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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Spelunker is a Teacher: You Too Can Surmount Incredible Difficulties!

Part 2 of this look at anime based on Western video games goes in a different direction than the first part.  While Wizardry felt like it was "in on the joke" in the way it handled its world, it really wasn't joking but rather simply took the way the game played seriously & went with it.  In comparison, the subject of this review most definitely is "in on the joke", mainly because the Japanese created the joke in the first place.


Spelunker was developed by Tim Martin, one of the founders of the short-lived company MicroGraphicImage, back in 1983 for Atari's line of 8-bit computers.  It was ported to the Commodore-64 by Brøderbund in 1984, the arcades & Famicom in 1985 by Irem, the MSX in 1986, and the Famicom version was released in North America for the NES in 1987.  The goal of the game was to simply get your nameless spelunker from the top of the giant cave he was exploring to the bottom, where a pyramid filled with treasure was located.  The original Atari & Commordore versions helped make it a popular computer game back in the 80s, but the NES/Famicom version was what took the game beyond anything Mr. Martin could have imagined.

You see, this spelunker was easily killed, and the NES version made it all the more easier to die.  You die in one hit, so anything (including falling bat droppings & even your own flare when it comes down) will kill you.  Also, falling down more than just a few pixels worth will kill you (literally, you die in mid-air!), so even jumping off the top of a decline will kill you.  This resulted in the title being loved in Japan as a "kusoge/crap game", i.e. it was loved because of how "crappy" it was...  Yet, oddly enough, Spelunker is actually highly addictive; you always want to keep playing & get further than the last time.  The spelunker himself (amusingly given the name "Spelunker" by the Japanese) actually even became a part of Japanese lingo with the term "Spelunker Taishitsu/Spelunker's Constitution" & word "Superu", both of which essentially mean "getting injured by the smallest things" (it's commonly used in Japan for professional sports).  In 2009 Spelunker received both a Spelunker Anthology Comic as well as a full-on remake for the Playstation 3 called Minna de Spelunker/Everyone Spelunker, which was released internationally via PSN in 2010/2011 as Spelunker HD, and in 2011 Enterbrain released a 4-koma manga called Spelunker Sensei or Spelunker is a Teacher.  It's this 4-koma manga that also received a Flash OVA adaptation that's funny & just short enough to keep from becoming tired & repetitive.


It's a new school year at high school and one of the new teachers is a man who wears a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers...  And a spelunker's hardhat.  His name is Mr. Spelunker & there's something special about him: He dies.  Very easily.  A lot.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wizardry: 100s of Hours of Gameplay Told in Just 50 Minutes!

I had planned on stretching out this next batch of reviews across a month, but considering how short each of them are (2 OVAs) I've decided to get them through in only one week...  Welcome to Video Game-Based Anime Week!  Like the previous time I did this focus (September 2011) every review will be of an anime that was based on a video game, but there's another focus this time around: Anime based on Western video games.  Even though Japan is commonly called a xenophobic country at heart, every now & then a Western creation does become a big hit over there.  In super-rare cases a Western title becomes more popular in Japan than in its country of origin, and in two cases animes have actually been made based on them.  Ironically, these animes based on Western video games have never been released in the country they came from.  Case in point is the anime based on an RPG series made by two Americans, one of which wound up founding an anime licensing company himself!


Wizardry is a RPG series originally created by Andrew C. Greenberg & Robert J. Woodhead back in 1980 when the two were still students at Cornell Unviersity.  As the years went on it became a big hit for PC gamers, lasting up until 2001's Wizardry 8 by Sir-Tech (Woodhead left the series after IV, & Greenburg left after V).  In Japan, though, the series became one of the biggest inspirations in that country's video game industry, most importantly with Yuji Horii, who used Wizardry as one of his big influences when he created Dragon Quest; Horii even tossed in a reference to Wizardry in his mystery game The Portopia Serial Murder Case for the Famicom.  Games in the series have been ported & remade to numerous PCs & consoles as Japan-exclusive release as recently as 2000, and a metric ton of spin-offs have been developed by Japanese companies ever since 1991, with only three of them having seen international release: 2001's Tale of the Forsaken Land for Playstation 2, 2009's Labyrinth of Lost Souls for Playstation 3 via PSN (released internationally in 2011), & 2012's MMORPG Wizardry Online for PC (released internationally this year).  Not only that, but in 1991 TMS & Shochiku made a 50-minute OVA adaptation of the original 1981 game, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, which managed to take a game with essentially no story & make a fun, if sometimes (accidentally) funny, little adventure.

I try to use "clean" screencaps, but for some it's impossible.
In that past King Trebor worked with the wizard Werdna & protected the kingdom from its enemies.  One day, though, Werdna betrayed Trebor and stole an amulet that was sealing a destructive power that could leave the kingdom in ruins.  In order to stave away Trebor's forces while he worked to undo the seal Werdna created a ten-floor dungeon filled with all sorts of ferocious monsters, with Werdna at the bottom.  In turn, Trebor offered a reward to any & all brave warriors that dared take on the challenge to kill Werdna & retrieve the amulet.  As years have gone by people have turned dungeon crawling into a job all in & of itself, but during one journey into the dungeon a trio of friends (Shin the Human Fighter, Alex the Human Lord, & Hawkwind the Human Ninja) come across three other brave dungeon journeyers (Jyuza the Dwarven Bishop [who used to work with Werdna & Trebor], Alpa the Hobbit Mage [Jyuza's student], & Sheila the Elven Mage [who went into the dungeon to search for her boyfriend, Randy the Human Samurai]), and together this six-man party will dare to enter the tenth floor & take on Werdna.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Theory Musing: Möbius Strip Anime & Manga

Well this is certainly unexpected...  I had done a post this past October that I gave the moniker "Theory Musing", because it was simply me explaining an idea I had on my mind, in that case the "Three Pillars of Sports (Boxing) Anime & Manga".  Honestly, I had no plans on doing another "Theory Musing" post, mainly because it's not something I can come up with easily or at any sort of vaguely-defined "rate".  Anime Sols, though, recently reminded me of something I once said in passing during a conversation last year that really made me think about it in more detail: The concept of "Möbius strip" anime & manga.


Discovered in 1858 by German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius & Johann Benedict Listing, the Möbius strip is, to put it simply, a surface with only one side.  If you were to draw a line across the entire surface of a looping Möbius strip you would end up back at the start, having drawn the line across the entire surface without ever having to stop.  In real life it's very simple to create a strip like this: Simply take a strip of paper, give one end a half-twist so that one end is the opposite side from the other end, and then tape the ends together.  If you want to think about in a more complex way a simple strip, or line (if you will), is defined in one way by the fact that it acts as a boundary that is defined by two components: Each "side" of the line is a separate thing.  A Möbius strip, though, is a boundary that is defined by only one component, because what would normally be two disparate components are now one & the same.  So...  How can this apply to anime & manga?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bari Bari Densetsu: Not Quite Initial B... But in a Good Way

When it comes to racing manga, Shuichi Shigeno's Initial D is likely considered to be the standard bearer.  Debuting back in 1995 Shigeno recently ended the manga, totaling 46 volumes, just a couple of weeks ago, with a new movie as well as a "Final Stage" anime being made to finish the adaptation.  What most people don't know, though, is that Initial D is Shigeno's second hit manga, as well as his second manga to get an anime adaptation.  From 1983-1991 Shigeno did Bari Bari Densetsu, a manga about motorcycle racing that lasted 38 volumes, and in 1986 Studio Pierrot made a two-episode OVA based on parts of the manga.  In 1987 Nippon Herald had Pierrot cut down the two 50-minute OVAs into a single 85-minute movie, and it's this movie version of the anime that ended up getting fansubbed.  So there's only one question to ask: How was Shuichi Shigeno before making the Toyota AE86 Trueno an iconic car?


Gun Koma is a high school student who knows a thing or two about riding a motorcycle, and he uses his rough & fast skills in illegal street races on the Touge mountain road.  One day, though, he's unable to defeat a newcomer & crashes during the race; the newcomer then berates him for being such a stupid rider.  A few days later Gun sees the newcomer again...  He's Hideyoshi Hijiri, a new transfer student from Osaka.  As much as he wants to beat Hideyoshi, though, the two get paired together as a racing duo when Gun's friend Miyuki Ichinose, the daughter of the owner of a motorcycle racing team, decides to get the three of them, & Gun's best friend Hiro Okita, to form two pairs that will race in the upcoming 4-hour endurance race at Suzuka Raceway.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Post-Otakon Update: 45 Years of Shonen Jump Line-Up!

Excuse the wait I've taken, because I was getting ready for Otakon 20 this year, and I have come back home just yesterday.  Normally, I don't talk about a con visit after the fact, but I wanted to get a couple of things out of the way.


First, a big "Thank You" to Otakon for letting me be a part of the 20th Anniversary of the second-biggest anime convention in North America.  For a first-time panelist at the con I feel honored to have helped celebrate such a joyous occasion for Otakorp.  In terms of the con itself, it was easily the best Otakon I have ever been at.  The panels I went to were all excellent & the panelists prepared & bringing their A-Game (except for one, but nothing's perfect), the guest roster was definitely top-notch, and though the Baltimore Convention Center is becoming too small for the con I have to agree with Zac Bertschy & Justin Sevakis during the live (& unfortunately un-captured) ANNCast when they agreed that Otakon in general has a strong, welcoming, & celebratory feeling to it.  I got to meet a lot of great people, including the likes of Anime World Order's Daryl Surat (a reader of this blog, no less!) & ANN's Justin Sevakis (the man who inspired me to start writing about obscure anime), & I have Otakon 20 to thank for this.