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When I was first asked to play Conception II I haven’t played an RPG in quite sometime. Going into this game I didn’t expect an extremely fantastic title or anything remotely interesting…mainly because I didn’t know anything about the title or series for that matter. Then I realized that the more of it I play the more intrigued I became. Then the experience became a little more jaded. While the game wasn’t bad it became slightly repetitive and more so cumbersome than anything.

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The game takes place in the World of Aterra where they worship the Star God where they prosper through the power of Star Energy. You are known as God’s Gift who trains at an academy for disciples which is a special group of people who are summoned to fight against monsters who come from Dusk Circles. As God’s Gift you and a collective of females perform a ritual for the church known as Classmating to generate Star Children. Why is this important? The Star Children assist you in combat along with you and a female partner and they all have a particular class and several set of set of skills.

Defense Pose Conception II

I’ve never been so confused and befuddled with confusion quite like I have been while playing the game. I’m not so much confused into the depth of the world as I am with why some of these things are especially necessary. For a lack of better words, classmating is essentially having sex to produce children who can fight. It is blatantly obvious considering the underlying tone of everyone and the way each girl presents themselves before and after it occurs. Doing it just makes you feel slightly more dirty. Even more so when you are forced into doing classMANting which while really funny is in a way kind of perverse.

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Engaging enemies is where the game gets even more unique. Once you encounter an enemy inside one of the games many labyrinth’s you are forced to choose between normal JRPG actions such as attack, skill and defense. The most interesting aspect is the combat system in which you choose the side to attack your foe. Every enemy has a weak side and the choice of each side benefits you during combat. My only main concern with the battle system is that you are given the option to guard and yet it does nothing. It states that you will take less damage but you still take just as much as if you weren’t defending. I have also noticed that for a JRPG it’s pretty easy. I have played much easier games but I never really felt as if I there was too much going on and the difficulty made matters worse.

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Graphically the game is rather impressive as it features fully animated anime style cut scenes and moves at a silky smooth 60 FPS. The in game engine isn’t bad as it looks more like an above average PlayStation 2 title with a few more bells and whistles. The thing I was more impressed with was the music and the character design. These two things were probably my main drive for playing this game as I was more intrigued just to see what the next monster would look like. To be quite honest the designers seem to draw heavily from the Persona series as the music and monsters seem as if they came straight from that source.

Overall the game is like “Goldie Locks and the Three Bears” as it doesn’t do anything overall really impressive nor does it do anything really bad. Although it’s themes may not be quite suitable for everyone it’s still interesting enough with it cool soundtrack and character design. The game may not be for everyone but I do feel as if it worth a play through for anyone who is itching for a new RPG to play for their Vita. It hits the mark at being just right.

 

By Isabel On 20 Feb, 2014 At 07:08 PM | Categorized As International News, ROG Fashion, ROG News, ROG Tech, Toys and Merchandise | With 0 Comments
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I recently learned about a new crowd funding project that I believe has been long overdue. A luggage made with cosplayers in mind. This project is led by Frentep, a Japanese company who make products to empower geeks. This latest endeavor is to mass produce luggage that make it easier for cosplayers in Japan to travel around with their costumes, as the social norms in Japan make it quite embarrassing to travel without your cosplay gear out. The luggage might be made with Japanese consumers in mind, but its features can be appreciated by any cosplayer, here are the product features.

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  • Detachable straps on the side of luggage allow for easy transportation of long objects that wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, like an umbrella or a sword. There are bags on the bottom of each side so objects don’t fall or scrape.

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  • Comes with a flat surface to turn the bag into an instant makeup stand.

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  • Thin enough to fit in crowded areas but if you need more space you can open zipper to get more space.
  • Easily accessible small pocket in front for business cards.
  • Waterproof, perfect for a wet umbrella.
  • Wheel stoppers.
  • Cover that acts as a partition between items you want to keep out of sight and pockets for essential items.

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The effort is being funded using MotionGallery, a Japanese crowdfunding site. Don’t let the language and distance barrier get you down, donations from all over the world are accepted! Only downside is oversea consumers who pledge enough money to have a reward mailed to them have to pay shipping and handling fees in addition to the donation, but if you want it badly enough it’s a small price to pay for the world’s first suitcase catered to the cosplay community. You can get the suitcase if you pledge roughly 15,000 ¥.

If you want to find out more about the project or even help by funding the project go to: https://motion-gallery.net/projects/coscase

By Charles On 19 Sep, 2013 At 07:05 PM | Categorized As Animation, Editorials, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments
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I made a remark earlier in the year that this has been one of the best years for anime in a while. While normally each successive anime season is a task of plodding through series after series in search of that one or two that will catch my attention long enough to sit a review for, this year I’ve actively had to limit what I’ve been watching, all in the name of time management. For the first time since the Summer of 2011, I’ve juggled four series simultaneously…and I’ve been loving it.

Back in the Spring, I attempted to do a full review of the 6 (!) shows I was actively viewing. Ultimately, three were dropped, and I never gave proper space to Gargantia. Summer 2013 started out much the same, with a full queue of shows: from the moe slice of life “Love Lab” to the distinctly shounen “Blood Lad,” the quirky “Uchouten Kazoku” and hilarious “Watamote.” Two of those shows there didn’t last beyond 4 weeks. The other two joined the still-amazing Attack on Titan in my weekly rotation.

tomokoMuch discussion has been made about “Watamote” in recent months, owing to the extremely self-referential nature of the show, its awareness of “a certain segment” of the populace, and it’s often brutal depiction of social anxiety. One Kotaku review went so far as to call it “the most mean spirited anime” he has ever watched, a criticism that definitely holds weight when the series is viewed by those unaware of the “otaku stereotype,” or those with particular sympathies for bullying. Over at Beneath The Tangles, Charles gave it a much more sympathetic look, but still highlighted some of the issues surrounding the utterly deluded Tomoko.

This reviewer still enjoys the show, despite those valid points. What creates Watamote’s appeal for the many who watch it is that same awareness- we can see a bit of ourselves in Tomoko (or people we might know and be friends with), and understand that the series is playing up a strong parody of those traits it espouses. Yes, I said parody, which is exactly what the series is. It’s not meant to be taken especially seriously. It is a look at some of the extreme views that are levied against “otaku,” cloaked in the trappings of a slice-of-life comedy. While the characterization of its “eccentric” lead (and eccentricity is a huge theme this season) borders on slander, the intent of the series is not to demonize or demoralize the behaviour, just to make apparent the activities, and point out some of the emotions behind it. Or at least that’s what I am getting from it.

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Fortunately, not all series this season take such a stance on eccentricity. Easily the breakout series of the summer, and one that would easily fly under the radar of the more general anime fan, Eccentric Family mixes a deep understanding of Japanese folkore with elements of the slice of life genre to create something refreshing, and unique among a season full of refreshing and unique takes on classic genres.

eccentric-family-bannerSet in modern-day Kyoto, the series revolves around the (mid)adventures of a young tanuki, Shimogamo Yasaburou. The middle child in a family of so-called “idiot blooded” yokai who spend most of their time in human form, he spends his days wandering the city, interacting with the cranky “professor” Akadama (a tengu who lost his ability to fly), helping his youngest brother deal with bullies, evading the machinations of rival tanuki clans, and crossing paths with the crafty human, Benten, who may or may not be trying to make him into a stew.

The generally humorous and lighthearted tone of the series is counterbalanced by a meta-plot involving the death of Yasaburou’s father years earlier, and discovering both how and why the great elder tanuki managed to get himself eaten. While visibly carefree in his day-to-day, Yasaburou is still shaken up by the loss of his father, which in turn causes him to poke his nose where it doesn’t belong, earning him the “wrath” of both his flamboyant mother, and straight-laced brother, who himself is trying to inherit the mantle of community leader their father once wore so proudly.

the-eccentric-family-1Eccentric Family succeeds admirably in telling their tale. Rather than being bogged down by unnecessary details on heady drama, the show balances the serious themes of love and loss alongside some of the truly crazy shenanigans the Shimogamo family perpetrates. From floating parlours to drunken tengu, the show moves along at an appropriate pace, giving the source material and heavy meta-plot equal attention throughout. Yasaburou himself is easily the most relatable member of his family, mixing in the trickster tendencies found in most tanuki legends with a healthy dose of ambiguity as the story progresses. Even when he’s being serious, you can see the twinkle in his eye and the mischief in his actions.

These become even more pronounced when he interacts with the mysterious Benten, a woman who presents a constant danger not only to the tanuki, but to Professor Akadama. While not a villain per se, the human woman woman (who is named after one of the powerful water-associated kami, Benzaiten) is as ruthless as any other, hiding her motivations while keeping her intentions plainly clear. She has a taste for tanuki, trickery and control, and she wields all three to perfection, even in the early episodes.

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Tanuki trash talk

At its core, Eccentric Family lives up to its moniker, however- its a show about family, and how they stick together during the hard times. Not unlike the latter seasons of the landmark 70s series “Good Times,” this is a show defined by loss, and how each character perceives and deals with it (and deal with it differently, they all do). Yasaburou, for all his wit and good-natured trickery, is also self-destructive at times, placing himself in dangerous situations where his safety is in doubt. His elder brother, Yajirou, runs away from the world because he cannot come to grips with what he blames himself for doing, and eldest brother Yaichiro seeks to become the father he lost, regardless of whether it is for the right reasons.

Eccentric Family is anything but cliche, which is the show’s strongest attribute. With just enough tension to keep the plot moving from episode to episode, and intriguing characters throughout, it highlights many of the “hidden traits” of Japanese family structure, and the abilities of the country’s most visible folkloric creature. A show like this doesn’t come along very often, and should be appreciated for what it accomplishes.

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Finally, eccentricity is on full display in the ridiculously magnificent “Gifuu Doudou,” a “dazzling Sengoku period drama” (that is the exact description made during the opening) about two samurai known for their “odd behaviour” and prowess on the battlefield. Set during the warring states period in Japan, the story follows best friends/retainers Naoe Kanetsugu and Maeda Keiji- two Kenichiro lookalikes with unnecessary muscle mass and a flair for acting outrageously both on and off the battlefield, as they spend a night drinking sake by moonlight and recounting adventures from their younger years.

What makes Gifuu Doudou such a good time (apart from the leads, who are both intentionally crazy, and unintentionally hilarious) is the peppering of details from Japanese history thrown about in the story. Seriously, this show is a history lesson all its own, but rather than outright explaining the “whos” and “whats” of that dramatic period of warfare, it simply makes the viewer aware of the players and the campaigns, and offers enough motivation to look into them some more. The characterizations around such well-known names like Oda Nobunaga (who gets one helluva introduction) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (who has a definite sniveling air about him) fit well with the historical descriptions, and make the show feel more like “Sengoku Basara” than “Seven Samurai.” Just watch Keiji play his biwa like a rock guitar before slicing some mook’s throat, and you will “get” the entire point.

gifuu_doudou_01_2While I was ready to write this show off after a pilot that made me exclaim “what the fuck was that?” aloud on a bus ride from NY-DC back un July, it grew steadily on me with promises of sweeping battles and intriguing characters, which it delivers on both fronts. While firmly situated on the side of the bizarre, Gifu Doudou nonetheless is a fun time, and a wonderful complement to a night’s viewing that also includes both aforementioned series.

By Charles On 29 Aug, 2013 At 05:38 PM | Categorized As Animation, Conventions, Editorials, Featured | With 0 Comments
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Going out on a limb here, but if you had mentioned to that small collective of dedicated fans in State College, PA, who gathered on a nondescript weekend in 1994, that their meet-up of anime fans would one day go on to be the second largest anime convention event in the United States, they probably would have looked at you funny, laughed and added “maybe in our dreams,” before running off to watch some tapes or “talk shop.”

And yet, 20 conventions later, that is the truth of Otakon- the largest anime convention on the East coast, and gathering ground for all sorts of otaku, geeks, nerds, Japanophiles, hangers-on, confused parents, and anyone who appreciates either anime, fandom, or both.

Now I’ve been knew to this “game.” My first Otakon was in 2009, and it held a sort of mystery to me. I had heard of it time and again from friends online, but had no idea where it was, and little interest to attend. When I finally did cross through those doors and into the massive space that is the Baltimore Convention Center, I was immediately overwhelmed by what I had stepped into. It took me three years to finally “get it right.” And then two more thrown in “for good measure,” because as much as crowds might unnerve me at times, the prospect of friends and fellowship entices me more.

Blame it on my “history” of attending smaller conventions, but that was really where my fandom gestated. Cons like Otakon differ from smaller fare, and the dynamics of the smaller cons are less about big-name guests and announcements, and more about getting to know your fellow fans. I spent the majority of my  congoing life at those events (and I frequently cite Hampton, VA’s Nekocon as the standard by which I formed my congoer identity), and was generally accustomed to the “simpler things”- meet friends, hang in hallway, grab some food, repeat until Monday. Otakon is not that convention, and hasn’t been for over 15 years. While those types of interactions are definitely a part of the Otakon experience, more of it can best be summed up as “brave crowd-stand in line-see event- repeat until Monday.”

Read reviews for Otakon 20, and you will read a lot about lines. Lines were the order of this convention (so much that one writer quipped that “lines are part of the real Otakon experience.” True, if that’s the experience you seek).  A stark departure from the smaller events where lines seem to only exist outside 18+ content, or in front of autograph tables as anxious attendees wait for a chance to meet their idols. Lines for autographs are definitely long at Otakon. Lines for concert tickets equally so. Lines for the Dealer’s Room, lines for the panel rooms…I know plenty of bloggers and attendees who spent upwards of 7 hours standing in line.

But not me. Like Eric Cartman, I hate lines. And I usually find that what waits at the end isn’t worth the loss of time “better” spent wandering, chatting, or resting my aching body. My Otakon 20 wasn’t about getting to meet Shinichiro Watanabe (though I did, briefly). It wasn’t about snagging that coveted Sunday Concert Pass for Yoko Kanno (though I did, indirectly). It wasn’t even about attending the premieres for Oriemo 2 and Wolf Children (the former I had no interest in, the latter I had seen already).

For me, Otakon 20 was much like Otakons 18 and 19- I was there to experience the weekend as a whole, not the individual parts. I wanted to see the crowds, talk to the fans, tag up my StreetPass, and maybe decompress in the Harbor when the stimulus became too much. I wanted my “stage” to present content, then vanish for hours with friends while we people-watched and drank copious amounts of coffee. That has been my Otakon experience ever since 2011, and for me, it works.

On that level, Otakon 20 was a rousing success. Maybe not as over-the-top awesome as last year’s event, but still a successful weekend all around. They’ve been getter better, as well, since my first “road show” in 2009- part of that revolves around better programming and guest options, part around me knowing what the hell I’m doing- but as each convention passes by, I “get” it more and more.

Since I elected to eschew the lines and made it to exactly one panel that wasn’t one of mine, I can’t rightly call this exposition a review. One of the downsides to the way I experience Otakon is that I see very little of the “con,” but a whole lot of the convention space and community. On that front, I have little comments that I haven’t said before- Otakon is a frenetic mass of controlled chaos, kept in check my beleaguered volunteers who sometimes find themselves in over their heads, not unlike the attendees themselves.

Were their line management problems? Definitely. I witnessed line cuts a few times, and lines set up in the wrong places, but mostly as I passed them by on one of my “walks.” Were their rude staffers? I’d find it hard to believe there weren’t any, given the size and stress of the weekend, though I never bumped into any. Were there memes? Yes, moreso than the last two years, but nowhere near as annoying as 2009. (And one of them- a crowd of people constantly singing “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” from the Mulan soundtrack- were less annoying than quirky. At least they were being “productive” with their hall karaoke.)

Again, nothing I haven’t seen before, and nothing unexpected given the size and scope of Otakon itself. (Although the incident with the bubble bath in the fountain was something entirely new.)

The community this year was surprising- more and more anime-centric cosplay (especially from breakout hits Free! and Attack on Titan), less visible non-anime stalwarts (like Homestuck, MLP and Doctor Who), and a healthy amount of discussion centered around the 2013 anime crop, and how “awesome it is.” One of my early Friday panels- We Con, Therefore We Are, a critical look at convention culture and otakudom, co-hosted by the indomitable Daryl Surat of Anime World Order, and Doug Wilder of AnimeconsTV- exceeded my meager expectations by leaps and bounds: I hoped for 40-50 people, I got almost 1000, and none of them were there to “troll”, only discuss and debate. Which they did, all weekend, as people kept stopping me to comment on how thought-provoking and insightful the panel was. I had intended to present my observations and research from the past five years of activity in the community, and was surprised at how many other long-term members of the same community were coming to the same conclusions, and how their general opinion of the situation wasn’t too different from my own.

Community. Yes, it always comes back to community. Because, when it comes down to it, community is why Otakon has grown by such leaps and bounds, and community is why the convention culture is so strong, fragmented as it might appear. Time and again, I will insist that community is what is driving the attendees to devote such time to their “hobby,” and through the community are their devotions validated. You see it in the smaller, more intimate cons, that thrive off their core of attendees who pop up every year to support their local fandom. You see it in the massive throngs at Anime Boston and Katsucon, who pack the halls of large convention spaces with cosplay and conversation. You see it at Otakon, where these other groups converge for a single showing of support and “insanity,” for who else would choose to brave those crowded halls, if not the “crazy ones?”

On Saturday night, I (alongside friends Kit and Haru) was sitting in Harbor East, having dinner with voice actor and theologian Crispin Freeman. At this “oasis” maybe a mile from the BCC, there were no cosplayers, or congoers of any type, and the lightly packed dining room of the pub we had selected was soon the site of a conversation between the four of us about how the community had changed. Crispin had been part of the convention community since almost the beginning. He remembered how those early cons had been very anime-centric, and the fans hungry for more information. As a media/industry guest, he also had been somewhat insulated to the shift from anime-culture to community-culture that had been so dramatic in the past 4 years. He had not seen the subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts that altered the dynamic and motivations of the attendees as a whole. As we sat there, talking about Convergence theory and the changing times, it made me ask myself a question- one that really has no solid answer, only observations.

Has Otakon exceeded its intended scope? What is the point of the con now, as the motivations and practices of a new generation of fans have overtaken older concepts? Has Otakon, still a bastion of Japanese media and culture appreciation, evolved?

I would think so. It’s become something more than just a fan convention- its become a destination all its own. It’s  been that way for years now- all roads (at least on the East Coast) do lead to Otakon, that special pilgrimage that needs to be experienced at least once. Overwhelming or not, it’s a rite of passage all its own, but one of those rites that has the potential to pull in as many people as possible, and keep them there. New fans or old-timers, it’s still living up to its mission statement, and managing to accommodate all the needs of every fan who walks through the doors- from the staunch Japanophile to the artist and creative, to the confused teenager who’s wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into. Otakon is, and always will be, a place for every fan, everywhere.

Lines or not.

By Charles On 3 May, 2013 At 01:52 AM | Categorized As Animation, Comics/Manga, Editorials, Featured, Old School Otaku, Reviews | With 0 Comments
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Everyone has a favorite teacher; that dedicated, funny, sympathetic role model who helped shape your formative years and provided comfort from the often callous and vicious world of school angst and the pitfalls of growing up. Think about that person for a moment, and what made them great. Picture them in your mind, hear the memory of their voice in your ears. Got a clear image of them? Good.

I bet your mental image looks nothing like this:

Eikichi_OnizukaThis man is Eikichi Onizuka, age 22, virgin, and for a class full of misfits and “social rejects,” he was that favorite teacher, the man who challenged and taught them all about the “real world.” How? By just being himself, and teaching them how NOT to act.

Great Teacher Onizuka was one of those “unlikely anime,” the type that is completely devoid of fantastic elements, lolicons, twenty minute power-ups and skimpy clothing, but still manages to pull the viewer in and keep them interested. Rather than deal with otherworldly enemies threatening human existence, it focused more on the trials and tribulations of being a high school student, which at times could be just as chaotic, and just as terrifying. It lacked “good guys” and “villains,” eschewing instead for a whole lot of gray-shaded cast members who were as petty as they were devoted to their jobs. In short, GTO (as it was so fondly referred to) was a sort of “dirty shonen” slice of life series, more concerned with its world and residents than impressing its reader base.

And that was not a bad thing at all.

A lot of that appeal centered around the aforementioned Onizuka, himself a social misfit more concerned with sex and violence than educating the youth of Japan. A former biker gang leader, he somehow managed to leave the “thug life” behind, enroll in a “5th rate college” and graduate with a degree in…something. You never really find out how studious he was, nor where his “academic” inclinations actually lie, given his preoccupation with porn, fighting and “keeping it real.” But next thing you see, he’s trying to find gainful employment, and failing miserably. Blame his bleached hair, his “yakuza tendencies” or the constant mountain of arrogance that he’s the proud king of, but poor Onizuka can’t seem to catch a break.

gtoAll that changes the day he meets, then loses, the “girl of his dreams:” a spunky high school student whom the future Great Teacher is absolutely positive he will finally lose his virginity to. And just as they’re about to do the deed, she literally jumps out a window and into the arms of another man. Who does he lose this wellspring of sexual energy to? Her high school teacher, a dumpy, bespectacled man with a sour face and apparently all the pull in the world. On that day, he swears to become the best teacher in Japan. Why? To get laid.

Let’s put aside the blatantly horrendous motivation for this decision, and focus on Onizuka for a moment. What does he have to offer his students? Forget about the three “R’s,” as Onizuka can barely read himself. Valuable lessons on life? Does one really want to accept the words of a “reformed” biker and generally viewed “lowlife?” Common sense? Not at all, since he’s doing this for the worst reason possible. For all intents and purposes, this man should never be anywhere near children, let alone given the task of teaching them. And yet, that’s exactly what he does.

Finally scoring a job at a prestigious private academy, Onizuka is immediately given the worst class in the school, made up of people either just like him, or well on their way to becoming just like him. Wannabe gang-bangers, unmotivated geniuses, promiscuous girls, awkward kids, and all manner of students who just don’t fit in. These are the students destined to fall through the cracks of the educational system, that the rest of the faculty have given up on, but can’t simply expel because their tuition checks have already been deposited. So, shunted off to the side and ignored, they plod through one ineffective teacher after another, until Eikichi ends up at their door one day, the latest in a long line of schmucks suckered into teaching the class. The “Great Teacher” brings in bluster in the door with him, trailing arrogance like a proud bridal train, ready to talk some “sense” into these students. How do they take to this new teacher, so completely “different” from any they have ever encountered before?

As far as they’re concerned, Onizuka isn’t any different from the others, except maybe that he’s dumber than any one of them, and starving for respect and attention. And they hate him.

Great-Teacher-Onizuka-3Why? Because they can see right through him. They know he’s not a teacher. They know he only cares about having fun. From his “tough guy” facade to his horrible sense of humor, this is a man worthy of only their contempt, which they heap on him in droves. hell, the only reason he’s even in this class is because they’ve driven off every single other teacher assigned to them, and the administrators hope that they will do the same to Onizuka.

Until he starts saving them, one student at a time. Whether it’s giving them a reason to live, putting their problems into perspective, telling them to get over themselves (often with associated punches, kicks and getting his own ass handed to him), helping them get “revenge” on those who wronged them, teaching them to stand up for themselves or just not take any s**t from “the man,” the Great Teacher imparts whatever wisdom and street smarts he can, while often taking lumps and plenty of attitude along the way. It’s like the School of Hard Knocks, 90210-style.

gto1His tenacity eventually overcomes even the most stubborn (or stuck up) of the students he encounters, and by year’s end, he manages to reform the worst class at the academy into something resembling a productive learning unit, while teaching even some of his “colleagues” the value of knowing themselves…or at least giving them lessons in self-extracting their heads from their own asses. A little humility goes a long way, and while Onizuka might not know the meaning of the word, he sure can impart its value on others.

That tenacity is the key to GTO’s appeal. Knowing from the outset that Eikichi Onizuka is an “eternal f**k-up who just doesn’t give a s**t” lends him a certain humanity that drives the story. You know he’s going to fail, yet you cheer for him anyway. When he occasionally succeeds, you celebrate with him. When he gets caught with his pants down (literally, on more than a few occasions), you feel for him, but also realize that it’s only going to make him more careful in the future. His crass manners have a certain charm to them, you root for him to find the “right girl,” and when he finally gets the better of his naysayers, you want to clap him on the back and buy him a drink.

Onizuka is the ultimate underdog. And like most underdogs, you want to see him win, regardless of whether its against “corrupt” educators, “conniving” students, or even his own shortcomings. You want Eikichi Onizuka to win. And I guess in that regard, he already has.

Gratuitous shot of...well, everything.

Gratuitous shot of…well, everything.

You can consumer GTO in a number of ways: the 1997-2002 manga, while out of print, is excellent. The 1999 anime is a faithful adaptation of the manga, and easier to track down. The 1998 J-Drama (with 99 sequel film) is a bit short on the plot, but the actor who plays Onizuka is phenomenal. Or you can look for the 2012 reboot. Honestly, it doesn’t matter: any version of GTO is worth consuming. Honestly, how many properties can say that these days? There is also a prequel manga “GTO: The Early Years,” and sequel”14 Days in Shonan,” both available now from Vertical Publishing.

 

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The Nintendo DS was an underrated system. Cue backlash, but hear me out for a moment: in an era with flashy onscreen graphics and multiplayer gameplay, the DS stood alone with its often “basic” displays and “restricted” single-player campaigns. And, predictably, there were a great many games that flew under the radar of gamers. This is the tale of one of those games, which appeared and vanished quickly, while still gathering praise and helping add to the prestige of the series with which it was aligned.

This is the tale of Devil Survivor.

Devil_Survivor_by_MachoMachiDevil Survivor arrived on scene at the perfect time: early Summer 2009, right after the release of Pokemon Platinum (and at the time when the casual Poke-players would be seeking something new), near the beginning of a season perfectly suited for portable gaming. Part of the prolific Shin Megami Tensei series, this game was a solid representation of the visual novel/tactical battle system pioneered by Atlus throughout the previous decade or so. Mixing elements of strategy, foresight and “common sense,” it brought players into a world on the brink and asked “what would you do to survive?”

Devil Survivor was an apocalypse story in the truest sense of the word. Rather than portraying the downfall of society at the hands of zombies/aliens/communists/etc, the game chose to “pull back the veil,” and reveal to a select few the “reality” behind out world: angels are calling the shots and maintaining a semblance of order, while demons seek to rebel and overtake the masses using mankind as a nexus point for their plots. Humanity, caught in between their eternal war, is given seven days to comply with the angel’s commands, or the city of Tokyo will be completely destroyed.

While borrowing heavily from Christian symbolism and storytelling, the game manages to frame the topic in a context that leaves religion out of the debate. Rather than bear witness to the coming doom, a select few of those humans choose to do something. Cults devoted to the idea of human liberation preach the transcendental power of humanity as a whole and warn against both domination and depravity. Certain demons, despite their “unholy” origins, choose to work alongside humans to spare the destruction, while angels appear petty at times, reveling in their “power” while the world around them slowly decays. Long before Supernatural decided to “humanize” the warring factions of good and evil and throw shades of gray into the cosmic struggle, Devil Survivor was portraying both sides strengths and weaknesses as part of an expansive “morality play” and forcing the player to call the shots on how the story ended.

shin-megami-tensei-devil-survivor-overclock-3ds-screenshots-10The concept of survival was a central point to the entire experience, as players were forced to deal with mobs of panicking humans, discovering shelter for the night, acquiring food and even looking for a power source at one point, all while society crumbles around them. The daily “countdown” towards impending doom added to the tension of the story, facilitating the need for “smart” decisions, rather than just reacting to the situation at hand, a tactic which would more than likely lead to death or derailment of plans/plots/initiatives. While not as urgent as a survival horror game, there was a distinct emphasis on consequences and foresight built into the plot, which rewarded astute gamers, and added stress to impulsive choices.

This emphasis on storytelling is one of the hallmarks of the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole, and Devil Survivor expanded upon narrative and character interaction throughout the “seven days” of gameplay. There were numerous story lines in play, rooted around the game’s central characters, and even more around some of the “supporting cast.” Deciding which path the game took often required quick thinking, time management, and attention to detail, for some of the alternate stories hinged on how certain interactions proceeded, how often specific characters were used, what time of day it was, and how well the Protagonist sympathized and related to the individual stories of his friends. One slip up could close off an entire story line from that play through (especially those which were time-sensitive), and often that deciding moment would not be noticed until hours later. Finally, unlike its sequel, which forced the player to choose which side he was on, Devil Survivor elected instead to keep the main plot of the game static: the alterations to the plot rarely changed the outcome, just the path the story took to get to the outcome.

auctionMechanically, Devil Survivor was fantastically executed. I often called this game series “Pokemon with demons,” and for good reason. Unlike Persona games, which rely on luck and savvy fusing skills, or previous SMT games which needed negotiations to win demons over to your side, Devil Survivor tackled the issue by instituting an auction system. Money accrued during gameplay was used to enter into a “demon auction” against computer controlled AI “characters,” who would bid for the rights to contract with demons offering their services online. Quick bidding and successful manipulation of the system would net powerful demons at a low cost. Failure would mean loss of a potentially powerful ally forever.

mqdefaultWhile there was a buyout system which circumvented the bidding wars, it was often more cost-effective to analyze strategies and find ways to outbid the computer, thereby winning powerful new demons to your collection, which could then be fielded or fused within the Cathedral of Shadows to create more powerful fare. Players were encouraged to keep checking the auctions after each battle, since new demons would appear frequently, as older ones would eventually “experience out” of viability. This mix of fusion and “negotiation” proved to be as addictive to players as wandering the tall grass, because battles were often challenging and required a steady stream of “the best” demons to ensure victory.

Battles were both simple and complicated affairs. Borrowing from the tactical RPGs which Atlus is known for, combat removed the player from the interactive world and placed him on a massive grid system, facing off against wild demons or opposing summoners. Strategy took the form of choosing not only the appropriate demon, but also having a working knowledge of the demons skills and “specialties.” Certain demons had the ability to move quickly, or multiple times. Others could attach twice. Others could attack from long range. Some could heal, or fly, or teleport. It was very easy to lose sight of these special skills in the heat of combat, and thereby discover your party has been maneuvered into a tight spot from which escape was unlikely. There were many-a-battle where enemies with huge hit boxes could wipe out an unprepared party before they could move within range to strike.

beelzebulDevil Survivor was a frustrating experience for the unprepared. While the learning curve was hardly an issue, the difficulty would abruptly ratchet up several levels in between encounters. Time-sensitive events would vanish swiftly, and frequently never pop up again in the “daily log,” thereby restricting (or even breaking) carefully planned course of action. Certain bosses were quirky and had merciless AI and “random number generators,” which could spell doom for even the best-prepared party. Even grinding was unpredictable and relentless in its encounters. And yet, it is a testament to the game’s appeal that one would not wish to stop playing. Even after losing a hard-fought, twenty-plus minute boss fight in the final moments due to an unanticipated sequence of strikes, the player would simply reload a save and go right back, taking what they learned and hopefully avoiding it the second (or third, or fourth) time around. Maybe a tweak to character abilities, or a swapping of demons/party members, and it was back into battle. It made the eventual victory both sweeter and more satisfying, knowing it was attained through strategy and effort, and not just overpowered steamrolling.

devil survivor 2It might be a testament to the success of the game that you rarely see copies for sale. It sold fairly well, maybe not a hit in most people’s opinions, but certainly enough to warrant both a “fancy” 3DS upgrade, and “cult classic” status. It vanished from store shelves a few months after release, and even the used game sections rarely-if ever- see copies in them. Like many of the other SMT titles, this one served to satisfy the fan-base, but also made fans of many newcomers, myself included. While it’s a radical departure from the wildly popular Persona series that many casual gamers recognize, it was also familiar enough to have solid appeal. The replay value was extremely high: New Game + mode carried over demons and money, which made the followup game sessions ridiculously easy; the existence of multiple endings, “exclusive” fusions, and optional bosses prompted repeat plays just to see how strong one could become.

There was a sequel released in February of last year, also for the DS, which carried over many of the aspects that made this game such a success. And on it’s own, Devil Survivor 2 is as much a “Game You Slept On” as it’s precursor. But for this gamer, the first title will always be the special one. It opened the wide world of Shin Megami Tensei on a platform that seemed perfectly suited for casual play, while not losing any of the addictive nature that other SMT games hold. It was because of this game that I sampled Persona, which has become its own monster in my gaming life. And while I haven’t played it since those three hundred or so hours back in 2009, I can still recall vividly how much enjoyment the game carried with it. That’s a rarity these days.

By Charles On 23 Apr, 2013 At 07:58 PM | Categorized As Animation, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments
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According to Twitter, it’s always a good problem when an anime season has too many good shows. This logic is sound: I would rather spend my time choosing between awesome series than trying to find just ONE to hold my interest. In addition to keeping my occupied, it also adds just enough spice to long road trips, because now I’ve got a backlog to work on instead of just staring out the window.

Spring 2013 is one of those good seasons. Seriously, between apocalyptic battles between man and monster, giant robots, elder gods and something new from Gen Urobuchi, it was a challenge to find that one show to follow until summer. So I decided to follow four, with the potential for a fifth to come later. Hence, this will be part one of my Spring 2013 impressions, the second to come after I’ve fully caught up.

First Pick: Valvrave the Liberator

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I’ve had a really low opinion of giant robot shows for the past few years. While my “formative time” as an anime fan was spent watching a lot of Gundam, recently (since around the time Code Geass was airing) I discovered how little I cared about mecha as a genre. Gundam AGE didn’t strike a chord with me (or anyone, really…), and I would be hard-pressed to identify a single robot series that I found compelling or interesting. And then came Valvrave.

Off the bat, this show plays like Gundam Seed did a decade ago. Space colonies at war, hidden weapons of destruction, betrayal, espionage, schoolchildren, a stab at the Russians…the pilot was scene for scene a rehash of Seed (with a single nod to Destiny midway through), and yet did not come off as being “fake” in any way. It moved quickly, hooking me as a viewer and making me feel invested in a narrative that’s been done to death by every other mecha franchise since ever.

Valvrave-the-liberator-illustrationThen came the “obligatory” curve: the machine itself was either sentient, or some kind of channel for powers beyond the comprehension of man. Cue awesome neon lights, an ass-kicking, and an enemy army on the run. Okay, been there, but this is pretty flashy. What else you got? Pilot gets shot- repeatedly- but gets up and bites a his assailant. Okay, vampires? Unexpected, especially for a science fiction series? No, wait…not vampires…he BODY-SWAPPED with him? And now he can use all those “1337 ninja skillz” against his foes? What IS this show? I DO NOT CARE!

Valvrave, no matter how derivative it comes off at times, is fun, and even a bit refreshing. It drops hints slowly as to what the bigger picture is, so while fans can appreciate the nods to past mecha series, they can also look forward to twists and turns as the story progresses. As of the second episode, none of the characters are all that different from the “cookie cutter” mold established thirty years ago, but the influx of animation technologies and grandiose fight scenes help you forget its “roots.” I’m eager to see where this series goes in the end, but as long as it keeps up the bells, whistles and head-shots, I think I can live with the results. After all, Valvrave is also wicked fun, not bogged down in political jargon or complicated diplomatics. There’s a war, there’s a giant robot, let’s see where this goes. It adds up to being fun, which in the end is one of the major reasons for watching anime in the first place.

Valvrave-the-Liberator-01-20Valvrave gets an A, for awesome. And there’s a post-credit scene in episode 1.

Second Pick: Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)

titan 2Last summer I watched a series where humanity was in a state of decline and “otherworldly” beings were now the masters of Earth. This season that theme comes back, but it’s no longer cute little faeries creating bread from rubber, megalomaniacal skinless chickens, and yaoi criticism. Attack on Titan is a dark, moody show that depicts mankind not just in decline, but on the defensive against a powerful, predatory foe eager to devour us all. How does it feel being knocked down a peg on the food chain?

The plot establishes itself quickly: in the face of monstrous, androgynous beings called “Eotena” (who are deliciously creepy thanks to wide grins, sharp teeth and an utter lack of both clothing and genitalia), mankind has withdrawn behind massive walls built to keep our dwindling population safe from being eaten off the face of the planet. These walls, and the people living behind them, have stood for a century without breech, a fact which leaves some of the residents more complacent about our standing in the world. A young boy dreams of a future where he (and the rest of humanity) can rise up and strike down their tormentors, and establish a new world outside the walls, where men are no longer “livestock,” but the true masters of nature.

Then the destruction comes. Confronted with an Eotena far larger and stronger than any encountered before, the walls are breached, and mankind once again becomes cattle to be devoured by their gigantic foes. Attack on Titan weaves together a powerful message of survival, politics, ambition, and annihilation, as the resources and resourcefulness of humanity as a species must contend with forces beyond our control, and capability to fight. The Eotena are mindless killing machines with no thought other than acquiring prey. The soldiers lack courage needed to fight against them, or find themselves hopelessly outmatched. Bravery and food are both in short supply, enough to spur on suicide missions against an unbeatable foe, mostly in the name of “population control.”

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Lunch time…

This is a very dismal series. Recalling imagery from “War of the Worlds,” “Berserk,” and “Gojira,” it depicts civilization on the brink on collapse. Heroes are born, but are powerless to institute change. Like its kaiju-cousins, its better to run, hide, and survive than fight back, but where is the honor in that? Is it even possible to be honorable when life as you know it is coming to an end? (Or, as one character puts it: you lack the strength to save the world. I lack the courage.) What must you do to survive? These are themes explored in just the first two episodes, with promises of secret powers and weapons to come later.

Attack on Titan also receives an A, for allegory and adult themes.

By Charles On 10 Apr, 2013 At 11:45 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Reviews | With 0 Comments
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zenkaikon_rgbA few weeks ago, while the gaming world was abuzz at PAXeast over in Boston, Christians were commemorating Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, and die-hard Westerosi were anticipating the return of their favorite soap opera reality show, I had the benefit of attending the 6th incarnation of Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA. A mid-sized convention teeming with local flavor, ambitious guests and a location to die for, this con often falls under the radar of so many congoers in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, which is unfortunate given how enjoyable this event has become in the past three years.

I started attending Zenkaikon in 2011, its last year at the Valley Forge convention center, before that location was turned into a casino. I had mixed reviews about both the con and the crowd that year, but since I’m (rarely) never one to judge on first impressions alone, I gave it a second try last year, when it occupied a lovely May weekend at the Expo center in Oaks. At the end of those two days of fun and fellowship, I discovered the con would be moving back to March, and into the fancier Lancaster County Convention Center, another hour away from its previous locations. I lamented the loss of mall-crawling at King of Prussia and the easy access to mass transit, but given how enjoyable the con had been at Oaks, I knew I would be going back regardless.

Needless to say, like a fine wine, Zenkaikon gets better with age.

Location:

Let me just say this: the fact that there’s a farmer’s market across the street made eating a VERY pleasurable part of the weekend. Local meats and cheeses (which I brought home in droves and gorged upon for DAYS after the con), excellent coffee roasters and surprisingly awesome cuban food made for a very happy con indeed: you couldn’t walk through the small market without seeing plenty of cosplayers interacting the the locals (for good or ill), and the local creamery offered free scoops to anyone in costume. Lancaster was happy to have the con, and the con was very happy to have Lancaster.

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Seriously, you would wander into stuff like this ALL WEEKEND if you took the stairs…

The convention center itself was a fine spot, with a huge vendor room, panel seating on par with Otakon, and plenty of free space for gatherings and cosplay shoots. This is one of those sites Zenkaikon can grow into with ease, and likely will: next year the con should have access to the entire top floor of the convention center, a location they only had for Friday this year. That means more panels, more events and more “roaming” space for wayward congoers.

Plus the convention center also has an archeological site AND a back hallway system that feels like something out of Lord of the Rings. Seriously. It was like walking through the mines of Moria at one point.

Programming:

Zenkaikon has always had surprisingly solid programming for a con its size. This year was no exception, as more theoretical fare found its way into panel rooms. The Friday night burlesque show, hosted by Uncle Yo (and featuring me in a creepy mask and hatchet), was easily the best one I’ve ever seen, Greggo’s Game Shows pulled off a solid reworking of the Pokemon game he debuted at Ichibancon, and the media guests were both friendly and informative. I would even go so far as to say there was more to do at Zenkaikon this year than at a lot of the smaller cons I went to last year. The audience asked for more, and more was given back to it.

I also will go on to reiterate my assertion that I had the best Friday I’ve had at a con in the past few years at Zenkai 2013. No lie, I was kept pleasantly busy all day, culminating in probably the best presentation of “Kowai” I have ever given, before hamming it up at the burlesque show. I didn’t want the day to end (and technically it didn’t, as I found myself in a huge Cards Against Humanity game a scant 90 minutes later), it was that enjoyable.

Vibe:

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This man. Seriously, THIS MAN. Most epic cosplayer of the weekend.

I love Zenkaikon’s attendees. I really do. This con has one of the most welcoming communities of any con in the mid-Atl. From random meetups in the halls to encouragement of cosplayers, the people who attend Zenkaikon make sure everyone feels welcome and at home. Consider the case of one attendee, who found herself sitting on the Pokemon game show Saturday night: a girl dressed as Mei from White 2, found herself in a trivia battle with another potential Pokemon master. Flustered and in over her head, she attempted to throw in the towel during the final part of the opening round of the show, and requested to simply forfeit and leave the stage. The crowd, however, would have none of that, as they cheered her on and made sure she knew they were solidly behind her. And while she didn’t win the round, the ovation she got as she left the stage was nothing short of inspiring.

THAT is the power of this community, and that is why Zenkaikon is worth attending. Forget programming, guests and vendors: attend this con simply to meet other supportive, like-minded fans, and develop connections with them. I guarantee you will never be bored, nor will you feel alone. While it may not draw the numbers of some cons, the quality of the fans at Zenkaikon more than makes up for the quantity.

Zenkaikon might not have the flash or flair of PAX, or the size and variety of Otakon, but that doesn’t mean this con should be ignored. While you won’t find Funimation announcements or giant cosplay summits during the weekend, you will find a welcoming community full of frenetic (if tempered) energy and fun times. Zenkaikon manages to tread that perfect line between growth and hearth, and it shows in the excited attendees, happy gatherings and generally relaxed atmosphere that permeates that con every year. Despite being smaller, it’s definitely worth the visit (as my friend Doug made all the way from Boston, eschewing PAX this year despite living right next to it). So if you have time and some cash to splurge, consider hitting up Zenkai next year. You will appreciate it.

By Charles On 19 Mar, 2013 At 04:43 PM | Categorized As Animation, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments
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earthseaA few years ago, I found myself sitting in a movie theatre watching an animated adaptation of Ursula LeGuin’s landmark “Earthsea” series. Produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli, it marked the directorial debut of one Goro Miyazaki, son of the acclaimed animator and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki. I left the show feeling satisfied with the end result, and pondering where this new voice in filmmaking would go with his next piece, should he actually direct a second film.

Earthsea ended up receiving a lot of heat from the animation community, panned for weak storytelling, unfinished ideas and a rushed “feeling” to the entire project. For my part, I saw the film as an emulation of what Ghibli had produced before: it definitely lacked the sense of identity and “personal voice” that classics like “Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away,” and “Pom Poko” had utilized to great effect, and at times felt like it was “trying too hard” to be a Ghibli film. Rather than create its own space, it was too preoccupied with fitting a specific mold that its predecessors had established.

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Much of that blame was laid squarely on the shoulders of the younger Miyazaki. It’s no big secret that his father did not want him making that film. It’s no big secret that the elder Miyazaki had once tried to do the same, but was met with roadblocks from author LeGuin. It’s also no big secret that Goro’s insistence that he make the film translated to tensions between father and son. And it’s also no big secret that Earthsea itself is one of those “impossible projects:” literary works that are downright incompatible with translation to the screen (if you don’t believe me, feel free to watch the SyFy original movie adaptation of Earthsea…or just watch a film version of anything by Alan Moore).

I mention this because over the weekend I was fortunate enough to attend to US premiere of Goro Miyazaki’s latest film, “From Up on Poppy Hill,” a project he worked on in conjunction with his father as a sort of animated “olive branch” between two strained family members. And the first thought to run through my mind after the credits rolled was: “see, he can make a great film with the right source material.”

For starters, this film, which was adapted from the comic “Kokuriko-zaka Kara” by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, returns to a time period that Ghibli has had great success with in the past: postwar Japan. Set against a backdrop of the looming 1964 Olympic games, 16 year old Umi Matsuzaki must come to terms with both the loss of her father years earlier, and the emotions in her own heart as she builds a friendship with fellow student Shun Kazama.

poppy hillThis type of story is one that Ghibli has done time and again, from Laputa in the 1980s to 1995‘s Whisper of the Heart: strong themes of love, loss, nostalgia and reconciling the past and present in a time of great change pervade every line and scene, introducing westerners to many of subtle (and often unrecorded) path of “progress” Japan has been on since the mid-1800s. Conflict between heritage, history and embracing the future has been a frequent one, and finding that balance between the two is both challenging and rewarding- in many ways, this film is a sort of “collective version” of the under-known “Only Yesterday,” a similar tale with a similar outcome, and similarly satisfying in its resolution.

As the film progresses (and quite humorously, at that), Umi and Shun becomes leaders in a “cleanup” for their school’s historic “Latin Quarter:” a clubhouse that has fallen into disrepair and is in danger of being torn down to make room for “progress” in the form of a new facility building. As their efforts gradually build, more of their fellow students join in the cause, transforming the repair work into a near school-wide project that serves, as Umi states, to bring them together as a community. More than just a home for the “misfit” clubs, the building symbolizes that intangible connection that runs through all students in the school, and while some might be apathetic to the loss, it simply makes those dedicated to the project work that much harder.

latin quarterAt the same time, Umi is struggling to come to terms with both her lost father, her feelings for Shun, and a revelation that threatens to derail the friendship that has allowed for them to spearhead the Latin Quarter project. This part of the narrative is similar to many that Ghibli has done in the past, and might even be considered obvious for anyone who has watched the “canon” before. Though, in its defense, it is handled very well, and far more “organically” than earlier films like Whisper of the Heart. While the true joy of the film revolves around the Latin Quarter, neither plot feels overblown or underdeveloped, but rather balances and revolves well around each other (something which was lacking in films like Arrietty). You actually care about that old Latin Quarter building- partly because of its playful charm, and partly because of all the students and alumni who cherish the memories they made there. You feel hope for the young Umi, ever diligent in her raising of the signal flags, pointing a way home for her lost father. You laugh at the exaggerated mindsets of the club members, so enthralled by their studies, but still willing to come together for a collective goal that unifies and defines what they share, and are at risk to lose. You actually develop a stake in the entire affair, rather than simply watch a story unfold.

Plot aside, this film is also absolutely lovely to watch: the “Ghibli aesthetic” is wonderfully present in lush colors, the variety of character/face designs and the use of shadow and subtlety to differentiate between cities and settings. Fresh is fresh, dingy is dingy, locations come alive of their own accord- all things that Ghibli has perfected over the years, and viewers have come to expect. While it lacks some of the “fantastic” elements found in the elder Miyazaki’s classics, it still manages to reflect and convey its own distinct form of “old world charm” in both the clubhouse and the surrounding port town. (In particular, that first glimpse inside the Latin Quarter is probably the most “Glibli-like” visual sequence in the film: some might wonder if they would get lost amidst the dust and gathered relics of clubs past.)

When I speak about the films of studio Ghibli, I often make mention that if Earthsea is the worst film Goro Miyazaki makes, it’s a pretty good start to his career. From Up on Poppy Hill is proof of that: his ambition is clearly present in the direction, while his father’s steady hand keeps him from running “off the page.” As a collaborative effort, this film is both solid and enjoyable. It’s not perfect, but much like the setting and story, neither are those who live in it, and that just adds to its charm.

By Charles On 1 Mar, 2013 At 09:15 PM | Categorized As Animation, Editorials, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments
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Amaterasu_by_GENZOMAN

and’s she’s quite the looker too…

In Japan, there is a certain goddess. A pillar of righteousness, she sits high in the heavens, casting her light down upon everything beneath her. Countless other gods, enraptured by her splendor and majesty, hurry about trying to cull favor from this radiant maiden of unearthly beauty. Her name is Amaterasu, the embodiment of the sun itself, ancestor of the imperial family, and possessor of the supreme power of all kami: ready to defend her people at a moment’s notice against evil and ever vigilant in her watch over all those beneath her.

At least until her favorite anime comes on. Then, you’re s-o-l.

A playful entry into the winter 2013 anime season, SHAFT’s Sasami-san@ganbaranai (Ms Sasami @ Unmotivated) is an alternate take on the legend of the sun goddess, told from the point of a cute, hikikomori schoolgirl and her faceless brother. But while the legend of Amaterasu is a tale of bullying, retreat and the eventual emergence of the brilliance of the sun, Sasami’s story is a little more…relatable? Typical? Expected? Actually, it’s hard to put into words.

sasamiBy day, the spunky Sasami Tsukuyomi is content to lounge around, taking time out of her busy schedule of gaming and sleeping to spy on her elder brother while he works his job at the local high school she should be attending. By night, she demands that he profess his love to her, feed her, wash her and put her to bed, so the following day she can repeat the process. Punish his supposed ecchi moments, act aloof until he’s swooning, and deflect his advances continuously.  Not too different from any pampered princess living out her daily dreams of not doing anything.

But Sasami is different. Unlike a mere mortal royal, she is the heir to the power of the sun itself, and with it has the ability to force anyone – god or human alike – to do her “bidding,” those wishes she has in her heart that she rarely vocalizes. These “transformations” come back to haunt her time and again, but still she resists, preferring the life of a shut in to that of a responsible person. For shame, denying the obligations of the mighty sun goddess- she would never do such a…oh…OH!, I get it now. Clever girl…

From the outset, Sasami-san@ganbaranai borrows liberally from the legend of the “original hikikomori,” Amaterasu. In the legends, the maiden of the sun is driven underground by her brother, the “vile” Susano-o. Taking refuge in a cave, she refuses to come back out, depriving the world of her radiance and allowing for monsters to run rampant. Some clever and enterprising folks manage to use her own envy against her, convincing her (through the use of several well-placed mirrors) that they have chosen a new sun goddess, and luring her back out. From then on her, place remains in the sky, driving off ghostly spirits and giving light to the people. All that’s missing here is the computers.

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kawaii…and not a little reminiscent of Chobits…

Sasami, the heir of this cosmic power, lives her life indoors. Every time she attempts to leave the house, a powerful wave of nausea and disorientations overtakes her. She retreats back inside. She finds amusement in petty things. She can’t take care of herself. And her brother, kami bless, him, dotes on her unceasingly. Continue along this path until forced to leave, in order to protect the brother she realizes she loves, from sacrificing himself for her. Not a word-for-word updating of the original tale, but close enough to provide a cute, modern insight into the source material. (Even cuter when you realize her faceless bother Kamiomi is Tsuki-yomi, the “faceless” god of the moon- ever present, ever mysterious, ever-doting…well, maybe that last part is a stretch.)

Of course, her brother is “assisted” in his duties by three “sisters,” the Yagamis, who are themselves human incarnations of the three regalia of Japan – the mirror, the sword and the “jewel” – tasked with assisting in Sasami’s “upkeep” and making sure the transformations she seems to throw around like proverbial candy don’t come back to take a bite out of HER. Each sister, from the innocent, yet still oddly busty, Tama, to the almost mecha-musume Kagami, to the slightly skewed Tsurugi (also a teacher at Sasami’s high school), play important roles in maintaining a balance between the real world and Sasami’s whims. Each one also plays a deeper role than even Sasami realizes, though saying anything else would be spoilers.

On the surface, Sasami-san@ganbaranai feels a lot like a certain other moe-style show from a few years ago: a light novel series about girl seeking something more from life, subconsciously gains the power to influence reality to meet her desires, then needs to be “saved” by a cadre of fellow students brought together because of her existence and affect on cosmic balance…we’ve heard all this before…

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The difference between Sasami and Haruhi, however, lies in the fact that unlike the latter, she isn’t an arrogant (at least not too much), relatively unlikable tsundere forcing her interests on others. In fact, Sasami is more innocent, perhaps even sweeter, than Haruhi Suzumiya ever could be. And that innocence makes her character far more interesting and relatable. When she makes a mistake, she tries to fix it. When she realizes how her actions impact those she loves, she attempts to make amends. And unlike Haruhi, she eventually gains a full understanding of what she is, and grows from it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Sasami-san@ganbaranai is the moe show I’ve been looking for. More fun than Jintai, a better use of folklore than Inu X Boku and at times sillier than Haiyore!, this is the kind of show I’d expect from SHAFT: nothing groundbreaking, but a better use of tropes and narrative than simply cute girls doing cute things. A solid entry for winter season, and enough to tide one over until the spring.

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