader of a fascist organization called the Saviors of Britain, who also wants that cow-creamer, and an unusual man of the cloth known as Rev. H. P. “Stinker” Pinker. As usual, butler Jeeves becomes a focal point for all the plots and ploys of these characters, and in the end only his cleverness can rescue Bertie from being arrested, lynched, and engaged by mistake!”

In pretty much any other book, Bertie Wooster would be seen as a ridiculous imbecile, but here he is somehow almost a “straight man” (well not so much compared to his Valet Jeeves) to all of the other colorful lunatics in British high society in the 1920’s-30’s. All Bertie wants to do is basically nothing – his dream is to be lazy and live off of his money. Even the prospect of traveling around the world on a cruise ship is too much effort for Bertie. This lifestyle is so ingrained in his very being that he even frequents a club for this very thing called the “Drones club”. By drone, I don’t mean our new robot overlords, I mean a male bee that does no work, living off the labor of others. His dream of a life of sloth and vice keeps getting interrupted by everyone else trying to use him as a pawn in various schemes, none of which make much sense and complicate things.

Wodehouse is amazing at coming up with Bertie’s internal monologues. You see, Bertie seems to think he’s somewhat of an intellectual himself, and some of the most hilarious moments involve him mis-quoting something that he heard Jeeves say, usually regarding a philosophical or literary term that Bertie obviously does not actually understand. One such occurrence involved Bertie trying to quote the parable of the sword of Damocles and fumbling it up something fierce.

all in all, I loved this book, and will get more Wodehouse classics.

Uncovering Soviet Disasters: Exploring the Limits of Glasnost (1988)

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“A disturbing aspect about the Soviets’ reaction to revelations of their secrets was the insistence that any Western attempt to explore these secret mishaps had to have been inspired by malice, not by an understandable interest in the truth. Even during the period of glasnost the ancient and strident Russian paranoia toward foreign curiosity about their failures is very evident.”

– James Oberg, Uncovering Soviet Disasters

One of my favorite “mysteries” is the conspiracy of the lost cosmonauts. Basically, it’s a theory that claims that “The Space Race” may have been built upon the corpses of many forgotten heroes lost to both time and Soviet censorship. These so-called “lost cosmonauts” have been proven to be usually more fantasy than fact, and I don’t actually believe in many of the stories that have been circulating for upwards of sixty years. But all one has to do is listen to the chilling Judica-Cordiglia brothers audio recordings from 1962 that claim to be the last words of a handful of such cases, and think “what if…” I was looking for a book on this subject and was shocked to see that there really aren’t many that aren’t conspiracy nut garbage, so I broadened my net and found a series of books written by James Oberg during the Cold War. There is a chapter in here about lost cosmonauts, both factual and mythical, and information on the narrative that makes a conspiracy like this so hard to shake – if the USSR lied and covered up so much stuff, what don’t we know about?

The Purpose of Uncovering Soviet Disasters by James E. Oberg is to explore the USSR’s new (at the time) government policy of open discussion, or Glasnost (openness in Russian). The USSR had routinely covered up almost any bad news pertaining to not only government affairs but personal tragedies for so long that many were living in a dream-world of sorts for many years. This book is an attempt to “level the playing field” and expose a lot of these blatant misuses of censorship. Oberg does this by organizing everything into a series of articles each covering a different Soviet Era disaster that had been in some way wiped from public records or covered up.

Oberg usually presents many sides to each story, and since most of his “experts” were going off of eye-witness testimony or professional gut-feelings, many of the theories were vastly different from one another. For example, chapter one talks about a suspected anthrax epidemic in the early 80’s that caused dozens of deaths, but was almost unheard of until the fall of the USSR within the country itself. Some experts chalked it up to being a case of tainted meat, others blamed it on a misplaced vaccine that somehow got out of a medical facility. Since this book is so old (it was published in 1988), it was fun to look up many of the incidents listed to get an update of what really happened (since all of this info has largely been unclassified since). After the fall of the USSR it was revealed that, according to Wikipedia, that the USSR did in fact violate a biological weapons ban and produce Anthrax like many suspected, and the whole ordeal was caused by a miscommunication between workers in said weapons facility rendering a vent system offline for a few days allowing anthrax to escape unfiltered into the town. Now the whole ordeal is called “Biological Chernobyl” and is pretty infamous.

Some of the stories are a bit “tainted”, I suppose, with American Cold War era propaganda – many Soviet “characters” are described in a less than flattering manner. In many instances, the reader is presented with the narrative that The USSR was always up to no good as if populated entirely by mustache twirling Bond Villains, or reactionary morons that were only trying to protect themselves in the face of disaster. while this wasn’t too over-the-top, it colored an otherwise well-done book. He does go to great length to talk-up the heroism and toughness of many everyday Russians in an almost “noble savage” sort of way, leaving you to admire their resolve. If anything, I REALLY wish there was a later edition of this where Oberg went back and updated everything, but alas the entire book would have to be basically re-written, and he is now in his 70’s.

All-in-all this is a good read despite the age and political motivation. I will need to look into reading more of Mr. Oberg’s work.

We (1921)

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“You are afraid of it because it is stronger than you; you hate it because you are afraid of it; you love it because you cannot subdue it to your will. Only the unsubduable can be loved.”

I recall reading an interview with George Orwell some years ago where a lot of the discussion seemed to veer towards the origin of perhaps his most notable work, Nineteen-Eighty Four. In this interview, Orwell discussed a story that had captivated his imagination in such a way that he became obsessed with the ideas it shared. I had never heard of this old story, a novel called We, but wanted to read it. He cited that We was his basis for his story, and assumed that Brave New World by Aldous Huxley shared a similar origin. This got me thinking – why had I never heard of this? Well, thats easy; The Iron Curtain and age kept this story somewhat buried under other stories that borrowed heavily from it. Being a fan of dystopian stories, and especially ones like Nineteen-Eighty Four and Brazil – I knew I would love We.

We was Written in the early 1920’s by Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin as a satirical jab at the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and was confusingly only released in his motherland of Russia in the late 1980’s. In fact, it was released in America first! This was, of course, because his work was banned by the very Communist party that is was making fun of (imagine that!). Yevgeny Zamyatin was an old school Bolshevik, and found his views largely less and less popular amongst people that were once of a similar mindset after Tsar Nicholas II was removed from power.

We is a story of the horrors that would be caused if humanity eventually adopted a purely scientific and atheistic society based on the writings of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Humans are reduced to mere labor machines with numbered names and absolutely zero sense of individuality. Everything is precisely planned and scheduled, and everyone somehow persists on food derived from petroleum production. Everyone lives in clean glass and plastic tower blocks and the world seems to be devoid of vegetation. There are many similarities with Nineteen-Eighty Four, but We is less dreary in many ways. Granted, Zamyatin’s masterpiece is by no means a happy story, but it’s distance from many of the actual horrors that Nineteen-Eighty Four were based on keeps it somehow more fantastical.

The protagonist, a man simply known as D-503, is very unlikable for the most part; a fact that could be jarring to readers that like to read from the viewpoint of a square-jawed He-Man that rights all wrongs. D-503 is not heroic, he is actually cowardly to a fault. The book is basically a chronicle of D-503’s decent into madness after discovering his long suppressed imagination or “soul” and his inability to deal with emotions and fear that comes with it. I felt that the story ends somewhat abruptly, but it follows the structure of a series of diary entries so it’s not completely out of place. I was happy that the post-modern writing style feels somewhat contemporary despite being nearly 100 years old, this is very easy to read as long as you can get over the style, especially the free flowing dialog that makes other books like Ulysses really hard to read.

Truly a classic everyone should read.

Top Ten Most Over-used Japanese RPG Cliches

…Or “Let’s create the most generic RPG out There!”

If one has played a number of Japanese role playing games, definite tropes come to mind for the genre.  In the last twenty years or so, the medium has become further and further specified to the point that many of these tropes have left the realm of patterns and themes to full-blown clichés.  The following is a list of the top ten most over-used Japanese RPG clichés, in no particular order.  To aid in the fun, I have decided to present the list in the form of a plot synopsis for a fictitious game just to show how easily these can be applied.

Youth in Revolt

It seems that every RPG from “The Land of the Rising Sun” uses the same rule that giant robot anime seems to have: “Every hero must be a whiny prepubescent male with goofy hair.”  This was fine with characters such as Cloud (and even Squall to a degree) when these games first started to get big over here, then all of the sudden every RPG starred a similar main character.  After playing a number of RPGs I always long for a war-hardened old grizzled curmudgeon to be the main protagonist of any game I play.  Not because I have a fetish for that sort of thing, but because it might spice up an otherwise bland aspect of these games.

For our game, I’ve come up with an effeminate 13 year old pacifist, because who could be more annoying than a teenager who thinks we need to hear about his political beliefs.  I even drew up a picture using an online character generator program.

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Now we need a sappy name, one that has both a biblical sounding quality and a character trait hidden deep within it.  One could substitute a meteorological term for the biblical name (i.e Cloud, Squall , Lightning), but I think the former will come out better.  For the sake of our demonstration, our hero is named Cherubish Bleak.  This name not only implies that Cherubish has some sort of angelic quality about him, but that he has a depressing demeanor.  Bonus points if he actually is an angel of some sort!

Burn Baby Burn!

So now that we have the whiny main character sorted and ready to go, we need some sort of motivation for him to actually go out and interact with other characters, as well as adventure.  This could go any way really, including a plot that makes the character’s actual profession to be that of an adventurer, but that’s just plain boring.  What we need is some sort of plot device that FORCES the character to step out there and whine all the way to the final boss.

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I’ve got it, let’s have the bad guys march into his hometown while he is off collecting magical quail eggs or some other random stuff, and burn his home down.  Points will be awarded for every single mother, orphaned sister, or family pet that gets mowed down in the crossfire.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

There has to be an obligatory segment where our character meets an older and somewhat more menacing rival-type character in some way, usually in the woods.  This character is usually the defender for another, usually female, character and is leading her on some sort of pilgrimage, escort mission, or trying to protect her.  Our main character will almost immediately fall in love with the female character and insist on tagging along much to the dismay of our rival.  Once in battle our Rival character, which has a creepy foreboding name like “Seraphimatos”, shows great prowess in magical arts and swordsmanship.  He’s so “badass” that he can dispatch even the darkest of all villains in one mighty sword swipe.  He is usually level 60 or so when our party is only more battle worthy than an acorn, and carries each battle for this segment of the game.

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Suddenly, a swerve in the plot appears, our buddy Seraphimatos isn’t a good guy at all (GASP!), he’s actually an agent for the higher evil power (or secretly IS the evil power!) and is trying to kidnap the girl as a blood sacrifice.  You now have to fight him in a futile battle where your entire party dies, but it’s okay because this is a storyline death.  He spits on your supposedly dead corpse and wanders off pretty girl in tow.

The Luddite Rule

Now that we have not only a quest, but an antagonist to fight; we need some sort of back-story.  You see, in this world technology is bad and everyone in the world resents it.  They insist on living in a manner reminiscent of the Middle Ages due to some sort of past calamity that wiped out the whole world.  This calamity was brought on by an over-use of technology and could be anything from a nuclear holocaust to a robot uprising.  No matter what though, characters don’t talk about what caused the end of the world, they only allude to it in the vaguest of terms.

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In correlation to this, the Evil Empire that you are undoubtedly against is a huge booming technological wonder and stands anachronistically against all other towns in the world.  The hero will have to fight all manner of robot, tank, flying machine, and mech suit until the end of the game.

Laurel and Hardy

Once you are actually adventuring, our character needs a “buddy character” to latch onto.  Since our main character is whiny tormented guy, a character that exists solely as the direct opposite of him needs to pop up.  What we need is a “Chris Tucker” to his “Jackie Chan”, if you will.

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This character will be insanely goofy, never take anything seriously, and dress like a total imbecile for seemingly no reason at all.  Later in the game you will come to hear some sort of depressing back-story that reveals the character’s bumbling attitude is a facade he puts on to keep out memories of sadness, for example the death of his family

Public Storage

One of the more minor clichés, but a cliché none-the-less will always exist in that everyone in the whole world is so trusting of outsiders that they will let them into their homes at any moment of time at all.  To repay their hospitality, our party will repay them by robbing them blindly and slipping out into the darkness.  If anyone has the sense to actually hide any of their belongings, most will settle for stashing them in inconspicuous clay pots or barrels right outside their house.

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Maybe these folks would move up a station in life, and not exist as poor commoners if they learned how to hold onto wealth!

Unorthodox travel method

As our party progresses through the game, a situation will occur that makes traveling through a particular area difficult.  Maybe there is a tough monster that attacks those that travel by foot, or a huge desert that takes days to pass, whatever the reason the party eventually needs some sort of “beast of burden” to ride on.  Horses?  Like we’d put any filthy horses in our game; what we need is some sort of cute cuddly animal like a huge baby chicken or a bunny to ride on.  I’ve got it – Ferrets – everyone loves ferrets. In our game people commute by way of giant ferret.

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Persistent Miniboss

As we continue through the game, the Evil Empire will start sending some sort of mercenary after you.  This guy exists as a stereotypical “cool anti-hero” type of guy.  He smokes cigarettes, uses some sort of “cool” weapon such as a revolver or a butterfly knife, and pops up just about every five seconds from here on out.  That is until….

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Green Ranger Rule

Remember that show The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers?  In the first few seasons there was a character called the “Green Ranger” that existed as a misunderstood evil analog to the heroes.  Suddenly he had a change of heart and became a good guy out of nowhere.  Our Miniboss character will suddenly do this at some point.  This could be for many reasons, such as finding out the true intentions of the Empire, a show of mercy from our heroes, or even a “truce” so that he may fight the main character “for real” at some point.  This could also be called “The Vegeta Rule”.

Final Boss

So now we come to the end of our hypothetical game, and things are looking bad.  Our party seems to have overtaken Seraphimatos just in time for him to spout something vaguely biblical and turn into an angel-like monster with multiple wings and choir music accompaniment.  A good way to find source material would be for us to get drunk and watch a documentary on a mystical ancient religion such as Gnosticism or Kabbalah and choose buzzwords to allude to.

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In fact naming a multitude of other monsters, weapons, attacks, cities, and even characters after people and deities from all manner of world religions is a must.

The party has beaten the huge angelic monstrosity, and we are now blessed with the end credits.  And just like many RPGs out today, the gamer will have a distinct feeling of “meh” on their mind.  The bad thing is that many have played a game that follows a similar pattern.

 

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!

The Return of Classic Anime?

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The following is a summation of 20 or so years of anime fandom, past and possibly the future. Anime has gone through rough times these past few years, but news of things like Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Your Name, dominating the box office worldwide gives me hope. Not only are things looking up for creators (as long as your not a young animator) but fandom seems to be healthier than ever. Is it sustainable? Who knows, everyone seems to thing the entire industry is in a bubble yet again, but one thing is definitely making me happy – classic anime is finally getting some love.

I’ve been an anime fan for nearly all my life, granted, it wasn’t for several years that I knew of the term “anime” and recognized it as a wholly separate entity from normal old cartoons that cluttered up many a Saturday morning. Like most kids of my generation, I used to watch stuff like Robotech and Voltron, but it was not until I was visiting a friend’s house in third grade where I fell in love with it. This kid I was hanging around with had a nerdy father that had rented Akira, and even though we were unable to watch the entire film (not appropriate for our age back then) it became a new thing to look for anytime we had a few extra bucks laying around. This became my favorite time to be an anime fan, because every trip to the video store was like a treasure hunt – even the worst amine that we rented (Final Fantasy Legend of the Crystals comes to mind) was an almost alien experience and very exciting. We were like film connoisseurs looking for obscure films at a Blockbuster Video, part of a secret club that not many knew about.

While in college, it was easy to spot a generational shift in anime fandom. Gone were the days of pirated unlicensed VHS copies of anime lugged to club meetings in milk crates – everything was starting to be readily available 24/7 on the internet, and even for a time, Cable Television. A lot of the younger fans that were attending had zero interest in “classic anime” or trying anything that wasn’t already popular. The term “classic” is extremely vague and carries the baggage of a general correlation to the age of the subject. To some, it could even be a sort of a pejorative term as many regard older media as inferior and “not cool”. I remember several anime club meetings where certain members would whine about having to sit through anything “old”. This disregard for the history of the medium that we all love highlighted a division between fans, and one that I feel nearly led to the demise of the medium.

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This “Toonami Generation” led directly into the “fad generation” of anime fans, this may be an unpopular opinion, but this was a generation of fans that did not like anime as much as the anime culture that started to appear in the mid 2000’s. I stopped going to anime conventions in around 2006 because the viewing rooms were empty and playing ancient ADV releases from five years prior that many had long since bought on DVD and sold back to their local video store. Panels were empty, and the merch was starting to no longer contain any novelty items from Japan, it was all retail stores desperately trying to unload boxed sets of stuff that nobody was going to buy. Want volume 1 of Bleach on DVD? “Step Right up!” Want An animation cel from Macross Do You Remember Love? “what’s a Macross?” People were there to hang out, which is cool, but the reason for the con itself seemed to be a total afterthought.

So what happened?

In 2000 digital animation became the norm, and traditional animal cels went the way of the dodo. Suddenly, anime hit somewhat of a “fad” and became a mainstream medium thanks to high DVD sales of these flashy new cheap digital shows. Best Buy suddenly had an anime section, Hollywood actors were doing voice over work, and popular TV shows had anime parodies or actual continuations like Supernatural and Marvel comic properties. Hell, I think there was even a Twilight Manga at some point. At least 10 TV channels (some completely gone at this point, or restructured) had entire blocks devoted to anime, something that I assume was more-or-less bought by DVD companies to promote back-catalog items, but also because everyone wanted their own Adult Swim.

Even Tech TV (merged into G4 a long time ago) had an anime Block, miss that channel a lot.

Even Tech TV (merged into G4 a long time ago, even G4 is dead now) had an anime Block, miss that channel a lot.

Just like when anything gets popular, a counter faction sprang up to often deride anything that had a tinge of being made in Japan. Some of these were bitter former fans, ones that saw what they enjoyed being taken over by so-called “weaboos” a pejorative term for anime fans that sprang up a decade ago. Others were people that saw this con-culture of the Fad Generation, found it annoying, and decided to hate on it as a whole. I liken this to what happened to professional wrestling fandom about the time that UFC and other mixed martial arts groups got popular at around the same time.

Then the bubble burst. Many fans were ignorant of the issues plaguing the Japanese industry, but things weren’t good. Sales were going down, merchandising was flat and the once lucrative option to sell to the west was drying up due to tastes changing and popularity dying. Stores were stuck with mountains of stuff nobody wanted, companies started to close, and anime looked to be on it’s deathbed.

An interesting graph from an Asahi Shimbun article reporting that industry insiders are claiming that the “anime bubble has burst”. The top part with the red line shows the number of new works of anime produced each year since 2000. The bottom part shows total sales for the anime industry, with the darker blue section of each bar representing anime aimed at a general audience and the lighter colored section representing anime for kids. Both graphs show a decline since 2006.

An interesting graph from an Asahi Shimbun article reporting that industry insiders are claiming that the “anime bubble has burst”. The top part with the red line shows the number of new works of anime produced each year since 2000. The bottom part shows total sales for the anime industry, with the darker blue section of each bar representing anime aimed at a general audience and the lighter colored section representing anime for kids. Both graphs show a decline since 2006.

I think the biggest thing that signaled this crisis was the collapse of ADV in 2009. At their peak they were a great company, having the rights to some of anime’s biggest shows like Neon genesis Evangelion. after seeming basically untouchable, they decided to have a TV network, a magazine, a manga line, etc until they were hemorrhaging money. They did this so they could say arrogant press-lines like “we’re the biggest animation company besides Disney”. They thought they were a huge media conglomerate instead of what they really were: a successful anime dub-house.

At the last few A-Kons I went to (anime con in Texas) most companies would show off maybe 2 new licenses, then you would walk by ADV’s table and they would have 20 new acquisitions, mostly containing shows of questionable subject matter, and no fan base whatsoever, and shows that utterly flopped in Japan. granted, they got these deals for pennies on the dollar, but it costs money to dub and produce anime….money they didn’t have. They got funding by some corporation in Japan, that started a hostile takeover, and it crashed them…

Thankfully, this blog post isn’t the history of anime’s demise, but the above is a nice way to illustrate what the anime market looks like now and why the title is “The Return of Classic Anime?”. I used to have to go to ridiculous lengths to try to find some obscure anime and manga that I like, still keeping that treasure hunting mindset that was solidified in my youth. I have bootlegs that I either created or purchased of shows that I assumed would never have a chance of coming out over here, things Like Leiji Matsumoto’s Starzinger and Danguard Ace, manga for decades old Gundam side-stories and other stuff that was annoying to acquire.

Dangaurd Ace

I recall years of articles in magazines and on sites like Anime News Network where people would ask things like “Why hasn’t X been licensed yet?” to be met with a reply of something like “it’s old and there is no market for it”. It can be argued that any recent success the anime market has had could be chalked up to yet another bubble that is due to burst, but one thing is evident – there IS a market for that older stuff. Anime now has older fans that want stuff akin to the way Criterion sells old films – I’ll call it the Premium Market.

Fans in this market are willing to pay a lot more and are excited about old stuff or long dead licenses. They actually still buy physical media, and aren’t just looking to get a ton of stuff for cheap. These are the fans that anime companies have needed for a while, and they are the ones driving sales for things like the hardback editions of Gundam: The Origin from Vertical publishing, or just about anything from Discotek Media. These are basically the vinyl collectors that are breathing life back into the music industry for the anime industry, a fanbase that was pushed away as a weird novelty before finally getting their due.

legend of the galactic heroes

I started really thinking about this while listening to a recent podcast from Anime News Network in which they interviewed somebody about anime expo 2016, and it seemed like these fans were the talk of the town. Take this recent Publisher’s weekly article discussing the convention in which this new trend was discussed:

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.”

The exact topic being discussed was a release of the 1970’s Queen Emeraldas Manga, and the astonishing way that it SOLD OUT pre-order-wise at this very convention. without skipping a beat, a recent manga publisher called Seven Seas recently announced that they were publishing a Captain Harlock manga in the west, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes is currently being released in novel form, and soon in anime form. had you mentioned any of this to me a decade ago, I would have laughed.

Anime companies, at least in the United States at least, are finally starting to see that there are ways to sell older stuff, and simply making it a cheap bargain bin item is a good way NOT to sell something. Making deluxe sets with collectors and connoisseurs in mind has breathed life back into a once though of as dead market, and has made classic anime something not to be reviled, but something honored.

A Regeneration is coming, 2017 is the year of rebirth

Anyone that may still check on this blog may have noticed that some changes have been happening behind the scenes. I have purchased a new web domain, re-tooled the logo, and altered things like the Facebook page – but what does that mean? I plan to alter this blog ever so slightly in 2017, instead of having a handful of small one-topic blogs that I have been neglecting, I plan to merge them together into a new entertainment site -arcadiapod.com. not only will I discuss science fiction, but it will not only be UK-based sci-fi. I will discuss movies, TV, books, wrestling etc. Pretty much whatever I want. This will help with creativity and not lead to burn-out. Once I move, I will also be re-vamping my short-lived podcast so get ready for that as well.

Can’t wait to share some great stuff with you guys!

The Akira Remake Just Keeps Looking Worse…

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding Hollywood is not the tired “they have no new ideas” complaint, a complaint that is bolstered by dozens of films based on other movies, books, toys, and cartoons filling the cinemas. Mine is a broader concern that they have no regard for the fans when it comes to such adapted works. I don’t mind Hollywood remakes and sequels of stuff I enjoy, but what I don’t want to see is adaptation for the sake of itself, and missing the point of the source material.

A while back, Michael Bay summoned a veritable crap-storm of nerd rage when a script for his new Ninja Turtles film leaked to the masses. The story, characters, and general spirit of the original had been all scrapped in favor of something that was essentially the same plot of his Transformers franchise. Mr. Bay yelled at fans on Twitter, whined in interviews that he was misunderstood, pretended the script was fake, and eventually delayed the movie for some reason “totally not related to the backlash…seriously you guys.”

Luckily, it seems like the film is back on track, but the whole situation is almost baffling. Why would a film studio take something fairly popular amongst a very hardcore and vocal fan base and alter it to an unrecognizable state? Why not actually make a NEW franchise with nothing to do with an established franchise? It’s almost like this happens behind closed doors:

dumb-guy

“Hey guys, thanks for meeting me here today! The purpose of this meeting is that I have a GREAT idea, no not an original one of course, (chuckles) that would be difficult and my head hurts from all that blow I did earlier! So here’s what’s gonna happen….We gonna take something that already exists and we remake it. This is cutting edge stuff guys, nobody has ever thought of re-doing classic films before!! Here’s the catch about us remaking it though, we don’t! (everyone in room gasps!) This is the clever part guys, we throw away everything that made the original popular! We change everything about it, because despite the popularity and reverence for the original we know better than the original creators. It’s a stroke of genius, I know.”

This attitude seems to plague all of Hollywood, a place that has increasingly replaced artistic vision for dollar signs. There’s no wonder most “talent” is flocking to television, as that format seems to have more freedom for just about  everyone. That isn’t to say they aren’t without their issues as well. I remember reading about a San Diego Comic Con years ago where a group of execs slipped into a screening of the US remake of the popular UK science fiction drama Life on Mars, only to be horrified by the bad reception it was getting. Supposedly, they had no idea that the show had fans over here, and immediately re-shot the pilot with a new cast attempting to re-create the show exactly.

Japanese Anime and Manga seem to be the new hotbed for film licensing, and it has been pretty bleak. Executives seem to understand which are the popular franchises, but miss the entire point of why said franchises are popular. It’s like they assume that fans will see things based on name only, and will gladly accept massive changes to all aspects of a production. We thankfully dodged a Keanu Reeves Cowboy Bebop Film, a Zac Efron Full Metal Panic film, and even a Evangelion film that was supposed to be all action, and none of that pesky plot from the original. Sadly, we were “blessed” with atrocities such as the Fox Dragonball: Evolution film, so it hasn’t been perfect. Each time this happens, the possible directors of these franchises in the making, seem bewildered that there is so much outcry.

cowboy-bebop

The property that I am the most worried about in regards to this situation happens to be Akira, one of my most beloved science fiction stories. I basically have Akira to thank for getting me into anime, because I was completely oblivious that there was an entire industry devoted to “cartoons” that weren’t necessarily meant for children. I’m not going to pretend I understood the film when I first watched it over at a friend’s house back in 1992, but the mix of violence, psychological storytelling, and amazing visuals simply blew me away. I eventually bought all of the manga, animation cells, and even action figures related to it.

For about ten years now I have been hearing about a possible “American remake” of Akira being in the works, but they never get off the ground. Fans flip out about proposed changes, and each one dies a quiet death shortly after. The newest version of this project seems to be one helmed by a director named Jaume Collett-Serra. This name may be familiar because he’s been talking this project up for years now, and it seems perpetually stalled because he feels that he needs to drastically alter everything about it. In an interview with Coming Soon, the would be director had the following to say:

“I hope that I can bring strong characters. In the original source material, I don’t think the main characters are the protagonists. What I’m hoping is to bring characters.

Nobody’s interesting. Tetsuo’s interesting because weird sh*t happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That’s part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They’re used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.

Yeah. So hopefully in my version that will be strong, and you’ll have a story that happens in that world that will show you a little bit of the mystery. Then, if you’re interested, they’ll make “Akira 2 & 3” then you can get deeper into it. I love the world, a lot of people love that world, so why wouldn’t we indulge in it a little bit and see how it would be if it was real? Like you say I don’t have to explain everything, but wouldn’t you like to spend two-hours in a world of “Akira” and follow a character and be like, “that’s cool”? That’s all I want to offer, is two-hours in a world you can actually feel. We’re working on it.”

So there you have it, get ready for the American Akira that nobody wants!