Welcome back to another exciting week of games and anime. But since you’re reading this column, it means that the week is almost half way over, and the weekend is just around the bend. I’m back yet again to piss off anime and RPG haters with my unique spin on the world of games and Japanese culture. I may make mistakes and I may be a jackass, but by God, I have a lot of fun doing it.
To take a page out of Scott Keith’s book (figuratively, not literally”¦I don’t have his actual book), I’m going to put up a soundtrack for this report. I may or may not do this every week, but it will be relevant, because I don’t really listen to any non-anime or game music anymore. This week, the soundtrack is the first .hack//SIGN OST. It comes with the Limited Edition box that is disappearing quickly. So if you don’t have this yet, get it. It’s a box to hold the entire series (six discs), the first disc of the series, postcards, stickers, a grunty plushie, and of course, the OST. Every limited edition disc comes with a soundtrack, except the last, which comes with a box to hold all the soundtracks in. Bandai really got their shit together for this release, and they’re giving the same treatment to upcoming releases of Please Teacher (aka Onegai Teacher) and sCRYed. Damn you Bandai, for taking all my money! Anyway, I highly recommend this soundtrack, even if you don’t get the box, just because it’s that damn good. It’s by Yuki Kajiura, the same brilliant mind who did the soundtrack of Noir, which is currently my favorite series. It’s very good stuff.
Now, why don’t we get started on the reason you’re here, because I’m sure it’s not because you want to read me blather. So on to the news.
I must be the news black hole or something, because ever since I arrived at the 411, the news weeks have been very slow. With the exception of the Capcom story, nothing big has happened, so I’ll pick out some decently interesting stuff. Oh, and all this news comes from the awesome Magic Box
Tales of Symphonia Unveiled
Namco has released some details on Tales of Symphonia, its next RPG. I mentioned it last week when talking about the new Namco Tales Studio. Based on the rather poor screenshots, it appears to be cel shaded, but that could just be the dialogue screens. The story is of a boy named Lloyd and his friend Collet. Apparently, the world is in danger, but if Collet sacrifices herself, the world will be saved, but Lloyd doesn’t like that idea and wants to save the world without losing Collet.
The graphics look very good, and if it is cel shaded, it’s used in a fitting manner. The previous Tales games have had a distinct anime style, and they have even spawned an anime series in Japan, so in this case, cel shading wouldn’t be such a bad graphical style.
Cel Shaded Baseball Game?!
But here is a game where I’m not so sure about cel shading. Gekitou Baseball, by Sega, will be a unique game featuring a combination of cel shaded characters and regular 3D characters. Based on a Japanese manga with the same name, the manga’s characters will all appear cel shaded, while there are some 300 Japanese baseball players who will be rendered using a standard 3D engine. I have a feeling Sega is just trying something new here, like they did with Jet Set Radio, which sparked the whole cel shading phenomenon (or debacle, depending on how you look at it). While I have more faith in Sega than other companies who do cel shading just for the hell of it, like Capcom (BOF: Dragon Quarter, Auto Modellista) and Ubi-Soft (XIII, the cel shaded FPS), I still have to question where they are taking this. Is it a story-based game based on a manga license? Or is it a baseball simulation game? If it’s both, I have to wonder, what’s the point? Maybe it’s because I don’t like baseball games, but I don’t think this game will be all that great.
Lucas Arts Announces Jedi Knight 3
Titled Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, you play a Jedi in training. Based on the information so far, this could easily be the coolest Jedi Knight game released. Unlike the previous Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games, you play a character of your own design. You can choose their gender, race, skin color, etc, almost as if it were an MMORPG. And on top of that, you start out by building your lightsaber. I just hope there are more colors that blue, green, red, and maybe purple. I could go for an orange lightsaber myself. And something that’s even cooler is that during the course of the game, you will likely have the ability to use a dual-bladed lightsaber, or even wield 2 lightsabers. How cool is that?! Erm, sorry. I’m an old Star Wars mark, so please forgive me. Anyway, this one is expected to be released in the fall of this year for the Xbox and PC.
Sega’s Online Racing Game
Sega has announced plans to release Sega GT Online for Xbox Live. It’s going to have over 160 cars, some new, some old. Now this is cool and all, but I haven’t ever truly enjoyed a racing game that doesn’t have the words “Gran”Â and “Turismo”Â in there somewhere, but that’s just me. But hey, I’ve heard Polyphony is working on a GT Online, so that’s all good with me. They need to put in more cars though. AND BRING BACK RACING MODS!!! That was my favorite part about the game, saving up tons of dough and racing modding your car to get the new spiffy paint job and stuff.
New Game Releases
* Ship Date – 4/7-8/03
Barbarian (Xbox), Midnight Club II (PS2), Splinter Cell (PS2), Final Fantasy Origins (PS1), Inu-Yasha (PS1), Burnout 2 (GC)
Midnight Club II is one of those NON-GTA Rockstar games, so it probably either won’t be any good or will be under hyped. It’s a racing game, as is Burnout 2. Splinter Cell for PC and Xbox is really cool, but I doubt they’ll be able to get those graphics out of a PS2. Final Fantasy Origins is FF1 and 2 redesigned, so it’s a must buy, and Inu-Yasha is a fighting game based on the anime of the same name. Two cool PS1 games for the price of one shitty next gen game sounds good to me. Barbarian had an ad that was both funny and retarded at the same time, but I have no desire to play the game.
Props to my Homies! (aka Plugs)
The venerable Alex Lucard’s Retrograding is the second part of his series on the Shining Force games. If there were any reason for me to go out and buy a Genesis/Sega CD, this would be it. And that’s saying a lot considering I used to be a Sega hater! Sorry for missing this last week, Alex.
The irreverent Joseph Stanley’s Weekend Wipe-up is always a good read. This week, he talks about the PS3 (I’m all for blue ray DVDs, but I hope it is adopted earlier than some technologies, and if it is truly 100% backwards compatible, it will be wonderful) and Nintendo going down (I’m sorry, but Capcom hasn’t put out that great of stuff recently, so they can hardly blame Nintendo for their shit not selling well).
The fantastic Ron Yip’s SimColumn News Report also mentions the Capcom thing, as well as American Idol and Smackdown 5.
The adjectiveless Bebito Jackson’s Rumor Down-Lo is great as always. Uncle Bebito tells the funniest damn story I’ve ever read, so you better read it to! Oh, and he likes to play with his monkeys balls, the sick bastard. He also mentions Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness getting pushed back again. It reminds me of another game that has been in production for a while. It’s called Duke Nukem Forever. I think it was started about the same time that Daikatana was, and that’s f*cking sad. If it’s not the greatest game of all time when it’s released, 3D Realms should be destroyed. Oh, and we’ll be sorry to see you go Bebito. Hopefully you come back before too long.
Finishing out the week as always is the reputable Bryan Berg and the hard working Chris Pankonin, so read them too. And thanks for the Silver, Bryan!
And with Bebito leaving, a big guy over on the wrestling side returns. Yes, the one, the only, the douchebag! You know him, right? Do I have to f*ckin spell it out to you? Go read the post yourself.
The big release for this week was Def Jam Vendetta, covered by Ron Yip for the GameCube and Jeremy Peeples for the PS2. I’ll admit, this game sounds pretty cool, and will probably turn out to be the best wrestling game that doesn’t have wrestlers in it.
Matthew Cress also reviews Dynasty Warriors 4 for the PS2, so check it out if you’re into that type of game.
New Anime Releases
* Release Date – 4/8/03
Excel Saga Vol. #6, Hellsing Box Set, Noir Vol. #2, Sugar Vol. #1 (w/ artbox)
With the release of the last disc of Excel, I will have completed another series! Well, there is Puni Puni Poemi, which is a spin-off, but it doesn’t count. The last episode of Excel is supposed to be even more crazy than any others, and one of the guys from ADV has stated that it’s “just wrong”Â. Read my mini-review of Excel Saga below. If you missed Hellsing before, get the box set. It’s worth it, but if you already have the series, this is the same thing. Same box, same discs. Noir is my favorite series, as I said above, so this one is a no-brainer for me. And I mentioned Sugar last week when I was talking about KAWAIIIIIIIIIIII. Sugar fits the bill, and it’ll be on my shelf soon. Now, if only Di Gi Charat, Pita Ten and Sister Princess would be released here.
Mini Anime Reviews
This week is reader request week for the mini-reviews. A really nice guy sent a letter requesting reviews of a few shows. He primarily mentioned reviewing Excel Saga, which I was actually going to do last week, but I was lazy. He also wanted to see reviews of stand-alone movies like Jin-Roh and Akira. I haven’t seen Akira in a loooooooooooong time, so I’ll review Jin-Roh this time. He was also wondering about older stuff like Project A-KO and Astro Boy. Well, to be honest, I don’t really watch much older stuff. I’ve gotten hooked on new stuff, so I have to keep up with those series, but if anyone wants to send me some older stuff (hint hint), I’ll gladly watch it and review it. I’ll only accept legit region 1 releases, and only on DVD since I don’t own a working VCR.
The full name is actually Quack Experimental Anime Excel Saga, but it’s NEVER referred to as such, even though that is an extremely appropriate title. To sum up the series, well, it’s really f*cked up. No, seriously. Imagine some anime writers getting together, smoking a big bowl of weed, taking a hit off a crack pipe, doing a little ecstasy, and topping it off with a kegger, then you’ll understand how messed up this show is.
The plot is simple, because basically there is no plot. Well, I guess that’s incorrect. The story is about Excel Excel (Excel for short), who is a member of the secret ideological organization ACROSS, who is commanded by Lord Ilpallazo, and her attempts at helping ACROSS achieve world domination. Since the world is a large place, they decide to start by taking over the city they are located in, which is the City of F, with in the Prefecture of F. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s meet the characters. First, is Excel of course, who is deeply in love with Ilpallazo, and likes to talk very fast and blabber nonsense, which causes her love (who doesn’t love her of course) to drop her into a pit several times every episode. Then there is the second member, Hyatt, who is a very sickly person and usually dies every episode. She comes back after an hour or so though. In the first episode, Excel dies several times, but is brought back by the Great Will of the Macrocosm. Excel starts off doing construction on a building with a guy named Pedro, but she screws up (as usual) and the building catches fire, killing Pedro. The Great Will feels bad and keeps him alive as a ghost, which sets up the main side story of the show. And after that little event, Excel gets hungry, so she “adopts”Â a stray dog and names it Menchi, which means mincemeat. No, she doesn’t eat the dog; she saves it as an emergency food supply. There’s so much stuff that goes on that I can’t cover all of it.
Every episode is basically a spoof of another genre of anime or shows, like one episode is based off of sports drama shows like Princess Nine, and another show is based off of dating sims like Tokimeki Memorial. There’s even a show that spoofs live action shows like Power Rangers. As if it wasn’t f*cked up enough, the director of the show, Shinichi Watanabe, is in the show himself, as a character called Nabeshin. The character wears a goofy suit and has a big afro that he likes to pull guns out of. Sadly, the director LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE THIS. He even voices the character on the Japanese track. Scary.
The title is so uproariously funny that I can’t explain most of what happens. This is really a “gotta see it to believe”Â show, and I can’t recommend it enough. The voice acting is top notch, as is to be expected from ADV’s Industrial Smoke and Mirrors. Sadly, the original VA for Excel had to leave the show after the second disc because she lost her voice due to the craziness of the character. Her replacement fit in well though, and you can hardly tell a difference. One of the best things about the show is an extra called ADVidnotes, which is like popup video. The show uses a lot of obscure cultural references, and the vidnotes explain what they mean. Plus they show you little things that you may have missed, as well as showing references to other anime that the producers have thrown in. Overall, this is a great show, but is primarily for adults. There is a fair amount of foul language scattered throughout the series, and the last episode is supposedly filled with fan service (in this case, actual nudity). I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t be sure. But this is definitely the weirdest and funniest show I’ve ever seen.
This is a story about a man in a group of elite soldiers called the Wolf Brigade. Set in an alternate Japan where mob mentality and domestic terrorism run rampant, the Wolf Brigade is a force designed so quell rioting before it gets out of hand. The main character is named Kazuki Fuse, and after he gets cold feet and cannot kill a young girl who has a bomb, he begins to question himself and what he’s doing. That is basically the premise of the entire movie.
The story is an interesting one, but the pace is a little slow for my liking. In addition, the story is very confusing, and there’s a twist at the end that makes it even more so. There is quite a bit of political intrigue going on, and if it were a 13 episode series, then maybe it could have been paced better and be more understandable to my puny little brain. The animation on the show is brilliant, and I had no qualms with the voice acting. Many of the VAs are in shows such as Inu-Yasha, Escaflowne and Gundam, so they’ve got experience, but they aren’t as good in my opinion as some other studios. The show has a lot of violence, so it’s not for everybody, but it comes in at under two hours, so it’s not a big time investment. I’d recommend checking it out at least. It was one of Bandai’s bigger movie releases, so you can probably find it at you local Blockbuster.
The Anime Enquirer: Bootlegging
This is more of a public service announcement than anything, so I’ll get right to it. One of the biggest problems in the anime industry today is bootlegging. With the advent of the Internet, and technology making it easier to duplicate any medium, bootlegging has grown tremendously. I’m sure most people have heard about how some Asian countries have people on the street selling copies of movies that had just hit the big screen for as low as $1 American. This was especially true with Spiderman and Star Wars: Episode 2. The governments of those countries make token efforts of eliminating the bootlegging operations, but they don’t try very hard. Little kids have street shops selling the DVDs, and even if they are taken away and their merchandise confiscated, they are back the next day with more, simply because so much of it is produced, and the officials are either easily bribed or just don’t care about it.
The same has been happening with anime, but it’s more of a problem online than anywhere. So this is a report to tell you, the consumer, about the problem and how to avoid getting screwed by a bootlegger.
First of all, many people will say that bootlegs are better than buying a legitimate product, since it’s cheaper. Well, you get what you pay for, because 99% of the time, the bootleg is a vastly inferior product. Most bootlegs come out of China or Taiwan, and are subbed in English, but there is no dub and the sub that is there is usually a very poor translation (ie, in Engrish rather than English). In addition, the quality is poor because a lot of times, they compress the video to make it fit onto less DVDs. Whenever they can cut a corner, they will. And sometimes, you don’t even get DVDs, you get the lower quality VCDs, so you see, it’s not cheaper in the long run.
Secondly, a lot of bootlegs are just copies of shows that have been fansubbed (see last weeks report for more info on that). Fans of shows will subtitle the show and distribute it for free just so more people can see the show. They do this honorably, and stop distribution once the show has been licensed in the States. But when a bootlegger goes and takes this hard work and sells it for a nice profit.
Lastly, what can you do to make sure a bootlegger doesn’t screw you? Well, one of the worst places to look for anime is on eBay, because they apparently don’t care if someone sells bootlegs there or not. If it were American movies, the RIAA would be all over them, but since it’s Japanese animation, they don’t care. There are a few things that should make warning lights go off:
1) Chinese subtitles – yes, some shows may have Chinese/English subtitles, but the majority don’t, and usually point to a bootleg copy of a Chinese release. These will also not have any English Dub.
2) Region Free – No official release is region free. They will either be Region 1 (USA) or Region 2 (Japan, UK). Region 0 would have been printed that way to begin with, and no reputable company does that.
3) Number of Discs – If there is an extremely high episode to disc ratio (like 26 episodes on 3 discs) then it’s too good to be true. The most episodes I’ve seen on one disc is 7, and that was with no extras.
4) Price – If the price is too good to be true also, then it is. It is not uncommon for a show with 26 episodes to be under $50 if it’s a bootleg. Usually a show of that length will sell for at least $100.
Well, that should give you some ideas of what to look out for on the web. Keep in mind that these rules are not 100%, but I haven’t seen any release that fits all that criteria be anything other than a bootleg. As for sites other than eBay, just make sure it’s a reputable site. A good place to check is the forums on AnimeonDVD.com. They’ve got a retail section, and people will commonly ask if a site is legit or not. So please, do the anime industry a favor and don’t by bootlegs. Everytime you buy a bootleg, God kills a kitten.
Oh, and if anyone thinks I’m being holier than thou, then consider it this way. The RIAA is cracking down on people who just download MP3s, of which damn near everybody has done anyway. But wouldn’t they be justified if you took those mp3s, burned a CD with them, mass produced that CD and sold it for like $5? It’s the same thing here. Or for an even better analogy, it’s like someone ripped those mp3s and then charged you to download them, except they are really shitty quality. Now wouldn’t that suck?
Well, it’s been another fun week, as always. I’m getting more comfortable at what I’m doing, so I’m able to go through this quicker. Just as a comparison, it took me about 8 hours to do my first report, but this one came in under 4 hours, and each week is getting quicker, but don’t worry. I have no intentions of slacking off on quality. As always, thanks for reading, and write me if you like more OR if you hate me. I’ll always respond.