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Lately, I’ve been a fan of Video Game Championship Wrestling. It’s where you watch AI-controlled video game characters duke it out in a WWE game.

Tonight s “End Game 7,” the finale to the latest season of VGCW. I recommend that people turn in, as End Games tend to be the hypest of hype, rarely if ever disappointing. Whether it’s Phoenix Wright fighting his alternate-universe evil doppelganger, Little Mac coming back from the lowest of lows to bury Dracula in a casket match, or Kefka using the power of the Dragon Balls to become a god, there’s always something crrrrazy to look forward to.

Me personally, I’m looking forward to Kefka vs. Illidan, if only because there’s the possibility that Kefka will re-obtain his divine powers to fight Mr. Stormrage Winged Purple Beast to Winged Purple Beast.

You can check it out at the official VGCW channel at 6PM Eastern, 11PM UK, 12PM Central European.

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I made this just for this post

Twitch Plays Pokemon is a fascinating social experiment. Through the magic of streaming video and live chat, tens of thousands of users try to collectively play a single game of the original Pokemon Red by inputting simple commands such as up, down, and a. The result is inevitably chaos as our hero Red looks to be religiously checking his items, pacing back and forth, throwing away valuable items, and never ever being able to walk in a straight line. Fans have lovingly crafted a lore around the whole endeavor, taking the idea of active participation to arguably another level.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need me to tell you about it, because Twitch Plays Pokemon has absolutely exploded in popularity, getting coverage on a number of major sites. Given this, I do have to wonder to what extent the popularity has to do with Pokemon itself? Pokemon is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all times, and inevitably many people have experienced Pokemon in one form or another, even if they haven’t played the original game. This is why you can get anywhere between 40,000 to 100,000 people on the stream simultaneously 24 hours a day, because much like the British Empire the sun never sets on Pokemon fandom.

I’m no exception as I’ve inputted a few commands myself. I’ve watched in horror as the convulsing young Pokemon Trainer threw away two of his most valuable Pokemon, and witnessed the serendipity of Digrat, the Rattata who keeps resetting the progress of the game by digging back to the beginning of caves and secret hideouts. What I’ve also learned is that Pokemon Red is still really fun in and of itself. While the latest games in the series, Pokemon X/Y, are by far the best Pokemon games ever in terms of level of refinement, things to do, and even ease of finally creating that competitive team to beat down your friends/people on the internet, the enjoyment that the first-generation games brought was not simply a matter of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a huge factor for me personally, as the familiar tunes are ingrained deep into my psyche and I realized I could recognize that a Drowzee was sent out just from hearing it cry, but the elaborate yet ultimately forgiving sense of exploration you get in Pokemon Red/Blue just feels right.

This isn’t to say that the collaborative aspect of Twitch Plays Pokemon is subordinate to the game itself, as it’s being part of a greater crowd that is (for the most part) trying to aim towards success but often unintentionally stifling it that gives the whole experience much of its charm. With the Pokemon games, you’ve always had an environment where success feel great, but with Twitch Plays Pokemon failure often feels just as satisfying. Either way, it makes for great stories to share.

There are about three weeks left in the Hurricane Polymar DVD crowdfund project and out of all the anime on Anime Sols, I think it’s a show especially deserving of attention. It’s fun, it’s wild, and somehow despite the clearly older animation doesn’t feel all that dated.

Some people might be more familiar with the Hurricane Polymar OVA from the 90s, and though I’ve never seen it myself I’ve been told that it is kind of a drab affair. This original 70s Hurricane Polymar TV series however is anything but mundane. In fact, although it’s called Hurricane Polymar, the Japanese used to write “Hurricane” actually means “Shattering Backfist,” while the opening is so vibrant and energetic that I think its style alone is reason enough to at least check out the first episode.

The actual premise is fairly silly but in a delightful way which still leaves plenty of room for action. The main character is Yoroi Takeshi, an assistant for a bumbling yet cocky detective named Kuruma Joe who proclaims himself to be the “Next Sherlock Holmes.” Every episode they fight a different animal-themed criminal organization, and Takeshi, under the guise of a simple yet loyal apprentice, secretly helps the detective’s investigations more than the detective himself realizes.

When things call for some martial arts violence, however, Takeshi can transform into the mighty Hurricane Polymar, who chops and kicks and creates illusions while somehow fitting the word “hurricane” into Bruce Lee-style WATAAAAAAs.

Rounding out the cast are the narrator (a dog), and Nanba Teru, who is perhaps the most stylish female character ever. Actually, like many old Tatsunoko Pro shows, the character designs are by Amano Yoshitaka, best known for his work on Final Fantasy.

Hurricane Polymar essentially acts as a mix of the comedy of Inspector Gadget, the secret identity shenanigans of Superman, and a Hong Kong kung fu flick. It’s not the kind of anime that has a really dramatic impact or a fantastic ongoing story, but it doesn’t really need it either. What Hurricane Polymar excels at is being supercharged entertainment, the kind of thing where you watch an episode just to get invigorated and ready to tackle the world. In fact, it might not be good to watch too many episodes in a row, as you might get too hype.

If you decide that you are so capable of handling Hurricane Polymar that you actually want a physical copy of it (and live in the United States or Canada), you can contribute to the Anime Sols crowdfund.

At this point a lot of people know that it’s fun to watch other people play video games, whether it’s a Let’s Play or a competitive esports event. A subsection of these people additionally know that it’s crazy fun to watch AI opponents fight each other, provided the right context surrounds it. That’s what we get with Video Game Championship Wrestling, a gaming stream where various gaming culture icons fight each other inside of a WWE video game, and with Salty Bet, a place where you bet fake money on fighting game characters.

Though similar in that they both involve having non-human-controlled characters duke it out, they’re opposites in terms of how these AIs are used. VGCW is a curated experience where, much like actual pro wrestling, a single person writes the story and decides the overall direction of his “show,” but ironically is missing the most crucial pro wrestling component of having match results predetermined. Instead, the show clearly alters its path from week to week according to the results of its own matches. For me, the highlight of the entire thing so far has been when Little Mac came back from getting hit by a car and had an amazing match with Dracula that ended with Mac landing a powerful Star Punch counter on Dracula and then throwing him inside a coffin.

Salty Bet on the other hand is not about “story,” it’s about seeing how different characters crafted by M.U.G.E.N. creators across the world fare against each other, a complex interaction of not just who the characters are but the skills of their makers, their desires to make the strongest or the weakest characters, and even sometimes their desires to be in video games, as many of the self-insert avatars in Salty Bet show. Largely, the “drama” is created at random when two strangely appropriate opponents face each other, or a clash of gods occurs. The exception is that once every Thursday the owner of Salty Bet holds custom tournaments, often around a certain theme (the week of Pokemon X & Y‘s release there was a Pokemon character tournament).

In either case, what I find most amazing about their experiences is the necessity of the audience. Sure, audience matters at a Starcraft or Street Fighter IV tournament in that it livens up the mood and makes things just feel special, and in a Let’s Play of course you the viewer are the audience, but with VGCW and Salty Bet watching them is substantially worse when there is no chat available. The chats, with all of their memes and running jokes, make the fights feel “real” because real emotions are being poured into them. Scholars like Henry Jenkins talk about active fandom and audience participation, but with these “shows” the audience is in many ways the reason to watch. That’s not to say the work the owners of VGCW and Salty Bet don’t matter, as they’re of course important, but their successes are also tied into the image created by the very people viewing them.

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.

Check out this exciting fight!

For those who don’t get it: Reference #1, Reference #2.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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