Archive for August, 2009

Ultimate crossover: The Disney-Marvel deal

August 31st, 2009
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Okay, so the big news today is that Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion. And they didn’t even wait until Wednesday, traditionally new comics day at comics stores, to pull the trigger on the deal!

The merger has an immense number of possibilities. High School Musical 4: Ultimate Spider-Man Edition, written by Brian Michael Bendis? Hellooooooo, profits! But when I first heard the news, a few other ideas immediately sprung to mind, ones more suited to Otaku Ohana’s otaku-based roots. DisVel (or should it be MarNey?), if you use any of these ideas, my royalty fees are negotiable.

Imagine this cover, except with a whole bunch more characters on it.Marvel vs. Capcom vs. Disney vs. Pixar vs. Ghibli vs. Squenix: New New NEW Age of Heroes. Pit Team John Ratzenberger (Monsters Inc.’s Abominable Snowman, A Bug’s Life’s P.T. Flea, The Incredibles’ Underminer) against Team Incredibly Overhyped (Ryu, Wolverine, Sephiroth)! How would Team Cute (Kairi, Totoro, Tron Bonne with a legion of Servbots) fare against Team Technically Dead But We Keep Bringing Back These Characters Because Fans Love ‘Em So Much (Charlie, Aerith, Captain America)? Perhaps you’d like to see how Team Fluttering Capes (Vincent Valentine, Darkwing Duck, Dr. Doom) would fare against the Fireballin’ Fools (Howl with Calcifer, Akuma, the Human Torch)! Or engage the new Battle Royale mode and choose as many of the 1,065 characters to battle it out as you wish! The only problem is that I picture something like the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 opening sequence, where the characters appearing in the game go scrolling past — with a game like MvCvDvPvGvS, this scroll would take at least 15 minutes to complete. Oh, and the Sentinel would still be a horrifically unbalanced character who crushes any opponent that faces him.

This cover image does not convey how convoluted Kingdom Hearts' backstory gets.Kingdom Hearts 3: Age of Apocalypse Over 358/2 Days. The Heartless become a minor concern to Keyblade wielders when Apocalypse comes to Traverse Town and promptly toasts everything to a nice extra tasty crispy blackened husk. Now, Sora and his friends must hop onto the Avengers’ Quinjet (because come on, gummi ships are sooooooo 2007) and battle this Ultimate Evil Who Threatens the Universe for the 5,120,391,879,291th time in a Japanese RPG-esque game. In the process, they’ll also travel to worlds they never imagined they’d see: New York City! Latveria! Professor Charles Xavier’s mansion! Whatever alternate universe Peter Porker, the Amazing Spider-Ham, lives in! And through it all, Sora will discover the true meaning of friendship and love. At least, that’s what I think he learns … the franchise’s back story got really confusing after Chain of Memories. But hey, Organization XIII and Wolverine make appearances … helloooooooo, fanboy/fangirl merchandising opportunities! (Oh, and here’s a spoiler alert: Goofy and Donald Duck die but are replaced by Neo-Goofy — Goofy’s son Max from Goof Troop dressed up in the hat and overalls costume — and The Don, an amalgamation of Huey, Dewey and Louie infused with mutant shape-shifting superpowers.)

Marvel's Nausicaa also would be a bit more ... *top-heavy*, I fear.The dream creator crossover. Okay, so this one seems highly unlikely considering how Disney only distributes what Studio Ghibli puts out and doesn’t have any say in the studio’s creative process. And former “Make Mine Marvel” true believer Stan Lee’s been more of a free agent for hire as of late.  But just imagine the possibilities of … Hayao Miyazaki Presents: The X-Men. Or how about What If … Stan Lee Wrote Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind?!? Granted, the former would take Marvel’s merry mutants and pit them against forces of an environment slowly being destroyed by mankind’s pollution and oh my pizza we must do something before it’s too late, soot sprites would make their long-awaited return cameo in the Danger Room, and Beast would be a giant Totoro. And the latter would probably toss all hints of subtlety in favor of more “BIFFS!” “POWS!” and “BAWHOOOOOOMS.” But hey, it’s fun to speculate about such things, right?

Sucked in by a diabolical game

August 27th, 2009
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There probably has been no game in recent memory that I was as frantic to get my hands on as “Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box” for the Nintendo DS, the sequel to the first game, “Professor Layton and the Curious Village.” This was perhaps partially fueled by the titillating message in the back of the instruction book of “Curious Village,” promising “Top Secret” content in that game by getting a code that would be in the sequel. After THAT most provocative note, there likely would have been riots if “Diabolical Box” hadn’t been released, especially considering how excruciatingly long it took for Nintendo just to announce the sequel for the U.S. — “Curious Village” was released stateside in early 2007 and news of “Diabolical Box” broke just earlier this year, in March.

The last game that made me go ballistic at trying to get my hands on a copy right on the day of release was “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” way back on the Nintendo 64. Not even the greatly anticipated, trilogy-ending (supposedly) “Halo 3″ caused me to torment myself as much as I did over “Layton,” counting down the days to its release and then subsequently checking various web sites and store advertisements like mad the day before, trying to determine which place on the island was likely to get the game in on the day of release and actually have it IN STOCK before I started my work shift. (Most places were anticipating having it in between 1 pm and 5 pm. And being on an afternoon work schedule, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to any store before they closed for the day, which would thus force me to patiently wait for them to open the next day and be without my precious “Layton” for another 12 more hours — an entire TWELVE HOURS that I could be solving the game’s puzzles! — a course that was COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE to me.)

On the morning of the game’s release day, I had only enough time to hit a couple of stores, neither of which had them in. (I arrived at the second store, which shall remain unnamed, JUST after the UPS truck pulled away from its door. The clerk still  insisted that the game would be available at 5 pm, which apparently one of its ads had said. At this point it was only around 11 am. I was forced to declare defeat.) I was ready to put into action a plan for heading off to Ala Moana Center during my dinner break later in my shift when lo and behold, Jason Y. showed up with “Layton” in hand, thus saving me from my drastic course. (The crazy irony of this all was that while the two of us earlier were plotting out which stores to try to hit up in our limited pre-work hours, it ultimately turned out that the store that had it in on time was the GameStop closest to my house — a store that we had deemed rather UNLIKELY to have it in due to shipping schedules and previous precedent. Talk about flukes.)

And so the game is now in my eager hands and in my DS. For those who don’t know what it’s about, “Diabolical Box” stars the namesake Professor Hershel Layton and his young apprentice, Luke, as they set out to solve the mystery of a curious relic called the Elysian Box, which is rumored to kill anyone who dares to open it. The two of them are drawn into the case after the professor’s friend and mentor, Dr. Andrew Schrader, comes to an unfortunate end while on the trail of the box himself.

What originally drew me to the “Layton” series was the numerous brainteasers that are thrown at you, many of which must be solved in order for you to advance in the game. (The puzzles were created under the direction of puzzle master professor emeritus Akira Tago of Chiba University in Japan, so you can expect to be in for some serious brain-twisting at times.)

Anyway. I’ve been playing “Diabolical Box” (according to the game clock) for only about 4 hours, during about the first 15 minutes of which I remembered why in heaven’s name I wanted to kill the original “Curious Village” so badly after just a short while. The puzzles came up fast and furious in “Curious Village,” and they seem even MORE so in its sequel. While you could count on the residents in the original village of St. Mystere to be the main ones to put our noggins to the test, with relatively few puzzles hidden here and there when you touched an errant item, in “Diabolical Box,” there’s far more of the latter in addition to the former. I found this out when, vaguely remembering my lessons from the first game, I would tap the screen like mad trying to find hint coins (which can be used to buy hints if you’re stuck on a puzzle) and was instead mostly rewarded by the most innocent-looking things throwing a puzzle at me. A cat statue? Why, it reminds Luke of a puzzle involving cats! A tree along a path? There’s this puzzle with trees that Layton recalls! The door to the town hall?! Layton has just such a puzzle regarding three mayoral candidates! And it continues on.

By around the fourth screen I was already dreading the familiar red exclamation mark that pops up whenever you tap on someone or something that will give you a puzzle to solve, with many impolite exclamations of my own often accompanying it. And the brainteasers are more smoothly written into casual conversation in “Diabolical Box,” which ironically multiples the annoyance factor for me. For example, one person you come across is fishing at the edge of a lake and Luke strikes up conversation, asking if the fishing has been good. The man wonders how exactly he’s been doing, and before you know it up pops the dreaded “PUZZLE!” screen and now you have to figure out how many fish are in the guy’s net.

Information — even something as simple as an answer to the question “So how’re the fish biting?” — has never been so DIFFICULT to obtain. This oldie-but-goodie Penny Arcade cartoon (be warned when clicking on the link, because the comic does contain strong language), although it was based on the first “Layton” game, still perfectly captures my fast-mounting frustration. Though thank heaven so far there aren’t as many math-based problems in “Diabolical Box” as there were in the first game. At least, not yet.

Because of the constant deluge of puzzles (perhaps made more intolerable by my general seeming inability to solve them rapidly), the game’s story has so far been going along slowly. But I also tend to stop and doggedly tackle all brainteasers that I come across, whether or not they’re required to moving the story along. (Don’t worry, nonessential and nonhidden puzzles that you miss in a story chapter are sent to Granny Riddleton’s Shack, for you to complete at a later time at your leisure.) There is now included a nifty “Memo” feature that pulls up a transparent screen over the puzzle so you can doodle as much as you want on top of it, although there’s no way to selectively erase parts of what you write (there’s only an option to clear the entire screen) and any notes you make will be deleted if you decide to quit out of the puzzle without solving it.

Despite the puzzle panic, I’m still enjoying it. It really is the game’s story that captured my attention to the end in the first game, in addition to the excellent voice acting and amazing animated cut scenes, and “Diabolical Box” is shaping up to be the same. Lots of secrets are hinted at, not only with the Elysian Box but also other matters that may or may not be connected to it. St. Mystere had such an incredible secret behind it that led to even more incredible happenings, and I have no doubt that the second game’s town of Dropstone will hold equally astonishing surprises. In addition, there are some rather fascinating mini games, a couple of which could possibly turn out quite tedious but which I’m still eager to have a go at playing.

Plus, in the instruction book, there’s a copy of the ticket to the Molentary Express train that the professor discovered at Dr. Schrader’s house. Could this be a clue to the Elysian Box? It has no destination written on it, but it’s obviously some kind of puzzle — one that must be physically manipulated to solve. I stared at the ticket for a few minutes and tried a few things before deciding to set it aside and solve it later, perhaps after I’ve gotten a hint within the game.

There are already three games out in the series in Japan, with 3 more planned to create a new trilogy. For the LOVE of DEITY, Nintendo, bring them to the U.S. also! With far less dead time in between! Especially since “Diabolical Box” is also promising secret content to be unlocked by a code that will be found in the next game! What a diabolical way to snare people, as I have obviously been.

Maoh: Juvenile Remix, note by note

August 26th, 2009
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Pg. 1-3: “He who fights with monsters should be careful,
lest he thereby become a monster himself. And if thou
gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into
thee.” — quote that will probably play a big role in
this series sooner or later.
Pg. 6: Ando (11th grader): could use ESP as a kid.(At least, that’s what he claims. Just kidding? Yup, just kidding.
But he *believed* he could use it. (Would think things
and other people would complete his thoughts)
Ando fixates on “do not eat” packet??? Why? And then he
goes on a long monologue about evolution/growth of man
through breaking laws and taboos? Weeeeird … (And
others certainly feel the same way …)
Tries to blend in with others. “I haven’t made the wrong
choices. This is the best I can hope for.” Great –
another otherwise shy kid who’ll come into his own and
discover something about himself and his latent powers in
the progress.
And now … 10TH GRADER JUNYA ANDO~~!!! (He must be a key
character based on the big boxed-out intro.) Junya gets
call from Shiori? Guess she’s his girlfriend, Junya’s
brother of Ando.
Ooh, gang of bullies attack! Junya upset. Ando wants to
calm him down.
DRAMATIC 2-PAGE SPREAD! Group led by either a woman or a
bishonen. Can never tell these days.
… aaaaand it’s a bishie. Inukai. Who snaps cell phone
pic of guy with bat. Inukai is with Grasshopper,
“vigilante squad made up of dreamers.” Inukai is a man
who speaks in flowery phrases: “It is my dream to make
this city beautiful,” “As long as you believe in yourself
and tackle the issue head-on, you can even change the
world.”
Deal: Crack Inukai in head with bat, gang will leave.
Inukai agrees; crack. And Inukai answers his phone
without any ill effects. Apparently knows everything
about the gangster (Taro “Cat” Nakamura), too.
Inukai is very … *convincing*. Nakamura turns and
leaves.
(Inukai is leader of Grasshopper.)
Ando is the anti-confrontation person; don’t take risks.
Disagrees with Inukai’s stance to willingly get face
smashed in.
Later: train scene. guy gropes girl (panty fanservice!),
then accuses her of lying about it. Junya wants to help;
Ando, as usual, wants to resist. At first, anyway. But
desire to help girl (and strong sense of justice) wins
out.
He thinks of something for her to say … she says it.
And then a psychic flash makes her say a WHOLE buncha
things.
Later: Ando seeks out Inukai. Return of Nakamura! Return
of Inukai! Kick-a**ery! And Inukai spouts more flowery
prose.
… maaaaan, I hope this series gets better, andMost fast.

Many of the anime and manga I write about fall into two broad categories: series that I know about already and have fallen in love (or hate) with by the time I get around to writing up full reviews, and series that I know nothing about aside from the fact that they exist and someone thought highly enough of them to bring them over stateside for English translation. For the latter series, I often find myself jotting down comprehensive notes so that (a) I can keep track of who’s who (a difficult task sometimes when an artist draws characters that look similar to one another) and (b) I can add in suitably snarky or complimentary comments whenever the situation warrants.

Many of those comments ultimately never make it into the final drafts of my reviews. But as I was working on an upcoming profile of the English Shonen Sunday series posted online — specifically, while I was reading the first chapter of Maoh: Juvenile Remix today — I came to realize that my notes for this chapter in particular could end up being more interesting than the final review itself. So here’s a rare look at the thought process behind my reviews courtesy of my raw Maoh notes. Page numbers correspond to the version of Maoh posted online, for those of you who want to play along at home:

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Pg. 1-3: “He who fights with monsters should be careful, lest he thereby become a monster himself. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” — quote that will probably play a big role in this series sooner or later.

Pg. 6: Ando (11th grader): could use ESP as a kid. (At least, that’s what he claims.) Just kidding? Yup, just kidding. But he *believed* he could use it. (Would think things and other people would complete his thoughts)

Pg. 12: Ando fixates on “do not eat” packet??? Why? And then he goes on a long monologue about evolution/growth of man through breaking laws and taboos? Weeeeird … (And others certainly feel the same way …)

Pg. 14: Tries to blend in with others. “I haven’t made the wrong choices. This is the best I can hope for.” Great – another otherwise shy kid who’ll come into his own and discover something about himself and his latent powers in the process.

Pg. 16: And now … 10TH GRADER JUNYA ANDO~~!!! (He must be a key character based on the big box-out intro.) Junya gets call from Shiori? Guess she’s his girlfriend, and Junya’s brother of Ando.

Pg. 18: Ooh, gang of bullies attack! Junya upset. Ando wants to calm him down.

Pg. 20-21: DRAMATIC 2-PAGE SPREAD! Group led by either a woman or a bishonen. Can never tell these days.

Pg. 22: … aaaaand it’s a bishie. Inukai. Who snaps cell phone pic of guy with bat. Inukai is with Grasshopper, “vigilante squad made up of dreamers.” Inukai is a man who speaks in flowery phrases: “It is my dream to make this city beautiful,” “As long as you believe in yourself and tackle the issue head-on, you can even change the world.” Aaaaauuuugggh … not another one of these enigmatic leader-types …

Pg. 26: Deal: Crack Inukai in head with bat, gang will leave. Inukai agrees; crack. And Inukai answers his phone without any ill effects. Apparently knows everything about the gangster (Taro “Cat” Nakamura), too.

Pg. 30: Inukai is very … *convincing*. Nakamura turns and leaves. (Inukai is leader of Grasshopper.)

Pg. 33: Ando is the anti-confrontation person; don’t take risks. Disagrees with Inukai’s stance to willingly get face smashed in.

Pg. 34: Later: train scene. Guy gropes girl (hello, panty fanservice!), then accuses her of lying about it. Junya wants to help; Ando, as usual, wants to resist. At first, anyway. But desire to help girl (and strong sense of justice) wins out.

Pg. 43-44: He thinks of something for her to say … she says it. And then a psychic flash makes her say a WHOLE buncha things.

Pg. 53: Later: Ando seeks out Inukai. Return of Nakamura! Return of Inukai! Kick-a**ery! And Inukai spouts more flowery prose.

… maaaaan, I hope this series gets better, and fast.

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A complete look at Shonen Sunday coming soon …