Preview: Super Paper Mario (Wii)

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Super Paper Mario Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Platformer
Director: Ryota Kawade
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Console(s): Wii
Rated: E for Everyone

Oh boy. Another 2D Mario platformer. But of course, Nintendo throws us all for a loop by giving us everything we love about just about every Mario game. This is a 2D sidescroller, a 3D platformer, a puzzler, an RPG, and its got multiple playable characters from the Mushroom Kingdom. I recently stopped in at the Nintendo World Store for the first time, (and what a nice place it is) and I got a chance to play Super Paper Mario on its launch day. The game is generally very enjoyable, and is a real diversion from the path many developers have taken with the Wii.

Lets get down to the core feature of this game. First off, to play, you hold the Wii remote on its side like an NES controller, using the D-pad, 1, and 2 buttons. Mario can run and jump just like in any Mario game, but here comes the biggest difference. At any point in the gameplay, you can press the A button (right next to the D-pad) to flip the world into 3D. In this mode, the blocks that seemed like they were aligned will be separated, and you might even find a new pathway or way around an obstacle. (You can walk behind large walls, and even occasionally walk on the background to pass over gaps and such) Don't even try to decipher the way this works, since a lot of times something will work in one dimension and not the other. Seemingly far apart blocks will somehow be right next to each other, and defying logic, Mario will walk over blocks that are clearly not in a straight line. As this game proves, everything's different when you look from a different perspective. The controls are tight and simple as expected from a mario game. Some other interesting additions include the ability to point the remote at the screen (at which time it pauses) so your butterfly companion can explain objects and enemies to you, Navi-style. Also, everything but the actual controls plays like an RPG, with collectable and use-at-will items, hit points, and even leveling up. (When you or an enemy gets hit, they lose a certain amount of health, depending on the typical RPG plethora of factors)

Graphics are a striking feature of Super Paper Mario. While the Wii is not very graphically powerful, it is able to deliver some very nicely art directed visuals. Using its typical cartoony style, Super Paper Mario shows us very vibrant and interesting landscapes. Of course, the characters and enemies are cute and very--how should I say it--bubbly (or sometimes even blocky) There are also some very nice effects added in that give the graphics an artistic flair. For example, the screen ripples all around your selection area when asking the butterfly for help. Also, when you enter a pipe, Mario's body is split into blocks, and each one is sucked down seperately. The game uses simple visuals to create fun and colorful gameplay.

I really enjoyed playing this game for the total of 10 or so minutes I spent on it. It looks very nice, especially on an HDTV with Component cables I might add, and plays gracefully, as we've come to expect from Nintendo's development team. Super Paper Mario is looking to be the best Wii game since Zelda, and should tide over Nintendo fans until the spring-summer game drought is over.

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Preview: Shadowrun (X360)

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Shadowrun Genre(s): Adventure, FPS, Online, Puzzle
Developer: FASA Interactive
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Console(s): PC, Xbox 360
Rated: M for Mature

I've, of course, heard a lot about Shadowrun since its recent release on the Xbox 360 and Games for Windows. It is the first game to play on Microsoft's Live service cross-platform, allowing Xbox 360 and PC players to finally face off and decide: Dual-analog or Keyboard-mouse? More important to the average player, the game uses a number of interesting new ideas, namely mixing FPS features and magic. Before we begin, let me remind those of you who don't know that Shadowrun is multiplayer-only. There is no single-player campaign, so other than some cpu matches, you are playing online pretty much all the time.

Shadowrun is noticeable for its very interesting twist on the FPS genre. Like other games before it, the game utilizes team-based arena shooter mechanics, complete with a safe time in the beginning for players to buy weapons. However, during this safe period, players can also buy magic spells and technology upgrades. These can give a variety of helpful abilities, such as auto-aim, healing, or magic attacks. Then, you simple equip your weapons and magic, and begin the fight.

The controls are the general FPS button set, and they work just fine, once you get the hang of the use of magic. Even so, there are times where your character will get inexplicably stuck on edges of buildings and other structures, an error that can be crippling in the middle of a fierce online game. When you die, you do not respawn until the end of the round. However, allies can revive your dead body, as long as an enemy has not come by to shoot you until you cannot come back. This interesting revival dynamic is able to create a sense of teamwork among your comrades, even during a hectic battle.

The game looks nice, from what I've seen, with the magic effects showing off the most noticeable graphical feats. Trees of Light will grow right in front of your eyes, and spray beads of healing light, characters will burst into smoke and disappear, and crystals will spring up underneath you to damage you and hinder movement.

Shadowrun is an interesting take on the online first-person shooter, with its magic aspects. It also manages to create a sense of teamwork that many online shooters fail to achieve. Even with its strengths, the lack of a single-player mode is disappointing for a game with so much potential.

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Editorial: When Money Buys You an Opinion

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The following writings are solely the opinions of Evan Minto, and do not reflect the opinions of Ani-Gamers or any of it's affiliates.

Jeff Gerstmann has quickly moved from relatively unknown GameSpot writer to gaming celebrity nearly overnight. He was Editorial Director over at GameSpot until just recently, when he was dismissed from the site after 11 years of service, allegedly for writing a very critical review of "Kane & Lynch: Dead Men," a game being heavily advertised on GameSpot. (I wrote a detailed article on the controversy over at the blog, so you can read up on the major events there) The main thing that has been troubling gamers and writers alike is the underlying reasons for Gerstmann's firing. If one man is promptly sacked for simply criticizing a game sponsoring his site, how are we supposed to trust reviewers on websites like IGN, 1UP, which also contain heavy amounts of ads. What does a GameRankings or MetaCritic score even mean when faced with the possiblity of reviews being skewed to fit a publisher's desires? These are questions for us to ponder, but what gamers must first do is organize some way to fight back.

Gerstmann-gate, as many have dubbed the controversy, is more than an example of GameSpot's often less-than-honest advertising practices; it is a stern reminder of what is happening with video games as they come of age as a true mass media. We cannot continue to sit idle as positive game reviews become nothing more than a trophy of companies with lots of purchasing power.

GameSpot user Subrosian had the right idea when he started the mass boycott of GameSpot titled "Blackout Monday." I not only support Subrosian's desire to boycott the site for a day, but I also support a long-term boycott of the website. If we, as gamers, are to make our voices heard, we must show websites like GameSpot that we do not support the corruption of honesty in games journalism. It is for this reason that I provide a furthering of Subrosian's ideas. We shall institute a full boycott of GameSpot and other CNET websites, permanently ceasing all page views on the site, until they admit to their guilt.

The problem of skewed reviews and dishonest reporting is growing, as we see from the high reviews given to clearly flawed games. Hype is not the only factor here. There are more sinister forces at work here, as the truth is silenced by those who wish to profit from an innocent hobby. Do not sit back and watch gaming be destroyed by corporate greed. Do not show your support for the seedy business practices at CNET. And most of all, never let other people control our industry. We all play video games for different reasons; some to stave off boredom, some to experience a powerful piece of art, and others simply to escape reality. Whatever our reasons, we must band together to keep the gaming press as the honest and trustworthy entity it is today.

For Honesty, Truth, and Jeff! Boycott CNET!
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uWrite: Steam Power Still Exists, Not To Anyone's Suprise

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The following article was submitted by Raidon. The opinions expressed below do not represent those of Ani-Gamers or its affiliates.

Half-Life 2 was released in 2004, the first official game to use the source engine. Since then, mods for it have been released, the most famous of which is Counter Strike. It's still a good game, but even the most fervent fanboys of the intense tactical shooter get bored of it every now and then. So, what do you do if you're bored with your current collection? Look for more mods, of course!

The first one covered is Dystopia. Think of this as Counter Strike meets Ghost in the Shell. There are three classes: light, medium, and heavy. With each able to choose from a bank of abilities, you will fight the war on two fronts, cyberspace and the "meat world." The gameplay is much like Unreal Tournament; almost every game requires you to capture or destroy certain objectives. It's a fun game, and good enough to keep you distracted from the pre-pubescent infested Team Fortress 2 (I'm not bashing TF2's gameplay, but please refrain from using voice chat if you sound like a 10 year old).

Zombie Master
Mod number two is Zombie Master. One player controls hordes of zombies in an RTS scheme, and the other players exist as survivors. They have to complete chalenging objectives, such as repairing a truck to drive away from an infested city. The game mechanics are great; you have to take advantage of the Source Engine's physics to succeed. Survival gear includes a crowbar a la Gordon Freeman, a sledge hammer, a pistol, a shotgun, a winchester rifle (some see it as a tribue to Shaun of the Dead), and an uzi with Something Awful's signature awesome face grafted onto it. Have fun surviving!

Eternal Silence
Eternal Silence can be seen as a hard-futuristic port of the space battles seen in Battlefront II. However, I have very little to say about this game as there are never any playable servers.

Half-Life 2: Deathmatch
Half Life 2: Deathmatch is a mod you have to purchace from the Valve store. However, the $9.95 is well worth it. The game pits the Combine police and army against the terrorists and freedom fighters, the Rebels. Arm yourself with weapons from all three Half Life 2 games, including the gravity gun. Nothing is more satisfying than throwing an enemy's grenade back at them. Maybe throwing a buz saw at their neck, or crushing them with a car. Oh well, be creative.

Zombie Master
Half Life 2: Deathmatch is a mod you have to purchace from the Valve store. However, the $9.95 is well worth it. The game pits the Combine police and army against the terrorists and freedom fighters, the Rebels. Arm yourself with weapons from all three Half Life 2 games, including the gravity gun. Nothing is more satisfying than throwing an enemy's grenade back at them. Maybe throwing a buz saw at their neck, or crushing them with a car. Oh well, be creative.

Battle Grounds 2
Our final game is called The Battle Grounds 2 (requires Deathmatch). It is the sequel to the hit game of the same title. The mod takes you back in time to the revolutionary war, where you fight as either a royal infantry man, an officer, or German Jaeger mercenary for the British or as a soldier, officer, or frontiersman for the Americans. The soldier classes are armed with standard-issue muskets with average accuracy and relatively fast load times. They are also armed with bayonettes which could be used to stab the enemy during a charge. Officers start out with pistols, which have poor accuracy but are more acurate than a musket when moving. They are also endowed swords for hand-to hand combat. Jaegers and Frontiersmen are sniper classes; their muskets have excelent accuracy yet have longer reload times, and their lack of bayonette force them to rely on either a hunting knife or a a sword.

A brief conversation with the lead developer of TBG2 revealed that with the new release of Steam and Source, new features will be avaliable in game. Such features include unlockable equipment, such as better bullets, rifled barrels, a scope for the sniper classes, and a ridable horse vehicle. They will also make it possible for players to destroy said scopes with an acurate shot, dislodge bayonettes, and kill the horses. There will also be at least two new classes: a mercenary class for the British (possibly Swiss or Dutch) who is armed with only a sword, yet has the ability to sprint. The American double of this class is the pirate, armed with a sabre. The developer also claims that they attempted to make grenadier classes for both factions, yet the modeling and coding is proving quite dificult, and they have decided to delay the class. Additionally, they are looking into a way of creating musket-bayonette battles in other eras such as the Napoleanic battles and the Civil War.

Each of these mods are not my work, and credit should be given to their creators. The interview with the creator of BG2 took place during an in-game battle so not all information may be 100% accurate. After all, we were busy trying to defend our last capture point and push forward before the British could respawn.

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Editorial: The True Winner(s) of the Console War(s) - A Reply

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The following writings are solely the opinions of Evan Minto, and do not reflect the opinions of Ani-Gamers or any of it's affiliates.

In today's video game market, there is a lot of talk of "console wars" and choosing the "winners." And after all, who doesn't want to know who's "winning" the "war?" Is it Microsoft, with their heavyhanded business practices and overwhelming number of titles? Nintendo, with one of the most powerful crazes in gaming history? Or perhaps Sony, with a technically mind-blowing console that's quickly gaining steam?

Maybe though, we don't need to choose a winner. Maybe the "console war" not only isn't over yet (by a long shot), but it has also turned from a single fight to a multifaceted conflict. World War II and the Pacific War, if I may.

Kevin published an article recently over at Anime Explosion detailing his opinions on the "True Winner of the Console War." The Xbox 360, claimed Kevin, is the clear-cut winner of the current business battle. There is one major fact omitted from that assumption: The popularity of a little thing called the Wii.

So, how do we define a winner in the console wars? Consoles sold? Games sold? Total profit? Consumer mindshare? The truth is, these are all separate concepts that must be seen as different parts of what makes a winner, and some winners might pull something completely new out of the hat.

The Xbox 360 has clearly won over the "hardcore" demographic, with millions of predominantly male gamers aged 13 to 30 purchasing the console. Halo 3 sold phenominally, and with tons and tons of triple-A exclusive titles on the system, it is hard not to give the Xbox the gold medal offhand.

Nevertheless, do you see your grandpa playing the Xbox 360? Is your girlfriend or wife sitting down to play some video games with you, the one thing you never thought you'd see her do? Or perhaps you are one of those people, and you are finding that games are not the complex, violent testosterone-rides you always thought they were. This is the power of the Wii.

Nintendo's unique, even revolutionary, new console has taken the world by storm, selling out left and right, defying expectations set by industrial analysts, the gaming press, and even fans. That's not to say that everything is fine and dandy in the Nintendo camp. There have only been five to ten truly high-quality titles released on the Wii. (Some would even argue for less)

The Wii has failed to pull in the hardcores as the Xbox 360 has, but why should it? Nintendo never really developed their console for you to buy mature titles on it. The platform has done exactly what it was supposed to: bring new audiences into the gaming fold, and drastically expand the video game market.

As for Sony's Playstation 3, it is sadly not a contender in the "war" at the moment. While the console is very powerful, and has a lot of potential (and quite a few potential hits), it is lacking the games library and sales that the Xbox 360 and Wii have respectively.

So who is the winner? As you might have surmised, there are two. The Xbox 360 is winning with its vast library of hit titles, thriving online community, and ability to captivate gamers. The Wii ties the 360, though, because it has created a new branch of the console war all its own. Neither of the competing platforms are convincing non-gamers to pick up a controller, so the Wii wins by default, in a category of its own.

Clearly this is all speculative, and only time will tell what changes are in store for the gaming market. We are only one (or two depending on your reckoning) years into a five- to six-year process, so things could really turn around. Meanwhile, fanboys are taking up weapons, and the companies have begun their arms race. Get inside your fallout shelter with your favorite console, because it's going to be a long war.

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uWrite: Professional vs. Consumer Reviews

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The following article was submitted by Raidon. The opinions expressed below do not represent those of Ani-Gamers or its affiliates.

For the past week, I have been researching for my next purchase. It was between BioShock and Call of Duty 4, and the main argument was good game with no multiplayer versus a game with good multiplayer. So I went online and looked up both of the games, and found that all the stores within a 10 mile radius of my house are plumb out of both of them. I also didn't feel like waiting for a month for them to restock the game for three reasons:

  1. I want a good multiplayer game.
  2. I don't want it to be run and gun.
  3. I was supposed to get both of these games for christmas, but my parents (lame, im still dependant on them) couldn't find a store that held either. Heh, and they complained about my procrastination.

So what does this have to do with pro versus amateur reviews? Well, for one, I received a total of $230 spendable on games. So I thought, it wouldn't hurt for me to buy another game first, then get Bioshock and CoD4 in a month or two. That game was Hellgate: London. It was a great target for press, seeing as how its MMO function had an optional payment choice. It was criticized because most people would be playing free, and those who aren't would have an unfair advantage. In addition, they also pointed out the Diablo style backpacking system and the outrageous ammount of loot dropped by monsters. Randomly generated levels were another topic that came up, but not as often. For these reasons, pro reviewers gave it ratings as low as 20%.

Hold on now, one of the best games of the year received 20%?

All the pro reviewers are looking at it from a developer's standpoint, which, most of the time, is good. However, they see that a game that is only half free will deter players from getting the game. However, what really happens, from the gamer's standpoint is this: "Hey, that guy has a lot cooler gear than me and has the ability to play the game for much longer. Maybe I should put down money too to be like him." Or it may not be a problem at all. Runescape is a perfect example of a half-free game, where there is little gelousy between the free and paid players.

Reviewers are also complaining about the randomly generated levels, large ammounts of loot, and tricky backpacking system. Seeing this, I thought, "This looks an awful lot like Diablo." I suddenly realized my stupidity in this comment, and looked up the reviews for Diablo 2. Again, reviewers were crying over the same reasons. I, for one, enjoyed Diablo 2 while it lasted. At this point I decided to read some customer reviews.

Most of the customer reviews were commenting on the pig-headedness of the reviewers rather than explaining their own. There were some, however, that mention that the intensity of the graphics and gameplay are revolutionary for the dungeon crawler genre. So, what do I have to say?

Nothing. I don't have the game yet. But once I do, I promise I will write a uReview on this magnificent website that is anigamers. Did you hear that, Vampt Vo? I complimented you!

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Chronicles of a first-time Star Blazer

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I'm what some may call a new-school fan. I haven't been watching anime since the "old days." I haven't traded VHS tapes with a guy in California just to get the latest episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. So why, you ask, would I ever watch a show from the 1970s when I could easily stream a new episode of Naruto? Other than the obvious "getting perspective on anime history," I submit that I am watching Star Blazers because it's just plain GOOD.

To begin, let me give you a little backstory on the epic anime title known interchangeably as Star Blazers (American reversioning) and Space Battleship Yamato (Japanese original). Released in Japan in 1974 under the title of Uchuu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato), this space epic is often cited as the beginning of the "Golden Age of Anime." The brainchild of manga-ka Leiji Matsumoto (Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999), and produced by the controversial Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Yamato was the story of the rebuilt Japanese battleship Yamato, which was sunk in World War II before ever seeing battle. In order to fight the alien menace of the Gamilas (Gamilons in Star Blazers), the Earth Forces construct a super-powerful spaceship using the ruins of the Yamato. The revived ship, christened as the "Argo" in the English version, is staffed by a new military crew known as the "Star Force."

I got my hands on this treasure of a show through a friend who was rewatching the entire series from beginning to end. Since I picked it up in the middle of his Yamato journey, I began my experience with episode 18 of the second season (the Comet Empire arc). As a breed of aliens bent on control of the universe hurtles toward earth on the massive comet they call home, the Star Force must race to reach Earth first and save its people from alien domination!

When I first put in the disc, I was not surprised to see the cheap animation most people have come to associate with the 1970s and early 1980s. And of course, the dub of the show was cheesy as can be. So how the heck could it be good? Well, take one look at the Yamato (Argo) itself, and you might get an idea of how Leiji Matsumoto's art direction and mechanical designs save this show from its other flaws. Every time I watch the Yamato speed away with its thrusters turned toward the camera, I'll admit that I let out a little gasp of excitement. Something about the massive grandeur of the Yamato is able to instill the same powerful emotions in me as that opening song in Star Wars. In the world of space operas, the action, the characters, and the plot just can't measure up to simple artistic beauty.

That's not to say that Star Blazers doesn't succeed with some very entertaining suspense, action, and character development. When the Earth Defense fleet is being bombarded by heat rays from the Comet Empire fleet, for example, they force the enemy ships to enter Saturn's ice-cold rings in order to render their deadly attacks useless. And the prolonged mourning of such characters as the beautiful alien Trelaina (Teresa in the Japanese) and the comrades of space marine Knox (Hajime Saito) shows an attention to the realities of life and death that was not often seen in anime of the time.

When I watched Star Blazers, I couldn't help but pick up on the powerful messages held in the Star Force's brave story. Fighting off death at every turn, these desperate human beings represent not only the embattled Japanese Empire in the waning months of the Pacific War, but also humanity as a whole. It is difficult to not be moved by these stories of a future race of humans forced into a corner time after time. Only their unstoppable will to survive and unconquerable bravery can save Mother Earth from total destruction. It is a universal story that any fan of good storytelling, old or young, can relate to without a shadow of doubt.

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Map Pack Madness

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Legendary Map Pack

I'm not sure what has gotten into developers, but if you hadn't noticed, in the past few couple of weeks, there've been several new accommodations on the Xbox Live Marketplace and Playstation Store as, well, Map Packs. Some are free, some aren't free, and some aren't even out yet. In chronological order (according to availability), here's the latest updates on Bungie and Infinity Ward's purchasable offerings.

Not too long ago, Bungie decided to go ahead and treat the more casual players (and cheaper players) of Halo 3 to a less expensive price tag to their previous map pack...and by less expensive, I mean absolutely free. After several months, it's finally been offered as a free download on the Xbox Live Marketplace. So, I'm sure if you had Halo, you probably already downloaded it (unless you bought it when it was released). Even so, that only means that there is just another bucket of downloadable content creeping around the corner...

That was quite a while ago, however, and for now, the spotlight is on Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat, as their map pack compiling not three, but four new maps was released on April 4th for voracious players to drool all over. These include: Broadcast, set in the television production studio and parking lot of the 'Charlie Don't Surf' level in Call of Duty 4. Chinatown is a direct remake of the classic Call of Duty 2 map, Carentan, but in the foggier, grittier, and certainly darker ambient of Chinatown. Creek, which is perhaps Call of Duty 4's most colorful map, is set outside [by a creek] in a large, wide open combat ravaged village with scarce cover spots, and might I say, it looks beautiful. The final map is called Killhouse, a desolate training warehouse with several cover spots, not all of which are entirely safe.

What? Another map pack? I'm afraid so. See, it's clear the only reason the original Halo 3 downloadable map pack was offered free of charge was to clear out the way for their new Legendary Map Pack consisting of another three maps for the Halo junkies to have their frag fests on. These include: Ghost Town is a medium sized, broken down ruin near the town of Voi ideal for small, to medium game types. Avalanche, one of the larger maps, has players freezing their armors in this mountainous frozen region, ideal for larger team battles and multi-team game types. Its final installment, Blackout, is an abandoned drill platform that monuments human frailty [?] -- I'm not sure what they mean by that, but what you should know is that this is a remake of Halo 2's "Lockout" it's safe to say veterans can rejoice. Loudly.

One more thing that I found laughable is the trailer for Halo 3's new map pack...well, two things...

First laughable material: Ever played World of Warcraft and cared enough to watch Blizzard's trailers? It's vividly clear that we've got Bungie borrowing the trailer style of Blizzard and using it for their own release. Why? I'm not sure, but if I had to guess, I would probably say it's to hype people up more, even though it's just maps.

Second laughable material: Its theme is very peculiar. It seems very off-the-beaten-path, yet it feels somewhat Halo while being significantly off. Death, ancient battles, scars, and darkness were some of the more notable keywords amidst all these maps and the trailer; the reasons why could be speculated, but I'm not going to do so here.

Are these maps worth the money, or should we all just wait until they are offered free of charge? Maybe, maybe not -- but I've given you what you need to decide if you want one, the other, both, or even neither!

[news data via Bungie / Kotaku]

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Grand Theft Auto 4: The Post-Release Debrief

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Grand Theft Auto IV There is no denying that famed video game series Grand Theft Auto has had an enormous impact on today's culture. In fact, the latest installment in the highly controversial series has broken two world records including: "Highest Revenue Generated by an Entertainment Product in 24 Hours" and "Highest Grossing Video Game in 24 Hours." This entertainment juggernaut has continued to raise the bar with its open world environments, essentially creating its own genre, having what is often dubbed "sandbox" game-play. With each subsequent sequel, the GTA franchise has become more and more organic, providing the player with the ability to do just about anything imaginable. While such freedom is no doubt a technological marvel, many ethical questions and concerns arise as a result. With Grand Theft Auto 4 selling 3.6 million copies on the first day, concerns of negative influence have reached an all time high.

In a world riddled with tragedy and suffering, it is only natural to be weary of Grand Theft Auto 4's mature content. Gamers are given the ability to steal cars (hence the game's title), pick up hookers, drive a car intoxicated, kill civilians, and the list goes on. As a result, parents and politicians alike attack the game in fear of it poisoning our youth. First and foremost let me preface by saying that this is not a game for children. The game has been rated “Mature,” which requires someone at least seventeen years of age to purchase the game. If underage children are still finding ways to play this game, the issue lies within the home, not the game industry.

Much like the movie industry, many of today’s video games are not only a means to provide entertainment, but also provide compelling narratives that reveal a picture of today’s society. For example, the movie The Departed received “film of the year” and is highly respected because of its ability to accurately portray the Boston Mafia through a carefully crafted plot. Upon careful comparison one can see how Grand Theft Auto 4 portrays a similar scene of New York City, dubbed “Liberty City.” Of course the interactivity of a video game is the distinguishing characteristic between the two forms of media, and the ability of one to separate themselves from the actions on the screen is an indication of maturity.

One issue of particular concern has been the ability to drink and drive. Rockstar (the game’s developer) could have simply left this feature out and prevented gamers from acting irresponsibly. At the same time, one must consider the mechanic behind drunk driving in GTA4. When the character enters and attempts to drive the car, the ability steer is completely gone and the car begins to swerve all over the road. At this point, the game is unplayable and driving a car is no longer fun, not to mention the police will arrest you. If anything, one would want to take one of the numerous cabs that line the city’s streets as a means of getting around. Drunk driving is simply a means of immersion for the player and if anything it condemns such behavior.

Video games are a growing source of media in today’s culture but have yet to earn the respect of other established forms of entertainment. Ignorance in this medium can be dangerous on two levels, especially with a game like Grand Theft Auto 4 As a parent, one needs to be aware of the content their children are playing, realizing that video games are not only for children. Secondly, a certain level of knowledge is required in order to properly judge the legitimacy of anything. So I urge each and every one of you to stay informed with the latest news surrounding video games because they’re not disappearing any time soon.

[news data via 1UP]
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User-Preview: Xam'd (Sub)

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Xam'd by Bones (studio)

The following article was submitted by Rp Phantom. The opinions expressed below do not represent those of Ani-Gamers or its affiliates.

We all know the mecha genre. From Mobile Suits to Giant Robots to Giant Robots that are actually not even robots, an anime fan would think that, by now, the mecha genre has become formulaic and predictable. So, now that Eureka Seven has come and gone, Bones and Aniplex are back again, and they bring to the table yet another tale of an adolescent boy, giant airships, mechas, and living weapons. They bring Xam'd: Lost Memories.

So I bet you're asking, "So who's the new teenage boy who has to control these robots?" or "Who's the new mysterious introverted girl?" While Xam'd seems to fall under the mecha category at first, it is made clear from the start that the story does not revolve around mechas. Yes, there is a teenage boy, there is a mysterious girl, and there are airships. To set the record straight for Xam'd, here's an early plot overview.

The story begins on Sentan Island, a land of seemingly contradictory nature. It is described as isolated, but it is highly populated. It is apparently under military rule, but the citizens live in peace. Akiyuki is a teenager living on this island, living between his separated parents. He is a confident and amiable individual, and has a pair of close friends named Haru and Furuichi.

On his daily walk with them to the school bus, he spots a pale-looking girl named Nazuna who appears to be a new rider on the bus. The soldier guarding the bus has the students lined up to check their armbands, and he notices that this frightens Nazuna. He passively slips her his armband, to help her avoid complications with the soldier. He claims he forgot his, and is expectedly let on anyway because he is a familiar face.

This appears to me a dreadful mistake, as Nazuna detonates a bomb on the bus as he exits in front of the school, an apparent act of war. Several students are wounded and killed, and a strange light from the explosion hits and enters Akiyuki's right arm. Confused, he re-enters the blown apart bus and tries to help Nazuna, who is wounded and bleeding green blood. She apologizes for getting Akiyuki caught up in her actions, and offers to give him her lost memories: Xam'd. Nazuna touches Akiyuki, and a strange white liquid envelops his body, and transforms him into a monstrous creature. (Just like they said would happen in Catholic School).

Suddenly, airships from a belligerent military from the north drop super weapons known as "Humanforms" onto the island. These humanforms are like living attack vehicles, except the are behemoth in size. A passing postal ship remains nearby, examining the situation. On this ship is Nakiami, a mysterious young woman who takes interest in the humanforms, and even more so, the Akiyuki-turned-Xam'd.

Xam'd is compelled to fight these humanforms, possibly to protect Akiyuki's friends. After being destroyed, the humanforms start to crystallize and corrode apart before the victorious Xam'd. In no time, Nakiami swoops down to Xam'd, and traps him. He then starts to corrode in a similar matter as the humanform. Nakiami urges Xam'd to come with her if he wants to live. Xam'd obligingly collaspes and transforms back into Akiyuki, unharmed, leaving only a mutated Xam'd arm on his body.

Nakiami takes Akiyuki back to her postal ship, where she cares for him, and explains that he now requires training to control the Xam'd within him and to keep himself alive. From then on the stage is set as Akiyuki travels with the ragtag crew of the postal ship, while his friends are left to try to restore their devastated lives and homes, in a city that lies on the brink of warfare.

Xam'd brings recognizable qualities with something new to the table. Like their previous work, Eureka Seven, Bones's animation is flashy and fluid, and of course, action-packed. Even the theme song, "Shut up and Explode" by the Boom Boom Satellites is catchier than chlamydia. Overall, this new anime seems to have a lot of potential, putting a new twist on predictable sci-fi and mecha genres. Definitely worth watching.

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Editorial: Blu-ray to prove viable for PS3’s success

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Metal Gear Solid 4 Playstation 3 bundle

Ever since its release, skepticism has shrouded Sony’s PS3 and the viability of its Blu-ray drive. The Blu-ray format is essentially the evolution of today’s DVD. With high definition televisions rapidly becoming standard in many of today’s households, the demand for HD movies and games has increased as well. Media that is displayed in high definition requires a much higher storage capacity in order to be contained on a single disc. This is essentially where the difference between Blu-ray and DVD can be found. A standard dual-layer DVD can hold approximately 8.7 GB of data while a Blu-ray can hold about 50 GB. While there is no doubt a substantial difference between the two formats, we find ourselves questioning the necessity of so much space on a single disc.

Let’s take a look at Grand Theft Auto 4, an ambitiously large game that runs flawlessly on both DVD and Blu-ray formats. When looking at such an enormous game that comfortably fits on a single DVD, one begins to wonder if additional space is needed. After all, do gamers really need games larger than GTA4?

With that in mind let’s consider the PS3’s flagship game, Metal Gear Solid 4. According to game developer Hideo Kojima, MGS4 fills up an entire Blu-ray disc. That means it would require nearly 6 DVDs to run on the Xbox 360, which unlike the PS3 contains only a standard DVD drive. A game like Metal Gear Solid 4 requires such a large data capacity because of the cinematic experience it seeks to provide. Containing over 10 hours of cutscenes and one of the most technically impressive visual and audio performances to date, it is no surprise Kojima needed all 50 GB of data.

Another, more recent game that makes use of the storage capacity of Sony’s Blu-ray format is Rage, an upcoming title by id Software. According to company spokesman John Carmack, the Xbox 360 version of the game will require 3 DVDs while the PS3’s single Blu-ray disc will suffice. The clincher here is that the production of three discs will require a “royalty fee” that id Software is unwilling to pay. As a result, the Xbox 360 version must be compressed into 2 discs, resulting in a version inferior to the PS3.

This increasing need for Blu-ray has not only been apparent within the gaming realm. The triumph of Blu-ray over HD DVD has been a huge win for Sony and the PS3. With the high definition video format in their back pocket, Sony’s console has become more appealing than ever. As the bar for quality rises among both games and movies, the demand for more storage capacity will continue to increase, making Sony’s console much more “future proof” than the competition.

So while it may not be immediately apparent that Blu-ray is a necessary format, down the road the quality of games will undoubtedly increase – along with their data size. While Microsoft provides an experience that caters to the public’s current expectations, Sony works to push the envelope further and deliver what gamers want for the future.

The original PlayStation introduced the CD format into the gaming world and became the highest selling console of its generation. Likewise, its successor the PS2 trounced its competition by being the first to utilize the DVD format. This time around the format of choice is Blu-ray and if Sony plays their cards right, history is destined to repeat itself.

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Big Apple Anime Explosion: Anime Comes Back to NYC

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The Big Apple Anime Explosion

Years ago, New York City, touted for its multiculturalism, was as much an anime wasteland as any other city, with anime-related activities few and far between. Recently, though, the city has seen an explosion of anime events unlike any other, driven by movie theaters, comic shops, bookstores, and conventions. Last weekend, I tried to get my own perspective on this "Big Apple Anime Explosion."

To begin my mini-tour of the "new" New York City anime fandom, I stopped by the IFC Theater on the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.). Here, my friends and I sat down for a packed showing of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Playing alongside independent films from all around the world, TGWLTT drew crowds of all different ages and genders. Not only that, but it also drew in viewers who were most surely not otaku. (For the unintiated, otaku means anime fan) One little girl, a casual fan of Hayao Miyazaki's films, said the movie was "awesome," while her mother lavished similar praise.

Next, we took a trip down 6th Avenue to the new Kinokuniya. This huge Japanese bookstore is hidden across from Bryant Park. Unfortunately, it has very little window space compared to its previously glamorous position in the center of Rockefeller Center. Reed Expositions, organizers of the New York Anime Festival later this month, were holding a special release event for the Death Note live-action movie at the store, a part of their ongoing series of events at Kinokuniya.

Death Note live-action movie

Filling the hallways of this rather spacious store were what must have been at least 200 teenage and adult Death Note fans, decked out in cosplay and anime paraphernalia. Standing in that sea of people, it was hard not to notice that the landscape of anime in New York City was beginning to change. The "greatest city in the world" just might be coming into its own within this Japanese world of ours.

To get a better idea of how this Big Apple Anime Explosion is panning out, I spoke with John Fuller, Store Manager at Kinokuniya, and Peter Tatara, Conference Manager for the New York Anime Festival and organizer of the Death Note event.

Kinokuniya has been around since the 1970's, and yet Mr. Fuller feels that they have not exactly been driving the explosion. Instead they were "dragged into it kicking and screaming" by overwhelming consumer demand. The store also seemed to pick just the right spot in New York City's little anime world, not altogether intentionally. "This is where a lot of things were already beginning to happen," explains Fuller, regarding nearby comicbook stores and Asian cafes. Not only that, but Kinokuniya is "on 6th Avenue...across from Bryant Park...right here in the middle of everything!" That's a helpful thing for a store leading the revolution of a medium.

NYAF Conference Manager Peter Tatara

Even more pivotal to the Big Apple Anime Explosion is New York Anime Festival's Conference Manager, Peter Tatara (pictured at right). This longtime anime fan cut his otaku teeth on Vampire Hunter D, and since has dedicated himself to bringing anime to as many fans as possible. When the Big Apple Anime Fest sputtered out three years ago and New York Comic Con started up two years later, Peter and his associates knew they had to bring a new convention to anime fans in the area - the New York Anime Festival (NYAF).

"All of these events at Kinokuniya are part of [NYAF]," explains Peter. "The Anime Festival is three days a year, but I don't want to say 'see you next year.' I want to make an event every month or two months for fans to get together." While the New York Anime Festival has been the most prominent leader in the Anime Explosion, Peter says that this newfound interest "just sort of happened because of groups like New York Anime Festival, ImaginAsian, and Kinokuniya having anime on our minds and feeding off of each other."

Mr. Tatara has never heard of any other conventions trying a revolutionary system like this, but he feels that "now is a time when everyone is realizing that anime is a gateway to Japanese culture. I'd love to see other cons do this." When asked about anime's growing mainstream penetration, Mr. Tatara noted "stuff like Death Note, Bleach, Naruto, and Pokemon that have entered the mainstream mind. It's great to see 200 people showing up for a Death Note day!"

The New York Anime Festival isn't the only convention working to expand anime's popularity in the New York City area. AnimeNEXT recently spun off MangaNEXT, so that now the New Jersey convention maintains a year-round presence. Coupled with NYAF's plans, Kinokuniya's courting of American otaku, and anime/manga expansion at theaters and comicbook shops like IFC and Midtown Comics, New York anime fans have a lot of activities open to them on any given weekend.

To help speed along the growing explosion, Tatara and Reed Exhibitions are in the process of launching, a comprehensive year-round calendar documenting all of those anime events in New York City. Nevertheless, according to Peter this explosion isn't just about large groups bringing anime into the limelight. "What's most important for anime right now is having a passion. That's what links Kinokuniya to the New York Anime Festival to the fans. It's something we're all passionate about."

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See You Space Cowboy: The Legacy of Toonami

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Toonami's TOM1 "Welcome, TOM."

I'm sure that I'm not alone in saying that I awaited those words every weekday of my young life. It meant something to all of us. It meant that in the next few sweet, sweet hours of after school television, we would be witness to something special. Maybe we didn't know that we were watching Japanese cartoons. Maybe we did. Either way, everybody understood that we were watching something more than the Loony Tunes.

People nowadays talk about the "Adult Swim revolution." Sure, Fullmetal Alchemist might have changed the anime map a little. Yeah, a lot of crazy kids are staying up late to watch Death Note and Code Geass. Still, nobody will ever doubt that Toonami, Cartoon Network's anime-centric programming block of eleven and a half years, was one of the most powerful forces (if not the most powerful force) in bringing American anime fandom into the limelight. Now that TOM has finally said goodbye, I think that it's time we as anime fans looked over how Toonami changed our cartoon-watching lives.

Toonami's TOM2 I honestly don't remember the first time I saw Toonami. My first anime was Pokemon, being shown on KidsWB if I'm not mistaken. When I found out about Toonami, I still didn't know what this "anime" thingy was; all I knew was that Dragonball Z was the most awesome thing my young eyes had ever chanced upon. Every day I would rush home after school to see a new episode, and sometimes I would check out a different show before dinner. Maybe it was Outlaw Star, or Rurouni Kenshin, or Gundam Wing. Modern anime fans might say that these were lame, cheesy shows, but when we watched them, that's not what we were thinking about. Whether we were young fourth graders or bored high school students, we all wanted to catch that new, "edgy" cartoon show on Toonami.

Naturally, hearing about the "fall of Toonami" was a little heartbreaking. We all knew that the block was essentially gone ever since it started losing its anime programming and went with a new aesthetic inconsistent with its previous styles, but having it cut out on us like it did was pretty emotionally stunning. The day after the final broadcast, I literally spent hours looking up the old videos from the block's heyday. Looking back on those old promos and ads, a more grown-up mind can see why we all loved Toonami. It was really really cool.

The bit of attitude that Tom had, the stylish mechanical designs, the great voice acting. All of these things were the sorts of things that we growing anime fans understood as "cool." After all, we were into these crazy Japanese cartoons because we found in them things that we couldn't find in American ones: characters who weren't all good or all evil, inspired designs and ideas, and great production values. (The same things that Toonami featured!) Toonami didn't just show us anime series - it did its very best to become one.

Let's not forget the dedication of the people who worked on this block. Unlike the execs at Adult Swim, who seem to have their hearts bent on showing less anime, the men and women who brought us Toonami had a love for what they were doing. You can just see it in the way anime was presented on the block, and in the sheer number of series that got airtime. There was a dedication there that we as young fans probably didn't notice. We all saw the montage video "Mad Rhetoric," using scenes from various action anime, but never did we give thought to the fact that some Toonami guys must have sat down and worked their butts off on that video, merely for the sake of giving us something cool to watch.

I was surprised to hear from Steve Blum (voice of TOM) in Ani-Gamers Podcast Episode #006 that he and some other people actually teared up a little when they recorded TOM's final lines. You don't cry about a fictional character unless you've got some serious dedication to your work!

Toonami's TOM4 So, I invite everyone to sit down and think about what Toonami meant to you. Better yet, go to Toonami Arsenal, a fantastic site that hosts old Toonami videos, and relive your past anime experiences. Remember, friends: anime is a growing medium here in America. Just as we have passed out of the age of VHS fansub trading, I believe that we may have now passed out of the age of anime on television. Those of you who rushed home with me to watch Dragonball Z, look back upon Toonami not just as a simple programming block on Cartoon Network, but as the important historical and emotional landmark that it was. And of course, remember the final words of our after-school buddy TOM as he soared off screen:

"Until we meet again, stay gold. Bang."

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Con Report: New York Anime Festival 2008 (now with pictures!)

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New York Anime Festival 2008 - quite crowded New York Anime Festival 2008
September 26-28, 2008
Jacob Javits Center
New York City, NY, USA

Photo Gallery - at last!

Walking down 34th St., you would never have guessed what was going on at the nearby Jacob Javits Center on a rainy day in late September. Sure, maybe there are a couple people with weird leather jackets on, but you expect such things from the greatest city in the world. Take a walk inside the Javits Center, though, and everything changes. Inside of this fantastic world, presumably normal people shed their skins, and the mundane world of the city streets comes alive with the boundless passion of anime fandom. As I stood on the escalator moving down into the heart of the New York Anime Festival 2008 Dealer's Room, I felt like I was on the threshold of an entirely different world.

The New York Anime Festival is far from my first convention, but it is surely the first one that really made me say, "Wow!" That was last year, and I definitely got the same impression in 2008 when I once again beheld the spectacle that is the blue-carpeted Dealer's Room at NYAF. At the front of the hall was Bandai Entertainment's gargantuan screen showing previews for their newest shows. Not to be outdone, FUNimation had an equally large (albeit more shop-like) booth, which focused much more on actually buying DVDs and talking with sales reps. The rest of the room was coated with dealers selling everything from brand new DVDs to retro VHS's, from replica swords to Legos. The Artist's Alley was along the right wall and in the back corner.

Unfortunately, I wasn't as free to attend panels as I was last year. With press badge in hand, I was forced (by my own boundless ambition?!) to run from industry panel to industry panel, only shirking my duties once so I could visit Otaku USA Magazine - a panel run by Erin Finnegan and Jeff Kight that ended up being very informative, regardless of the lack of Patrick Macias. The industry panels often held little of interest, but there were a couple gems hidden among the reiterations of existing licenses. As always, the rest of the "press gang" helped spice up some otherwise boring panels, so of course I'd like to give some shoutouts to Deb Aoki, Erin Finnegan, Gia Manry, Brad "Dick McVengeance" Rice, and of course "Kurono K," who's not really press but we'll let him off the hook this once.

As is to be expected from the wonderful people running the convention, everything went perfectly smoothly in terms of my being press. My badge was quickly approved, as was my interview request, and a press-only computer was provided for on-site blogging without the $70 Wi-Fi fee. I did have a problem with some faulty power outlets during my interview, but it all worked out in the end. Special thanks to Peter Tatara and Kim Mueller for all of their helpful work in setting up my press access and interview (and of course for being really friendly people).

Still, the actual way that the convention hall was set up was noticeably less intuitive than last year. Whereas last year the Festival used the back of the Dealer's Room for a huge stage, this year that back area was unused, and instead there were two different stages for different activities. Closed into what were essentially two panel rooms was the "Anime News Network Theater" (yes, they sponsored NYAF), hidden behind walls where few were likely to find it by accident. Outside of those doors was the hallway that lead between all of the panel rooms, and dead center in this hall NYAF had placed a large stage where musical performances and other events would be held. Believe me, when our very own Uncle Yo was performing, it was frustratingly difficult to move past the stage and get to a panel room.

The two stages represent two very different - and very wrong - ways to make your stage/theater: one is too central, and one is too hidden. Exacerbating the above problems, the Festival also closed one of the Dealer's Room entrances, meaning that there was only one way in and one way out. Luckily, everything was nicely compartmentalized so that events were in one hall, the Dealer's Room was in another, and con-staff rooms were on the outer periphery, making finding my way around the huge area a little bit easier.

I hung out with the usual folks (as well as some new ones) over the course of the weekend, including Brad, Gia, Scott, Kurono K, Stephen Walker, Deb Aoki, DJ Ranma and Kuro Usagi, Erin and Noah, and of course our very own Karl Custer, who kindly allowed me to use his Artist's Alley booth as my base of operations.

Even with some of its navigational problems, the New York Anime Festival is a downright great convention. Peter Tatara and his crew of awesome convention organizers constructed a show that not only featured amazing guests (Yoshitaka Amano, Hideyuki Kikuchi, and Rie Tanaka) and a great location (NYC baby!), but also attracted pretty much everybody who's anybody in anime journalism in the New York-New Jersey area. If you are an anime fan living reasonably close to New York City, you have absolutely no reason to pass up New York Anime Festival 2009.

Read more about New York Anime Festival 2008

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Impressions: Far Cry 2

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Far Cry 2

Welcome to our very first "Impressions" post. In this series of features, our staff will briefly tell you their opinion of an anime, manga, or game based on their current impression. They're less like reviews and more like little journal entries, so don't expect fully-formed opinions just yet.

Though Far Cry 2 (PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360) has been overshadowed by much "bigger" releases this holiday season, a small handful of game journalists have spoken up on its behalf. After hearing Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann talk it up for over a month, I figured it was time to give this open-world shooter a try.

No, this is not a continuation of the original Far Cry, so before you ask, you don't need to have played the previous game. In this iteration, you are a mercenary sent to an African country to kill an arms dealer called "The Jackal" who has been pitting the two sides of a civil war against each other. When you enter the country, however, you catch malaria, get caught in a firefight, and miss your chance of catching The Jackal. Now you've got to fend for yourself in this war-torn country while working toward completing your mission.

As far as I've seen in the Xbox 360 version of the game, the open-world design is really working out well. Driving a car around a beautiful African savanna is cool enough, but when guerrillas drive by and start ramming your car, filling you full of bullets, things really heat up. In my first hour or so of play, I was randomly attacked by rebels at least three times, and one time they wrecked my car, causing me to stop and fix it (yes, you have to fix it yourself) before moving on. Another time I decided to hop on a small motorboat instead of fighting, and rode the boat off into the sunset.

It's that kind of visual and gameplay aesthetic that has really made my first hour with Far Cry 2 a great experience: moments of quiet serenity (even beauty), punctured by frantic violence that starts as quickly as it stops. It prompts a sort of gut instinct, and sometimes I find myself driving away before I've even thought about what I've done. Completing the immersion is a minimal HUD, problems like malaria and guns that jam up, and completely interactive environments. Hell, I shot a lantern at a campsite and set fire to an entire field of trees, then sat in my boat and watched the blaze framed against the night sky. That's a real game experience right there.

I'm amazed and delighted at how much thought and passion seems to have been put into the design of an ostensibly trigger-happy game like Far Cry 2. And to be honest, I can't wait to get back to Africa.

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The Best of Ani-Gamers ~ 2008

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Over at the Anime Almanac, my good friend Scott VonSchilling has just put up a post going over the best articles on his site in the past year. We've had a good year too here at Ani-Gamers, so I thought that our readers might appreciate a retrospective look at the amazing things that little anime and gaming blog has done since last January.

2008 was undoubtedly a good year for Ani-Gamers. In the early spring, I applied a drastic makeover to the site's design, giving it a sleek new look for version 2.0. Around that time, staff applications started popping up from all over the country. Soon after, Ani-Gamers was hitting the con scene. Uncle Yo started performing all around the country, and I started meeting fellow bloggers and future friends like Scott VonSchilling, DJ Ranma S, Kuro Usagi, Hisui, and Narutaki. We have reached the end of 2008 with a podcast, hundreds of posts, and some great staff members. And I don't think that our momentum is gonna slow down anytime soon.

After the break, I've got links to the top 15 Ani-Gamers posts of this year, ranging from reviews to podcast episodes to feature articles and covering a wide range of topics. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Anime Reviews

Spiral (Hyb) • Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto

In this long, angry review, I poured my heart out about the 2003 anime Spiral. It's 26 episodes long, and there is only one consistent theme: black turtlenecks. This is by far my favorite of all the bad reviews that I have ever written, since I really wanted to get some entertainment out of Spiral after spending a grueling 8+ hours on it.

Kure-nai (Sub) • Karl "Uncle Yo" Custer

Karl took a look at the overlooked gem Kure-nai in August, and he wrote up a concise yet thoughtful review that touched upon a lot of the more subtle points about the show. This anime might have gone under the radar when it released, but Karl's review is a great reminder of what a lot of people missed out on.

The Skull Man (Sub) • Karl "Uncle Yo" Custer

Shotaro Ishinomori's Skull Man started as a 1970's manga series, but in its 2008 anime reversioning it received a fresh coat of paint – black paint. Karl's in-depth look at the mystery and horror of the world of The Skull Man is only matched by the show's inclusion of "some werewolves and a small battalion of mechanized maniacal army clowns with flame-throwers and rocket-launchers."

The Sky Crawlers (Sub) • Karl "Uncle Yo" Custer

More recently, Karl has contributed a fascinating review of the early screening of Mamoru Oshii's The Sky Crawlers. While many fans might cringe at the slow pace of Oshii's philosophical piece, Karl takes it all in and provides a markedly intelligent commentary on the film.

Tokyo Godfathers (Sub) • Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto

I absolutely love Satoshi Kon's films, so being able to watch and review Tokyo Godfathers was an absolute treat. This review is gushing with all sorts of love for Kon's work. Of course that's natural for a movie that is gushing with so much raw emotion. This post is pretty much the antithesis to my angry Spiral review.

Manga Reviews

MW • Mitchell "MitchyD" Dyer

MitchyD joined our staff halfway through the year, and got right to work on reviewing manga. Even though he hadn't quite tried reviewing the medium before, he got off to a great start with this review of manga legend Osamu Tezuka's MW. Mitchy makes fascinating points about the sheer depravity and shock value of Tezuka's most grisly classic.

Fushigi Yuugi pt.1 • Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto

I guess I really like my bad reviews, because this is yet another one. Though many might think that Fushigi Yuugi is a classic among shojo manga (I'm looking at you, Jason Thompson), I really only found it to be an unoriginal story with no real character development or palpable drama.

Video Game Reviews

The World Ends with You (DS) • Maxwell "Pigeonflu" McGee

One of the best DS games in recent memory got what it deserved in Max's awesome review: 4 stars. Max raves for six paragraphs about the fascinating-yet-confusing plot, fantastic gameplay, and stylish presentation that make The World Ends with You one of the best games of the year. Oh, and he of course discusses his "two-player co-op mode."

Castle Crashers (XBLA) • Maxwell "Pigeonflu" McGee

Another Max-produced review, this one is about Castle Crashers, a game that made a big splash on the Xbox Live Arcade this past summer. If you haven't already downloaded this title, check out Max's fantastic review so you can be ashamed at your utter foolishness!

Left 4 Dead (360) • Mitchell "MitchyD" Dyer

Of course, Mitchy's Left 4 Dead review has to make the list, if only because Mitchy, a professional video game journalist, took time out to write his first and as of yet only video game review for Ani-Gamers. Luckily, Mitchy's honest, witty writeup is also a very entertaining look at the experience that is Left 4 Dead.

Podcast Episodes

Ani-Gamers Podcast #001 - Andy Brick Interview

Every podcast has to have its beginnings, but fortunately ours wasn't quite the trainwreck that some first episodes are. This episode has a special place in my heart because it was actually my first ever interview, as well as my first ever podcast episode. Beyond that, it's actually a pretty interesting look at the musical composition that goes on in video game design.

Ani-Gamers Podcast #003 - Fansubbing Panel w. Greg Ayres

This is where I've got to pull Scott from the Anime Almanac back into the picture, since he and I both had an outpouring of comments due to our opinions on Mr. Ayres's controversial panel. I side with Greg and Scott in that I do not support fansubs, and so I decided to post my partial recording of Greg's "Fan Subbing" panel from AnimeNEXT 2008. This is one of the most intelligent and entertaining looks at fansubbing that you will ever hear.

Feature Articles

Big Apple Anime Explosion: Anime Comes Back to NYC • Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto

StumbleUpon latched onto this article with a passion, and it literally became my defining piece, the one that drove Ani-Gamers hits through the roof. For those who still haven't checked it out, "Big Apple Anime Explosion" is all about the new opportunities for anime fans to get together and experience their hobby in New York City. I even got to speak to Kinokuniya manager John Fuller and NYAF organizer Peter Tatara in the course of my research.

See You Space Cowboy: The Legacy of Toonami • Evan "Vampt Vo" Minto

While this feature didn't receive quite as much publicity as my "Big Apple Anime Explosion" one, its still one of my favorites. A few weeks after the untimely death of Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block, I felt the need to write up a personal message, a sort of obituary for the childhood years spent watching the block. Colored with childhood experiences and stories from TOM voice actor Steve Blum, this is one of my most emotional posts.

Otakudemia: When is an anime not an anime? When it's a Gothic novel • "Ink"

Finally, this one is an article from our newest staff member: "Ink." He defined himself to Ani-Gamers readers with this groundbreaking piece that uses an academic style to examine the gothic leanings of Le Portrait de Petite Cossette.

Before I finish up, I naturally need to thank some people. First, I'd like to extend a heartfelt "Thank You" to everyone who has read this blog over the past year. Maybe you only read one article. Maybe you read all of them. Maybe you're just a podcast listener. Maybe you're one of our affiliates or blogroll members. Nevertheless, it is your support and dedication that motivates us to continue to write and record new content for you. Thank you so much for reading; rest assured we will do everything in our power to make 2009 an even better year for Ani-Gamers and its readers.

Finally, I cannot conclude this article without the most important "Thank You" of all: one that goes out to the diligent staff members at Ani-Gamers. You have been writers, podcasters, readers, and most importantly: friends. Our staff is made up of amazing people – people who never stop working to make this site a better place – and without them we would not have done nearly any of the amazing things that we did this year. So, whether you only wrote one article, or you stuck with us all year, I would like to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart. Kevin A., Karl, Mitchy, "Ink," Max, Alex, Kevin O., and Jessa: here's to another great year!

Have A Very Happy 2009!

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Con Report: New York Comic Con 2009

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Or click here for the Photo Gallery
New York Comic Con 2009
February 6-8, 2009
Jacob Javits Center
New York City, NY, USA

I remember the first time I ever went to an anime convention. It was Anime Boston, and I stepped onto the stairs overlooking the main hall, full of 13-year-old excitement, only to find a sea of cosplayers in front of me. Terrified, I contemplated going back for a good two seconds, as I stared into the gaping maw of nerddom. But soon I steeled myself, and took that fateful step into the craziness of anime convention culture.

This year was my first time ever attending a Comic Con. I stood atop a staircase once again, somewhat older and slightly less terrified, but I still felt the echoes of that scared 13-year-old stir inside of me. But just like that time at Anime Boston, I stared into the abyss, took it all in, and finally took that step.

The New York Comic Con has been held annually at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City since its debut in 2006. It is essentially the younger cousin of the San Diego Comic Con, where most of the big action happens, but that doesn't stop NYCC from being one of the largest human gatherings in New York City. Plus, the best part about Comic Con is that it is not simply about Western comics – it's a convention that embraces all segments of pop culture, from Western comics to cartoons to video games anime/manga to movies and even to television. Nothing is off-limits at this con, and so it is littered with geeks of all different shapes and sizes.

On that note, Comic Con is littered with lots of geeks. I mean lots of them. The attendance was around 77,000, and it was clear from standing in the sea of people that the New York Comic Con was the largest convention I had ever been to. There were people like Ani-Gamers' own Karl Custer who were at the convention, but who I never ran into for all three days.

The convention center is luckily large enough to handle such a huge number of people, but sometimes navigating it was a little difficult. The exhibitor's hall was the centerpiece, and there were various entrances into it from different floors. However, the panel rooms were off in a corner, down a flight of steps, and the press room was completely on the opposite side of the convention center from the panel rooms. Exacerbating the situation, the press room was nudged against the "IGN Theatre," meaning that we had to push through a massive line almost any time we tried to get in.

Yen Press's Comic Con booth

Most of the panels that I went to (predominantly industry ones) were well-run, and the Comic Con staff did a good job of keeping things orderly, setting up tech, and transitioning between different panels. For example, a con staffer was on-hand during the Yen Press giveaway, and she nobly kept the crazy forces of teenage anime fandom at bay by making sure that they lined up in a mature, orderly fashion.

The feeling that I got from the anime and manga industries at their panels was that, while the economy is in shambles right now, the companies will move along with their normal plans with only minor setbacks. Some excessive programs are being cut back, such as FUNimation's podcast, but in general the strategy seems to be the same as last year, with niche titles still getting licenses alongside more mainstream ones. On the mainstream front, Yen Press seems to be picking up some real money-makers, including the new shonen posterboy Soul Eater and the long-awaited Yotsuba&! (which was announced at NYCC). I am of the opinion that over the course of the next year, Yen Press will rise to be as big as Tokyopop once was, and will be Viz's primary challenger in the shonen arena. (Think Naruto vs. Soul Eater)

The anime industry, on the other hand, didn't announce any new licenses, but FUNimation, Bandai and Viz focused heavily on their new online streaming services. This is going to be the future of the anime industry, so it's great to finally see the distributors giving up on single-volume releases and moving to boxsets and streaming video.

The New York Comic Con was also my first time attending a con as video game press. I checked out games like Velvet Assassin, X-Blades, Prototype, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, The Conduit, MadWorld, and Red Faction: Guerrilla, most of which should have hands-on coverage on the site soon. I must say that at some of the gaming booths, I didn't receive very much help from the reps, but the SouthPeak Games booth was really fun and inviting. I received some very informative walkthroughs from developers and representatives for Velvet Assassin and X-Blades, as well as a great interview with the voice actor starring in Velvet Assassin.

John Martone, Gia, Scott, and Evan

Outside of scheduled convention programming, I also got to hang out with some really awesome people throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon, I stopped by the "Versus Mode Live" panel, featuring Bioshock director Ken Levine and Fallout 3 producer Todd Howard, and moderated by legendary gaming journalists N'Gai Croal and Stephen Totilo. After the panel, I chatted for a bit with the four of them, and they even recorded openers for the Ani-Gamers Podcast. Both on Friday (when the Vertical panel ended early) and on Saturday (when the same happened for CMX), I had a fun chance to meet a bunch of fellow anime/manga bloggers, journalists, and industry professionals – including Brigid Alverson, Deb Aoki, Casey Brienza, Ed Chavez, Erica Friedman, and Michael Pinto.

One of the highlights of my personal con experience was a "blogger dinner" on Saturday night, wherein fifteen or so other bloggers and I headed down to the Tick Tock Diner on 34 St. and 8th Ave. In attendance were friends like Gia Manry, Scott VonSchilling, Hisui, and KuronoK, as well as new acquaintances like Michael Pinto and John Martone. My table was particularly fun, as I sat with Narutaki and Kohaku (from Reverse Thieves), Dave (from Subatomic Brainfreeze), and Carl (from Ogiue Maniax). We discussed ninja self-destruction, Segata Sanshiro, and pedo high school teachers, but quickly noticed that the other tables were all talking about actual anime stuff. (Hah, silly them!) The other highlight was, of course, on Sunday, when I sat down with Brigid, Scott, Hisui, and Narutaki for Ani-Gamers Podcast #012.

I really enjoyed the New York Comic Con, despite my general preference for small, anime-centric cons. I would without question recommend it to any geek with an interest in anime, manga, games, or (naturally) comics – as long as they are okay with large conventions. It's big, it's crazy, and it's hectic, but dammit if the New York Comic Con's not fun as hell.

Click for our New York Comic Con 2009 coverage

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Fullmetal Alchemist: The Brotherhood Diaries - Mission Statement

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Fullmetal Alchemist: The Brotherhood Diaries

Welcome to our newest feature here at Ani-Gamers. "The Brotherhood Diaries" is a new column written by Ink, and focusing on the new Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series. We'll leave him to explain the details.

Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) is a story about (as if you didn’t know) two brothers living in an alternate human history – where alchemy progressed as the major science instead of electronics. These boys commit the ultimate taboo of trying to transmute a human life (their mother’s) and end up paying for the consequences of that act. The resulting 51-episode tale (plus movie) is one of brotherly love, morality, war, science, religion, and all the strains in-between.

First adapted from Hiromu Arakawa’s original manga into anime form by BONES, FMA supposedly stopped following the original story about halfway through its overall run because it outpaced the output of its creator. Luckily, instead of a hiatus, the anime’s producers collaborated with Arakawa to work out an alternative story path. Now, some four years after the conclusion of that story, the original is getting its chance to be told without alteration.

This re-imagining, being released on nearly simultaneously with the Japanese TV airings, does nothing if not open up the critical avenues of comparison and contrast given the popularity and outright love people shared (and cosplayed and otaku-ed) for the original anime series. Having been so enthralled to the original anime series myself, I will watch weekly the goings-on of the Elric brothers in this new FMA to point out differences – obvious and obscure, stylistic and chronologic, dramatic and humourous – between it and its predecessor so that, even if you’ve never seen the original or never wanted to see another re-envisioning of the original, anyone reading this might gain some good reason to ride the lengthy emotional roller coaster yet again...hands up in the air, tearing in sorrow or screaming for joy.

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Exiled Hardcore: Can SEGA tap Nintendo's lost demographic?

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The Conduit box art

It was a feeding frenzy. Lots of sweaty men crowded around a small TV screen, watching the blood splatter as a stylized video game character was thrown into a saw twice his height. The crowd cheered as bullets broke through the carapace of a giant alien bug. A startled gasp was heard as a zombie leapt out toward the camera. And in the hands of these gamers was not a black gamepad, but a remote control: sleek, white, and all-too-familiar.

There were no grandmas playing these particular Nintendo Wii consoles, which were on display at the 2009 New York Comic Con. In fact, your grandma would probably disown you if she ever caught you playing the brutal cartoon action game MadWorld. I'd venture a bet that she wouldn't be too keen on the zombie game House of the Dead: Overkill either, and the science fiction shooter The Conduit is quite a far cry from Wii Bowling.

Welcome to the new SEGA on Wii.

Japanese publisher SEGA's move toward "mature" Wii games has struck a major chord with Nintendo fans and gaming journalists alike. On its release, the Wii split Nintendo fandom in two, as many disillusioned gamers felt that the game maker had abandoned them, choosing to focus its efforts on titles appealing to a "casual" demographic. Nintendo has tried in the past few years to hold onto its image as a publisher that appeals to all types: casual and "core" gamers, Nintendo's euphemism for the more commonly used "hardcore."

Early in the console's life cycle, Ubisoft released Red Steel, a violent first-person action game on the Wii that was already riding a hype wave that it couldn't handle when it crashed into gamers' homes in late 2006. The game was pulled down to a Teen rating due to the removal of blood (and the necessity for "Red" in the name), and the gameplay attracted widespread ire from video game critics. Ubisoft's highly-publicized flop seemed to spell certain death for mature games on the Wii.

Eric Nofsinger, Chief Creative Officer at High Voltage

It is natural, then, that the gaming community jumped straight out of its seat when High Voltage Software announced almost a year ago today that they were developing a science fiction first-person shooter along the lines of Perfect Dark or Halo. The game, called The Conduit, had no publisher when it was announced. This bizarre decision was made in order to give the developers (who self-funded the venture) complete creative control, so that they could make a Wii game "that we ourselves wanted to play," according to High Voltage's Chief Creative Officer Eric Nofsinger, who I spoke with at the New York Comic Con this February.

Mr. Nofsinger animatedly explained his team's creation, to the extent that sometimes it was possible to forget that I was talking to a developer and not a fellow gamer. When asked about the stigma against mature games on the Wii, he spoke with an optimism that I have heard only sparingly since the launch of the console. "The Wii deserves it," he said quite bluntly. "[The Wii] is a powerful enough system in order to make compelling content, but more importantly, it's a really unique input peripheral, and provides you a type of gameplay that you can't do on the 360 or PS3."

Months ago, fans began to fret over The Conduit, worrying about when it would get a publisher, and who that publisher would be. Mr. Nofsinger described the unusual process of development-sans-publisher as "scary as hell. We believed really strongly in what we were trying to do," said the designer. "We put our money where our mouth was." In November of 2009, High Voltage reached a publishing agreement with SEGA, and The Conduit finally had a home amid the publisher's growing libary of "hardcore" Wii games.


These included MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill, which were both on display beside The Conduit at the New York Comic Con 2009. Overkill built on the existing House of the Dead arcade franchises in an attempt to bring light gun zombie action to the Wii. MadWorld, on the other hand, was to be an outrageous, cel-shaded action game about a man trapped in a twisted game show and forced to kill his opponents in order to survive, in a game that is equal parts The Running Man and Sin City.

Nofsinger seemed very happy with High Voltage's publishing partner, telling me that even after the publishing agreement had been made, SEGA "let us continue to do our thing." And naturally, he thought that SEGA had just the right environment for an aspiring hardcore game on the Wii. "I don't see a lot of third parties really pushing the system outside of SEGA," said Mr. Nofsinger. "SEGA's doing some really cool stuff, and I'm really proud to be a part of that."

The alien attackers of The Conduit

But can a game like The Conduit succeed on a system in which most hardcores seem to have lost all hope? When even the gaming press has largely given up on the console (well, not everybody), it's hard to argue that "core" gamers are still flocking to the Wii (or even turning them on).

Mr. Nofsinger hopes that The Conduit will solve this problem by relying on the philosophy of a game made by gamers, with input from gamers. "We realized that even within our own office, there were a lot of opinions about what a good Wii first person shooter could be. So we reached out to a lot of the fan community, the Nintendo fans, and the media, and we got a lot of opinions," said Nofsinger. "What we landed on was [that] there was no one right answer, so we opted for a great deal of customization." That all-inclusive development style is a break from the practices of most third-party Wii developers, and it shows High Voltage's acute understanding of how important its game will be. The Conduit, MadWorld, and House of the Dead are all referendums on the demand for mature gaming on the Wii. Their rise or fall will ultimately determine if there is truly a viable market for games on the Wii that break outside of the casual.

House of the Dead: Overkill

House of the Dead and MadWorld have received some great press desite a lack of promising financial performance. SEGA said that the former has "absolutely met our expectations" and described the sales of the latter as "very encouraging," but the numbers tell a different story. Both games have performed significantly under par, with each taking only a middling or low position on the top 50 charts for its respective release month, then promptly dropping off the chart. It is not clear if SEGA's strategy will ultimately find success in the fickle world of game sales. Will The Conduit be the saving grace in SEGA's desperate pursuit of the "Exiled Hardcore"?

No one knows just yet. But one thing at least is clear: These aren't your grandma's Wii games anymore.

The Conduit hits stores in North America on June 23, 2009. MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill are currently available wherever video games are sold.

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Sakura Matsuri: harmony between anime and nature

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Trees and anime fans at the Cherry Blossom Festival

We realize that this is over a month late. We deeply apologize for the embarrassing lateness.

Anime convention personalities wandered between booths as OEL manga artists showed off their stuff. Uncle Yo performed a comedy routine while hordes of otaku watched, and many more lounged behind them in full cosplay. These unusual occurrences are standard fare for most anime convention-goers. What might have struck most of them as odd, however, was the venue – not a massive indoor convention center, but a long, sunny stretch of grass in the center of the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

The Sakura Matsuri ("cherry blossom festival" in Japanese) has been a tradition of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens since 1982, when the festival was formed as a way of celebrating Japanese culture and showing off the cherry trees in the Gardens, of which there are now 220. The event has since evolved into a two-day spectacle of Japanese culture, ranging from samurai demonstrations to anime and J-pop to origami and art.

This year's festival featured an encouraging amount of pop culture. Granted, there were definitely many very interesting demonstrations of traditional Japanese art, theatre, and more, but there was also an entire field in the park dedicated to anime and manga. Uncle Yo performed on the Osborne Garden, the New York Anime Festival maintained a booth (helmed, of course, by Peter Tatara), and there were even some booths for Del Rey Manga, Abby Denson, and Misako Rocks. Later in the evening, the festival even featured performances from J-pop artists.

The Gardens were filled with all types, from old Japanese couples to local Brooklynites to teenage otaku. One group of the latter seemed to be really reaping the benefits of the Japanese "high culture" at the event, as the girls had attended Origami, and "Gypsy Rock" demonstrations in addition to the anime events, of which one girl thought there were far too few.

As that attendee pointed out, the Festival is nothing like going to a real anime con, where there are dealers everywhere and panels going on all day, but the Sakura Matsuri is a great time for anybody in the area who enjoys small conventions. Not only does the festival have some fun (if limited) pop culture activities, but it also has a plethora of other Japanese culture activities and a beautiful, beautiful venue.

I absolutely cannot stress that enough – the blooming flowers, lush, green trees (of many, many different varieties), and of course, incredible lines of cherry blossom trees are a feast to the senses that easily beat out the dank concrete and glass halls of a convention center. As long as you're not a stereotypical otaku who will burn in sunlight (I know there are some of you...), the beauty of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens merged with the pop culture fun of what amounts to a very small NYAF should be an absolute blast.

And for only $12 a day – half that for students – who could possibly pass up such a wonderful opportunity to witness nature and culture in perfect harmony?

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Impressions: Cowboy Bebop vol.1&2

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The cast of Cowboy Bebop

I'm finally watching Cowboy Bebop. I know, I know, it's been a long time coming, but I hadn't picked up the DVDs until a recent 50% off sale in the Best Buy anime department spurred me to grab the classic late-90's anime series. And so far, I love it.

The first two volumes serve primarily to introduce viewers to the characters and standard situations that will presumably define much of the rest of the series, which revolves around a crew of misfits and bounty hunters on the spaceship "Bebop." By the end of the second volume, there has been at least one episode devoted to each member of the Bebop's crew – laid-back bounty hunter Spike, his calm, collected partner Jet, beautiful thief Faye, crazy super-hacker girl Ed, and cyber-dog Ein.

What has astounded me so far about Bebop is that Keiko Nobumoto and Shinichiro Watanabe's screenplay does something that I so rarely see in anime: episodic storywriting. The medium is often defined by its linear storylines, but it can be truly refreshing when a show works fully-formed stand-alone episodes into that framework. That's not to say that Bebop is nonlinear – it is certainly building toward something, but each little half-hour vignette also has its own set of characters whose (extremely well-crafted) interactions lead to a satisfying conclusion that stands independent from the central story.

The animation (part cel, part digital) looks incredible for its time, except for a couple moments on the second disc when it looks like some people in both the art and animation departments took a nap for the day. These few scenes are missing shading or lighting, show specks in the cels (characteristic of earlier eras of anime), or have choppy cel transitions, but then again, these are the exceptions to the rule.

Stop by Ani-Gamers again soon for my next four articles, in which I will briefly chronicle my disc-by-disc journey through this classic anime series.

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Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2009

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Or click here for the Photo Gallery
AnimeNEXT 2009
June 12-14, 2009
Garden State Exhibit Center
Somerset, NJ, USA

There is little to say about AnimeNEXT for those who have never attended the New Jersey convention. That's not because there was nothing to do; in fact, quite the opposite. The reason is that AnimeNEXT is a fan-run convention that feels less like an organized series of events, and more like a giant, three-day party. It's an experience like no other.

Those who have attended previous AnimeNEXT conventions will know the crowds sprayed across the grass, taking cosplay photos and fighting with their newly-bought wooden swords. The panels, run by an ever growing crowd of intelligent and funny panelists both young and old from around the tri-state area, will also be familiar. Then there is also the huge concrete convention center, filled with cosplayers in its massive open area.

The difference is that the lawn, the convention center, and the panel rooms were all new this year, a change that came with the convention's move from the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus to the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset. The move brought the AnimeNEXT about 45 minutes southwest of its previous location, which posed a significant problem for New York-based convention-goers. Driving to the con was impractical, and public transportation could only get one as far as the New Brunswick train station (though AnimeNEXT kindly provided a shuttle bus between the train station and convention center in the absence of taxis). For lucky folks like myself who live in the suburbs of New Jersey, the drive was relatively short and painless, clocking in at around a half hour in my case.

Prior engagements unfortunately got in the way of me attending the convention on its most densely-packed day, Saturday. But during Friday and Sunday, I did my best to get an accurate picture of this year's three-day-long anime party. First on my list were the panels, which never fail to impress at this convention. Friday night featured a string of panels run by Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price, who I praised for their wonderful presentation at AnimeNEXT 2008. This year, they ran "Anime Princesses Rule, Disney Princesses Drool," a new panel revolving around the idea of powerful, political female royaly in anime versus flowery, helpless female royalty in American cartoons. I didn't catch very much of the other two late-night panels, but they were "My Stereotypes Are More Offensive Than Yours" (a new one about differences in cultural stereotypes) and the three panelists' old classic, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes" (a clip show).

Voice actor Kyle Hebert and his co-host Marc Swint showed up at the con for a live episode of The Big Bald Broadcast, and even invited voice actors Bill Rogers and Michele Knotz to join in on the show. While I wasn't able to attend most of the events, I know that Kyle, Bill, and Michele ran tons of events throughout the weekend, from storytime for kids to Gravitation open discussions. (Wanna hear more about Kyle Hebert? Check out his appearances on Ani-Gamers Podcast episodes #006 and #015!)

Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions

One of the most surprisingly enjoyable panels at the con was something called "Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions." Run by the "IchiP!" anime dance troupe, I was quite honestly expecting a very silly, inconsequential discussion at the panel, considering the group hosting it. However, they really wowed me with some serious discussion of the way in which people view anime fans, and how those perceptions are at times correct and at times woefully misinformed. They opened the floor for questions and comments throughout the panel, which resulted in some very off-topic discussions as well as thoughtful commentary. The "IchiP!" girls definitely have some room to improve their concision and crowd control, but I can't say that I'm not looking forward to seeing their next panel.

The funny thing about AnimeNEXT, though, is that much of its charm comes exclusively from its attendees and panelists, who form a generally friendly and fun-loving group that is always a joy to be around. As such, this year's convention was still lots of fun despite being even more dreadfully disorganized than the year before. The location, as mentioned before, made public transportation difficult, but the big problem was in scheduling. Most panels that I attended were moved to new times and/or locations, which cut down panel attendance significantly. (The blogging panel, for example, was attended almost exclusively by... fellow bloggers.) There were also some less significant panel scheduling problems, as Walter, Rob, and Brian pointed out when they noticed that their panels had been inexplicably given an 18+ rating. To the convention's credit, they published a sheet of last-minute scheduling corrections, but this noble attempt was made mostly useless with all of the new corrections being made mere hours before panels started.

Cosplayers on the lawn

As was the problem last year, there was no Guest of Honor for this year's AnimeNEXT, resulting in a decentralized feeling that left the convention with a list of main events that did not capture as much attention as it should have. Of course, it didn't help that the convention center was new and events were still scattered into various nearby buildings, further confusing convention-goers looking to check out all that AnimeNEXT had to offer.

Regardless of these defects, I continue to promote AnimeNEXT as a fun New Jersey convention, especially now for those living too far to make it to New York Anime Festival. It might not have been well organized, but there was "usually a lot of stuff to do," as one attendee remarked. If you can't make it to a bigger convention like New York Anime Festival or Otakon, AnimeNEXT is certainly a viable alternative for those in the area. It might not drag in the big guests of those cons, but what it has is heart. And that is something that money, organization, and reputation just can't buy.

Oh yeah, and finally, my highlight of the con...

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Impressions: Cowboy Bebop vol.3

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The cast of Cowboy Bebop (Ein, Ed, Spike, Jet, and Faye)

The fun continues as I delve further into the classic nineties anime series Cowboy Bebop. In volume 3, I began to notice something very fascinating about Bebop. Of course, it is clear to any first-time viewer that Yoko Kanno's distinctive music pays tribute to a wide variety of musical styles. One episode, titled "Asteroid Blues," will feature the bouncing beats of the blues, while another, titled "Heavy Metal Queen," will showcase rocking metal music. But what really makes Cowboy Bebop fascinating is that is extends this allegiance to a variety of styles, incorporating it into film-making genres as well.

The first episode on the disc, "Toys in the Attic," is pure horror-movie, with its sparse depictions of a mysterious creature that poisons the ship's crew members one by one, until Spike must face it alone. The next two episodes form a distinct arc revolving around the backstory of Spike and his longtime rival Vicious. In this story, titled "Jupiter Jazz," Kanno focuses her attention on the slow, contemplative sounds of jazz, while director Shinichiro Watanabe and writer Keiko Nobumoto create a film-noir narrative full of sin and suffering. Finally, episode fourteen, "Bohemian Rhapsody," imitates the over-the-top pastiche that is Queen's famous song. The kinetic music serves as a strange – but not altogether inappropriate – backdrop to the light-hearted crime drama that unfolds in the plot.

Cowboy Bebop is never formulaic because, despite its name, it is only occasionally about either cowboys or bebop music. Instead, the show blends different styles of music and film to create an entirely new experience in every episode. Such an approach remains groundbreaking to this very day – not just in anime, but in television production in general.

Stop by soon for my continuing analysis and opinions of Cowboy Bebop. I will publish one article for each DVD that I watch, followed by a review of the series as a whole, and possibly even a review of the movie. See you next time!

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Survival horror dissected at AnimeNEXT 2009

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Fatal Frame, a popular survival horror game

“Survival Horror: Expanded” was a panel at AnimeNEXT that explored all things that go bump in the night (...or day) in the videogame genre of, you guessed it, survival horror. If you’re not familiar with the genre, think of it as being trapped inside the horror movie that made you dread dangling a limb over your bedside as a child, question the inter-dimensionality of closets, and worry about the sounds of breathing coming from underneath your magically protective covers and all too soft underbelly of a mattress.

If there was any structure to the discussion, it was a frame concerning what elements are responsible for qualifying a video game as survival horror. Among the first things listed were “disgusting things” – the slimy, creepy, not-of-this-world walking nightmares we like to conjure up to scare little children into obedience. Zombies, ghouls, and demons were of top mention, but sometimes other genres of these creatures can be more effective, such as warped versions of humanity as showed in such recent games as Condemned, The Suffering, and Bioshock. The absurd and inconceivable/unfamiliar has always frightened the human species, and survival horror exploits that fact.

And since we’re talking video games, it seemed relevant to mention controls and camera systems (points of view). Any camera angle will make the gamer relate to the onscreen character, but as pointed out in the discussion, camera angles such as first- and third-person can have quite different effects. First makes the gamer the character. Your senses are tuned into theirs for the duration of the play, making you the one navigating the danger – having to believe in what you’re seeing in order to advance through level upon maddening level. With third-person, there can be a sense of disconnectedness or vertigo which may make it seem a little safer but, in actuality, results in an over-the-shoulder view that adds to the creepy experience via exclusion – not being able to see behind you.

That brings us to another element of the genre, the unexpected. Whether a survival horror game is based on/in this world (Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness, Left 4 Dead) or some other dimension/world/reality (DOOM, Dead Space), when the things that go bump in the night suddenly jump out into your path and become realized, it reaps a fright. This can be accomplished in many ways – jumpy/jerky movements, sudden light changes, things randomly falling down – and is most notably reinforced by the soundtrack.

While panel and guest favorite in this field was Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill), it must also be noted that whoever was responsible for the soundtrack to the Fatal Frame games must also be given honorable mention. The former is a master of dark, lamenting, foreboding themes that add a Romantic (scenery as representative of emotional state) element to the game, while the latter relies almost entirely upon ambience and lack of sound to convey the creepiness by forcing a sense of isolation and abandonment upon the gamer. Put into context, this differs greatly from typical American horror, where audio swells build anticipation, because Japanese horror slides the audio in subtly to cause surprise.

But a surprise is just a cheap thrill if the gamer doesn’t have a psychological attachment to the character. Thus the panel also focused on the difference between this genre’s characters’ stories and other games. As noted in such games as The Suffering, Eternal Sonata, and Scratches, the use of flashbacks, story line distortions, and issues of perception trick the player into a sense of increased attention due to vested interest. This investment lends well to another element of the genre, the nature of fighting.

When playing survival horror, one generally assumes the role of a character who is often ill-adept to handle the situation or, at the very least, finds himself/herself having to cope with an extraordinary situation. Thus the psychological element of the game makes the gamer not only fight to stay alive but also to find out how a story came about, if he/she is guilty or innocent, if normalcy can ever be returned. And this is all done by getting involved in the character’s psychological trauma through battles both internal and external.

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Otakon 09: Manga, Literacy & Children

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Some of Erin Ptah's art for the Create A Comic Project

Though it started a little late due to Light Rail issues, this panel proved wonderful to anyone who’s ever noticed that a frighteningly large percent of high-school students can’t read something as simple as Dr. Seuss. Even the panelists were surprised to see people there, ready to absorb whatever it was the discussion would entail. What that was turned out to be the details behind a couple of projects, centered around manga, for the benefits of literacy (for children as well as others).

The panel was comprised of John Baird, Erin Ptah , and Kate (Kitty) Hawk. Respectively, the first two work on the Create A Comic Project, while the latter works on Learn to Draw Manga program.

Create A Comic is the brain-child of Baird, who concocted a new means of practicing language by using English inside a visual medium. Predominately used for Elementary Education and English as a Second Language students, the program (at its barest of bones) requires students to fill in the word bubbles of comics that have had their original text erased. In reality, though, the project is much more.

It was originally implemented in 2005 by Baird while teaching English in Taiwan, where he integrated comics with vocabulary lessons. He then brought the program home to Yale, where he reached out to children in the nearby urban community. Through originally contributed artwork as well as artwork licensed from other artists, Baird and his loyal team focus learning on free-form associative writing, which helps students retain the knowledge imbued by their experiences within the project via expansion of application.

Experiments/instructions have been performed with as little as 5 and as many as 200 kids at a time, ranging from age 6 and up. While most effective on students from 10-12 years old, the program offers benefits to participants of every age (and possibly degree of mental health). The most difficult group, however, tends to be teenagers, for reasons of internal hormone rage and a sense of distance with regard to maturity from the material. Children aged 6-8 can reap the benefits as a class discussion/language exercise, while children aged 8-10 will evolve in accuracy and grammar but with what will usually be very simplistic sentences.

No matter the age range, the left-to-right vs. right-to-left issue is generally inconsequential; most kids pick up the flow of the story/panels with little deviation. Even when purposefully misled, the children (and teacher) still find value in reading their stories backwards. Interestingly noted by Baird: if Create A Comic was implemented as one of the recommended 15 minute writing exercises at the beginning of each scholastic year, it could possibly prove to be just as much a leveling device as other programs when it comes to bridging the gap between the writing skills of minorities and Caucasians.

Although young, the Create A Comic project already has proven success stories. At least 2 of its disciples have created Web-comics of their own and landed interviews with Nick (Nickelodeon) News. The website offers templates (with and without blank bubbles, but always age-appropriate) for download and free distribution under a creative license designed for educational use to encourage more students to do the same. And if you, reader, decide to use any of the material or techniques involved in this program, be sure to drop Mr. Baird a line and include your thanks as well as a copy of the results yielded from the experience. The man’s on a mission of promoting literacy. And judging from what goes on in some classrooms today, we need all the techniques and help we can get to make sure future generations can continue to enjoy all life has to offer.

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