Oct 17 //
[Photo by Hiroshi Suga]
Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy (Paperback)
Written By: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Masuhiro YamamotoPublished by: VIZ MediaReleased: October 11, 2016MSRP: $14.99ISBN: 978-1421589084
One thing should be made clear right away, for any prospective buyers of the book: Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy is NOT a recipe book.
It's not even a book about sushi, at least not "sushi" in the general sense as a field of Japanese cuisine.
Instead, Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy a book about the sushi served at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Specifically. That makes a significant difference. In some ways, one could see the whole book as something of an extremely elaborate menu or catalog for the restaurant itself.
The contents of the book consist of pictures of the various types of sushi served on each , with the opposite page containing information about the dish from Jiro himself. The short paragraphs - blurbs, really - are written in a more anecdotal style, conveying insights ranging from why a given piece is served before or after other types of sushi to things like cooking methods or marketing times. In essence, each entry is a window into a Sukibayashi Jiro staffer's experience of creating and serving that type of sushi. Other, more sobering impressions can be gleaned from the otherwise brief notes, such as the occasional mention of increasing scarcity of fish available for some pieces. These admissions inadvertently highlight ongoing crises with overfishing, oceanic extinctions, and sustainable fishing practices. It might not be long before some of the celebrated pieces detailed in Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy disappear from the menu.
The specificity of it all makes the book feel like a journal, a series of notes rather than a carefully organized, comprehensive guide. If Sukibayashi Jiro had a gift shop so that visitors to it could pick up a memento of their reservation, this book would be on the shelf. From the cynic's view, VIZ Media is publishing and selling a promotional brochure for a restaurant that many people will never visit.
That view might hold, if not for the quality of the book itself.
[Photo by Hiroshi Suga]
Putting aside concerns about the nature of its contents, Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy is an utterly gorgeous physical object. Despite the fact that it's a pocket-sized paperback, the book is constructed like a decorative coffee table centerpiece. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, reading the book feels like a genuine aesthetic act, something beyond the information contained in the text and pictures alone. The endpages are carefully textured and the whole thing gives off an aura of classiness largely absent from genuine travel guides or food books. Those readers who want to make the case for keeping and buying physical books in an age dominated by screen-based readers can file this one into evidence for their side.
The content also extends past just the sushi. The main section is followed by a subsection detailing best practices for eating sushi, as well as a how-to guide for making reservations at Sukibayashi Jiro itself. In all honesty, the information detailed within isn't much more than one would get on the occasional website article. That said, having it come directly from the horse's mouth gives it an air of authority and authenticity.
[Photo by Kenta Izumi]
In the end, we have the answers to the dilemmas I posed earlier in the review. The purpose Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy is to be an elaborate, if heartfelt and earnest, bit of self-promotion for an expensive very earnest, heartfelt bit of self-promotion. As for its intended audience, the gift-store patron crowd are the best fit. Beyond them, perhaps a friend who's a mega-fan of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and is planning a visit sometime soon. Genuine sushi afficionados or those less enamored of a famous little restaurant may want to hold off.
Slice of Life It wouldn't be too much of a stretch at this point to declare that Jiro Ono - head chef at Tokyo's Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant - is one of the most visible Japanese culinary professionals in the world. Thanks to his and his r...
The live-action Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is officially more real than it ever has been, now that teaser clips showing off roughly a minute's worth of footage have been released. In several snippets of a...
The image above has pretty much covered all the necessary information, but in case our server's acting wonky or you're a details type of person, here's the skinny: After months of rumors, leaks, broken street dates, and specu...
Aug 30 //
Josh Tolentino Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design Published by: Tuttle Publishing Written by: Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny Release date: July 12, 2016 MSRP: $9.99 (Kindle [Reviewed]), $17.95 (Print) ISBN: 978-4805313510
The value of Japanese Tattoos is immediately apparent given the relative absence of substantial English-language work about the art and design of Japanese tattooing, or "irezumi" (刺青). Generally speaking, irezumi literature in English tends towards overly dry, scholarly analyses, or superficial, aesthetically-occupied picture books and feeds. Ashcraft and Benny position their book between the two extremes, delivering a breezy, easy-to-read explainer that isn't afraid to dive below the surface and uncover hidden nuggets of cultural knowledge and history amid the striking design work being etched right into the human body.Honed by years of writing as an editor for the game website Kotaku, and by previous books like Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential and Arcade Mania!, Ashcraft mixes his light, accessible style with deeply researched cultural references and engaging profiles of famous Japanese tattooists and their clients. Japanese Tattoos isn't to be taken as a piece of academic writing, but instead as an FAQ of sorts, answering key questions and providing interesting insights and background, to help those who aren't yet sure about their interest in irezumi become interested. And in this respect, Ashcraft and Benny have succeeded in spades.
Part of this is thanks to the way the book is laid out. As befitting its role as a cultural primer, Japanese Tattoos starts with a general overview of irezumi, its history, and importantly, what distinguishes it from the tattooing practiced elsewhere. Historical notes link irezumi with older practices of tattooing as a form of punishment for criminals, or as protective symbols "worn" by laborers and tradesmen. The section also traces the longstanding Japanese stigma against tattoos to the 19th and 20th centuries, as the country raced to modernize after centuries in isolation. Ironically for a stigma born of attempts to "align with western morals", it turned out to be those same westerners - particularly the occupying U.S. military following World War II - that played a part in keeping tattooing alive despite the attempts to ban it.
[From Japanese Tattoos by Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny]
That leads into another important aspect of Japanese Tattoos: It's aware enough that culture isn't a monolithic, static thing, and that even "traditional" irezumi has changed over time. In rejecting the notion that irezumi is tied solely to any one thing (such as tebori, the classical method of inserting the ink into the skin with bamboo needles), the book reaffirms irezumi's uniqueness as an expression of Japanese culture, encompassing more than a specific technique but "an entire history and catalogue of iconography". Interviews with people like Horiyoshi III, Japan's most famous tattooist, reveal this progressive insight. Despite his mastery of tebori and his inspiration in classical woodblock prints, Horiyoshi III regards his work as less "traditional" than "traditionalist" thanks to his use of safer, modern ink, of mechanical tattooing machines, and the new, friendlier (and legal) conditions under which he works. It's an acknowledgement that even the most classical, "timeless" aspects of culture are subject to change and interpretation over time.
That sentiment might seem in opposition to the permanence of the tattoo, but it's worth pointing out that tattoos change as their wearers do, by the virtue of being embedded on their ever-changing physiques. It's an embrace of mutability and the transitive nature of life that speaks to Japan's Buddhist influences. A tattoo may last one's whole life, but even that life ends.
These reflections are woven into the other sections of the book, which cover popular and common motifs and elements in irezumi, with frequent asides and sidebars to deliver factoids that readers will want to recite back to their friends. The asides can sometimes feel a bit distracting from the chronological coherence of the book, but they're too good not to include, and so their somewhat scattershot arrangement is easily forgiven.
[From Japanese Tattoos by Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny]
From classic kanji script tattoos to the natural images, mythic beasts and figures, and even avante-garde and anime- or manga-themed designs, Ashcraft and Benny look in on the iconography, symbolism, and meaning behind the many classical elements of irezumi in Japan. Other chapters, particularly one covering various examples of the full "bodysuit" design, also focus on the form irezumi can take. Bodysuits and sleeves are the most visible archetypes of Japanese tattooing, and their placement in the book highlights that association. Never again will readers see the awesome back pieces on display in the Yakuza games in the same way.
The book is also chock-full of great pictures of tattoos. Even in my relatively low-resolution review copy, the quality of the art shone through, and keeps the flow feeling as brisk as the prose. It's one thing to read about the peony's place in floral language as used in irezumi, but another to see it incorporated on people's bodies as a form of art and expression.
Japanese Tattoos is a must-read for anyone interested in tattoos and Japanese culture, but its greatest strength is in how easily it can engage readers like yours truly, who have no plans to get a tattoo at all. Being able to engage with all that material despite its near-total irrelevance to my personal experience is the sign of a good book, and this one will serve as an effective crash course in irezumi for many a reader to come.
[This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.]
Tattoo, not Taboo What comes to mind when one thinks of "tattoos"? Some might imagine the anchor on Popeye's forearm, the pointy tribal band encircling a local gym fiend's bicep, or the crude inkings associated with prison art.Thinking of "Jap...
Are you ready for this? Are you LADY for this? Amazon certainly thinks so, because it's taking The [email protected], Bandai Namco's landmark idol-simulator/DLC factory, is coming to the one place it has never truly been: The real w...
No, this is not an article from The Onion. Apparently, it really happened, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did, in fact, emerge from a giant green pipe at the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympic Games, dressed up as ...
Aug 21 //
Josh Tolentino [embed]35209:5798:0[/embed]
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XVStudio: Square Enix Visual WorksDirector: Takeshi NozueLicensed by: Sony PicturesPremiere: August 19, 2016 (US, Asia) , July 9, 2016 (Japan)
Have you ever seen a "game movie"? The term refers to a subgenre of game Youtube videos wherein players capture recordings of various video games' cutscenes or story sequences, to be viewed by audiences removed from the context of actually playing the game. Some more ambitious versions try to edit the clips together in a coherent fashion, potentially removing the need for players who can't finish or don't own the game in question to actually play it at all, leaving only the narrative to bring things home.
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV feels like an extremely expensive, fabulously ambitious iteration of that particular trend.
It's not quite the same, of course. Players who pick up Final Fantasy XV in November won't see much of Kingsglaive's actual events onscreen, as the film is a two-hour-long setup and prequel to the events of the game.
The Kingdom of Lucis is in danger. Ruled by the wise King Regis (played by Game of Thrones' Sean Bean), Lucis is the last place unconquered by the Empire of Niflheim. Its defenders are the titular Kingsglaive, a squad of soldiers that wield magic channeled to them by Regis, from a magic crystal that is the source of Lucis' power and the only thing standing between Niflheim's technological prowess and world domination.
Unfortunately, the war is coming to a close, with Regis aging and the crystal's power flagging in the face of "The Nif's" magitek weapons and demonic thralls. It's in this spirit that Regis accepts a peace deal, to marry off his son (and the game's protatgonist) Noctis to Lunafreya (played by Game of Thrones' Lena Heady), princess of the Niflheim-ruled province of Tenebrae. When all is not at it seems on the eve of the treaty signing, it's up to Kingsglaive's star fighter Nyx Ulrich (played by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) to save the day and have a hand in kicking off whatever's set to happen in the game proper.
While the plot is barely coherent and its relevance to Final Fantasy XV is largely confined to explaining why Noctis and his buddies are on the other side of the world in the first place, Kingsglaive's most solid achievement is visual. Produced by Square Enix's legendary Visual Works studio, the film succeeds at visualizing the setting of the game, creating the kind of mental space in future players' minds that can reconcile the stylistic absurdities of typical Final Fantasy and the more grounded, modern aesthetic of the real world. The world of Kingsglaive (and by extension, the game) is the kind of place where it makes sense for contemporary office buildings, cellphones, TVs, and product placement stands comfortably alongside the overdesigned costumes, massive creatures, and elaborate magical spells and effects. To its credit, it's the most convincing iteration yet of the series' penchant for techno-fantasy flourish.
Beyond that, though, Kingsglaive is hardly essential. Despite initial misgivings, the core cast do credible work in their roles, elevating the otherwise cheesy and overly self-serious script. Supporting characters, however, come across as a bit too cartoonish, the delivery never quite overcoming the tension between the realistic facial designs and otherwise very "anime" words coming out of the characters' mouths.
The action itself, though, is well-rendered, if a bit difficult to follow. The Kingsglaive members all use some variation of the game's combat, wielding teleporting knives and plenty of flashy effects to burn, shock, and blast the HP off of an assortment of classic Final Fantasy beasts. Unfortunately, some ill-conceived zooms and use of "shaky-cam" effects during some fight scenes make what should be the most pivotal moments of the film an exercise in trying to puzzle out just what's happening. Final Fantasy fans can also expect some clever fan service, sighting cool callbacks to timeless franchise easter eggs, some subtle, and some overt.
In the end, whether Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV will be worthwhile largely depends on one's anticipation for Final Fantasy XV. By its very nature it's skippable, but fans who plan on immersing themselves in the game come November will likely find something to appreciate.
A Clash Royale Let's be honest here: Few people were expecting very much from Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Not only is it a multimedia tie-in to a game, a JRPG no less, but the long shadow of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within continu...
Final Fantasy XV the game may not be in the cards for another few months, but that won't stop some of the other stuff scheduled to happen. The CGI film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is still on track for a late Augu...
One of the most remarkable things about Final Fantasy XV's development isn't its epic length, but how open the process has been over the last couple of years. Since the reins were handed over to director Hajime Tabata (who ha...
In a rare national TV address, Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan, spoke frankly about his declining health and hinted that he may want to stand down from the Chrysanthemum Throne someday. This came after weeks of rum...
Time for some relief, European otaku: You'll get Persona 5 - and more - in your neck of the woods. Atlus and Sega have found a new partner for European publishing.
The agreement comes in the wake of NIS America cutting i...
Jul 04 //
Josh Tolentino [embed]35116:5717:0[/embed]
Studio: Gemba, Millepensee (Teekyuu, Wake Up, Girls!)
Broadcast Date: July 1, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
An easy candidate for the most effin' metal anime of all time, Berserk has been adapted quite often. The new twist for this latest, TV series-sized attempt is that this will be the first time an animated adaptation has gone beyond the "Golden Age" arc. In all honesty, I couldn't tell you what all that actually means, as I've never seen or read Berserk. Does admitting that mean I have to hand in my otaku membership card?
That dude sure does have a big sword, though.
The series is airing now, and...well, there'll be more to say about it in our impressions.
Mob Psycho 100
Studio: BONES (My Hero Academia, Bungo Stray Dogs)
Broadcast Date: July 12, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
"From the guy that writes One Punch Man" is probably one of the more effective marketing lines you could ask for these days, but in truth, Mob Psycho 100 seems to be a rather different beast than the saga of Saitama. Shigeo Kageyama (nicknamed "Mob" after the Japanese term for movie extras) is a completely unremarkable high school student, bar the fact that he's got prodigious psychic superpowers. Having superpowers can be a real hassle, though, so he keeps his emotions suppressed to force them into check.
Unfortunately, life usually happens in opposition to well-meaning plans, and things quickly threaten to produce emotional reaction in Mob, leading to the "100" in the title. For when his pent-up feelings reach the breaking point, bad stuff's going to happen. Between the sound of things and the deliberately laid-back aesthetic, Mob Psycho 100 seems to be aiming more a more psychological take on superpowers and action show tropes rather than the "sardonic-but-badass" angle One Punch Man typically explores.
I'll be giving Mob Psycho 100 a look once it airs.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy (Side: Future and Side: Despair)
Studio: Lerche (School Live!, Monster Musume)
Broadcast Date: July 11, 2016 (Future) and July 14, 2016 (Despair)
Rejoice, players of Danganronpa, your questions will be answered! Danganronpa 3 arrives not in the form of a game (though an actual new Danganronpa title is in development), but as two simultaneously-broadcast anime series. The first, Side: Future, effectively acts as coda of sorts for Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, recounting the adventures of star Makoto Naegi and his fellow Hope's Peak survivors as they form the Future Foundation, and framed as a trial for Makoto himself in the wake of the events of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.
Side: Despair, on the other hand, promises the secret history of the cast members of Danganronpa 2, and what happened to them before they were thrown into the game. The reason this matters functions as a major spoiler, and both shows seem to presume a familiarity with the games.
Both I and fellow Japanator editor Salvador G-Rodiles are big fans of the games. I'll be checking out Future once it hits, and Sal will look at Despair. If you want to catch up, both games are available on PS Vita and on Steam.
Studio: Telecom Animation Film (Moyashimon, Phantasy Star Online 2)
Broadcast Date: July 4, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
Time loop anime seem to be the new "superpowered highschoolers" anime in terms of trendiness right now, and Orange is exactly one of those. Like the leads of Steins;Gate, Re:Zero, and Erased, Naho Takamiya is given the chance to change her future, thanks to a letter written by herself, ten years from now, and sent to herself in the present. And it seems like many of future-Naho's regrets are tied to transfer student and love interest Kakeru Naruse.
It's cool to see the sci-fi twists usually used on mystery and suspense fantasies applied to the more romantic stylings of shojou manga, and Orange seems to have a strong reputation in that crowd. I'm hoping to see a bit more of the show's high-concept sci-fi twist manifest itself among the feels and personal relationships.
Studio: Shuka (Durarara!! x2)
Broadcast Date: July 9, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
Who would've thought that a studio whose staffers helped make shows like Durarara!! and Baccano! would go on to make a new show about the weird underground in a bustling, thriving city? I'm being facetious, but there's definitely merit in sticking with what you know. Following the latest seasons of Durarara!! x2, Shuka take on a setting that's new...-ish: Prohibition-era America. In the fictional city of Lorel, a young orphan named Avilo joins up with the local mafia outfit. The twist is that Avilo lost his family years prior in an attack by the same crime ring, so the newly made man is in it for revenge.
With the screenwriter of Joker Game, last season's bit of period fiction, and plenty of experience making multifaceted plots and juggling an ensemble cast, 91 Days looks like it might be a gritty winner.
Studio: TMS Entertainment (Actually, I Am..., Zetman)
Broadcast Date: July 1, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
Ever wish you could go back in time and get a redo for your childhood mistakes? Perhaps relive your high school life knowing what you know now as a weathered adult? Lots of anime shows sure seem to think that's what we're after, but not all are as bald-faced about it as ReLife, where Arata Kaizaki, a beaten-down twenty-something stuck in a career and lifestyle rut gets the opportunity to take a magic pill that ages him down to a fresh-faced seventeen-year-old, to repeat a year of high school and refresh his life.
It's a tempting premise mainly for the fact that Arata seems like a relatable sort of lead (at least in the mind of this beaten-down thirty-something), and some of the other twists appear to plant the seed for drama to come. I'm just hoping they don't mine the slightly creepy "adult man hanging out with underage kids" angle too hard.
Studio: J.C. Staff (Selector Infected Wixoss, Flying Witch)
Broadcast Date: July 5, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Taboo Tattoo is about Japanese high school students who have special powers and a penchant for getting into fights with each other.
I am, of course, being hideously reductive, but suffice it to say that it's definitely one of those types of shows (the tattoo motif is particularly reminiscent of last season's Big Order), and while it seems unlikely to change peoples' minds, judgment will have to wait until we see more of it in action. For what it's worth, I'm digging the seeming emphasis on martial arts as opposed to "my power is a gnarly weapon". This might make for some cool action sequences.
There's also the backdrop, which casts the Tattoo powers themselves as developments in an ongoing arms race between America and the fictional nation of Selinistan. This might make for a good world-building opportunity to background the rest of the action, so there's hope for this one, at least.
Alderamin On The Sky
Studio: Madhouse (One Punch Man, My Love STORY!!)
Broadcast Date: July 9, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
"Alderamin" sounds like the name of a sleeping pill, which makes sense, because the premise sounds like it could be something of a snoozer. Two nations, Katjvarna and Kioka, whose names sound like the noises you make when you're on Alderamin, are at war, and Ikuta, a lackadaisical and passive young recruit who joined the army with no interest in becoming an officer, has become Katjvarna's greatest military commander after a mere few years. The show purports to tell the story of how he got there.
That sounds like it could be interesting, and given Madhouse's pedigree, there may be some potential in the visuals and war setting, but otherwise it sounds less like a historical chronicle than another hagiography in the manner of Mahouka. At the very least, I'm hoping this turns out less like that and more like Lord Marksman and Vanadis, a show that was at least enjoyable for its cast, if not for its tedious core principles.
Studio: A-1 Pictures (Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, Asterisk War)
Broadcast Date: July 9, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
What happens when you lock the authors of light novel sensations Henneko, Date A Live, and My Teen RomCom SNAFU to hash out a multimedia anime project? This thing, apparently, which frankly reads like it could've come from any single one of them. Get this: High-school age kids have superpowers and are now using them to defend the Earth from an unknown threat. Actually, the threat is aliens, which are literally called "UNKNOWN".
Sweetness and Lightning
Studio: TMS Entertainment (Yowapeda, Bakuon!!)
Broadcast Date: July 4, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
If you've been jonesing for another does of anime parenting to gush over, this season's successor to the likes of Bunny Drop, Barakamon, and the Yotsuba&! anime you'll never ever get looks to be Sweetness and Lightning.
That said, the show does seem to distinguish itself in that the father-daughter relationship here is a literal father-daughter one. No weird non-blood connections to pander to incest fetishists with (Lookin' at you, ending of Bunny Drop!). It even starts off on a tearjerker, with the father, Kouhei, being recently widowed and struggling to raise his adorable kid Tsumugi without any domestic skills. Enter one of his students, Kotori, who's from a broken home and is looking for companionship, to teach her teacher in the art of domesticity.
Sounds heartwarming enough to me, though given the dynamics at work there's some risk of Sweetness and Lightning dodging the incest trap and instead falling into the pothole of winter-spring romance.
Studio: 8bit (The Fruit of Grisaia, Infinite Stratos)
Broadcast Date: July 2, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
If you had the power to "rewrite" yourself, i.e. change your own story to suit your needs or whims (think "Editing your character sheet in D&D to give yourself all the best stats"), what would you do? The answer, if Rewrite has its way, is "have adventures and romance with saucer-eyed waifs and amnesiacs".
Indeed, 8bit and the team behind The Fruit of Grisaia are tackling the biggest Key visual novel adaptation since Little Busters!. I've never been a big fan of Key or Jun Maeda, but Rewrite sounds like it might be a different sort of beast, seeing as it was written not by Maeda but by Romeo Tanaka, writer of the superb Humanity Has Declined. I'm not sure if that will be enough to hook me into watching it, but it should be a bit different from the usual Key fodder.
The Morose Mononokean
Studio: Pierrot (Naruto, Level E)
Broadcast Date: July 3, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
You know what's big in Japan right now? Yokai. The diverse creatures of Japanese folklore have gone mainstream with the likes of Yo-kai Watch and other vehicles, and it's well deserved. I'm of the opinion that having culturally rooted monsters makes for more interesting design and interpretation that trying to come up with new designs from scratch (see how weird Pokemon have been looking lately).
But this isn't a Yo-kai Watch preview though, it's one for The Morose Mononokean, which aims to take a daily-life angle on the godly and supernatural shenanigans covered by the likes of Hozuki no Reitetsu and Noragami. The titular Mononokean is a tea room that serves as the headquarters for an exorcist and the high schooler he takes under his wing. As it's based on a webcomic, I doubt we're looking at the next Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun or something similarly good, but it'll have done its job if it manages to entertain and educate about Japan's supernatural bestiary.
Studio: J.C. Staff (Shana, A Certain Magical Index)
Broadcast Date: July 8, 2016 (Streaming via Crunchyroll)
Few anime are better known for being utterly chill than Aria. Set in space-Venice, the show followed the peaceful, if uneventful lives of a troupe of cute girl gondoliers. Now the same team and author are bringing things a little closer to home, by setting Amanchu! in the Tokyo of the present day, as a bunch of cute schoolgirls get really into diving underwater. It's basically ABZU, but with more cute girls and anime.
Studio: Doga Kobo (Plastic Memories, Himouto! Umaru-chan!)
Broadcast Date: July 4, 2016
As someone who occasionally writes for Destructoid, I generally know more about game development than I do about anime production. Sadly, I can't say that the previews for NEW GAME! which sounds on paper like Shirobako-but-for-video-games seem all that accurate. But there's still hope, as Shirobako was far cuter and more positive than real-life anime production. Then again, NEW GAME! is aggressive about being cute in a way that I worry might undermine its potential to "tell it like it is".
After all, Shirobako was cute and positive, but it also hinged on the kinds of personal relationships and procedural detail that made it so fascinating to watch. Is the crew that gave us Plastic Memories up to that? If they are, we could be sitting on this year's anime of the year. If not...well, it might at least be cute.
Sequels, Shorts, and Other Notable Releases:
My unfair bias against sports anime and male idol shows continues as I entirely forgot shows like B-Project and Tsukiuta exist. DAYS promises to bring an exotic sport called "Football" to the anime stage, while Battery debuts a sport that must surely be some fictional thing: Baseball. Cheer Danshi! follows around a group of male cheerleaders, which might be unusual had my own high school and university not had their own all-male cheer squads (Blue Eagles the king!). Also, Ouendan exists, so I'm good on that front.
On the sequel front, the hilarious but ignored Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! gets a sequel, and signifies it by calling the second season Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE LOVE!. The Seven Deadly Sins is also getting a new season, but may end up ignored if the streaming services lock it down until it's done like last time. After disappointing countless fans looking for the latest from the Code Geass guy, Active Raid shambles into a second offering of frustrating bureaucracy and nonsensical characterization.
Barakamon, one of the more adult shows of its season, turns the clock back with a prequel, called Handa-kun. I honestly don't see the point of it, since the whole appeal of Barakamon was in its adult focus, but hey, it's anime after 2008, so high school must somehow be involved, or something. Either that or a raging war between two fictional countries and/or alien invaders.
Food Wars, the one Shonen Jump titan you just can't dodge these days, is getting a sequel, and Nick Valdez will be leading the coverage of that. Love Live! hits the reboot button by introducing a gaggle of samefaced girls for Love Live! Sunshine!. Show By Rock! continues in its mission of making catgirls the default for idolatry.
Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars is this season's original mecha production, and the fact that I'm giving it the afterthought space speaks to how aggressively generic it is. After duds like Argevollen and others, I'm wondering just what it would take to make non-franchise mecha shows as compelling as they used to be. At least Macross Delta is still running, which would give me the chance to write it up for once.
While shows like Taboo Tattoo and Qualidea Code seem constructed to marvel at about how awesome things would be if we had superpowers, Saiki Kusuo no Psi-Nan puts it down for the "mo' powers, mo' problems". Philosophy. The titular character's prodigious abilities are making his daily life miserable, and the director of Cromartie High School is on hand to show everyone just how miserable things can get. I'm definitely down for that.
Interestingly, only one overt "boobs anime" made the cut this summer: Masou Gakuen HxH, which doesn't beat around the bush. Its hero literally powers up the fighting girls by getting in close with their chesticles. I imagine a few Hunter x Hunter fans are feeling a bit insulted that this puerile hilarity has taken their beloved acronym while their joy goes on hiatus again.
The one sequel I'm angling to watch this season, though, is The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Duststorm Dance. After finally catching up with the show, I already regret not having seen it from the beginning. The animation may have been blah and the quality uneven, but it's as worthy a successor to Legend of the Galactic Heroes as I've found in the last few years. And now this part of the show promises to go to some places of actual consequence.
That should do it for our Summer preview. What are you angling to see this season?
Some like it hot A happy Monday to you, and a happy July 4th to all our American readers! What better way is there to celebrate American independence than by staying home and watching a buttload of Japanese cartoons? Welcome to Japanator's Su...
It's a cliche at this point to describe Japanese work culture as "quite hierarchical", but it is true that bosses, company officials, and executives are afforded a level of deference that's not as common in other cultures.
Jun 24 //
[Note: Pricing and actual percentage discounts can vary based on your region, so check your local Steam page to get the exact numbers.]
The Fruit of Grisaia - The well-regarded visual novel series recently got an anime adaptation and was localized by Sekai Project last year. Its sequel, The Labyrinth of Grisaia, is also on sale, as is the Michiru-led comedy spinoff The Leisure of Grisaia.
Higurashi When They Cry - The classic and now terribly ugly "sound novel" series was being sold for impulse-buy money even without a discount, and now the whole series, including Umineko, is up for the cut. Also interesting are other MangaGamer offerings like lesbian ghost sim Kindred Spirits on the Roof and Nikola Tesla pretty-boy sim Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning.
Bandai Namco felt the touch of the green percentage as well, with all three Dark Souls games facing significant price cuts, as well as Tale of Zestiria, which has an awesome Japanese intro whose lyrics didn't make it into the English version. The Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm games are also on sale, so if you want to catch up with the last quarter of the Naruto manga's plot while also having cool graphics, that's up. Dragon Ball: Xenoverse and One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 also flesh out the roster of Shonen JUMP titans.
Square Enix is as well-known these days for publishing western games as much as Japanese ones, but as far as relevance goes, Final Fantasy titles are where it's at. VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, XIII, XIII-2, Type-0 and Lighting Returns are all on sale. And if the thought of playing all those JRPGs makes you want to strangle someone, they're also selling a handful of cool Hitman games.
Capcom also brings a slate of offerings headlined by a much-needed discount on the beleaguered Street Fighter V. By most accounts, the fighting-game core of this unfortunate beast is strong, but the damn thing simply isn't finished yet. Capcom are promising a free "cinematic" story mode soon, as well as some new characters. Fans of Dead Rising can snag a hefty discount off a bundle containing Dead Rising 2, Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, and Dead Rising 3. The PC version of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is also available, spreading its cult appeal beyond the consoles.
Look at Sega's store lineup and you'll find more Total War and Company of Heroes than the games most folks used to associate with the company. That said it would be a "shameful display" if a self-respecting, PC-owning otaku didn't at least try Shogun 2: Total War at the price it's being sold at now. It's the most Japanese game to ever come out of West Sussex, where developer Creative Assembly is quartered. People who do remember what Sega used to mean can drown their sorrows in a hefty collection of retro rereleases, or maybe some Valkyria Chronicles.
XSEED, which has in many ways overtaken Atlus as the premier English-language localizer of note, has a number of PC offerings on sale, including the PC versions of Akiba's Trip and Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. Fans who don't need too much anime boobies in their life can turn to a host of Ys games and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky.
Ghostlight, publisher of many a localized game in the UK, has a handful of Agarest titles up for discount, but the real prizes in my mind are Way of the Samurai 3 and 4, the quirkiest open-world games this side of a Yakuza spinoff. They're also basically better, more thought-out takes on what you may have tried in Akiba's Trip, but with more swords and S&M torture and less anime boobies. Speaking of games that were published by Spike Chunsoft at some point (they handled the original versions of Way of the Samurai and Akiba's Trip), you also can't forget Danganronpa 1 and 2, which are arguably two of the best visual novels available in English right now.
In keeping with the fact that Idea Factory International mostly just handles a few games these days, a truly absurd number of Hyperdimension Neptunia games and DLC are on sale, with Fairy Fencer F and the redundantly-titled otome game Amnesia: Memories rounding out the offering.
Playism brings a raftload of fairly obscure titles, but the headliners here are Swery's D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die, and the Indiana Jones-like metroidvania La-Mulana.
NIS America, for its part, only started releasing PC games recently, and its availablity of old PS2-era strategy titles, including Phantom Brave and Disgaea alongside tough games like htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary and Stranger of Sword City are up for some modest price cuts.
Other discounts of interest include the brilliant Stardew Valley, which does Harvest Moon better than its current masters in Japan have managed, and Undertale, a loving and subversive send-up of JRPGs.
That's just a smattering of the most notable otaku-oriented offerings this summer. There may be more or larger discounts rolling in as the sale develops, so keep an eye on the storefront if there's something you're hoping to pick up.
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I've always said that the games of Vanillaware feel like they came from an alternate history where 2D graphics continued to reign supreme instead of being supplanted by ever more realistic 3D tech. Now, with Odin Sphere Leift...
Jun 01 //
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir (PS4 (reviewed), PS3, PS Vita)Developer: VanillawarePublisher: AtlusReleased: January 14, 2016 (JP), June 7, 2016 (NA), June 24, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 (PS Vita), $49.99 (PS3), $59.99 (PS4)
As cliche as the idea of an HD remaster is these days, it's worth pointing out that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir** goes further than the usual performance or resolution upgrades, at least on the PS4 version. Besides running at a consistent, smooth framerate (a far cry from the chugging boss battles of the PS2 original), Leifthrasir tweaks the artwork to look sharper at HD resolutions. And sharp it does look, bringing to mind just how revelatory the game looked back in 2007. Then, as then, Vanillaware seemed to be operating out of a weird alternate dimension, one where 2D graphics only got better and better instead of being supplanted by the 3D polygonal gold rush of the time. The update also adds more depth and breadth to Odin Sphere's various secondary mechanics.
The story, though, is unchanged, and remains the strongest aspect of the game. Set on Erion, a fantasy world inspired by Norse myth, Leifthrasir's plot begins simply enough. Gwendolyn, Valkyrie princess of the kingdom of Ragnanival, flies through the battlefield, attempting to retrieve a magical device called the Cauldron, in the hopes of offering it to her father, the Demon Lord Odin.
The tale quickly expands, though, growing to cover not only Gwendolyn's tale but that of four other major characters, each with their own hours-long campaign. Oswald is the Shadow Knight, a warrior bearing a cursed power and a crush on Gwendolyn. Velvet is a forest witch with ties to both Odin and Valentine, a kingdom Odin vanquished in the past. Cornelius was once a prince but is now a Pooka, a rabbit-like creature, and seeks a cure for his condition. Mercedes is the young queen of the Fairies, and wants to do right by her people, whatever the cost.
Though framed as a series of storybooks being read by an adorable little girl in her attic, the story is actually more operatic in scope. Characters' plotlines wrap around each other and intersect in places, and the protagonist of one campaign may be the boss battle of another. Each of the five campaigns - with a sixth unlocked at the end to ties it all together and a seventh reserved for true completionists - takes place in the limited perspective of their leads, and shines light on their respective motivations, personalities, and causes. There are few outright heroes and villains among the cast, but rather people working at cross purposes, sometimes to tragic results.
If nothing else, it's the densest narrative Vanillaware has wrought, and stands easily alongside the best JRPGs, a handy feat for what is otherwise a fairly simple 2D brawler. Though possessed of five substantially different combat styles in the form of each character, the game remains somewhat conventional, mechanically. Players will jump, move, attack, and slaughter mooks by the dozen as they move through various rooms and hoover up cash and loot. Enemies and bosses are plentiful, but don't quite carry enough variety to justify the bevy of additional spells and abilities added by the Leifthrasir update. The new skills are definitely fun to use and master, but never really feel necessary, at least not at the normal difficulty setting.
Vanillaware also doubles down on its food fixation, expanding the game's alchemy and cooking systems to encompass a range of new ingredients and recipes. Smart players will quickly get acquainted with the world's various restaurants and Maury, the traveling Pooka chef. This is because eating delicious, exquisitely illustrated cartoon food is the only way to level up and increase one's maximum health pool. Gathering ingredients and growing additional items to mix into potions also allows for a wide range of beneficial effects.
Once again, the relative simplicity of combat doesn't quite make these systems feel as essential as they should be, but their expansion definitely takes the edge off the repetition, a feeling that grew more and more pronounced as one progressed through the original game. Some grinding and revisiting of previous areas to gather ingredients is still necessary, but there's enough to do now that it doesn't feel nearly as tedious as before. With that, Leifthrasir blunts one of Odin Sphere's biggest faults, though players not hooked by the combat may still feel the design is weighed down by that.
The interface, though also improved, also isn't quite up to the task of efficiently streamlining the expanded experience. Tabbed windows and shortcuts now make it easier to mix and level up potions, but players will still eventually find themselves pausing every so often to do some inventory management.
Still, these flaws are fairly minor in the face of how much Odin Sphere's quality is allowed to shine, thanks to the improvements added by Leifthrasir. It's enough to say that Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is the definitive edition of Vanillaware's best game, and elevates a great-but-flawed title to the classic status it originally deserved.
[This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
**It's pronounced "Leef-thrahs-eer", but don't look up what it means if you want to avoid spoilers.
*GrimGrimoire might have been first, depending on where you were in 2007.
Old Story, Good As New Vanillaware may have been making games for close to a decade now, but for my money, nothing they've made has quite surpassed their first game*, Odin Sphere.
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Apr 28 //
1.) With the Stand Alone Complex subtitle, First Assault Online seems to be related to the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex TV series. Does the game take place during a specific moment in the show's timeline, or its premise related to events in the show?
The game is inspired by the Stand Alone Complex TV series, but when we were watching the series, we were particularly excited by Episode 24 of Season One, in which Section 9 is forced to take on an opposing Special Ops team to clear their names. The episode really made us imagine what it would be like to fight together as a perfectly synchronized team like Section 9, which is what helped us decide to bring it to life in a team-based shooter.
2.) Players can choose which member of Section 9 to play as during a match, each of whom has a special ability or trait (like Thermoptic Camo for the Major). How did the team decide which special abilities to assign to which character? Were there disagreements?
We worked very closely with the anime creators and discussed what skills would match each character from the original anime. In result, the currently designed skills are in line with the original characters. We also designed these to add more excitement within the FPS game. We plan to consider these also when we design more skills in the future. Another part that we'll also consider is player feedback. We are all open to the players thoughts and would love to hear any great ideas.
3.) On menu screens and in-the game, players can view clips from the Stand Alone Complex anime series. Are there plans to add ways for player to view whole episodes or acquire the series to view on their own?
As we chose to make the game an FPS, we found that it was not easy to to deliver the feel of the original anime. Making the game an FPS might have been slightly easier, but we were most confident in making a FPS game and put our efforts into melting the original anime within our game. We used these short cuts to give the fans something close to the anime and also make other players interested in the Ghost in the Shell story making the game more enjoyable.
4.) More recent works in the Ghost in the Shell universe have concentrated on Arise, a series set earlier in Motoko's career. Are there plans to add content related to the Arise series to the game?
We believe that both SAC and ARISE are great series. We think that more recent fans would be more familiar with ARISE and previous fans would be more familiar with SAC. If we have the chance, we would definitely like to add contents related to the ARISE series. We'll have to see what we can discuss with the anime creators.
[Check out more of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online for free this weekend on Steam!]
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Garage Hero Garage Hero is an independent movie group based in Tokyo, Japan that specializes in (but not limited to) the Tokusatsu genre of Japanese Cinema. Follow us on Twitter (@garagepro7) and Facebook!albas It seems like Qpost isn't as well integrated as it is in dtoid. Shame this place isn't more active but I still love all of you. DeScruff Sypran Hello I guess I'm new. I came in because of the Va-11 Hall-A stream last night.
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