Junker Woland

Friday, March 28, 2008

Break Out - JAM Project @ Otakon 2008

Holy fuck!

Otakon just announced their main musical guest for the 2008 convention, and it’s the unimaginably awesome anime-and-video-game supergroup, JAM Project…the JAM Project!

My mind is utterly destroyed right now by the sheer thought of getting to see Hironobu Kageyama, Rica Matsumoto, Masaaki Endoh, Hiroshi Kitadani, Masami Okui, and Yoshiki Fukuyama live in concert, belting out their epic grooves.

If you don’t know JAM Project, shame on you; get yo ass to Wiki son, and school yo-shelf.

So yes, I’m horribly excited, but the days have been a bit dour as of late, and this makes for excellently mood-brightening news. Now, I just need to do something about the lack of a hotel room.

And since a post like this wouldn’t be complete without some good ‘ol YouTubery, check out JAM Project as they perform a more recent song, Gong:


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The King of Braves Returns

Just remember: nothing, NOTHING, can stop the burning flames of righteousness that compel all true heroes. After putting the title on a year-long hiatus, President of Media Blasters John Sirabella has just made known the second half of the renowned late-90s super robot series, King of Braves GaoGaiGar, will finally see a US release.

I’ll let the man speak for himself:

“Gaogaiger second season is being worked upon as we speak and will be released this year...probably August, sub only and cheap at like $35 for the whole thing I believe.”

I’m glad my hopes weren’t dashed upon the rocks of ultimate despair, once having them raised earlier this month when Media Blasters re-solicited a box set for the series’ initial five DVD volumes. GaoGaiGar really is the best modern super robot show around, and it’d have been an utter shame had the rest of the television episodes not been released for the US fans.

Still, GaoGaiGar was put on hiatus because of exceedingly weak sales. While part of this I feel can be attributed to Media Blasters’ poor marketing and inappropriate decision to release the series with an English dub across 10 DVD singles, that doesn’t negate the truth that people (fans as well) just weren’t buying.

So here’s the rub: if you want to see all of GaoGaiGar, by which I mean the incredibly awesome sequel OVA King of Braves GaoGaiGar Final, then you need to buy these DVDs. Those who haven’t yet invested will be able to purchase the first five discs housed in beautiful G-stone-green art box for an amazingly dirt-cheap price of $34.99 (right now Rightstuf is offering the set for a mind boggling $26.24, and I’m sure the truly thrifty can find even better deals). So open those wallet and go pre-order the set, now!

Once done, start saving for the second DVD barrage, hopefully arriving later this summer…again at a ridiculously low price.

Seriously, anyone with even a shred of interest in robot anime would be doing themselves a giant favor by getting GaoGaiGar. The show admittedly starts off slow, but once you're past those opening episodes, it’s some of the best giant robot action ever put to film.

But for the time being, simply enjoy some “Yuusha-O Tanjou!,” GaiGaiGar’s epic opening theme song:


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Yozakura Quartet to be Animated

Via Anime News Network by way of Moon Phase, it looks like Suzuhito Yasuda's manga, Yozakura Quartet, is set for an anime adaptation.

I feel a bit of paternal instinct towards the Quartet, having been (as far as I can tell) the first person to write a preview for the manga over at AnimeonDVD and since henceforth I'll be handling all their reviews of this particular series. Unfortunately, my piece on Volume 1 of the manga (which is mostly a better written regurgitation of my preview article) won't be posted until next month, long after everyone else has had their say.

Either way, besides very much enjoying the first comic installment, I can definitely see how it could convert well into a lovely looking anime. Hopefully it gets a decent budget and production crew, because I think Yozakura Quartet could be a hit. So until there's an actual anime site, keep an eye on Yasuda's website and blog.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Damn It Feels Good...

…to be right!

One of my previous posts centered around the idea of anime producers and distributors making their shows available—for free—through online video streaming as a means of both marketing and stemming illegal fansubs.

Seems Gonzo, a prominent anime producer, listened and will be streaming two of their newest series, The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk and Blassreiter, with English subtitles on the same day as their Japanese TV broadcast. American viewers will have the options of using three sites (YouTube, Crunchyroll, and Bost), which depending on their setup will either host the show as a free stream or higher-resolution download to own video file.

You can read Gonzo’s full press release here.

Of course, Gonzo’s almost assuredly been working on this deal long before my little post, but I always enjoy seeing my musings become reality…now if I could only find a way to get paid for them!

Still, it’ll be interesting to watch this play out. Both Druaga (based on a video game with little-to-no US fandom) and Blassreiter (whose claim to fame is being co-written and featuring character designs by a popular Japanese eroge company) are essentially ailing sacrificial lambs to the unknown, malevolent deity of online downloading; since neither show would likely have captured much fan attention, they’re appropriate titles to tap while working out the kinks. The real questions are how will Gonzo handle their next big production and what response will the rest of the industry have to this recent news.

The one thing I do hope Gonzo realizes is that—once they stream a show—they’re essentially committed to releasing a DVD in the US. Failing to do so (and relatively immediately at that) will only destroy any progress they’re hoping to make with this venture, because fans will merely migrate back to stealing better quality fansub files if these digital videos are their only access to a series.

Either way, I give Gonzo some “mad props” and hope this works out, both for them and the anime industry in general. Just need to keep my fingers crossed other companies (with shows I actually want to watch) will soon follow suit.

And now to celebrate, some obligatory Caramelldansen:


Friday, March 07, 2008

School's Out Forever

For all the degenerate, sickening, and just-shy-of-illegal 2D entertainment Japan produces, I don’t think I’ve ever been this repulsed as after finishing the anime adaptation of School Days.

Funny things is, I never actually intended to watch this show, but it’s reputation, especially after the Nice Boat incident, made me feel almost obligated to partake of the experience. I don’t regret the decision, mind you; I’m just surprised at being bothered and angered by such a tediously puerile work.

What I believe I find so disturbing is that—unlike actual pornography which even at its most perverse is ultimately meaningful as the buttons on a dress shirt and lasting as the time it takes to slake one’s carnal desires—School Days is completely removed from the inherently exploitive nature of adult entertainment. In the absence of hollow sex acts, all that’s left is a trite narrative full of repugnant characters that don’t even began to resemble humans. Dramatic needs are one thing, but the rather large cast of School Days behave in gruesome ways that simply defy logic, even for horny teenage standards.

And in case anyone’s wondering, the above statement is in no way a reaction to the events featured in the last episode—it’s the totality of circumstances precipitating those final moments that are really bugging the shit out of me.

Considering how late I am to the School Days party, I don’t intend for this to be a long post, particularly since I’d rather not dwell on the series. I merely hope no US anime distributor even attempts to license this trash. Besides not being deserving of peoples’ money, I believe it has the huge potential to end up an amazing financial bust for any company deciding to take the risk.

That said, I think I’ll go watch some Hayate no Gotoku…or maybe even one of the Taimanin Asagi episodes to help cleanse my palate.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Refurbished Warriors - Street Fighter 4

Seems Junker Woland’s unintentionally morphed into an anime and manga blog, so I think it’s about time I mixed things up a bit with a few barbs aimed at a reliable punching bag, Street Fighter IV.

Since this post evolved into a longer piece than planned, please hit the “Read More…” link to suck-down my devastating crossover combo.

Interview after interview, with each word Yoshinori Ono (SFIV’s producer) speaks, I’m reminded more of Konami’s Koji Igarashi, the man currently in charge of pumping-out annual Castlevania installments. Listen to either man talk and you’d almost think they invented their respected series, yet even through all the somewhat self-gratifying commentary, it’s apparent both creators clearly understands the mechanics behind their titles and have a good handle on the current fan landscape. They’re also similar in that neither so much seems entrusted with bringing their own creative visions to life, but rather were positioned for the sole purpose of molding preconceived corporate ideas into reality.

In Ono’s case, he’s been given the unenviable task of revitalizing the now spent and decrepit Street Fighter series, returning what arguably is the progenitor of modern-day fighting games to its once heralded glory. Ono’s burden, however, should not be confused with a plea to design a significant, meaningful game.

You see, Street Fighter III, especially in its final Third Strike iteration, was a significant fighting game—highly complex mechanics requiring players spend ample time learning the nuances of its systems, and arduously crafted sprite work, representing what at that time was the pinnacle of 2D graphics, combined together into a single meticulously crafted package. The game is like a present specially made for the 2D fighting game crowd, so much that you can almost feel the love poured into it by the development team.

But Street Fighter III wasn’t a gift even the hardcore 2D fighting fans wanted. They criticized it for having weird new characters, scoffed at it for not being flashy and fast like other brawlers of the day, and snickered over its hip-hop inspired soundtrack—this was not a Street Fighter they recognized, which is to say nothing of the fans who stopped playing fighting games around the same time their Super Nintendo consoles were put out to pasture.

I know myself, as much as all three version of SF III gripped me by the neck, holding me fast to the games’ arcade cabinets, it still took effort to wrap my head around the circus freaks populating its cast and the frustratingly-beautiful simplicity of the parry system. Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. Eventually, the mass of people who initially spurned Street Fighter III—precipitated by a depressing dearth of new titles—discovered the captivatingly deep video game waiting just below the unsettling surface presentation, although by this time the 2D fighting game scene primarily existed on life-support powered by nostalgia.

One thing about Street Fighter III, it was never popular, at least not in the same fashion as its numbered predecessor. The game is too impenetrable and as a result intimidating for anyone who doesn’t regularly play fighting game, relegating the title to a familiar oddity many might only momentarily indulge out of curiosity.

Which is where Street Fighter IV comes in.

Street Fighter IV is a delicately fabricated reunion for those who haven’t seen Capcom’s perennial fighter since the days of beating-up shiny blue cars for bonus points; understand, reunions are disillusioning: no one likes thinking about their hot high school girlfriend as the overweight mother of three annoying children. So instead of aging Street Fighter once again, IV betrays its numerical branding, warping us back to some unspecified period between II and III—all your old friends are here (at least going by the current media, almost all of them) looking the same as they did in 1994.

Yoshinoro Ono, the man who at one point was bequeathed responsibility for creating the worthless Capcom Fighting Jam, flails excitedly during his interviews, speaking in rushed burst like a man barely able to contain a joyous disbelief that, yes, he really gets to make Street Fighter IV—not Street Fighter EX4, not Street Fighter Zero Remix, not another awful series-crossover fighting game, but honest-to-goodness Street Fighter mother-fucking IV.

He’ll then go on to say something like, “There are grand master chess players who play on ESPN2, but you could also have a grandfather and his granddaughter playing chess. You're in charge of playing at whatever level you're capable of. We give you the board and some pieces and rules;” or explain why shifting to a 3D graphical presentation instead of retaining 2D sprites causes certain portions of the game to move sluggishly; he may even let you know how location tests currently happening in Japan will help decide whether the final product features more returning characters or more new characters.

You see, Street Fighter IV is for everyone and no one. A recent article on Gametap referred to it as a compromise between old-retired players and those who’ve kept current with fighting games all these long years. Taking Ono’s many comments into consideration, I see this game more as a concession for the singular purpose of gouging money out of a group that couldn’t care less whether it was utterly broken from the second they placed the disc inside their Xbox 360 or Playstation 3—they just want entertainment that makes them feel nostalgic and good about themselves.

Sadly, this doesn’t even much bother me. Horribly jaded person that I am, I’d never expect a company like Capcom to truly return to such unprofitable roots as arcade 2D fighters; pride based on heritage will always force them into occasionally creating a few games, but they’ll never actively embrace these titles. The concept and visuals behind Street Fighter IV are clear indications of a product undertaken because it looks good on Capcom’s resume and currently has the potential to score big with a mainstream audience. This is what big businesses do, and with that I’m mostly fine.

What does considerably irk me is how the game is constantly lauded by video game media outlets for merely recycling 14 year old conventions. When Toyota makes a new car, no one praises them for give it four wheels; yet when Ryu is still able to throw a hadouken or spin with a tatsumaki senpuu kyaku, it’s seen as some form of noteworthy achievement. Too many game journalists seem utterly infatuated by this game purely because it reminds them of their childhood, which is exactly what the people making SF IV are aiming for.

If a straight-up 3D remake of Super Street Fighter II Turbo had the potential to galvanize large swaths of gamers, then SF IV likely would not exist. So I give Capcom credit for being savvy enough to realize a remake—while it could possibly be well received by some—gains them little in the way of potential future earnings, as Street Fighter IV isn’t meant to be an interesting experiment, but rather a stab at recreating a profitable franchise in a familiar, mass-market friendly manner.

And guess what, that doesn’t mean SF IV will inherently be a bad game. After seventeen years, Capcom should be able to cobble together a new Street Fighter, bereft of any interesting, progressive ideas, that still doesn’t feel like some fan-made fantasy bullshit (or Capcom Fighting Jam for that matter). They just shouldn’t be overly praised for their ability to attain fundamental playability.

Some basics to remember: Street Fighter IV pushes no visual boundaries (it looks average at best), Capcom has a seventeen year hoard of collected reference material and data to build this game upon, making a 3D Street Fighter with 2D mechanics is not a novel idea (remember the EX series). It’d only be surprising if Capcom couldn’t alchemically brew all their resources and experience into a competent piece of software.

So where does this leave gamers? Street Fighter IV is ostensibly the franchise’s future—Capcom, internally, no longer employs the trained personnel needed to create completely new 2D fighting games and their pride will never allow this particular series to be farmed-out to other developers or transferred to the American branch for major projects. Should Street Fighter IV succeed, expect new works to continue along in the same vein; should it fail, expect revisions attempting to address any perceived shortcomings.

As I’ve already stated, this title is not some trivial experiment. It might not be pushing any hardware configurations or game design concepts, but it’s a major piece of software and should be treated as such. This means journalists shouldn’t spend their allotted page length splooging over how cool Ryu’s fireball looks, but rather give us some in-depth coverage on whether all those pesky particle effects the move generates cause any hit-detection issues. Leave the teenage boy at home and cover SF IV like you would any other triple-A game, competently.

Those of us not lucky enough to attend the Japanese location tests or graced with press passes to big-name industry conventions will ultimately have to wait our turn to test Capcom’s fledgling fighter. I imagine it’ll see little-to-no arcade presence here in the States before its home console release, so even with a prospective summer arcade date, most Americans might be waiting until the end of 2008 before they’ll really get a chance to sample Street Fighter IV.

In the interim, I just hope the media takes a break from its giddy, fanboy praising to discuss more than, yeah, Guile still has his flash kick, air blocking is out, and E. Honda’s loincloth continues to smell like balls.

Oh, and by the way, Chun-Li’s in-game model remains monkey-fuck horrid!