Yet another Super Robot shows up, and Kodai finds an artifact from his past.

Theme: JAM Project – The EXCEEDER (From Super Robot Wars V)

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The Jupiter Empire is out of action, but the Gamillans remain.

Theme: JAM Project – The EXCEEDER (From Super Robot Wars V)

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The team scouts out the Jupiter Empire’s base, and end up encountering an opponent they never expected.

Theme: JAM Project – The EXCEEDER (From Super Robot Wars V)

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I take on the next DLC mission as the squad tries a little team building exercise.

Theme: JAM Project – The EXCEEDER (From Super Robot Wars V)

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The Anime Club from Anime-Gataris.

There have been numerous anime about anime and anime fandom – from Otaku no Video and Genshiken on the fandom side, and Shirobako and Animation Runner Kuromi on the production side. This last year had Anime-Gataris, an anime series spun-off from a series of shorts that aired in a specific movie theater in Tokyo, a series that does a little bit of both – and then some. (more…)

This time I take a look at an early Mind-F*** series from the 90s.

Key The Metal Idol property of Studio Pierrot.
Licensed by Discotek Media

Available on DVD from: Amazon.com and Rightstuf.com
(Clicking on these affiliate links and buying something helps support the show.)

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The Cat Returns is, to my knowledge, the only semi-sequel feature film that Studio Ghibli has ever put out (ignoring shorts made for museums). It’s also one of the small number of films put out by Studio Ghibli that aren’t directed by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki. The film was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, as part of an initiative at Ghibli introduced by Miyazaki as an attempt to groom new directors so the studio isn’t dependant on Takahata and Miyazaki, so when they retire, the studio could go on.

If your response to that last sentence is “Didn’t Ghibli shut down when Miyazaki retired?” then you know exactly what came of that initiative. I don’t know if this was due to internal politics where Miyazaki wasn’t happy with the directors who came out of this project, Miyazaki being a general curmudgeon, or what? Takahata, on the other hand, in spite of my general comments about him and his work in my article about Akira, seems to be okay with younger animators directing films at Ghibli – as the decision to shut down seems primarily driven by Miyazaki, without any feedback by Takahata.

Anyway, as far as the film itself goes – this is probably the most conventionally “anime” film that Ghibli has ever done. This isn’t a slight against the film, by any means. It’s just that most Ghibli films, especially those from Miyazaki, tend to be more pastoral in their settings while most anime (that is set in Japan) tends to be metropolitan (even historical pieces like Rurouni Kenshin).  This film, is instead in modern Japan, and most likely in Tokyo.

Just to put an underline on how more conventional anime this film is, the opening of the film is our protagonist, ordinary high school girl Haru Yoshioka, waking up late, quickly getting getting ready for school, but not having enough time to leave breakfast. This leads to her racing downstairs, and seeing her mother eating breakfast of a fried egg on toast, with a similar dish waiting for her, setting up the archetypal anime shot of female protagonist running to school while trying to eat a piece of toast – before she decides to leave without the toast. While this is a subversion of that bit – the key is that Takahata or Miyazaki wouldn’t even go that far.

This goes on with most of the character designs as well – they have some of the slightly larger eyes you see in more conventional anime characters, as opposed to most of Miyazaki’s other films where the characters are less stylized (aside from Castle of Cagliostro, where aside from Fujiko Mine who is almost unrecognizable compared to her other appearances, the Lupin crew retained their conventional designs)

It reminds me a lot of Your Name., where that film lead to a lot of people lauding Makoto Shinkai for being “the next Miyazaki”, when all things considered, his film is a lot more conventionally anime in terms of style and settings.

Where the story kicks off is Haru sees a cat (carrying a parcel) while walking home with her friend. When said cat goes to cross the street and is nearly run over by a truck, Haru grabs her friend’s Lacrosse stick and runs in front of the truck, scooping up the cat, and evading either certain death or ending up in an isekai story. The cat then stands up, and thanks her for saving him, says that he’s a Really Big Deal back in the cat world, and she’ll be rewarded for this.

When the first attempt to reward her – by planting foxtales in her yard (which sets off her and her mothers pollen allergies), putting catnip in her pockets (which leads to cats following her to school and gets her in trouble), and live mice in her shoe locker (which is just freaky). While helping clean up after school, she complains about the gifts to the Assistant to the King of Cats, and complains about her relationship problems at the time. The Assistant offers to deal with that for her, and match her up with the Prince of Cats – without listening, she agrees.

However, once she realizes what she’s done, she’s directed to the “Cat Bureau” run by The Baron (who was introduced in Whisper of the Heart), who agrees to help get her out of this – and the remainder of the story ensues.

I really enjoyed this film – it’s a very well put together coming-of-age adventure romp, though it’s not without some faults. Haru has a lot less agency than most of Miyazaki’s other female protagonists – spending most of the film reacting rather than acting, and having to be rescued rather than rescuing herself. There are exceptions – she certainly makes choices on her own behalf, and she makes a few important observations that help lead to our protagonists extricating themselves from various situations.

However, when she gets into bad situations (whether situations that are perilous or negative), she generally has to be extricated by the actions of someone else (often The Baron, but not always). To the credit of writer Reiko Yoshida and the film’s director, there are legitimate textual and metatextual reasons for this. The textual reasons are that the means of escape are often related to information that Haru simply doesn’t have access to.

The metatextual reasons are related to the fact that the writer envisioned this story as being written by the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart about the character of The Baron. In other words, the story of The Cat Returns is as much about Haru as Big Trouble in Little China is about Jack Burton. While Jack and Haru are both one of the protagonists of their respective stories, they aren’t the main protagonist – they’re viewpoint characters. Their role is to give the audience perspective of the world’s they’re going into.

That said, I still would have preferred if Haru had more of an active role in the story – once she meets Yuki and she and the audience learn that Yuki works at the palace, I would have liked if Yuki had come onboard as an equal supporting character if not on par with The Baron, than on par with Muta, in terms of providing Haru assistance in her escape – like finding a way to provide her information about how to escape, so that Haru is looking for that opportunity when The Baron makes his appearance again.

Sadly, director Hiroyuki Morita has only directed one other work of anime – and it wasn’t for Ghibli. He directed the incredibly dark super robot anime Bokurano, before returning to working in Key Animation, most recently working with Polygon Pictures on Knights of Sidonia, Ajin, and the new Godzilla anime film series. He has worked with Studio Ghibli a few more times as an animator as well – working on Tales of Earthsea, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

On the other hand, writer Reiko Yoshida has a ton of other series and films under her belt, including Girls Und Panzer and its OVAs and films, the film version of A Silent Voice, and most recently the currently airing Violet Evergarden and Hakumei and Mikochi.

The Cat Returns is currently available from Amazon.com and RightStuf.

 

This week, in the spirit of this year seeing the release of Alita: Battle Angel, I give my thoughts on 5 anime that could work as western Live-Action films.

All footage property of their respective owners – used under Fair Use for purposes of criticism.

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Probably the first anime I ever saw any of as a kid was Demon City Shinjuku. I saw the opening sequence of the anime on the Sci-Fi channel on Saturday mornings. The opening of the anime was exciting, and the conclusion of that opening (with the protagonist’s father failing and Shinjuku being transformed into the titular Demon City) hooked me in.

And then my parents got up and I had to turn the TV off because my dad didn’t like the TV on early in the morning.

I wasn’t able to watch the film again, and with it see the whole story, until I was in high school, and I was able to get the film from the library. Since then I’ve watched the film a few times, and while I still view the film with a degree of nostalgia, I’ve developed a bit of distance from that original viewing, so I have a degree of emotional distance from the film, and can see some of the flaws that I overlooked before.

Demon City Shinjuku is a film that makes a lot of assumptions, and expects you to just roll with them. There’s a Global President who has managed to craft a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East, because why not? He comes to Japan with his daughter by space shuttle because why not? Further, the force responsible for Shinjuku’s transformation, the sorcerer Rebi Ra, targets the Global President for attack, in spite of him not planning to launch a spiritual attack against Rebi Ra, because why not?

None of those points, among numerous others are explained. While the film is based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, creator of Vampire Hunter D, the first book is effectively a stand-alone story (though there are later sequels), so there’s prior reading you can bring with you into the story, to help explain things. It’s a story that asks you to take everything at face value, while leaving an undercurrent of mystery underneath everything, with no promise that the questions asked by those mysteries will be answered.

That said, the film is a visual feast. This is one of the films directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (who would go on to direct adaptations of some of Kikuchi’s other work), and Kawajiri has a profound sense of visual style. His action is incredibly fluid and dynamic, without causing the viewer to lose track of the scene. Kawajiri is undoubtedly one of the best directors of action in anime (and sword fights in particular), and this film is a great example of why he’s earned that reputation.

That said, because this film is an OVA from the ’90s, it does run into the problem that it feels visually restrained. By which I mean it was made with a 4:3 TV aspect ratio in mind, so we get numerous sequences where as a view I want to see a little more beyond the edge of the screen, but we don’t get that. It makes me wish, somewhat, that this film had gotten a remake that could take advantage of the fact that everyone has widescreen TV sets these days.

Also, the film has many of the other problems that adaptations of Kikuchi’s work have with female characters. Women are generally written as either predators or passive. Even if they’re somewhat active characters, they’re still weak and vulnerable in the face of larger threats in the way that male characters aren’t – and such is the case here.

I still liked the film, but I simply cannot recommend the film without reservation. Demon City Shinjuku isn’t as openly hostile as, say, Ninja Scroll is. However, it’s still harsh and oppressive, and the way that the film’s female lead is written is rather eye-roll inducing. However, I think it’s more newbie friendly than Ninja Scroll is.

Demon City Shinjuku was license-rescued by Discotek Media a few years ago and is currently available from RightStuf and Amazon. Amazon and Rightstuf also have the novel as well, in a physical edition, and Amazon has it through the Kindle store.

It’s time for another RPG Roundup video. This time I’m making my recommendations based on Anime series!

Whycalibur’s Log Horizon Actual Play

RPGs Recommended:
13th Age: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Maid: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Champions: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Icons: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Mutants & Masterminds: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Wild World Wrestling: DriveThruRPG

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Footage Credits:

  • Sailor Moon – Toei
  • Serial Experiments Lain – Pioneer
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion – Gainax/Studio Khara
  • Armored Trooper VOTOMS – Sunrise
  • Bubblegum Crisis – Pioneer
  • Log Horizon (Season 1) – Satelite
  • Hayate the Combat Butler – Manglobe
  • Tiger & Bunny – Sunrise
  • Goseiger – Bandai
  • Tiger Mask W – Toei

When I read an analysis of a work of fiction – and the person doing that analysis looks at the world presented in this fiction, sees how it’s fleshed out, and because it’s fleshed out goes “This would be better/best as a video game!” I become kind of frustrated. In particular, I become frustrated because it would also work just as well for a tabletop RPG setting. A great example of this is the below installment of the “Mother’s Basement” video series, where host Geoff Thew discusses the narrative and worldbuilding of the excellent recent anime Made in Abyss, and determines that as good as it is, because of that worldbuilding it would be better as a video game:

My frustration isn’t because the opinion is objectively wrong, or because video games are somehow inferior as an medium. It’s frustrating because there’s this mindset I feel in video game fandom circles that tabletop RPGs don’t exist. They’re the thing that people used to day back before MMORPGs, and now nobody plays them anymore. I don’t mean “nobody” in the sense of nobody of consequence – that tabletop RPGs are viewed with the contempt that was/is shown to LARPers in geek circles. I mean that they just don’t exist – that the person who plays RPGs is like the Tasmanian Tiger, who occasionally emerges from the bush, and then runs back into hiding.

Even the gaming news sources that do talk about RPGs tend to focus on certain more niche sides of things. Austin Walker of Waypoint is way into the narrativist Indie game side of things (which is fine – I don’t believe in bad-wrong-fun). It’s also frustrating because there’s so much more to RPGs than that, and most game sites are only willing to do one of three takes.

  1. RPGs don’t exist anymore. People played them when I was in college, but nowadays tabletop RPGs don’t exist.
  2. The only tabletop RPG ever is Dungeons & Dragons. There was Shadowrun and Vampire once upon a time (and I know about those because of their video games), but they no longer exist. This isn’t helped by some forces within the game industry (like the new shepherds of White Wolf and the World of Darkness – and old White Wolf too for that matter)
  3. Dungeons & Dragons exists, but we’re only going to talk about more artistically minded small press RPGs, like some of the Powered by Apocalypse World games or Dogs in the Vineyard.

Quick note about #3: There is anything wrong in these games – it’s just that there’s an excluded middle – there are games that have gotten visibility among tabletop RPG fans, but nobody outside of that circle knows about that are worth discussing and considering – from Runequest, to 7th Sea, to Savage Worlds.

Anyway, my frustration is born out of the fact that these omissions very much come out of ignorance, whether because the people who made these statements have never had the opportunity to play an RPG, or their experience was a bad time at one game, and they dismissed the medium entirely.

I’ve tried to push back against this through videos of my own, giving recommendations based on existing video games and RPGs that are in print, but my audience is small, and there’s only so much I can do by myself, much as I love tilting at windmills. This also isn’t helped by the fact that, for very valid and understandable economic reasons, much of tabletop RPG publication is done online through PDFs instead of through brick and mortar stores, and any connection between big box booksellers and tabletop RPG publishers (in terms of trying to get their books there) is a thing of the past.

What this does mean is that tabletop RPG publishers need to take some cues from Wizards of the Coast (and then some) when it comes to promoting your stuff. There are a ton of livestreams on Twitch and videos on YouTube through the Dungeons & Dragons and Geek & Sundry YouTube channels showing people playing D&D.

Chaosium, Green Ronin, and other tabletop RPG publishers should be doing something similar for their own systems. Get people to stream Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Blue Rose, and other games. This not only shows people having fun playing the game, but it also shows people who have never played an RPG before how to play the game.

Additionally, and this is a little thing, but whenever a new Bundle of Holding comes out, the new bundle should get tweeted at @Wario64 (or someone similar), to signal boost the bundle.

Finally, the tabletop RPG industry is kinda in a Crab bucket situation. Tabletop RPGs are surviving and enduring, and as long as the books exist it won’t go anywhere, but unless there’s growth in the player base, there’s no room for growth in the industry – especially for people to make money at this full time, for companies to hire the kind of staff that’s necessary to help maintain a necessary level of professionalism (HR departments and publicists to prevent stupid crap like what happened recently with Bill Webb of Frog God Games and TSR Alum Frank Mentzer.) To do that, the industry needs to stop this stupid undermining bullshit. Politely discourage fans on your boards from slagging and actively attacking other companies games (at least professionally published games – they can slag FATAL all they want), and don’t do that yourself. If we work together, we can get out. If we promote a culture of undermining and slagging each other, we promote the perception that all our games are crap, and not worth people’s time, attention, and money.

So, in short:

  • Show people having fun playing your game.
  • Use avenues people are already watching to look for game deals, to showcase deals for *your* game.
  • Don’t run down other publishers – promote how you’re different, instead of “They suck, we’re better!”

I really liked Season 1 of New Game, as a fan of seeing stories told about creative people being creative in their field or fields. When that review came up, I had already started watching the show’s second season, and I stuck with it throughout that season.

As with Season 1, New Game!! sticks with Eagle Jump games, with all of the previous season’s cast returning, along with a few new characters joining the cast. The story for season 2 follows the same pattern as Shirobako did. Season 1 of Shirobako started with an anime series already in the midst of production, and then went through the entire production process for an anime adaptation of an existing work. In the same way, season 1 of New Game had protagonist Aoba Suzukaze coming onboard with an existing game, season 2 takes us through the entire process of designing a game, writing it, and sending it out into the world.

As part of the shifts in this season, our protagonists have new responsibilities. Aoba’s childhood friend Nene Sakura has come onboard at Eagle Jump as a fledgling programmer, and almost terminally shy (but getting better) character designer Hifumi Takimoto has become the lead character designer on the new game and now has to manage and motivate the team, including new member Momiji Mochizuki (or Momo), who has decided to become Aoba’s rival.

Aside from the new explorations of the software development and marketing process, we also get much more exploration of the personalities of the supporting cast, including the new characters. This season also almost cuts out most of the fanservice from last season. Unfortunately, perhaps in anticipation of the reduced amount of shots Kou in her underwear, we end up getting a shot in the first episode of the season with Kou’s butt in the center of the frame as she gets comfortable again under the desk for approximately 5-6 seconds. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering that when you film something in animation you do it on purpose, and considering the posterior in question is not stationary, but moving, it’s a excessive.

Otherwise, it’s a great season, and if you watched season 1, it’s definitely worth moving on to season 2.

As of this writing – New Game!! Season 2 is not available for pre-order for a home DVD release, but is currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll, and from Funimation with a dub.

Anime has an interesting relationship with the “Otaku” lifestyle. There’s an undeniable appeal to lounging around the house or apartment playing video games and/or watching TV (especially for an Otaku), but that’s not particularly a healthy way to live your life – so we get a variety of anime that romanticize the Otaku lifestyle in a manner both congratulating and self-depreciating, like Genshiken and Otaku no Video.

Himouto Umaru-Chan has an interesting take on this. The main character of the show is Umaru – a die-hard Otaku who is currently attending high school and who is also living with her brother Taihei, a salaryman who handles the cooking and cleaning. However, her public identity is not that of being an Otaku, but instead as one of the most popular girls in school, proficient in most sports, and who gets As in all her classes. On returning home, she undergoes a seemingly physical transformation into a chibi version of herself, with a radically different personality and wearing a hamster hood. The difference is dramatic enough that it’s something of a running joke that people who don’t already know can’t tell that Umaru’s public and private personas are the same person.

From there, the humor of the show comes from juggling the silliness of Umaru’s behavior (and with it the split between her public and private personas) and how Taihei responds to her behavior, along with other characters reactions to the two personas when encountered on their own. The writing for the humor here works very well. It’s helped by the fact that unlike far too many anime of late, this anime writes a brother-sister relationship that stays on the familial level, instead of stepping into the romantic level like like Oreimo and Eromanga-Sensei did. Nor does it get heavily into risque fanservice, keeping the show from getting skeevy.

It makes for a comedy series that isn’t particularly ambitious, and not particularly deep, but is fun and makes for good light viewing.

Himouto! Umaru-Chan is currently available from Amazon.com (Blu-Ray, DVD), and RightStuf.com (Blu-Ray, DVD).

As I mentioned way back in my review of Shirobako, I’m a fan of works about the making of stuff, going all the way back to reading Aliki’s How A Book Is Made and Digging Up Dinosaurs when I was a little kid. Consequently, when I learned about the anime series New Game!, it went on my watch list. I’ve finished watching that, and while the second season is currently airing I figured I might as well give my thoughts on the first season. (more…)

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ is one of the Universal Century Gundam series that had yet to receive a US release. Bandai Entertainment USA had announced a US release prior to them shutting their doors several years ago, but now that RightStuf has been working to bring out various Gundam series to the US, which means that fans here can finally take a look at the show legally.

As a head’s up, there are some spoilers for the show here, but I’m going to work to keep them to a minimum. There will be some heavy spoilers for Gundam Zeta, which are somewhat essential due to how the show starts. (more…)

Anime comedies, are absolutely willing to get self-referential, in some cases going full parody. Now, you can get a bad parody by shoving random jokes and references into the work because they can (the Seltzer & Friedberg films), or come from a place where you actively hate and dislike the genre they are satirizing, and in turn can end up creating works which are poor examples of that genre.

By comparison, the best parodies are those which are also good examples of the work in question, and such is the case with Ouran High School Host Club. (more…)