Let’s Make an Anime About Vampires and Werewolves, Except Without Vampires and Werewolves

 Anime, Darker Than Black, Games  Comments Off on Let’s Make an Anime About Vampires and Werewolves, Except Without Vampires and Werewolves
Nov 282011

Kinda surprised that I hadn’t seen this Darkstalkers anime before now. I love the video game it’s based on, since it’s a mash-up of Street Fighter and old school monster movies. I guess I avoided it since it’s one of those dreaded video game to anime adaptations. Those things almost always suck.

And you know what? This one sucks too! Way to keep the trend going, Darkstalkers!

It isn’t a completely suckfest, though. There’s some genuinely cool bits in this series. The fights, which are few and far between, are well animated. And they’re especially cool in that they lift moves straight from the fighting game without making it feel forced. It all melds together into generally cohesive action scenes, with Morrigan, Felicia, Demitri, and the like tossing fireballs and doing their versions of dragon punches and all that. Unfortunately the best fight comes right at the beginning of the series, where Morrigan and Demitri face off. After that, the fights slow down, and when they do happen they tend to be pretty abrupt. They still look good at least.

And while the actual plot behind their motivations is all but non-existent, the main villains are pretty cool. The Huitzil robots were placed on Earth by an alien civilization, and they awaken whenever life on Earth reaches an apex. When they awaken, they basically act as an extinction event, wiping out most life on Earth and allowing it to effectively “reset.” And I always dug their Mesoamerican look. They’re, like, fertility god robots that shoot lasers.

Pyron, the big bad, has a cool backstory as well. He’s another alien entity, and it’s implied that he’s the mythical “sun-god” that all of said deities on Earth are based upon. His arrival on Earth is essentially his “second coming,” and he’s here to judge us… through what amounts to a Dragonball Z styled fighting tournament of sorts.

This is one reason why this OVA sucks. Pyron has this cool story to him, but he devolves into Cell from DBZ. He’s on Earth to find a worthy opponent, so that he can experience a genuine, satisfying victory before he destroys the planet. He goes around, challenging the various Darkstalker characters, and kills them. It all plays out exactly like a DBZ arc.

If that were the only problem with the story, I probably wouldn’t mind. If we got to see this pseudo-tournament play out over the course of the OVA’s four episodes, it’d probably be silly fun. But Darkstalkers has more on its mind. It doesn’t want to be a mere fighting anime about aliens and vampires and werecreatures. It wants to touch on the human condition. Or, rather, the demi-human, half-Darkstalker condition.

At least half of the series is devoted to Donovan. He’s your Vampire Hunter D/Blade sort– half-Darkstalker, half-human, all angst. He’s supposed to be some badass monk type, decked out in huge Buddhist beads and carrying around a huge sword that he can fly on like the Silver Surfer, but he spends all of his time spouting variations of the same monologue. His Darkstalker blood is bad, but he wants to be good, so he kills Darkstalkers, but he’s still hollow, oh woe is Donovan, why can’t he just be human. The only thing keeping him from being straight out of Twilight is that he only has fatherly feelings towards his underaged companion, a little demon girl named Anita who has whatever super power the story finds convenient at the moment.

So while the world is falling apart at the hands of two invading alien forces, we ignore all of that and follow Donovan around as he waxes philosophically about his existence. Sure, he fights Bishamon, the samurai zombie ghost thing from the video games, but that fight ends with Donovan’s altruism confounding the spirit. Yeah, Donovan is SO DEEP that he makes ghosts blow up with his thoughtfulness.

What makes all of this even worse is that the series begins with some promise. Not only was the initial fight between Morrigan and Demitri cool, it also sets things up to where Demitri is going to invade the Demon World and claim its throne. It’s a simple set-up, but it was the perfect platform to allow for all sorts of crazy Darkstalker on Darkstalker combat. The monsters could have chosen sides, with some going with “I’m just M. Bison as a Vampire” Demitri and the others going with Morrigan. Instead, the series brought in the two bosses from the original video game to act as antagonists and completely dropped the Morrigan/Demitri conflict in favor of Donovan’s mope quest.

And I wanna talk about Morrigan for a moment. Considering that she’s the sexpot poster girl for the series, I was shocked at the general lack of fanservice centering around her. The series portrays her as a soft-spoken but dignified leader who can kick ass. She could have been a genuinely compelling heroine if the series didn’t choose to forget about her.

So yeah, I was expecting this to be an orgy of vampire-on-frankenstein-on-succubus-on-mummy-on-whatever fighting. Instead, the series focused on all the wrong things. It isn’t incompetent the way some other fighting game anime can be. It sucked because it didn’t want to be a fighting game anime.

World Heroes

 Games, Video Games, World Heroes  Comments Off on World Heroes
Oct 272011

Back in those mythical days of the early 90′s, where I roamed the aisles of arcades like some sort of ravenous predator looking for its latest prey, my ultimate goal was to find “The Next Street Fighter.” It was pretty evident that we weren’t gonna get a “proper” Street Fighter 3 anytime soon, since all we got were minute changes that resulted in increasingly ridiculous adjectives being tacked behind the Two in SF’s title. So while I still loved my Chun Lis and my E Hondas, I wanted that game that would up the stakes and be just as badass as SF2 was the first time I played it.

When I first played World Heroes, I thought I found that game. Then I literally beat the damn thing on the first token I spent on it.

So yeah, World Heroes wasn’t that next evolution in fighting game shit. In retrospect it was little more than a mediocre SF wannabe released at the peak of that period of time when everyone wanted to jump the bandwagon. But like another “lesser” fighting game, Street Fighter EX, I have a hell of a lot of affection for the damn thing. Call it fighting game hipsterdom turned into genuine, non-ironic nostalgia.

Despite the fact that I was able to beat the whole game on a single toke the first time I played it, and despite its now-obvious mediocrity, for a brief amount of time I really did prefer the game over Street Fighter and its more well-known competitors such as Mortal Kombat. I think I can chalk that up to how damn silly the game was.

Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and the other copycats that were released in ’92 and ’93 were all pretty straight-laced. Dan was years away from appearing in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat had yet to lapse into self-parody with Friendships and the like, and we hadn’t been subjected to the likes of Power Instinct with its denture-tossing old granny character. The genre was still pretty new, so it had yet to try to mock itself. And World Heroes may have been the first.

The question is whether said parody was intentional or not. I have no fucking clue.

The plot of the game is pretty standard. Fighters from across the world are brought together to compete with one another in a tournament, and said tournament’s ultimate purpose is to find someone strong enough to defeat some evil robot thing that wants to destroy the Earth. For whatever reason, said fighters are assembled from different time periods. I guess they’re going for the greatest warriors of all time rather than just depending on fighters alive right now (“right now” equalling 1992, that is). Hey, if you have T-1000-styled robot end bosses, you can have time travel too.

And who do you get to gather these dudes? Dr. Brown. As in Doc Brown from Back to the Future. For reals. He isn’t a playable character, unfortunately, but the character who gathers everyone together in the story is named Dr. Brown and he looks exactly like Christopher Lloyd’s character. And the peeps that he gathers are supposed to be based on historical figures. Like Janne, the chick with the sword from the first picture. She’s supposed to be a riff on Joan of Arc, but the only similarities between the two of them begin and end with “French sword chick.” Joan of Arc fought the English and got burned at the stake. Jeanne travels around with a circus and laughs like Kodachi from Ranma 1/2. But she’s still supposed to be Joan of Arc.

That’s World Heroes’ charm, if you wanna put it that way. It goes for this “Civilization the Fighting Game” vibe, but then it rapes historical accuracy. Rasputin is made into a magician who can create giant magical hands and who creates rainbows and flowers when he wins all while having a maniacal laugh. Other historical peeps, like Genghis Khan and Erik the Red, get off fairly easily, although Khan is turned into what amounts to a Blanka ripoff style-wise. And other characters are based off of historical stereotypes rather than specific people. The Ken and Ryu of the game are stereotypical anime-styled ninjas, for instance, while Brocken is a German soldier who’s clearly a Nazi (but never called such) if the Nazis created Inspector Gadget.

And it was those crazy quirks that made me dig World Heroes at the time. It may have been insanely easy, and few people may have lined up to play it in arcades, but I would flock to it first rather than Street Fighter for a period of time. And the game got crazier as time went on. The sequel introduced characters like an evil football player and one of my all-time favorite fighting game characters: Mudman. Mudman’s an extremely stereotypical Pacific islander, complete with tribal mask, who fights by summoning cute little spirits that he hurls around as projectiles and shit. He’s insane in all the right ways, and he’s the sort of fighting game character we haven’t seen before or since style-wise.

The game also has some gameplay quirks that made it stand out for me. You can play the game normally or you can play it in “death match” style. In these death matches, traps pop up all around you, and you have to worry about the environment just as much as you have to worry about your opponent. But what makes this mode awesome is the seesaw style health meter.

You don’t get your traditional health meter in this mode. Instead, there’s one long meter stretching across the screen with a bar starting dead center. Every time your opponent takes damage, the bar moves closer to his side of the screen, while every time you take damage the bar moves closer to your side of the screen. If the bar ever reaches the end of your side of the screen, you lose, and if the time runs out before either character is KOed, whoever has the bar on their side of the screen looses. So you might take an insane amount of damage from a combo, and might be right on the brink of being KOed, but you always have the chance to turn the table. It makes matches that much more tense, especially since you have to watch out for those spinning blades, land mines, and death lasers. I’d love to see a mode like that inserted into a modern era game, like the SF4 series or one of the King of Fighters games.

Despite all of these quirks that appealed to me, the game never really caught on. Some of the characters appeared in SNK compilations, like Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, and apparently there was a World Heroes manga that lasted for several years that starred Jeanne, but that was about it. It never got the sort of revivals that fellow Neo Geo fighters Fatal Fury and King of Fighters got over the years. I would flip over a HD remake of World Heroes 2. But that’s one of those “It’ll only happen if I win the lotto” situations.

I need to win the lotto.

I Wanna Live in a World Where Haggar AND Zangief can Co-exist

 Final Fight, Games, Video Games  Comments Off on I Wanna Live in a World Where Haggar AND Zangief can Co-exist
Jul 252011

Seriously, Capcom, what is with you and your denial of such a beautiful would-be friendship?

Yeah, I get that they’re essentially carbon copies of one another. Haggar was busting out Spinning Lariats and piledriving dudes before Zangief came around, but when Street Fighter got made someone decided to jack all of Haggar’s badass moves and give them to some massive mountain of a commie bear wrestler. They even do the same jumping splash/bodyslam thing where they basically look like a kid jumping belly first onto their bed after being yelled at all day at school.

They do the same shit, so they’re essentially redundant.

But fuck that, Capcom. You’ve gotten away with the palate swap for ages with Ken, Ryu, Akuma, Gouken, Sakura, Dan, Batsu, and half the cast of Street Fighter EX. You’re totally down with the Shotoclones. Yet when it comes to pro wrestling you insist on diversity.

First there was Saturday Night Slam Masters. This was your first opportunity to bust out this potentially legendary rivalry, but while you opted to give Haggar some screen time, you chose to create an entirely new Russian wrestler to act as one of the game’s protagonists. I guess I can forgive you in this instance, since you were trying to create an entirely new franchise. Haggar was just a token reference to an older game. I’m down with that. Zangief’s absence is OK.

Then the Alpha series came about. The first game wasn’t too bad, since this was our first taste of the Final Fight and Street Fighter universes mixing. We saw Guy fighting along side Ken, Ryu, and Chun-Li. And you even tossed in Sodom, a pretty obscure (but pretty damn iconic, image-wise) boss dude from Final Fight. This got us Capcom fanboys all excited about potential match-ups between characters from both games, and one of the first pairings to come to mind was Haggar and Zangief. We already knew they were knock-0ffs of one another, but we liked that. We’re the ones that embraced the Shotoclone Army. We’re down with it.

Alpha 2 came along after that, and you tossed Zangief into the mix. The only new Final Fight addition to that game was Rolento, but that was perfectly fine. We were all distracted by Sakura’s awesomeness to be too concerned with missing out on our Haggar/Zangief dream match.

Such wasn’t the case with Alpha 3. It might not have been bad if there was a dearth of Final Fight characters in Alpha 3– it woulda been a missed opportunity rather than an outright betrayal. But lo and behold– motherfucking Cody appears!

Now I’m down with Cody. Back when Final Fight came out I was a big Cody fan, of only because I preferred his “balanced” fighting style over Guy’s speed and Haggar’s slow power. But you took a hell of a lot of effort to redesign Cody for Alpha 3. He was no longer the clean cut boyish protagonist type that he was in Final Fight. He was transformed into a thugish criminal who escaped from prison and “challenged” himself by fighting while still in handcuffs.

Capcom, you took the time to make Cody a unique character so that he could co-exist in the Street Fighter universe, yet you refused to even touch Haggar. You wouldn’t change up his fighting style a bit so he wouldn’t be a direct copy of Zangief. Instead you decided to make Rainbow Mika, a stupidly-proportioned wrestler chick who looked like she belonged in fucking Tenjo Tenge rather than Street Fighter. That’s what we got instead of Haggar. Fuck you.

Other potential chances to play off of this came and went, but they didn’t have as much of an impact as Alpha 3. We saw Hugo in Street Fighter 3 2nd Impact, but neither “original” wrestler was in sight. Rather, we got to see Hugo’s massive girth and transvestite lovin’ go up against Alex and his “new” style of “I can actually move faster than a rock” wrestling. Seeing two well-executed styles of command throws and the like made me yearn for that Zangief/Haggar dream match, but it was easier to take when both were absent.

Then came Super Street Fighter 4. Not only were Guy and Cody back, but you decided to taunt us by giving Zangief a Haggar costume. You knew that we want this match, Capcom, and you reveled in rubbing that salt into our 360 degree wounds. You showed us that you hadn’t forgotten the past, but you wanted to watch us squirm. You even had the balls to charge us for this alternate costume. While I can appreciate such an evil deed, as I do love a good maniacal laugh, this was too much.

But I held out hope. When Marvel vs Capcom 3 was announced and Haggar was on the roster, I assumed that this dream was coming true. Zangief had been in every single VS game up to this point. There was no way in hell he would be left out of MvC3. That’s just not how the world works. I got that y’all were trying to make each character play in a unique manner so as to avoid the “half these dudes play exactly the same” vibe of MvC2, but I assumed that meant Haggar would finally get that revision he shoulda gotten back in the Alpha days.

And again, Capcom, you writhe your hands in sadistic satisfaction. Zangief is nowhere in sight. Not only did he not appear in MvC3, he was neither a downloadable character nor one of the new characters mentioned for Ultimate MvC3.

What is it about this pairing that makes you so afraid, Capcom? Why do you cringe at the notion of these two joining forces and putting the Saturday Night Slam down on all those Shotokans and juggling comboers? The world needs this. These are desperate times, and all of the world’s ills would be solved if a pro wrestling mayor and a man who can crush a bear were to be united by fate.

RPG Making

 Anime, Games, Level E, RPG Maker, Video Games  Comments Off on RPG Making
Feb 142011

Ugliness, mean-spirited comedy, hot space alien assassin teachers with green skin, and now RPG Maker references? Level E is my Valentine this year.

Back in the day, around 2000 or 2001, I downloaded that legendary PC program known as RPG Maker. Being a college dude who never did his homework until it was absolutely necessary and had a measly part-time job that didn’t take much time out of anything, I had plenty of time to fuck around with that program. Same with a bunch of my online friends, so we had a short-lived RPG Maker party going on.

Being the kind of person that I am, mine ended up being one part Earthbound (I used the fanmade Earthbound tile sets.) and one part cynical , bitter comedy. The game starts with the main character, who just happens to be based on myself, getting sucked into an anime-like fantasy world. He ends up in a suburban neighborhood in this anime world and runs into a tentacle monster. The monster tries to be friendly, since he’s just a dude that lives in the neighborhood, but the main dude passes out in fear. When he comes to, the main character finds himself inside the tentacle monster’s house. Thinking he’s been kidnapped and is about to be raped by said tentacle monster, the dude lashes out and gets into a fight with the monster. It’s only after he murders the tentacle monster that the main dude realizes he just killed some innocent dude off the street. He feigns sadness as the tentacle monster dies in his arms, only to steal the dude’s wallet after he dies and runs off. He spends the rest of the game on the run from the law while picking up his friends (Who have also been sucked into this anime world) and trying to find a way home.

Or at least he would have gone on said quest if I got past the first few major encounters. I got distracted by other fanboy nonsense after I did a major encounter where the main dude and his party take down a mob boss who was a giant slime. I’d go back and screw around with it, but that was ten years and three computers ago. The game’s long since lost in space and time.

So yeah, the Prince has good taste. He’s no sissy forcing the kids into a dating sim, and he’s no lameass modern gamer who thinks he’s cool and tough for playing the latest iteration of Call of Modern Halo Theft of War. Old school, grindfest, 8-bit, princess-saving RPGs are where it’s at. We just need metal slimes instead of balls-out Moai statues with legs. Are you telling us something there, Prince? Is that what you like? Oh my.

Lonely Rolling Star

 Anime, Games, Katamari Damacy, Level E, Video Games  Comments Off on Lonely Rolling Star
Jan 252011

NaNaaaaaaaaaa NaNaNa NaNa NaNa Katamari Level EEEEEEEEEEEE!

So yeah, what do you do when you have all the power in the universe, seemingly god-like parents who will back up whatever choices you make because they rule over vast swaths of the galaxy, and every single alien in space in your pocket? Do you go about spreading goodwill and prosperity to lesser planets or do you go to said lesser planets and fuck their shit up because that’s an awesome thing to do?

The answer should be pretty obvious. No one’ll remember that dude that went about life peacefully doling out the goods and not asking for anything in return. Even messiah figures demand  your loyal obedience to whatever force they represent in exchange for their salvation. If you wanna be remembered, you gotta grandstand, and if you gotta grandstand you may as well go balls out with it.

I kinda saw this coming, but yeah, I decided to put my money on something a bit more sedated and devious. I had a feeling that the Prince was screwing around and deliberately trying to start shit with the aliens on Earth, but I didn’t count on the whole thing being a huge prank/con job (Next time I hear someone refer to all of this as a “troll” I’ll scream.) to alleviate his boredom. Yeah, fucking over his underlings and a few hapless backwater humans is pretty chaotic neutral and all, but hardly sinister or evil or whatever. And that’s what makes this so awesome.

The Prince is like Kafuka from Zetsubou-sensei or The King of All Cosmos from Katamari Damacy– he’s someone gifted with far too much insight and power and has nothing better to do with his power than start shit up. He doesn’t have an agenda beyond his personal amusement, and I find these sorts of “villains” far more interesting than those with personal motivations behind their actions. The unexplainable is far more frightening and troubling than something we can quantify. When a villain poses and monologues about why he’s about ready to start an intergalactic war with Earth as its epicenter, all of the bad shit going down has been grounded in your mind. Yeah, either way you’re fucked, but at least you have that solace in your mind that you know what’s coming and why it’s coming. When you’re dealing with someone that doesn’t it “just because,” you don’t get that relief, and I find that a far more terrifying prospect.

And when you turn all of that existential fear and loathing into a comedy, then you’re rolling in the golden funniness. And really, isn’t all comedy about seeing the misfortunes of others and laughing at how they can’t control said misfortune? By ramping up the chaos with that sense of “what the fuck is going on here,” you’re making it all the more hilarious.

So yeah, the gods fucking with us is the height of comedy. Give us more. Maybe the Prince’ll get drunk next episode and blow up all of the stars in the universe, forcing baseball dude and his gal pal to roll up cats and bikes and houses to create new stars.