Revenge of the iPad Video Game Review Round-Up

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iPowa

Have an iPad? Want to play games on it? Don't want to throw your money around the app store like a madman in search of a decent purchase? You've come to the right place, my good friend! Pull up a chair and I'll give you some more rapid-fire reviews of iPad games!


iPowa

($0.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

iPowa was released with zero fanfare onto the App Store, and I picked it up day one on a whim. It’s an endearing little puzzle game where you flick a tiny penguin around the screen to collect stars, using bubbles that act as launch pads and various randomly placed power ups to keep from falling off the bottom of the screen and ending the game. There is no overacting structure or plot line, just a fun little time waster with a global scoreboard and infinite replayability due to its randomly generated levels. iPowa has given me hours of enjoyment playing it on the bus, and the low price even includes an iPhone port in case you own one of those as well.

[Recommended]


War of Eustrath

War of Eustrath

($5.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

War of Eustrath is a turn-based strategy RPG which very closely follows the mold of Super Robot Wars and Fire Emblem. You control a small number of very powerful but specialized mechs and get thrown into pitched battles against hordes of other mechs as ... you do something or other. I have to admit that while the world is well realized, the plotline is instantly forgettable and I often found myself skipping past the character conversations between battles. This is not entirely the fault of the plot itself — in fact it is quite interesting — but it is horribly copyedited and reads like a Google-Translated version of the original script. Putting this aside, the combat itself is very enjoyable and well balanced except for a few brutal encounters that you will have to throw yourself at over and over again to get past. There is a robust leveling and customization system, as well as multiple plot paths and endings that depend on your choices and how well you play. A rather pricey offering, this game is still well worth a look if you are a fan of strategy games. You may want to wait for an update if you can’t stomach Engrish, though.

NOTE: Since this review was originally written a major patch has been released that corrects many of the problems with the script. The story is still inconsequential, but at least now it is in legible English!

[Recommended]


Dominion HD

Dominion HD

($4.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

Remember the first iPad game article, where I reviewed Strategery, a game much like Risk but not quite? Well, Dominion is a straight-up clone of the modern rule set of Risk with a cleaned up visual aesthetic. If you have ever played the wonderful nuke-em-up game Defcon you will recognize the clean, faintly glowing look instantly. The AI is a bit dense and so the single-player mode is best used as an extended tutorial beyond the basic one provided, or as an exhibition mode to view the different maps provided. Multiplayer is where the meat of the game lies, especially at the time of writing as the game has a dedicated player base viewable via the game browser. There is one glaring oversight however — if, on the first time you start the app, you turn off Push notifications, you are unable to enable them later on. Due to this I now have an abysmal online record as I have no idea when I am supposed to take turns in the games I have signed up to. One upside is that the game is updated frequently with new maps and other goodies, something that looks likely to continue in the future, even if the additions are nothing earth-shattering.

[Passable]


Warpgate HD

Warpgate HD

($7.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

This is going to date me, but this game is an awful lot like the old spacefaring game Elite. You are given a spaceship, dumped into an open map, and it's up to you to trade, shoot and mine yourself to the top of a dog-eat-dog galaxy. Sadly, Warpgate does not quite live up to the comparison, as the whole thing feels disappointingly sterile. Even in hostile areas where the locals want your head on a space-pike, things feel very empty and inconsequential. The tutorial plot chain drags out endlessly, both by screen after screen of empty dialog and by the clunky menus and interface. Combat feels almost random and it is hard to intuit if you are succeeding or not, or even if strategy would help more than simple button mashing. All of this is a shame as behind all these clunky elements is a well-constructed core with an interesting universe to explore. Sadly it is slathered in a thick layer of gloop that makes the game unpleasant to play, even excepting the frequent crashes. I would still recommend trying the Lite version if space exploration is your cup of tea, after all inscrutable interfaces are almost a point of pride for the genre at this point. In all seriousness, you may find yourself in love with it and able to overlook the flaws in favor of the depth of experience on offer here.

[Bad]


Tweet Defense HD

Tweet Defense HD

($7.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

I must admit that I am rather fed up with tower defense games, and unless they do something exciting I tend to tire of them quickly. Tweet Defense’s gimmick is that it links to your Twitter account and changes gameplay variables based upon the status of your account. In particular there is a "booster" function where you get a large buff for following a particular account each day. An important thing to note here is that one of the driving forces behind the game is a marketing firm and so this particular game mechanic feels rather invasive and unsettling. But never mind all this, how does the game play?

Well, poorly. First off, the game is bloody ugly. The general design is not very pleasing to the eye and without a spark of originality. The game plays out at a painfully slow pace and it is worth noting that it is a great deal harder if you eschew the Twitter account linking, making this slightly unsavory feature a must to actually play the game. I was honestly hoping for a more inventive use of the Twitter association, such as having enemies or towers procedurally generated by incoming tweets.

I only downloaded this game because it was free for a day, and even for free it feels like a waste of time. The original price of $8 sounds like daylight robbery. Avoid.

[Terrible]


Uzu

Uzu

($1.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

This is a bit of a cheat, really. Uzu is not a game, but an experience. It calls itself a "kinetic multi-touch particle simulator" and that's exactly what it is. You tap the screen with one or more fingers and a sea of multicolor particles whirl around the screen in various patterns and motions much like an interactive music visualizer. The effect is amazingly entertaining, and heightened by listening to good music at the same time. I have lost an hour of my life so far playing with the app while utterly enraptured by it. Plus, it's a dollar. I've paid much more than that before for less entertainment, like when I saw Transformers 2 in the cinema. Get this now, and amaze your friends with it.

[Highly Recommended]


We Rule

We Rule

(Free – US App Store linkUK link)

I have a theory as to why this game exists. It goes like this: Developers NGMoco took one look at Farmville and the other Facebook free-to-play micro-transaction games and said, "hey we should get in on that too!" The result is a rather daft-looking clone which is more abrupt at demanding you pay money for features and blackmailing your friends into signing up as well, cutting short the tutorial into what could have been an interesting fantasy kingdom sim. The game has an irritating tendency to crash, and this coupled with an utter lack of charm and the horrendous loading times meant that I found it hard to be bothered with playing after my second session was abruptly ended. If you must play a time-sink game, you would be better off playing a more established and well-known example.

[Terrible]

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Zenkaikon 2011: Giant Robot Openings from 1963 to 1984

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Not having a particular interest or background in giant robot anime, I would probably be the last person you’d expect to see at this panel. However, a panel I attended last year at Otakon provided some insight into the creation, production, and subtext of oft-ignored credit sequences, so I decided to see what there was to be said about this specific evolution. Starting with Astro Boy and ending with something pre-1984, the panel consisted of one un-subbed opening sequence after another (roughly 42 by my count) without the benefit of any explanations, explorations, or even names. After one of the presenters hit play on the laptop, the audience was left to marvel at one- to two-minute clips in rapid and seemingly infinite succession for almost the entire hour.

Despite being irked at the lack of introduction and discussion, I initially fell into a state of humored awe. There’s just so much giant robot anime out there ... and the panel didn’t even reach its end! No wonder there wasn’t any time for intros (as frustrating as that was). After 10 or so openings, however, I felt a wearing tedium akin to being accosted by a friend whose notion of in-person entertainment is the sharing of endless Internet memes. While thorough in their acquisition of material, the panelists could’ve made a go of being more selective by grouping openings into trends and showing one example per group per time period and then discussing possible reasons for the noticeable differences.

After coming to terms that there would be no explanations, I sat back and tried as adeptly as possible to discern the evolutionary path myself. There was more than enough on which to comment, but among the things I found fascinating was the gradual swing in focus from violence to teamwork as saving grace. Within even this over-simplified observation there is much to expand upon: operator interaction with singular robots in the various recurring violent and teamwork eras, focus on detailed technological aspects of the robots themselves, form, weaponry, setting, fictitious and real word historical framing, etc. Alas, with but a minute or two of fury to note so many aspects, I simply put down my pen and enjoyed the relentless onslaught of visuals with the rest of the lip-syncing, bouncing crowd. And for the first panel on opening day of the con, maybe that’s all I needed.

Credit goes to yosefu2 for posting all the above clips to YouTube.



Click here for more of our Zenkaikon 2011 coverage

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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2011 – Room to Grow In

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March 18-20, 2011
Valley Forge Convention Center
King of Prussia, PA, USA


Zenkaikon, the follow-up to Zenkaikon 2009, escaped the previously exclusive and cramped confines of the Radisson Hotel in King of Prussia and took over the entire* Valley Forge Convention Center. The extra space, more than adequate to accommodate the 3,168 paying people who attended (not to mention guests, vendors, artists, staff, and press), was definitely worth the extra four-month wait caused by rescheduling that consequently eliminated the chance for a Zenkaikon 2010. Floor space allowed for generous registration and autograph queues; two Artist Alleys, the main one incorporated into the Dealer's Room and a small hallway that bordered the upstairs panel rooms; and navigation that was fast and easy compared to last con's experience of swimming through Con Funk-flavored JELL-O Pudding. The Dealer's Room, also benefiting from increased breathing room, was capacious and easily navigable, while the sole Main Events room was capable of hosting a riotous crowd.


The abundance of space in the Main Events room, however, also seemed an overbearing presence at times with regards to some of the scheduled panels and acts. On Friday, the Ancient Greek-themed Opening Ceremonies at 1pm brought in a decent crowd, but one that only occupied 1/5 of the room; Uncle Yo's standup around 5 pm almost filled the main section of the same space but saw sparsely populated wings; and Gelatine's concert at 7 pm catered to roughly 17 people total (some of whom unfortunately and very noticeably left during the performance). Though I didn't attend them, events such as the Sakura Cosplay Ball Dance, its after-party, the masquerade, as well as anything involving guests Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn most likely saw much better attendance due to scheduling (at least).

Thankfully, the echoes of footsteps audible on Friday were stifled by Saturday's deluge of congoers. The main parking lot was mostly full as of 10 am, registration lines snaked with eager attendees, and the aisles between rows of dealer tables bustled with patrons. Almost every panel I attended seemed to bring in a decent size audience that either almost or completely filled generously sized rooms. Some panels even turned people away due to being over capacity. Sadly, I left early on Sunday and did not get a chance to gauge attendance. I hope the trend continued; the last panel I saw, Charles "Anime Anthropologist" Dunbar's Miyazaki presentation, was pretty full.


As with the previous Zenkaikon, events scheduling was a bit awkward. Some of the troubles could be pinned on the fact that other groups had reserved certain rooms in the convention center during the con and Zenkaikon had to work around such obstacles, but the programming coordination, set to 15 minute intervals, led to awkward overlaps that often forced attendees to decide whether to leave early or arrive late if seeing consecutive panels in separate rooms. With that said, room proximity and general utilization of the convention center's layout made for effortless transitions between events.

There were myriad points of interest, enough to cause internal conflict within even the most focused con-goer. Regarding live music, NYC's Gelatine put on a fun, energy-filled show — I regret not being able to see them for their second concert on Sunday, and Tokyo's own Rose Noire gave their U.S. concert debut to the applause of many decked out in goth/lolita fashion. Of course there was no shortage of good panels. Some of my favorites included "Iron Artist," "Feminism and the Ladies of Final Fantasy," and Charles Dunbar's Modern Mythology and Miyazaki sessions. Zenkaikon also hosted karaoke, electronic and tabletop gaming, as well as a con-long LARP (Live Action Role Play) event. All this was supplemented by video rooms showing a decent range of anime and live action series and movies.

Panels and guests weren't the only focus of this heartfelt convention. Held just one week after Japan was subject to an earthquake as well as the resulting tsunami and nuclear plant crises, Zenkaikon put sympathy front and center. $3,750 in donations were collected throughout the venue, supplemented by some dealers and artists passing on all or a portion of their profits towards specific charities of their choice. Perhaps the most heartwarming sight was that none of said donation stations were ever empty, illustrating the love and concern shared by all attendees for the nation and people whose culture and art have given us so much.


Thanks to a very dedicated staff (I overheard members on many occasions offering to forsake breaks in order to help out wherever needed), Zenkaikon was efficiently run and easy to enjoy. The availability of a Press Ops room was also a welcome addition for productivity as well as actual and proverbial battery recharging, and the Scanticon Hotel's bar certainly didn't hurt either. At its current rate of expansion (there were 1,988 attendees in 2009), I have no doubt that Zenkaikon will fill those spacious rooms without any problem and for very good reasons. Looking forward to 2012!

* minus select rooms dedicated to other organizations**
**what other organizations? THERE IS ONLY ZENKAIKON!!!


Click here for more of our Zenkaikon 2011 coverage
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2010 Staff Picks: Elliot

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Elliot's choices: Demon's Souls and Bayonetta

For the five days leading up to the New Year, Ani-Gamers is posting an un-ranked list of our favorite titles from the year 2010, featuring up to two choices from each writer. Be sure to check back throughout the week to find out what geeky stuff our contributors really dug this year! We now present the choices from manga and video game reviewer Elliot Page.

Demon’s Souls (From Software): While this came out in the US in 2009, its only this year that Europeans like myself have had the pleasure of being humiliated by the ruthless gaming experience that is Demon’s Souls. There are just so many things that make me love this game — the atmosphere in particular. The ravaged, demon-filled lands of Boletaria and the few people who still cling to life set an excellent tone for your character’s adventure, making you truly feel like the last hope for the world. Not that saving the world is an easy task — the game’s controller-smashing difficulty is well documented, but it never feels punitive. This, combined with the tight direct-action combat and lack of hand-holding, makes playing the game all the more satisfying, especially when you kill a major demon. I barely have time to mention the game’s amazing online system, where players can leave notes for each other as advice or enter another player’s game to either assist or antagonize them. Plus, Demon's Souls has buckets of re-playability due to the breadth of character options available, and the fact that you will grow to love the pain the game inflicts.



Bayonetta (Platinum Games/Nex Entertainment): It’s hard to come up with a fitting opening line to fully encompass the wonder that is Bayonetta, but here goes: Bayonetta is a game where you play a nine-foot-tall woman who wears clothes made out of her own magical hair, has control over time, can summon massive demons, and spends her time destroying hundreds of freakish angels in order to do something or other. I don’t remember the plot very well — while hilarious and a great way to string the action together, it is so insane that your mind rejects it the second you stop playing. Bayonetta is what is known in the trade as a “Character Action Game” — somewhat like Devil May Cry, God of War, that sort of thing. That means a third-person camera, a combo system using different weapons including ground and aerial moves, quick time events, and button-mashing special attacks. Except, Bayonetta is the only game of this genre I have enjoyed, let alone completed twice over. The controls feel so tight and accessible, saving you from being constantly being reminded that there is a plastic knob in between you and the game. The game also has a great sense of fun all over, in its level design, enemies, and weapons. (Even the in-game shop will make you crack a smile when you visit.) The sheer amount of love put into the game shines through especially well in the final levels, during which I could not stop grinning for the entire two-hour session.

A side note: make sure to play the Xbox 360 version of this game, as the PS3 version has some horrible loading issues that rapidly suck the fun out of it.



Extra Bonus Item! (Likely to annoy Evan! This is done in the name of beefing out the amount of anime in the year-end picks.)

Baccano! (Brain’s Base): Seriously, go and read my Anime Secret Santa post on this series. After reading it, it should come as no surprise to learn that as soon as I had moved into my new house I unpacked Baccano! to re-watch it. To be precise, it was the fifth thing I unpacked, coming after the sofa, the DVD player, the TV and the kettle (for tea, of course). My love for this series only grows as I watch it this second time, and I heartily recommend it. (Ed. Note: Baccano! was released in the UK during 2010.)

Baccano! is also recommended by Ani-Gamers editor Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto.



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2010 Staff Picks: Evan Krell

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Evan's choices: Durarara!! and Twin Spica

For the five days leading up to the New Year, Ani-Gamers is posting an un-ranked list of our favorite titles from the year 2010, featuring up to two choices from each writer. Be sure to check back throughout the week to find out what geeky stuff our contributors really dug this year! We now present the choices from video game reviewer Evan "BakaTanuki" Krell.

Durarara!! (Brain’s Base): This oddball show is a bit hard to describe within a few sentences. In fact, even naming the protagonist is complicated with so many characters and plot threads. From the director, studio, and original author of Baccano!, Durarara!! is rather similar, as it is built upon a huge and interesting cast of characters, their interactions, and how their own stories all intertwine into the overall weirdness of Tokyo's Ikebukuro district. The series begins with a high schooler from the country moving into Tokyo, and leaves the impression that it will be about his experiences with his new surroundings and how he will be become involved in them. While not completely inaccurate, everything in Durarara!! has some sort of twist to it — often many. Later episodes introduce and focus on other characters, and eventually these pieces all begin to fit into the puzzle. There is a ton going on in this show, and keeping up with it all is part of the fun. Things can get pretty convoluted, but the atmosphere is laid back and fun enough to not really worry about it. Durarara!!'s urban fantasy setting makes little attempt (if any) to stay grounded in reality, and it manages to pull of some over-the-top fantasy played completely straight. The visuals are all quite distinctive with a certain dark-urban aesthetic to it. The music is also very good with both jazz and rock elements throughout. Durarara!! is extremely enjoyable, and I was thoroughly captivated with it as I followed it through Crunchyroll's simulcasting. Despite only being released this year, I am currently on my third viewing and keep finding more to love about it.

Durarara!! is also recommended by Ani-Gamers editor-in-chief Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto and contributor Ink.



Twin Spica (Kou Yaginuma): This story of a young girl pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut is easily the best manga I have read this year. Asumi, a 13-year-old girl, has always wanted to be an astronaut like her mother was. The interesting thing about this goal is that her mom died in a rocket accident when Asumi was a baby. Twin Spica is a character drama at its core, as Asumi has to deal with various relationships with others as well as her own personal development. As expected, her father has trouble supporting her ambition to follow the career that lead to his wife's death, and she has to deal with a group of new classmates at the space training academy. There is also a mysterious boy with a Lion mask on that appears to be a figment of Asumi's mind. Twin Spica tells a heartfelt story with an extremely likeable lead. Asumi is very sweet, but has more depth than the typical cutesy anime girls. The astronomical elements add a realistic science fiction aspect to the story that enriches the experience without becoming tacked on “sci-fi.” The artwork is simplistic, but becomes more refined as the artist, Kou Yaginuma, progresses. Twin Spica has four volumes out and is off to a strong start. I find it to be an extremely compelling read, and another great release from Vertical, Inc.

Twin Spica is also recommended by Ani-Gamers editor-in-chief Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto.

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2010 Staff Picks: Vampt Vo

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Evan's choices: Mass Effect 2 and Ayako

For the five days leading up to the New Year, Ani-Gamers is posting an un-ranked list of our favorite titles from the year 2010, featuring up to two choices from each writer. Be sure to check back throughout the week to find out what geeky stuff our contributors really dug this year! We now present the choices from editor-in-chief and podcast host Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto.

Mass Effect 2 (BioWare): When I first started hearing the video game press rave about Mass Effect 2, I knew I had to finally sit down and play the original Mass Effect. It turned out to be just about as disappointing as the reviews made it out to be — a fun ride chock full of potential that doesn't always deliver. Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, fixes nearly every glaring problem with the original game. That's not to say it's perfect, but it's hard not to enjoy this interplanetary heist story, with its quick-paced action scenes, satisfying leveling mechanic, huge catalog of background data on the game world, and endlessly entertaining cast that sticks with you long after you've put down the controller. Mass Effect 2 is some of the finest gaming I've had in a long time, and if you're at all a fan of sci-fi or RPGs, this is the game to pick up this year.

Mass Effect 2 is also recommended by Ani-Gamers contributor Elliot Page.



Ayako (Osamu Tezuka): While Japanese readers were introduced to Ayako in January of 1972, Osamu Tezuka's classic work of historical fiction arrived in the English-speaking world just this year, courtesy of publisher Vertical, Inc. and translator Mari Morimoto. Fans of the so-called "god of manga" (known for Astro Boy and Black Jack) will find him at his darkest point yet, as he weaves a dramatic yarn of deceit and suffering, set in post-war occupied Japan and centering around a young girl trapped by her own family in the storehouse cellar for 23 years. Despite its whopping 704-page single volume, Ayako is a gripping tale from start to finish, sure to leave even the most steadfast of Tezuka fans drained by the time they reach its powerful conclusion.



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2010 Staff Picks: Ink

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For the five days leading up to the New Year, Ani-Gamers is posting an un-ranked list of our favorite titles from the year 2010, featuring up to two choices from each writer. Be sure to check back throughout the week to find out what geeky stuff our contributors really dug this year! We now present the choices from reviewer and columnist Ink.

Ed. Note: We miscalculated the number of contributions we would be receiving from our writers, so we won't be following a one-a-day schedule from this point on. Sorry!

Fable III (Lionhead Studios): What this third incarnation of the Fable franchise does so completely that the former installations do not is create a truly immersive and believable world in which its main character's participation is only a piece of the proverbial pie. It accomplishes this by forsaking the isolated, hero-centric approach of old and broadening the story's focus and consequences to include the needs of all the people around the hero — intimately and in a broader sense. As people in our world continue to grow increasingly isolated from one another, Fable III illustrates how many lives the actions of one person can affect and also serves as a reminder to step into others' shoes before judging their actions. As a poet, I can think of no better video game execution of Shelley's sympathetic imagination.



House of Five Leaves (Manglobe): Though focused on a group of thieves and a lone ronin, House of Five Leaves is less about action than growing to understand personal reasons behind past actions and present conditions. The main character is a samurai turned woebegone bodyguard who is hired into a den of thieves that kidnaps people for ransom, under the auspice of humanitarianism. The art is a bit jarring at first, with fish-like faces adorning otherwise realistically drawn bodies, but there's no denying the animation's beauty via color contrasts and use of darkness or its direct reflection of the story's pacing, which is slow and utterly character driven. All the above characteristics contribute to the sense that this is not an anime aimed at kids but rather the adult viewers of the noitaminA block in which it appeared.



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2010 Staff Picks Day 2: Sean

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Super Meat Boy and Recettear

Once a day for the six days leading up to the New Year, Ani-Gamers is posting an un-ranked list of our favorite titles from the year 2010, featuring up to two choices from each writer. Be sure to check back throughout the week to find out what geeky stuff our contributors really dug this year! We now present the choices from copy editor Sean Kim.

Super Meat Boy (Team Meat): Mind-numbingly difficult, yet surprisingly refreshing, Super Meat Boy manages to capture what truly makes a good platformer. It truly defines the masochistic style of game design, in a similar vein to other indie 2-D platformers: N+, Jumper, and I Wanna Be the Guy, to name a few. Everything about the game is polished, from the sounds that Meat Boy makes as he squishes his way through the levels to the beautiful and often varied environments. The gameplay is spectacular; not only does Meat Boy handle extremely well, the levels are designed with an amazing amount of detail to allow for an exhilarating rush when timing all the jumps perfectly. Make no mistake, though, this game is hard, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. I found myself cursing at the TV on multiple occasions when dealing with some particularly challenging levels. If this type of game sounds interesting, you owe it to yourself to get Super Meat Boy. It is currently on sale for 800 MS points on the 360 and $7.49 on Steam for the PC (Mac version to be released in the coming months)

Super Meat Boy is also recommended by Ani-Gamers contributor Ink.



Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (EasyGameStation): Capitalism Ho! Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale was certainly a surprising hit this year. The premise for the game is simple: you owe a lot of money and need to make it back through market manipulation and dungeon crawling. The gameplay is fairly basic at its core, but offers many different characters to explore various randomly created dungeons in search of fame and fortune. The item shop portion of gameplay takes a bit of getting used to, as the deadlines are a bit harsh, and the amount of options available to wisely spend your time and manipulate the market can make one’s head spin at first, though all these concepts are slowly introduced, as to provide a continual challenge throughout the game. Much of the game’s charm comes from the character interactions and dialogue. I often found myself laughing out loud at many situations, something rare in games these days. If you’re looking for a different kind of RPG, you should pick up Recettear, currently on sale on Steam for $9.99 for the PC.



Click here for all the 2010 Staff Picks posts.

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2010 Staff Picks Day 1: Mehket

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Once a day for the six days leading up to the New Year, Ani-Gamers is posting an un-ranked list of our favorite titles from the year 2010, featuring up to two choices from each writer. Be sure to check back throughout the week to find out what geeky stuff our contributors really dug this year! We now present the choice from video game reviewer Hayley "Mehket" Myer.

Dante's Inferno (Visceral Games): Mixing classical literature and video gaming technology doesn’t sound like the greatest of ideas, but Visceral Games and Electronic Arts do an amazing job portraying Dante’s journey in The Divine Comedy as hetravels through the nine layers of Hell. The game follows the epic poem with a surprising amount of precision, depicting characters and each level of Hell as accurately as possible. The people Dante meets in the poem are scattered throughout Hell, and the ability to absolve or punish them for their worldly crimes allows the players a brief moment to play God, reflecting on their own virtues and morals. While there are some deviations in storyline, there is much to learn about The Divine Comedy from the otherwise brutal, graphic game, including dialogue from Virgil, Dante’s guide, and the cantos shown to players each time they are defeated by Hell’s minions. The game is not for the faint of heart, as it sticks to the gore and fear that Dante inspired throughout the poem, but for those who like a bit of education in their video games, Dante’s Inferno is a necessity.



Click here for all the 2010 Staff Picks posts.

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MMF: One Piece – A Love Story in Two Acts

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The wonderfully charming cast of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece

This month, the Manga Moveable Feast (or MMF) focuses on Eiichiro Oda's smash-hit shōnen manga series One Piece, and since I own 13 volumes of the wacky pirate action-adventure, I decided to contribute to the project. However, I've got a rather odd admission to make: I don't read One Piece anymore. In fact, I haven't read even a single new page of the manga since the spring of 2008.

Make no mistake, though, One Piece is actually one of my favorite manga of all time. Nearly three years ago, I simply stopped reading the books, and I have not reneged on my decision since then. In part because of this decision, and in part because of the series' instrumental role in introducing me to manga, One Piece has retained a very unique place in my heart.

Boy Meets Manga

My introduction to One Piece hardly has any of the nostalgic glory of old-time anime fans' origin stories, as it starts sometime in 2003 or so (right in the heart of the mid-2000s manga boom). One of my middle school teachers passed out a Scholastic book catalog, and in it, glaring at me with all his silly intensity, was Yugi Moto from Yu-Gi-Oh! It was an issue of Viz's Shonen Jump, on sale in my school's catalog!

A (poorly scanned) page from the Don Krieg Arc of One Piece

Naturally, after my experience with these cool Japanese cartoons on Cartoon Network's Toonami block (a frequent stepping stone for mid-'90s anime fans), I was excited to get my hands on the mysterious black-and-white comic book versions of the stories. Though I was hardly a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh! as a series, I was instantly hooked by two manga running in the magazine: Naruto and One Piece. They particularly grabbed me because I had never seen anime versions of them, unlike most of the titles in Shonen Jump.

Shortly after my first time reading One Piece (somewhere in the middle of Volume 2's Buggy Arc), I scrambled to pick up as much manga as I could get my hands on. I picked up the first two volumes of the terrible .Hack//Legend of the Twilight and received One Piece Volume 2 for my birthday. And with that, I was officially a fan of rubber-man Monkey D. Luffy and his crew of oddball pirates.

As a child of the Dragon Ball Z generation, I really felt a connection to Oda's Toriyama-inspired characters, stories, artwork, and sense of humor. Everything in One Piece, from the fights to the characters' dreams, is exaggerated, filled with a passion unparalleled by the actions of real people. For a wide-eyed middle school kid, new to the vast world of anime and manga lurking under the Toonami-glazed surface, Oda's powerfully kinetic yet inherently accessible work was just the kind of thing to propel me into full-fledged fandom.

And propel me it did! 2004, the year that marked my post-One Piece anime/manga obsession, also marked the creation of an overly ambitious little anime fan site called Anime Paradise, which would later become the Ani-Gamers you see today.

Boy Leaves Manga

Monkey D. Luffy, the hot-headed (and rather stupid) protagonist of One Piece

It's pretty clear at this point that One Piece is one of the defining works of my personal manga fandom, but why did I stop reading it after all the passion I had invested into it? It's very simple, actually.

At AnimeNEXT 2008, I pushed my way to the nearest manga vendor and started rifling through the books on the table. As I had done for the past few years, I picked up the latest volume of One Piece (14 in this case) and got ready to buy it. But then it hit me. Looking at the volumes on the table, I took note of the books that I would then have to buy after Volume 14. I thought it over in my head — "One Piece isn't even finished yet in Japan, let alone in the US. Heck, I don't even know when this Baroque Works Arc is going to end. It could be ten more volumes for all I know!"

So, on that day, I made the fateful decision, on behalf of my wallet, to stop buying One Piece. Of course, since I am strongly opposed to manga piracy (har har), reading it online is out of the question, so that means I effectively decided to stop reading the series, period. Since then, Viz Media's American run of One Piece has reached 55 volumes, and it still hasn't ended in Japan. After re-reading the volumes I bought years ago, I really miss the Straw Hat Pirates and all their crazy adventures, but the prospect of restarting my collection is a daunting one.

Indeed, that's the ultimate tragedy of the paying fan of any long-running, ongoing manga series; continued dedication to your favorite story requires an inordinate amount of money and shelf space. Nevertheless, the boundless motivation of Luffy and his comrades serves as a reminder of the importance of doing what you love, regardless of the obstacles in front of you. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll finally follow Oda's wisdom, pick up One Piece Volume 14, and start this old journey up once again.



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Preview: Black Butler (Dub)

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Black Butler, a.k.a. Kuroshitsuji

Ahh, Black Butler, also known as "Kuroshitsuji" in Japan. Infamous for its perpetually squealing teenage girl fanbase, it can be difficult for male fans to actually give it a try. However, after my stint with the surprisingly funny Axis Powers Hetalia (also known for its prepubescent female fans), I thought I might as well give Black Butler from A-1 Pictures (Kannagi, Welcome to the Space Show) a fair shake.

In the two dubbed episodes that I received on FUNimation's preview disc, however, I found myself giving Black Butler much more than a fair shake. You see, this series is in fact a shōnen (boys) manga, even though it clearly aims for a female demographic with its pretty-boy main characters and vaguely homo-erotic situations. This combination of demographics, now quite common in the manga world, means that Black Butler can provide an experience that's fun for more than just the core girls audience. Go figure!

Sebastian is a demon butler, bound to his master, Ciel Phantomhive, by a devilish contract — he must obey all of his master's orders, but Ciel has also agreed to allow Sebastian to consume his soul after the contract has ended. Following along with this delightfully Faustian setup, the series is defined by a dark, gothic style, complete with classic ornamentation in both architecture and fashion.

Plus, FUNimation's dub uses some surprisingly accurate British accents to help geographically and historically place the story in Victorian England. The voices don't always work — namely Brian Mathis, who weaves in and out of an Italian accent for the villain of episode 2 — but even some of the weaker performances like Monica Rial's Cockney accent manage to produce moments of comedy.

These two (predictably) self-contained episodes center around Sebastian's dazzling butler abilities, as he shows up all of the manor's servants with his masterful preparation of dinner and ... fighting prowess. In fact, the inclusion of fight scenes highlights the most important thing about these first few episodes of Black Butler — they combine straight-up visual gags with black comedy, creepy gothic macabre, light drama, and A-1 Pictures' best imitation of BONES-style (Fullmetal Alchemist) action scenes. The result is a fun, creepy, and exciting pastiche that never leaves you without a dull moment, despite its tendency to careen between styles.

Granted, this is just based on a limited preview, so the show could easily let me down after more than two episodes. Regardless, the beginning of Black Butler is undeniably entertaining; it may feature a pretty-boy butler being pretty, but his Golgo 13-esque ability to effortlessly complete any task, no matter how gruesome, makes for fun times, and the variety of comedic styles is sure to please nearly anyone.

Look for Black Butler on DVD from FUNimation Entertainment on January 11, 2011, and check it out with English subs right now on FUNimation's video portal, Hulu, and Anime News Network.



This preview is based on a complimentary screener DVD provided by FUNimation Entertainment.

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Con Report: New York Comic Con vs. New York Anime Festival vs. You (2010)

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Click here for Evan's Photo Gallery
Click here for Jewels's Photo Gallery
New York Comic Con / New York Anime Festival
October 8 – October 10, 2010
Jacob Javits Center
New York, NY, USA
Official Site



It's hardly a secret that anime fans are often driven to their fandom by their desire to be a part of something "different." It's one of the primary reasons that anime fans tend to be so much younger than fans of other media. So, what's the most logical thing for Reed Expositions to do with their successful New York Anime Festival, which has been running as the dominant New York-area anime convention since 2007? Obviously, merge it with pop culture mega-event New York Comic Con, where anime fans can finally be integrated with American comic book readers, cartoon fans, sci-fi geeks, and all other manner of nerdy folks. A little counter to the wishes of most anime fans? You bet!

This year, Reed rented the entire Jacob Javits Center, providing a positively massive space for all sorts of panels, events, and dealers. The entire top floor was dedicated to a series of exhibitor halls, featuring everybody from indie comic artists to small press to comic dealers to massive video game companies. Meanwhile, the bottom floors featured dozens of panel and video rooms, the IGN Theater (for large screenings), and — as I dubbed it upon my first visit — the "anime ghetto."

It almost seems like Reed was trying to have it both ways: get the anime fans to come to New York Comic Con without making them feel like they're "just like everybody else." The result? The anime segment was shoved off to the hallway on the south side of the convention, where attendees could go to find the anime panel rooms, maid café, and "Anime Artist's Alley" (yes, completely separate from the Real Artist's Alley).

This setup doesn't make any sense for anyone involved. Clearly regular Comic Con attendees, who tend to skew a little older, don't want to be surrounded by squeeing, glomping anime fans, which explains the implementation of the ghetto. If so, though, why combine the two cons? Surely not for the convenience of anime fans having access to both anime content and comic/game/etc. content, since fans interested in more than just anime would just be attending the all-inclusive Comic Con in addition to (or instead of) the Anime Festival. And the non-anime fans don't gain anything by the addition of anime fans except more people and booths to take up space in the Exhibitor's Hall. It would seem that the only reason for the integration was to save money on running two separate, annual conventions in the exorbitantly expensive Javits Center.

The 'anime ghetto,' packed to bursting with frantic young anime fans Speaking of space, the hall was a complete nightmare to navigate. Open until 7pm on Friday/Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, the Exhibitor's Hall was absolutely massive, and yet was filled with people at all times of the day. In fact, due to the intense masses of people throughout the Javits Center (but particularly in the Exhibitor's Hall), it took me a full 15-20 minutes to get to a booth from the anime hall. That's right, my "commute" to and from a booth required 30-40 minutes of my time, due to both distance and volume of people.

So while anime fans might enjoy the feeling of being "separate" from those "un-cool" comic fans down the hall, the inconvenience of having their anime-specific dealers right next to giant booths featuring Michael Jackson dancing games neutralizes any sense of uniqueness. Most anime fans spend the bulk of their time in the Dealer's Room at any convention, so the all the integration seems to have done is made it harder for everybody to move around the con by stuffing everyone in one Exhibitor's Hall. Additionally, the inconvenience of getting back to the anime hall — which featured a number of great panels and events — made it utterly impractical for anyone but the most hardcore con-goers. (In fact, one of my friends never stepped foot in the anime ghetto except to see the Gundam 00 movie premiere.)

I'm being very harsh on the convention, so to be fair I should point out that the programming itself was still top-notch at this year's NYAF. A number of East Coast anime gurus (the Reverse Thieves, Charles "Anime Anthropologist" Dunbar, the Ninja Consultants) ran fascinating panels, companies from FUNimation to Vertical to Bandai Entertainment held industry panels, and guests — both official and otherwise — like Masahiko Minami and Minori Chihara made NYAF's programming well worth checking out for fans both young and old.

On the non-anime side of things (which I only really got to experience through the Exhibitor's Hall), Comic Con continued to prove itself to be a stunning hub of pop culture for the East Coast. With giant video game booths, movie studios, local comic dealers, and independent artists, the show provided a little something for everyone, even if navigating the mass of shuffling shoppers and obnoxious cosplay photographers was often terribly frustrating.

The Exhibitor's Hall, featuring both Anime Fest and Comic Con booths As I mentioned earlier, I don't think that this strange merger-but-not-merger is good for anyone on either side of the fence. The supposed convenience of having lots of anime content at Comic Con didn't amount to anything in practice due to the long commute between the anime section and everything else, and the Comic Con attendees still had to deal with anime fans clogging up their dealer's room hallways and registration lines.

I only see two viable solutions to this problem, and both are bound to leave some people unhappy. One: completely integrate the two cons, essentially making it "New York Comic Con, but with more anime content than usual." Two: separate them into two different conventions at different times, just like previous years. The second option is not going to happen for obvious reasons (i.e. Reed has already committed to the combination), but the first option makes a lot of sense. If you're going to merge, go all the way. Anime fans will have to learn to be more mature in a con setting and Comic Con regulars will have to just suck it up when faced with the occasional (and often understandable) immaturity of teenage cosplayers.

Sure, young anime fans might be disappointed that they're not "special" anymore, but if you're screening things like The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and inviting guests like Minori Chihara, what are they going to do? NOT attend? Without another anime con competitor in the NYC area, I wouldn't count on it.



Special thanks to Jewels Lei for providing a fantastic photo gallery from both the Comic Con and Anime Festival, and Hisui of the Reverse Thieves blog for providing me with a roof over my head and a bed to sleep on over the weekend.



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NYCC 2010: Masahiko Minami (BONES President) Interview

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Masahiko Minami, president of BONES animation studio, holding up a promotional image from Star Driver

At the New York Comic Con/Anime Festival 2010 a few weeks ago, I had a rare chance to sit down with the co-founder and president of BONES anime studio, Masahiko Minami, thanks to the folks at Bandai Entertainment who had brought him to the convention. We discussed BONES' animation and production style, organizational culture, and history while touching on a few important series that Minami has worked on and talking over the future of the anime industry.

I'd like to thank Minami-san very much for taking the time out of his busy schedule for the interview, Bandai Entertainment Marketing Director Robert Napton for scheduling the interview, Aniplex translator Yosuke Kodaka for helping out with the translation on such short notice, and students Sarah Miura and Hiromi Kiuchi for their help in working out some of the more difficult-to-understand pieces of the translation after the fact.



Ani-Gamers: As a producer, how much of your job is creative, and how much of it is more business-oriented?

Masahiko Minami: As the president of BONES, I'm in charge of both the creative and the business side at the same time.

At BONES specifically, but also in your work at Sunrise, you worked on a lot of shows that eschew a distinctly Japanese aesthetic in favor of a fantasy, science fiction, or Western style. How have you found that that aesthetic affects the success of a series both in Japan and abroad?

So when I became a producer quite a long time ago, at the time, Japanese animation was becoming popular [around the world]. And basically, in my mind, my primary market was still in Japan. My attitude toward the fans is to provide a good thing first to the Japanese audience. But at the same time we are also aware of the overseas fans, so our primary market is in Japan but we are also aware of the broad, [worldwide] audience.

BONES seems to have made a pretty smooth transition from the age of cel animation to digital animation. Can you describe that process?

The title Angelic Layer (2001) was the first title [on which] BONES used digital [animation] after cels, and about then the creators were quite [insistent] on using those digital techniques. We tried [a lot of] trial-and-error to get the know-how; that is the first step in using digital [animation] after cels. It was a big challenge at the time.

So, at the [same time that] we were drawing Angelic Layer with the digital techniques, we had also a different line making the Cowboy Bebop (2001) movie with cels. So we were doing a kind of parallel [workflow] with digital and cel [animation] at the same time.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (left) and Angelic Layer (right)

So onto a more specific question, Sword of the Stranger (2007) is a strange thing in this day and age: an anime film not based on a pre-existing franchise or brand. It is also a very traditional genre film, which is equally rare. Why did BONES decide to go through with the project?

At first, in my mind, [I thought that] BONES is very good at action series such as Cowboy Bebop (1998), Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), and Soul Eater (2008). [...] So the first concept that came to mind was to create a movie series with those producers [who are] really good at action series.

And that's why it's a historical series — a lot of series are using sci-fi, action, and laser beam [aspects]. Instead of that, we [wanted] to create a series about human beings, [with] a more natural kind of drama, so that is why we selected a historical theme.

Sword of the Stranger, from BONES

It's a very good film by the way. p>

Thank you.

So, based on that fact, one more reason that we chose that historical age type of thing is that when we see The Lord of the Rings (2001) or The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), as Japanese we see that as a sort of fantasy, even though that is a historical type of thing, but also we thought that a Japanese [period piece] story would appeal as a fantasy to Western audiences.

You actually mentioned that BONES does a lot of action series, so I'm curious: what went into the decision to produce Ouran High School Host Club (2006), which is a very different turn for the studio?

[Laughs] Among the whole BONES line-up, Ouran is really a kind of strange series, actually!

The [BONES] producers are really good at action, but they [don't] tend to do just action series. [While] reading the original books, [they found that] they had lots of elements that appeal to a producer, [such as] a unique style of high school life (the host club), gathering up a team, and also supporting each other to kind of get a heart-warming kind of story. So that's why they selected it as a series.

Ouran High School Host Club, from BONES

Actually, I have a very specific question from one of my readers. He's a big fan of Ouran, and he was wondering why BONES made some of the changes to the story of the original manga.

In terms of the original story, when we were creating the animation, the original manga wasn't done, but as a TV series, we had to complete it in a certain time period [of] 26 episodes. [Thus] we had to make a complete story in 26 episodes.

Like Fullmetal Alchemist?

Yes.

Speaking of Fullmetal Alchemist, do you feel that the release of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) has changed the way that fans react to the original series?

So, as in Ouran, the previous Fullmetal Alchemist series has original factors, since the manga was not completed at that time. For Brotherhood, we were told that the manga series would be completed in the production period, so we decided to do a complete [anime] series based on the manga.

For Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, we tried to utilize the good points of the original manga as much as possible. We [worked on] in the project [from that standpoint].

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, from BONES

How does the process of production differ when adapting a manga or other property versus creating an original property?

First, if we have an original story, not only a manga, but also a novel or other type of original material, we first find an appealing point, or [a way that] we can make it good when we adapt it to animation. So first we deeply research the original story, and then [figure] out how we can adapt it to animation.

For an original story, we have to create the screenplay and the basic story and setting as well, so when we create an original [property] we have to put in much more effort compared with a [series] based off of manga or novels.

And for the process of producing an original story, we have to think about the technique or imagination that the creator would like to put into the original story, and what kind of demand is now in the market from fans. We will deeply research in that field, and [utilize] our best knowledge about the animation techniques and story. So, we put everything in it for the original.

You've worked with Shoji Kawamori on both Vision of Escaflowne (1996) and Eureka Seven (2005). What do you think that he brings to the anime projects he works on?

[Laughs] It's an old relationship. I first met Kawamori-san when I was [working for] Sunrise, and I have a long relationship with him.

The two talents that Kawamori-san has are: (1) creating original stories and (2) mechanical design; in [terms] of that he is really talented. Also he always has the mind of a childhood boy.

Vision of Escaflowne, from Sunrise

If you could work on one anime or manga property past or present, what would it be? [After some miscommunication, this question was morphed into, "What is your favorite series, out of everything you've worked on?"]

No matter what, if it's based on a manga, or novel, or an original [story], I like all the titles that I get involved in like my children.

Yeah, I actually hear that a lot from creators.

[However,] among those, Fullmetal Alchemist especially is quite impressive, since we've done the same series twice. Also the series is very long (it's a "one year" and "two year" type of series), so Fullmetal Alchemist is kind of a impressive series among [everything I've worked on].

Your colleague Dai Sato recently spoke out against the concept of "Cool Japan," claiming among other things that the anime industry is now a "super establishment system." He argued that anime fans are losing their media literacy, and complained about something called "kuuki-kei" (atmospheric stories). Do you see any of those same problems, and if so do you see any viable solutions?

So... a title like K-ON! (2009)?

Yes, I think that was one of the ones Sato was complaining about.

I actually watched a couple of episodes from K-ON!, but I couldn't totally understand it.

So, after I watched a few episodes from K-ON!, I actually understood that atmosphere of appealing to fans — not that feeling, but the experience of [spending] time with a girl in [real] life. I understood those kinds of concepts myself. But I cannot make it, [at least not by] myself.

K-ON!, from Kyoto Animation

On that note, where do you tink BONES stands in terms of what kinds of anime series it creates, in terms of muzukashii-kei (difficult stories) or kuuki-kei? I think a lot of fans would probably say you are on the muzukashii-kei side.

[Laughs] In the current Japanese animation market, the trend is [moving] toward much more kuuki-kei series, and it's much easier to make money since we can see certain fans following that category. But at BONES, we are still discussing [ideas] with creators [in order to] compete with those series.

The title will [still] have to be identifiable, and there shouldn't be any similar series among the lineup. We create BONES titles [with the belief] that they should make the fans surprised with every title. That's our goal as a studio. When we created Ouran High School Host Club, Japanese fans were also surprised by it.

Do you feel that BONES has a specific style or tone to their series? A brand or mission statement maybe?

As I already mentioned, each title has to be identifiable, since when we make a similar type of series, it's kind of boring to fans. So like I said, it's not [that we] have a kind of a mission statement, or a theme among the series, actually, but I think each title has to be identifiable.

And it is kind of behind-the-scenes, but I put my effort into creating communication among people — the staff, fans, or other partners. I think that it is important to create that communication [in all of the series that I create].

It's interesting you said that you like to keep the series from being too similar. I think for a lot of fans there's a feeling that BONES series just feel different. People see a BONES series and they say "that's BONES, I can tell. That's not anybody else." So, is that intentional?

Actually, I am the president of BONES, but I am not a management-type person, so I am close to the creators. That's why my works are quite identifiable, and also surprise the fans every time. If I became a management-type person, maybe I would make more kuuki-kei titles to make money, but as a creator I like to create titles by myself. That's why our titles are identifiable, quality is high, and we surprise the fans every time.

That's all I've got. Thank you very much for your time, Minami-san!


 

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NYCC 2010: Lost in Shadow (Wii) Hands-on

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Lost in Shadow (Wii)

Last weekend, at the New York Comic Con, I had a chance to play through a few levels of a debug version of Lost in Shadow, a new platformer game for the Nintendo Wii, developed and published by Hudson Soft and directed by Osamu Tsuchihashi (designer for Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, graphic designer for Mario Party 5-7).

Lost in Shadow follows a mysterious boy who, as we see in the first of its dialogue-free cinematics, has had his shadow cut away from his body by a dark, sword-wielding figure atop a tower. Now, the shadow, which has been thrown down to the ground and left without its memories, must climb to the top of the tower (which looks conspicuously similar to EVERYTHING from Shadow of the Colossus [2005]) to reunite itself with its original form. The twist: as the shadow, you can only interact with other shadows, not real objects.

The central gameplay mechanic will be instantly familiar to anybody who has ever played a traditional two-dimensional platformer. You run left to right along mostly horizontal surfaces, dodging arrows and enemies (which are also pure shadows without physical analogues, just like your character) in order to reach a door at the end of each level. In fact, according to the Hudson rep I spoke with, Tsuchihashi's primary inspiration for the mechanics was the original Prince of Persia (yep, the NES one).

However, what adds an interesting new dimension to the tried-and-true platforming formula of Lost in Shadow is the simple fact that most of the platforms are actually shadows of foreground objects projected on the background. Thus, the game actually forces you to rethink the way your character relates to the platforms he is standing on. Initially the only complexity lies in keeping your mind focused on the shadows despite changes in the objects casting them and the surfaces upon which they are cast, but later the game introduces areas called "Shadow Corridors" which feature more complex ideas like Echochrome-esque 90-degree perspective shifts and even three-dimensional movement.

Just playing as a shadow without any effect on the real world rather limits your options, however, so Hudson includes another character, a small fairy-like creature called a sylph who floats by your side but can become your Wiimote pointer at any time to help you past obstacles. Her main function is to find objects that can be energized and then moved, creating new shadow shapes for you to climb over, but there are some particularly mind-bending sequences where she can be used to move a light source, thus stretching all of the shadows on screen and making it possible to heavily modify the entire shadow landscape.

Some of the individual pieces have been used before (especially the cliché "ruinous fantasy adventure" aesthetic), but the overall effect of Lost in Shadow is quite striking in its novelty, and makes for an experience full of wide-eyed surprise as you are forced to rethink many of the basic physical properties of the platformer genre. Watch out for this innovative title when it hits North American stores on January 4, 2011 and look out for a full Ani-Gamers review in the near future.



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Manga Moveable Feast: The Immaculate Conception of Yotsuba Koiwai

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Yotsuba finds a four-leaf clover

Having found out that Yotsuba&! was this month’s selection for the Manga Movable Feast a little late in the game, I scrambled to re-read it to celebrate alongside everyone else who was picking up this title — whether revisiting it or starting anew. Devouring a volume or two at a time in-between a rather hellish work schedule, I found myself amazed that I never tired of Yotsuba’s cheery antics despite reading it at a breakneck pace. The work presents you with a rapid-fire series of idealized events and adventures that would normally become tiring in a long reading session of manga. Even Sunshine (Hidamari) Sketch, a favorite of mine, gets tiring after a few chapters of consistent reading.

Yotsuba&! is soothing to read, and as the Reverse Thieves have already pointed out a part of that is due to the pervading nature of nostalgia that suffuses the work. Another part, I feel, is that even despite her many actions and traits, the titular character Yotsuba Kowai is someone who we know next to nothing concrete about. In this way she is a great character to act as an observer for the reader, even when she is the one initiating the actions or making the discoveries.

Yotsuba's dad explains her origins to Fuuka

First of all, we are told very few solid details about about Yotsuba’s origin, and even her father is rather sketchy on the particulars. We know she is an orphan (as outlined in Chapter 6), but when pressed for details her dad tells us that he “met her while overseas, and just kinda started looking after her”. Fuuka fills in for the reader here by admitting that she doesn't really understand, but then something much more interesting happens (a thunderstorm) and the topic is dropped as Yotsuba runs outside to play in the rain. The main theory paraded around about this can be seen in a well distributed piece of fan-art that shows Yotsuba as a ragged orphan in a war-torn country. Whether this is anywhere near the truth, or even if there is a canon answer, is unknown.

We don't even know for sure what Yotsuba’s age is, and she and her adoptive father even have a confused conversation about it when buying a bike. Any mention of a mother goes right over Yotsuba’s head without comment, and the manga then typically shifts to a different and much more fun topic. It is refreshing to have a character without any parental issues present in their personality, and this makes it a lot easier to relate to the nostalgia present in Yotsuba&!. After all, no one wants to be reminded of the bad stuff in a whimsical tale.

AGHHH

Linking in with her origin is Yotsuba’s appearance. Many characters, especially incidental ones, question whether she is a foreigner upon first meeting her, a not unexpected reaction given what little we know of her origins, and also how she acts. There is an additional reason as well — her trademark green four-pigtailed hair. While crazily colored hair is nothing new in anime or manga, the world of Yotsuba&! is grounded in real life, and no one else has their hair in such an outlandish hue or style. Characters even marvel at the bizarre style, further re-enforcing how much the energetic little girl differs from the norm.

Then there are the more mundane, common sense reasons that make Yotsuba stand out. She never tires of looking for adventure each and every day, is enthusiastic about absolutely everything, and is for the most part impeccably behaved apart from the odd, endearing, and quickly forgiven mischief . Yotsuba is the perfect little friend to explore the world with, a fountain of endless curiosity and enthusiasm that makes the world a better place. Even her tantrums are (mostly) well founded, in stark contrast to normal children. (I remember being a selfish little brat myself when I was five-ish.)

Yotsuba is an outsider in her own manga, and it is because of this that the reader never gets sick of her antics. We don't know much about her, and don’t care to find out beyond the basics presented as it may disrupt the warm fuzzy feeling that the manga provides. Hell, what if Kiyohiko Azuma went crazy one day and decided that Yotsuba’s origin is that she is a 1,000-year-old vampire stuck in a tiny body? All the fun would leave the title faster than air out of a popped balloon.

Knowing nothing about Yotsuba lets us get on with the very important business of enjoying her company in her magical, whimsical adventures full of cardboard robots powered by money and flower cupids. It’s much better this way.

Pictures of Yotsuba screaming are the best pictures.
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Otakon 2010: Charles Dunbar's Amazing Anthropology

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It’s a testament to Charles “Anime Anthropologist” Dunbar’s dedication and tenacity that, despite abruptly truncated time slots, he keeps modifying, adding to, and spinning off panels that very adeptly guide listeners through general mythologies while connecting their more specific nuances to examples in modern culture. The two Dunbar panels I caught at Otakon 2010 — “Dead Like Us: Shinigami and the Japanese Idea of Death” and “Modern Mythology: Mythic Elements in Anime and Video Games” — exemplify this notion.

Both were in-depth panels that ran audiences through the historic mythos within Japanese culture and then applied these stories to examples within the modern media of anime and video games. Dunbar’s delivery brings with it a tone of exaltation that can only be found in someone who not only enjoys carrying around a basket filled with the fruits of his labors but in sharing those fruits with others. As enjoyable as they are informative, both “Shinigami” and “Modern Mythology” have so much to offer that summarizing them would be as insufficient as it would be insulting to the original content. Luckily, according to Charles himself, the panels will soon be posted on the website Weekend Nihonjin, which also offers links to his blog, Study of Anime, anime culture-related articles, and a schedule of forthcoming panels.


Time allotment would perhaps be the only drawback to these panels (always leave them wanting more). At the con, Dunbar compensates for this by speaking very quickly but very clearly through the presentations to get as much information across as possible. This isn’t a bad thing, although anyone taking notes without an audio recorder, steno machine, or net/notebook will start a small brush fire with via pen-on-paper friction. As Dunbar is constantly researching and adding to his panels, he also compensates for time by ... making more panels. Specifically, he moves general info to the more general panels while endowing more specific presentations with additional notions and examples. So next time you see any of the aforementioned panels or the name Charles Dunbar attached to a new one, check it out! Even if it's on a topic you've caught before, there's bound to be new, interesting, and entertaining examples for you to enjoy.

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iPad Review Round-Up: iPhone Games II

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Chaos Rings on the iPhone

Ed. Note: Welcome to the second half of Elliot's iPad Video Game Review Round-up: iPhone Edition. This time Elliot will again be looking at some iPhone games and how well they play when scaled up to the iPad. Next time, we'll be back to native iPad games.


Chaos Rings

($9.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

If you were to write down a list of generic Square Enix RPG elements, you would end up with Chaos Rings as the result. Random, quasi-turn based battles with experience points and leveling, bland characters that have amnesia, dull puzzles and a big bad that stepped out of a crazy goth fashion catalog. Still, it’s a well put together package even with its lack of surprises, and blowing the app up on the iPad screen makes you appreciate the detail present in the graphics. Sadly the game is still rather expensive, so unless you already possess this or have a very long bus journey to fill, you may want to save your money for more inventive fare.

[Passable]


HookChamp on iPhone

Hook Champ

($2.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

Remember the ninja rope from Worms? Bet you would love a whole game of that with some Indiana Jones flavor and humor thrown in! Hook Champ is a game where you use a grappling hook to go right towards an exit while a demon tries to eat you. The pixel art graphics look great on the larger screen and the game is still great fun, but enlarging it has had the small side effect of putting the various buttons too far apart for comfort. This can lead to a lot of unintended deaths and frustration when your little dude falls into lava within grasping distance of the ending.

[Passable]


Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered on iPhone

Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered

($2.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

If you recognize the name of this game, odds are you remember it from playing it on the PC years ago and have already bought it again. For those who do not know, Beneath a Steel Sky is one of those old-time point and click adventure games where you combine items and people to make your way through various puzzles. In this case, the main character Foster is kidnapped and taken to a city controlled by an omnipresent commuter called LINC, and you must strive to escape. This version includes a hint system, some updated graphics, and all the voice work from the original.

Blowing it up onto the iPad screen actually helps the game, as it makes interaction with items, especially those close together, much easier. A word of warning, however: this game, like many from its genre, suffers from rather inscrutable puzzle design and so you may find yourself using the hint system quite a lot, especially toward the end.

[Passable]

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Otakon 2010: Japanese Directors & Producers Panel

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Fifteen minutes before this panel, which brought together some of the best guests at Otakon (Hiroshi Koujina, Koji Masunari, Tomonori Ochikoshi, and Atsushi Mita), there were four people, myself included, waiting in a room that could easily hold 200 people. By the time the Guests of Honor showed up, there were maybe seven of us. With such small attendance, the panel hosts asked if we just wanted to pull some chairs into a circle and talk. I couldn’t picture anything more wonderful for a Q&A session with such notable directors and producers (and their translators). What followed was one hour and 15 minutes of back-and-forth with some surprisingly frank answers and even one soap-box rant. This was the best Q&A I’ve attended so far.

What follows are some of the more interesting questions and answers offered during that session. Unfortunately, I was a writing a bit too feverishly to note who was responding to which question, but the questions and answers themselves usually give some clue as to which guest was talking. The answers given at least serve as a great overall view of the range and solidarity of attitudes amongst these famous directors and producers. Some questions have been omitted due to either my poor handwriting, poor audio qualty (no microphones were used in this large room), or the asking of a question we've all heard 10,000 times over in interviews. The questions I posed and their corresponding answers follow the break, along with a link to the full transcription. Enjoy!





Q2: What were the influences for the use of magic realism in R.O.D., if any?
A2: The idea of using paper as prop(?) was not my original. It came from Hideyuki Kurata, who wrote the novel that Read or Die is based on. And the ability for Yomiko in R.O.D. to manipulate paper goes hand-in-hand with her normal apparent lack of any athletic ability. So the ability for her to be a sort of superman who can do anything to villains and to be the complete klutz who can do anything has to be reconciled into one coherent character.
Q15: Regarding noitaminA, the programming block in Japan late-night that kind of addresses older female viewers, anime not directed geared to shōnen viewers. How as directors do you welcome this availability for different programming?
A15: I don’t think we make any. [Laughter.] Maybe some interest in working with it, but not really familiar with it.
Q15a: Is it viewed as any sort of competition, or is it just written-off as having nothing to do with you?
A15a: I haven’t written off noitaminA, but noitaminA may have written me off.
A15b: Actually, I will be working on a noitaminA title. I ended up doing that, and what I’ve been told is that the intent for noitaminA is to make shows that are meant for mature audiences, both male and female. And that the intent is to make an animated show that is like a live-action drama and it would be consistent with that type of spirit. And this would be meant for viewers not familiar with anime. So we need to make the show as accessible as possible for a non-anime-viewing audience.**

View the full transcription here.

**Anime News Network did some follow-up on this question, and the spoils can be seen here.





Click here for more of our Otakon 2010 coverage
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Con Report: Otakon 2010 and the Generational Divide

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Click here for Evan's Photo Gallery
Click here for Ink's Photo Gallery
July 30 – August 1, 2010
Baltimore Convention Center
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Official Site



I'm getting older. (In fact, I'm older than I've ever been and now I'm even older.) This is pretty normal as far as I can tell, but as many folks have pointed out in the past few years, anime conventions aren't growing up with me. EDIT: After four days at Otakon, one of the largest anime conventions the United States, I realized that, at the tender age of 19, I was finally starting to feel the widening of this gap. The strangest thing of all, though, is that it doesn't really bother me very much.

Indeed, the theme of this year's Otakon seemed to be immaturity, as staffers at the massive Japanese pop culture event fought to contain epidemic shouting of popular memes such as "Buttscratchers" — a one-time joke from Family Guy — and "Marco Polo." Vuvuzelas, the strident noisemakers popularized thanks to their appearance during the World Cup in South Africa, were preemptively banned weeks before the convention even began. One attendee even pulled a fire alarm during peak time on Saturday for a laugh. Unfortunately, though, containment was a near-impossible task when Otakon's staffers were faced with thousands of teenage troublemakers, many of whom probably view memes as a way to make an impression on their fellow attendees and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Naturally, most of the bloggers with whom I shared two adjoined hotel rooms for the weekend (including the Reverse Thieves, Carl Li, Scott VonSchilling, Dave Cabrera, Caleb Dunaway, Kyle "Lwelyk" LaCroix, and Patz) couldn't stand the immaturity of these kids and their memes. Truthfully, I can find no reason to defend their actions, but to me, they represent the continuing strength of the anime community, even when their "unique" form of comedy may fall on unhappy ears.

Otakon's sign proclaiming that the blowing of Vuvuzelas would NOT be tolerated

You see, the anime fandom is still growing. Attendance rises every year for many conventions — including Otakon, which saw an increase of nearly 3,000 members — even as Japanese studios deal with financial troubles, North American distributors close their doors, and fans grapple with the moral repercussions of pirating the content they enjoy. Anime fandom might not be moving in the ways that some its opinion leaders want it to go, but it's difficult to ignore the continuing flow of young fans coming into the medium.

That said, it's been a couple of years since I attended a convention from the perspective of an average con-goer, which is to say, without any preparation nor knowledge of the guests and their previous work. I was flying by the seat of my pants for the entirety of the weekend, which, though it was far from intentional, resulted in a refreshing experience. It also helped to highlight some of the unique challenges facing anime conventions due to their overwhelmingly adolescent audience. You see, most young fans simply aren't aware of the myriad Japanese guests Otakon brings to the convention every year (including veteran guest Masao Maruyama, founder of studio Madhouse). Last year I even wrote a post from Otakon 2009 about the need for more curiosity from newbie con attendees.

This year, when I saw nearly empty panel rooms with the creators of the new anime Rainbow (Hiroshi Koujina) next to hallways ringing with memes and lined with fans waiting for English dub actors' autographs, I didn't despair. I didn't get angry at these kids for being "bad anime fans." I simply saw it as a missed opportunity. And I realized that, despite my interest in Japanese creators, I too was, to some degree, ignoring these great guests, mostly because the "typical" convention experience simply does not include poring over the details of the con book.

The creators of Rainbow pose for a picture with the criminally small panel audience that came to see their Q&A.

When I walk past young fans screaming annoying in-jokes at Otakon, I don't see the death of conventions. What I see are people who have an interest in this medium, but are not being given the correct tools to seek out more information. They are being sold an experience that is all fluff, all Vic Mignonas and pop idols and J-Rock pretty-boys. (Fluff is, of course, acceptable in limited quantities.) When I see packed rooms for panels about Japanese mahjong (run by Carl Li and Dave Cabrera), anime about cults (Mike Toole), and obscure anime (the Anime World Order podcasters), and hear spirited praise from surprisingly young audience members in my character design panel, it is clear that fans desire substance. Furthermore, large cons like Otakon deliver that substance in the form of big Japanese guests and an incredible variety of fan panels; they just fail to make a big deal about it. The director, producer, AND character designer of Welcome to the SPACE SHOW are certainly more important to fandom than a dub actor, so there is no reason why the latter should be the guest that gets more attention from the convention.

My Otakon experience, a unique one for this longtime convention blogger, has re-opened my eyes to the way the rest of the fandom sees conventions. Yes, screaming a tired, tasteless Family Guy line, blowing a vuvuzela, or pulling a fire alarm are all incredibly stupid things to do. Yes, they take away from my fun. Nevertheless, they are the icky things that remind us that fandom is still young, strong, and involved. Helping to engage it in more productive activities is, I think, the most commonly forgotten responsibility of anime conventions.



Click here for more of our Otakon 2010 coverage

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iPad Review Round-Up: iPhone Games Worth Considering

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Canabalt on iPad

One of the main reasons why I decided to go against my better judgment and buy an iPad was because I already had a glut of applications and games that I could transfer from my iPhone. With some minor exceptions, the iPad can run most software originally made for its smaller cousin, emulating them at either the original screen size or blown up to fill the iPad screen. The results of doing this can be somewhat mixed and so I wanted to run through some of the more popular games or apps (at least the ones I have) in order to highlight those apps that are well worth sticking on your iPad, whether you have an iPhone or not.


Canabalt

($2.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

One of the best examples of one-button gaming, Canabalt has you running from a shadowy menace by jumping from rooftop to rooftop. The game both benefits and loses something by blowing it up on the iPad, as the distinctive art style losing some of its charm through the process of being enlarged. The gameplay remains as tactile as ever, and I must admit I have reached higher scores on the iPad because I don't have so much of the screen covered up by my huge thumbs. The game is still great fun and well worth picking up.

Note: in the time since this review was written, Canabalt has now been made to work natively on both iPhone and iPad in a single download!

[Recommended]


Espgaluda II on iPad

Espgaluda II

($8.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

Espgaluda II is one of those crazy "bullet hell" games you may have heard about. I am a massive fan of these due to the challenge and unique art styles they present, even though I am utterly terrible at playing them. Fitting a fully realized shoot-em-up on the iPhone is already a marvelous achievement, even if everything feels a little cramped and at times it is hard to navigate through bullet patterns unless you squint and bring the phone right up to your face to see what is happening on screen. Running the game on the iPad alleviates this issue, and the blown up graphics look more impressive on the larger screen as you can see all the detail with greater clarity. Sadly the game is still rather short and on the easy side, but still well worth a look due to the high replayability on offer.

[Recommended]


Space Invaders: Infinity Gene on iPad

Space Invaders: Infinity Gene

($4.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

Sticking an already wonderful shoot-em-up with minimalistic graphics and a seemingly endless array of unlockables onto the iPad has encouraged me to play the whole thing through all over again. The whole package looks amazing on the larger screen and the controls work marvelously. If you somehow missed this before, get it now.

[Highly Recommended]


Drop 7 on iPad

Drop 7

($2.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

A particular favorite of mine, Drop 7 is a slim, elegant puzzle game where you make horizontal and vertical rows with numbered blocks to rack up points, kind of like Tetris. Sadly, the massive iPad screen makes the game feel rather clunky, changing from a simple one-handed game into an unwieldy overblown mess that is uncomfortable to play, and ruining the simple graphics that work so well on the smaller screen. Stick to playing this one on your iPhone or iPod.

Note: In the time since this review was initially written this game has now been updated to work natively on the iPad screen. It still suffers from the issues outlined above, sadly.

[Bad]


Ace Combat Xi: Skies of Incursion on iPad

Ace Combat Xi: Skies of Incursion

($4.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

At some point a while ago Konami decided to do something rather crazy and create an iteration of their air combat series for the iPhone, with this as the result. They also ignored getting the game text proofread and decided to nickel and dime customers by charging for DLC in the app, but that is beside the point.

While the game still looks and sounds great blown up onto the larger screen, the control system has suffered horribly. Given that many of the control methods rely on tilting the device, an easily accomplished exercise on the iPhone, the game is harder to control than a truck doing 100mph on an icy highway. You'll find yourself overcompensating constantly trying to control your plane and this combined with the tiny dead zone in the tilt sensor makes the game painful to play.

[Bad]


Tilt to Live on iPad

Tilt to Live

($2.99 – US App Store linkUK link)

This game also relies entirely on tilting to control it, and to a higher degree of precision than in Ace Combat, or any other tilt-based game for that matter. Not only that, but you'll look an utter tit swaying your iPad around trying to engage with the Geometry Wars-style gameplay. Stick to playing it on the iPhone.

[Terrible]



Ed. Note: The show will go on in a week or so with the second half of the iPad edition of Elliot's iPad game review series. Plus, we've got even MORE reviews of full iPad games coming as well.

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Otakon 2010: I Squeeee! for Shoujo (panel)

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It’s nine in the morning on the last day of Otakon and more or less everyone’s operating on just a couple hours of sleep, so what’s the best thing to do? Go to the "I Squeeee! for Shoujo [sic]" panel of course! And the worst thing to do at said panel to wake up the considerable number of bleary-eyed attendees? Make them "squeeee" at the top of their lungs to attract more of the same. After a slight intro to what defines shōjo, the presenter started on what amounted to a cup of coffee in panel form: a “Shoujo [sic] or No” game show that quizzed audience members, upon seeing the opening sequence from select anime series, on if they were shōjo or not. None of the participants gave any wrong answers and we all walked away with prizes provided by FUNimation (thanks for Red Garden), and then the lesson began proper.

Defined as media aimed at females aged from 10-18 years old, shōjo generally features a female protagonist in any of myriad melodramatic circumstances. Content is determined by intended demographic and therefore not bound by subject, style, or genre. Storyline usually revolves around the protagonist, but plot is secondary to characters and their relationships, which are developed and maintained mainly through conversations.


Interesting note: Shōjo, when spelled without the accented “o” (i.e. “shojo”), translates as “virgin.” Just sayin’.

Shōjo contains various sub-genres that provide templates or empty stages upon which the characters can develop:
  • Mahō shōjo: schoolgirl gets magical powers with which to save world
  • Playing Parent: character has to take care of a baby or younger sibling/character
  • Rags to Riches: main character inherits money or is adopted by rich family
  • Pop Idol: regular girl become pop singer, model, etc.
  • Romantic Teasing: male bully teases main character into liking him by “bullying” her
  • Social Pressure: girls bully main character
As for shōjo’s history, one can trace it back to the founding of the magazine Shōjo Kai (Girls’ World) in 1903. Simple, single-page strips appeared in such magazines until the 1930’s, when more sophisticated humor-strips began to become a recognized essential feature of said magazines. In 1939, however, shōjo content declined as WWII progressed, because the material was seen as frivolous and distribution concerns arose over paper rationing. Starting around 1945, Osamu Tezuka (among others) revitalized shōjo with Ribon no Kishi (“Princess Knight”), which introduced intense drama and serious themes. Time passed, and 1950 to 1969 saw increased demand for solidification of shonen and shōjo genres. Like an out-of-control snowball barreling down a mountain, mid-'60s shōjo expanded its legacy and newly adopted content by increasingly depicting teens in love. This led, in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, to the development of counter-culture within shōjo manga. A new flood of female manga-ka appeared (with a vengeance) to bring critical acclaim to the often-disregarded genre. Loosely defined as the "Year 24 Group" after the members' approximate ages, these manga-ka examined sexuality and gender issues ... and also invented yaoi (shōnen-ai, a.k.a. Boys Love).

Be it manga, anime, or live action, shōjo has and continues to influence artistic content for better (Hell Girl) or worse (Clannad). It continues to evolve as well, reflecting the times and attitudes of those it is surrounded by.

Overall, this panel was great as an introduction for any unaccustomed with the genre, but the history portion of the panel read much like a Wikipedia page despite the cuteness with which the panelist delivered the information and examples therein. I do lament lack of focus on cultural effects, but for an hour time slot, I think all went well for an intro course in squeeeeing.




Click here for more of our Otakon 2010 coverage
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Digital manga isn't just for the pirates

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Buddha on the Kindle... if only!

You may have already noticed, but there is a lot of hullabaloo on the Internet at present about the presence of illegal manga scanlation aggregation sites (we won't link to them here for the sake of integrity) as well as the recent formation of an industry coalition to fight this particular practice. One response to this, and one I have personally echoed in my own vehement and nerdy voice, is that there needs to be a legal equivalent to fill the obvious market that exists for digital manga. There have already been some steps in this direction, as you will have seen from my review of the Astro Boy Magazine (Soon to be provided in iBooks, I hear!), but this is only available for Apple platforms in selected countries at present.

I want to outline how a digital marketplace for manga would make me a more lucrative consumer for the manga companies.

The first problem that can be solved by digital distribution is availability. There are two parts to this, because I can't help overcomplicating things.

Part number one: Retail availability can be a double-edged sword. Every few weeks I make a circuit of the two remaining manga booksellers that exist where I live and pick up things that interest me. This has led to some wonderful impulse purchases I would not have otherwise made, but as time has gone on this practice has declined just as the available space for manga has shrunk within these stores. More often it poses an issue — you see fragmented series missing volumes you wish to purchase, or only the very latest volumes of something you may be interested in. Ordering in copies can, depending on the service, be a royal pain and the time until delivery is often worse than shopping online.

Talking about online, these same issues are amplified in the digital bookstore, where ordering out-of-stock items is often a lot less transparent and impulse purchases are all but non-existent. I don't know about you, but most of the suggestions that Amazon offers me on its front page are for books I have already purchased from other vendors. Still, this shows that their system works.

With a digital product there is (barring a freakish technical fault) no such thing as “out of stock”, or “available in 7-14 weeks” — just a digital file on a server that is waiting for me to fork over my cash. While you lose some of the romance and physicality of a brick-and-mortar store, the instant and obvious availability of stock makes for a much easier purchasing experience overall.

The second part of the availability issue comes in when a manga is no longer in print, or hard to find. You may end up having to pick up volumes from many different places, both from physical bookstores and online counterparts, and trying to order unavailable volumes can be a lottery. I’m sure many of you can think of a time you have heard an exciting series described to you by a friend, enemy, or podcast with the soul-crushing words “Oh, but it’s hard to find now” appended on the end. Wouldn’t it be nice for there to still be an option available to obtain the series while still ensuring that the publisher feels the love?

For a personal example of this problem, I had a hell of time picking up Buddha recently. While not strictly scarce, the wildly fluctuating availability of individual volumes in the UK made picking it up for a reasonable (i.e. RRP or less) price a hellish endeavor. I ended up ordering it from four separate places, one of which was a bookstore in Croydon who did mail-order but had no e-mail and so I had to phone the (very pleasant) shop assistant.

How nice would it have been to simply press a big button on a digital delivery service labeled "Buy Series"? I would have done that in a heartbeat.

A digital option would also have cut out a big additional cost and inconvenience of manga purchasing — physical delivery. Instead of waiting 3-5 working days and/or paying a varying sum for delivery, the manga can come direct through your Internet connection at minimal cost. This immediacy would allow for an even greater volume of impulse purchases — something I am already highly susceptible on the iTunes Store and on Steam.

The next, and main, reason is amazingly boring and a bit obvious: Manga made from dead trees takes up space. Once you start a collection, the amount of space needed tends to skyrocket. I currently own the first 6 volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist, and while I would love to continue reading the series, I have no space to house it. I already have two full bookcases, and purchasing a long series like FMA would cause me no end of headaches trying to find a home for it. Note that this does not mean that I will stop buying physical manga volumes, but I have to be more selective about what I buy, especially longer series.

This leads me to a secondary item — while I enjoy reading Fullmetal Alchemist, I am not desperately chomping at the bit to devote the not-trivial amount of money and shelf space to the rest of the series. With this current state of affairs, I have no (legal) method of reading the series and the publisher is missing out on the money I would happily pay them for a digital version.

These are all issues with the current model that can be remedied by a digital marketplace, and would not displace my existing desire to buy physical copies. I haven’t even started to talk about ways that manga could be enriched and enhanced in a digital marketplace, but that is within the scope of a different article.



Editor's Note: Digital Manga Publishing is currently running eManga, a site offering digital distribution of manga through a rental system.

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iPad Video Game Review Round-Up

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The iPad has opened up an entirely new avenue for iPhone developers to create new games and applications.

At the time of writing, the Apple iPad has only just come out in the UK and a smattering of other countries. Like the impressionable gadget nut I am, I bought one on release date, foolishly believing that all my existing iPhone applications and games would have up-scaled versions available to download right away. This was sadly not the case, and some of my favorite iPhone games look flat-out ugly on the larger screen. Being as impatient as you expect someone with a new £430 gadget would be, I decided to splash out on a few games on the App Store, further lining Apple's pockets. Here are some miniature reviews of the games I downloaded to assist anyone else who is interested in using their new touchscreen paperweight as a gaming platform.

After the break, check out reviews of Plants vs Zombies HD, Strategery, Words With Friends HD, and Geared HD.



Plants vs Zombies HD for the iPad

Plants vs Zombies HD

If you have already played the PC version of this PopCap-developed game, odds are you’ve already bought this version too.

Plants vs Zombies is a streamlined take on the "tower defense" genre, wherein you place aggressive plants in your back garden to fend off invading hordes of humorous zombies who are after your sweet, sweet brains. The game oozes charm, and looks even better on the iPad than it ever did on my PC, primarily because the graphics have been optimized for a single screen resolution rather than the innumerable screen resolutions of monitors. Another thing optimized for the iPad is the interaction; controlling everything directly through the touchscreen makes the game much easier and more pleasant to interact with than using a mouse. Like the original, PvZ has a perfectly tweaked learning curve that eases you into the many different gameplay facets that keep the experience fresh for level after level. The only problem is that once your opening strategy is perfected, the game can feel excruciatingly dull running through the same motions every time and you will find yourself wishing for a "speed up" button.

The game is priced at £7, and so can be said to be rather pricey, but considering the amount of hours you can sink into it and the high production values, I would say it is well worth a go.

[Recommended]



Strategery on the iPad

Strategery

No, that name is not a typo, honest. Strategery is, as you may guess, a strategy game in the vein of the board game Risk. You invade regions with troops, conquer them, and then place more troops down in your captured regions in preparation of the enemy counterattack. The main draws of the game are its neat, clean art style and randomly generated maps. Every game map looks subtly different, and there are a few options available when starting that slightly alter the way the game plays

Strategery feels well made, moving along at a brisk pace you could never achieve with a physical war game, but this is where my praise ends. The strategy core of the game feels rough and unrefined, lacking any advanced planning potential due to the basic blocky maps it draws. With its current mechanics, every game boils down to making the biggest blob of a county possible and then throwing obscene numbers of troops with no fear of effective counterattack. This inevitability sucks a lot of fun out of repeated play, especially as there are few options available that would spice this up. Including continents or encouraging conservation of troops would go a long way to solving these issues.

Sadly I have been unable to test the online multiplayer as there is no matchmaking and I could not manage to con anyone into playing with me directly. Local multiplayer works fine, but the game boils down to the pattern described above.

While the game includes both an iPad and iPhone version together, I would suggest spending your time and money elsewhere.

[Bad]



Words With Friends HD for iPad

Words With Friends HD

For those who have never heard of this before, Words With Friends is a competitive 2-player version of scrabble where you send moves back and forth between each other in a way reminiscent of play-by-email strategy games.

The game handles everything effortlessly, including in-game chat, a complete and accurate dictionary and very nice presentation throughout.

Anyone who has played the iPhone version: yes, it is the same as the iPhone version with an updated interface and shinier graphics. Yes, it is well worth your money even if you forked out for the iPhone version. You can use the same account and play games between both devices.

I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys word games but can’t get people to sit still long enough to play a tabletop version of Scrabble. If you fancy it, you can play against me; my username is "Elliotpage."

[Highly Recommended]



Geared HD for the iPad

Geared HD

Geared is a wonderfully simple puzzle game wherein you use a set of gears to link a moving starter gear up to one or more target gears. More gameplay twists are added at welcome intervals to help keep things fresh, and the difficulty curve is exceptionally well tuned. The game has grown considerably since I first bought it on the iPhone and now sports 150 levels as well as a helpful level skip function for when you get really stuck. The graphics are clean and simple, allowing you to concentrate on the puzzle. It even has a very nice win chime once you complete a stage, an encouraging little extra when you have spent 5 minutes staring blankly at the screen.

Geared HD is cheap as hell and amazingly addictive. I can attest to its grabbing power as both my parents love playing it and getting my iPad back from them once they start playing is like drawing blood from a stone.

[Highly Recommended]



Let me know in the comments if any of you find these helpful, and perhaps I'll check out another batch of iPad games.

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Raised by a Computer: To Terra and Childhood

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Best panel in the manga

Note: This article assumes that you have already read To Terra, or at the very least have an understanding of the main characters within the story. If you go to Kate Dacey's compilation page for the To Terra edition of the Manga Moveable Feast you will find a wealth of reviews and other articles about To Terra that you can sink your teeth into.

While re-reading and chewing over To Terra for the now-passed Manga Moveable Feast, I found myself drawn to something I had not considered in such a concentrated manner previously: the upbringing of the characters and how this drove their actions in very different ways.

The majority of the characters are raised under the Superior Domination (SD) system, a computer-moderated society put in place to produce pure, productive members of humanity. With echoes of Brave New World, To Terra quickly introduces its chilling, dystopian social environment where children are planned and conceived by computer before being passed to foster parents and raised without knowing their true origin.

Test tube baby Keith

Once the children reach their 14th birthday they are taken unawares for a "Maturity Check", administered by a central computer. The Maturity Check functions as testing and preparation for the child's adult life, with some of the intricacies left unexplained to preserve the mystery of it. Sounds an awful lot like puberty, doesn't it? The main difference is that the Maturity Check doesn't cause hair to suddenly appear in new places, and if anything it makes the characters immaculately drawn hair even more lush. During this enforced coming-of-age the child is told that their childhood was a fabrication produced for the sole purpose of providing them with a healthy emotional background and that their early memories are to be wiped.

This forces an identify crisis onto the children, one which is intended to clear the way for training that will form them into pure subjects willing to work for and perpetuate the Superior Domination Order, with the aim of restoring the now-ravaged planet Earth under the guidance of the Mother Computer.

It is worth noting here that the phrase "Mother Computer" would, at the time that To Terra was written, have sounded utterly outlandish and more than a little disturbing. While computers these days are benign things you have on your desk, in 1977 the microprocessor had only recently been produced, ARPANET was new, and the CRAY-1 supercomputer was the machine to beat. This new technology would surely have had a vague air of magic and threat, and to hand over the most basic of human interactions — the creation and care of children — to such constructs would feel abhorrent.

Firstly, I want to focus on those characters in the story who I believe most closely mirror how "normal" people such as you or I would react in the SD system: Seki and Sam. Both undergo the typical SD upbringing and we meet them early on in the story as classmates of Keith Anyan on a educational station having recently undergone the Maturity Check.

Seki regrets

Seki is an intelligent child, though he is earmarked for greatness and is prideful and arrogant as a result. He is emotionally sensitive and coupled with his outspoken distaste of the SD order he is considered a troublemaker and, even worse, a potential telepath. The source of his discontent is very basic and understandable; Seki resents the SD system for stripping him of his childhood, clinging onto the angelic memory of his mother despite knowing it was a fabrication. This grief accelerates Seki's frustration with his situation playing second fiddle to Keith and causes him to act in an increasingly impulsive manner to try and assert himself as an individual and to validate his upbringing. These actions spiral out of control, eventually leading to his death. For being intelligent and sensitive, the SD order drove Seki to self-destruction, wasting a potentially world-altering person due to its deception.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sam is dead average. He squeaks passes in his exams, neither dissents or swears by the regime that produced him, and doesn't sweat the small stuff. His main responsibility is to his friends, and sticks by Keith through thick and thin. An upstanding citizen, he graduates with average grades and takes a job as a space trucker, something that sounds even more boring than normal truck driving. Through this job he comes to meet the Mu and in particular the main protagonist Jomy, who he was childhood friends with. Faced with a filthy telepath, Sam acts upon the information that the computer education has drilled into him and freaks the hell out, attacking Jomy in a fit of primal fear. Jomy is horrified how his old friend has been warped and over-reacts, causing a massive explosion and injuring Sam.

We are later re-introduced to Sam and find out that this encounter has left him crippled at a mental age of 14. All the ingrained fear is gone, replaced by a much more carefree outlook. While this may be a bit of a stretch, I believe that this shows that the overbearing influence of the Maturity Check, illustrating that the computer education had left Sam without the mental tools to cope with adult life. The shock encounter caused him to revert to a simpler time without the choking influence that had warped him into a form so horrifying to Jomy.

Magical Segway that steals your memories

Jomy, the main protagonist of the story, also goes through the normal SD upbringing experienced by Sam and Seki, and like them he is abducted at 14 to undergo the Maturity Check. For him, however, things change when he is rescued by the leader of the Mu and made their new leader. Faced with so much responsibility and hostility from both the SD order and from his own people, it would make sense for Jomy to seek a return to the halcyon days of his youth, even while knowing that it was a fabrication. For the majority of the story he tries to bring happiness to the Mu by creating a stable home for them, free from the overbearing computerized system that hunts them.

Following a major tragedy Jomy finally heeds his predecessors' imperative to bring the Mu to their homeland of Terra and to destroy the computer system that is warping humanity.

The first step on this journey is for Jomy to put his own past to rest by attacking his old childhood world and destroying the computer that oversees the Maturity Checks there. It it only with the destruction of that machine that Jomy matures both as a person and a leader, shouldering his burdens and doing what must be done to save. Not just his own people from the oppressive Mother Computer, but humanity as a whole as well.

Tony is a creepy manbaby

One of those burdens is Tony, who is the product of the first natural birth among the Mu, and an exceptionally powerful telepath. Brought up with utmost love and care by his mother Carina, he is overcome with grief when she dies. The resulting shock causes him to overreact and accelerate his physical growth in order to be of greater use to Jomy, the young leader who encouraged his birth and whom he now regards as his family. This change makes him as an abrasive, irritable person who is still very much a child emotionally, traits exaggerated by being the cornerstone of the Mu military due to his immense psychic power. This combination of personality and ability causes Tony and the few others like him in the Mu population to be treated as outcasts. They eventually leave the Mu to begin a dreamlike existence among the stars, having grown up too fast without the grounding to cope with the harsh reality they live in.

Finally, there is Keith Anyan, who is perhaps the most interesting of all of the characters in To Terra. Keith is the result of a more advanced version of the SD program — he is engineered to have a theoretically perfect genome and grown in a tank until 16 under the direct care and attention of the educational computer. He cannot recall his childhood, something which sets him apart from his school friends, and when he discovers the truth there is an initial shock at the confirmation but no great change or revelation takes place. This is, in my mind, because there is no subterfuge involved. Instead of having an illusionary childhood life stripped from him, Keith is left to ponder his existence as someone created for the express purpose of leading the SD order. While he does follow orders of the computer, Keith develops throughout adulthood, free of any anxiety or doubts lingering in his mind about his origins. In the end, it could be argued that Keith has the fewest issues with his childhood, primarily because he did not have one in the strict sense, and he had no other alternative but to adjust to his circumstances. He spends a large amount of time reflecting on the people he has met throughout his life, allowing these events to affect him rather than being a prisoner to his childhood and the computer overlords that he starts to question as time carries on.

With all this out of the way, what was Keiko Takamiya trying to say? I submit that the message is that there should be no lies in childhood, as this only causes mal-adjustment and traps people in a cycle of trying to reconcile reality with what they experienced and viewed as fact, thus stunting their development. In this story the computers are one thing used to provide and enforce this lie, but they could be swapped out for any real-life examples that you care to produce, such as an overbearing Nationalistic agenda. Even now, many years after publication, this message feels very relevant and lacking in due consideration, making the series all the more important to read and reflect on.

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The Rise of Cosplay in New York City

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Cosplayers sitting in the grass at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Sakura Matsuri

The sun beams fiercely on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and even as evening approaches, the humidity is relentless. Backstage, costume makers prepare to show off their best to a circus tent loaded with strangers who share their eccentric hobby. I glance over my opening speech one last time before noticing a veteran cosplayer sweating bullets through her eye shadow, shaded cheekbones and full-body jumpsuit.

Though she has been modeling her homemade costumes for over six years, earning over thirty awards from conventions across America, Caitlin Beards is sweating through her skintight pleather and spandex one-piece. This is her one-hundredth costume to date, and she has poured three months of her skill into sculpting the seven yards of metal chain and the eighteen-inch tall wig strapped to her head to become the video game heroine Bayonetta. Beards, like many others, belongs to a previously underground sub-culture of geeks that has blossomed in recent years.

The selected nineteen cosplayers standing with me under the tent are accustomed to posing for photos at conventions, but never for an audience of magazine and radio personalities, and never after having their make-up applied by personnel from MAC Cosmetics. For the first time in New York’s history, fashion-centered video game and Japanese anime fans have been pampered and prepped by internationally acclaimed make-up artists. 2010 has so far marked a new step in public exposure and professional treatment for cosplaying, and the community is still rising in the public eye. The hobby of cosplay is easy to explain but difficult to execute: it is the act of dressing like your favorite character from a TV show, movie, video game or comic book. In some social circles, cosplay is a competitive sport, to others it is a challenge to prove their sewing skills, and for some it is purely for fun and an excuse to meet other fans.

Two fans at the 2010 New York Comic Con cosplaying their favorite characters from Ouran High School Host Club

Cosplay was arguably birthed at Star Trek conventions, where Trekkies posed as Starfleet officers, Klingons, and Vulcans alike to display their fandom. It was taken to a competitive level in Japan and spread itself worldwide through anime conventions. The hobby latched on in America in the early nineties, but skyrocketed with the domestication of the Internet. Dedicated cosplayers create online personas and profiles on forums to display their various fashion innovations, using materials from sheer linen to duct tape to altered Armani suits.

For the past three years, I have been touring anime conventions with attendance numbering anywhere from a few hundred to over twenty-four thousand. One of my recurring roles as a convention guest is to host a quintessential event: the cosplay masquerade. The largest event I ever hosted was at Anime Boston this past spring. Initial performance submission was so massive that the lead coordinator filtered all entries just to narrow down to forty performances that would fill the three-hour time block. Convention attendees waited outside the main events hall for hours beforehand, hoping for a spot in a room that fits five-thousand, or the spillover room that accommodated another thousand using state-of-the-art video equipment. The convention itself boasted a new record high of attendance of nearly seventeen thousand, despite being held during Easter weekend and competing for its audience with the Penny Arcade Expo East, the largest video game convention on the East Coast to date, which was held the weekend before at the same convention center. It seems neither recession nor religious holiday can deter us nerds.

Cosplay is rapidly blossoming under the public eye in New York, because while the anime industry is evolving from DVDs to streaming websites like Crunchyroll and Hulu, convention attendance (and with it, cosplay exposure) is on the rise. Interest in cosplay has taken hold of a younger, more ravenous generation of anime fans, and with new anime series coming over every season from Japan, the fans are increasing their efforts to respond. The New York Anime Festival, held each fall at the Jacob Javits Center, saw its attendance increase dramatically in its first three years. Between 2007 and 2008, Reed Exhibitions reported attendance swelling from fifteen to eighteen thousand, and for its third straight year, attendance capped just above twenty-one thousand. The event has such immense interest behind it that now corporate sponsorship has moved in to reward the elite cosplayers. At their headlining competitive cosplay event, the winning team is handed a free trip to Japan, which is quite impressive compared to a dollar store trophy and a boxed set of Hayao Miyazaki DVD’s.

A cosplayer at the New York Anime Festival dressed up as a video game character

New York’s dense population and entertainment industry help stoke the flames of cosplay awareness and provide the perfect environment. Just by Bryant Park is the largest Japanese bookstore, Kinokuniya, spanning three floors, the top one dedicated to Japanese comic books and art books from anime. Other stores such as Image Anime by Penn Station, often hold holiday competitions and offer prizes, which only encourage fans to come out of the woodwork to present costumes they have worked on for as long as three years. These constant events are pulling together a community regularly enough that the experienced can now mentor and encourage the newer fans, not to mention trade off cosplay war stories. Cosplayers now gather for regular public outings in places like Central Park and karaoke bars just to meet up in and show off their newest costume designs. Some go for realism, some for sight-gags like “cross-playing” (dressing as a character of the opposite gender), but all have a great time doing it.

Events like the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival (a.k.a. Sakura Matsuri) at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Japan Society may be elevating the public’s knowledge of cosplay as serious business. Only two weeks after the Fashion Show at the Botanic Garden, another major cosplay event has been scheduled: a competition at the Japan Society, right nearby the United Nations building.

As I prepare to host and present the participants, I see someone standing off in the stage wings: a young girl, fifteen at most, wearing her first cosplay. Even with the eight-foot Styrofoam sword slung over her back, she is shaking noticeably. She’s worried the audience will notice her wig’s ponytails are too short, or the crude stitching around her foam armguards. Moments ago, she approached me backstage and asked to be pulled from the masquerade due to her stage fright. I asked her what her character would do in the face of fear; since she is dressed as a demon-slayer, she might as well play the part. Her eyes grow in reassurance and realization, almost to the Bambi-eyed ratio of the comic book character she portrays. I wink from the podium and announce her name as she steps into the light confidently: a new cosplayer is born. And the tradition goes on.

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