Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review - Evangelion 2.22 You can (not) advance

ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 破
Original Release: June 28, 2009
USA Blu-Ray release: March 30, 2011
Directed by: Hideaki Anno
Animation Studio: GAINAX
USA Publisher: Funimation

When Neon Genesis Evangelion came out in 1995, it changed the landscape of anime forever. It was an epic and dark anime using esoteric dialogue with a flawed cast of characters. The anime turned the mecha subgenre on its head with its unique take on the genre. The anime and the ensuing movies left such an indelible impression on the anime market that it still has a very strong and loyal following almost 16 years after it was initially released. In late 2002, work started on the rebuild of Evangelion. In December 2006 the tetralogy was announced, with the original creator saying that he can finally recreate Evangelion the way he wanted it to be. Evangelion 1.0 felt very similar to those who are used to the original TV series, but it had a more cinematic feel. Evangelion 2.0 moves in a completely different direction than the TV series, changing the role of characters, changing scenarios, and introducing brand new ones that will change the dynamic of the future movies. Evangelion 2.0 is a great movie for new fans and for old fans alike, it has great productions, excellent pacing, but it is hampered by its weak musical score and esoteric dialog.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Anime Conji 2011 Convention Report

Taiwan from Hetalia
Anime Conji 2011 - Year 2 of AC
Venue: Town and Country Resort, San Diego

Sourthern California is a place with lots of anime and manga fans concentrated in a small area. The large concentration of anime and manga fans in such a small area means that there is quite a bit of anime conventions to choose from. Over at Anime LA, I was talking to some representatives from another convention, Anime Conji. As a fan of Anime Conventions and of the cosplay culture that makes it so rich, I jumped at the opportunity when I found out about another anime convention to attend. San Diego is a long drive, but a convention to attend that is drivable from my house in under two hours makes it a no brainer. Here is a short convention report from my perspective as a person who has only recently started attending the smaller local anime conventions.

Bang, she got me!!!
As a person who tries to be as green as possible, I asked all my friends if they wanted to go and if they did they can ride with me to save on gas. Unfortunately it seems that the people in my circle of friends didn't want to take a risk and go to an anime convention that they are not familiar with, so many of them opted not to go. Nick, a fellow photographer met me at my place and we left at around 8:30am. As we drove down to Anime Conji, I was a little worried because on the way there we encountered some light rain. We hit the convention center at around 9:56am and parked in the parking lot. As the chair of the Research and Development Committee for the SPJA Board of Directors I spent around 1 hour canvassing what attendees are there with a small convention survey. The reaction in general was positive and I got quite a bit of surveys done in short period of time. After that I waited in the registration line, which took around 30 minutes. I didn't mind the wait because I became quick friends with a set of Hetalia cosplayers waiting right behind me, they were very colorful to say the least.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First Impression - Ar Tonelico Qoga (PS3)

"The song that ends the world"

Ar Tonelico Qoga (aka: Ar Tonelico 3)
USA release: March 15, 2011
Developer: GUST
American Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software America
MSRP: Mature

Gust is a well-known developer that makes quality games with unique character designs and amazing musical scores. They have two well-known franchises, the Atelier franchise and Ar Tonelico. The former is known for its infectious characters and unique RPG gameplay that is fairly open ended. The latter is known for its involving cosmology, amazing musical scores, and great character designs. It is unfortunately know for another thing, embarrassing dialog and copious amounts of fan service. I will give a short first impression thread of the first 5 hours of Ar Tonelico Qoga ), I will review the final game when I complete it later down the line.

Gust is well known for making games that don't have high production values, but they do make up for it in the passionate love for the product they create. The graphics are not bad, but they are not on the same level as something like Final Fantasy, it is not even on the level of Atelier Totori (sequel to Atelier Rorona if you don't know). The game has a great camera that is not controllable, but always seems to be in the right place at the right time. What it doesn't have in graphics it makes up for in great set design. The towns are gorgeous and unique presenting a unique mix of steampunk design and Hong-Kong flash, the dungeons actually feel like organic dungeons. The franchise is also well known to have an amazing soundtrack, with Ar Tonlico 2 having one of the best RPG soundtracks in a very long time. So far, in the first five hours I am a little underwhelmed by the musical score. It could be because Ar Tonelico 2 set the bar so impossibly high that it is hard to get on that level. I am hoping that the musical score will have amazing pieces later down the line and that they save the best for later. One of my favorite sequences in the game is when you dive into the Reyvateil in something called a Cosmosphere. As the lead character, you dive into the Reyvateil's mind and go through a story sequence where you learn about the character's issue or problem personified in living creatures and scenarios. Like a dating sim, making the right choices means that you can conquer the level and move to the next level of cosmosphere. As you do it, the lead character gets much closer to the female Reyvateil. A full completion of a cosmosphere is the equivalent of having the Reyvateil be your bride since you know their deepest and darkest secrets and the Reyvateil is very very close to the lead character. The game is definitely made by people who love making it since everything feels so organic and well-realized compared to many games out there.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sailor Moon and Sailor V announced for USA release

I normally don't do news notes like this, but this one is so big that it deserves a little blub.

Anime News Network is reporting that Sailor Moon 2nd edition and Sailor V will be getting a USA release starting this September. If you don't remember from my blog posting back in January 27th, I pointed out that Sailor Moon's chances of a new USA release increased quite a bit because Kodansha is publishing their own manga. I also said that the manga is the far superior version of the storyline that is much darker and more well-developed.

For those of you who don't know, sailor moon was the manga series that started the magical girl genre. It is about Sailor Moon and her adventures to fight evil, right the wrongs of the past, and gain new friends along the way. It has several story arcs and a wonderful cast of characters. Codename Sailor V is about the adventures (or misadventures) of Sailor Venus when she worked by herself. Sailor V actually came before Sailor Moon and was its prequel, but it actually ended a couple of months after Sailor Moon.

If you haven't experienced the amazing experience called Sailor Moon, do yourself a favor and buy the USA release of it. Look forward to my extensive reviews of Kodansha USA's release of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and Codename Sailor V.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review - Summer Wars

Original Release: August 9, 2009
USA Blu-ray release: March 15, 2011
Length: 114 minutes
Directed by: Mamoru Osoda
Animation Studio: Madhouse
USA Publisher: Funimation
Rating: PG

Following the critical and financial success of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mamoru Hosada embarked on making Summer Wars. It is a family friendly film that explores first loves, the power of family, and our dependence on the internet to communicate. The anime film of summer wars has it all, a great cast of characters, interesting themes, amazing production values, a great screenplay, and an interesting story to pull it all together.

Summer wars is an anime movie where the people in the real world go about their daily lives, but they use this virtual world called OZ. This virtual world is important since people use it to communicate, banks use it to do finance, and governments use it for efficient service. The lead character is Kenji Koso, a person who moderates OZ and a math genius who claims that it is his only strong point. The female lead is Natsuki Shinohara, who asks her friend Kenji to come back home with her for a part time job. When they go back to her home town to celebrate her great grandma's 90th birthday, she introduces Kenji as her boyfriend and her fiance that comes from a well-known family and is attending Tokyo University. The matriarch of the family, Sakae Jinnouchi grills Kenji to see if he is worthy of her great granddaughter and accepts him. He gets a text message in the middle of the night and it is a bunch of numbers. Kenji thinks that it is a math problem and he solves the riddle and texts back his response. The next morning he wakes up to find that he is implicated in the hacking of OZ. This artificial intelligence hacks Kenji's avatar and causes havok all over the world. It starts a chain of events that will change Kenji's life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bad End, Why does it happen?

School Rumble, perfect example
Have you ever invested so much time and money in something only to get let down in the end? This is a common story told by fans of the anime and manga medium. They would invest lots of time watching, reading, discussing, dreaming, and anticipating a series that they feel a connection with. After so much emotional investment it ends abruptly or it ends in a nonsensical manner that doesn't fit with the pace of the storyline. There are a myriad of reasons why it happens, but I will hone into two reasons why they disappoint. The two reasons are because they are not the source material or because they were rushed to finish the product. These two reasons are reasons why there are many examples of series with bad endings.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Culture Shock - School Uniforms

In America, we pride ourselves on our individuality. This is a cultural aspect that emanates all aspects of American life, from our storytelling to the celebrities we admire. This focus on individuality also goes to the clothes that American children and teenagers wear at school, which is up to the individual to wear a set of clothes considered acceptable in school's dress code. There is a loose set of standards that is applied in school that is enforced only when these standards are grossly ignored. This difference leads to a slight culture shock for an American who is watching an anime series. In our culture individuality is sacred, so the idea for many people to have a standard school uniform is unheard of. I will examine Japanese School uniforms and explore why is it that the American school system does not have school uniforms.

School uniforms were introduced in Japan in the late 19th century and the country is known for the colorful and unique uniforms that the students wear in middle school and high school. In Japan, the male school uniform is based off a Meiji-style military uniform which was based off European military uniforms. This uniform typically has buttons from top to bottom and has pants of the same color. I use the term typically because it is not indicative of all uniforms which varies depending on the school. The female school uniform is known as the Sailor Fuku, and it is based off a British Sailor uniform. The female school uniform is typically a blouse with a sailor style collar, that is tied together with a ribbon. The lower half is normally a pleated skirt that can either be solid, or of various colors. In Japan, they have a uniform for winter that has more layers and in summer they have a different uniform that allows more air to flow in the uniform. Each school has a different uniform, with some schools having a reputation for the kind of outfits they have compared to other schools. School uniforms are also heavily fetishized because of the association with youth. It is also very popular in the otaku community because it is so heavily emphasized in anime, manga, japanese video games, and doujinshi.

C.C. wearing the Ashford Academy uniform
There is an innumerable amount of examples of anime, manga, video games, and doujinshi that features school uniforms. Well known examples of video games with school uniforms are series that take place in school settings like Final Fantasy VIII, Valkryia Chronicles 2, Persona 4, and many more. In anime and manga series, school uniforms are so ubiquitous that is much easier listing the series that are bereft of school uniforms. This is because a large majority of anime series takes place in a Japanese middle school or a Japanese high school where school uniforms are used the most. Even with the large amount of series featuring school uniforms, there are some that really stick out. One of the most famous of all of them are Sailor Moon, whose name is derived because Sailor Moon and all of her fellow senshi fight in Sailor Fuku. Another well-known school uniform that is seen often in Anime Conventions is the school uniform found in Code Geass's Ashford Academy. In fact, the school uniforms play such an important role in the identity of an anime that many manga artists and anime producers spend lots of time researching school uniforms. Long after anime series end, if cosplayers wear a school uniform as their cosplay, they usually do cosplay from something that is recognizable and memorable.

Awesome long-haired Haruhi in a uniform
 If school uniforms are so iconic, why is it that American schools don't use school uniforms? The answer is relatively simple, there are cultural, economic and legal reasons why. As I wrote in the introduction paragraph it is part of American culture to value individuality. To create this illusion of individuality, we promote the idea that kids in public school wear whatever clothes they want. I say "illusion" because we all know that during middle school and high school that there is heavy societal pressures for the teenager to fit in with modern fashions and tastes, so they are in effect being individual by following the collective whole. We promote individuality, at least in theory. In America, we also don't have an extensive history of school uniforms like Japan and many other countries do. The second reason is that having students wearing their own clothes is good for the economy because they feel the pressure to fit in the latest trends, so they buy new clothes. If they had to wear everyday clothes only two days of the week as opposed to seven days, they have less motivation to buy clothes to fit in. The third reason is the legal ramifications behind not wearing school uniforms. There was a legal ruling in 1969 by the supreme court that said that student have the right to free expression in a public school. This is why a private school like a Catholic school could have school uniforms, but a public high school wont likely push for high schools anytime soon. These three reasons combined means that school uniforms will remain mainly outside of America, and if they are in America, they are done in private schools.

When an American sees an anime, manga, video games, or doujinshi, they will notice the school uniform since it is not a norm in American society. In Japan, there is a long history behind the school uniform which explains why it holds a special place in the hearts of many people in Japan. It is so ubiquitous that it is harder naming a series from Japan that takes place in Japan that doesn't feature a character in a school uniform. In the USA, there are cultural, economic, and legal reasons why we don't have school uniforms the same way that they do in Japan. In the end, it makes things interesting because in America we get to see a window in Japanese culture through a small detail like wearing school uniforms.

If you have any comments, feel free to post a response in the bottom.

Culture Shock Series
Culture Shock #2 - Rail Transportation

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japanese Earthquake

A powerful earthquake has struck Japan, our prayers and wishes go out to Japan. For those of you in Japan, take care of yourselves and take care of those around you. An earthquake destroys the world around us, but it can be rebuilt. What can't be rebuilt are the fires of life lost and the darkness of trauma from a horrible event.

Please pray for the safety of those who are in Japan and especially those who will never see another morning.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Anime-inspired Video Games: Xenogears (PSX)

Originally Released on: PS1 on Oct. 20, 1998.
Developer: Square Company Limited
Director: Tetsuya Takahashi
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda

"Stand tall and shake the heavens," that is the inventive and powerful tagline for Xenogears, Squaresoft's classic RPG. It was originally introduced to the American public as a short demo included in Parasite Eve. It only gave a small glace to this epic RPG that clocks in at well over 80 hours for first time players. The RPG is an epic saga about destiny, psychological issues, byzantine power struggles, racism, reincarnation, and humanity's resilience. It is a classic RPG wrapped up with an excellent cast of characters, one of the best video game story lines, and an incredible musical score.

My first experience with this game was the demo included in Parasite Eve, I was fascinated by it because of its giant robots and unique setting. My brother bought the game when it came out and he was addicted from the outset. The storyline starts off with a mysterious anime opening the words "I am alpha and omega. the beginning and the end. the first and the last." The camera pans over a massive ship, all of a sudden the emergency signals turn on. They use emergency measures to stop the problem, but nothing can stop it. The captain calls for the ship to be evacuated. As the evacuation ships leave, they are getting destroyed in their escape. The captain sets the self-destruct button to destroy the ship. From the wreckage a naked girl walks out and sees the remnants of the destroyed ship fall into the ocean. At first this opening really has little to do with the main story, but the importance shows itself about 75% in the storyline, and when it happens it is one hell of a plot twist.

The world of Xenogears is populated by two main empires, Aveh and Kislev. Aveh is a desert country with thousands of years of history and an ousted royal family. Kislev is an urban imperial city, with Nortune being the main capital of Kislev. They have been at war for centuries, gaining and losing little ground between then. The dynamic of this never ending war changes when they start excavating ancient robotic technology called Gears. It also changes when a mysterious military know as the "Gebler" starts to aid one of the land empires. As the story expand you are introduced into two sky kingdoms. The kingdom behind the mysterious force is  a kingdom in the sky called Solaris ruled by Emperor Cain and the Gazel Ministry. Opposite of Solaris is the sky kingdom of Shevat. There is a singular religion called Ethos in this world, with a branch called Etone who purges and destroys creatures that go all over the world called wels. As you can see, the setting of Xenogears has a unique political dynamic that makes the world quite complicated.