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Monday, August 14, 2017

Otakon 2017 in DC: Out with the Old, In with the New

[Quick Note: If you're reading this because you attended my panels & are looking for the content lists, just skip to the end.]

When I did my Otakon report last year, I nicknamed it "Final Otakon" because it was the last time it would emanate from Baltimore, Maryland's Inner Harbor. Therefore, this year's Otakon, which has now moved to Washington D.C.'s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was "New Otakon". Luckily, New Otakon managed to fight against the stigma of being a "New" version of an iconic creation, because this year was outstanding & managed to not only feel like Otakon of old, but also give me hopes for the future.

That being said, my initial & immediate feelings were a little rough. For example, "Day 0" (a.k.a. Thursday) was always known for long lines of people waiting to grab their pre-registration badges, but there was next to none of that this year. In fact, when pick-up opened at 3:00 pm, I was literally able to just walk up to a booth & get my badge; even by 5:30 pm, the line was only a short wait, at best. Luckily, those feelings were crushed come the start of Day 1, & by 6:30 pm on Day 2 (what I call "Peak Otakon"), the con was filled with people & the sheer energy of it all made me feel absolutely comfortable. I think the best praise for a con is that, following the move to a new location, you still get that comfortable & familiar feeling, & New Otakon felt like a true-blue Otakon by the end.

What really blew everyone's mind, though, was the sheer size of the Washington Center, because this place is absolutely gigantic; the con didn't use close to the entire center's space, yet already felt comfortable. The Dealers Room & Artist Alley were just unbelievably massive, though. Not just that, but the layout was so attendee-friendly that, by the end of Day 2, I already knew where everything was, which is amazing to think about. Combined with the locale-filled section of our nation's capital that the center is in, New Otakon feels just right in Washington D.C.

Now I can simply go over the various stories I have about what happened with me at the con, but I'll just direct you to my Twitter page, as I covered more or less all of the awesome moments from this past weekend over there. Instead, let me go over what panels I held, both in the giant AMV Theater, & what I covered in each of them:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: WoW, the Action Max is 30 Years Old...

In 1987, a team lead by James Riley filmed footage for an interactive movie planned for Hasbro's Control-Vision, originally codenamed NEMO, a video game console that would operate using VHS tapes. In 1989, though, Hasbro would cancel the Control-Vision, and the game that was meant to use the footage would eventually be released on the Sega CD in 1992 via Digital Pictures as Night Trap. Seemingly unbeknownst to everyone involved, though, that same year as the filming saw another game system actually released, and it too utilized VHS... Sort of.

That's right, thirty years ago Worlds of Wonder released the Action Max. Yippee?

Founded in 1980 by former Atari employees, toy company Worlds of Wonder only lasted for a decade before eventually closing in 1990. Still, WoW made a notable name for itself with products like Teddy Ruxpin & Lazer Tag, the latter of which actually helped lead to the company's demise after a child was killed by an officer who mistook it for an actual gun. WoW also had some involvement with video games, as it was the initial distributor for the Nintendo Entertainment System for the console's first few years, but in 1987 the company tried a slightly more direct hand with the Action Max, which retailed for ~$100. While Worlds of Wonder is most synonymous with the system, it was actually the product of Sourcing International, Ltd., and was essentially a light gun shooting gallery. Using the system itself in concert with a CRT television & a red sensor that is attached to the TV's lower right corner, people would play specific Action Max-labeled VHS tapes in their VCRs (as the system itself didn't actually play the games), and would shoot at specific targets when they appeared on the screen. Good hits would result in adding points, & bad hits would result in losing points. In turn, one could never "lose" (or really "win", either) while playing the Action Max, and since it relied on VHS tapes (but without the special tech that a game like Night Trap was going to use), each "game video" would be the same exact experience when replayed; no alternate routes, no randomization, nothing different.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tales of Eternia the Animation: Padding, Padding, Paaaadding... Padding, Padding, Paaaadding!

With the departure of Rica Matsumoto back in 2008, Masami Okui is now the sole female member of JAM Project, but in some ways is actually the most prolific of them all. Aside from having been in the anisong industry since 1993, though she wouldn't get an iconic (solo) anime until 1997's Revolutionary Girl Utena, Okui has also worked on theme songs for a bunch of anime that she didn't even sing for. Titles like Grenadier, Solty Rei, Ayakashi (the visual novel adaptation, not the horror anthology series), & Kanokon all feature songs that Okui either composed, wrote the lyrics to, or did both for, not to mention that she's done the same for a good majority of JAM's own songs; she's likely done more than Hironobu Kageyama, in fact. Back during JAM Project March I decided to review Ray the Animation, which was the first & only time Masami Okui has ever composed the entire soundtrack for an anime (an experience that she wouldn't mind doing again one day, she admitted). For the Summer of JAM, my choice for review isn't quite as extensive with Okui's musicianship skills, but it's still an example of Okui (more or less) making her own theme songs.

Tales of Eternia was the third main entry in the Tales Series, & fourth entry overall, debuting in Japan on the PlayStation on November 30, 2000. It eventually saw release in North America the following September, where it was renamed Tales of Destiny II (after the prior console entry), supposedly due to the worry of Mattel potentially suing over the use of the term "Eternia", which is the name of the world in the Masters of the Universe franchise; this wasn't a problem in Europe & Australia when the PSP port would be released in 2006. This SO wouldn't cause confusion when Tales of Destiny 2, the actual sequel to ToD, would see release in Japan in late 2002 on the PS2; note the use of an Arabic numeral, because it's literally that important for differentiation. Anyway, Eternia was a notably successful entry in Japan, because just two months after release saw the debut of a TV anime based on the game, simply titled Tales of Eternia the Animation. Unlike later anime takes on the Tales Series, though, the Eternia anime was a side story that didn't interfere with the game's overall story in any way. Considering how intertwined this RPG series has been with anime, is the first Tales anime a good first step, or is it just as superfluous in the grand scheme of things as its plot?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 10: Odious Oni

It's time to celebrate, because Demo Disc has now hit double digits! Wooooooo!!

Ever since I started alternating between single series & multi-series for Demo Disc, the former category has had a consistent concept behind each entry. Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos was an unwanted anime license, Get Ride! AMDriver was an unreleased anime license, & Geisters - Fractions of the Earth was an unfinished anime license. Therefore, for the fourth single series volume of Demo Disc, I will be covering an unlicensed anime license!
Huh, that didn't sound good on paper, either.

Due to half-length episodes, there is no eyecatch.
Each episode ends with a still shot, though.

Banpresto's 1990 Game Boy game Oppressive Demon Record Oni was originally conceived as a puzzle game before being redesigned as an RPG. It wound up being the start of the Oni Series, which received seven more games, primarily developed by Pandora Box, across the Game Boy & Super Famicom, before finishing up in 2001 on the PlayStation with Oni Zero ~Resurrection~; Compile Heart brought back the series for one entry on the DS in 2007. In between the releases of 1995's Oni V: Successors to Endurance for the Game Boy & 1996's Tale of the Advent of the Bakumatsu Oni for the Super Famicom, Sotsu Agency & J.C. Staff came together & produced an anime based on the Oni Series. At the same time, the mid-90s saw a number of short-form TV anime being produced (Neo Ranga, Sexy Commando, etc.), so the resulting Touma Kijin Den/Legend of the Fierce Fighting God Oni wound up running for 25 episodes, each of which only lasted 10 minutes as part of TV Tokyo's Thursday morning Anime Asaichi block. Since then, the anime more or less became forgotten, so much so that I could only find 15 episodes-worth fansubbed, two-thirds of which isn't in the greatest quality due to age, plus two more episodes (17 & 18) without any sort of translation. So did it have any potential, does it execute the short-episode style well, and is it primarily for fans of the games?

Shuramaru is an young man raised by one of the village elders as his own grandson. Unfortunately, the rest of the villages shun Shuramaru, as his freakish strength has him labeled a "demon". Unbeknownst to all, though, is that Shuramaru is in fact part of the Oni lineage, which derive from ancient Yoma (demonic spirits) & have existed alongside humanity (both publicly & in secret) for ages. Shuramaru has to come to terms with his lineage, though, when a mysterious group from the future, who call themselves "The Seven Gods of Fortune", arrive with plans to kill all those they deem as having "impure genes", as the future has become bleak & filled with naturally sterilized people, whom they blame on those with said flawed genes. Luckily for him, though, there are other people of the Oni out there to help him fight back against their futuristic foes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Legend of Zorro (Movie Edit): Zorro's a Terrible Film Editor, Always Splicing in a "Z" Shape...

In JAM Project March, I failed to actually bring up Masaaki Endoh's early days & how he eventually became famous, instead focusing more on his iconic "Super Endoh Time" ability to keep a single note for insanely long amounts of time. Trust me, I tried to keep up with him during a live show once; he visibly wanted to see me go all the way, but I just couldn't. That's mainly because there isn't much to tell, surprisingly enough. After high school, Endoh debuted in the music industry in 1993 as part of The Hiptones, followed by acoustic duo Short Hopes (later Steeple Jack), but neither run really lasted much more than a year. Following that, producer Shunji Inoue signed him for anisong singing, first working as part of Hironobu Kageyama's chorus before forming the short-lived duo Metal Brothers with the man. By this point it was 1997, & Endoh made his immediate mark by singing the iconic opening theme to King of Braves GaoGaiGar, "Yusha-Oh Tanjou!". That being said, however, the final entry in the Brave Series was NOT Masaaki Endoh's debut anime theme song...

Anime based on the works of non-Japanese literature is nothing surprising, as indicated by things like the World Masterpiece Theater franchise or even most of Studio Ghibli's catalog. This has resulted in works like The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, & The Count of Monte Cristo, among countless others, being made into anime at some point or another from the 70s to today. From 1996-1997, Ashi Productions (now Production Reed) worked with Toho in producing an anime adaptation of pulp writer Johnston McCulley's legendary masked warrior Zorro, 77 years after McCulley wrote The Curse of Capistrano in All-Story Weekly back in 1919. Titled Kaiketsu Zorro/Zorro the Extraordinary, the anime ran on NHK for 52 episodes & would eventually see release in various countries around the world. Today, the license for the anime, or at least its various dubs, is with Mondo TV, an Italian company co-founded by Orlando Corradi, who is most (infamously) known as being the director & producer of 1999's The Legend of the Titanic & its 2004 sequel In Search of the Titanic (a.k.a. Tentacolino)... Both of which are considered two of the most maligned animated films ever for their bizarre & mind-boggling plots (not to mention having the gall to give the story of the Titanic a happy ending).

So let me do something I haven't done in a while & review an edited, English dubbed version of an anime, specifically a movie edit. Yes, Mondo TV not only dubbed all of the TV series into English, renaming it The Legend of Zorro (I don't know which came first, this dub or the Antonio Banderas movie), but it also produced a 105-minute compilation movie version of Kaiketsu Zorro, which you can actually watch legally over at YouTube. Does it work in any way, & does it at least keep Masaaki Endoh's debut anime theme songs?