It’s you against The World

.hack// is a full immersion isekai experience twenty years ahead of its time
by Perot LeFou

The leads of .hack//Sign

The two great loves of my life have been anime and video games. I could wax on about how formative to my comprehension of ethics the Ultima series was, or that Slayers brought me to appreciate dramatic high-concepts explored mostly with irreverence. But I’m here to extol my love for something that combines both: .hack. Most US based anime fans enjoying Toonami’s offerings would know about this series. .hack//Sign showing all the hallmarks of a prototypical isekai: the setting is a massively popular MMO follows a player who has fallen into a coma and become stuck in the game.

Yet unlike quite a few other anime about playing or being trapped in MMOs or just handwaving world logic or systems as vaguely akin to a video game: this was developed to be a companion series to an actual video game series. .hack//Sign, the first anime started airing alongside the first of four game releases over two years. Less a game series and more like the multi-part discs of the same single-player RPG, released on the PlayStation 2. .hack//Infection, .hack//Mutation, .hack//Outbreak, and .hack//Quarantine, referred together as “.hack//Game”. Each disc of which each came with an OVA episode of another series .hack//Liminality. Showing IRL events concurrent to the in-universe in-game events away from the game’s VR terminals. .hack//Sign chronologically takes place first. That is between it and .hack//Game, the .hack franchise has so much media it’s easier for the sake of brevity to say I forget the precise number of prequels. However, something I can’t help but appreciate, looking back on the series after nearly two decades, is how well these first entries’ metatext about The World holds up as a theoretical videogame and MMO.

.hack//Sign is a series that follows a partially amnesiac Wavemaster Tsukasa. Who very early is shown to command a neigh indestructible unnatural looking creature “The Guardian”. Between this and other reports of Tsukasa seeming to know secrets or actively be hacking the game to have this and other powers. In short order a guild of PKers at attempt to destroy this guardian and fail. Not because Tsukasa is the most skilled player ever, or simply winning the RNG lottery to get “unkillable monster” as a character specific power, which no self-respecting game designer should ever make part of an MMO. Rather, it’s because The Guardian is no uncertain terms not part of The World as a conceived, developed or released game, and certainly was not intended for players to gain control of. Explaining how this is better justified, would be the most concise possible way to spoil the overarching plotline of .hack//Sign.

Tsukasa summons his Twilight Guardian

Yet if you were sitting across the table from me and had asked about my favorite anime: I’d be willing to do just that. That is what resonates with me, if I didn’t make this clear is exactly how well the series captures the sense of MMOs, certainly of and well after its time. A lot of .hack//Sign is dialog about philosophy. Which I know is a holding point to some entrants. However, for my part I’m focusing less on the high-concepts explored: the player mentalities ring true. I’ll try to avoid spoiling it so much, so I’ll omit names. One player in .hack//Sign is a professional with an adult son they’re trying to reconnect with who makes friends with newbies and mentors taking on a rule of a surrogate parent. Another is a shut in who purely uses The World to socialize with others, never leveling up at all despite having many equally or less-tenured powerful friends. Another is a 10 year old that loves Player Killer and griefing: but is also just entertained by the game. Said PKer becomes obsessed with Tsukasa not because he possesses an indomitable monster that can wipe out high leveled characters, but rather because Tsukasa’s able to evade being PKed. Two players start to have a romantic relationship and it combined with other ongoing social events basically destroys their player guild. Anyone out there who has played MMOs has seen some of these play out.

Yet on a more basic level the depiction of how players interact with the game are simplistically obvious, but also show cognition of game mechanics and design on part of the series creators. When players leave their VR terminals to go and talk to someone or grab a snack: their models freeze in whatever pose they were last, not pausing their game just removing any of their input. When players can’t find a friend that knows something they can’t figure out: they post to the game’s BBS about it. Though this is specifically called out in .hack//Sign: a simulated BBS is one of the cornerstones of .hack//Game, accessible after logging out of the World. This does have players inquiring about special in-game events, opportunities to meet new partymembers, but also just links to off-site news articles and people complaining about everyday things. Some players, like the Root Town dwellers in the .hack//Game want functionless collectible items and will trade items of in-game items for them.

To go further I’d say .hack captures the a believable experience of the experience of a game. In fact if you were to start the .hack franchise and go through it in release order; you would watch .hack//Sign and then play .hack//Game. You’d probably notice player-killing isn’t possible in .hack//Game. A discrepancy? Game and story segregation? No: it’s because PKing had been deemed a problem by the game designers and the ability to PK has been patched out. This isn’t the only patch: you can read the patch notes about it and other changing to incremental releases to The World. Which continues to receive patches throughout .hack//game. Another tactile point, is a realistic feeling of unreality. Looking broadly at the characters. Players have only a fixed number of classes to choose from. Secondary and lead characters of .hack//Sign and .hack//Game are Mimiru and Black Rose; both female Heavy Blade characters, the male Blademasters Bear and Orca, and even the lead male Wavemasters Tsukasa with Elk. However instead of being strikingly unique stand out characters: they’re basically palette swaps of one another. With a single accessory and coloration difference. A point of discussion in several series is that player skins are limited, with unique ones being awarded in in-game events. This is one of the many reasons hackers that make The World interesting since they use their own custom skins, the other being that they find unique accessible hidden fragments of The World to reveal and explore.

Kite, the player character in .hack// video games

The World functionally has infinite gameplay content. Something the player of .hack//Game will notice early is that means random generated dungeons. The series’ characters: who are the players, who play characters in The World, will complain about the sameness of The World’s procedurally generated content. Levels are generated using collectible keywords as random seeds. Which again just makes so much sense in emulating the limits of videogames. There aren’t millions of hand-crafted levels, there are not hundreds of thousands of programmers working at ALTIMIT, the fictional company that runs The World. Less than .00002% of the accessible fields or dungeons across the five servers in .hack//Game are special. Eight themed worlds and dungeon sets, paired with a few weather effects to make about thirty stock worlds, and only a handful of curated levels. There’d be even fewer if it wasn’t for the non-intentional corruption visual landscape of worlds. More standard game-term limits of The World are of course on display in .hack//Game: you can meet players with bad ping, easily hit the level cap using exploitative or limited use items, exploit free to use Spring of Mysts to upgrade your starting equipment into maxed leveled equipment for each server in about 30 minutes from gaining control at the start of each disc.

These anime and game rewards the viewer/player’s attention to detail. As a showcase, you will notice reoccurring characters throughout the series. A unique main character from .hack//Game, and most storied character in the eventually developed franchise is among the protagonist’s team in .hack//Sign’s climactic battle without pomp or preamble. Not to keep harping on this one note: but that really feels real to me: I don’t think everyone gives their life story out on every raid. While watching the anime will let you pick up keywords for locations visited in .hack//Sign, or special ones to access in .hack//Liminality for your use in .hack//Game, usually important locations or the home to unique treasure.

Balmung comes out of nowhere

Now I’ve started onto the path of praising the franchise as a whole. I haven’t even started on any anime, manga, novel, or games including a TCG and an ARG, or really material from a series started after 2002. However, this isn’t without any faults. I had once managed to hear complaints about .hack//Sign. These monsters would say true things like “It’s just a bunch of people sitting around and talking”, and “It takes forever to get to too little good stuff”. With the action-based contemporary anime it shared its broadcast block with: I could see how someone in the wrong frame of mind could form these and other terrible conclusions. Two reasons this shouldn’t dissuade you. First the OST for .hack//Sign is my favorite of any anime series, and not something I’ve ever heard a single complaint about. Some electronic otherwise a lot of festive or sedate Celtic sounds stand out a fair bit. I’m not a huge audiophile but that OST has been on every one of my computers, MP3 players, and phones that could have it for the last 17 years and it’ll take some kind of EMP to change that. Second: anyone who now has the faintest interest doesn’t need to wait half a year for a no-longer existent once-a-week broadcast cycle. It’s on Funimation’s streaming service. The main 25 episodes are free, with another two OVAs and the totally extraneous recap episode “Evidence” as subscription-only. One could easily finish this first anime in three sittings.

Recommended listening: .hack//Sign OST

However, for .hack//Game it’s less fortunate. Bandai’s and CyberConnect2’s negligence, the second game series .hack//GU received a collected, remastered. and expanded re-release in Last Recode. .hack//Game has not. This makes recommending the game hard. One would need to track down a physical set to play it in its entirety. Which is awkward to recommend since the final title .hack//Quarantine has always been among the most expensive resale PS2 games. Ranging above $200. Once-upon-a-time it was solidly, now merely vying for the second most expensive PS2 game behind the infamous Rule of Rose. All I can say is that if you want to stop by my place: I’ll lend you my copies. If that’s too steep, and if anything I said has piqued your gaming interest in the franchise as a whole? .hack//GU Last Recode is available on digital storefronts PSN and Steam. Incidentally it’s $8 on Steam the day this will post. Unfortunately, that doesn’t pair with .hack//Sign as well. No, that has its own anime mate: .hack//Roots. Which is also a great show, but I’ll have to save exploring those in depth for another time I contribute.

Fuck yeah, look it up!

.hack// multimedia franchise
Starts with .hack//Sign (2002 anime) and .hack//Infection (2002 video game)
Overall concept and games produced by CyberConnect2, Anime produced by Bee Train
Anime licenced in North America by Funimation, Games available on PSN and Steam

Desert Dogfight

The Area 88 TV Series’ Story of Survival
by Punch Rockgroin

The household of my youth provided me with easy access to plenty of books on information concerning the jets of the Cold War. My dad used these for research purposes, both out of interest and the need to make sure he was staying ahead of his wargaming buddies. A steady diet of perusing the pictures of aircraft in these tomes, plus watching shows like “Wings of the Red Star” and so forth only heightened my interest in jet aircraft. The first airshow I remember was with the Thunderbirds; I could not believe how loud the jets were, but their garish paint scheme and feats of daring entranced me. I purchased Area 88 by chance back when I was in high school, having seen the jets on the cover and recently played through the “Ace Combat” games on the PlayStation 2. Surely, this was up my alley…my MiG Alley.

Area 88 takes place some time in the late 70s to early 80s and follows the unfortunate tale of Shin Kazama, once an up-and-coming airline pilot, who was backstabbed by his “friend” Satoru Kanzaki. Satoru knows Shin is engaged to the daughter of Yamato Air, so Satoru gets Shin drunk and has him sign what Shin thinks is a form to confirm he “spent the night”; in reality, it’s a contract signing him up as a mercenary for the Kingdom of Aslan. Shin then must fight for Aslan for 3 years, or earn $1.5 million in bounties to pay off the contract. Since desertion means capital punishment, Shin goes for option 2.

Cold War feelin’

The eponymous Area 88 is staffed by a number of shady characters. The local merchant is McCoy, who sells everything from planes and armament, to film and information. Shin’s best friend at Area 88 is Mickey Simon, a former US Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran who was unable to adjust to civilian life. Another staple of the base is Shinjou Makoto, a war photographer who documents the exploits of the pilots, though has an ulterior motive for being there. The base is run by Prince Saki Vashutal, who constantly sports a set of aviators and a X-shaped scar from when X delivered it to him.

The series is mostly focused on air combat, with some drama on the side. The drama provides us with the story elements, but the animation studio seemed to figure that the more interesting parts were the dogfights. Given that the aircraft are all 3D renders, this probably saved on the budget as well. When I was in high school, this was what I was primarily interested in, and the series certainly delivers. The combat is much more “Ace Combat” than “Digital Combat Simulator”, so expect a distinct lack of BVR engagements and Sidewinders that miss when they lose sight of the plot. Still, there’s plenty of explosions and high-G maneuvers to keep you entertained, and is generally not a crash-and-burn affair. The series only really strays from the combat-centric formula in the last couple episodes.

Other than Shin’s plight of knowing a former friend has stolen both his career and his girl, some background is provided on the other characters, but these are just for an episode. Some more information is provided on Mickey’s days in Vietnam, or on Shinjou’s true mission at Area 88. Many more characters seem to exist for story, as they tend to appear and die in the same episode.

I’m thinking Mickey didn’t go home for… other reasons

The fanservice is in the jets themselves. Shin pilots both an F-8 Crusader and an F-5E, while Mickey has an F-14 (possibly stolen from Iran?). Their opponents are all variety of MiGs, primarily the MiG-21 and MiG-23. The 3D models are relatively detailed, though given that this show is from 2004, the animation feels a little stiff at times.

Before this series, there was also a 3-episode OVA released in 1985. The plot is more or less the same, but is more focused on Shin dealing with killing people in order to survive, as well as some of the horrors he witnesses. The series and OVA deviate most greatly in the ending: The TV series gives the viewer a sense of hope at the end, while the OVA is far less certain. In the TV series, Shin suffers a setback that prevents him from leaving when he initially planned, but is convinced to fight on after hearing word on his girlfriend. In the OVA, Shin actually makes it home, but has become addicted to the adrenaline rush of combat, and finds that civilian life no longer suits him; as a result he returns to Area 88, and the OVA ends with him going into combat against ferocious odds.

The OVA’s ending, though depressing, had more of an impact on me. Shin didn’t even want to be there in the first place, but his will to get back home morphed into a desire to fight. I have to pause a bit and think about what it means to be a soldier, and how hard it can be to adjust to normal life after something as bracing as war. The TV series’ ending isn’t bad, and in some respects is still uncertain. It has a brighter outlook, with Shin’s vigor to survive and get out of Area 88 renewed, yet he must practically start over. It’s a coin toss for me as to preference.

Overall, the series is a relatively quick run at 12 episodes, and can be watched in an afternoon if so desired. If you’re a jet jockey looking for some animated fighter combat, this is one of the few gigs in town. In some ways the OVA is the better watch, since the story has more weight to it. But if you watch the OVA and want more combat, then I would recommend the TV series. As someone who loves the feeling I get in my chest when a fighter roars by with its afterburner on, I will recommend the series to any fighter jockey, virtual or otherwise.

Fuck yeah, look it up!
Area 88 (2012)
Directed by Isamu Imakake
Produced by Ryosuke Takahashi and Group TAC
Licenced in North America by ADV Films

Two Scoops of Wave Motion Gun

Space Battleship Yamato 2202: Warriors of Love brings more battles, more beef
by Bob Johnson

In many ways, Space Battleship Yamato is Japan’s answer to Star Trek.  Though anime and the space age have gone together since the dawn of the industry (i.e., Astro Boy) – the 1974 Yamato series was a landmark that solidified science fiction anime into a cultural force and famously influenced the art team for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As the 2010s, the age of the remake and the simuldub, dragged on, it was inevitable that the Yamato would rise again.  Yet, every year between 2013 and 2017, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 was the go-to example of “Why isn’t there a dub for this?” — a major franchise that should have been snapped up for a licence above any number of moéshit school life clones.  But that didn’t happen, at least, not right away.  What do we have to thank for the dub?  Why, the second season of the remake – Space Battleship Yamato 2202: Warriors of Love.  When this follow-on was announced, Funimation finally fired up the wave motion cannon, dubbing both shows in back-to-back releases in 2017 and 2018.

A new adventure awaits the Yamato

In the year 2202, things are looking up for humanity. But even though Earth’s oceans are restored, and the planet has deployed a fleet of ships with the latest in wave-motion technology, a new threat appears in the form of Gatlantis, an evil empire with a deadly space fleet, threatening the far-off world of Telezart. Ordered to stay home by the powers that be, but haunted by strange dreams, the crew of the Yamato mutinies and takes her out for a new season of adventures in space, fighting for galactic love and peace.

Constantly threading the needle between a rapacious enemy on one side, and an Earth government on the brink of fascism on the other, Yamato‘s crew is often called upon to set the example. By necessity, they are required to compromise their high moral values, but in the end, still manage to save the galaxy without sacrificing all of their integrity.

Lt. Klaus Keyman (left) and Todo Katsuragi – Yamato outsiders with questionable motives.

The death of Captain Okita looms over the crew, leaving Kodai to command the Yamato. Whereas Okita was ever the chessmaster, ensuring the enemy fell into his plot, Kodai is decent enough in the Captain’s chair, but lacks confidence. Kodai also has relationship issues, particularly with Yuki. Actually, nearly *everyone* has interpersonal drama in this anime, most notably Lieutenant Keyman, a Garmilan pilot constantly getting into intrigues, and Kasturagi, a medtech who slips aboard Yamato and increasingly plays the role of femme fatale. How will they bring peace to the galaxy if they can’t get along with each other? Well, saving each others’ skins in battle goes a long way to rebuilding trust.

Would you care for some drama in a can, sir?

If you’ve never seen Space Battleship Yamato, it’s high time you saw 2199: it’s a well paced gauntlet run, where nearly every moment is desperate and vital to the future of humanity. 2202, while also quite solid, backs the stakes off a little. It lets other heroes take a bit of the limelight, and frees up the Yamato to dart back and forth between hotspots in a larger war. Both seasons deal with existential issues, not solely of survival in the face of the enemy, but also how to go about fighting, and what is and is not worth fighting for.

I will have to disagree with anyone who claims that the second go was able to wholly recapture the epic grandeur that was Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – but in all fairness, that is an *extremely* high metric.  Space Battleship Yamato 2202, despite all of its spaghetti-wall character drama and sudden plot twists, is well within the halls of truly awesome anime.

Fuck Yeah, Look It Up:
Space Battleship Yamato 2202 (aka Star Blazers 2202)
Original concept by Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto
Produced by Xebec, Licenced by Funimation

A Fistful of ’80s

Or, How I Learned to Just Embrace the Corn
by Bolt Vanderhuge

In spite of being something akin to an old classic, I feel like Fist of the North Star tends to get forgotten by modern audiences, or just mocked by them if they are made aware of it.  Yet if one can overlook the poor animation quality, visual inconsistencies, and simplistic plot, it really is a strangely watchable show.

First, though, you should be aware of the fact that you have essentially two options, as I’m highlighting both a movie released in 1986 and a series which aired from 1984-1987, which were both produced by the same creative staff.  The series was pretty obviously made for a younger crowd, and is toned down accordingly, often through the use of silhouette or recoloring blood to either black or white for the gorier scenes, while the movie revels in goriness, being sure to show you as much of the insides of the victims of the various styles of martial arts (referred to as fists) used by protagonist Kenshiro and a few other characters he comes across on his journey to rescue his fiancé.  Ironically, there’s a lot more random nudity in the series than there is in the movie.

Nudity has no place in my gory movie

In any case, this is a post-apocalyptic story, set in the ruins of a nuclear holocaust that has claimed most of humanity and left the entire planet a ruin.  The movie leave the nature of this apocalypse something of a mystery, but the series explicitly spells it out and even shows it a few times in flashback.  While most of what remains of humanity has fallen into anarchy and lives off what they can salvage from the remains of civilization (and is very much inspired by Mad Max), there are still martial art masters keeping their traditions alive.  Most of them, such as the titular “Fist of the North Star,” are seen as so powerful that there can be only one legitimate practitioner of them at a time.  Kenshiro is but one of three adopted sons of the master of the Fist of the North Star, and undergoes trials with them so the master can decide which to choose as heir to his Fist.  He ends up going with Kenshiro, and this ends up making the others rather upset.  One of them just takes what he has learned so far and kills the master before leaving on a quest to take over the world so he can bring order to the chaos.  As it happens, Kenshiro was set to marry a woman named Yuria, and is best friends with the man who has learned the Fist of the Southern Cross, Shin, at this time, and his other jealous brother decides to screw him over by convincing Shin that Yuria would be better off with him.  So the first part of both the movie and the series consists of Shin betraying Kenshiro and almost killing him in order to get him to give Yuria up, giving him the signature Big Dipper scar on his chest in the process, with Kenshiro seeking to rescue Yuria and take revenge on Shin after he has recovered.  This then ultimately culminates in a conflict with his oldest adoptive brother, Ken-Oh/Roah, and him never quite getting Yuria back.

No matter which version of this story you decide to watch, you are going to be bombarded by cheesy ’80s action goodness combined with all the anime clichés you can think of.  The series does tell a much more coherent story than the movie, and actually adds more than one dimension to the main antagonists, but it does really draw the story out and take its time to get to the point, but it makes up for this by being strangely watchable, with just enough interesting points to keep one watching.  The movie is basically just a massive dose of the good ol’ ultra-violent – the product of a style that has become a thing of the past, much to my disappointment.  The downside to both versions is that it involves a couple of kids joining up with Kenshiro, essentially to become audience proxies so that things can be explained to them.  But as with most child characters, they tend to be rather annoying and get used to generate melodrama thanks to their stupidity.  One of them, Lynn, is like a moéblob even though that trope had yet to be a thing, and is so clingy she would give Overly Attached Girlfriend a run for her money.

Strictly speaking, I would not call this a “good” show per se, as Kenshiro really epitomizes the Gary Stu trope, and the story is quite simplistic, but it is still a lot of fun to watch Kenshiro’s arms blur as he pushes his enemies’ secret pressure points to make them all explode, and even does crazy things like beat up a WWII Panzer tank, so I’d still recommend it to fans of the ’80s action genre.

Fuck Yeah! Look It Up:
Fist of the North Star [Hokuto no Ken] 109 episode anime (1984), and film (1987)
Based on the manga by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara
Produced by Toei, Licenced by Discotek

The Man We Don’t Deserve (Or Need)

When the world needed a savior, Kanta Mizuno appeared – and it was pretty much downhill from there.
by Gristle McThornbody

The face of a man looking at 5 lbs of meat in a 2lb bag

Desert Punk is a 24 episode romp from our old friends at Gonzo that spins the tale of *the bestest ever* Handyman Guild mercenary and his misadventures in the Great Kanto Desert. Surrounded by much more competent (or at least level-headed) contemporaries -and an apprentice- scrounging for table scraps in post-apocalyptic Japan, what once was a flight of fancy almost seems an attainable and realistic “new normal” when viewed from the 2020 landscape. Some shows are plot driven, some are “plot” “driven” (boobs), and some, like this one, are character driven (also boobs). While sitting as another post-world-ending anime, and borrowing quite a few well-known tropes of both that genre and good Japanese humor, the thing that sets DP apart is the bang-up jobs the Americans did with the localization.

The dub is what essentially made anime more appealing to me back in 2009, having come from a good diet of Cowboy Bebop on CN, and seeing Azumanga Daioh at the Clark County anime club. It was proof that anime could do more than be cool like Bebop or ordinary like Azu. Madcap adventures and well-done ribald humor planted firmly into satire with a decent plot (up to a point) endeared Desert Punk to me, and made me want to jump into the genre even more.  

Such a well-developed plot

Adapted from the still-ongoing manga by Usune Masatoshi, the anime plows through its 24 episodes fully tongue-in-cheek, and it’s obvious they had tons of fun adapting the madcap adventures to an English language audience. If you want a sampler without spoiling the Gonzo ending, take these Punkisms for a ride. I’d venture a guess that either the ADR folks were given full-reign, and very much knew their source material very well, because whoo-boy, have I seen tons of anime set in this type of world where the VO falls flat on its face. So, I’m grateful that they had a deft, 4th-wall-breaking dub to take us through to the end times of this anime.

It’s all fun and games until you realize…

While it’s been 11 years since I first saw it, removing the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia reveals that this is a still-fun watch. There are plenty of wacky, wild situations for the titular character goes head first into, and it gets into an episodic, nearly predictable formula. Namely, DP does a thing, either fails or succeeds and almost gets the boobies. Situations range from stealing what turned out to be a truck full of poop, to trapping the boob-tastic Junko so that she ends up high heels and a bathing suit, to a nice dueling episode with Rain Spider. Along the way, DP picks up an assistant/apprentice/annoying moéblob (that’s actually useful one or twice), and with the strong bunch of folks, it rather works out well, surprisingly. So, that’s the first 75%. The plot gets flipped at the end, but this is a Gonzo title, after all. Plan accordingly. But I’m not giving away that end, though lol! So, since you’re the type of audience that likes Max Weeb, you’ll probably like Desert Punk, too.

There are many swords to fall on. Why DP’s?

Fuck Yeah! Look It Up:
Desert Punk (2004) 24 episode anime
Based on the manga by Masatoshi Usune
Produced by Gonzo, Licenced by Funimation

The Passion of the Animator

Eizouken takes us on a journey of inspiration…and cash
by Punch Rockgroin

Back in 2014, Shiro Bako gave us a taste of what it takes to produce an anime in the modern day. These were the more technical aspects, such as the steps in animation, getting the voice work recorded and the humps encountered along the way. It showed a bit of the inspiration of what drove the animators into their profession, but these inspirations tended to come from series in their childhood more than anything else. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! shows a bit of that, but also shows the creativity that can be derived from the everyday, and what drives them to complete their vision.

The series follows a trio high schoolers (duh) looking to get into animating. Well, two of them are there to animate, while the third sees an opportunity to make some money. Midori Asakusa is seemingly the head, who directs the animation and comes up with the ideas. Her friend (referred to as “comrade”) Sayaka Kanamori isn’t much for watching anime, but can’t resist a great plan for making money, and is generally tasked with maintaining both cash flow and keeping the animators on schedule. Completing the trio is Tsubame Misuzaki, a famous amateur model who is fascinated with movement and would rather be an animator than an actor like her parents.

Tsubame is forbidden by her parents from joining the school’s anime club, so after running into Asakusa and Kanamori and finding their shared interests, they instead form the Eizouken (film club) to get around this quandary. From there, the only way is up, with the occasional meddling from the student council, and Kanamori making sure the animators are staying on task.

Throughout the show, we are treated to Asakusa’s thought process on creating a world and a story, while relying on the real world for ideas. There are times when I have to wonder if today’s animators are more inspired by the anime they watched growing up than the world around them, but this gives me some hope that there are those out there that utilize everyday life to create something other-worldly. Even Misuzaki, who is enthralled with motion, especially drives this point home: She watches people and their movements, and will take even mundane things like tea thrown from a cup to make more believable motion. Some of the backgrounds have a nice “lived-in” feel, looking appropriately dirty in their detail. On top of all this is Kanamori, butting heads with school faculty and other clubs just to get more money.

Eizouken is a fun watch from start to finish. The process of inspiration, to hard work, obstacles and finally fruition for all of their projects is a treat, to both the eyes and the heart. It is not a thought-provoking series, but could at least serve as a way to inspire and guide those who also seek to bring their ideas into reality. All it takes is dedication to your vision…and someone who will keep the money flowing.

FUCK YEAH, Look It Up!
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Based on the manga by Sumito Owara
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Animated by Science Saru
Licensed by Crunchyroll

Making a Spectacle of Itself

Subverting Expectations Before It Was Cool
by Bolt Vanderhuge

Red Spectacles (1987), along with its sequel/prequel, is not well known even among anime fans, even those who are aware of the last of the “Kerboros Saga” films, Jin-Roh.  Its director, Mamoru Oshii, is generally better known for his animated works, especially the 1995 adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, the production of which is actually the reason he didn’t end up directing Jin-Roh.  More recently, however, people have been rediscovering what was Oshii’s first non-animated film, perhaps thanks to reviewers like yours truly retroactively throwing a spotlight on it.  The problem is, a lot of people go into this film expecting it to be like Jin-Roh, and all the marketing for this movie really doesn’t help much in that regard.

The infamous armor is barely even in it

Even the Wikipedia article would doesn’t reveal the fact that this film is as far from Jin-Roh as one can get while still being in the same alternate-history universe.  I will try my best to explain, but one cannot truly have this film explained to them; it must be experienced.

The first step to understanding this film, is realizing that it’s not straightforward, at all.  There are layers to it, and it’s difficult to realize it the first time you watch it, other than the obvious contrast of the segments that are in color with those that are in black and white.  And the majority of the film is in black and white.  The basic plot of film is that the “Special Unit,” created to combat a rising crime rate in an alternate-history Tokyo that had been occupied by Germans rather than by Americans, gained enemies among the Metropolitan Police and was overthrown when a new regime came to power.  The “Kerberos Riot” resulted when the Special Unit refused to stand down, but after a siege it surrendered.  However, senior detective Kōichi Todome, managed to escape Japan, and returns to Tokyo after three years in hiding, only to almost immediately draw attention from the government.  However, it doesn’t take long for things to get stranger and stranger, and it becomes impossible to take seriously, as absurdist humor takes over the film.

Within the first few minutes, actually

It is better to think of this film as more of an exploration of concepts than as a narrative that is meant to be followed and understood by the audience.  If anything, I’d say the entire point of the film is for the audience to figure it out for themselves.  It’s difficult to determine what even actually happened in the “real world” as portions of the film are undeniably only taking place in Kōichi’s mind.  It’s been suggested that the color portions of the film are the only “real” parts, but there are at least two different versions of Kōichi’s escape in color, so which is real?  And who is the mysterious woman who keeps appearing throughout the film?  Everything is pretty much left up to you to decide for yourself, along with whatever it was that Oshii was trying to tell you with this film.

All that can be said for certain is that this film is well worth watching and experiencing for yourself, and that no brothers or friends exist in a small restroom.

Fuck Yeah! Look it up!
The Red Spectacles (1987)
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Distributed by Omnibus Promotion

A Full Course of Fun

Like someone made a Rosario + Vampire Hentai
by Bolt Vanderhuge

Itadaki! Seieki is probably one of the more vanilla hentais you might watch, as the only “strange” thing about it is that it involves a half-vampire/half-succubus who can change her body and personality based on the desires of her chosen meal. “Meal” is actually the entire premise of this short OVA, as Setogaya Mari lures high school student Kanzaki to the PE storage shed after school in a very stereotypical set-up that the OVA actually lampshades, only to kick him in the head so she can bite him and feed on his blood. He takes it pretty well. She introduces herself as a vampire, and has the bat wings to prove it, but as it turns out, she can’t actually handle blood. Apparently she had been living off of sweat and saliva – secretions which are a form of life energy. Kanzaki has a certain alternative he suggests to her instead. Alas, she doesn’t actually swallow much thick Bavarian cream through her mouth, if you’re into that kind of thing, as she seems to just absorb it.

It’s just so gosh darn cute!

As you might guess, this turns into a regular thing, and Setogaya isn’t exactly subtle when she comes to get her lunch either. It’s a pretty thin premise, which is probably why it’s less than a half-hour long when you watch both parts of this OVA together. So it’s pretty tame in spite of getting a bit rapey at one point, and might not appeal to you if you’re used to something more adventurous than high school students sneaking off to fuck and a woman who can make her boobs bigger or make herself just the way Aku likes ‘em at will.

If you just can’t be bothered to read subtitles, like I used to be before I became a MaximumWeeaboo, this has been localized as Vampire Vixen. Probably a bit catchier than “Gimmie That Semen.” The dub is… okay. It’s better at some points than others. At least they tried. The main appeal here is that the localizers got a hold of an uncensored version, to further enhance your hentai viewing pleasure.

So should you watch this OVA? Fuck, why not? It’s like a half-hour long, bro.

Fuck Yeah check it out!

Itadaki! Seieki / Vampire Vixen
Based on the manga by doumou
Produced by Pashmina, Licenced by Kitty Media

Riding That Bean

An ’80s Action Anime Classic

by Bolt Vanderhuge

As Anime Central 2019 approaches, and the premiere of a new crowdfunded OVA featuring Bean Bandit along with it, I thought I’d take a look back at the OVA that started it all. It occurs to me that some (or most) of you might not know who Bean Bandit is, nor the man who created him, Kenichi Sonoda. To be fair, most of the work he is known for came out in the ’80s and ’90s, but he’s probably best known for the anime and manga Gunsmith Cats. Less known is his previous work featuring many of the same characters, Riding Bean, which also takes place in Chicago.

Just imagine the Blues Brothers theme playing to this.

Bean Bandit is essentially a shady getaway driver for hire, who drives a tricked out sports car of his own design that is not only bullet-proof, but can swivel all four of its wheels ninety degrees so he can drive it sideways. If you’re familiar with Gunsmith Cats at all, you might recognize the name Rally Vincent. In Riding Bean, she’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed anime American, who’s partners in crime (and the sack) with Bean Bandit, which is something of a surprise given their back-and-forth relationship in the Gunsmith Cats manga, and the fact he appears basically the same in both. He never did make it into the anime, though, which is probably why most anime fans aren’t even aware of him (uncultured swine!).

As for plot, Riding Bean isn’t super complicated or anything (it is only 48 minutes long after all). It’s just a classic ’80s action flick, featuring plenty of violence and brief nudity, and a tone that’s never quite entirely serious in spite of the blood and gore. Basically, a sadistic lesbian kidnaps a millionaire and his daughter, and her brilliant plan is to frame Bean Bandit for the kidnapping since he’s already on the Chicago PD’s shit list. Unfortunately for her, Bean Bandit is basically the Terminator, and manages to escape the trap she set for him by sheer awesomeness alone.

Please note this is after he’s been run over by this car.

The soundtrack is very ’80s, and despite the fact it was dubbed much later than the original 1989 release, the delivery of the vast majority of the lines fits right in with the era. But that’s okay, because that’s all part of the glorious ’80s anime experience.

There’s also an interesting “what if” scenario with this anime, because this was apparently originally planned as a series and that never happened. There was also a manga based on this premise that was left unfinished because the magazine publishing it cancelled, which caused Mr. Sonoda to move on and create the Gunsmith Cats manga. While Mr. Sonoda prefers Bean Bandit because he can identify with him better, I tend to prefer Gunsmith Cats and that version of Rally Vincent. All the same, I’m excited to see what the new OVA is going to bring, and I hope to catch it when it premieres at ACEN this year.

In the meantime, it’s fun to look back at what started it all, and I recommend you check it out yourself!

FUCK YEAH! LOOK IT UP
Riding Bean Original Video Animation
Based on the manga by Kenichi Sonoda
Produced by AIC, Licenced by AnimEigo

Check your rearview!

Future GPX Cyber Formula is coming back from behind

by Bob Johnson

One country’s breakout hit is another country’s also-ran. Notoriously, Cowboy Bebop – perpetual pinnacle of the genre among western anime fans – never caught on in Japan, whereas shows like Future GPX Cyber Formula outsold it and got sequel after sequel. So what gives? How is *THIS* such a huge franchise?

Maybe it appeals to Japan’s affinity for achievable futurism and plucky protagonists. At age 14, Hayato Kazami is hanging around his dad’s co-workers, “Cyber Formula” race team SUGO – but his main jam is riding his motorcycle. Everything is turned on its head when thieves come for the team’s car, forcing Hayato to take the wheel. Day saved, no problem? Well, Asurada’s computer locks everyone else out except the kid, and even the race team’s top cyber-whiz can’t crack the FaceID. So their up-and-coming Cyber Formula team is doomed unless Hayato can learn to drive.

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