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Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to fly to other countries, and with flying comes checking out the in-flight entertainment. More often than not these days, in-flight entertainment includes a number of games from Chess to Tetris to even Doom, and sometimes the list even includes mahjong. While much of the time this refers to the tile-matching game, what I’ve found is that on Asian airlines it can actually refer to the real game we know and love. That’s how I found In-Flight Mahjong on Korean Air.
Actually, based on the full description provided, which used the phrase “match the tiles,” I ignored it for a while thinking it was going to be Shanghai, but curiosity got the better of me, for which I’m grateful. Programmed by the guys who make all of the other in-flight games (DHC or something?), the game purposely tries to aim for the anime fan audience by not only following the rules of Japanese-style riichi mahjong, but also boasting what it refers to as “anime-style” characters, which you can see in the videos below (trust me they’re worth it, if only for a healthy laugh).
I’m actually a little sad that I wasn’t able to record the audio (headphones-only after all). Whenever you see a character pop up in those videos with a “PON!” or a “KAN!” as in the first image above, just pretend they’re being exclaimed by people with heavily American-accented Japanese. The voice “acting” is anything but, though I don’t exactly hold my free game programmed to distract me for a few hours in between meals (which included bibimbap by the way) to the standards of Mahjong Fight Club or even Tenhou.
The game offers two modes: “quick game,” and “career,” which is meant to be like a single-player adventure mode (and in fact there is no multiplayer) with a few paragraphs to tell you whether you’re playing in a local parlor or at the end against some significant bigwigs. All of your favorite hands are there, though it refers to some in interesting ways (Chanta and Junchan are “Hon Chanta” and “Chanta” for some reason) The game offers three levels of difficulty, from easy to difficult, and of course I chose difficult out of some bizarre and fragile sense of pride. The computer opponents aren’t tough, but what I did notice is that on the difficult setting they tend to be extremely safe and conservative, and more often than not the rounds would end in a draw.
While this is not too surprising or annoying normally, it unfortunately comes with a peculiar rule in In-Flight Mahjong that rounds, at least in the South half of the game, will repeat if no one wins, even if East wasn’t in Tenpai. What this means is that the same round might last for 10 games in a row, and the only way to break out is to go for a win or hope a non-dealer computer pulls something off. Games that should have taken maybe half an hour total ended up taking about twice that.
Still, it is mahjong and definitely plays like mahjong, so if you happen to be flying to Korea (or wherever, as I assume this specific version appears elsewhere), and you have a desperate mahjong itch, you’ll know how to handle it.
There was a big to-do recently when Anita Sarkeesian over at Feminist Frequency received a barrage of nasty comments over her Kickstarter to fund a project to analyze common tropes concerning female characters in video games. A lot of the commentary was as you might (unfortunately) expect, citing her supposed jealousy of better looking women, her “hypocrisy” over wearing makeup, as well as threatening her with rape. Even if most of this turns out to just be purposeful button-pressing in order to get a rise out of her, it’s still pretty sad that it came down to this.
I do not think people should have to agree with her just “because” she’s feminist, but at the same time I do wish people would come up with better arguments against her ideas and her points than simply things like “sexualization happens to men too” (the nature of the sexualization is nowhere near the same).
Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is already more than well-funded as of this post, but having watched her previous videos in the Tropes vs. Women series, I still want to say something about my hopes and worries about the project.
While Sarkeesian makes overall good points in her videos pertaining to the types of tropes which can reinforce images of women as passive beings in service to more fully developed men, I find that her videos tend to take something of a sledgehammer approach to addressing problems. Tackling big problems with big answers is a valid method, and it does result in points which are more readily and sharply conveyed, but there is a loss of nuance in discussing specific tropes she addresses as a result, possibly due to the brevity required in making short videos.
The consequences of this loss of subtlety is that the presentation of the tropes themselves seem to center around the idea of the trope itself being sexist more than its overuse (though both are considered culprits). For the Women in Refrigerators trope, the idea of a side or major supporting character dying in order to drive the hero to action is a recurring theme throughout fiction, be it with men or women, and the use of a girl as the “sacrifice” is not so much the problem as it is the degree to which it happens in superhero comic books, a genre which is all about power and inspiration.
Similarly, in her discussion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she criticizes the character type for being something of a vague supernova of inspiration for the leading male character, lacking in qualities to make her fully realistic. To that I have to ask, since when does more realistic automatically equal a better character? While I certainly see the advantages and have argued for the strength of such characterization before, there is something to be said for characters who are their concepts distilled to an extreme. Furthermore, it risks leaving no room for the trope to be turned into something which can be positive for women without having to completely subvert it.
When it comes to Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, my hope is that Sarkeesian will not come at the female characters of video games with a “one strike” policy. While there are plenty of girls to be rescued and recurring roles for girls that can be explored and criticized extensively, I hope that she does not view individual characteristics isolated from each other, but rather sees the characters as a whole. In the end, any judgment she makes is hers, and characters can and will end up being considered problematically sexist (because let’s not kid ourselves, video games do have them), but if a character has positive traits in addition to negative or even harmful ones, they should be acknowledged in order to show where games have managed to make smaller progressive steps in addition to bigger ones.
When Tecmo’s Dead or Alive 5 was first announced, the developers express the desire to portray their female characters better than they had in the past, with Team Ninja’s head developer Hayashi Yosuke even mentioning in an interview that “we’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it.”
The DOA franchise has always been known for its sex appeal, from the first game’s available option to set level of breast jiggling to the Xtreme Beach Volleyball series where the girls trade their fighting uniforms for bikinis, so the promise of increased realism and improved depictions of women led to a some questions. Just what did they mean by real women, and could this fall flat on its face? Thus, although the guest appearance of Virtua Fighter protagonist Akira Yuki was the main headline, the new promotional trailer for Dead or Alive 5 is significant in that it gives us our first glimpse at just what the developers were aiming for.
Kasumi, main heroine, in DOA4 (left) and DOA5 (right)
Given the comparison image above and the statements from Hayashi, I think it’s clear that the changes to Kasumi’s look are not caused solely by improvements in graphics technology in the 7-year time span between the games. While Kasumi is still meant to be obviously attractive, there has been a bit of a reduction in her breast size and her face is substantially different, coming across as indeed “more realistic.” In fact, given the track record of the series, where greater realism could have meant shapelier breasts, Team Ninja has done a better job than probably anyone expected.
Ayane, Kasumi’s sister and rival, in DOA4 (left) and DOA5 (right)
Another feature that’s not really obvious without another character for comparison purposes is that DOA5 looks to be making more of an effort to give each character a more distinguishing face. When you look at any of the girls in previous titles, there isn’t much difference in their facial structure, andhen you look at the DOA4 versions of Kasumi and Ayane especially, they’re not that different from one another. With DOA5 however, their faces have substantial differences. They’re still designed to be attractive, and they still have similarly idealized bodies, but there seems to be an effort to vary the characters by more than their costumes and three sizes.
One element of Kasumi and Ayane’s newfound realism is that she seems to come across as “more Asian” than their previous iterations. Even though I haven’t actually seen this point discussed, I feel like this could potentially lead back to an argument concerning the appearance of anime characters where Japanese characters supposedly look “white” or distinctively “non-Japanese,” and that there may be some underlying psychological and historical reasons for making Japanese not look Japanese. The counter-argument to this has been that to assume the wide eyes of anime characters somehow equals “whiteness” is a cultural assumption in and of itself, but in the face of these revised looks, how does this hold up?
When I look at DOA4 Kasumi, even though her face comes across as “less Asian,” I still find that it comes across as more Asian than anything else, especially when compared to the non-Asian characters. And actually, Asianness and Whiteness as a binary is probably the most important mistake to avoid. Instead, the key difference is in another type of realism. In previous versions the characters come across across as more plastic and doll-like, especially in the eyes, with Kasumi’s own doe-like gaze, for example, acting more like an element of innocent seductiveness than anything else. In somewhat of a contrast, Kasumi in DOA5‘s eyes aren’t more realistic just because they’re closer to an Asian’s eyes in the real world, but because there is a sign of personality behind them.
I think the change in not just the way the characters’ eyes are, but the way in which they stare speaks towards what Hayashi meant when he referred to “the real women around us.” To some extent, this is aided by the improvement in technology, but it still requires the desire to move in that direction. Even as Kasumi continues to act as the sexy poster girl for the franchise, and while it can also be argued that her (and everyone else’s) bodies are ridiculous, I think that from what we’ve seen, Team Ninja actually seems quite serious about making the changes to the franchise that they promised.
A couple of years ago when Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was airing, the show would often be compared to American cartoons on account of its clearly influenced style. People even speculated as to whether or not Panty & Stocking would fit on Adult Swim. Since then, a show has emerged which I think is truly worthy of the moniker of “Adult Swim-esque anime.” That anime is gdgd Fairies.
gdgd (gudaguda) Fairies is ostensibly about three fairies living and playing in the Fairy Forest, but like Aqua Teen Hunger Force (which originally had Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad fighting crime), the premise is just an excuse for bizarre conversations and even more absurd misadventures. If the unusual nature of the production wasn’t clear enough by the end of an episode, each episode is initially titled “Title Pending.”
The main (read: only) characters are the naive pkpk (pikupiku, center), airheaded shrshr (shirushiru, right), and darkly humored krkr (korokoro, left). An episode is typical divided into three parts, where part 1 involves a conversation between the fairies that usually spirals out of control, Part 2 has them practicing magic in the “Room of Spirit and Time,” and Part 3 has the three fairies peering into a magical spring to see people in other worlds and then ad-libbing their dialogue. During these sequences, a discussion about being late turns into one about the tragedy of time slips, the girls challenge each other to see “who can fly over the most old men,” and they even get to see this:
Part 3 (the “Magical Spring Dubbing Lake”) is where the show gets serious and pulls out the big guns. And if a bald man in his underwear farting through the sky or a fat woman in lingerie dancing as the city around her crumbles weren’t enough, after a couple of episodes it becomes very clear that, while the other parts of gdgd Fairies may play fast and loose with the show’s contents, in part 3 the actors themselves are entirely without scripts or preparation. Here, the show takes on a Space Ghost: Coast to Coast or Home Movies vibe, where the actors have to improv their lines on the spot. The actors will fall out of their voices without realizing it, unable to hold in their chuckles long enough to maintain character and will mention other anime roles they’ve done without even considering the 4th wall. These aren’t clever nudges and winks for the audience, but evidence that just as you’re seeing that farting man for the first time, so were they. You are literally hearing them joke around with only the thinnest of pretext, and it makes you laugh whether or not what they said was actually funny or a spectacular failure.
I had a conversation with Dave (of Astro Toy and Subatomic Brainfreeze) and we agreed that gdgd Fairies would actually work on Adult Swim. There’s no need to do anything to it, just put it on the air with subtitles at 2am and let the post-Family Guy and Squidbillies audience enjoy. If you don’t want to wait that long for it, you can actually catch all of the episodes on Crunchyroll.
Carl x Fusako 4ever.
It is well known by mankind that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The fighting game community is no exception, and if there exists an ultimate fighting game tournament in Japan, there must exist a mirrored counterpart. While Tougeki, the Super Battle Opera, exists on one end of the spectrum, on the other is Ura Tougeki, the Reverse Tower Opera.
If you’re wondering, there’s a kanji pun there between Tou (闘 Battle) and Tou (塔 Tower).
So if Tougeki features either the latest and/or greatest games, your Super Street Fighter IV: AE‘s and King of Fighters XIII‘s, Ura Tougeki picks the most obscure and broken fighting games it can, games that aren’t fighting games but get manipulated to act like them anyway, and a few literal button mashers.
Each iteration of Ura Tougeki begins with an Outfoxies tournament and ends with Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition. The Outfoxies is a weird Smash Bros.-esque game that actually predates Smash Bros, and which I discussed previously as an example of an unorthodox fighting game, while SFII Rainbow is Street Fighter II on crack where Blanka’s rolling attacks can go so high as to loop back to the bottom of the screen and what-not.
Those are far and away the highlights of Ura Tougeki, but aside from those I have some particular favorites as well.
The first is Mario Bros., as in the old multi-player arcade game. Whereas the goal in a typical game of Mario Bros. is to defeat all the opponents, the objective of competitive Mario Bros. is to force your opponent to die 3 times and get a game over after 3 rounds, or at least have a higher score. Few things are more exciting than watching Mario punch the platform underneath Luigi and bump him into a fireball while the announcer shouts, “WHAT A SHORYUKEN!”
The second is Hyper Olympics, the first game in a series better known as Track & Field outside of Japan. There’s a certain sense of schadenfreude watching people fail at the ridiculously difficult Hammer Throw section, and overall the tournament is surprisingly exciting. That said, only one Ura Tougeki so far has featured it.
The third is Ice Climber, because the game is absolutely merciless to those who have just lost a life because of how the screen-scrolling works. This game is indeed multi-player.
The Bishi Bashi Champ series is essentially Wario Ware in gameplay.
I’ve included the playlists of all four existing official Ura Tougeki. If you don’t have a Nico Nico Douga account, you can use Nicofire to watch them without one.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s watch some Tower Opera!!
Ura Tougeki 1: The Outfoxies, Samurai Spirits Zero (aka Samurai Sho-Down V) Special, Super Bishi Bashi Champ, Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition
Ura Tougeki 2: The Outfoxies, Hyper Olympics (aka Track & Field), Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ, Soul Calibur III AE, Ashura Blade, Samurai Spirits Zero Special, Mario Bros., Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition
Ura Tougeki 3: The Outfoxies, Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ, Mario Bros., Soul Calibur III AE, Astro Superstars, Ice Climber, Shooting Technical Skills Test, Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition
Ura Tougeki 4: The Outfoxies, Azumanga Daioh Puzzle Bobble, Soul Calibur III AE, Samurai Spirits Zero Special, Hyper Bishi Bashi Champ, Ice Climber, Cyberbots, Mario Bros., Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition
Mizuhashi Kaori is one of my favorite voice actors, and not just because she’s the voice of Ogiue. Her range is quite impressive, and it often makes it difficult to initially figure out that a character is indeed her. As for her role as everyone’s favorite fujoshi character, Mizuhashi has talked before about how she had to learn and practice Ogiue’s Tohoku dialect, not being from that area.
This makes her recent role in Nichijou (aka My Ordinary Life) all the more interesting. Playing the angel character in the bizarre “Helvetica Standard” skits, in episode 9 she tries to teach a demon how to pronounce “chirashizushi,” a dish which is comprised of sushi rice (i.e. vinegared rice) with sashimi on top. Think of it as a pile of deconstructed sushi. Try as she might though, the demon slurs all of the syllables in a distince Tohoku-ben fashion, turning “chirashizushi” into “tsurasuzusu.” “Sushi” when spoken in Tohoku-ben sounds like “Susu.”
I have no idea if this influenced her hiring as the Helvetica Standard Angel, but I think it makes for an interesting circle, going from having to learn Tohoku-ben to successfully play a character with that accent to playing a character who is trying to teach another character not to speak in that fashion.
Recently, I was compelled to watch the Kiddy Grade opening, followed by the opening to its sequel, Kiddy Girl-and. For those of you who have never seen either show, I can best sum up the series as being a “girls with guns, maybe” show in a futuristic science fictional setting, and probably one of the shows that sticks out in people’s minds when you say “Studio Gonzo.”
Actually, the shows can probably best be summed up by watching the openings, which I invite you to do. Don’t worry about it, I’ll wait.
The original was fairly popular back in 2002, and seven years later out came its sequel, which I heard was not that well-received even by the typical diehard Japanese anime fan. Regardless of success or lack thereof however, when I watch those openings back to back, I can feel the flow of seven years of anime history, more than I can with other comparable methods. I can watch all of the Cutie Honey and Gegege no Kitarou openings and perceive the changes that have occurred over decades, but I can’t feel quite as much as with Kiddy Grade. I think the reason this difference exists in me is because this past decade was the time when I as an anime fan (and many others) could watch new shows within days or week of Japan, a dream at best for most people prior to the advent of the internet. I was there, man. It was intense (no it wasn’t).
But I don’t think it’s just the fact that I lived in this period that gives me the sensation of time flowing. It’s a definite factor, no doubt about it, but I think there’s also something different about the qualities of each opening, not just the fact that they feature different characters with different personalities, but also the way they introduce their content. Thus, though I’ve seen both shows either in part or in whole, I’m going to be thinking about them purely from what their openings have to stay about them (though I will be using their names for convenience’s sake).
The Kiddy Grade opening aims to give a sense of intrigue while introducing its main characters as two mysterious and attractive ladies. Eclair, the brown-haired one, is leggy and busty and is portrayed as the “muscle.” The “brains,” Lumiere, is decidedly younger in appearance, and seems to be taken from the same quiet, blue-haired mold as Evangelion‘s Ayanami Rei and Nadesico‘s Hoshino Ruri, though with significantly more smiling. Every scene has them contrasted with each other in some ways, whether it’s Eclair shooting a gun vs. Lumiere throwing a wine bottle, Eclair standing on one side with her lipstick whip with Lumiere and her “data trails” on the other, or the “kiss” scene, again, to create intrigue, sexual or otherwise.
The Kiddy Girl-and opening on the other hand is anything but mysterious in its presentation. It seems to want to convey an everyday sense of fun, and the two main girls are decidedly sillier in the intro compared to Eclair and Lumiere. They also are less different from one another compared to their Kiddy Grade counterparts, with Ascoeur (the pink-haired one) and Q-Feuille (the purple-haired one) having closer body types, though it’s clear that the former is bubblier than the latter. Rather than being presented as enigmas, Ascoeur and Q-Feuille are up-close. Personal, even.
Of course I can’t ignore the music itself either. Music isn’t my specialty, but I can tell you that Kiddy Girl-and‘s song is clearly sung by the voice actors of the heroines, whereas Kiddy Grade‘s with its mellow tones is not, and both songs lend themselves to the descriptions I gave. While having the seiyuu sing the opening was nothing new in anime even before 2002 (Slayers, Sakura Wars, to name a couple), I’d say that they’re supposed to be singing as the characters in the Kiddy Girl-and opening.
So then what are the big changes that this transition between openings represents? Well I don’t know if I’d call them “big” per se, but I feel that the Kiddy Grade opening exemplifies what was typical of its time, and the same goes for the Kiddy Girl-and opening. The much more “futuristic” vibe of the Kiddy Grade opening leads to the future-as-typical feel of its sequel’s intro, in a sense representing an increase in slice-of-life/”the everyday,” as well as a move away showing narrative-type elements as a prominent reason to watch. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is an example of Azuma Hiroki-esque breakdown of the anime “Grand Narrative” though, as that’s a lot more complicated than just “less plot in anime.” Of course, there’s also the feeling that “moe” has changed as well, as I think that all four girls are supposed to be “moe” to certain extents, and seeing how their “moe” is conveyed in those openings is probably more indicative of that seven-year gap than anything else.
Neither of the shows are particularly amazing or special, and are probably best described as “the median” or “mediocre” anime, depending on how kind you want to be. However, that’s exactly why I think their contrast shows the path anime has taken so well, because while it’s great to see how the really pioneering, experimental, and enormously popular works operate, looking at the middle of the road gives a good idea of how anime as a whole moves.