jel x's blog

3:45 PM on 07.23.2011

Macross Frontier Playstation Home Concert, In Photos

The Macross Frontier soundtrack is hands down my favorite original anime soundtrack of all time. So I found myself motivated enough to somehow be awake around the crack of dawn (or 8:00 pm Japan time) and logged into the Japanese edition of Playstation Home for the first showing of the virtual Macross Frontier concert running this weekend. It was a surreal and surprisingly immersive experience, to the point where my real-concert sense kicked in and I started snapping pictures. I hope at least some of the Macross F fans got to attend, but if not I thought I'd share my experience. You'll have to bear with the photo quality as I don't have any fancy screencap methods and my only camera is my iPhone, but I think you'll get the point.

Arriving at the venue, there was already plenty of people waiting, either seated politely or dancing around and yelling things in Japanese. My particular box didn't have too many Macross F cosplayers (outfits and concert specific items could be purchased at the merch stand in the back) although there were a few girls with Miku and BRS hair.

For pretty much the entire week a giant screen has been in place at the arena, playing commercials for the recent movie, music and game releases and at times a few full songs with lyrics to sing along. You'll notice a countdown to the concert at the top... yes, I was there about an hour early.

They also mixed in the Nyan Nyan jingle with the real CM's. Gorgeous and Delicious and Deculture!

Once the countdown ended, a brief text introduction played on the screen then disappeared. The camera locked in place as what I would describe as an "Oil Rig Pirate Ship" rose from the water and the concert got underway.

The show kicked off with "Iteza Gogo Kuji Don't Be Late". As you can see, Sheryl was dressed for the occasion. The girls sang and danced in a small circle right up next to the box of seats. They didn't have a lot room to move but they were well animated with the appropriate amount of hotness for Sheryl and adorableness for Ranka.

Once the first song ended, we were greeted by... the screen again. Sheryl and Ranka appeared and said some things to the crowd via static, text only stills. Kind of disappointing, but understandable. I couldn't see them recording new dialogue just for this strange little experiment.

Once the talking was done, Ranka came out on stage for the classics, starting with "Watashi no Kare wa Pilot/My Boyfriend's a Pilot". Again, adorable.

The other classic of course is "Ai Oboete Imasuka/Do You Remember Love?". I'm gonna be honest, that song always gets me a little emotional, especially the haunting end of Ranka's version.

After finishing Ranka's set, we moved on to the Vajra attack... wait, what?!?! Yep, a few Vajra warped in, then the screen popped up to show a few SMS members freaking out. Cut to commercial! This was the most annoying part of the concert. The screen came back up and they looped the same three or four CM's from earlier for 8 MINUTES. I guess it is ultimately a promotional tool and the concert was free, but doesn't mean I have to like it.

As is always the case in Macross, the show must go on even in the face of an alien attack. So after the break, Sheryl came out to soldier on with "Northern Cross".

One of the nice little touches I noticed was how the 3D model performing would loosely match the animated clip playing up on the "sail", as if there was actually cameras trained on the girls.

While "Northern Cross" isn't my favorite song, the actual performance may have been the coolest part of the concert. It was pretty intense to see explosions and Valkyries chasing Vajra and what not as Sheryl continued to belt out the song.

I couldn't get a shot of it, but at some point some magic pink energy came off of Sheryl and the audience, apparently allowing the Macross Quarter to take out the Vajra mothership. Again, I don't know Japanese so I don't know the details, but apparently the power of song wins again.

With peace restored, a familiar paper airplane flew toward the stage...

...and Ranka jumped into "Anata no Oto". So many cherry blossoms!

Throughout the concert the camera would pan out and show the crowd to remind you that you were (virtually) there. The big pink blocks said "Banners of Thanks for the Full House". I'm assuming each one represented a full section of seats.

Ranka finished up her song and rolled into... the credits?! Already?! There's got to be more! Encore!!

Oh OK good. Alto shows up to fly Ranka in for one more song.

"Seikan Hikou" of course. KIRA!!!

Alto returned to pick Ranka up and fly her right in front of the box seats, which unfortunately I couldn't get a decent shot of. There were a few more text-only words from the girls and then the final, FINAL credits rolled.

As a parting gift, everyone at the concert received a creepy, glowing Ai-kun to sit on their heads. He's probably controlling/eating my brain as we speak.

And that's about it. Overall I really enjoyed the concert, it was definitely unlike anything else I've ever experienced. I was a little disappointed we only got to hear 6 songs over the course of an hour or so, but I did appreciate they tried to create a unique experience you could really only do in a virtual space like Playstation Home. More stuff like this could actually make Home relevant or even cool. If you have a Japanese PSN account and would like to catch the show yourself it will be running twice today at 1:00 p.m. (12 midnight EDT) and again at 8:00 p.m. (7 a.m. EDT) and July 29th and 30th on the same schedule. If you're a Macross Frontier it's definitely worth the effort to check it out!   read

10:22 AM on 07.19.2011

Summer Anime Season 2011: Here's a Few More!

Wow. The Summer anime season has kind of caught me off guard with how many shows have piqued my interest and I have no idea how I'm going to keep up. I'm already trying to follow three shows carrying on from Spring (Hanasaku Iroha, Nichijou, Steins;Gate), so I'm going to have some tough decisions to make schedule-wise.

I'm sure many of you have caught some of the awesome community guides already underway, but I'd like to toss in a few of my own opinions, including a couple shows that haven't really been covered yet. So here we go!

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu Ni

In one sentence: If you like Ichi, you'll like Ni.

Baka Test is one of my favorite comedies and I’ve been psyched for season two since the day it was announced. Sure it’s the usual high school stuff at it’s core, but toss it into a blender with a crazy summon battle system and a healthy dose of pastel halftone dots and you’ve got yourself a funny, unique show.

That being said, the first episode of Baka Test Ni was a little disappointing. In an unprecedented move, they basically roll out the mid-season filler Beach episode to get things started. Maybe I’m wrong and easing the viewer back in with slightly stale jokes and girls in swimsuits is a clever move, but I just didn’t feel like they brought their “A” game like most series do for their first episode. Fortunately the show can skate by on Hideyoshi jokes and style when necessary and I’m almost certain things will be back on track once we’re back to battling.

Mawaru Penguindrum

In one sentence: Pretty boys try to save crazy-penguin-hat-zombie-girl.

For all the talk of surrealism and general WTF moments I heard about going into Mawaru Penguindrum, I actually didn’t think it was that strange. Oh there's bizarre stuff going down, don't get me wrong, but the tragic circumstances facing the Takakura siblings bring things back down to Earth with a heavy thud. There are plenty of mysteries to be solved (the identity of the “hat”, what exactly is a penguindrum?) but the general idea of “get mysterious object, save little sister, can you change fate?” remains intact by the end of the first episode.

I’ll admit I’m late to the party when it comes to Brain’s Base, but after finally catching Durarara and now this I’m starting to see why people love them. The art is gorgeous, the story is unique but still human, and while an overall goal seems to be in place Penguindrum seems to be capable of going in any direction it wants. The only thing I'm sure of is I’ll be sticking around for the ride.

Dantalian no Shoka

In one sentence: Index gets a fancy dress and starts hanging out with a real man.

Gainax doing an early 20th century fantasy/mystery adaptation? Sold… right? Well, the look and feel of Dantalian no Shoka’s setting and characters is fantastic. Aside from the massive moe eyes of our main heroine Dalian, the show's art style and music feel pulled from an earlier era of animation and I mean that in a good way. Creepy pop-up books that come to life and some business about keys and key keepers make for some potentially interesting plot points, although more questions are raised than answered.

My only concern I had while watching this episode is the same concern I have with any light novel adaptation: too much talking! I enjoy good dialogue as much as the next guy, it’s just that particularly lengthy conversations usually work better on printed page than in animated form. Every light novel adaptation I’ve seen suffers from this at some point and Dantalian no Shoka is no exception. There’s only so much you can tell from one episode, but I get the impression that Dantalian is going to have more of those moments than I would care for. Still, I'm complaining more than the show deserves. There’s a lot to like here (including Miyuki Sawashiro doing her best Rie Kugimiya impersonation) and the concept has a lot of potential. I just hope they keep things moving as we go along.

The Idolmaster

In one sentence: I'm probably going to jail.

I watched Idolmaster with every intention of laughing at how shameless and pandering any anime based on an idol-creating video game would naturally be. What I got was a cleverly made documentary-style episode that was the best possible way they could have handled the thin source material. The surprisingly artful direction made introducing the army of girls less of a chore and actually kind of fun. Of course each girl was pretty much the generic archetype you’d expect, but hey I’ll give them credit where credit is due.

As the novelty of the series direction wears off I’m sure this will still be the moe-filled romp about perseverance and the power of friendship l was expecting. But the first episode did leave me politely clapping and saying “OK Idolmaster, you got me this time” and that’s well above my expectations.

Well, that's about all I've had time to check out. If anyone has any suggestions on what I should pick up or drop, feel free to share. You can also catch me on twitter @jelx23 if that's your thing.   read

2:41 PM on 06.22.2011

Touhou 13 Ten Desires Demo Impressions

After a rare two year break from the main series, Touhou returns with it's thirteenth entry, Ten Desires. A trial version was released back in April, and having had a chance to finally play through it a few times I'm really excited for the full game. I wanted to share my impressions because so far it's shaping up to be one of the most accessible and just plain fun entries in the series.

If you're a Touhou veteran chances are you've already played the demo or have heard about the new features, but here's a recap: The most notable changes in Ten Desires are the return of half human/half ghost/all gardener Youmu Kanpaku and the addition of the Trance state. Youmu stands out from the other girls as she packs a powerful, sexy, but short range sword attack in lieu of a focus shot. Trance state buys you a few seconds of invincibility, extra power, more points and will even trigger when you die to let you finish off your enemies. As powerful as it sounds, it does take some time to collect spirits and fill your Trance gauge. So it's certainly not a game-breaker.

The new features are important, but once I got to playing the demo it was the difficulty level that stood out the most. When details on the game first surfaced, series creator/one-man game-making army ZUN stated he was dialing down the difficulty and simplifying the game mechanics to make the game more accessible. So far it seems like he's sticking to his word, and I don't think that's a bad thing. The bullet patterns may not be as dense but they are still challenging and additions like the Trance state can be taken as either an extra layer of protection for newcomers or a new way for pros to reach astronomical scores. Personally, I think everybody wins.

The demo covers the first three levels of the game and to my surprise we see a few familiar faces and places along the way. I was never clear why ZUN stopped bringing back bosses from previous games since he has such a huge pool to draw from, but regardless, two out of four bosses in the demo are returning characters that I won't spoil here. I'm curious to see if anyone else will be returning in later stages. The two new girls fit right in, Stage 2's Kyouko packing particularly flashy bullet patterns that are difficult to describe but caught my attention. Overall the three stages are mapped out well and give you a chance to try your new skills without too much pressure. After finishing Stage 3 I was definitely ready for more, which usually means the demo has done it's job.

Of course with most Touhou games the real battle doesn't begin until Stage 4 so it remains to be seen how the rest of the game pans out. Still, I really enjoyed my time with the demo and I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you've never played the games and want to give them a try. The demo is free to download, so you really have nothing to lose. The full release will be available in August and some sites (such as J-List) are already taking preorders. So give it a shot, and I'll see you in August with a full review.

On a somewhat related note, I was thinking of doing a series of articles chronicling a challenge I made with myself to finish every Touhou game... well at least the main series Windows games, we'll see how it goes. I know we have some Touhou fans out there, is there anybody who would be interested in reading something like that?

Oh and you can also check me out on twitter @jelx23 and make fun of me for currently struggling with Subterranean Animism, if that's your thing.   read

12:04 AM on 06.17.2011

Miku Invasion 2011: The Diva Steps Up Her Game

With VIZ Media announcing their U.S. license for all things Hatsune Miku, the gate is officially open for a full-scale Miku invasion. The big question now is what exactly are they going to license? VIZ themselves are mostly known for their manga and anime licenses, but what had me interested was a few things they specifically mention (although just a mention, nothing official) in their press release. One I discussed in my previous cblog, the apparently "forthcoming" full length Supercell album. The other is the series of video games made by SEGA that we all know as Project Diva.

Now if you had told me there was a chance these games were coming to the U.S even a month or two ago, I would not have believed you. But it looks like the powers that be are really going through with this so why not use all the tools at your disposal? The Project Diva games not only showcase some of the best Vocaloid songs but they're also fun music/rhythm games in their own right. Even if you take away the Miku angle, it's not like we haven't seen some quirky Japanese music games hit our shores in the past. There are many examples, but compared to say Parappa the Rapper or SEGA's own Space Channel 5, Project Diva actually comes off as pretty "normal". Those games managed to find an audience and I'm pretty sure Miku would too.

Once you've decided to bring the series over, the next question is what games do you bring? The core gameplay mechanics of "push a button with the music" is consistent throughout, but the series exists in several overlapping, slightly confusing forms. First you have the two PSP releases and the oddly managed Dreamy Theater PS3 expansion that let's you to play in HD. Then there's the arcade version sporting upgraded graphics and a few unique songs of its own. Currently in the works is another PSP title and a second PS3 add-on, both of which seem to lean toward expansions with new songs as opposed to true sequels.

The most obvious, immediate choice would be to bring over the second PSP title, the appropriately named Project Diva 2nd. The game features a good selection of songs and there's not much to translate, so that would seem like the easiest way to go. But In the dream world where I get everything I want, I'm going to ask for a PS3 release. It doesn't have to be an entirely new game per se, using the songs from the two PSP titles would work fine. The assets are already there from Dreamy Theater or in the works for it's sequel, so how about putting them together for a standalone release? You could even re-package it back in Japan as the "International Version". Are you listening SEGA? Make it happen!

An interesting third option is the Arcade version. Yes, I understand arcades are dead outside of Japan, but having a few cabinets in a few malls dotted across the country couldn't hurt. The colorful, music-based gameplay might be appealing the same way DDR was, and at the very least you could gain a little exposure... OK that's the old man arcade-dweller in me talking, it's probably not the best idea. I still would like to see it though.

I suppose my opinion on the games' potential is not entirely objective, I may just be imposing my own experience on everyone else. When I first heard Hatsune Miku there were a few songs I thought were ok, but I didn't think much of it beyond that. Being a big fan of music/rhythm games however, the Project Diva series caught my attention, and I liked the music enough to go ahead with the import. As the hours passed by with my focus on playing the game and not the fact I was hearing songs sung by a computer program, I found the music embedding itself in my head. I had to appreciate that these were some creative, well composed pop songs regardless of who or what was singing them. I still wouldn't call myself the biggest Vocaloid fan out there, but experiencing the music in game form did help win me over to the concept. I think it would be cool if some other curious or on-the-fence people out there could have a similar experience.

Overall I'm just happy we've reached the point where you can actually make a viable case for an English-langauge Project Diva release. As bizarre as the Toyota partnership and other inevitable tie-ins may seem, I think it's ultimately good for Vocaloid fans who have had no official ways to purchase the music and merchandise in the past. Some people have voiced concern about Miku becoming too popular and that the scene will be overrun by the Hot Topic crowd, but I just don't see that happening. Even if it did, I say if some kid needs to wear a branded t-shirt to feel good about him/herself then that's his/her problem. If it means I'll be playing a reasonably-priced copy of the latest Project Diva game in English then I'll probably be too busy to notice.

I may have a few more Miku Invasion 2011 rants left in me, so keep an eye out for that. You can also check me out on twitter, @jelx23, should you feel compelled to discuss random things about anime and video games.   read

11:50 AM on 06.13.2011

Monthly Musing: Prologue to a Long Summer

The heat felt unbearable as I shuffled along the sidewalk. My body was bruised and beaten and every step pained me as my worn soles struck the concrete. None of that mattered now. By this time tomorrow I'd be on a beach half way around the world, leisurely sipping a tall, stiff drink and surrounded by beautiful girls with exotic hair colors like green and pink. I glanced down at my phone to make sure the money had been successfully wired to my account.

"Current Balance: ¥0"

I abruptly stopped on the sidewalk, a nervous tension welling in my stomach. A hundred possible scenarios swirled in my head but none with enough clarity to stick. Something was very wrong. I slowly lifted my gaze above my phone and toward the horizon line; three men in black suits approaching, their image blurred by the heat.

"Are you the man they call Jel X?" a disturbingly calm voice called out to me. The man's dark sunglasses masked his intentions, but I assumed the worst. I remained silent.

"We have a few questions for you, I'd advise that you cooperate."

I had fought so hard to reach this point, my body and mind were exhausted. I did not know how to reply and did not offer one. Moments later, I was unconscious.

I was awoken by an intense heat, this time artificial, mixed with the salty taste of blood. Beyond the light bearing down on me, I saw nothing else in the room besides darkness and a simple folding table. Just as my eyes regained their focus, I heard the click of an opening door followed by footsteps toward me. The same man in black approached and sat opposite myself at the table.

"That was quite a stunt you pulled the other day, a lot of good field agents we have to replace," the man spoke as he settled into his chair, again with an unnatural lack of emotion.

"They told me it was my last mission, they left me with no choice!" I spat back bitterly.

"Last mission? Well I suppose it would have been, had you succeeded."

"I did everything they asked me to! I even bought K-ON! on Blu-ray!" As I grew more anxious I noticed my hands and feet were bound. Escape was impossible, at least for now.

Unamused by my defiant attitude, the man finally removed his sunglasses. "Let me make something clear, if you don't cooperate, then that really was your last mission."

"Go ahead and do it. I have no regrets."

The corner of the man's mouth raised until it almost reached a smirk. From his jacket pocket he produced a series of photographs that he casually flipped on the table.

"What about them?"

The photos were of several different poseable figurines. One appeared to be a robot with a white body and blonde hair, another was a girl in a plain brown school uniform with lighting shooting from her hands. The third, a girl in silver and blue armor, sent me over the edge.

"YOU WOULDN'T DARE!!" Although I was tied to my chair I managed to lean forward. The man simply stared back at me, motionless. His expression was unchanged.

A feeling of defeat washed over me. I had no cards left in my hand to play. The chair legs scraped the bare floor as I fell back into it. A few moments of silence passed before I finally spoke again.

".....what's the job?" the words coming out of my mouth less a question and more a resignation. Immediately two men appeared from the darkness behind me and untied my bindings. I offered no resistance; playing along for now seemed like the wisest course of action.

My setting became more familiar as I was escorted down the concrete slab hallway and into a large control room. Wasting no time, the man in black directed my attention towards the wall of monitors and began his explanation.

"Your first target should be familiar, you've seen it before." The monitor changed, displaying a row of 3 girls. Well, at least they all looked like girls.

"Baka Test?!? Ha! I was going to watch that anyway! You're going to have to do better than that!"

The man in black continued unfazed. "Your next target will be Dantalian no Shoka." As he spoke, the monitor flashed an image of a very young looking girl holding a giant book.

"I love Gainax AND Miyuki Sawashiro, try harder."

The man centered his glare on me before he spoke again. "It's an adaptation, not an original."

I hesitated for a moment. Images from the final episodes of Hanamaru Kindergarten flashed through my mind. Still, an anime set in early 20th century Great Britain could be interesting, so there was hope. I answered with only a wry smile.

The man in black began pacing away from me, his unfocused gaze upward a symbol of his condescension. "You certainly seem pleased with yourself." The monitor flashed again to show an army of girls singing and dancing. "Well we've saved the best for last. Your final target will be," as he quickly turned and pointed toward the screens, "THE IDOLM@STER!!"

I swallowed hard as my confidence wavered. I didn't know too much about The Idolm@ster, only that it was a game involving girls singing and dancing and it was tied to some of the creepiest otaku stories I'd ever heard. Visibly shaken, I tried to maintain my defiance.

"I-is that all you got?"

"Hmph. We'll see how you feel come September. The Professor has the rest of your assignment." With those words I found myself again being escorted, this time to the lab.

It's hard to forget the Professor. To anyone else she would appear to be a cute, innocent 8-year old girl with bright orange hair, but I knew beneath that oversize lab coat beat the heart of a cold-blooded psychopath. The sound of her surprisingly adorable laugh mixed with the screams of her experiment subjects will haunt me for the rest of my days.

"Here, take this!" the Professor smiled cheerfully as she handed me a thin, black box bearing an embossed "PS3", "you'll need it to finish your job."

"Wait, shouldn't you be in school or something?"

Before I could get an answer, I heard a voice crackle through the intercom. "It seems you've accumulated quite the backlog over the past few years," the man in black sneered.

"I want you to play this one," the Professor playfully shouted as she handed me a case marked Valkyria Chronicles, "and then this one! Gotta play 3 before 4, right?" She tossed me another case marked Disgaea 3.

"But I didn't even like Disgaea 2..."

The Professor immediately stopped rummaging through the pile of cases and after a brief pause, turned and looked up at me. Her eyes had grown wide and were filling with tears.

" was too much like the first one," I continued, "and, you know, it just..."

The Professor began sobbing like, well... a little girl. I don't know what I was expecting. The two large men who had been escorting me immediately grabbed my arms.

"BRING HIM TO THE ROOM!!" the man in black's voice boomed through the overhead speakers. I quickly found myself forcibly strapped into a large chair, faced with some kind of joystick and a monitor.

"We tried to compromise, tried to give you a chance to redeem yourself, but clearly you do not appreciate our generosity," any shred of humanity in the man's voice now completely lost, "Your new assignment: complete every Touhou game."

"You can't be serious!! EVERY game!?!"

"Every game."

"That's impossible!! No one would even survive..." my words were interrupted by something I saw through the observation window. The Professor, gleefully detaching the arm of my Aigis figma and replacing it with a log cake.

"FINE!!" I exclaimed and grabbed the joystick.


And that's more or less how my summer began. I also may have written this after watching a couple action movies and a few episodes of Nichijou. That Professor sure is evil when you think about it. My ridiculous allegory and barely relevant pictures aside, I'm not going to be able to take much of a vacation this year. Fortunately I'm not the type of guy who gets bored so I'll be into my myriad of hobbies including anime, gaming and writing cblogs for Japanator. I mentioned some of the things I'll be checking out, but if anybody has any suggestions on what to watch or play, please suggest away!   read

1:41 AM on 06.03.2011

Oreimo "True Route" Final Impressions

What happens when you take the imouto out of Oreimo? Well that's pretty much what we find out in the handful of web-only episodes that make up the "True" ending of the series. I personally never cared much for alternate endings, but in this case a little break from our favorite rhetorically cute little sister works out well for everyone.

To recap, Oreimo pays homage to the eroge/visual novels to which it owes so much of its plot by offering two different endings. The split occurs at episode 12 and hinges on Kirino's decision to go to America. In the "Good" ending that concluded the original TV run, she decides to stay in Japan and things pretty much stay the same. The "True" ending adheres more closely to the plot of the light novels. Kirino goes away and we're given three extra episodes to see how Kyousuke and her friends carry on without her. I was pretty satisfied when the series wrapped up this past Winter but I enjoyed the "True" route so much that I thought it was worth bringing up again.

With Kirino out of the picture for the majority of the episodes, the spotlight turns to fan-favorite Kuroneko. But instead of the confident, cosplaying Queen of Darkness we're used to, we see her as Ruri Gokou (her real name): a quiet and apparently lonely girl entering Kyousuke's high school. Well, she does still have her sharp tongue, but you can see she's definitely out of her element.

Seeing the slightly more vulnerable side of Kuroneko was my favorite part of these episodes. It creates a nice balance to her over the top antics earlier in the series, making her a more well-rounded, likeable character than she already was. I also like how they develop her relationship with Kyousuke. It progresses in fairly standard anime-school-romance fashion, but it feels kind of comforting in a show that is constantly dancing around creepier, more perverse topics.

Speaking of which, we are also introduced to Sena Akagi, Kyousuke's friend's sister who was mentioned briefly in episode 12. She's Kuroneko's classmate and a total fujoshi, but unlike the other girls her whining about her obsession makes her seem one dimensional and borderline annoying. She does redeem herself when she makes amends with Kuroneko and the two become friends, but there were a few occasions she had me yelling "URRGGH JUST SHUT UP ALREADY" at the screen.

Of course at the end of the day this is about the Kousaka siblings and much of the character development and relationship building that occurs only ends up reinforcing how much everyone misses Kirino. The final bit of drama as brother and sister meet face to face again does more to develop her as a character in a few minutes than anything in the previous 14 episodes. It's probably the first time in the series you really get to see how she feels. As the final episode came to a close with Kirino making her triumphant return, I felt much more satisfied with how everything had been resolved than in the "Good" ending and I would say I had an enjoyable time getting there. That's a lot more than you can say for most alternate endings.

With the series COMPLETELY finished now (I don't think we're going to see another season any time soon) and having had some time to let everything sink in, I'm still surprised how much I enjoyed Oreimo, almost to the point where it frustrates me. I can't speak for the writer's original intentions, but to me it feels like he set out to make a pandering, fan service type of story and instead ended up making something that's actually pretty good. It's not deep or even subtle, but it's a fun story with characters that have a bit more weight than you would expect. I guess I can't help but wonder if it could have been even better.

[Wanna hear some more random commentary on anime and video games? Check me out on twitter: @jelx23]   read

3:39 PM on 05.24.2011

Miku Invasion 2011: Two Albums We Need Now

As Hatsune Miku begins her invasion of the western world, I feel like something is missing. If you've only heard one vocaloid song, chances are it's featured on either livetune's Re:Package or supercell's self-titled debut. Both albums played a large role in launching the vocaloid phenomenon, but neither one is officially available outside of Japan. I think both deserve some kind of release on our shores if we ever want to get past the "hey, checkout the cool singing hologram!" phase of Miku's popularity abroad.

Aside from being tremendously popular, both albums showcase what vocaloids are capable of in their own separate ways. Re:Package presents Miku living in her own world of synthetic pop, a virtual diva with music built around her and her voice. Supercell plants Miku squarely in reality, essentially a guest singer in a band, covering a range of musical styles. Both approaches work and both should be showcased to the rest of the world.

Re:Package - A Glimpse Into the Future
The moment the opening words of "Anthem" hit your ears you feel like you're hearing something new. Miku's voice is distinctly un-human, but not entirely souless either. As the song picks up steam her voice melts into a sea of keyboards and drums, transporting you to some future time when virtual idols are the norm. The opening track gives way to "Packaged", which is probably the closest thing to an actual vocaloid anthem.. The song is basically a mission statement with Miku declaring her will to sing for us, but it doesn't come off as some robotic warning. Instead, the message is softened by a descending piano melody and introspective lyrics. Miku repeats the chorus over and over: "This world's melody, my singing voice, I wonder if it's reaching. I wonder if it's echoing."

That balance is maintained throughout the rest of the album. Re:Package doesn't hide the fact that Miku isn't "real", it embraces it and turns it into something new. The songs are futuristic soundscapes setting the backdrop for a synthetic voice, yet they still retain a measure of humanity. Standout tracks like "Finder", "Strobe Nights" and "Last Night, Good Night" all feature surprisingly heartfelt lyrics and a touch of melancholy that pack just the right amount of emotional punch. The album as a whole is a glimpse of what vocaloid can (and has) become: a whole new genre of futuristic pop.

Supercell - Making the Future Now
"Love Is War", "Melt", "Black Rock Shooter", "World Is Mine"... supercell's debut album reads like a vocaloid Greatest Hits list and there's good reason why. The group's musical leader, ryo, writes huge, dramatic pop songs that touch on a wide range of genres. Rather than being the center of attention, Miku is simply the singer of the band. She becomes whoever she needs to be for each song, whether it's a shy girl who can't express herself, a bratty flirt, or a mysterious superhero. The emphasis is on the songs themselves and Miku is along for the ride.

Going along with that concept, you can hear the extra effort that went into making Miku sound as natural as possible when you listen to Supercell. As the feedback from "Love Is War" washes into "Heartbreaker" (an underrated song in my opinion) and the guitars churn up into a classic pop rock song, Miku's voice is smooth enough to make you forget she's computer software and simply enjoy the music. Later, on "Rain" (or "Line" depending on who you ask), Miku's singing is completely unprotected and only accompanied by piano. Her voice is still... unique, but it's impressive how close to human she sounds. You can even hear the breaths programmed in to enhance the effect. By making Miku "real", Supercell establishes the idea of vocaloids as guest band members; famous singers that can be called upon at any time by aspiring songwriters for whatever style or genre they please.

So how do we make this happen? Well it would seem the path of least resistance would be to at least get these albums on iTunes. Supercell already has their toes in the water with "World Is Mine", so that's probably not much of a stretch. What I really would like to see is a full Special Edition release of each album. The art and visuals are also a vital component of Hatsune Miku's popularity, it would be awesome to see some kind of artbook and maybe even a DVD to go along with the release. Call me crazy but I actually thought of the recent Special Edition anime releases by NISA. Toss in a nice hardcover book in one of those solid cases and I think that would be an interesting, unique opportunity for someone like them.

It's very unlikely that vocaloid will catch on with the general public or that simply releasing these two albums would cause an explosion in Miku's popularity. But I think there's definitely enough interest outside of Japan to support some kind of official industry, even if it remains a niche interest like anime and manga. My overall point is that there has to be something of substance for people to turn to if the Miku Invasion is going to be successful in the long term, and making these two influential albums available is a good start. There are actually quite a few vocaloid songs and albums available on iTunes, but none of them carry the weight of Re:Package or Supercell. So come on Sony/TamStar/Crypton/Whoever I need to yell at, make it happen! Then maybe we can get an English-language Project Diva game... I'll save that rant for another time.

Stay tuned for more (possible) Miku Invasion 2011 ranting in the future. In the meantime check me out on twitter @jelx23 if you wanna yell back and forth across the internet about anime and video games.   read

5:57 PM on 05.02.2011

Trouble Witches Neo! (XBLA) Review

Japanese Shooter fans have had it tough over the years, particularly those fond of the "Bullet Hell" genre. Playing your favorite games would usually require hacking or patching something on your computer, fumbling through signing up for a Japanese account of some kind, or paying the very high cost of importing a Japanese console. Over time, however, a sort of word-of-mouth grass roots movement has grown around these types of games. Whether it's developer Cave reaching out to their cult following of hardcore gamers or the insane fandom of Touhou mixing with the Otaku market, the genre has certainly seen a growing amount of attention in recent times.

So with that kind of history behind it, the mere existence of Trouble Witches Neo! as a full-on Xbox Live Arcade title outside of Japan is a victory in itself. We've seen other shmups such as Ikaruga, Triggerheart Excelica and Cave's Guwange released for the service, but to see a game with moe girls and doujin roots make the cut is a bit of a coup. It makes for a feel-good backstory, sure, but it would all be pointless if the game wasn't any good. Let's take a look under the hood and see what we got.

Trouble Witches Neo! (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Studio SiestA
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Released: April 27, 2011
Price: 800 MS Points ($10)

Trouble Witches Neo! is an updated Xbox 360 version of a side-scrolling-shooter released in 2008 for PC and arcades. In this version, the character art has been greatly improved, some new modes and characters have been added, and the game itself has been formatted to fit widescreen TVs. The original version of the game is even included in case you missed it the first time, like, you know... everyone else in the world.

The basic gameplay is standard scrolling-shooter fare, with each girl having slight variations on shot types, speed and power. There are 8 girls to choose from with apparently 2 more on the way as DLC, so you're bound to find someone that works for you. The twists that TWN! brings to the table are the Magic Barrier and Magic Cards. The Magic Barrier will slow down incoming bullets and in some cases convert them to money. Magic Cards can be purchased at the shop and temporarily power you up for massive damage and massive points.

There are two things you notice right away when you fire up the game. The first thing is the game's gorgeous visuals. Some may say the bright colors and cute anime girls are an acquired taste, but I'm assuming most gamers reading this site have acquired that taste to some extent. The re-drawn character art looks fantastic and the backgrounds look great, even with some light CG work. There were a few times I found the visuals were distracting as I was trying to focus on dodging bullets, but once my eyes adjusted it wasn't an issue.

Unfortunately, the other glaring feature that stands out is the voice acting. SNK Playmore declares that "you can enjoy the story of each character in full voiced dialogue" and while that is technically accurate, this very well may be the worst English dub I have ever heard. Ever. It's to the point where I actually feel bad and don't want to make fun of it. The moment I first entered the Shop and was greeted by a terrified looking loli-elf girl, all I could imagine was two or three cute Japanese seiyuu in a low rent recording studio whispering "ganbare!" to each other while being forced to speak a language they don't understand. Then again I'm a nice guy and I have an overactive imagination, it doesn't change the fact the dub is terrible. Thankfully you can switch the default voice to Japanese and make all things right with the world, although personally I couldn't look away from the train wreck and stuck with English most of the way.

Presentation matters aside, the game itself is a lot of fun. As someone with a little experience playing shooters, it did take some adjusting to actually use the Magic Barrier and Cards. The usual shooter logic is to save your "bombs" or whatever defense you have as a last resort, but in TWN! they become a necessity for both survival and scoring. Once I got that into my head, I really started enjoying the game. The controls are tight, the level designs are simple but get the job done, and the unique elements it has are nice additions to the gameplay.

As far as difficulty is concerned, TWN! proves to be a good challenge. There are three levels to choose from and a fourth unlockable difficulty if you can pull off a playthrough with no continues. My only issue with the difficulty is the curve. It's not that the game is hard, I'd expect that. I just don't think they do the best job of easing you into it. Stages 1-3 have a nice natural progression but then you hit a wall of bullets and the occasional cheap shot on Stage 4. It was a little frustrating but again, not a deal breaker.

Trouble Witches Neo! is a fun and beautiful game that is definitely worth your time. If you've been interested in the difficult but rewarding Bullet-Hell genre but have been put off by the price tag, now is as good a time as any to jump in. Veteran players will find a decent, unique challenge and at the very least you're supporting the release of more of these games in the future. So go ahead and check it out.   read

3:17 PM on 04.27.2011

Hey! Someone Put a Doujin Game In My XBLA!

Heads up Japanese-game-loving Xbox Live Arcade fans, today is a good day. Not only do we see the release of Cave's NIN2-Jump but we also get a new shooter called Trouble Witches Neo. TWN, as we'll call it for brevity, looks to be something like a horizontal-scrolling Touhou-style game with cute girls flying around shooting magic bullets at each other. So in other words, sounds like the last thing you'd expect to be a full-on XBLA release. OK, to be fair we did get Triggerheart Excelica a couple years back, but seeing an international release of this game seems even more unlikely. You see, the game is published by SNK Playmore but was actually developed by Studio Siesta, a doujin group previously known for making shooters based off, of all things, the Key visual novel Air. Yeah, can I get a WTF?!?

Mind you I'm not complaining, in fact I think this is an awesome development and I hope this means we see more of these titles pop up on XBLA. I plan on reviewing both TWN and NIN2-Jump in the near future, but in the meantime check out the trailer for TWN and give them both a shot.

[embed]19332:906[/embed]   read

8:33 AM on 04.08.2011

Cave Game Sale Includes Support for Red Cross Japan *UPDATE*

UPDATE: the Bug Panic sale is only the first part of Cave's “Games Supporting Disaster Victims” project. Next week they will be selling "Charity Sets" through their international store (hopefully they include one of those sexy t-shirts) and all sales from their upcoming XBLA game Nin2-Jump from release until June will go to the relief effort. Nin2-Jump is a really unique looking platformer, of all things, so check it out.

Normally I wouldn't post something like this and leave the news stories to the pros, but it's for a good cause and I absolutely LOVE Cave. So I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in on this one.

I'm assuming most readers around here have at least heard of Cave, but if you haven't, watch this. Basically they make crazy hard arcade shooters and more recently have done a few fantastic ports to your favorite iDevices. And starting this weekend until April 17th, their three iOS releases will be on sale with a few provisos attached:

Espgaluda II will go on sale if it receives 1000 votes for the Openfeint Fire Sale. Voting starts tomorrow (April 8th) and can be done through the free Openfeint Gamechannel App.

Dodonpachi Resurrection will be on sale for $4.99 (normally $8.99), no questions asked.

Mushihimesama Bug Panic will be on sale for $0.99 (normally $4.99) and all proceeds from the sale go to the Red Cross for earthquake/tsunami relief in Japan.

The whole breakdown, including pricing for other regions, can be found at the Cave World website.

Espgaluda and Dodonpachi are fantastic shooters, and if you're concerned about the controls like I was, don't be. They work great on the touchscreen. Bug Panic is a fun iOS original game that's kind of a twin stick shooter/adventure game mash-up. I wrote a review for it over at destructoid awhile back, so if you're curious you can check that out.

I highly recommend any of these games, and pretty much anything else Cave does. I may even gift a few Bug Panics out to some friends when the sale begins. If you're still on the fence they all have lite versions to try out, so give them a shot. You won't be disappointed!   read

2:57 PM on 03.16.2011

To Aru Majutsu no Index (PSP) Review

I don't usually think of myself as the fan boy type, but when I saw there was a To aru Majutsu no Index fighting game coming for PSP bundled with a Mikoto Misaka figma I was SOLD no questions asked, pre-ordered instantly. As crazy as it is, I do love me some Index, and it would seem the diverse cast of characters would work great for a fighting game. What could possibly go wrong... right?

In retrospect I probably should have taken a moment and considered the facts: A. it's a licensed game, which is usually bad B. it's a licensed anime based fighting game, which is almost always bad and C. I'd have to import it, which is both expensive and in a language I can't read. Perhaps I was swayed by the figma, or maybe my bad-licensed-game-sense was dulled from playing the solid Fate/Unlimited Codes, either way I ignored the warning signs and jumped in blind. You can probably tell where this review is going, but if you are interested in the game, here's the rundown:

To aru Majutsu no Index (no crazy subtitle?) is a fighting game, not in the traditional Street Fighter/Tekken sense, but more in the shonen Dragonball/Bleach/Naruto mold. Basically that means simple combat and lots of running in circles. To try and keep things interesting, Index lets you choose a partner who can jump out for a quick assist or join you for a "Unison Raid" attack, which sounds much cooler than it really is. Different pairings work better than others based on their relationship in the anime/light novels, so Touma/Index is theoretically more effective than say, Touma/Accelerator. The relationship factor is an interesting idea but they don't really do much with it, ultimately it has little effect on the gameplay.

The rest of the combat, again, is very simple. Each character has a light and heavy attack and special moves are performed by adding a single direction push. You can also guard but it's pretty much pointless; holding guard and moving will perform a nigh invulnerable roll/dodge maneuver that's more effective than Imagine Breaker itself. Your "Overdrive" super-moves are simply a matter of filling a bar the usual way and pressing the Circle button. Finishing a match with your Overdrive ends with a cool, flashy cut scene, but after a dozen or so times it gets pretty tired. The final piece is the aforementioned partner system, it's there, but honestly I forgot I had it half the time.

So while everything looks and works fine, I found I was getting bored quickly. There's not a lot of variety once the fighting starts, and that's assuming you're trying. In most cases you can just find an overpowered special move and spam it. I cleared most of Sasha's story mode unscathed by simply jamming the Triangle button as quickly as possible.

Ah yes, the Story mode. If you've played Blazblue, it's exactly like that, right down to the icons with the little portraits in them. Except this is much worse. I might have enjoyed it more if I understood Japanese but after looking up the stories online yeah probably not. You start out as Touma, loosely following the main plot, fighting a quick one round battle and then sitting through pages and pages of visual novel style cut scenes. Clearing Touma's route opens up other characters tangled in their own side stories, all culminating in the Final Chapter that even by Index standards is RIDICULOUS. I won't spoil it for you, go ahead and look it up, it's worth a laugh. Now I realize you don't play a fighting game for story but did I mention there's only 5 character routes you can breeze through in about an hour or so? Oh and did I also mention none of those characters' family name is "Misaka"? Yeah, I'm disappointed too.

Aside from the story you've got your Versus, Survival, and Time Attack modes but strangely enough no Arcade mode. There's a "Versus CPU" but it's only a single battle that kicks you out when you're done. And that's basically my problem with this game. I wouldn't say it's poorly made, there's just not much to do. I suppose that's an issue with fighting games in general, but they usually have deeper, more nuanced combat systems to master. It might help if I had another human player to play against but I don't and unless you're cooler and more popular than me (highly possible) you won't either. I can't fault the game for that but it's something to consider if you're interested in picking this up.

I do want to say one area Index shines is fan service. Not so much in the scantily-clad ladies type of service but in how the game references the source material. Each characters moveset suits them well and are often pulled directly from scenes in the anime. Punching through special attacks with Touma, hearing the Imagine Breaker noise, then punching through their FACE was by far the most fun I had in the game. Other moves like Misaka's "CHASER!!" kick are also a nice touch. The roster is chosen well with no glaring omissions, and in case you are wondering yes, Index and misakamisakaLast Ordermisaka are in the game but can only be selected for support. We also get a glimpse of some of the characters who have not appeared in the anime yet which was a surprise, but it was cool to get a little preview of who we might be seeing in future episodes. Oh and Kirino randomly appears, that's something.

Personally, I feel like I broke even with this... or at least that's what I'm telling myself. There were enough "hey that's cool, that's just like the anime!" moments to keep me entertained for a little while and I really did want that figma. But if you're strictly interested in the game I can't really recommend it. You're probably better off watching this and calling it a day. Maybe someday someone will make my dream Index fighter, but this is definitely not that game.   read

10:02 PM on 01.13.2011

Best Place to Visit: Academy City

Seeing this month's Musing topic made me remember my days working PR for Academy City. Naturally it involved a lot of body disposal and cover-ups, but there was one time they actually let me write a press release. Yeahhhh I got fired from that job so hard... I think my irrepressible sarcasm may have gotten the best of me, take a look:



ARE YOU looking for some fun and excitement? Tired of the "usual" vacation hot spots? Well look no further than Academy City, the place where Magic and Science collide!™ Home to the world's finest institutions of learning, our thirst for knowledge is surpassed only by our need to have a GOOD TIME!! Whether you're checking up on your enrolled son or daughter (no human experiments, promise!) or carrying out a poorly planned scheme to start World War III, Academy City offers plenty to see and do!

The Sights
While mostly known for it's academic institutions, Academy City is also lauded as the most technologically advanced place on Earth. It's been said that our technology is twenty to thirty years ahead of the rest of the planet. Consider some of the fantastic contraptions you'll encounter on your visit: Robots that pick up trash! Windmills! Blimps that display the news! More windmills! Robots that pick up the trash with (apprentice) maids on top of them!! Eh, that one actually does sound cool..... your life WILL NEVER BE THE SAME after you've experienced the excitement of our ultra-modern society firsthand!

The Sounds
When asked in a survey, nearly 96% of people ready to punch an evil magician/scientist in the face for kidnapping their Flavor of the Week girlfriend named "appropriate soundtrack" as their most important concern. In Academy City, you can expect to hear dark, techno-ish beats brooding in the background before knuckles hit jaw. But what if you're more of a lover than a fighter? Trigger your next story arc with something a little more whimsical: we have just the right mood music for your tsundere flare-ups or awkward loli fan service. There's even a piano that plays when things get emotional! Regardless of your situation, Academy City has you covered musically. Hey man, I don't know how it works, it's a city full of SCIENCE, I'm sure there's some kind of speakers or.... wait what was that? There's no music? That only happens on TV? Oh. I guess that makes more sense. Moving on...

The People
You'll find some of the most friendly and courteous folks you could ever meet are proud to call Academy City home. Studies have shown that average street hoodlums from other cities will beat, rob and rape you in 5-10 seconds. Our random urban riff-raff will give you AT LEAST 5-10 minutes of totally motionless staring, buying time for help to arrive in the form of an 80 pound middle-school girl. That's right, an 80 pound middle-school girl. Because here at Academy City, we say why hire "police" when you can have a small army of teenagers fighting crime with little or no adult supervision? I know it sure helps me sleep at night.

And speaking of young girls and sleeping at night oho ho ho have we got[STATEMENT DELETED BY REQUEST OF LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR JEL-X - LITITGATION PENDING]

The... Food?
Academy City offers an endless variety of culinary delights, perfect for stealing an indirect kiss from your frustrated pretend boyfriend or your crazy quasi-lesbian roommate. Hot dogs, shaved ice, crepes, water bottles - all available to stick in your mouth in completely non-suggestive ways. Where else on the planet are you going to find such outstanding cuisine? Only in Academy City.

Still not convinced? Expecting to hear "useful information" or even "facts"? Well take a look at our #1 reason Academy City is the BEST PLACE YOU CAN VISIT:

You can just MAKE STUFF UP
Now I'm no quantum physicist, but here in Academy City we got this thing called "Personal Reality" that as far as I can tell lets you do WHATEVER YOU WANT. All you need to do is make up a special ability - you might start off small with something like keeping your snacks warm, but once your imagination REALLY gets going you'll be fighting thousands of clones to theoretically improve your ability to "change vectors". See? I don't even know what that means! Anyone can do it too, we'd even give powers to dolphins if we could just find the right briefcase...

If that's not exciting enough for you, you can always dip your toes in the world of magic; not only do you get super powers but you get to use them with flair! Again, it's really not hard, just write down the first few letters and numbers that pop in your head to create your "magician name", order some renaissance faire costumes and props off ebay (or just cut a leg off your jeans if you're strapped for cash) and away you go! Before you know it you'll be magically swapping the faces of your friends and family to cope with your shameful feelings about your cousin and look good doing it.

So when you're planning your next vacation, just remember this: you could be relaxing on the beach, skiing in the mountains OR you could be explaining to your wife that the girl she found you with was just a "manifestation of the AIM dispersion field"... the choice is clear: come visit us in Academy City, the place where moe and shoneSORRY Magic and Science collide!™


Okay maybe I went a little overboard but I know I would wanna visit after reading that. Maybe I was targeting the wrong demographic or something. In conclusion...

Keep the madness coming Kamachi san!   read

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