Junker Woland

Thursday, April 21, 2011

K-On! – Don’t Want to be Your Monkey Wrench

It’s tough being a U.S. fan of anime and manga in these early days of 2011: established companies keep dying, discourse between the fans and industry seems nonexistent to hostile, and new releases—of which there are certainly fewer and fewer—keep either getting gimped for our market by the Japanese rights holders or fucked-up for some ridiculous reason by the domestic licensors. To quote the Interwebs, “Feels bad man.”

Coming along as yet another prime example of such industry-wide failure is Bandai Entertainment’s recent release of K-On! Vol. 1.

Hit the "Read More" link for the rest of this post.

This 2009 adaptation of a manga by the same name is a slice-of-life comedy, recounting the daily lives of five teenage girls and the experiences had as band members in their high school’s keionbu (or “light music club,” an odd-sounding translation that is conceptually just the “pop music club”). Propelled by the anime’s success, K-On! became a huge franchise in Japan’s otaku subculture, with a second season having already completed its TV run, a forthcoming movie in the works, and two upcoming manga sequels from the series’ original creator.

Thanks to the wonders of broadband Internet and fansubs, shows reaching critical mass in “the land where the sun rises” rarely go unnoticed on this side of the pond, and in most cases, become major hits in their own right, within the U.S. fan community.

K-On! certainly followed suit and was a much hoped for and requested license in the U.S. market. Bandai Entertainment finally answered that call. Originally announced at their Anime Expo panel in July 2010, with further details emerging three months later at the New York Anime Festival, Bandai had fans in a euphoric lather with their intentions for a simultaneous DVD/Blu-ray releases and Limited-Edition versions, packaged with music CDs (of which there are quite a few singles and compilation discs of K-On! music in Japan).

After going a good year-and-a-half with few (if any) major anime acquisitions, K-On! is arguably Bandai Entertainment’s biggest license since The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2007) and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2008), and as things stand, remains their most prominent new series for the first half of 2011. Fans understandably expected the show to receive special treatment, and Bandai initially seemed more than willing to comply.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before the first cracks started to split across the series’ pristine release plan. In late January, retail solicitations for K-On! appeared and absent was any mention of the Limited Editions—all that was listed by various retailers were standard DVD and Blu-ray discs, sans music CDs and any other additional goodies. As fans tend to do, they pouted and complained, posted on forums, and attempted to rouse some word on the matter. Bandai remained silent; and fans, as they also tend to do, eventually looked past this perceived shortcoming, focused instead on the show’s April 2011 release date.

Months passed, April is here, and K-On! has landed. So where do things currently stand with this series’ inceptive volume (one of an intended four)? Well, not surprisingly, the Limited Editions never materialized—a sad situation likely the result of any number of issues, but at least, the various music CDs can be imported for a somewhat decent price.

More disconcerting is the absence of high definition audio on the Blu-ray version. Admittedly, none of Bandai Entertainment’s solicitation materials ever promised, let alone mentioned, HD audio, but in 2011 (for a show originating in 2009) its presence should never have been in question. Worse, the Blu-ray is saddled with a DVD-quality Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 192kbps, which is an insult when even the Japanese DVDs have a superior LPCM track (an uncompressed encoding format that ideally provides better sounding audio).

And just to make sure the defects in their release go to 11, a short instrumental rendition of popular-Japanese folk song, “Tsubasa wo Kudasai,” played near the end of the first episode has been replaced with what sounds to be Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” (itself an adaptation of a Civil War ballad, “Aura Lea”). Giving credit where it’s due, the new music does an extremely good job mimicking the original; although, both are simple compositions, comprised of only a piano melody, bass guitar, and drums (just from a cursory observation, the bass and drums seem untouched, and considering everything is done digitally nowadays, it probably would not have been difficult to merely substitute a new piano track).

Given the subjective nature of fandom, one shouldn’t make any blanket statements regarding how much the degraded audio and music alteration will bother the U.S. anime community at large. For myself, I could have accepted the loss of “Tsubasa wo Kudasai,” especially since the scene in question lasts maybe a minute, and the song has no particular relevance to the show, as a whole. But in 2011, there is absolutely no justification for releasing a Blu-ray disc without high definition audio—it’s a main selling points for adopting a HD setup, one which helps offset the disc’s more expensive pricing.

In the absence of proof, apologist will often claim changes—particularly those such as the lack of HD audio—are the result of pressures from the Japanese rights holders (to help prevent the dreaded “reverse importation”). To this I say, even when true, it’s way past time the American market stopped bending to every whim of the Japanese—if they have no issue taking our money for their products (which, considering the current Japanese economy, is certainly the case), then U.S. audiences should not be forced to accept crippled releases.

In all honesty, though, regardless of the reasons behind these unfortunate flaws, my ultimate problem is the absolute lack of communication from Bandai Entertainment. In 2011, with the rise of the modern Internet, the proliferation of broadband, and continued (at times almost frightening) spread of social media, there is no excuse for a subsidiary of a major global corporation (in this case the Bandai Namco Group) to fail at disseminating such information, well before their product ships to retail outlets. A press release sent to certain websites, a few forum posts, and Facebook/Twitter updates is all it’d take to inform the people who’d be most interested.

And in the end, that’s what matters most: let me be an informed consumer. Allow me to make the decision on whether to buy your product based on facts, instead of going on assumptions, only to have unwanted alterations and quality issues forced upon me. The U.S. anime and manga market has been in a downward spiral for the last four-to-five years, and understandably no company wants to lose sales, but deciding to remain silent on what could be considered serious flaws in a much anticipated product only erodes the trust most company’s hope to foster in their consumers. And sad as it is to say, at this point, I have absolutely no blind faith left for any company dealing in U.S. anime and manga distribution.

K-On! is without a doubt one of the biggest releases North America will see this year, and I expect most fans will look beyond any inherent problems with Bandai Entertainment’s discs. It will likely be a good seller for them. For this fan, however, I will continue to read Yen Press’s release of the manga, but K-On! Vol. 1 on Blu-ray is the only disc from Bandai Entertainment that will see itself added to my anime collection.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aria – Manga Vol. #6 12/28/10

This is just a quick update, but according to Tokyopop’s Twitter and Facebook, the long overdue sixth volume of ARIA will finally be hitting retail shelves on or around December 28, 2010.

For those unfamiliar, ARIA is a slice-of-life series, set in the year 2301 A.D., about a group of females gondoliers working on Neo-Venezia, a recreation of Venice on the now terraformed planet Mars. Besides manga-ka Kozue Amano’s gorgeous artwork, the series' selling points are its light atmosphere and warm cast of characters. ARIA would be one of my most highly recommended titles available in the U.S. and is at least worth a look, even if you’re not into the more cutesy manga.

In terms of Tokyopop’s overall catalog, it’s definitely one of their best series, so if you’re a fan or at all interested, please go and support the company (and quality manga) by grabbing a copy of ARIA vol. #6 when it hits retail.

Also, for those who prefer animation, all three seasons of the stellar ARIA anime are currently available in lovingly compiled collector’s sets from RightStuf/Nozomi Entertainment—much like the manga, the anime also comes highly recommended.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Otakon 2010 – The Thrill is Gone

In case you’re wondering: that is my hand, sticking-out from a pile of squishy hotel bedcovers, and the bottle of water I was hoping to quickly empty, in a weak attempt to cure the massive hangover resulting from hours, and hours, and hours of drinking…

Last July 30th to August 1st marked my tenth (almost consecutive) year attending the “Convention for the Otaku Generation,” Otakon. I don’t consider myself a convention person, one of those individuals who waits with heated anticipation for the con season to begin, then makes the rounds to as many of these themed festivals as is humanly (and financially) possible. I do, however, generally enjoy going to such events, with Otakon having been the main attraction in my late-teens-to-early-adult years. But the ache in my bones is telling me it’s come time to say saraba to the three-day celebration of anime and manga in the city that houses the remains of Edgar Allen Poe.

Over the years, I’ve had varied participation with Otakon: I first went as just an average fan, spent a few installments as quasi-staff (thanks to my involvement with their video game room), had a quick turn as press, before settling back into fan mode for this latest run. Keeping in mind Otakon was, and by some still is, considered the premier East Coast anime/manga convention, and although my station at the con has consistently changed, it’s difficult to pin-down one exact difference that has soured my overall opinion and enjoyment of this annual gathering.

To be completely honest, one component is certainly my age. Thanks to the popularity surge of Japanese entertainment in the mid-to-late 90s, and broadband Internet’s effect on file sharing, the fanbase for anime and manga has greatly expanded beyond the older geeks born in the 70s and 80s. I have to admit, being surrounded by so many young teens—and notions that I may well be ogling a scantly-clad cosplayer, who I would not be able to legally escort to a bar and buy a drink—is a tad disconcerting. Part of me feels I’ve just gotten too old to be thrown into what now consists of the mass-fan populace.

But beyond my own fuddy-duddy disposition, Otakon has without a doubt lost a good deal of its former luster. Thanks to the extreme downturn of the domestic anime and manga market and the rise of prestigious conventions in the New York area, Baltimore’s con has consistently seen more and more of its professional talent slip or get stolen away. This year’s con had a measly four industry panels (Aniplex, Bandai, Funimation, and Vertical) and only a hodgepodge of mediocre Japanese talent—admittedly, it’s no easy task finding popular Japanese artists, voice actors, directors, and-the-like with time enough in their busy schedules to fly all the way to America’s east coast for a quick appearance, but well, obtaining such stars really is the burden of those putting on the show.

As it currently exists, Otakon is largely a convention that draws tons of regional cosplayers; it’s a place for high-schoolers to mingle and listen to brethren testify about their love of a specific anime, manga, or fetish from the panel pulpit; and it’s a con that still occasionally draws some major music talent—not so much this year, though…the Yoshida Brothers, really? (And yes, I realize Home Made Kazoku played during the dying embers of Sunday, and that Yoshiki and Sugizo did a mini-performance at the cosplay masquerade.)

For what it’s worth, I did enjoy my time this year, surrounded by good friends, but due to a lack of interest amongst the total squad, I spent more time being around Otakon than actually in Otakon. Of course, who’s to say what the future holds. If you do see me next year, with a sobering coffee in one hand and camera in the other, traipsing through the halls of the Baltimore convention center, you’re more than welcome to call me a hypocrite.

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If you’re interested in a quick aggregate of all the major anime and manga licenses announced during Otakon 2010, check-out my similar post made over at the J1 Culture Force blog.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rosario+Vampire Manga – No Tits for You

I want to avoid overly editorializing the issue, as I haven’t yet confirmed this myself. But with the source being the (former) Anime on DVD forums, according to this post, VIZ has decided to censor two instances of exposed breasts in Rosario+Vampire Season II volume #2.

What I can confirm (and as the above banner image partially reveals) is that the Japanese volume contains two panels where Kurumu, the succubus character, does indeed expose her bare breasts. According to the forum post, VIZ’s edition, which hit stores today, clothes the supple succubi’s naked flesh in a made-to-order bra.

Considering how VIZ maintains no standards on when it decides to censor a title, and that Rosario+Vampire has consistently ranked as one of their best selling series, it’s easy to guess why a manga that often places on The New York Times best seller list and can still be readily found on bookstore shelves has had all traces of purity-destroying naughty bits expunged from its pages.

As a fan of the series, and one who has bought all the volumes VIZ has released thus far, I can’t help but be angered by a company that continually edits and censors their products, without ever having the decency to notify their fans ahead of time. It’s this type of treatment that makes me want to forego buying anything from the company, even the manga and anime they treat with the utmost of care.

Regardless, if the censorship is true (and I’m sure it is), this is yet another title I will no longer purchase from them. And to think I was just beginning to get over their stealth-canceling of the Bastard!! manga (and yes, if you haven’t yet realized, they cancelled Bastard!!)…


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

San Diego Comic-Con 2010 – The Licensing

Another year, another Comic-con in the beautiful sun-drenched city of San Diego (I was there last November and, man, does Fred’s Mexican Café make a mighty fine Margarita). Of course, Comic-Con is all about those paperbound, spandex-wearing champions of justice, and the money-generating movies they inspire, but that doesn’t mean us anime and manga fiends don’t get thrown a few bones. Since coverage of such tends to be spotty, here’s a rundown of the newly announced licenses at last week’s show. (Note: unless explicitly stated, all titles are manga.)

- Tales of the Abyss (anime)
- Turn A Gundam (anime)
- Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maiden

Considering their often delayed titles and stench of death emanating from the company as of late, it was surprising to see Bandai hit San Diego, not only with new licenses, but new anime. Of their offerings, Turn A Gundam is probably the most significant. This 50-episode TV series originally airing in 1999, and the last Gundam show directed by series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, will finally make its long-overdue debut in the US. And the Kannagi manga, inspiration for the similarly titled anime (which is already available in the US), is another decent acquisition that should please many fans—I just hope Bandai does a better job with this one than they did on the Lucky Star manga, with its poor English localization and cheap paper.

Vertical Inc.
- Lychee Light Club, by Usamaru Furuya

Vertical, one of my favorite publishers, came a bit light to San Diego, only announcing Lychee Light Club, a somewhat gory and extreme single-volume manga from Usamaru Furuya (Sadly, another anticipated series by Furuya, 51 Ways to Save Her, was announced at last year’s Comic-con by DC Comics' CMX Manga division, which has since been shuttered.)

Top Shelf
- Cigarette Girl, by Masahiko Matsumoto

I’m not familiar with the work or the author, but Top Shelf is a classy publisher, so the book should be worth a look, at the very least.

Yen Press
- High School of the Dead, by Daisuke Sato and Shoji Sato
- UraBoku (Betrayal Knows My Name), by Hotaru Odagiri
- Otoyomegatari, by Kaoru Mori
- Higurashi: When They Cry Demon Exposing Arc, by Ryukishi07 and En Kitou

I do so love Yen Press. UraBoku and the next Higurashi installment are solid, fan-friendly additions, but what has me really excited are Otoyomegatari, the new series by Kaoru Mori (of A Victorian Romance Emma fame) and High School of the Dead, a zombie-survival manga with an ample supply of tits-n-ass, from writer Daisuke Sato and artist Shoji Sato (best known for his erotic doujinshi created under the pen-name Inazuma).

(For those more animatedly inclined, Sentai Films has already licensed the High School of the Dead anime for US distribution…now lets just hope we get the show on Blu-ray.)

Drawn and Quarterly
- NonNonBa, by Shigeru Mizuki
- Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki

D&Q has on offer two works from Shigeru Mizuki, best known as the creator of GeGeGe no Kitaro. While I can’t profess any knowledge of the two aforementioned series, given that they’re from the renowned Mr. Mizuki and the care D&Q pays to all their meticulously chosen titles, you can bet both will be great books.

- Sakura no Ichiban!, by Yuna Kagesaki
- Pavane for a Dead Girl, by Koge-Donbo
- Keppeki Shounen Kanzen Soubi, by Touya Tobina

And, rounding things out is Tokyopop. The only thing I can really say about their titles is I like Koge-Donbo, she created Di Gi Charat, so, yeah…

And finally, while it wasn’t announced at the San Diego Comic-Con, Sentai Films licensed CANNAN, a 13-episode series conceptualized by Type-Moon, the company that created the massively popular Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night franchises.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Gunpla Builders – Xtreme Product Placement

I’ve been waiting for the trailer to hit Le Tube before posting, since the streaming version on Bandai’s site was woefully wonky.

So feast your eyes upon product whoring taken to godly levels: Mokei Senshi Gunpla Builders: Beginning G!

To explain: Gunpla is a Japanese portmanteau for those Gundam plastic model kits Bandai cranks out each year by the thousands, and Gunpla Builders is a three-part anime project (handled by Sunrise, of course) made to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the aforementioned time sinks.

The series follows Haru Irei as he ventures into the exciting world of fragile plastic joints, expensive detailing pens, and the intoxicating smell of modeling glue. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Gundam show, even one only quasi-related to the actual series, without the signature robots shooting guns and hacking parts off each other with laser swords.

Thankfully, Bandai has an answer to what otherwise would have been a dire lack of robot battling: have these masters of injection-molded Polystyrene settle their heated rivalries the way only nerds can, through digital avatars courtesy of the Kidō Senshi Gundam: Senjō no Kizuna arcade game.

Gotta give it to Bandai for knowing how to exploit their products to the fullest. First episode of Gunpla Builders hits August 15. While the trailer doesn’t have me too excited, even forgetting the exaggerated rivalries, cheesy video game fights, and the fat-hamburger-eating kid, I’m hoping the show will channel just a bit of that Genshiken/Comic Party vibe that I dig so much.


Akai Katana – New Shooter by CAVE

Via the GAF, by way of the CAVE-STG forum...

After taking a short respite with the more casual DeathSmiles titles, looks like the diehards over at CAVE are returning to the danmaku genre of shooters for which they’re best known.

While only featuring a background image and short trailer (with no gameplay), check-out the website for their new game: Akai Katana.

(You can also view the trailer on YouTube: Linku.)

News is currently scarce (not surprising for a CAVE title pre-location testing), but the game is set to test (in Japan) at HEY arcade this coming July 23 – 26, with a targeted release in August 2010.

Known info so far:
- Danmaku type horizontal scrolling shooting game
- Hardcore military shooter
- Each ship has a pair of characters (pilot and gunner?) with specific attacks
- Each ship changes its attacks when you change "mode"
- The characters (enemies, allies, and others - all human) are quite diverse
- Ships are designed as hardcore, 1950s style retro mechas
- Game is designed around destructible objects and dodging bullets
- It has been carefully developed for over 1 year.
- Release in summer/fall 2010

A new CAVE shooter, regardless of format, is always welcome news. We’ll almost certainly never see an actual U.S. arcade release, but a console port can be reasonably expected (whether even that would be officially available in the U.S. is another concern).

And on the topic of home ports: Sony, please get over whatever issue you’re having with old-skool (usually sub-HD) games and let companies like CAVE publish their titles for your overpriced Blu-ray player.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Insert Coin – The King of Fighters XIII

Only SNK would release the thirteenth installment of their premier fighting-game series, The King of Fighters, on the fourteenth day of the month…

Regardless, the time has come, at last.

After spending several years valiantly crafting gorgeous all-new sprites, SNK finally seemed to cave to fan and financial pressures by rushing into arcades the overwhelmingly lackluster The King of Fighters XII. Although the roster was limited, with glaring omissions of certain fan-favorite characters, most praised the glorious hand-drawn graphics, but took serious grievances with its slow, muddy play mechanics that barely felt reminiscent of the series, and its lack of storyline or final bosses—recurring criticism of the game was it came-off more like an expensive beta test than a complete piece of software. Sadly, the home release didn’t win the already haggard title any further fans, as the online play was poorly implemented, crippling matches with horrendous lag.

But that time has past. The future, or really the present, is The King of Fighters XIII. Months of previews and testing have buffered the game, revealing lavish backgrounds and more beautiful 2D sprite work, a buxom roster (Mai Shiranui allusion totally intended), and game systems and mechanics favorably compared to KoF2002, the last series entry to receive unanimous acclaim amongst fans (and also one of the few KoF installments still being seriously played in arcades and tournaments).

This all, unfortunately, means a whole lotta nothing for us poor Joes living in the “land of the free, and the home of the brave,” as all we know about a possible U.S. arcade release is one might be coming this summer (assuming SNK’s placeholder of an English website can be believed). Given this is a Taito Type X2 game, one can expect the arcade software alone will probably run in the $2,000 range (the price is currently TBA at one of the better U.S. arcade retailers).

Of course, there’s always the inevitable home release, with fans across the globe praying to whatever electronic deity they hold dear that SNK gifts this title with functioning online play (if BlazBlue can move blessedly smooth online, so should KoFXIII, damnit). While no information on a home version has yet been announced, even considering SNK’s general loyalty to arcade owners, one would think we’ll see a console release by early 2011, at latest.

So for now, U.S. citizens, lets enjoy some random linkage & videos…

- Japanese KoF XIII website, Blog, and Arcade Countdown site
(Countdown site has some awesome technical gameplay videos)

And what would a blog post be without an embedded video? Well, how ‘bout some hotness from the game’s opening cinematic? Hit the jump to view the opening movie in all its 2D-hard-rocking goodness...