Fushigi Yuugi

September 27, 2007

Years ago, when I was first getting online and discovering the larger fanbase of anime, one series that was hot at the time was Fushigi Yuugi. I had intended to take a look at it, but attempts at explaining its plot were always a bit confusing. Also, FY is a classic example of how insanely overpriced anime has been in the past. In fact, the tradition of FY being expensive continued into its DVD release. So, due to the high cost of entry and the fact that nobody could ever explain its plot in any way that did it justice, I never watched it. Recently I ran across some digisubs of it online, and decided to see what all the hype had been about.

Fushigi Yuugi is a “girl in another world” story, much like Inuyasha or Escaflowne or many others. It may have been the one to start this trend, but I can’t verify that. The tale goes that friends Miaka and Yui find a mysterious book called “Shijin Tenshou” (The Universe of the Four Gods). The two are pulled into the book, where they find themselves in a world much like ancient China. After they encounter a boy named Tamahome, Yui is sent back out of the book while Miaka continues to the city. There, as Yui follows along reading, Miaka discovers she’s the “Suzaku no Miko”, a priestess destined to summon the beast god Suzaku. Her mission is to find seven guardians, the Suzaku Shichiseishi, and once they’re assembled summon Suzaku. She quickly finds the first three are Tamahome, the emperor Hotohori, and one of the emperor’s consorts Nuriko. Miaka becomes ill though and needs to get back to her world, so with the help of the sage Taiitsukun, she contacts Yui and gets out of the book.

Yui, however, is pulled in Miaka’s place. She appears in the eastern lands, overseen by the warlike beast god Seiryu and is soon attacked and raped in the street. She’s saved by a man named Nakago, one of the Seiryu Shichiseishi and becomes the Seiryu no Miko. Once Miaka realizes Yui is missing, she goes back into the book. However, months have passed in the book’s time and Nakago has convinced Yui that Miaka abandoned her. When Miaka comes back, Yui believes that Miaka only came back to be with Tamahome, and reveals her intentions to summon Seiryu. What follows is an epic and often tragic story of friends pitted against each other, betrayal, revenge and star crossed love.

Up until the point Yui is pulled into the book, Fushigi Yuugi almost comes off as a comedy with a lot of sight gags and slapstick. These elements continue through the series, but almost serve just as a contrast that makes the darker parts of the story that much more disturbing. FY deals with some pretty heavy stuff between the rapes, Nakago’s psychological torment of Yui, major characters dying and even small children killed in cold blood. The series would almost be family friendly if not for these intensely dark moments. I can see why it had so much attention, as a series willing to do the things Fushigi Yuugi does is rare even today. I do think that sometimes it comes off a little forced and overdramatic, but overall the story doesn’t bog down too much.

I’m almost sad to say I liked it, since now I’m going to have to add it to the list of things to buy. I know box sets are available, it’s just a matter of finding them at a price I like. If you like shows of the vintage and style of Sailormoon, but want something a little more heavy hitting, give Fushigi Yuugi a try. And if you’re a fangirl, it’s got yaoi fodder aplenty.

Advertisements

Another Century’s Episode 3

September 26, 2007

Another Century’s Episode (ACE) 3 was released for the PS2 in Japan early this month. I finally got mine late last week partially thanks to a routing mistake by our beloved United States Postal Service. The ACE series is a collaboration between Banpresto and From Software (makers of Armored Core). The premise is simple, make the 3rd person mecha shoot-em-up equivalent of Super Robot Wars. I wasn’t really expecting much from the franchise, a typical licensed game designed to grab money from the fans. Boy, did I ever underestimate it.

ACE 2, when I brought it back from Japan last year, blew me away. It was the best mecha game I had ever played, better representing Gundam, Macross, etc than those franchises own games. When I saw ACE 3, I preordered immediately. Featured series this time out are: Aura Battler Dunbine, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Metal Armor Dragonar, Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, G Gundam, Macross Plus, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, Macross Plus, Gundam X, Brain Powerd, Nadesico: The Prince of Darkness, Getter Robo Armageddon, Turn A Gundam, Overman King Gainer, Gundam Seed, Eureka Seven, The Wings of Rean, Gundam (First Gundam), and ACE Originals. Whew! All these mecha and characters come together in an epic storyline that pulls elements from most of their own stories, with an original plotline to tie it all together. What could easily read like a bad fanfic comes off surprisingly well. One thing ACE avoids doing is acknowledging that they’re from many different worlds and trying to reconcile it. It just presents things as if all these people and organizations exist in the same world and that’s that. ACE 3 does add the concept of a second Earth in another dimension, and the collision of the two being the driving force to its story. The other Earth is treated as the first one was though, many series’ characters and events blend seamlessly into its world.

As for actual gameplay, the controls operate in the manner initially laid down by Zone of the Enders. Unlike most licensed mecha shooters though, everything is very polished and tight. Controls respond as expected and are highly configurable. Subweapons are controlled by a fantastic shift system where holding L1 remaps each face button and the right shoulder buttons to a subweapon or transformation. This allows instant access to your unit’s entire arsenal without clumsily selecting a weapon before firing. Additional special abilities for some units are mapped to pressing L3+R3, usually this is to abandon extra armor or call for a support unit like the Meteor or G-Falcon. Units are launched in teams of three, with one player controlled unit and two CPU controlled wingmen. When the “Friend” meter fills, you can initiate a combination attack. Certain groups of characters (with some relation to each other) will trigger a powerful EX attack cutscene at the end of the combo. As you complete missions you earn experience for your units as well as ACE Points. ACE Points buy stats for your units as well as purchase extra units not introduced by the story.

The decision to buy ACE or not is very simple. If you have the ability to play Japanese PS2 games and you like mecha, this is your game. In fact, if you like mecha, this is a very good reason to look into ways to play imports. The ACE series shines as an example of how licensed games should be made. The only downside is that after playing ACE, games like Gundam: Encounters in Space and the PS2 Macross game seem clunky by comparison.

If you need more convincing, just check out the cool opening footage featuring “Shinku” by Shimatani Hitomi:

Macross Plus

September 23, 2007

I’ve been playing A.C.E. 3, which I will be posting thoughts on as soon as I’ve worked through the story mode. Playing the game has prompted me to rewatch one of my favorite shows featured in the game, Kawamori Shoji’s 1994 sci-fi opus Macross Plus.

Macross Plus fits into continuity shortly before the start of the Macross 7 TV series. It has been many years since the end of Space War I (shown in the original Macross series). Humanity is spreading itself across the stars with massive colony fleets, fearing the all too real possibility of Earth’s population being wiped out (again) by a Zentradi fleet. The current backbone of the UN Spacy’s forces is the aging VF-11 Thunderbolt variable fighter, a descendant of the venerable VF-1 Valkyrie. Two new variable fighters are being tested at New Edwards Flight Center on the colony world Eden: the YF-19, a highly advanced direct continuation of the variable fighter tradition; and the YF-21, based on Zentradi power armors and featuring the radical new Brain Direct Imaging and Brainwave Control System.

Freshly transferred from the frontier, where his hotshot antics were no longer welcome, is Isamu Dyson, now assigned to test pilot the YF-19. Piloting for the YF-21 team is Guld Bowman, a former friend and rival of Isamu. The two men seem to have a deep grudge with each other relating to mutual childhood friend/crush Myung Fang Lone. When Myung also returns to Eden as producer of the computer generated pop idol Sharon Apple, the two men begin a fierce competition over both Myung and the project.

As tensions between the former friends escalate, it seems there’s something dark brewing in Sharon’s AI, fed by Myung’s unstable feelings for Isamu and Guld. When Sharon’s AI finally goes out of control, taking over the Macross’s main computer during a celebration of the end of the war in Macross City, only Isamu and Guld are in a position to stop her. That is, if they can stop trying to kill each other and put an end to the incident from years ago.

Macross Plus shows off the Macross franchise and the talents of Kawamori at their absolute finest. Combining breathtaking aerial sequences with heavy character drama and fantastic music (provided by the brilliant Kanno Yoko), Macross Plus was everything the Macross fan could have hoped for in an OVA. Tomino Yoshiyuki should take lessons, his attempts at short OVAs and films like The Wings of Rean or Gundam F91 are a disaster of trying to cram way too much story in a short format. Kawamori knows the limitations he’s working under, and focuses on weaving a tight narrative about three people and their feelings for each other.

The story was originally conceived as a movie, but the studio decided to move to a 4-episode OVA. The script was reworked to maintain drama in 40 minute chunks. Later, it was remade into the originally intended movie format with some extended sequences (especially toward the end), massive reordering of scenes and some stuff left on the cutting room floor. The movie’s sequence of events is more logical, and the extended battle between Guld and the AI-controlled Ghost X-9 fighter soundly surpasses the OVA. Some of the cuts made leave minor characters sadly lacking development in some cases though, and unfortunately the quality of the R1 DVD for the movie quite frankly blows.

Either version is great though, something every anime fan needs to see and people who like good films probably should see. The story is self contained enough that familiarity with the Macross mythos isn’t required, but those who do know will get a little extra out of it. Highly, highly recommended.

Cable TV

September 20, 2007

Last Saturday, I had cable hooked up. This is somewhat significant because I chose not to get it when I moved here, and only have it now because they offered it to me basically free (for the same price as Internet alone). I didn’t bother to get it because I watch downloaded content, or content on DVD. Fansubs, video podcasts, Flash video on the web, etc. I saw no reason to have cable. Even if there was a show I wanted to see, I can probably get it on iTunes (or BitTorrent). I watched a little bit this week almost as an experiment as to how I would respond to it after not using regular TV for a while. This was my primary reaction:

How the hell do people stand this? And why?

When I think back to when I was trapped watching commercial ridden broadcasts set to someone else’s schedule, I almost cringe. It’s like reverting to rubbing sticks together for warmth (Ugh! Fire!). I’m so used to watching shows when I want and only seeing an occasional commercial in a podcast. And damn, is advertising pervasive these days. Crap’s popping up taking up big chunks of the screen and making noise during the show. Absolutely unacceptable. It’s the same kind of advertising overload I experience whenever I’m forced to use the Internet without AdBlock Plus.

So much crap. Where’s the content? Even Adult Swim, the last bastion of programming that I watched on linear TV, is a pitiful shadow. This is of course a fate I envisioned for it from the beginning. After all, that kind of random comedy is hard to duplicate, so decent new shows would be few and far between (though I could stand some more Venture Bros. and Boondocks). Even the shows they had which were good degenerated, like Sealab 2021 and ATHF. The recent original shows are pure filth.

What’s that leave me with? The History Channel? Mythbusters? Sorry, Comcast, not worth the expense. When this 1-year special deal is up, I’ll be proudly turning my cable box back in. I can’t wait until TV on the Internet becomes as painless as regular TV. This way of doing things deserves to go beyond tech enthusiasts like me.

New music, week of 9/16/07

September 16, 2007

Rie Fu5000 Miles

Rie Fu has never been a chart topper. In fact her career high is “I Wanna Go to a Place” from Gundam Seed Destiny which reached #5 on Oricon, her only top 10 single. However, ever since her “Life is Like a Boat” single from Bleach, I’ve loved her work. It’s clever, and the infusion of American country influence helps her break the JPop mold. Her last couple singles after the release of her 2nd album have not quite lived up, but “5000 Miles” shows that she still has the potential to do good stuff. We’ll assume the last couple lackluster releases are due to concentrating on college. “5000 Miles” shows heavily that country influence she no doubt picked up spending part of her youth in Baltimore. Even though I tend to dislike country due to its backwards and nationalistic themes, that’s a non-issue with Rie Fu.

Kitade NanaAntoinette Blue

Not an artist I tend to follow a lot, I still would have liked to catch Nana’s performance at last year’s Otakon. Unfortunately, funding was short for a con trip at the time since I had just gotten back from the real Japan and bought a new laptop. “Antoinette Blue” is the new (final?) ending theme for the D.Gray-man anime. It’s angsty, guitar heavy JPop worthy of the queen of goth-loli and D.Gray-man’s dark style. It lacks any real hook though, no particular part that gets stuck in my head which makes the song overall somewhat unmemorable.

ChatmonchyDaidai

Another new anime ending, “Daidai” is the latest in a long line of Bleach endings. Chatmonchy is cool for being one of a rare breed, an all female rock band. “Daidai” is a fast paced ballad driven by the vocals of Hashimoto Eriko, which ride the line of being forceful without overly straining her voice. Though Yui accomplishes this vocal style better, Chatmonchy benefits from a more consistent and complex instrumental side due to being a full band.

Action-ZERO

This is the most recent insert/battle/ending theme from Kamen Rider Den-O performed by the actors for Sakurai Yuuto and Deneb. I don’t really know what to say here. It’s really generic pop… it actually kinda sucks. What happened to the kick ass themes from the earlier Heisei-era Rider series? I hope this isn’t a trend.

BUCK-TICKAlice in Wonder Underground

This came out about a month ago, but I somehow missed it. That is until recently when it occurred to me “What happened to that new BUCK-TICK song, did it ever come out?” Indeed it did… a month ago. I’ve seen a lot of people griping about it saying it’s too pop-ish. I think people need to understand the difference between art and entertainment (in fact, I may pen a post about this). “Alice in Wonder Underground” accomplishes its intended tasks. BUCK-TICK obviously had fun making it, and we can have fun listening to it. I rather like it, it’s catchy and certainly of a different tone than any other pop song. The video is awesome too.

Bleach: Memories of Nobody

September 11, 2007

Bleach’s first movie has hit DVD in Japan, and thus the first fansubs have hit the net.

Ichigo and Rukia are out patrolling Karakura-cho for Hollows when they pick up a strange reiatsu. Arriving on the scene, they see a crowd of strange souls in white cloaks with faceless red heads. Before they can figure out what to do with these odd creatures, a mysterious female Shinigami shows up and dispatches them. Ichigo questions her, only discovering her name is Senna, as she doesn’t know what squad she’s from or anything else about her past. As Rukia heads back to Soul Society to investigate, Ichigo sticks to Senna looking for answers. Soon, a mysterious group called the Dark Ones appear attempting to kidnap Senna as part of their plan to destroy both Soul Society and the living world.

If you’ve ever seen a movie based on a Shonen Jump property, you know the drill here. Mysterious new threat appears, main characters investigate and get into some skirmishes, then at the end everybody parades out and the super powers explode for the big climax. These movies are almost a genre unto themselves.

Bleach, fortunately, is a better attempt than some others. One thing that really helps is that I really liked Senna’s character. In a standalone movie like this where development of the main cast is nil by necessity, it’s the original characters that make or break it. On the down side, I wasn’t very interested in the villains. I didn’t care who they were, why they were doing what they were doing, they were just uninteresting. In fact, if this wasn’t Bleach and needing a certain action element, I’d say the film could have been done without them. Just focus on the story of Senna and what she is, what the mysterious souls were, etc. But, hey, we need a reason for everyone to bust out the bankais at the end right?

Bleach: Memories of Nobody is a decent standalone effort. Fans will of course love seeing their favorite characters with a bigger animation budget (and on that note, this was the first animated appearance of Rukia’s zanpakuto “Sode no Shirayuki”). The film could also serve as a decent way for someone unfamiliar with Bleach to quickly get the gist of how the show works, though as with all movies of this type the character relationships are mostly left unexplained. Overall, it’s no classic, but a decent way to kill 90 minutes.

Star Trek movies

September 9, 2007

I’m going to diverge a bit from what I usually talk about here and discuss Star Trek. If you need to apply it to the Japan or Apple main themes of the blog, Sulu is Japanese and there’s a Mac in Star Trek IV. 😛

I recently bought the Star Trek Motion Pictures Collection, a box set of all 10 Star Trek feature films. The set is compiled from the 2-disc editions of each film which are available independently. Content-wise, the set is pretty good. Copious special features are included on the second disc of each film, and there are commentaries on the main discs. DTS audio is included on the later films, though I wish we could have gotten a DTS mix for all of them. Video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with no major flaws in the encodings despite all the heavy use of dark colors in the space scenes.

The only real gripe I have here is the packaging. Some odd decisions were made. Most obviously is the use of cases which are 50% wider than the standard DVD case. There’s no reason to do this with only two discs per case, especially since it uses the same sort of double hub design used in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex limited edition releases. There aren’t even booklets included to necessitate a wider case, in fact all but one of the films don’t even have an insert. All these wide cases have accomplished is make the set take up an unnecessary amount of shelf space, which is annoying. Also, while most of the discs use a uniform silver label, a couple feature artwork from the film, which is just strangely inconsistent. Also in terms of inconsistency, the cover of the first film is gold rather than silver like the other 9. Why is this one different? The only thing I can think of is to call attention to the fact that this is the “Director’s Edition” version released in 1991 with new effects rather than the 1979 original. I think that’s pretty well covered by the fact that it plainly says “Director’s Edition” below the title.

Anyway, my griping about design consistency aside, this is a really worthwhile set at a good price. You should have no problem getting it online in the US $70-80 range.

As for the films themselves, this was actually the first time I’d seen Nemesis. I just never got around to it before. Overall, I didn’t find it as bad as I’d heard. Not the greatest, but I’d still take it over I or V in a heartbeat. I had of course heard the big spoiler about the film some time ago, it’s hard to avoid on the Internet. I’m glad though that like Spock’s death in II, they left the door propped open for Data’s return in a future film. Also, I believe this was the first time in my life I actually made it all the way through Star Trek I in one sitting without falling asleep! Damn that is a dull movie.

A little while ago I wrote that my PS2 had died. Well, after fooling around with it, I discovered it hadn’t really died. It’s just that the one switch inside under the hinge (I have a slim PS2) wasn’t making good contact. This switch is one of two responsible for letting the system know the lid is closed so that it will spin the disc. As soon as one of these switches isn’t depressed, it stops the optical drive. Thus, the optical drive seemed dead. We won’t get into why the switch isn’t making good contact or what the likelihood is that it’s because of my attempts to super glue it down to use a swap disc…

Anyway, I discovered that placing pressure on it near the switch got it going again. So, initially I just piled a bit of tape on top of the switch to give it the extra “oomph” it needed to make contact when the lid pushes on it. That’s well and good for getting it to behave normally as a US PS2, but what about my imports that require the swap disc?

Well, enter the flip top for your flip top. A delightful mod part which replaces the flip top lid of your slim PS2 with one that has another flip top lid in it. Thus, while leaving the main lid closed so the switches are depressed, you open the inner one and change the disc. Brilliant. I got it together, and while the quality of the part is better overall than I expected, it isn’t quite as tight as the original. So, even with the tape, it doesn’t put enough pressure on that switch by itself. Being the clever guy I am, I simply set something heavy on the back of the PS2 to get the needed pressure, specifically a bowl of Go stones. What you see is the result. A little ugly, but hell it works. Maybe I’ll eventually replace the PS2 with one that has a switch that doesn’t require extra effort to trigger, but this works for now.

Lucky!

September 4, 2007

I was able to get the rest of Kamen Rider Agito. Turns out the files for the entire series were originally posted to this thread on Henshin Justice Unlimited. Many thanks to BrownRanger for encoding those. I completely cracked out on the show and finished it off this weekend. Great stuff. It may even have displaced Faiz as my favorite Rider considering Agito’s ending is much more satisfying.

In other points of interest, I also found a couple more episodes of Liveman while stumbling around HJU’s forum. Liveman is one of the all time classics of the Sentai franchise, so thanks to the ILA Fansubs team for taking it up.

The last bit of fansub gold I struck is running across the entire Fushigi Yuugi TV series. This is something people have told me to watch since forever, but was always too damn expensive for me to risk on. Back when this was current, you had the choice of dubbed VHS which was ridiculously expensive, or subbed VHS where they would come out, bend you over and violate you for a fortnight. The situation did not improve much in the era of DVD, though the most recent printing of the series can be had for about $200 as a series of single discs. If I like it, I’ll buy it (I’m not one of those damn kids who downloads everything and never spends a dime. I have scruples).

New music, week of 9/2/07

September 2, 2007

L'Arc~en~Ciel - My Heart Draws a Dream

L’Arc~en~CielMY HEART DRAWS A DREAM

L’Arc’s most recent single on their way to the new album is released. “MY HEART DRAWS A DREAM” is one of L’Arc’s slower songs, in this case very peaceful. The video has children from around the world lip syncing/singing along with them, seeming to promote a world peace message. Not much to say here, typically excellent work from L’Arc~en~Ciel.

Utada HikaruBeautiful World/Kiss & Cry

Hikki also makes an entry this week with a double A-side single. Beautiful World is the theme for the Rebuild of Evangelion movie. I haven’t seen it, but we can probably assume the Eva connection is the reason why there’s a cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” as a B-side here. How many versions of that song are there for Eva now? “Kiss & Cry” is a faster pop piece that used animation from “Freedom”, the animation project used in the recent Nissin Cup Ramen ads. It also lifts a part of the melody right out of “Hotel Lobby” from her ill-fated US released album “Exodus”. Maybe she liked that bit and wanted to use it on something that wasn’t a disaster.

Tamaki NamiBrightdown

Tamaki Nami debuted by performing the second two theme songs for Gundam Seed. I followed her for a bit through her first album, but then got bored. There’s nothing particularly wrong with her, she just doesn’t really stand out among all the other pop offerings. She also seems to be using sex appeal a lot to promote herself, much like a certain Koda Kumi. I can’t really get behind that, your work should not need the support of your boobs. That said, “Brightdown” is decently catchy and a little darker than I remember her. It’s used as a theme for the D.Gray-man anime, so it’s fitting.

Makihara Noriyuki – GREEN DAYS

OK, so this isn’t “new” as in just came out this past week, but this column is about what’s new on my iPod, and I just got around to getting this 😛 “GREEN DAYS” is the theme to Ushi ni Negai wo, and is a very nice uplifting guitar ballad. I like it, and it jives with the country theme of the show.