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Japanator Recommends

Japanator Recommends: Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning

Oct 09 // Elliot Gay
Tiger & Bunny: The BeginningStudio: SunriseCountry: JapanSeptember 22, 2012 In a re-imagined version of our world, individuals called NEXT have begun to appear. Wielding mysterious powers, these people have brought about the age of the superhero. Seeing a chance to profit, companies began sponsoring these heroes, eventually leading entire TV programs designed around their courageous exploits to be broadcast. With heroism having been monetized, many of these NEXT seem to have become more focused on TV ratings and rankings rather than saving innocent people. Kotetsu Kaburagi is a veteran hero who refuses to change in the name of sponsors or corporations, making him the least popular hero amongst his coworkers and employers. When his agency closes down, he's picked up by the massive Apollon Media and forced to partner with the young new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr. Prioritizing his popularity and rank over getting the job done quickly, Barnaby's idea of what a hero is clashes with Kotetsu's, straining their partnership. In the face of adversity, can these two find what it takes to work together to protect the people of Sternbild? Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning adapts the first two episodes of the TV series, with a fairly wide variety of changes made to the old content. Unlike most films that try to retell the story of a long-ish series, The Beginning avoids the pitfalls that are typically associated with this kind of project. Because two episodes fit neatly within the 90 minute runtime it never feels like the material is being rushed through, thus allowing it to breathe on its own. A lot of the additions made to the first half of the film involve seeing what characters were doing behind the scenes while the TV show events transpired. Little touches like seeing Kotetsu struggle to change into his superhero gear in the car on the way to catch some villains help make the experience feel fresh. Bigger changes include Kotetsu's wife being introduced within the first thirty minutes, immediately giving him a more pronounced reason for wanting to be a hero outside of the Mr. Legend story. Barnaby has a few more quiet moments of contemplation as he reflects on Ouroboros and the death of his family. Upon re-watching episodes one and two of the show, I also realized that a lot of new shots were added to the second giant statue battle, giving the other heroes some time to shine.  While the first half of the film generally plays out as you would expect, the other half is composed of entirely new content. There's a lot of comedy to be had during this section of the movie, with scenes that do a lot to highlight the hero group's unique dynamic. The Beginning also gives us a clear sense of how each character's ability actually functions; I can guarantee you that some of these are not what you were expecting. A new NEXT villain, world class thief Robin Baxter, is introduced into the lore and it's our hero's job to catch him and recover the stolen Statue of Justice. While the power he brings to the table is interesting and lends itself well to some creative action set pieces, Baxter simply isn't intimidating as a villain. He feels like a filler character and an excuse to get our heroes together to fight some crime. While this isn't altogether a terrible thing, I would have liked to see someone more diabolical take the antagonist role.  By not attempting to tell 13 episodes worth of story in 90 minutes, each member of the cast gets an adequate amount of time to strut their stuff. Some of my favorite moments in the film revolved around Sky High and hist innocent ignorance of how normal people act in society. Fear not fans, your favorite character gets some loving. Unless they happen to be Lunatic, in which case you get approximately three scenes worth of screen time. One unfortunate side effect of only adapting the first two episodes is that some characters haven't quite developed yet. A specific example of this is Blue Rose, who is increasingly hostile toward the other heroes through out the entire film.  The first two episodes worth of content see some minor visual adjustments here and there, but it isn't until the original story starts that the animation quality gets a real boost. It's certainly not mind blowing, but it's definitely a step above the standard TV animation quality. The climactic chase sequence is a blast to watch as each hero gets a chance to show off their abilities against Baxter with all the flair you've come to expect from Tiger & Bunny. The CG used for some of the hero characters is still as obvious as ever, so if you weren't a fan to begin with you won't care for it here either. The problem with all of this is that none of it is substantial or even necessary. The whole film plays like a filler arc, with only a few moments really adding anything to the Tiger & Bunny lore or the characters. At the same time though, I'm not convinced that's necessarily a bad thing in this case. As a standalone film that both serves as an introducing to the franchise and a piece of fanservice that brings the cast together again, I think The Beginning succeeds. It's not the next greatest anime film to come out of Japan this year, but it doesn't have to be. It's a fun chance to dive back into the colorful superhero world of Tiger & Bunny, and I'll be damned if I didn't have a good time.  7.0 – Good. 7s are good, but not great. These series often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor, yet obvious flaws. Fans of the genre might still love it.
A fun outing with some old friends.
I loved Sunrise's super hero TV anime, Tiger & Bunny. Despite the quality of writing dropping in the last few episodes, I was truly fond of the main cast and had a great time just watching them interact with another. When...

Japanator Recommends: Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time

Oct 08 // Eric Koziol
Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (PSP, PS Vita-compatible)Developer: Career SoftPublisher: Atlus USAMRSP: $39.99 (PSN download only)Release: July 31, 2012 It seems difficult to pick an exact genre for the Growlanser series, and that's a good thing. There’s a hearty mix of traditional console role playing, strategic and tactical battles, along with a hint of dating sim. Nonetheless, of all its various parts, the strategic and tactical aspect is probably the most strong and potentially alluring. Let me note right now that the Strategy RPG genre is one that I have found requires an amazing amount of my patience. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time has been no different for the twenty five or so hours I have logged so far. (My game clock says about 18 hours - but, we'll get into that discrepancy shortly.) The game wastes no time in showing what kind of experience it will be. Turning it on starts with a gorgeous animated opening that fits right into my feeling of what “classic anime” looks like. Colorful characters with just the right amount of detail in habit this colorful yet familiar world. Satoshi Urushihara’s character designs manage to display a quite classic and refined style. (Although do be careful when googling his work in public.) This lovely art style is consistent and well dispersed throughout the game. Large portraits for important characters are displayed during all major story parts.Here is where my first complaint about the game comes in. The translation is by no means awful, yet it occasionally feels a tad stilted or awkward. Given the fantasy setting, the occasional line can come off as a bit jarring. I wouldn't say it marred the experience, but it was something that stuck in the back of my head. Maybe I'm just getting old but I don't know what it means to "build our names on your corpses." Then there are sometimes where it just feels wordy, like the description of the familiar creation process where I am asked to note the densities of the fluid (liquids I don't really get to see) and it just feels kind of weird. Anyway. It's not at all bad, but there are just these moments. It didn't have a strong negative impact on my opinion.  After naming the main character the game begins to paint its scenery of war. Crevanille, as the game offers by default, does not say a whole lot directly but instead fueled entirely by lines chosen by the player. And there are a lot of choices. On occasion options are grayed out, implying multiple replays or previously unchosen options being required to go these ways. These greyed out options are many times the most interesting ones, An adopted son of the leader of a band of mercenaries, Crevanille is quickly thrusted into a variety of situations that blend the issues of his unknown past, the warring countries of the world and the destructive powers of "angels" who leveled the world's advanced civilization 2000 years prior. War, destruction and loss are frequent occurrences and test the various characters throughout the story. With so much talk of war, Wayfarer of Time smartly blends into a very appropriate battle system that focuses on strategy but also allows it to be used for random encounters as the party traverses the world. The battle system is an interesting combination of strategy RPGs and active time systems. Positioning matters and the game is nice enough to help with this. If a character is ordered to attack an enemy and they are not close enough, they will walk to them. This of course costs time and time is very valuable in Growlanser.There are not only the basic attacks but spells, skills and knacks as well. Spells are charged and invoked. This brings up an interesting mechanic where the difference between a level five spell and a level one spell is only the amount of time required, not MP. While preparing to cast spells, however, units are more vulnerable. Skills are innate abilities that affect various aspects of the characters. They allow attacks to inflict status or help improve the way the characters perform their other actions. Knacks are special tricks that the character can do such as analyzing enemies or making the character the target of all the enemies attacks, taking the heat off the other charters.These spells, skills and knacks are not built into the characters, however. Instead of equipping weapons, the characters in Growlanser use "ring weapons". These not only function as weapons but are how the characters grow. By equipping spellstones into the ring the characters are able to both gain bonuses and learn new abilities.This was a bit confusing at first. A spellstone not only does its own thing, but also allows the characters to learn a variety of tricks. For example a stone that increases a character's chance to get a critical hit may also teach the Analyze knack.How fast they learn is based on if the color (green, pink or yellow) matches the slot color of the equipped ring. Each ring has three slots, which are not necessarily each a different color. These slots each have their own level which determines how powerful of a spellstone can be equipped to the slot. Rings themselves can level up, allowing higher level stones to be equipped to the slots. On top of all that, the rings grant bonuses to the equipping character's stats. Often a the choice of better stats or learning skills and spells quickly is placed in front of the player. I never felt there was one set in stone "best way" to level up my characters. I like that. With multiple replays implied within the game itself, it means there is enough freedom to work with that I do not feel locked into a predetermined optimal path for the characters. Battles tend to come in two flavors, even though they are both run on the same battle engine. Normal battles, which are fairly frequent when traveling between areas, simply require all enemies to be defeated or that the player runs away. In these cases only an entire party wipe will end the game. However there are often missions which can have more complex goals and are these are where the majority of the game's challenge comes from. In these missions some enemies may have to be defeated before they run away, some NPCs must be protected or it may even be as simple as just surviving for a certain amount of time. Sometimes simply fighting the enemies is not enough. Destroying objects on the field or flipping switches may be necessary for victory. There is quite a variety.Most of my frustration, and a huge chunk of lost time, came from these battles. What becomes unfortunate is a few poor design choices that led to my major complaints with this game. A game generally wants to give the player a challenge. How much of a challenge usually varies from game to game, but it is my belief that the more of a challenge you want to present a player with, the easier you must make it for the player to take the challenge.Dialogue skipping is not an option in Wayfarer of Time. Restarting at the beginning of a lost battle is not either. A game over means a return to the title screen along with loading, going back to the last saved point and a general repeat of the same dialogue and events over and over. Heck, let's just say that I am just no darn good at Strategy RPGs. The issue I have then is that Wayfarer of Time does not seem to be interested in holding my hand and easing me into the genre. A lack of options for even speeding up the text or mid-battle saving makes this clear. It made each one of my losses a personal matter of "Do I really want to keep playing?" Then we get into little details, things that start to stick out once I already have slight annoyances with the game. Petty things? Perhaps. I would not expect it to bother all gamers. However buying items in the store is a one at a time deal. Same with selling. Spell animations can be long and once I discovered I could skip them with a button press I found myself doing it all the time. So therein lies the rub. Had I not had those losses, I probably would have had more steam. If I didn't have to see one particular scene eight times, I don't think I would be writing these things. I probably wouldn't have even thought about the lack of dialogue skip.I believe there are many gamers who would both want and enjoy the kind of challenge that Growlanser offers. Which is why I do actually recommend this game, but not to everyone. Actually finishing those missions that I retried time and time again was immensely satisfying. Put the system down and fist pump type satisfying. The question is, how long will you stay with a game until you can achieve that?  In its core mechanics, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a solid experience. The battle system is well designed. The spellstone system is both interesting and enticing. I would even go so far as to place the story in the "enjoyable camp" despite my earlier gripes. It is the little things - the pebbles that fill up the rest of the jar, if you will - that made the game not my personal cup of tea. If you are the type of gamer who is willing to sit down, give a game your all and accept the lumps that it is going to give you, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a game worth your time. It's one I'd recommend to any Strategy RPG aficionado.[8.0 - An interesting spin on the Strategy RPG genre with a sprinkle of small but unfortunate design choices that could easily prevent some players from really enjoying it. Not for the easily intimidated.]
A shiny, hard-as-nails tactical game built for the dedicated
The Growlanser series has had a slightly inconsistent release schedule in the West. The second, third, and fifth games made it out --while the first and sixth never did. Now the PlayStation Portable version of the fourth game...

Japanator Kind Of Recommends: Way of the Samurai 4

Oct 03 // Josh Tolentino
Way of the Samurai 4 (PlayStation 3)Developer: AcquirePublisher: XSEEDMRSP: $39.99 (PSN download only)Release: August 21, 2012 Josh Tolentino's Review There’s a place in Kyoto called the "Toei Uzumasa Eiga Mura", AKA "The Toei Movie Village". Made up to look like an Edo-period Japanese neighborhood, it’s all wooden sliding doors, dirt streets and paper lamps. And if you’re filming a samurai-themed show, movie, or commercial, dozens of which swell Japanese TV each year, you’re probably going to do a shoot or two there. Watchers of Kamen Rider Fourze may remember the place from the school trip episode. It serves a double function as well, being a theme park of sorts for tourists to get the period samurai experience, dressing up in kimonos and yukatas and hakamas and the same costumes used in popular dramas (Musashi Miyamoto and geishas are favorite picks). Lucky visitors are occasionally invited to participate as extras in ongoing projects, as well. What does this all have to do with Way of the Samurai 4? Well, playing the game is kind of like being a visitor to the Movie Village, a tourist, invited to play a bit part on set, and yet operating with no real script, told by the director that he's free to just wing it all the way through. That winging it usually results in one looking like a fool, or a tool, or (heaven forbid) a hero. Way of the Samurai 4's basic premise will be familiar to any series fan, as it sticks to the established formula like a harem anime to a milquetoast protagonist. A fictional part of Japan is stuck between warring factions, and you're a wandering samurai/tourist out to make his mark on the world, or maybe just pass through. The place is Amihama, the time is the end of Japan's isolation, and the factions are the curious British, the opportunistic magistrates, and the xenophic Disciples of Prajna.  Players are free to choose a faction to back, or even choose none and walk their own path - their own way of the samurai, if you will - or even just simply sleep away the game's four-day timeline. In fact, one can end the game within thirty seconds of the intro by simply turning around and leaving town with the boatman that brought them to the dock. That said, such non-endings aren't truly considered valid, and the game's ten distinct outcomes usually favor picking one faction or another. Advancing the story consists of encountering events scattered across the map. Ranging from short cutscenes to day-long missions, which events players encounter helps determine the next event in the chain. A convenient flowchart in the game journal helps keep track of progress. Like any other Way of the Samurai game, this game is intended to be explored over multiple playthroughs.  That sense of replayability and persistence is ramped up from previous entries, with some changes made to the world carrying over and influencing the next cycle. Help establish an English-teaching school in one playthrough, and you'll be able to talk to foreigners through subsequent forays. Buy ownership of a swordfighting dojo, and any pupils you've recruited will remain next time around. All in all, what makes Way of the Samurai 4 unique is that you are freer than ever to act as you will in the world, and being a hero, fool, or tool as the mood suits you. The game now allows you to interject during cutscenes, effectively allowing you to heckle characters as they act all serious and dramatic. Nothing livens up a magistrate's epic speech like some jackass (read: you) yelling "Take it off!". That irreverent, silly tone is more prevalent than ever, thanks to a localization that fully embraces how inane the game can be. XSEED has fully translated most of the game's bad puns, revealing formerly exotic-sounding attack styles to be called "Cantgetmi", "Penetrator", and "Flying Knee", and bringing characters named "Jet Jenkins" or "Melinda Megamelons". You can be captured for criminality and play a torture minigame that looks like a Japanese variety show, and seduce a woman by telling her she has "nice, firm buttocks" and asking her to "open her ports" to your "black ship", then engaging in a creepy "night crawling" stealth mission involving sneaking into her bed. The bulk of the game, however, lies in its combat. Dozens of weapons and move sets can be collected and expanded by dueling, exploration, and good old murder. Unlike previous games move sets are now independent of individual weapons, freeing you up to disassemble the best-looking swords to construct your own, unique weapon. Learned moves can be mixed and matched into a custom fighting style, and the game's rudimentary online features randomly insert other players' characters as wandering duelists, allowing you to kill them and take their weapons, which stand a good chance of being min-maxed up the wazoo.  Fans might be disappointed by the removal of the one-hit-kill difficulty, or be taken aback by the game's apparent tone (previous localizations allowed players to treat the game like an interactive Kurosawa film). A lack of character development (barring a "little sister" arc with the underage British ambassador) tends to foster a sense of detachment from the story. And ironically, the divorce between weapons and styles has reduced the value of collecting unique swords for any other reason than picking their best-looking parts to use in a custom creation (though this change is ultimately a net gain). Sadly, Way of the Samurai 4's flaws are pretty much the same ones endemic to the series as a whole. Most of these intriguing features, the strengths that make the series unique, are barely, if ever, made known to the player. Anyone who isn't a fan will likely find themselves confused, seeing an open world that doesn't seem to get what makes more conventional open world games (i.e. Skyrim) "good." They'll find Amihama an awkward, rough-hewn location full of characters that look like they were from an HD remake of a PS2 game. The incremental improvements that distinguish Way of the Samurai 4 from its predecessors will simply be lost on newbies, who naturally will never know that this game is freer than any that came before. For whatever reason, Acquire has never fully addressed these shortcomings, and Way of the Samurai as a whole, ends up a lesser game for it, doomed to never receive the attention it deserves, relegated to the ignored niches and listed among "quirky Japanese games only weirdos like". It's frankly a shame that only the open-minded and persistent will ever be able to stick with the game long enough to find out that its experience is pretty much unique, with no true equivalents to be found. Way of the Samurai continues to walk its own path, and the tragedy is that it refuses to map that path out for anyone else to follow. [7.0 – Good. Sevens might have good replay value, have some cool ideas, or be just plain fun, but aren't quite innovative or amazing. A seven has potentially large flaws that, and while they don't make the game outright bad, those flaws prevent it from being as good as it could be.]   Josh Totman's Review Right off the bat, I have never played any of the Way of the Samurai series. Heard of it, but have not played. So I am coming into it blind, which could either be good or bad, but as far as I can tell, it’s a good thing. This wandering samurai story is pretty intriguing. I can’t even fathom doing that back in the day for real and being so good with a sword that I can get paid to wielding it. You seem that you have to be on your guard at all times but still be approachable to get hired. Tough balance I guess but when you’re a badass with a sword you can handle it. Speaking of badass, the first thing you need to do is create your samurai. You don’t get many options to start with but you can unlock more later on in the game. The freedom you have to go around looking however you please is nice for those who like to mix things up now and again. I’m not that adventurous when it comes to games like this. It feels better to me to keep with the period or whatever the story calls for. After we are done dressing ourselves, it’s time to go exploring. The map and area are not very robust but then again you are on foot. Last thing you need is a fifteen minute walk just to get a quest done. Yeah, no thank you. It just lags down the game having to travel over 50% of it. Picking up quests are nice and easy though. Just go up to any random person either standing on the side of the road or walking around. Talk, accept, complete, and repeat. And I do mean repeat. I don’t know how many lunches I delivered to breaking stuff missions I went on. It is pretty tedious doing these chores for people. They could at least mix them up a bit with different dialog or something. Something! It is, one of the worst things could complain about the game. The game's fighting is pretty good. It felt like it had a good balance in the overall sense. I didn't feel too overwhelmed by any fight, but no fight was just a straight pushover. The fun ones were the traveling duelists you would encounter randomly. They never went for you full tilt but stood back a ways to measure you up. It was a nice back and forth kind of battle where not one person was over or under matched. Mainly I had a great time with the game. It was better than I expected. More polished then what I was expecting. Now that doesn't mean it was a great game, just a good one. I’d say more on the slightly above average side of the scales. Again, like I said in the beginning, this is the first one of these I have played. So I had nothing to base it on. If you are a fan of the series I would expect you to think this is a great game. Which is fine and I understand that but I came in blind but still had a good time. I would recommend this game for at least a once through if this is your type of game or if you have been thinking about it. The “oh, this looks kind of cool” thinking. You know you do it and if you did then pick it up or find a friend that has it. You might be surprised by it like I was. [7.0 – Good. Sevens might have good replay value, have some cool ideas, or be just plain fun, but aren't quite innovative or amazing. A seven has potentially large flaws that, and while they don't make the game outright bad, those flaws prevent it from being as good as it could be.]
Act like a tool in period Japan
There's no doubt that the Way of the Samurai franchise is an intriguing series, but is nearly opaque to those unfamiliar with the franchise. One's enjoyment of such games can depend significantly on prior experience with Acqu...

Japanator Kind of Recommends: X-Men

Oct 02 // Salvador GRodiles
Marvel Anime: X-Men Complete Series (DVD)Studio: Madhouse Licensed by: Sony Pictures Home EntertainmentRelease Date: April 24, 2012MSRP: $19.99 [Buy] For a series that was suppose to give us a different take on an existing franchise, the X-Men anime takes us right into the middle of a battle between the X-Men and Phoenix, which results in Scott aka Cyclops losing the love of his life known as Jean Grey. Then the series focuses on the present as the team is sent to investigate a situation in Japan that is causing a spike Mutant growth, along with a mysterious interference that is keeping Professor X from scanning for any Mutants with the Cerebro. Along the way, the team encounters a new member and a former enemy known as Emma Frost that might have been connected with the death of Jean.  To those who are not familiar with franchise, in a certain point in the story Jean Grey ends up getting possessed by an entity known as the Phoenix. While in the versions that I have seen involved Jean returning to her normal self, the anime decides to make Scott go through a life changing ordeal. Unfortunately, Scott's lost tends to be more effective with people that are familiar with any of the stories that exist within the X-Men universe. As a series that was meant to bring in new fans, the series might have started off stronger if we were given the story that lead up to the battle against Phoenix. That way new fans would get a better establishment to the story.  During the current operation, the series decides to make Scott go through his own development as he must learn to keep his cool in the heat of danger. Veteran members such as Wolverine, Beast, and Storm come along for the ride as they each exhibit the traits that you know them for. While a good number of the cast is present, the main characters in the show are Scott and the new member of the team known as Hinako aka Armor, along with Emma Frost. Based on my experience with X-Men: The Animated Series and X-Men Evolution, both shows tend to focus on the development of each character from episode to episode. For a series that spans 12 episodes, this sort of development would've played a great contribution to the series. Instead, we end up with episodes that drag on during certain points while a majority of the cast is only there to deliver small amounts of dialogue or contribute to the action sequences.  Since I haven't read any of the original comic books, it was interesting to see the anime take a darker route with the first set of villains known as the U-Men, since they specialize in performing unspeakable experiments on Mutants that they capture. From there, the story introduced former enemies, which ended up leading towards an unexpected twist that involved a secret that even surprised the great Professor X. Though it's unfortunate that most of the strong elements in the show end up getting overshadowed by the weaker elements, such as a slow pacing that fails to make any of the X-Men members stand out more.  Taking into account that Madhouse was in charge of this project, the animation lives up to their name as we see the team do their best to give the series a comic book-like feel with their choices in coloring and character lining. In fact, Marvel sent Madhouse artwork of the backgrounds and designs so that they can recapture part of that comic book feel in the series. While there were some instances where the designs suffered from a few off-model issues, it's not a major distraction from the rest of the action.  Being accustomed to the English voices in the previous installments, the English dub for the X-Men anime felt as good as any of the voice work depicted in X-Men: The Animated Series and X-Men Evolution. Steve Blum's recent depiction of Wolverine returns with a vengeance, since he was also Wolverine in the Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon. Overall, each character did a great job in delivering their lines. If there was one voice that I had a minor problem with, it was Hinako's English voice, since her voice felt a bit exaggerated at times. As for the Japanese acting, the voices were not bad, which might be a surprise for most people. Fans of Fate/Zero and/or Nanoha will notice Rikiya Koyama's voice as Wolverine and Yukari Tamura's take on Hinako. While it felt a bit weird hearing the cast speaking in a different language other than English, the acting was good for what it was, which is a neat option to fulfill the curiosity of any X-Men fan. Despite Marvel and Madhouse's efforts in reintroducing the X-Men to a new audience, the series felt like it was meant for those that have read the comics or have watched any of the cartoons related to the franchise. Depending on how much you are a fan of Scott or Hinako, part of that aspect will affect the your reaction to the series. Perhaps if the first half of story would've started off with the arc that lead to Jean's death, the series might have had a more interesting story. For what it's worth, the series will cost you around $19.99 or less, so fans will at least have something to gain with 12 episodes and extra features that have the people of Marvel and Madhouse talk about their experience with the project. If that's not enough to suit your tastes, then you are probably better off with just revisiting your favorite X-Men stories. 6.0 - Okay. 6s are just okay. These series usually have many flaws, didn't try anything special, or were poorly executed. Some viewers will love 6s, but most prefer to just skip them. Read more reviews before you decide. 
Optic Blast!
You know, it has been a while since I have gotten the opportunity to experience anything related to the X-Men franchise. The last time that I got to watch something related to X-Men was when I saw X-Men: The First C...

Japanator Recommends: Double Dragon Neon

Oct 01 // Brittany Vincent
Double Dragon Neon (PS3)Developer: WayForward TechnologiesPublisher: Majesco EntertainmentRelease Date: September 11, 2012MSRP: $9.99 Perhaps it's better to call Double Dragon Neon more of an homage to the side-scrolling beat-'em-ups of our childhood, as everything is improved in ways that normally wouldn't accompany a straight remake. For one thing, this bro-tastic adventure exudes an extremely playful, wink-wink nudge-nudge aura that you just can't help but laugh with and not at. When Marian, the babe that brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee have their eyes on, is kidnapped by a gang of thugs, it's time for the dynamic duo to bust up radical groups of riff-raff. Like Peach's plight, except Bowser doesn't go around punching the princess to incapacitate her. And for the most part, at least for the first few rounds of the game, things feel like the Double Dragon of yesteryear. After you settle in for a nostalgia trip, things turn decidedly weird, but in the most radical way possible. Soon, Billy and Jimmy transcend vanilla punchfests between biker dudes and tough bros with fros to traveling to outer space. It's baffling to be sure, but insanely fun. From these seemingly out of place scenery changes to the over-the-top Kool-Aid colored aesthetics, there's tons of action teeming from this update. Wrecking the baddies' business is just like it was in the original Double Dragon, and controls are largely unchanged. There are plenty of ways to mess with the thugs who stole Marian away: baseball bats, knives, tasers, some well-timed kicked and punches, hair name it. Each enemy packs a specific set of moves and combos as well, so whether you're dispatching a robot or a plain old ne'er-do-well, you'll need to learn to react accordingly. Downed enemies drop cassette tapes (presumable Blondie or Tears for Fears mixtapes) that may be in turn used to upgrade stats or augment Billy and Jimmy's special moves. The sosetsitsu tapes even allow for healing abilities and unlock the power of the whirlwind kick among other attacks. You can upgrade tapes by collecting additional ones or by heading over to a Tapesmith to grab a boost, (though Tapesmith upgrades require Mithril) and choosing to collect only needs ten of the same tape to up your level. It's a system that brings the brilliant Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game to mind, and one that provides depth for what could have been a less robust brawler. Aside from the obvious visual cues that made me long for my trusty Wayfarers and electric blue eyeshadow, the over-the-top soundtrack was the main attraction. It's riddled with ridiculosity (especially the accompanying tunes for each tape) and clever touches that go a long way to cement the feeling that you're really getting an '80s revival here -- plus, Billy and Jimmy toss out some hilarious one-liners here and there. Double Dragon Neon is a brilliant throwback to classic brawlers and a decidedly different feel for the series, and it knows how to please fans willing to travel that road, but gameplay aside its hammy nature may put some players off. With a raucous good time for single-player mode and couch co-op (with online support coming soon) this is a jewel from WayForward that should be examined despite any preconceived notions of quality or content. Let your rockstar hair down, grab some stirrup pants, and strap in for a tubular quest to save Marian. Like, this game is totally bad. In a good way. 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)  
Totally radical, dudes
WayForward Technologies is responsible for a glut of some of the best reboots available over the past few years, including the excellent A Boy and His Blob and BloodRayne: Betrayal. Revitalizing classic franchises is a lucrat...

Import Review: Hatsune Miku Project DIVA f

Oct 01 // Chris Walden
Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F (PS Vita)Developer: Sega, Crypton Future MediaPublisher: SegaRelease Date: August 30, 2012MSRP: 6600 yen ($85) Project DIVA F, as well as the other games in the series, are rhythm games set to the tunes of songs created with the Vocaloid software. This includes many songs that have found fame on both Nico Douga and Youtube, as well as a few other less-known tracks. There are also songs made specifically for the games themselves, so there is plenty of music for fans to enjoy.  Gameplay is relatively simple, too. Shapes matching those found on Sony controllers fly onto the screen in time with the music. These shapes will fly to a set location, indicated by a 'hole' of sorts, which also has a spinner to show when the shape is perfectly aligned. When this happens, you push the corresponding shape button. The game also mixes it up a bit, with some notes needing the equivalent direction on the d-pad to be pushed simultaneously (so you would push up and triangle, or right and circle). Project DIVA F adds a new type of note to be hit during songs; the star note. To hit these, you need to swipe a finger across the touch screen, as if you were strumming a guitar string. I'm not at all surprised that the game would make use of the new PS Vita features, but this really isn't the way to do it. When you are concentrating on hitting notes using the buttons, the last thing you need is to have to move your hand off the console and start using the touch screen. It's cumbersome, frustrating and completely unnecessary. However, this is by far my biggest gripe with the game.  There are also new 'Technical Zone' segments, which award you with bonus points should you successfully hit every note in a particular section. Each song has at least two of these, and completing them successfully is key to hitting those higher scores and ratings. 'Chance Time' also returns, but with a few minor changes. Hitting notes in this period not only gives you the incremental point bonus, but also slowly fills up a star in the bottom left of the screen. Filling this up before Chance Time ends causes a large star note to appear, and hitting this will trigger an alternate ending to the song. With all of the work that has gone into the accompanying song videos, it's really nice to see variations and bonus content. It's just a shame that seeing them comes down to an awkward touch screen note.  Project DIVA F comes with 32 playable songs (not counting the return of Ievan Polkka that can only be heard during the tutorial), with an extra 4 songs exclusive to the AR portion of the game. It's a pretty decent number of tunes to play with, but you have to remember that Sega said that all of the songs in this game (besides Ievan Polkka) will be new to the series. A lot of the big Vocaloid hits are thus missing, and while you do get to play songs like Black Rock Shooter and Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya!, it is worth bearing in mind. If you've played the other games, this won't really be an issue (and will likely be solved via DLC in the future), but if you want to pick up a Project DIVA game as a first-time player, one of the PSP titles might be a better option simply because of the soundtrack.  Playing just one song will reward you with a whopping three pages of newly unlocked items. This seems to happen fairly frequently, as the game is absolutely loaded with things to unlock and purchase with the 'Diva' points you earn by completing songs. The shop interface is a lot neater this time around, with everything separated into categories and type. There are also 81 different modules (costumes) to unlock and purchase. I've finished every song on normal, and many of them on hard and extreme, yet I've only had the money to buy about 10 modules. You'll certainly have your work cut out for you if you want them all! You can also purchase items for the Vocaloid rooms (more on that in a bit), as well as 'module accessories', which are items you can use in conjunction with the costumes. These include cat ears, tails and glasses, so the customisation options are certainly there. All of the modules are brand new as well (not counting the default costumes), but don't worry, you can just give everyone school swimsuits if you don't fancy being adventurous.  Of course, nothing screams 'next generation handheld' like a nice bit of AR, and Project DIVA F certainly has a good crack at it. Inside the game case you will find a paper AR marker, which the game will use to have Miku parade around your house to one of four different songs. It seemed to be pretty good at noticing and keeping track of the marker, so while Miku was dancing to World Is Mine I was able to scoot around the marker to watch her from the side or behind without issue. I know what you're thinking, but you'll have to try it out for yourself if you fancy testing lower viewing angles.  There is also a feature that allows you to take photos with the PS Vita while placing your favourite Vocaloid into the shot. You can also change their module, pose and facial expressions (amongst other things) before tinkering with where you want to place them. Unfortunately, it seems you can only do this before taking the photo, rather than afterwards. The PS Vita camera isn't too great either, so don't expect to be taking any breathtaking pictures. Still, this is a rhythm game and not a photo-editing suite, so I can't say it's much of a problem.  The playable character list has been cut down to six from the eight in Project DIVA: Extend (I'm bundling Sakine Meiko and MEIKO together), although you can reacquire Akita Neru, Yowane Haku and Kasane Teto via DLC if you really want them. It's a shame that they aren't included, but at the end of the day they are only cosmetic differences, and there are still none of their songs included in the song list. It would have been nice to hear some music from other Vocaloids (specifically Lily and old favourite Gakupo), but unfortunately it wasn't to happen for this game. Perhaps there are license issues with some of the many other characters, but it's a shame nonetheless.  But what do you do if you don't enjoy rhythm games and find this in your possession? Project DIVA F has got your back, as there's also a Vocaloid friendship simulator thrown in. Perhaps Konami's Love Plus has been rubbing off on more games than we first thought, as you can use the touch screen to 'make friends' with your favourite virtual idol. I'll be honest, I didn't really get far into this mode as there's only so much I can stroke Megurine Luka's head before the overwhelming feeling of creep means I have to take a shower. You can play a mean game of Rock-Paper-Scissors with them, though.  Project DIVA F is another great game to add to the series, with just a few problems holding it back from being perfect. The visuals are fantastic on the Vita, the interface looks great and the song selection is solid for returning players. The addition of star notes is really the biggest issue the game has, as it really doesn't add any positives to the gameplay. I suggest if the thought of them puts you off buying this, you wait for the PS3 version. No touch screen to ruin the fun! The price is also quite substantial, so I'd lean towards waiting for that version if you have to pick between the two. Still, portable DIVA is definitely a good enough reason to pick this up, and hey, nothing wrong with earning a few more trophies either. Just remember that you'll need another memory card if you don't have a Japanese PSN account and want the DLC.  8.0 - Great: 8s are very impressive efforts in their genre, with just a few noticeable problems holding them back. They won't astound the most discerning players, but they are worth everyone's time and cash.
Review photo
PS3 release forth-coming
I don't think I need to tell you just how massive the Vocaloids are, so it's absolutely no surprise that the popular Project DIVA series would see a fourth portable release. However, Project DIVA F isn't on the PSP like the t...

Japanator Recommends: It's Over 9000!

Sep 25 // Brittany Vincent
It's Over 9000! When Worldviews Collide Author: Derek PadulaRelease date: August 2012MSRP: $2.99 (Amazon) I'm not a child anymore, and I don't need to study and interpret Vegeta's actions on my own anymore, nor reasons why he and I should have wed and reproduced instead of Bulma. But that's another article, and I'm not here to digress into a potentially scarring anecdote. I'm here to talk about It's Over 9000! When Worldviews Collide, an intriguing book from the mind of one Derek Padula, released via e-book. He's responsible for the equally exhaustive The Dao of Dragon Ball, a similarly great read for rabid fans. Having pored over its pages prior to the release of his current work, I knew I'd be in for quite an indulgent ride, at least as far as one of my favorite characters was concerned. And I'm pleased to say I was right. It's a thoroughly engaging piece of literature that examines the origins of the "It's Over 9000!" meme, its relevance to society, and the rivalry between none other than Son Goku and the Prince of Saiyans himself, Vegeta. Be still, my heart. Regrettably, It's Over 9000 is devoid of images of the good Prince (possibly, I felt, due to copyright concerns) but it's a well-written and well-informed exploration of some of Dragon Ball Z's key moments (Vegeta's self-sacrifice, the way Goku ended up influencing the Prince after their initial meeting) that could only come from someone as passionately in love with the shounen epic as many of us are. Derek Padula has done a stunning service to those looking to turn a scholarly eye to the series to dissect comparisons between the two heroes, their similarities, and key turning points during which we could immediately discern the characters had grown both mentally and physically -- though we all know physically is usually the case when it comes to this screamfest, don't we? There are some exceedingly relevant points made within the work that highlight resounding suggestions I'd never stopped to think about, such as the way the way appearances are taken to mean that's all one is capable of -- remember how surprised Vegeta was to learn of the power level via Scouter? He certainly wasn't thinking he'd see anything as high as that simply by looking at his opponent, and Padula makes a great argument here comparing the Scouters to human nature to judge solely on appearance. It's a fantastic talking point -- I wish I'd thought of it. Aside from the cross-examination between the cultivation of both iconic warriors and the views on the whole "9000" meme, there's also discussion regarding the inner workings of the Saiyans after their exposure to human life and values, and what makes each respective warrior tick. Fascinating stuff -- even if you'd consider anything other than Vegeta x Mary Sue smut great writing. All jokes aside, Derek has compiled a great primer piece for series enthusiasts and newcomers to the series. He's done his research and it certainly shines through that he's just as emotionally invested in this as the everyday fans -- he's a fan himself, and if you're looking for a peek into the more intellectual side of Akira Toriyama's masterwork (at least, that's how I see it) you'd do well to check out It's Over 9000. From one Vegeta fangirl to the hundreds of others out there, you'll find something to love here. 8.0 – Great. Well-written, with a loving attention to detail. Among the best of its genre.
A classic rivalry, explored.
For the record, as many of you may well be aware, I'm a bit of a Vegeta fangirl. We're talking massive amounts of fanfiction, being banned from the school library back in 6th grade for printing 100 pages of Vegeta pictures, a...

Review: Eryi's Action

Sep 16 // Chris Walden
Eryi's Action (PC)Developer: XtalswordPublisher: Nyu MediaRelease Date: September 14, 2012MSRP: $4.99 So, what's the game all about? You play as the titular Eryi, who is on a quest to find a watermelon she had stolen from her. It was taken by Farta, a fairy who enjoys nothing more than annoying Eryi and setting traps for her to fall into. She even claims to love Eryi, so I can't say I completely understand why she would set up spike traps and other dangers just to slow her progress. Oh, yes I can, I watched Mirai Nikki. As for the game itself, you simply have to get Eryi to the end of each level and touch a flagpole, similar to level progression in Super Mario Bros. Of course there's more to it than that, as anything and everything is out there to kill you. You may be familiar with games like Impossible Mario and I Wanna Be The Guy, and you wouldn't be far from the truth assuming that this game is just as infuriatingly difficult. There are differences beyond the cutesy anime art, but we'll get to that a little later.  There are a gruelling twelve levels to manoeuvre through, each with their own themes, enemies and quirks. For example, the ice level doesn't allow you to step into water (else you freeze to death), were as the spooky forest has plenty of ghosts and... spike pits. They are all pretty short if you know what you're doing, but that's the point of the game. The first one, two, fifty times you play each level, you're going to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, then make more mistakes. It's a trial and error game at heart, but that also makes it apt speed run territory.  That said, it isn't entirely about trial and error, as there are a fair number of puzzles to solve as well. They'll stop you from progressing further until you solve them, but they force you to think about your surroundings and come to logical conclusions in order to overcome them. For example, when you touch the flagpole at the end of the level, you have to wait for the 'victory' walk before moving to the next level. One of the levels decides it'll place an enemy nearby, meaning that if you touch the flag to exit the level, you'll be hit and killed. The puzzles aren't incredibly difficult, but they provide enough of a detour from the move-die-move mentality of the rest of the game to stop you hurling your computer out the nearest window.  Eryi's Action also has boss fights, each guaranteed to help aid your balding process as you start tearing out your hair. Each of the first three bosses have a different approach to fighting, whether this is flying through the spike-filled skies in a race to the finish, or fighting in an RPG battle with two helpers. It's still an insta-kill should you be hit during these fights, which means you'll be whisked back to the start of the battle on the restart. Interestingly, Eryi's Action keeps track of the number of times you've died and displays it at each restart, shaming your platforming prowess before you get back into the game. While the boss fights are held separately from the main levels, this doesn't mean you're in for an easier time. Take this for example, a video of the first boss fight from yours truly: As I mentioned briefly before, this game has some similarities with the notoriously devilish I Wanna Be The Guy. You can probably tell by the video above just what the game is going to be like with regards to difficulty, but I think this is worth elaborating on further. Sure, both games are very difficult, but Eryi's Action is just that little more forgiving. This may not seem like much, but believe me, it makes quite the difference. I Wanna Be The Guy is one of those games you'll play for five minutes yourself, then try your hardest to get others to play while you watch their reactions. With Eryi's Action there's enough direction, linearity and wavy green checkpoint flags to make you want to get just that little bit further. I haven't finished this game yet as I'm thoroughly stuck in the ice world, but I don't doubt I'll be heading back. Creeping slowly to each checkpoint is infinitely more appealing than wandering around blindly.  The music isn't going to make you scramble to get the original soundtrack, but it's certainly a pleasant one. Each level has its own theme, and it's not intrusive enough to rile you up as you try to progress. However, you'll come to loathe the jingle that plays as you die, but I feel this is one of those things that was just bound to happen in a game like this. It could be the calmest, sweetest melody in existence, but after five-hundred deaths it simply isn't going to sound good any more. The visuals are also very nice, with colourful and striking art to help each level stand out from the last. Again, nothing that will leave you stunned, but suitable and well-drawn nonetheless.  The $4.99 price is definitely a huge lure, and it might just be worth busting this out for a party or a 'Let's Play'. The game is available on the Eryi's Action website and Gamersgate, plus there's also a Steam Greenlight page if you want to see it on the digital distribution monster. Choose your poison! So, is this worth your money? Yes, but it might mean you're going to hate yourself for doing so. Nyu Media claims that this is the game "you'll be dying to beat", but whether it is beaten through sheer determination or with a large blunt weapon, that's your call. If you like a little bit of masochism in your video game mechanics, this is going to be right up your alley.  6.0 - Alright: 6s may be slightly above average, or simply inoffensive. Fans of this genre will still thoroughly enjoy them, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
You may remember Nyu Media from some of the other games they have localised, namely Cherry Tree High Comedy Club and the eXceed Collection. The games were pretty darn good, so we just had to check out what their latest offeri...

Japanator Recommends: Persona 4: The Animation

Sep 15 // Brittany Vincent
Persona 4: The Animation: Collection 1Studio: AIC ASTA/AniplexLicensed by Sentai FilmworksRelease Date: September 18, 2012MSRP: $69.99Amazon That's probably where the idea for Persona 4: The Animation stemmed from, in a bid to stuff all the delicious content from the expansive RPG into one neat little 26-episode package ready for rapid consumption. The Blu-ray set has finally released (much to the chagrin of slighted fans, as this edition is region-locked and English dub only) and it's time to explore the Midnight Channel's mysteries. Slide on your favorite pair of glasses and get ready to explore the bizarre inner secrets of your true self. Where the protagonist was nameless in the game, our silver-haired hero is named Yu Narukami now, likely to keep things straight and less confusing in terms of narrative. As his parents are away on business, Yu has arrived in the big city to go to school for one year. He's rooming with uncle Ryotaro Dojima and his daughter Nanako while attending Yasogami High School. Yu finds himself mixed up with a rather colorful cast of characters, culled straight from the available party members in the game. There's clumsy Yosuke, who's still getting used to the countryside and settling into his role as the son of the manager of the biggest chain store in Inaba, Junes. He's not exactly well-liked by the family-owned businesses dotting the town, and for good reason -- they're scared of being pushed out. Then there's Chie, a tomboy who has a soft spot for kung fu movies, steak dinners, and being loud and raucous, but like most characters of her archetype, she's got a tender side to her as well. Yukikos in line to take over her family's inn. She's a beautiful young woman with a decidedly dark side. Then you have Kanji, the confused tough guy who's coming to terms with his sexuality and his personality as a whole, and the rest of the gang cut from the same intriguing cloth. The ragtag group, as you're likely well aware, is assembled through a murder mystery of sorts. When bizarre killings begin cropping up all over Inaba, the Midnight Channel pops up on TVs across town, showing unsettling videos of the next murder victim. Eventually Yu and the others learn (via a fateful visit to Junes) that they can actually go inside the TV to a world teeming with Shadows. In said world, each member of the group can summon powerful beings known as Personas, another facet of your true self. The battles rage on, each character eventually forced to come to terms with their shadow selves during the raucous ride. Their guide through this distorted world is a strange being in a super-deformed bear suit known only as Teddie. Sound trippy? That's because it is. Persona 4, like the rest of the MegaTen series, is in a class all its own to be sure, but that's undoubtedly part of its charm. Persona 4: The Animation adheres strictly to the narrative, straying here and there in the form of additional incidental characters (a noodle shop girl, for instance) and other instances where players familiar with the game will certainly notice. It's remarkably close to the game content, so close in fact that actual scripting from pivotal scenes were left intact. It's very obvious which, but the recycling didn't feel stagnant like I had anticipated, and instead a giddy feeling washed over me the very first time I heard Nanako speak. For veterans of the RPG cult classic, the little aesthetic touches and eyecatches as well as the inclusion of in-game elements really sell the series as a complete package. Days change the way they would in-game, complete with the animation to depict it. Battles play out in a much similar manner, and even the character coloring/shading is implemented in a way that feels as though you're truly watching the fantastic game play out before your eyes. It's such an authentic and real experience that often you'll find yourself reaching for a controller after the current "cut scene" has been completed, only to remember that all you need to do is sit back and enjoy. There's an astronomical amount of content packed into the 26 episodes here, and for an RPG that can easily take hundreds of hours to complete to a hardcore gamer's satisfaction, each major plot point was addressed neatly, even if social links, major encounters, and dungeon-raiding episodes seemed a bit as if they were tacked on at the last minute to add more weight to the otherwise straightforward adaptation. Such an undertaking was no doubt a difficult one, and while there appear to have been some corners cut (low-budget animation at times, "talking heads") to present such a beloved tale in the gaming community, what you're left with is a slick, gorgeous release that's actually a refreshing alternative to the typical video game-to-anime adaptations that never seem to get things quite right. Shoji Meguro returns with a fantastic score and engaging openings and closings, and the English dub cast is straight from the original game -- if you're not typically into dub tracks, you'll want to steer clear since as previously mentioned there was no included Japanese track. The American cast did a fantastic job, however, of bringing the characters to life and do the same here, right down to Nanako's adorable singing. It's not going to appeal to everyone, of course, but it's competent work that should still satisfy. The 13 episodes included in this collection are a healthy beginning to the series and offer a great way for first-time Persona fans or even seasoned veterans to relive some of their favorite moments without compromising so much of their free time. Coincidentally, it also holds the rather high distinction of being one of the greatest anime adaptations of a popular game I've had the pleasure of checking out. 8.0 - Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Welcome to the Velvet Room
You could devote every bit of 200+ hours to completing Persona 4, as I did with Persona 3, but sometimes life gets in the way -- you know, that thing that bugs you in between work, games, anime, leisure, and sleep? High school doesn't last forever (that's how I was afforded so much time for Persona 3) and we have to devote time and attention to other pursuits, too.

Japanator Recommends: School Days HQ

Sep 04 // Brittany Vincent
School Days HQDeveloper: 0verflowPublisher: JAST USAReleased June 28, 2012MSRP: $39.95 Makoto, like many high school students, takes the train to Sakakino Academy eaach day. Every morning he's entranced by a beautiful girl who's also commuting via train, but he hasn't the courage to find out who she is. Enter classmate Sekai, who kindly offers to introduce Makoto to his dream girl. Kotonoha, as it turns out the girl is named, seems to be absolutely perfect for Makoto. But after all of Sekai's efforts in trying to get these two lovebirds together come to fruition, she's looking for "payment" from Makoto in the form of a kiss. And like we all know, nothing ever stops in harem eroge with a kiss. Like the anime series and spinoffs, School Days HQ very quickly spirals into something much deeper and sinister, if you choose to play it that way. Makoto has twenty-one varied endings to pursue, most of them surrounding either female lead, Sekai Saionji and Katsura Kotonoha, and a smattering of side paths as well. Canon endings obviously surround Kotonoha and Sekai, so most of the main routes are spent aiming to get closer to one or both of them -- remember, there are optional harem endings to go for as well, if you're more of an anime Makoto fan, as we all know he got around in that series enough to have angered every single woman at the academy. There's a decidedly different dynamic to the game, however, perhaps stemming mainly from the fact that any bad decisions made come frm you, rather than the Scumbag Makoto anime vets are probably used to. For players looking for the gruesome endings it seemed the anime foreshadowed the visual novel incorporating they're available in abundance, but aren't necessarily reached easily: while playing through several different routes even deliberately attempting to get caught up in a horrible ending, at the last second my paths seemed to veer off into brighter territory -- at least for one characters. Sekai and Kotonoha's paths are robust with plenty of romance, drama, and intrigue to keep you coming back for additional helpings, even if you think you know hor your particular story is going to unfold. This gorgeous remastered edition of the original 2010 release comes packing fluid, full animation that feels much more like watching an episode of the anime series than playing a visual novel, only you're in control. In fact, each chapter is accompanied by its own specific opening that mirrors that of sitting and marathoning the anime series -- in this and the fully-animated, fully voiced scenes, School Days HQ can be likened more to an interactive anime film. It's a huge departure from the norm for sure, so if you're looking to settle in for some Hakuoki-styled play, you might consider looking elsewhere. But in all honesty, why would you? This is a beautiful, excellently-crafted tale that touches on themes ranging from mildly uncomfortable to overtly romantic to completely insane, and it's all presented in a slick, easy-to-follow format that quite frankly more eroge should consider adopting, as it lends a much more overall engaging feel to its characters and setpieces than simple static images and text accompaniments. And even though the original voice actors did not return to lend their talents to Kotonoha and Sekai as well as the rest of the staff, the replacements do a fantastic job in bringing the characters to life, and the included songs are excellent as well. School Days HQ is a classic that has only improved with its additional content, updated graphics, and its English release, which boasts a relatable script and convincing dialogue. Even if you only scout out the special edition paired with a Kotonoha mousepad and Makoto keychain, take a few days out of your schedule to play through and appreciate the zaniness that is School Days HQ, and then maybe revisit the anime for good measure. 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Chicks be crazy
Ah, high school: tests, cute teachers, culture festivals, crushes, maniacal students, and terrifyingly infatuated students. Er, wait. That's not the high school we remember. That sounds more like the goings-on at Sakakino Aca...

Japanator Recommends: Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike

Sep 03 // Elliot Gay
Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike(BD +DVD)Studio: Production I.GLicensed by: FUNimationRelease Date: June 26, 2012MSRP: $26.24 Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike takes place before the events of the Xbox 360 game, detailing Yuri's time spent in the Imperial Guard. Young and sporting a devil may care attitude, Yuri often disobeys orders in favor of following his heart. This greatly frustrated his childhood friend and roommate Flynn, who is a stickler for the rules. Deployed to a small town called Shizontania, the two men join a squad led by Niren Fedrok. Jovial and well loved by the people he fights to protect, Niren is a commanding officer who values the people directly in front of him rather than the orders of those above. One day, the forests surrounding the town begin to whither and monsters have been seen approaching the city more and more often. With the situation growing increasingly more dangerous and no support from the Empire, it's up to Yuri, Flynn and the rest of the Niren Corps to protect the people of Shizontania. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The First Strike is how accessible it is to viewers who have never played Tales of Vesperia. Both Yuri and Flynn receive full arcs of development that get them to where they need to be by the start of the game. The film doesn't assume you know who either of these two men are and does an impressive job of defining their relationship and opposing views of the Imperial Guard. Estelle, Rita and Raven from Tales of Vesperia all make brief cameos but they're not intrusive, serving as painless fanservice for veterans of the game. The end credits are also a neat bit of fanservice that actually made me want to go back to my PS3 copy of Tales of Vesperia. The First Strike tells a simple but effective story, only really stumbling in its climactic battle which feels somewhat like an afterthought.  A few new characters are introduced into the lore as well but aren't quite as fleshed out as the two leads. Niren Fedrok is the most important of the bunch, directly effecting the growth of both Yuri and Flynn. It's his leadership and belief in the people that drive Yuri to eventually become the man he is in Tales of Vesperia. Similarly, Niren plants the seeds in Flynn that help him find a balance between obeying orders and following one's own heart.  Twin red heads Hisca and Chastel are also introduced into the canon but aren't utilized as much as I would have liked. Some of my favorite scenes in the film centered around their banter with the two male leads and I'm sad there wasn't more of it. These two characters are never mentioned in the original Tales of Vesperia, but they both make appearances in the updated PS3 version. Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is a great looking film. Kousuke Fujima's character designs shine through on the big screen, with the background art also providing plenty of eye candy. There are brief moments where the animation quality falters, but on the whole this is a consistently beautiful movie and not some rushed effort. The English dub is extremely strong and I definitely recommend fans watch the film in both languages as you'll be getting a quality experience either way. Troy Baker and Sam Riegel reprise their roles as Yuri and Flynn respectively, though the rest of the ToV characters were unfortunately recast. The film isn't worse off for it, but it's important to note that they do sound different from what fans might be used to. Musical duties were handled by Akira Senju, who fans might remember as the composer for Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. He brings an orchestral sound that really elevates the film in a way that veteran Tales series composer Motoi Sakuraba seems to struggle with these days. Funimation's release of the film includes both the BD and DVD and a spattering of minor special features. In addition to the English dub, you'll find a bevy of trailers and promotional footage. On the whole, this is a pretty sparse release; I was disappointed by the lack of any kind of audio commentary. Animated films and TV series based off of video game properties rarely do a good job of representing their source material. Either the production focuses too hard on the fanservice or it tells a story too unrelated for fans to identify with the characters and universe. The First Strike hits the sweet spot in that it dives into the past of two of the most beloved characters from the game, telling a smaller, more personal tale. In doing so, director Kanta Kamei and his crew have created a film that fans and non-fans alike can enjoy. Pick this one up if you're a serious Tales of Vesperia fan or you just a dig a good fantasy romp. 8.0 - Great. A well executed film that defines its genre without resorting to cliches.
Ring a bell
The original Tales of Vesperia, released in 2008 on the Xbox 360, was something of a break through for the current generation. In many ways one of the first big JRPGs to hit an HD console, Vesperia got a lot of things correct...

Japanator Recommends: Rurouni Kenshin

Aug 27 // Elliot Gay
Rurouni KenshinDirector: Keishi OtomoRelease Date:  August 25, 2012Country: Japan  Rurouni Kenshin loosely adapts the first two story arcs from Nobuhiro Watsuki's original manga. Our hero's story starts off with a flashback depicting the final battle that Kenshin fought in as the feared "Hitokiri Battousai", a deadly assassin. At the end of the revolutionary war when confronted by Saito Hajime, Kenshin throws down his blade and walks away from the battlefield. Ten years later and Japan has entered a period of peace save for one caveat; a man referring to himself as the Hitokiri Battousai has been murdering innocent people. Kenshin has a run in with the fake Battousai after saving the young Kamiya Kaoru from certain death, kicking off a string of events that put the fate of Tokyo in his hands. Will Kenshin be able to protect the people he cares about most without drawing blood? Going into the film, I was expecting relatively big changes to character back stories and even personalities. Fortunately, Rurouni Kenshin is actually quite faithful to the source material. The Jin-e and Opium arcs are tied together in ways that allow them to both exist within the film yet remain separate at the same time. Jin-e is hired as a bodyguard by the calculating industrialist, Takeda Kanryu. However their goals never really intersect, allowing both characters the time to spread their wings as very different antagonists. Jin-e has some of the best scenes in the film, giving the audience a fantastic and bloody look at what it means to be a man-killer in the Rurouni Kenshin world. Kanryu sits on the other end of the villain spectrum, stealing the spotlight with his quirky behavior obsessive personality. Yet it's Emi Takei's Kaoru and Takeru Satoh's Kenshin that steals the show. Emi Takei's performance hits the mark, portraying a strong, willful young woman in an age when those weren't very common place. Her initial face off with Jin-e leaves a strong impression right off the bat, making it easy to root for her throughout the film. Kaoru trusts Kenshin because she sees her father's sword style and beliefs in the wanderer. Much like in the source material, her refusal to give up is one of the reasons that Kenshin is able to shine as a character. Takeru Satoh's version of Kenshin will be instantly recognizable to fans of the original series. Portrayed as a care free, stoic but sometimes silly wandering swordsman, Kenshin's best moments in the film are when he gets serious. He understands how ridiculously idealistic he's being when he vows never to cut down another man. Despite questioning himself, he realizes through Kaoru that it's worth giving a shot. Being such a physical role, I was genuinely impressed by how well Satoh handles it; I never once doubted that his Kenshin was a swordsman beyond all others. While the rest of the cast is never quite as fleshed out as Kenshin and Kaoru, they're nonetheless memorable. Fan favorite character, Saito Hajime (Yousuke Eguchi), is introduced in the opening minutes of the film, bringing with him an unmatched level of coolness. The film version of Saito is significantly less belligerent than Watsuki's character, coming off as more of a hard boiled police officer. His disdain for Kenshin is still strong as ever though and he's a thrill to watch whenever he appears onscreen. Sagara Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki), one of Kenshin's closest allies, also plays an important role in the film. His introduction differs slightly from the source material in that he challenges the former battousai to a duel to prove his own strength to Kanryu. The film never delves into his back story, but this is very much the Sanosuke from the original manga.  Takani Megumi (Yu Aoi) plays a crucial role in the film as the doctor creating the modified opium for Kanryu. Her story arc plays out very similarly to her manga counterpart's and I'd love to see where they take the character in future films. Yahiko (Taketo Tanaka) is also present throughout most of the film and although he never gets a chance to really shine like the rest of the characters, his cocky, immature but caring personality is left intact. I was pleasantly surprised by his conclusion considering I suspected he'd only appear as a brief cameo. There are a lot of little changes here and there, ultimately adding up to a familiar but different experience than fans might be used to. Characters are introduced early, the order of certain events are changed and some sequences are shifted around to feel more organic. I believe the film is better off because of this; the manga and anime's pacing would simply have no place here. Rurouni Kenshin is a long movie (134 minutes), but I never felt like it was dragging its feet. As I had suspected from the initial trailers, the action in Rurouni Kenshin is handled gracefully. Familiar poses and techniques are used tastefully without ever resorting to the use of awful CG. Kenshin's speed is successfully recreated onscreen and his fluid movements are almost like a type of dance. The big group battles are all extremely entertaining, but the best action moments in the film come in the form of the one on one duels. The final battle in particular left me on the edge of my seat. My single problem with the fight choreography however was in the use of wirework for certain larger than life moves. For the most part it's used unobtrusively save for a couple of very awkward moments that pull you out of the experience. It wasn't such a huge deal, but it bears mentioning. Another issue I had with the film was its lack of a memorable score. The only times I ever found myself making note of it was when I consciously forced myself to listen carefully to see if anything interesting was happening. There's one theme in particular that plays three times in the film. Out of those three instances, only one sequence actually works, with the other two creating a very awkward disconnect between the onscreen action and the score. There are a few tracks in the film that utilize the koto and I found myself wishing that composer Naoki Satou had opted for a more traditional Japanese sound.  I've said it before and I'll say it again; if there's one genre that the Japanese film industry can consistently get right, it's the samurai film. Rurouni Kenshin is not without flaws, but Otomo nails the feel of the source material. This is the Rurouni Kenshin that I read and watched years ago as a kid. It's not quite as funny as the manga and anime could sometimes be, but the tone of the film ends up being more consistent as a result. The crew has commented in earlier press materials that they're hoping to turn this into a series of films. I can only hope that this initial entry brings in enough to warrant the risk; there're still a ton of stories worth telling and Kenshin leaves plenty of potential sequel hooks throughout. I can't imagine folks out west will be waiting too long on this one; I'd give it until the end of the year before somebody picks it up for western distribution. Fellow fans, feel free to breathe a sigh of relief; Rurouni Kenshin is a great film and a wonderful adaptation of the franchise you know and love.  8.5 - Great. A perfectly executed film that defines its genre without resorting to cliches.

Live action adaptations of long running manga are more miss than they are hit. A great majority of filmmakers attempt to condense years of story and character development into a relatively short runtime, typically leading to ...

Japanator Kinda Recommends: Panty and Stocking

Aug 21 // Brad Rice
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt Creator: Gainax Publisher: FUNimation Release Date: MSRP: The title characters: Panty and Stocking, are two angelic sisters who need to eliminate ghosts plaguing the world in order to earn enough "heavenly coins" to get themselves back to heaven. With the guidance of the preacherman Garterbelt, that should be a piece of cake, right? Sure, in a rational world. This is far from it. Our "angels" frequently cope with their sex and sweets addictions, spew enough foul language to give television censors seizures, and exhibit no sense of morality. The show's charm exists in the deepest reaches of the toilet humor genre: fans of Crayon Shin-chan will feel right at home watching this. The episodes are generally broken up into two smaller episodes, operating on a vague parody title of famous films, such as Battles without Honor or Humanity and Night of the Living Dead. Within each episode, the plot is fairly textbook: Find a demon, defeat it, get a coin. Along the way, the girls unleash a torrent of vulgarity and do whatever their little corrupt hearts wish to do. The second half of the series cuts back on the random romps about, and starts to develop a plot: the girls must stop hell from being unleashed on the world. A large part of my interest in watching this show was because it's produced by Gainax. Panty and Stocking is a far cry from the likes of Evangelion or Gurren Lagann, both in tone and art style, but that's what interested me: Gainax really taking a step in a different direction with this show. I'm always willing to open myself up to new projects, especially since this one was highly touted when it first debuted. I am not much for toilet humor, and such the first part of the show was difficult for me to get into. There comes a certain point where cursing just loses its appeal for me, and mindlessly shoving sex and shit down my throat made me want to fast-forward through some episodes. I'm of the same mind about South Park: I can take it in small pieces, but when that's your whole concept, it goes stale very quickly. At least South Park is frequently laced with sharp commentary. The second half greatly improved, though, with the introduction of the angels' demonic foils Scanty and Kneesocks and the aforementioned "save the world" plot. Episodes sometimes stretch for 23 minutes, as opposed to two 12-minute episodes. The characters show some modicum of development. The humor got a bit more sophisticated. While I didn't need them as a driving force throughout the show, the inclusion of them took it above a level of insipid humor. By the end of the show, I found myself really enjoying the show: once accustomed to the environment of the show -- much like adjusting to a different altitude -- it becomes a lot of fun. The show's English-language cast was fantastic, and made the show infinitely more enjoyable. The Japanese cast came across as flat and not terribly engaging, but Jamie Marchi and Monica Rial really made Panty and Stocking come alive. I did have one detraction from FUNimation's production of the show: the dialogue was quiet. It seems as though there was an issue with how the show was mixed, because dialogue comes across much quieter than sound effects, to the point where I had to keep my finger on the volume control throughout the show in order to enjoy it. If you're a big fan of toilet humor, then you've already signed up for the Panty and Stocking bandwagon, so you may as well hop on board. For those of you who are sitting on the fence about it, this is a tough one: if you can shut your brain off and enjoy the show for it's highly stylized art, foul language, and debauched humor, then you'll have a good time. 6.5 – Okay. 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was, without a doubt, a unique venture by Gainax. Unlike all their other shows about giant robots and emotional teenage boys, this one featured two hyper-sexualized angels looking to earn th...

Japanator Recommends: Atelier Meruru

Aug 20 // Brittany Vincent
Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland (PlayStation 3)Developer: GustPublisher: NIS AmericaReleased May 29, 2012MSRP: $59.99 Since I hadn't been around from the beginning to observe the mischief and magic, I was happy to read up on the back story to fill in a few blanks. Meruru, the Princess of Arls, is an aspiring young alchemist who wishes only to become great, just like her hero Totori, whom she respects and wishes to emulate. She devotes much of her time to learning the trade with Totori, and begins deserting her royal duties as future heir to the throne. Her father, the King of Arls, is fed up with this behavior and demands that Meruru give up her newfound hobby in order to start hitting the books and getting on track for her place as a member of the royal family. As you might imagine Meruru isn't pleased with this declaration, and calls her father a poopyhead. Such language! As a result of Meruru's indignant outburst, she's given three years' time to prove to her father that alchemy is an art worth undertaking, and during that time she must convince her father that she can develop the Kingdom of Arls and aid the lands surrounding it in becoming prosperous.And so a touching narrative surrounding Meruru's ambitious plan begins. Meruru's optimism is infectious, and though at times the game begins to drag due to the over-abundance of plot-driven dialogue, it's hard to feel negatively toward such a sprightly protagonist.The game itself is split into multiple segments, most of which surround earning development points, materials for Meruru's alchemy projects, and taking steps to unlock hidden events. There's a good mix of exploration and combat (though combat is a little simple) but the real timesuck is undoubtedly the development of Arls as a powerhouse. Each area on Meruru's map has an assigned pool of tasks that may be completed in order to further progress during the three years allotted. Meruru's missions vary from cleaning out areas riddled with monsters, using certain items, or creating specific items via alchemy. Completing tasks nets you points that can subsequently be spent on developing Arls as you see fit. It's so easy to get lost in turning Arls into a vast expanse of gorgeous land, but it's prudent to be wary of how much time you're spending on these tasks as there are many hidden surprises and evetns to be discovered elsewhere within the game. There's so much to see and do that it's easy to lose sight of your goal, but that's certainly not a bad thing. The sheer number of advancements you can make to improve the kingdom are intriguing in their own way, and it's exciting to see where you can take your fledgling country. The development process is quick and simple, and the changes that eventually result are quite gorgeous. The combat system is easy as well, and enjoyable even if many of your opponents seem too cute to do any real damage. The game does occasionally suffer from "telling" instead of showing the player what's going on, and there is quite a bit of story to wade through even at first until you get to a point where you can make headway, but laugh-out-loud voiceovers with fantastic localization, characters you feel as though you can empathize with, and a cheery cause keep you coming back for more. Atelier Meruru and the Apprentice of Arland is a fantastic entry to the series, and I'm quite sad to have started so late, that I'll have to go back and enjoy the previous games to really appreciate the atmosphere and the in-game universe. But if you decide to start here, you'll be rewarded as I was with breathtaking watercolor and pastel aesthetics, a pleasant soundtrack, and a story that'll leave you cheering in the end, even if only for how much Meruru has grown on you. Try Apprentice of Arland for a sweet time.7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

As a newcomer to the Atelier series, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the cheery art style, gorgeous pastels, and sunny disposition exhibited in the game's trailers. It surely resembled a rollicking good time, but comi...

Japanator Recommends: The eXceed Collection

Aug 19 // Salvador GRodiles
The eXceed Collection (PC)Developer: Tennen-sozaiPublisher: Nyu MediaRelease Date: March 29, 2012MSRP: $9.99 [You can buy The eXceed Collection at the game's Website, GamersGate, the Capcom Store, Mangagamer, or Steam.]  The eXceed Collection contains three bullet hell shooters that overlap in regards to the designs and themes that each game holds. If you have played any type of arcade shoot em' up, then you can expect a simple story that will unfold throughout each stage.  EXceed - Gun Bullet Children involves a war between human and vampires where you end up playing as three girls that were enhanced to fight toe to toe with the immortal beings. Each of the girls come with their own playing style that should be familiar with any fan of shoot em' up games. For example: Chinatsu Kagaya can three shots at once that cover the left, center, and right part of the screen, Sowel Devosiana fires normal shots with the help of a familiar that shoots in various direction, and Miyabi Housen shoots rapid shots in the direction in front of her.  As you collect items and points, you can increase the firepower of the bullets that each girl fires. If enemies are ganging up on you, then you can unleash a super move that will clean up any hellish moment. However, this sort of maneuver does not work on the bosses that you encounter. You also are given bombs that help clear the screen, except that they are useless against bosses as well.  Despite how fun it is to dodge bullets and shoot things, Gun Bullet Children contains a few design issues. This one is a bit minor, but the enemy projectiles look rather harmless in the game. In other words, every projectile looks like a basic shape, which kind of feels like the developers did not put any effort on the effects of the enemy bullets. And that is not the end of it, since the game's interface contains text that is almost illegible. With that out of the way, we can head straight into eXceed 2nd - Vampire REX. Playing the part of role reversal, Vampire REX has you play as a half human, half vampire girl that goes by the name of Ria File. Compare to the gameplay in Gun Bullet Children, Vampire REX plays exactly like Ikaruga. If you are familar with the controls from Ikaruga, then you will feel right at home as you utilize the polarity system by having Ria switch between Human and Vampire Mode.  Other differences include better sprites, enemy that bullets look more flashier and presentable, the text is easier to read, and the entire game looks cleaner than Gun Bullet Children. In case you have never played Ikaruga, the gameplay has you switch between two colors on your character's force field (White for Human and Purple for Vampire). Depending on the color change, you can absorb bullets of the same color, along with dealing more damage to enemies of the opposite color. If you absorb a certain number of bullets, then you can unleash a super beam that will obliterate everything. And unlike Gun Bullet Children, the super moves can damage bosses.  If there is one thing that Gun Bullet Children has over Vampire REX is that you could play as more characters. However, I think that the polarity system and the other improvements give the second game the upper hand. Since the eXceed games have only gotten better at this point, eXceed 3rd - Jade Penetrate Black Package offers another big improvement. Abandoning the premise of the first two games, Jade Penetrate has to do with a dragon chick known as Rayne Lindwurm that is fighting to become a Cardinal Lord aka the highest title in her realm. Overall, the game is the prettiest of the trilogy, and the bombs from the Gun Bullet Children make a comeback as well. The only negative aspect of the game is that the polarity system from the second game is not present anymore. However, you do have a shield in the game, except that it is used to fill up your special meter by touching the bullets outside of your Rayne's hit box. As you continue to kill things in each stage, you also have the chance of obtaining small dragons that will aid you in your firepower.  If you think that you can rush into any of the three games, then you will be in a huge mess of trouble. If having limited continues wasn't bad enough, having to worry about enemies firing massage barrage of one-KO bullets is great way to test your precise movement skills. Before you stray away from the lack of continues, the game is beatable, since it all depends on the player's skills. With each game running at five to eight stages, the experience is not that long to begin with. Depending on your skills and patience, you can pick between multiple difficulties that will either lessen or worsen the intensity.  As for the artwork in the game, all three eXceed games are filled with cute girls that exhibit huge adorable eyes. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that you might not have guessed how hard each of these games were if you judged the game on its artwork alone. With the exception of the first game, the other two do a great job in assigning colorful pallets to the adorable bosses that you encounter in each stage.  Music wise, the soundtrack for each of the games feel like a blend of fast pace techno-like music with segments that feel like a remix of orchestrated songs, which suits the situation quite perfectly. It is hard to think of any other kind of song when you are trying to avoid over hundreds of colorful bullets that are doing a great job at overwhelming the player. To all of you anime fans out there, the eXceed games also feature a few voice actresses such as Chiwa Saito (Homura from Madoka Magica and Hitagi from Bakemonogatari), Yukari Tamura (Navi from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger and Nanoha from Nanoha), and Nana Mizuki (Fate from Nanoha and Nanami from Dog Days).  With the content that the eXceed Collection has to offer, you are getting a good deal with three fun shoot em' ups that offer their own mechanics that take notes from other great shoot em' up titles. As long as you are up to the challenge, the eXceed Collection is a fun way to test your luck in dodging bullets.  8.0 - Great. 8s are impressive efforts within their genre with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but it's worth your time and cash.

Most of you remember that time when I lost against Michelle when I attempted to grab Cherry Tree High Comedy Club. Little did she know, I manage to come across another game that fell out of her purse when she knocked me out. ...

Japanator Doesn't Recommend: Rental Magica

Aug 16 // Brittany Vincent
Rental MagicaStudio: Zexcs Licensed by Nozomi EntertainmentRelease Date: August 7, 2012MSRP: $39.99Amazon The spotty series follows the exploits of one Iba Itsuki, the president of a fledgling mage-for-hire company known only as Astral. Having taken over from his now missing father, Itsuki is only reasonably competent with magic, but his status as a beginner is augmented by the mysterious "Glamsight" power, which in a few words seems like it might be on par with Geass, but is actually more like a powerful brand of foresight that benefits Astral quite well. Each episode finds the team solving a different magical dilemma, much like the student issues seen in Okami-san and Her Seven Companions, only with an unreasonable amount of brooding and angst. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Rental Magica is that the animation is so fabulous, you'd expect something good to come of the plot or at least the cast of characters, who are little more than harem tropes mixed and matched to give us the illusion of variety. With the plot relying on the episodic monster-of-the-day formula and not having the luxury of being a shonen epic, it's absolutely crucial to ensure each and every situation furthers the plot in some way, no matter how minor. Instead, each situation is so painfully similar that it's a disappointment knowing each magical dilemma will be resolved in what seems like the same manner each and every episode: the problem is identified, a lengthy and borderline boring explanation of said issue and how it relates to the principles of magic, and the eventual showdown between Astral and the episode's antagonist. There are a few forced laughs along the way, most of which seem to stem from how one-dimensional the characters really are. Itsuki is nothing like the most popular Itsuki you're probably envisioning (especially since I referenced the very same series earlier) and instead is a shy, can't-make-up-his-mind good guy with basically nothing to redeem himself. So bland you can taste it, he's the center of attention when it comes to the rest of Astral, with the tsundere twins Adilisia and Honami, the cat-lover Nekoyashiki (wholly creepy in many ways) and Mikan following up the rest as the token loli that needs a place to fit in somehow. None of the characters are particularly exciting, and it becomes endlessly irritating finding the same fights and the same attempts at humor breaking out throughout the 24-episode trudge through magic and tsundere beauties: Itsuki is mine! No, he's mine! Rental Magica tries a bit too hard to hide the fact that it's a drawn-out harem anime in disguise. On the surface -- especially the way Itsuki's Glamsight eye looks on the cover and the way it seems to be portrayed in trailers and promotional artwork -- Rental Magica seems like a completely different adventure. In reality, it's glossy, slick animation covering up a plodding attempt at episodic spellcasting resolutions that never seems to pick up. Though it's 24 episodes it's a little long for a weekend watch if you attempt it -- it could have well accomplished what it set out to do in 13, and honestly I'd suggest watching only a few select episodes in chronological order should you still feel the need to stick it out. But this very same premise has been done before, and much better. Skip Rental Magica and head straight for a show like Kaze no Stigma or even Ghost Hound. 5.0 – Average. This one’s just “okay”. It has many flaws, and just couldn’t follow through on its intentions or had ones that were simply too narrow to warrant consideration. Some will still enjoy it, but should temper their expectations, or perhaps just opt to pass. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.  

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya achieved something wonderful with its deliberate swapping of chronological episodes and the order in which each serial was broadcasted. Once viewers pieced together the puzzle it was a joy to...

Japanator Kind of Recommends: Vampire Hunter D Vol 18

Aug 16 // Pedro Cortes
Vampire Hunter D Volume 18: Fortress of the Elder GodPublished by: Dark HourseWritten by: Hideyuki KikuchiTranslated by Kevin LeahySeptember 5, 2012MSRP: $10.99   Fortress of the Elder God begins with a group of humans boarding a sky bus that is to cross an immense wasteland called the Playground. Called so due to the human and magical experiments run by the vampiric Nobles of the past, the Playground isn't exactly the kind of place you want to cross on foot. Things go awry when the plane these humans are on crashes in the middle of the Playground and this group find themselves to be the only survivors. Soon after landing, they cross paths with an impossibly beautiful vampire hunter named D who is on his way to kill a god. Before I continue with the synopsis, I've got to tell about this motley crew. You've got a young punk that thinks himself a mobster, an old couple going to visit their grown kids, a younger lady with a lot of attitude, a guy with severe communication problems, a police man and his assistant escorting a vampire to the Capital for experiments and an older warrior who has seen a thing or two in his day. It's the kind of group you'd expect to see in a slasher film and they are treated as such. I'll get more into that in a bit. Due to a surprising bit of compassion on the part of D, the highly-skilled vampire hunter decides to take an incredibly low amount of money to protect this group of plainly stupid people on the condition he finish the job he was original hired to complete. Through an immense amount of whining, whinging, posturing and complaining, D manages to reach his destination: a massive keep in the middle of the Playground that was the site of a battle in ages past. D finds that the fortress was home to the followers of a Lovecraftian-god and that by investigating the premises, he has reignited the war that began so long ago. Now our talented vampire hunter must deal with the fortress' ancient defenses, protect the useless humans from themselves AND kill the ancient god that seems to be unstoppable. D has his work cut out for him, no doubt. Alright, I'll get this out of the way: this book is a mess. Trying to combine the two main stories into a coherent work was not successful here. You'll spend pages upon pages hearing how the young punk tries to rebel against every single person in the group, how the old couple's children have moved on with their lives and how the old man is bitter about this, how the young lady can't stand anybody else in the group except for the vulnerable boy, etc. With the exception of the warrior, everybody else is a useless bag of meat that is obvious slasher bait. I don't think there was anyway I could care less about these people and their plight. There are also the numerous literary ticks present. There had to be over a dozen references to D's unnatural beauty. Yes, I understand that D is an exceptional physical specimen blessed with the aura of a dhampir, but there is no need to mention that as often as it is. It doesn't really feature into the story, which irritated me even more. I'm also not too fond of the translation, but I think that has something more to do with the original work and less to do with the conversion from Japanese to English. There's only so much polishing you can do with a script that is bad to begin with. The conclusion of the work felt rushed and nonsensical. The crux of the ending involves the escorted vampire hearing the voice of the titular elder god and how the humans were corrupted by the same voice. I'm fine with that idea. What I'm not okay with is how Kikuchi decided to deal with most of these people. I'm still a little confused on how one character managed to make it to the last page without being revealed and the motivations behind another characters turn still fails to make sense. It doesn't help that the finale lacks any sort of satisfaction. So far my review is predominately negative. However, there are a couple things that are good about Fortress of the Elder God. Anything relating to D is good to me. Granted, you'll see a ton of references to his ethereal beauty and his surprising strength, but I find D an interesting character that I'd like to learn more about. There's also the entire history of this world and how the Nobles rose to power and fell. Since it's so long after the fact, the only thing we see are the scattered remains of some messed-up times. As dangerous as the Vampire Hunter D world currently is, you can only imagine what it was like at the height of vampiric power. Those seeds are enough to keep me from completely panning this book outright. If you're a fan of great writing, interesting characters and a good story, Fortress of the Elder God will likely disappoint you. However, if you're willing to get past the many flaws, you'll find one interesting character (and his sarcastic left hand) and a world that deserves to be fleshed out. I was able to eek out some amount of entertainment from those elements. When the best part of your book are the events that happened hundreds to thousands of years prior to the start of your story, you've got a problem.   5.0 - Mediocre - Lacks creativity, and even fans of the genre may grow tired of it.

While light novels are a relatively new concept stateside, they've been around for ages in Japan. They've been the source of many popular franchises, including Slayers, Boogiepop Phantom, Kara no Kyokai, A Certain Magical Ind...

Japanator Doesn't Recommend: Unchained Blades

Aug 15 // Bob Muir
Unchained Blades (PSP)Developer: FuRyuPublisher: XSEED GamesRelease Date: June 26, 2012MSRP: $29.99 The game introduces Fang as the Dragon Emperor, one of the most powerful beings in the world. In his hubris, Fang approaches the goddess Clunea in her sky temple and demands to be told of the strongest monster in the world, eager to test his strength. Understandably, this offends Clunea, who sends him crashing back to earth as a fledgling, the weak, human-like form of those still too young to be true dragons. To gain his power back, Fang must go questing through Titans, giant living dungeons, in order to be granted a wish by the goddess. Along the way, fledglings from other monster clans will join him, each with their own wish to be granted. It's a cool premise for an RPG, but even though Unchained Blades has more story than most dungeon crawlers, its influence on the core experience is very light. It doesn't change the fact that the story still centers around trekking through mazes and fighting tons of enemies. It does try to shake things up by focusing on different characters in different chapters, but then it's right back into fighting through dungeons.  The numerous party members are almost all human versions of the monsters you would usually fight in RPGs, like golems, phoenixes, reapers, and Medusas. It adds some novelty to the usual band of adventurers, but it doesn't mean they're well-developed. All the characters can be boiled down to a simple character trait: Fang is an overconfident jerk, Lapis is a shy cute girl, Tiana is a hot-headed princess. You can attempt to learn more about a character by talking to them at a campsite, but they rarely give any valuable insight. For example, I talked to Fang and was treated to a soliloquy about how much it sucks to be a fledgling again and how much he wants to get revenge on Clunea. Hm, you don't say? This seems to be the fault of the original developer rather than XSEED's localization work. They tried to impart more personality to your party, but it doesn't look like there's much room in the script to add characterization. Many segments feature voice acting, which helps, though characters like Hector and Lapis can be too cutesy. XSEED deserves a reprimand for the way text displays, though. There's an extra space after every bit of punctuation. Putting a double space after a period is controversial enough, but putting a space after a comma or even an apostrophe looks amazingly sloppy, like I was reading a fan-translation hack. The diverse characters also run into a slight problem in terms of visual consistency. Fourteen notable anime, game, and manga artists contributed character designs, and as a result some of the characters don't mesh well, either because of their clothing or because of their face, especially the eyes. In particular, the delicate design used for the reaper clan's Sylvie looks strange when introduced alongside the spirit fox clan's Niko. It isn't too annoying, considering that all the characters are from different clans, but it's still distracting, as if seeing a CG-generated character mixed into a hand-drawn crowd. Conversely, customizing your characters' skills is one of the best parts of the game. The skill map is made up of numerous rings full of stat boosts and new abilities, similar to Final Fantasy X's sphere grid. Every additional level gives the choice of two new bonuses, with further branches offering new possibilities. Furthermore, gaining all the bonuses on a single ring opens access to the skill in the center, which is often more powerful. It's a matter of balancing the accumulation of nearby skills with progress towards the farther, juicier skills, and I really liked the control I had over each character's build. But enough about the story and characters, dungeon crawlers are all about crawling through dungeons, and boy, do you crawl. It's easy to forget where you're headed in the first-person dungeons when the same undetailed tiles are repeated everywhere. In fact, once you've uncovered the map by exploring the area, it's more useful to look at the map than the actual environment. Naturally, you're forced into random encounters every so many steps. The usual turn-based battle elements are here: attacks, special skills, items, and running, as well as powerful "burst" skills unlocked when a character has attacked enough. Up to five enemies can appear on a screen, though they'll often be all the same type of enemy. If one enemy differs, it will generally appear in the middle as a sort of "general," and taking it out causes a "union break" that stuns the remaining enemies in some way. This seems to suggest new strategy concepts, but in practice the middle monster was always the strongest, so I just made it my target every time. In a Shin Megami Tensei-styled twist, your characters can use their charisma to win monsters over to their side. Charisma rises and falls based on your battle performance, and if it's high enough, characters can "unchain" weakened monsters. After passing a timing minigame, the monster will join your party. However, it doesn't fight directly in battle, instead serving as one of up to four "followers" that attach to a character. The higher a character's charisma, the more likely a follower is to perform follow-up attacks, or even block or fully deflect an enemy attack. Followers will often approach their master after battle and ask a question, and answering correctly can boost charisma, improve the follower's mood, or earn gifts. Unfortunately, anything involving followers is random, determined by your charisma score and the follower's mood, and as a result feels superfluous. The extra damage followers do is negligible, and only useful if a monster has only 1 or 2 HP remaining. There were countless times when I would have really liked the ability to tell a follower to not kill itself to protect a character with full HP, or instruct it to deflect a crucial blow, but there's no way to control these things. Even their questions seem random, as it's impossible to check the follower's personality while they're asking, This means you have no idea which response will produce which effect. One follower told me I needed to learn to dodge more, and when I agreed with it, it thought I was patronizing it, worsening its mood. When you have more than one of the same monster attached to your party and they have different personalities, it's very difficult to remember how to sweet-talk them all. Occasionally, your followers will be forced to fight a boss battle themselves against a massive group of enemies. This involves the followers throwing themselves at monsters and butting heads with little control from the player beyond a scrolling line of arrows that need to be pressed. How long they last before needing the next follower to automatically take over depends on their level. Occasionally, a follower will be forced into a one-on-one fight, which is the signal to mash X as fast as possible to win. These battles are the most superfluous use of the followers. They basically serve to halt progression until the game is satisfied that you've unchained enough monsters, even if you can't equip characters the number of followers they need just to pass the battle. But this is par for the course in a game centered around grinding. Forget going through a dungeon in one go; noticeably stronger monsters show up on each floor, and sometimes even within a floor once a certain point is reached. Instead of providing a smooth curve tailored to the average path through the dungeon, each new section requires the player to stop and grind until that area's monsters can be handled efficiently enough. Then, it's time to head back to town, heal up, and try tackling the next area. The grind gets tedious fast, since the rapid rise in monster difficulty feels like padding to keep players from getting through dungeons too quickly. It's worse when you realize there's not much strategy behind battles, as the repetition turns an average, functional combat system into a drag. Even Tsutomu Narita's well-done soundtrack becomes boring when you're stuck in an area too long, forced to fight in too many battles to get to the next part of the dungeon. As if to enhance the sluggish pace, once I finally started to make good progress in the skill map, the second chapter took the initial four characters away from me. I was stuck with a fresh set of characters, all at level one, which stole any sense of momentum the game was gaining. Adding insult to injury, this new party's first dungeon was the same dungeon I had just spent hours inside with my old party. It undermined any feelings of advancement that I had pushed for in the previous chapter. All of the unique features that Unchained Blades tries to add to a standard dungeon crawler aren't enough to make it stand out. The story is too light to augment the game's core mechanical focus, while ideas like the follower system feel tacked-on and inconsequential to strategy. Fans of dungeon crawlers may squeeze some enjoyment from the grind, but most players will be turned off by the tedious progression and repetitive battles. 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)

I'm not the biggest RPG nut, but over my last decade of gaming, I have appreciated most of the RPGs I've played. After starting on Pokemon, I've played a Final Fantasy or two, and even delved into Persona. But until recently,...

Japanator Recommends: Oreimo Vol. 1

Aug 15 // Brittany Vincent
Oreimo Vol. 1Creator: Tsukasa Fushimi/Sakura Ikeda/Hiro KanzakiLicensed by: Dark Horse Comics Release date: September 18, 2012MSRP: $10.99 That all goes down the drain one day, when fate finds usually chilly siblings Kyosuke and Kirino bump into each other. In convenient plot device fashion, Kirino drops a DVD case that on the outside appears to be a simple magical girl anime. When Kyosuke opens the case, it's actually housing an eroge that zeroes in on little sisters. Does Kyosuke's own little sister have a thing for those kinds of relationships? Kyosuke's accidental discovery leads to Kirino finally owning up to her secret hobby -- she's an otaku. Not only does she delight in collecting little sister-themed adult games, she's also a moe fan. She's never been able to bring this up to her parents, so after years of an icy relationship with her brother, she decides to try and include him, with often disastrous results. While Kyosuke does all within his reach to try and please Kirino, going so far as to accompanying her to otaku meet-ups and engage in viewing marathons of her favorite anime, even playing some of her favorite little sister games, Kirino is never satisfied, never letting up on her tsundere nature. There's a thick air surrounding the siblings that never seemed to dissapate in the anime, and the tension is so thick here you can cut it with a knife: is Kirino into her own big brother or are they only in the beginning stages of improving their strained family ties or is there something more? This subtext is what will either attract readers who have not yet seen the anime or will turn them away completely. The jokes surrounding this very topic are handled well, and you're never made to feel uncomfortable about Kyosuke's brotherly intentions to both help his sister find friends like herself and grow as a person, but the makings are all there, especially in some particularly titillating comments and typical slapstick situations that find Kyosoke splayed out on top of Kirino, or the romantic competition that arises between Kyosuke and a classmate of Kirino's. If you viewed the anime series before coming over to read the manga, prepare for a complete aesthetic overhaul, both in terms of character designs and the addition of fanservice. There are Kirino panty shots galore, and plenty of scantily-clad little sisters in various illustrations, neither of which ran as rampant in the anime series, so if this is something that makes you uncomfortable, you might do well to stick to the anime adaptation instead, which is both more astute and quicker to the point than the manga has been so far. While the illustrated adventure does a great job of setting the stage for character development, it's hard to take as seriously as the anime, which is not usually the case for me, I find, when going from one medium to the other. It's a bit sillier and looks a bit rougher than the anime, so if you're coming into the series for the first time and want a taste of what I meant when I said there's more to the series than what you see at first glance, you might do well to watch the relatively short anime first. If you're ready to expand your Oreimo universe and get into the manga, volume one is a great place to dig in, even though you've just watched these same events unfold, you should find plenty to love here, even if you have to adapt a bit to the softer, more rounded art style. I'm looking forward to seeing how things play out with the very obvious subtext, perhaps a bit further than the anime, so we'll see. In the meantime, give the first volume from Dark Horse a look.  

On the surface, a series like Oreimo may appear to be saturated with silly gimmicks and sexual hijinks with a hint of incest. When you get to know eroge-obsessed Kirino and all those important to her, it morphs into somethin...

Japanator Recommends: Dirty Pair Features Collection

Aug 10 // Brittany Vincent
You get all three full-length Dirty Pair features in this collection: Project Eden (a theatrical release) and the OVAs Flight 005 Conspiracy and Affair on Nolandia. This value-priced set comes packing an additional English dub option as well, in contrast to most home releases, offering viewers the choice between the Streamline Pictures dub and the ADV Films cast, both of which feature respective differences and strengths, though neither hold a candle to the excellent Japanese cast. Though I did appreciate the addition as an unorthodox one, as I am well aware there are often decisions made that affect viewer choice like this, and while I didn't prefer the dubs to the Japanese cast, it was a welcome addition, especially in a value collection. Dirty Pair Features CollectionStudio: Sunrise Licensed by Nozomi EntertainmentRelease Date: May 8, 2012MSRP: $29.99Amazon   First, I queued up Project Eden, Dirty Pair's theatrical release that follows Kei and Yuri on their way to the planet Agerna, where they're met with some mighty full plates, mainly staying on-guard form the evil Dr. Wattsman and still managing to perform their duties as Trouble Consultatnts. This major release is placed around the middle of the Dirty Pair continuity, and clearly exhibited the best production values. It managed to weave together a healthy dose of sci-fi and comedy, balancing out the other two featurs in the collection, and has some particularly giggle-worthy moments, hammy jokes aside. I particularly enjoyed Yuri breaking into a quick dance in one specific scene. In all, the 1986 feature hardly takes itself seriously, even despite the multiple obvious attempts at more "realistic" animation, and a pretty dire situation involving vizorium smuggling and an alien life form beneath the space ore. It's a great start to the collection, and perfectly personifies that duality of sci-fi action and camp often mixed together in the series. The next feature took a more serious turn, transforming the previously goofy Lovely Angels into more serious beings, thrust into Affair on Nolandia, released in 1984 and following Kei and Yuri to an odd genetically-engineered planet. In a strange twist of events, the Angels actually make use of the psychic powers we've heard of here and there -- especially in the original novels, and attempt to solve a murder using just those. It's nowhere near as jaunty as Project Eden, and it feels nearly out of place when compared to the other two features on the disc, even featuring fully nude Yuri and Kei, which I admit came a little bit out of the blue. As far as quality goes, I found Affair on Nolandia easily the most engaging adventure yet, and closest in scope to the popular Dirty Pair novels. Running up the pack is Flight 005 Conspiracy, which dips into Project Eden territory, but manages to come across a bit weaker than the other features, mostly in that it has trouble keeping you engaged. There's a fairly high body count and a reasonably entertaining narrative here, but after watching some of the characters the OVA attempted to forces me into caring about dying off one by one and watching the booty shorts of the Angels gradually shrink, I lost interest. It felt like an episode of the anime created as filler. Viewed as a whole, this collection gathers at least two great adventures that find Kei and Yuri in rare form -- there'a s decent mix of intrigue and humor for fans who like their Dirty Pair heavily grounded in classic anime conventions, and goofiness for those looking to bust out and have a little fun. It's a fairly cheap set that longtime fans will jump at the chance to own at a reasonable price, but I'm not sure it will create any new converts. Still, it's a great buy if you're starved for a little more Dirty Pair.

The Dirty Pair series has proven a mainstay over the years when it comes to the girls with guns genre, and for good reason: it brings laughs, slapstick comedy, action, and gorgeous women like Yuri and Kei together in a neon-c...

Japanator Recommends: Flutter

Aug 07 // Kristina Pino
Flutterby Momoko TenzenJuné MangaTranslated by: Jocelyn AllenRelease Date: July 24, 2012 (Japan: 2011)MSRP: US$12.95 [BUY] One of the first things that Asada learns about Mizuki when they get to chatting, is that the guy he's been ogling for ages is gay. The momentary victory was short-lived though, because Mizuki had some baggage. He had still been in love with the same person for years, and we get a full back story. Despite all this, Asada doesn't scare off. Eventually, they get together, and cute things happen. While the novel itself is rated mature (18+), there is very little in the way of steamy material. Most of the book focuses on Mizuki and Asada's relationship and how they slowly come together. What I like about the book is that both characters are on even footing. They both start off laying it kind of strong, but when it comes to actual romance, they both become shy. This isn't a story where one character is a clear "seme" while another is the "uke." There is no focus on this whatsoever, which is refreshing. All the dialogue is saved for the drama. The drawings themselves are also refreshing and simplistic. It's easy on the eyes, and when they get bumping the art is censored (it barely earns the 18+ rating) or drawn in a way that you don't see "the act" in general. Though some scenes take place at work and others at bars and otherwise public places, there aren't many scenes or panels that involve any other characters besides the main two. There is only one other memorable character, and that's Yoshino (Mizuki's former love). As for the pacing, I also enjoyed taking it down a notch and reading something slow. There was some anticipation for what we got at the end, of course, but I didn't feel like anything unnecessary was happening in the meantime. The story goes with the "flutter" theme of a nervous heart. If I have one complaint - and this isn't the author's fault, it's just the one-book format - is that we don't get any kind of back story for Asada. The only things we learn about him are he's lonely, and he's too nice of a guy so he gets used or dumped often. It's turned into a positive in the course of the story because of his dedication and persistence, as well as Misaki's full understanding and acceptance of his character. Flutter is a quick read, and I fully recommend it to any and all BL and Yaoi fans. If you're not really into explicit content but are OK with some brief scenes, this book is also A-OK despite its rating. If you just like to read yaoi for the steamy stuff, then you might find this story a bit slow or dull. Either way, I hope you'll pick up this lovely title! Bonus: it's also available for Kindle, so you could take your boys everywhere your eReader goes. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre (yaoi manga) that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.

When it comes to sweet stories with feel-good endings, Juné Manga always deliver the right kind of boys love. Flutter is a one-book story about two men that work for the same company, but generally not together. Asada ...

Japanator Recommends: existtrace - VIRGIN

Aug 06 // Josh Totman
[embed]24193:1478[/embed] Artist: exist†trace Album: VIRGIN Label: Tokuma Japan Communications Release Date: 5/23/2012 # of tracks: 13 Buy: $33.44 (CD) exist†trace can easily be called a visual kei band, from the outfits and song styles they have. More so, that is the only style I have heard from them since finding out about them last year. The band consisting of; Jyou on vocals, Omi on lead guitar, Miko on rhythm guitar, Naoto on bass, and Mally on drums decided to take a different approach to this album. The album title, VIRGIN, is based off of this being the bands first full album. Also it is suppose to represent the songs created by the power of women. Most of the songs on the album are completely new territory for them. Which is not a bad thing at all. As an artist you have to stretch your boundaries to truly see what you are capable of. I'm proud to say that they pull off a wonderful mix of styles. All of which still have that slight metal-ish sound to them hidden here and there. Since I am kind of a metal head from my roots, I love hearing it put in. The track list as follows: WONDERLAND Daybreak – Jyusan gatsu no shikisai HONEY GINGER Keiyaku Little Mary to Utsukushiki Nikushimi no Danube Signal TRUE Futatsu no Koe Anata KISS IN THE DARK I feel you SORA Since this is a collection of songs and not a straight forward album, I have to take each song individually and not as a concert list. Normally I like to think of albums as concert performances but I can't seem to do that with this album. It's not a bad thing at all, it's just the way I listen to stuff. Anyways, lets break some of them down. We start off with WONDERLAND, a standard visual kei metal style of song which is a awesome opening song for the album. You have to start off hard on album because normally when you put it on it's the first track you always hear. So you need something that you won't get too sick of hearing over and over. Daybreak is more of a pop rock kind of song with a lot lighter riffs and vocals. Honey is about the same as Daybreak in the broad since, but just turn it up a notch or two in intensity. Then we come to GINGER, a more fun track. It's kind of swing/big band style of music. I do have to say that this is the song that sticks out most for me on the whole album. It's just so fun! Keiyaku has a lot of lower riffs and tones to it. A style that is a bullseye for them and very easy to listen to if you are into that style of music. I would love to see a music video to this song, just saying. Little Mary is like a fairy tail song. Not much really else to say about that. Signal is a pretty normal rock song, that's about it. Move on to TRUE, we get back to more of that visual kei style of song. Futatsu no Koe, same as the last. Coming to the last four songs of the album we are treated to a slower song in Anata. We get to appreciate Jyou's range of vocals from low as a whisper to her dynamic screams. KISS IN THE DARK is kind of a mix from rock and swing. Defiantly an interesting mix of styles that they seem to pull off. It's still a lower song on the album to me, but not one that would skip past. I feel you, again it's mainly a hard rock song that doesn't really stick out but not worth a skip. Now we come to the last song on the album, SORA. A nice slow ballard that rounds out the album pretty well. Great song! From what I heard at Sakura-con last year to this album, I am a big fan of theirs. It was great to hear all the different styles that Exist Trace is capable of performing. Gives me hope that we will be able to hear more from them soon. I know that I will be keeping an eye out for sure. And if you get the chance to see them live don't hesitate. These ladies know how to put on a show and sound just as good live as they do on the album. 8.0 Great. A wonderful mix of music that you should be listening to.

Well well well, looks like I have something new to fill my ear holes with. Now I might be a little biased in this review because I had the great pleasure in seeing these lovely ladies live at Sakura-con last year. It was a wo...


Japanator Recommends: Calpis

Aug 05
// Josh Totman
It's been a hot summer for most of us. What goes good with summer? A nice cold drink. Now normally this is where "cold frothy beer" would be the absolute correct answer, but I am pretty sure most readers either are under age ...

Japanator Recommends: Deardrops

Aug 03 // Brittany Vincent
DeardropsDeveloper: OverdrivePublisher: MangaGamerRelease Date: March 12th, 2012 [NA]MSRP: $42.97Of course, like in any good eroge, his old childhood friend was there waiting for him. After coming home to the familiar, he's introduced to the wild world of rock and roll. From there, he's introduced to several other talented musicians who share Shouichi's passion for music. All together, Gondo, Kanade, Yayoi, Rimu, and Riho embark on an adventure that finds them starting a brand new band: Deardrops. Deardrops is both a different beast than Kira Kira and most eroge in that it attempts to relate a tale that many of us could actually, realistically relate to. Who hasn't dreamt of pursuing an extravagant music-related career at some point in their life? The plight of Shouichi is explored in an entertaining yet respectful way, and by the end of the game his growth as a character is immediately evident. The visions of his painful past are still haunting him in many obvious ways, and without spoiling the story for new players, it's easy to see why. Amidst all the lighthearted performance storylines and the typical buildup to what will eventually culminate in the player's character route, there's actually quite a bit of juicy melodrama to wallow in, especially if you happen to pursue Kanade.You'll likely have a tough decision to make there when it comes to which girl you want to pursue, as Riho and Kanade are excellent story paths that illustrate two separate personality types as well as hopes and dreams. Riho can always be counted on for tough love and straight-forward assessments of both musical prowess and usefulness as a person, and thus her route is one that instills quite a bit of tsundere, which is what I immediately gravitated toward. She and I aren't so different, after all. Kanade's adorable alright, but I found her route much less direct, though it did encompass most of the emotional impact I wasn't even expecting out of Deardrops. It's unfortunate that the remaining character paths are nowhere near as engaging, and far less rewarding at that. Rimu and Yayoi are likeable enough, but you're barking up the wrong tree if you believe there's going to be any real payoff there in regard to Shouichi's plight. It's best to explore them on subsequent playthroughs. The tone is equal parts playful and brooding at times, but Deardrops never forgets what it set out to do, and that' getting players rocking in their seats with the fledgling rock band. There's a pleasant, raw edge to the background music and featured in-game tracks, and many of them including, surprisingly enough, violin! Well, it shouldn't be that shocking, but despite Shouichi's talent with a violin, I wasn't expecting the instrument to show up so prominently within the live concert music. It's clear that Overdrive put a lot of work into ensuring Deardrops was a worthy follow-up (even if only spiritual) to Kira Kira, and it's obvious from the quality of the character art, the infectiously catchy live concert songs, and the gripping (and obviously canon) romance between Shouichi and that special lady, which we won't spoil here. While a few moments of blandness and lackluster routes prevent it from absolute greatness, Deardrops is still a perfectly serviceable story in its own right, and a great addition to Overdrive's stable. Pick it up if you dug Kira Kira, too. 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

Overdrive's ongoing theme of "rock epics" continues with Deardrops, which is the follow-up to the decidedly popular Kira Kira. Kira Kira was quite exciting and pretty popular at that, crossing rock and roll with cutesy J-pop ...

Japanator Recommends: Oblivion Island

Aug 01 // Hiroko Yamamura
Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Studio: Production I.G.Licensed by FUNimation Release Date: August 14, 2012 MSRP: $24.98 The plot of the film is actually quite simple. The story follows an adventure of a young girl Haruka, who's actually been though quite a bit in her life. She's not an outwardly misbehaved girl, nor is she all that lovable at first. However, it's easy to see why she acts the way she does. Haruka is missing things from her life, both physical and sentimental. The question is, "Where do these things go as we grow up?" Along her adventures she meets some new friends, and is reunited with some old. She literally runs into Teo, the collector. Teo is some kind of mole.. maybe? Anyway's the whole process in which Teo develops in the film's playtime is fantastic. Also, in my opinion, Tro is one of Miyuki Sawashiro's best voice acting roles to date. Their adventure is full of gut wrenchingly emotion moments, and of course plenty of good times. The characters are all surprisingly well developed, and like any good kid's movie, their motives are well explained. So, let's face it, Pixar and Dreamworks are the masters of 3D children animation. Oblivion Island looks fantastic, but I wouldn't put the animation on the same technical scale as what those studios have put out lately. What Production I.G. and Dentsu do bring to the table is an extremely imaginative, and whimsical usage of the medium. While the models can look simple, they still hold what I could would consider to be anime style, while also subscribing to a transitional child friendly 3D style. Technically, what probably most impressed me about the animation was the usage of light, and how much it really effected the mood of the film. Shadows from flames, illuminating crystals, and blaring suns and set the stage for some really memorable scenes. The small details in certain models that give them that extra nostalgic feel, show why a movie like this could only be made in Japan. The American release is unfortunately not available in 3D, which is a bummer. Perhaps Funimation will start selling 3D Blu-Rays? Regardless, it still looks great. I'm probably guilty of saying a movie or show has a lot of "heart" a bit too often in reviews, but that really is the best way to describe a film like this. I'm not familiar with that many modern children's movies, however from what I've seen, they don't make them like this anymore. A story like this fits well as a feature length film, and I don't feel they cheaped out in any spots. It's a complete adventure, that feels like you get just the right amount of closure. This is the kind of films kids should be watching nowadays. The kind of movies that recognize that world's not always as perfect as you would like it to be, but it's important to treasure what you have. It could also be that I have a soft spot for these kind of things. Underneath it all, Oblivion Island's message can hit you like a ton of bricks. The ideas of how we remember people and things, how what we find precious changes through time, and of course appreciating what we do have --are all dealt on both an adult level, and a child's perspective. I often can enjoy a children's movie, but I rarely get caught up in the sense of wonder and innocence that films like this present. I would't say it's on the level of a Hayao Miazaki movie, but it reaches those levels at points. The review sound a bit light? Well, part of the magic of the film is how things unfold, it's just part of the the way the movie pulls you in. If you want some slightly spoiler details, head on over to Jeff Chuang's review of the film, when he saw it in theaters a few years ago. Make sure you do check this film out, even if it's a Christmas gift to your niece, it deserves to be seen. Now excuse me as I watch some ultra-violence and hentai to go balance out my karma. [9.0 - Yup, I loved this flick. Warm enough to melt the heart of the Ice Queen herself] [embed]25114:1463[/embed]

When I opened up my package from Funimation, I admittedly frowned. Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror did not sound like something something I was going to jive with. Even if is a children's movie, it's a pretty gen...

Japanator Recommends: Starry Sky

Jul 31 // Brittany Vincent
Starry Sky Creator: Hal Minagawa/honeybee Licensed by: Digital Manga Publishing Release date: 2012 MSRP: $12.95 The first volume follows Tsukiko Yahisa, the beautiful heroine, as a university student with flashbacks to her beloved high school days. Back then, she was recent transfer to Seigetsu Academy, surrounded by other male students (the school only recently went co-ed) who all study astronomy and related sciences. Because she's the only female student at Seigetsu, she's forged special relationships with those around her, from childhood friends to new classmates. She's a kind and gentle soul, and multi-talented at that, participating in the archery club and shining in other areas of study and leisure. And to top it all off, she's exceedingly innocent, reduced to coy little freak-outs when pressed as to who her first love really is. Crown her the perfect, demure shoujo heroine. It's a little off-putting even for otome game vets, but she's charming in a way that you can't help but root for her. Tsukiko looks back fondly on her days at the academy as she enjoys a wealth of raucous lunches with her gaggle of classmates, heartfelt discussions with the guys she grew up with, and advances from said men for quite some time at Seigetsu, until a familiar face from her past shows up: Yoh Tomoe, which is foreshadowed when the present-day Tsukiko receives an email from Tomoe, informing her he has returned to France. Yoh is a soft-spoken, eloquent gentleman who shakes up Seigetsu with his declarations of love for Tsukiko, and how aggressive he is about making his feelings known. For Tsukiko's friends and veritable entourage she's gained since attending the academy, he's certainly a target -- even if the main male cast do end up accepting them into their circle. Subsequent chapters explore this theme and more, as Tsukiko looks back upon those seemingly endless days. While it's pleasant enough getting to know each character (many of them future love interests for Tsukiko) you do get the feeling that you've been shaking hands with far too many guys who don't look different enough from one to the next that it's hard to keep up with who's who -- especially when the biggest qualities that vary between them are visual. Short bangs and no bangs. Yoh's are crossed. He's a redhead too, but how could you tell? The art is gorgeous and dreamy though, with expressive characters and detailed landscapes. It's a real treat for the eyes, especially the pastels on the cover. In the end, Starry Sky is an airy nugget of nostalgia that lays some interesting groundwork for a story that will at least make readers work hard to guess who it is she'll eventually end up with. It doesn't make an attempt to lessen the cheese surrounding Tsukiko being the only girl at an all-male school and how fantastic she is because of it, or the ridiculous notion that nearly every man she meets is in love with her, but it's a bubbly and youthful look at both the current and past lives of a young woman seeking her first love and all the mishaps that come with it. I'm excited to see where the story goes next, and if Tsukiko will become more than a typical shoujo hero -- and more importantly, who she's ultimately going to end up with.

Starry Sky, the manga adaptation of the popular otome game of the same name, is a bittersweet tale of young love that is simultaneously heartwrenching and saccharine, and while it occasionally dips into stereotypical trope te...

Japanator Kind Of Recommends: Fractale

Jul 31 // Pedro Cortes
Fractale - The Complete Series (BD/DVD Combo)Studio: OrdetLicensed by FUNimationRelease Date: July 17, 2012MSRP: $69.99Amazon Fractale is set thousands of years in our future on an idyllic countryside. In this future, humanity has become isolated and complacent due to the influence of the Fractale System. Imagine a highly-evolved internet that everybody is jacked into and that is capable of physically affecting humans and you've got the right idea. Run by the a religious order that maintains the Fractale System and controls mankind, all in the name of prosperity and ease.   The story starts when we meet Clain, a young boy that lives in his house with several 'doppels', advanced holographic projections that represent his parents, whose physical bodies are somewhere else. Clain has a fondness for ancient technologies, which include digital cameras and physical media. While Clain is talking a walk around his house, he spots a girl being chased by some shady looking characters. After saving the girl, he finds out her name is Phryne and that she's running away from something, thought to be a priestess of the Temple.   When Phryne decides to go off on her own, she leaves a small brooch with Clain. Upon further examination, Clain discovers that a doppel named Nessa is in this brooch, only this isn't your normal doppel. Unlike the other holograms, Nessa can actually be touched by those she wishes. Clain tries to return Nessa to the Temple, but ends up getting captured by the Granitz faction of Lost Millennium, a terrorist organization that is attempting to bring down not only the Temple, but the entire Fractale System. Clain and Phryne start off as pretty good characters. Clain's kind and friendly nature is relatable and you can see that Phryne is trying to escape from a horrible fate. The problem is, neither of these characters really grow over the course of the show.  Yeah, by the end Clain grows more of a backbone and Phryne decides to not hid from her fate, but the two make repeated mistakes in the face of out and out experience. Phryne tries several times to appeal to the kindness of bother her father and the Archprestess, despite having recently seen that they do not care what she or anybody else things. I understand that somebody has to do something stupid for elements of the story to work, but I can only take so much stupidity. That said, was touched by Clain and Phryne's final scene. I also really dug the setting. I'm very fond of post-apocalyptic stories that feature the remains of our world. Fractale really does a good job of this when it shows our 'ancient' tech and by showing the crumbling remains of our cities. You really get a feel for the passage of time and that something messed up must have happened millennia ago. The fact that humanity has descended into a fake utopia shows that whoever won that encounter must have found a way to manipulate and control with an advanced system that leaves people docile and unwilling to rise up. This is reflected in the Temple, your stereotypical overzealous religious organization that wants all the power. Their methods, while done in the name of preserving mankind's comfortable way of life, are vicious and morally reprehensible.  That's not to say that their opposition is much better. Lost Millennium is shown to be just as vicious, with a blatant disregard for life. When they attack a Temple circle in the third episode and reveal the rather sinister purpose of the daily prayers, Lost Millennium still manages to look like the bigger monsters by wantonly shooting up the whole area. Worshipers, Temple soldiers, nuns, nobody is safe during this (and future) attacks. The funny things is, the branch of Lost Millennium that has Clain and Nessa captive aren't even the worst of the organization. We later meet another terrorist commander that tricks people into giving up their access to the Fractale System and conscripts them afterward.  That's probably the weakest part of the show for me. As much as the show wants me to believe that Granitz and Lost Millennium are the good guys, they're just as messed up as the Temple. Clain, Phryne and Nessa eventually befriend the Granitz family, but I never could warm up to them. A combination of an annoying tsundere and a holier-than-though commander made the episodes where Clain, Phryne and Nessa spent their time with the Granitz family a chore to get through. Despite my dislike of the way the show treated Lost Millennium, I really liked the general tone of the show. Especially in the early going, there's a very Miyazaki-esque sense of wonder about the whole production. In fact, the times where Fractale is at its best is when its on the ground and showing off the beautiful countryside in comparison to the cold architecture of the Temple buildings. Unfortunately, this sense of wonder and happiness is broken with surprisingly violent turns the show takes. Lost Millennium's terrorist attack, Clain getting shot later on and the final battle feel uncharacteristically violent in comparison to everything else. That works for some shows, but it doesn't really work for Fractale. Despite the criticism I heard about the quality of the art and animation, I thought Fractale looked quite pretty. The colors were bright and popped and I dug the character design. Despite not being fond of Lost Millennium, I did like their uniforms. Of all the things I did appreciate, Nessa was the one thing that stood out the most. She is adorable! I would've preferred her original hair color as shown on all of the promotional art, but other than that she's great.  In terms of audio, Fractale was also well-done. I enjoyed the soundtrack and really dug the opening song. The ending song alternated between being performed in English and Japanese, which worked fine when it was in Japanese and, well, not so fine when done in English. Both the English and Japanese tracks were good, so fans of either language option will be pleased. All in all, I do recommend Fractale, despite its flaws. It's a visually and aurally pretty show with an interesting conceit and world. Unfortunately, the inconsistent characters that do very stupid things will grate. Then there's the terrorist organization that the show wants you to like but can't really because of their general attitude and behavior.  Because of these things, I can't say that everybody will like Fractale, but I know that some people will.   6.0 – Okay. 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.

Fractale got some interesting press leading up to its release. Yutaka Yamamoto, production director of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and director of Kannagi, said that he was going to retire if Fractale didn't do well. Th...


Japanator Recommends: Caramel Corn

Jul 29
// Josh Totman
One thing that kind of strikes me as funny is the name of this snack. Now we here in the US think of the name caramel corn and instantly think of caramel cover popcorn. Which is awesome by the way. So when I got to the store ...

Japanator Recommends: Boogiepop Phantom

Jul 28 // Pedro Cortes
Boogiepop Phantom Complete TV Series (DVD)Studio: Madhouse StudiosLicensed by Nozomi EntertainmentRelease Date: June 5, 2012MSRP: $29.99Right Stuf  The story thread of Boogiepop Phantom can be a bit difficult to follow, so stick with me. The show takes place in a Japanese town that is still reeling from a string of unsolved murders that occurred five years prior. A month before the story begins, a giant beam of light shot into the night sky, starting another set of strange occurrences. People are exhibiting strange abilities, random folk are disappearing, that sort of thing. Among this, the urban legend of Boogiepop, walking the streets starts to spread among the girls of Shinyo Academy. It's like Death incarnate. That's the basic thread of the show. Instead of following a single storyline, Boogiepop Phantom changes it's main character each episode. What you have then is a series of non-linear narratives that, by the end of the show, gives you the whole story on what the hell is going in this town. You'll have characters frequently cross paths across different episodes, filling in blanks that made no sense before. Considering how frequently these characters meet bad ends, it's a clever method of story-telling that shows you how dark things have gotten in this city. One of the few problems I had was the frequent disorientation and, in my case, frustration, with how the story is presented. Boogiepop likes to jump around in its time line, which sometimes left me confused on when a particular scene was occurring. Even when I do know what's going on, I feel like I can almost grasp the whole story, but I'm missing that last nugget of information. In that way, Boogiepop feels like a David Lynch production. It's purposefully disjointed and information is just out of your grasp, but you're OK with it. However, there's still some parts that didn't make sense to me. Since Boogiepop is based off of a light novel series, I'm pretty sure that the entire story wasn't represented in the series. I'm still not completely sure what lead up to the pillar of light that is referenced so often. Enough information was given so that the overall story makes sense, but there's definitely the feeling that something has been left out. I'm not quite sure if I like Boogiepop's visuals or not. A majority of the show has a desaturated, sepia-tinged color palette. This is an interesting and unique style, but it doesn't always lend itself to looking very good. In fact, I'd hazard to say that Boogiepop as a whole has not aged well. Its stiff and limited animation makes it look older than it actually is and the limited colors don't help. Then again, most of the show has a vignette effect tossed in, so it's possible that all of that was part of establishing that great mood I mentioned earlier. Just don't expect it to wow you with its animation quality. Right Stuf's re-release features has both Japanese and English vocal tracks, with the dub featuring both stereo and 5.1 sound options. What's interesting is that I found both versions to be lacking in quality acting. Neither vocal track is particularly good, but I found the dub to be the better of the two, if only for its kitsch value. It doesn't take away from the show as a whole, but there are some comically over- and under-acted scenes. Hey, it's just like a David Lynch flick! The soundtrack is also appropriately moody, with some great Silent Hill-esque sound distortion used to great effect.  Overall, I complete recommend Boogiepop Phantom. It's creepy at all the right times and it's told in a fairly unique way. Despite the lackluster vocal performances in both languages, the mood it establishes with its story, visuals and its soundtrack more than makes up for its deficiencies. Do note that it isn't a particularly nice looking show, but it definitely does not look like anything else. If you want a something to creep you out and unnerve you, pick up Right Stuf's re-release.   Score: 7.0 - Films or shows that get this score good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.  

I didn't start off as a fan of horror. When I was a kid, I was terrified of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. I hated monsters of just about any kind and stuck to safe and happy things. While my stan...

Japanator Recommends: Final Fantasy Theatrhythm

Jul 26 // Hiroko Yamamura
Final Fantasy Theatrhythm (Nintendo 3DS)Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixRelease Date: July 3, 2012MSRP:$39.99  As soon as you take a look at the charming art work on the packaging the intended wave of nostalgia hits you.Once you start the game you pick out your party from some of the series's favorite heroes. Me? I decided to go team superstar. With Cloud, Tidus, Shantotto, and Lightning ready to mash up some beats.I really love the character designs they used, but if you stare at them too long, they do kind of look like zombies. Cute zombies! Your characters can be leveled up and assigned different techniques and attacks via the usual SP system. At this time you can also equip the party with items that can be used automatically during gameplay, and often give you the leg up. During the gameplay and boss battles the damage you do to enemies will be treaty effected by the level and special techniques your characters have. I'm still relatively low level so I haven't quite seen the fruit of my labors here. The game is basically decided into 3 parts. Series, Challenge, ad Chaos Shrine. Series is the main part of the game, where you take your party headlong into music battle! Once your party is assembled and tweaked, you have the choice of your favorite Final Fantasy game. Yes, they are all here in glorious 3D. You first take some taps at the opening theme to the series, which unfortunately is one of the weaker things in the game, which I'll get to later. After you build your Rhythmia there, you the move on to the Field Music Mode. Your party walks horizontally across the map and encounters various inputs. You tap, slide, and flick your stylus on the bottom screen depending on the command on the upper screen. The inputs are tied with the music. Anyone familiar with any rhythm games will feel at home here. Think Elite Beat Agents meets Gitaroo-man. In eerie mode this is actually very easy for a novice rhythm game player to pick up, and may be a bit too simple for veterans of the titles I mentioned above. You then enter into Event Music, and Battle Music mode. Event music mode is a bit more challenging, as it tends to throw some complex patterns at you, and requires quick stylus movement. Battle Music mode is where you will the fruits of being a high level character pay off. Towards the end of the encounter you will come face to face with the bosses of the series. If you are low level, even if you hit critical hits each time, you won't even see their ugly mugs. Depending and your timing, and stylus drag accuracy, you will be scored. Get too many bars or misses and your party will fall on the battlefield. So keep on time, or come packing plenty of Pheonix Down! The first time I picked up the game I didn't die once. In series mode you pretty much have to be totally not paying attention for death to come knocking. As you play through the series mode you will begin to unlock various songs in Challenge and Chaos Shrine Mode. Challenge mode is pretty self explanatory. You can do a practice or expert battle on a particular song, with the difference in difficulty being quite large. Going expert on any song can be a challenge. Now Chaos Shrine mode is where the meat of the game is. You are given a random group of songs, but the difficulty is on a different level. It's face paced, and gives you plenty of rewards for mastering the system. Items are dropped and various fun goodies for later viewing are unlocked. As well as secret songs. It takes a while to unlock the different games in Chaos Shrine Mode, but it is worth it. I have to mention how great the game looks. The various scene playing in the background as your tap away are so nostalgic, you often find yourself forgetting what you are doing in the grips of nostalgia. When Suteki Da Ne came on I almost froze. That song just gets me in the gut every time! The 3D in the game is subtle, but effective. Most importantly all the songs sound fantastic. The simple control scheme is accurate, with the timing being fair. I had initially wondered why this game wasn't just an Android or iOS title, but the 2 screens are necessary. Having whole bottom screen there for input is a must, and covering up any on screen items would probably lead to a lot of headaches. Now to the bad. It's a short list, but there are some things that keep this game from being a super A+++ title, especially as far as being a rhythm game is concerned. My biggest gripe is the sounds that are made when the timing is hit. They are little clashing sound that don't effect the music. In these kind of games, there is a lot of satisfaction when you are actually playing part of the song, when you get to hit that note or pattern in that song you love. Instead, you are clanging on top of it. Maybe if you made a cowbell sound it would be cool? I also wish that the introduction songs could actually be played through. In many games the title tracks are my favorites. You probably end up hearing them the most, and not being able to engage them directly is a bit of a bummer. Eyes on You is an unfortunate victim of this, which totally bummed me out. Lastly, I wish there was a sliver of story. I get that your are just reliving stories you ave already been through, but some kind of dialog or funny story between the characters that are coming in out of canon could be pretty funny. Seeing Cloud hanging out with a Tarutaru has a lot of comedy potential. All-in-all I really do like the game. It has a lot of quick play, fun portability factor, and I would rank it as one of the best 3DS games to date. However, as a rhythm game junky I was looking for a fix that hasn't been sated in quite a while. If you look at games like Gitaroo-man and Parapa the Rapper, there was so much intercity and innovation going on with those titles. Some kind of Theatrhythm and Gitaroo-man hybrid was kind of what I was hoping for. Don't let my crazy video game orgy dreams detract you however. If you are a Final Fantasy fan you will really enjoy it. If you love the music in the series you will go nuts over the game. If you are approaching the game purely as a rhythm game junky, it may be slightly too simple for you. If you don't already, make sure to be packing some good headphones when you play, as the music should be really taken in and enjoyed. Excuse me while I go play Suteki Da Ne for the 100th time. [8.0 A great Final Fantasy game, sure to satisfy music lovers. Hardcore rhythm game junkies may find it a bit too simple.]

Square Enix's highly anticipated entry to rhythm games has finally arrived for the Nintendo 3DS. Pushing the already fully charged hype train is one of the most beloved of franchises, the Final Fantasy series. The series has ...

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