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Friday, October 13, 2017

Theory Musing: The Anime Kickstarter Konundrum

At Otakon this year, one of my favorite panels I attended was the Right Stuf panel, and one of the most interesting announcements made there was that Aria the Animation would receive an English dub if a Kickstarter drive for the new Blu-Ray release was to succeed. I knew that Aria in general had a fervent fanbase, so my immediate feeling upon hearing "Dark Lord" Shawne Kleckner announce this drive was, "Oh, this is going to succeed, easily."


That being said, even I couldn't imagine it earning nearly four times its initial goal, resulting in every season of the Aria anime, including the previously unlicensed Aria the Avvenire OVA from 2015, receiving an English dub. I have nothing but happiness for the fans of this anime series (I'm personally fine with the DVDs I have yet to watch), but at the same time it started to make me think. Are anime crowdfunding successes like Aria an indicator that there is potential for smaller name & niche anime to be given chances that they would normally never be given outside of Japan, or is this just more proof that these can only reliably succeed for titles that already have existing fanbases to support them in the first place? Before all of that, though, let's start at the beginning...

If you somehow aren't familiar with Kickstarter, it's a site where people & companies can start drives that requires the general public to pledge funding to in order to achieve a required goal. While there are other sites like it, such as IndieGoGo or Fig, KS has the most notoriety behind it, and even recently has started allowing drives based in Asia. Eventually, the Japanese anime industry would come to notice the potential of crowdfunding, & on October 1, 2012 Production I.G. teamed with director Masaaki Yuasa to crowdfund an original OVA short titled Kick-Heart. With a goal of $150,000, the OVA would earn over $200,000, which resulted in it being two minutes longer than initially planned & even receiving two English dubs (one professional & with one with backers voicing the cast); I not only supported this drive but also reviewed it back in July of 2013. The success of this drive has since opened up the gates for anime crowdfunding, with successes like Santa Company, Under the Dog, Mecha-Ude, Nekopara, Cannon Busters, & others which were done via Japan-exclusive sites, but I'll only be focusing on Kickstarter campaigns here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Spectral Force (OVA): The Beginning of "The Ed Wood of Anime"

So a few weeks ago I reviewed Spectral vs. Generation, a 2D fighting game that crossed over characters from Idea Factory's IF Neverland brand. While that game in particular never saw release in North America specifically, the franchise itself actually had a curious introduction to the English-speaking market, but first some quick history. Technically, the first game in IF Neverland was Idea Factory's second ever game, 1996's Spectral Tower, a dungeon crawler that took place in the fantasy world of Neverland. That being said, though, the game didn't really define anything in particular about the world it took place in, & would be effectively replaced in the actual canon by 1998's Spectral Tower II, so one can argue that IF Neverland as a franchise & brand actually started 20 years ago. The game in particular was Spectral Force, released on October 9, 1997, which was essentially the spiritual successor to Sega's Dragon Force on the Saturn. You see, developer J-Force was on the verge of bankruptcy during development and, after numerous months of unpaid work, a lot of the Dragon Force staff left & joined Idea Factory to make Spectral Force; Sega's Kansai branch would finish the original game (& then develop the 1998 sequel).


However, Idea Factory's founders, Shingo Kuwana (formerly of Data East) & Yoshiteru Sato, had plans to be more than just a video game studio, & Spectral Force would be the start of IF's multimedia expansion. While the game itself featured a very rudimentary anime opening, when it came to the release of Spectral Force 2 in October of 1998 Idea Factory produced two adaptations of the original game. There was a manga drawn by character designer Shinnosuke Hino, which ran in Shinseisha's Comic Gamest & was compiled into a single volume by Koei, while Idea Factory itself would make a two-episode OVA for release on VHS... Yes, a video game company decided to make an anime on its own; both episodes would then be released on a single DVD in 2001. At Anime Weekend Atlanta 6 in 2000, ADV Films announced plans to work with publisher Studio Ironcat to bring over Spectral Force, with ADV handling the OVA & Ironcat dealing with the manga; according to the news, the game was even planned for release. A year later, at AWA 7, Studio Ironcat revealed that the manga was ready to go & would even be part of a giant package containing the game, OVA, & manga; likewise, ADV's dub & subtitle work was finished (at least, that's what the copyright says). Unfortunately, Ironcat was in a very rough place at that time, so the manga never saw release. In the end, ADV would be the only company to release anything from the deal, though for whatever reason it wouldn't be until mid-2003 via dual-audio DVD, three months after Xicat Interactive had released Black Stone: Magic & Steel on the Xbox, which is technically the first IF Neverland game to be released in North America & Europe (though the Japanese release, titled Ex-Chaser, would come later & actually make it a proper entry for the brand).

Since then, the Spectral Force OVA has gone down as one of the worst anime ever officially released in North America. Still, I want to celebrate what I consider the "proper" 20th Anniversary for IF Neverland, so since I can't really play the game (it's very menu-based, so a good familiarity with Japanese is essential), let me see what happens when a video game studio tries its hands at making an anime for the very first time... If it's anything like most of the other Idea Factory anime I reviewed back in 2013, then I'm not expecting much.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan: The Last Temptations of "Gay Angels"

As mentioned in the last Saint Beast anime review, the Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen OVA came out in between the release of 2005's Yukyuu no Sho drama CD series & the incoming release of 2006's Onshu no Sho. After that latter drama CD series came to an end, Wonderfarm would put its attention back towards the animation side of things with a return to television. Not just that, but Tokyo Kids would also return, making it a true-blue "second season". Of course, this would be yet another prequel to the Seijuu Kourin Hen TV anime, so in Spring of 2007 various UHF stations in Japan debuted Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan/Angel Tales from the Epic Times (some places also use the more loose "Angel Chronicles"), a 13-episode TV anime that seemingly decided to bring back the style of the first season. Alongside Tokyo Kids doing the animation, Hiroshi Kitadani also returned for the theme song, this time with JAM Project in tow. With this also being available for legal streaming via Viewster, is Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan just more of the same from the first season, or did Wonderfarm learn from Madhouse's OVA excursion for the better? Time to boot up my Xbox 360 once again & find out, I say.


Heaven, though still seeming more or less peaceful, has slowly started showing cracks in the visage. This is only worsened when Zeus, God of Heaven, institutes a ranking system amongst his angels, deeming them of lower, middle, or higher levels. Not just that, but he has chosen Gou, Gai, Shin, Rei, Judas, Luka, Shiva, Kira, & Maya as candidates for the six "Saint Beast" positions, which will be the highest of all angels. Judas, who believes in absolute equality, has many reservations about the ranking system, as it's bringing about feelings of jealousy, superiority, & even outright hatred between angels, & is starting to wonder if Zeus is truly meaning for the well being of Heaven. In the end, though, what is truly "Paradise"? Is it Heaven, where Zeus watches over all & rules supreme, with those who sin eventually being purged into the Forest of Darkness as goblins? Is it on Earth, where angels can live by their own rules, but have to worry about Zeus's wrath for defying his orders? Or is it with the fallen angels Lucifer & Gabriel in Hell, far from the watchful eyes of Zeus?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: Spectral vs. Generation: Blades of Chaos Strike with Force to Claim the Kingdom

I know that Idea Factory doesn't exactly have the most positive reception in the gaming world as a whole, though it's not seemingly anywhere near as harsh as it was a decade ago, but I will always have a soft spot for the company. Sadly, the Idea Factory that exists now doesn't quite endear itself to me like it used to, and that's because it essentially killed off the thing that got me interested in the company in the first place: IF Neverland. This brand existed from 1996-2009 across 35 games, during which it was pretty much the main breadwinner for Idea Factory, and one of the major appeals it had was a heavily interlinked timeline filled with characters that would debut in one game & then return for other games, either going from main to secondary, secondary to main, or simply getting their own spin-off titles. While IF Neverland games tended to be tactical or strategy RPGs, the franchise did venture into other genres, like traditional RPG (Spectral Blade), dungeon crawler (Spectral Tower), monster raising (Monster Complete World), real-time strategy (Field of Chaos), MMO (Kingdom of Chaos), card battler (Cardinal Arc: Konton no Fuusatsu/Neverland Card Battles), & hack-&-slash (Bakuen Kakusei Neverland Senki Zero/Realm of the Dead)... So why not also a 2D fighting game?


Traditionally, Idea Factory developed its own games for IF Neverland, though it did team with Taiwan's XPEC Entertainment for three games (Black Stone: Magic & Steel/Ex-Chaser, Spectral Force Chronicle, & Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage), but I guess making a fighting game was just beyond its staff's skills, so for this genre the company teamed with Taiwan's International Games System. By this time, IGS had found some slight notoriety with the PolyGame Master, a Neo Geo-esque arcade system that earned some fans via the beat-em-up series Knights of Valour & the (now) hyper-cult-classic fighting game Martial Masters. The result of this Idea Factory/IGS team-up is 2005's Spectral vs. Generation for the PGM, making it the only arcade game to come from Idea Factory; it saw distribution by AMI, which also distributed Cave's shooters during the 00s. Unlike most other PGM games, though, SvG did see home ports onto the PlayStation 2 & PSP in 2006, both of which actually saw English release in Europe by Midas Interactive Entertainment in 2007, even though Europe had yet to receive any IF Neverland games at all at that point; first God Bless Dancouga, now this. Considering how iconic the works of Capcom & SNK were by this point, let alone newer companies like Arc System Works making their marks, let's see what IGS was able to do with Idea Factory's cast of fantasy war generals.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen: Can Anybody Find Me Someangel to Love?

Following the (not really a) finale of the Seijuu Kourin Hen anime in June of 2003, the Saint Beast series went into overdrive with the debut of the drama CDs... And there were a ton of them. Up first was (the simply titled) Saint Beast that July, which I would guess told the story that the anime was setting up, and told four overall stories across nine volumes. After that would come 2005's Saint Beast: Yukyuu no Sho -Rakuen Soshitsu-/Eternal Chapter -Lost Paradise-, which told another four stories across three more volumes, & 2006's Saint Beast: Onshu no Sho -Seijuu Fuuin-/Chaplain Chapter -The Holy Beast Sealing-, which was yet another four stories across three volumes. This isn't even counting the Comedy Drama & Another Drama "extra story" drama CD series that debuted in 2004, which added another 12 stories across four more volumes; that's already 19 individual drama CDs! I'm only going to hope that the various seiyuu involved got paid very well for their hard work.


Anyway, in between the 2005 & 2006 drama CD series, Wonderfarm also managed to squeeze in a second anime production. This time around would be Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen/Thousands of Days & Nights Chapter, a two-episode OVA that saw release in December of 2005 & March of 2006. Unlike the prior TV series, though, this short OVA wouldn't be animated by Tokyo Kids, which was likely busy making the Magikano TV anime at the time. Instead, Wonderfarm would bring in the venerable Madhouse for animation production, which is much more renowned for delivering great visuals than Tokyo Kids. So let's see if Viewster made a mistake by not getting the streaming rights to this short prequel.

One stormy night at the mansion, Gou has a nightmare where he recalls the attempted coup Judas & Luka tried pulling on Zeus, God of Heaven. He wakes up & decides to look out the window, recalling the old days in Heaven, back when Zeus transformed him & his fellow generation of angels into adulthood, when he & Gai met Shin & Rei, & when Heaven was in a seeming age of happiness. Still, even then there were angels who still sinned, & unbeknownst to him & his friends, there were various dirty deeds either about to be done or have already been done, like Judas asking Zeus to punish sinful angels or even the potential that Zeus & his confidant Lucifer may have conspired to kill Cronus, Zeus' father & the prior God, so that Zeus could claim the throne for himself.