I spent last weekend at Otakon 2017, which moved to Washington DC this year after it outgrew the convention center in Baltimore. Below are the pictures I took of some neat cosplay and some other cool things I saw and did there. Continue reading
For the last few months I’ve been watching a ton of Mobile Suit Gundam anime, and I think I’ve reached a point where I can at least put down a small collection of tips for anyone else thinking about getting into it or just taking a glance at it.
Mainly I’ve been watching different parts of the “Universal Century” Gundam shows, which if you don’t know form the main timeline around which the franchise was originally started. There are other shows taking place in their own continuities. I think this guide from Anime News Network is a good glance at the entire franchise, but it’s slightly outdated since a few more UC properties have come out since it was published, and I want to go over those a little bit. Continue reading
If there’s one theme I noticed from what I saw at Otakon 2016 this past weekend, it was trying to revive the way anime was during the 80’s and 90’s. I obviously didn’t see everything at the convention, but the panels and screenings I did attend at least signal some concerted effort in the anime industry to revive something that has been lost. Continue reading
Recent events have not been great for fans of certain Japanese entertainment. If you want to understand these trends in video games, anime, and other industries, there’s a blog post from a few years ago I’m pretty much just writing this post to bring attention to.
We have Konami seemingly almost abandoning traditional console game development, one of the worst weeks for traditional video games in Japan’s history, and now the Neon Genesis Evangelion creator predicting the fall of anime within a decade. Konami’s turn in particular has been a major milestone in a trend we’ve been seeing for years now of Japanese games turning away from the traditional games the dedicated fans like and towards the mobile games they hate. Then you’ve got many anime and Japanese games following art and narrative trends like “moe” that look increasingly creepy to a lot of people.
Néojaponisme chief editor and Tokyo-based writer W. David Marx did a massive five-part blog post in 2011 that does a great job explaining the whole thing. I linked it in a bullets section before but I really think it’s required reading for anyone miffed at the turn Japanese pop culture has taken in recent years, so I’m bringing more attention to it here. Continue reading
Back in 2012 I took one of my occasional asides into anime territory just to talk about all the anime that was coming to DVD and Blu-Ray that fall and winter. It’s kind of happening again this year. Among this year’s deluge are a few notable releases I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. What’s even better is that, for the most part, they’re all being released at very reasonable prices. Continue reading
I’ll admit I haven’t been watching a massive amount of anime this year, or really for the past couple years. Trends in the medium have been polarizing as of late and the industry has sustained some shockwaves over the past few years. That said, what I saw at Otakon this year was an affirmation that anime in general is not only healthy but probably moving in a good direction.
I don’t haves serious stats or anything, but the first thing I can tell you is the anime fandom I see is definitely growing. Maybe it’s re-growing from the contraction the western Anime industry faced around the mid 2000’s. Either way, Otakon is growing. Going this year, I can definitely see why the convention is moving to from Baltimore to DC in 2017. They said Baltimore’s Convention Center is getting too small — they already had to limit registrations this year, and that still wasn’t enough to clamp down on congestion. They may as well have called it “Linecon 2014.” We’re talking multiple-hour waits to get in if you pre-registered (which is supposed to be advantageous), then going into those lines again the next day because the convention’s computer system crashed and they couldn’t get everybody in the first night, then more lines for places like the dealer’s room, and lines that get cut off for a lot of the convention’s popular events, many of which they had to hold twice. I’d at least like to think that signals growth after what’s been happening to the industry lately.
The “moe” and “fanservice” pandering that’s turned a lot of people off to anime (and a lot of Japanese games) recently is, ironically, a response to that market contraction — the industry deliberately laser-targeting the most hardcore fans in Japan. I’ve talked here more than once about how hard you have to look nowadays to find anime that might be slightly more palpable to mainstream audiences (again, ironic). Come to think of it, the few anime I have been watching in 2014 so far have basically been the “main” popular shows of the moment like Attack on Titan or Kill La Kill. The biggest reason I haven’t been watching a ton of anime recently though is probably money. There are a lot of anime Blu-Rays I’d like to buy, and more coming, including Cowboy Bebop which Funimation announced at the con. To be honest distribution, of anime is getting a lot better with season sets, Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs, digital, and streaming. Titan and Kill La Kill are even already on Netflix along with Sword Art Online. I guess manga is getting there. Streaming site Crunchyroll held a short panel on the future of its manga initiative. That along with digital Shonen Jump is at least something, after pirate scanlations have been tearing things up. I personally would like the manga industry go in a direction more similar to how Image comics went DRM-free, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
One sector of anime in which I am having increased interest is fan parodies. This has been a thing at least since AMV Hell’s bite-sized parody videos began several years ago, but went into overdrive when stuff like Dragon Ball Z Abridged showed up. One of my top reasons for even going to Otakon is to see these parodies. There are now whole panels featuring the people who make them. I think part of the reason they took off is because they seem relatively easy to make. The way anime is produced makes it easy for fans to manipulate the footage in a way that doesn’t look completely different from the official material. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the stuff eventually became a significant chunk of my anime consumption.
Other than being crowded the convention as a whole was great this year. Some nice announcements came out of the panels, and this was probably even one of the more impressive years in terms of cosplay. In the video game section I was sad to see Soul Calibur get pushed back to a small area as opposed to the massive centrally-placed screens which Street Fighter IV has dominated for like six years. It was nice to see the Japanese version of Under Night In-Birth though. Lastly, this was the first year I didn’t walk away from the dealer’s room with some manga or obscure NES games. The selection was still great though.
Enjoy the some of the photos I took (click on them):
I was gonna blog about something else today — probably something decidedly American, but Steam blindsided me and finally decided to put one of my favorite lesser-known multiplayer shooters up for download. That game is NeoTokyo, something with a much more Japanese flavor.
Basically, this Source engine mod is Counter-Strike (or maybe Insurgency) meets Ghost in the Shell. It’s a very similar brand of round-based tactical shooter gameplay but with a heavy cyberpunk theme. It employs high lethality with no respawns (along with things like lean and ironsights) and is class-based. The game started out with a few maps back in 2009 but last year developer Studio Radi-8 upped the number to around 16.
Since its original release NeoTokyo has been free for owners of pretty much any of the Half-Life 2 games. I think it switched over to the standalone 2013 SDK base last year though so it might be totally free now. Problem is, the game’s servers have been dead for months. Ever since I saw the game show up on Greenlight I’ve hoped it would make it to the actual list of Steam games so it could get some real exposure.
Gameplay-wise the two main cyberpunk elements are the temporary stealth cloak which most players get, and the game’s main mode — capture the cyber brain. It’s pretty much capture the flag except the player who grabs the cyber brain can see everyone’s locations through walls in real time and is expected to relay that information to teammates. I’ve seen that completely change the pace of a battle.
Because of the high lethality and lack of respawns, people playing NeoTokyo pretty much automatically try to behave much more tactfully than they might in Call of Duty (it might just be people transplanting their CS skills). Also, rounds can very quickly turn into essentially team deathmatch since eliminating the opposing team also nets a win. This happens very often in games of 2-on-2 or less. Let me tell you, that’s been some of the most tense TDM I’ve experienced.
NeoTokyo’s classes are Recon, Assault, and Support, ranking in that order in progression from mobility to strength. Recon players get a long cloak, unlimited sprint, and night vision. Assault players get better armor and motion vision. Support players get the most armor and thermal vision, but no cloak. The game also employs an escalation system with its weapons.
There are some other interesting bits about the way this game plays. For instance, manually reloading before a clip is spent will actually throw away the remaining rounds in that clip. The game also advises players to consider surrounding lighting and surfaces when using the stealth cloak.
The biggest cyberpunk element of NeoTokyo is of course it’s art direction and overall theme. One of the best parts about the game is its soundtrack (iTunes link) which oddly almost never appears in the game at all. Part of the reason the game is free is probably because its maps are littered with licensed Japanese imagery like posters of anime and Japanese adult models. You’d think it would come off as looking like just another otaku game but in my opinion it works, likely because the game lifts primarily off of GitS and Akira as opposed to today’s “kawai” anime.
Oddly, NeoTokyo has managed to remain one of my central multiplayer shooters over the last couple years whenever I could actually find anyone to play it with. It’s been more strangely addicting to me than most AAA multiplayer games. I just hope the official Steam release resuscitates the servers.
Yeah this is a gaming blog and all but I like to take time to bring attention to things I think are under the radar, on occasion they may be things not actually related to gaming. I don’t think I’ve ever devoted any post here to comics, much less manga. I’m not a huge manga reader by any measure — I only read a handful, and one of them is Vinland Saga, which just hit shelves in North America with the official English version this week.
The first thing that caught me about this series is that it’s about Vikings — a historical setting that’s surprisingly under-utilized in non-fantasy storytelling. The second thing was a shot from the very first chapter depicting a bunch of dudes carrying a longboat across land in order to access a river to flank their enemy.
From my perspective it seems like taking an actual historical look at the Viking Age (roughly between the ninth and 11th centuries AD in Northern Europe) has become slightly popular between that History Channel series, Brian Wood’s (DMZ) Northlanders, and this manga. While Wood gave the setting a very gritty “HBO treatment,” Vinland gains a heap of colorful attention to detail from Makoto Yukimura, they guy behind Planetes.
If you haven’t read Planetes or seen the anime, it’s a true hard sci-fi series about late 21st century astronauts. Yukimura goes into deep detail about the structures behind how the astronauts work and the organizations they work under, and he does the same for early 11th century Northern Europe. The series crosses together the journeys of guys like Leif Ericsson and Cnut the Great with slightly fictionalized figures like Thorkell the Tall, starting with the backdrop of the 1013 Danish invasion of England.
The first part of this series — basically what this first book begins to cover, is pretty much devoted to showing readers how badass and absolutely vicious Vikings were. It’s here we see Yukimura juxtapose fight scenes that look slightly shounen-style with varying shades of morality on the part of the protagonist and the people around him. A lot of the series is about examining Viking morality and how insane it seems to our eyes.
In more recent chapters that probably won’t hit North American shelves for a while, Vinland has transitioned to inter-family politics and slavery in Denmark but looks like it’s starting to heat up again and enter some new territory. The name “Vinland Saga” refers to the actual Norse Vinland Sagas about how Vikings landed on North America (huh), so fans have speculated that’s where they’re going. I’m just happy to have found another serious historical manga after Blade of the Immortal ended. Maybe historical comics are a thing for me…
Anyway, if you want to read a comic that goes satisfyingly in-depth about a relatively unexplored setting with a good amount of action to boot, then Vinland Saga has been one of the more talked-about things in the manga world as of recent. It’s also one of the things I think non-manga readers might like a lot.
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