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In the second episode of the Video Game Championship Wrestling series spinoff, “Extreme Dudebro Wrestling,” Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening made her way to the ring. Just as VGCW makes the chat itself part of the viewing experience, so too does EDBW, and Lucina’s arrival brought with it some powerful (text) chants.

“LET’S GO CINA!”

“CINA SUCKS!”

Anyone who’s familiar with the WWE over the past decade is likely familiar with the origin of these dueling chants. Loved by kids, reviled by adult fans who grew up with The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, John Cena’s popularity splits the audience in two whenever he wrestles. Naturally, VGCW fans did not pass up an opportunity for some wordplay.

Of course, this is to be expected, right? It’s a constructed wrestling universe based on popular video game and occasional anime characters, so this type of crossover should lead to cross-demographic jokes. And yet, when I watch and participate in any of the VGCW chats, I feel like I’m being exposed to a group which I normally don’t interact with otherwise. Somehow, even though I’m friends with anime fans, gamers, and smarks, I’ve never found myself in the middle of their convergence as much as I do in VGCW. That’s what makes all the Table-san jokes work, where the announcer’s table is jokingly viewed as a shy and meek anime girl whose day always get ruined when Wrestler A decides to powerbomb/suplex/elbow drop Wrestler B on top of her.

The connection between anime fandom and wrestling is a lot stronger in Japan, where you had series like Kinnikuman which continue to get referenced even today, as well as real life wrestlers based on anime like Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask. It’s sort of like if Zeus from No Holds Barred turned out to be one of the best, most beloved wrestlers ever when he made his WWF appearance.

As for Lucina, she fell behind the entire match, barely missing out on being pinned for the 3-count over and over. Then, as if the entire match was simply an opportunity for her to mount a comeback, she landed a DDT and a devastating finisher and won the match. The chat exploded, realizing that Lucina was even closer to John Cena than expected.

As they say, Hustle, Royalty, Respect.

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In the world of Pokemon, Diantha (Carnet in Japanese) is not only the Pokemon Champion of the Kalos region and the final boss of Pokemon Xbut also a movie star with renowned beauty. It shows in her character design, but there’s something I find interesting about Diantha’s attractiveness. As far as I can tell, rather than being the perfect woman for guys, Diantha appears to be closer to women’s general perception of the ideal feminine beauty.

I’m not especially well-read on the differences between how men and women view beauty except to know that there is at least some appreciable difference between the sexes. From my own experience talking to others about this, if you were to look at the female chefs on the Food Network and ask who is the most attractive, men often prefer Giada De Laurentiis while Claire Robinson appeals more to women. A lot of it seems to do with the men and women focusing on different features, though I can’t say for certain which is which. When I look at Diantha’s design she leans closer to Claire than she does Giada in terms of facial structure, and her pose and overall stature exude less of an alluring, sensual quality, and more a powerful, statuesque grace. It also might be the eyebrows.

Of course, tastes between individuals can vary even within the same gender, and there are also cultural differences to account for. In this sense I’d say that Diantha is more of a European ideal than an Asian one, but as with all of this it’s more my own impression than anything else. Obviously I can’t speak about how women perceive beauty firsthand, and if there’s something you think I’m overlooking or just plain wrong about, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Though, if we’re talking about ideal Pokemon girl for guys, I imagine it’d be either Cynthia (Shirona) or Flannery (Asuna).

 

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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.

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.

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Given the success of its Kickstarter, it’s highly likely that you’re already aware of Mighty No. 9. The brainchild of Inafune Keiji, co-designer of Mega Man, it’s very much a successor to Mega Man, starring a robot with variable powers named Beck. While there are plenty of things to discuss when it comes to Mighty No. 9, one of the more fascinating topics is the “Roll” of the game, a female character named Call. Garnering enough fan support for a “Call gameplay stage” stretch goal to be reached, what is curious about Call is that her popularity was achieved well before we knew really anything about her.

From the very beginning of the Mighty No. 9 project, it was announced that there would be this female supporting character. However, she had no definitive design (though a few possibilities were shown), no determined color scheme, and very little information about her background or personality. Even her actual name was a later addition to the campaign, while these were the only notes eventually provided about her:

  • Call is a female robot originally created by Dr. White’s friend, Dr. Sanda, to help assist him with his research; she somehow avoided being infected by the virus causing all the other robots to go berserk and has pledged to help Beck.

  • Call was not imbued with the human characteristics that make Beck unique, so she’s more of a pure robot — as you might imagine, this contrast can lead to some interesting differences and misunderstandings whenever they interact!

And yet, even with this utter lack of information about Call, she developed a fanbase, such that the vote to decide what will become her finalized look has become a big deal among Mighty No. 9 fans.

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A common answer these days for this sort of thing involves referencing the Hiroki Azuma’s database narrative concept in a reductive fashion by pointing to how disparate features such as blue hair or a tsundere personality act as patchwork parts to create characters appealing to otaku, but I don’t think you can even refer to Call’s initial concept as a “database character.” It was less of a database and more of a less-than-1kb .txt file, and I think Call’s popularity actually comes from something else entirely.

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My own guess is that the reason Call gained fans before we really knew anything about her is that her basic position, as a female character in a new video game which has as one of its guiding principles heavy interaction with the community during development, made her an open canvas for fans’ perspectives. Whether fans see Call as someone to potentially relate to, or an opportunity to establish a strong female character who can go a step beyond Roll in Mega Man, or even just as “the cute girl,” Call’s initial lack of features combined with faith in Inafune and the staff of Mighty No. 9 allowed people to project onto Call their various ideals. In this prototype state Call fans see in her the very best.

Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter is about a world where everyone can drive, including 8 year olds. Cars can also turn into robots called Gyrozetters. This technology comes from a prophetic tablet known as the “Rosettagraphy” which also contains a list of “chosen drivers,” kids with the attitude and will to drive the most “wicked cool”  Gyrozetters in order to fight evil or corrupt fuel companies or whatever.

If it wasn’t clear from my summary, I think Gyrozetter is an odd show, but what I think is really strange is how typical it is without veering towards tedious or amazing or even average. Its mostly episodic format gives off “standard kids’ anime” vibes in spades, but it neither comes off as a refreshing take on the formula nor so rote as to be unentertaining. I find it difficult to talk about if only because I definitely enjoyed the show in a way which would have me looking forward to more, but it doesn’t feel quite special. People say that the hardest shows to talk about are the ones that are utterly mediocre, but when it’s “better than average, though not great,” a show like Gyrozetter poses its own review challenge. The robots/cars are fairly well-designed , the characters are fun and expressive, and both the episodic elements and the overarcing plot work well enough together. I think the best I can do though is to talk about some aspects of Gyrozetter which I found fairly notable.

First, is the endings which are pretty much Precure-style dance sequences but done with giant robots. It’s eye-catching if anything.

Second, even though it’s a kids’ show it spends a lot of effort on attractive ladies. Apparently in some interview the director or producer said something along the lines of wanting to make the show “erotic” but I don’t know how seriously to take that.

Third, the villains are an appealing part of the show, and though they start off fairly serious they get increasingly Team Rocket-ey as the series progresses. Curiously, as this is happening the plot is also getting more dramatic so there’s this almost schizophrenic feel to Gyrozetter which isn’t offputting but gave me pause every so often.

Fourth, it’s a boys’ show which develops the relationship between the main character Todoroki Kakeru, who’s very much of the Ash Ketchum-type (or Satoshi if you prefer) and his would-be girlfriend Inaba Rinne to a surprising extent. He’s 10, she’s 12 (or somewhere along those lines), and it’s actually really close to if Pokemon had spent more time overtly pushing Ash x Misty as a thing instead of just giving the vaguest of hints. Maybe that’s what’s oddly refreshing about the show even though it’s so formulaic.

Fifth, Mic Man Seki, who is literally voice actor Seki Tomokazu. His job is to hype up everything ever, and he certainly does a good job of it.

Sixth, the Valentine’s Day episode.

Gyrozetter is a bit different from other giant robot anime because it’s not based on a toyline or pushing sales to nostalgic older fans, but comes from an arcade game where you’re supposed to drive around for a while collecting powerups and then transform into a robot for a 3-on-3 battle. Apparently the anime didn’t do well, and I wonder if it was partly because the show’s format (children of destiny use their car robots to save the world!) was too different from the actual game, and I did notice that towards the end they tried to actively foreground the arcade gameplay in the actual anime. However, it seems like the arcade game itself wasn’t terribly popular and is going away, so maybe there’s plenty of blame to go around.

From what I’ve been told (by Kawaiikochan author Dave), the arcade machine is the embodiment of rad as the giant cockpit-like arcade machine will literally transform into a battle mode as you shift gameplay modes and do so in the flashiest way possible. I have to wonder if maybe the game was too much, as a lot of the popular arcade games for kids seem to be the super automated games where characters dance or fight on autopilot based on a special card you use.

In terms of favorites, the best robot design in my opinion Rinne’s second Gyrozetter, Dolphine. Its curved design makes for a pleasing sillhouette and its figure skating gimmick reflects Rinne’s own interests (her dream is to be an Olympic skater) in an interesting fashion. I can’t pick a favorite character but I was fond of Kotoha the bridge bunny (the one in green and glasses), Haruka, who is shown in the shot of the villains above, and the secretary character Kouno Saki.

If I stretched even further, I think I could say some things about how the show addresses the concept of destiny through the later developments concerning the Rosettagraphy, but I’ve said a lot more about a show I find to be “not bad” than I was expecting. With that, I’ll just end with some final screenshots.

I’ve been thinking a lot about female characters in anime and manga recently (not exactly a surprise, I know), and it’s something where, even if I don’t have a fully formed argument or point to make, I feel compelled to write something down. Forgive me as I meander through my own thoughts in an attempt to piece it all together.

About a month ago I was reading the comments section on polygon.com in regards to the portrayal of female characters in video games. I can’t remember which game they were talking about, but one commenter said something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t bring up Japan when trying to show strong women in video games because it’s such a sexist culture. Just look at anime and manga,” and it made me bristle. I do think Japanese culture is sexist in many ways, but the idea that this perception of Japan as sexist made it impossible for Japanese fiction to have really good female characters in this person’s eyes bothered me because I’ve seen plenty from every period of anime and manga.

I know it was just one comment on a video game article, but it got me thinking more broadly about what people see in anime and manga, and to what extent the image of anime and manga as sexist is fueled by what people want to see. I recently saw a comment that criticized Heartcatch Precure! for encouraging girls to be stereotypically feminine by having the character of Itsuki, who normally dresses like a boy, express a desire to be more girly. While I know there are plenty of examples of tomboy characters who end up feeling like they need to dress like girls to attract their male love interest, Itsuki’s story is more about how she suppressed the side of her which enjoys cute things out of a somewhat misguided sense of duty and responsibility. Yet, rather than taking this as the message, it was like as soon as the person saw the rough outlines of the stereotype, surely it would play out the same as always.

There are most certainly a good deal of works which go out of their way to objectify women for male consumption, but I just find that there are also plenty of instances of well-portrayed women and girls in anime and manga. Whether it’s Princess Jellyfish or RidebackKekkaishi or Gowapper 5 Godam, it seems like these female characters get ignored because they’re, somewhat ironically, not as eye-catching as a Queen’s Blade or an I Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! There seems to be this idea that anime = sexism, and while even the works I mentioned as strong examples aren’t entirely devoid of sexism themselves, I also don’t think it’s as simple as just slapping the misogynist label on Japanese media as a whole. Messages regarding women in anime and manga can be so diverse and divergent.

At this point I’ve seen a lot of 60s and 70s shoujo, and I’ve noticed a clear trend of mischievous tomboy heroines from that time period. Even putting aside an extreme example such as Oscar from Rose of Versailles who was raised as a man to uphold her family’s proud military tradition, you have Candy from Candy Candy, who’s adventurous and constantly challenging the conceitedness of the upper class, and Angie from Petite Angie, who is portrayed as an extremely clever detective. You have Ayuko from Attack No.1, whose aggressive desire to win at volleyball inspires the rest of her teammates, and Yumi from Sign wa V! who initially plots to sabotage her teammates because of how much she despises volleyball. Hiromi from Aim for the Ace, Lunlun from Hana no Ko Lunlun, Masumi from Swan, the list goes on and on. All of these characters have their fair share of personal agency (even if it’s not always an ideal amount). Given that the trend of the strong, mischievous tomboy was clearly a “thing,” and I do believe it continued in some form well beyond the 70s (Utena is an obvious one, but perhaps Lina Inverse from Slayers counts too, for example?), I just have to wonder about the disconnect between that and the perception of anime and manga as inherently misogynistic and where it may have come from.

Is it a matter of age of these older titles, that if people were able to access the works these characters are from, that they would change their minds? Is it that shoujo doesn’t act enough as the “face” of anime and manga? Could it be that, as much as we’d like to think we’ve gone beyond the stereotype, anime is still viewed as essentially “porn or Pokemon?”  If the ratio were different, and there were just fewer fanservice titles or works where girls are basically a cheerleading squad for the heroes, would detractors be more charitable towards anime and manga, or is it inescapable as long as some titles are still like that? For that matter, to what extent does the western image of the submissive Asian woman affect and interact with how people see all female characters coming from Japan, and how does it differ from the similar stereotype as viewed by Japan (I can of course admit that it’s there too)?

What shapes people’s views of female characters in anime and manga? I guess that’s the question I want to explore the most.

If ever there was a “nostalgia anime,” Pokemon Origins is it. An intentional recreation of the first Pokemon games, it limits its world to 151 Pokemon instead of the steadily climbing total count of later generations. There’s a lot to look at in terms of how it portrays a simpler time for the Pokemon franchise, but one thing I wanted to focus on is the main character Red’s team when he fights Blue for the championship, because it’s actually extremely deliberate and meant to reflect the experience of going through those first games, as well as the diversity of choices available to you along the way.

From left to right:

Scyther was a Pokemon exclusive to Pokemon Red and represents one half of the version exclusivity which helped to define the games and the necessity of trading to get all of the Pokemon. Being that the main character is named Red, the implication is that he caught this one in the wild.

Persian represents the other half of version exclusivity, being only in Pokemon Blue (or Green for the Japanese). This implies that Red at some point traded for it or its pre-evolution Meowth.

Lapras, unlike most of the Pokemon which are caught, evolved, or traded (or in the case of Porygon purchased), is a gift. In the games you receive it from an employee in the Silph Co. headquarters, so Lapras represents the “Pokemon by plot event,” and shows how he went through Silph Co. dismantling Team Rocket along the way.

Jolteon evolves from Eevee, a Pokemon which like Lapras you receive as a gift. Unlike Lapras, however, it also represents the act of the permanent choice: in the first games you were supposed to only get one Eevee (barring any creative glitches), and the choice of whether to evolve it into a Jolteon, Flareon, or Vaporeon was permanent, so the choice of Jolteon is meant to make you think, “Ah, so Red went with this one.”

Charizard is of course the Starter Pokemon, the first choice a player has to make in the game. Once again Red is Red, so the choice for which starter he’d go with is pretty obvious.

That leaves Dodrio. Its pre-evolution Doduo is available in both versions, is caught in the conventional manner, and also evolves in a normal fashion. However, the fact that Dodrio is common is what makes it special within the context of this team.

If you look at the rest of the battles in Pokemon Origins, you’ll find that the choice of Pokemon reflects this idea that the anime should give a sense of the progress Red has made. For instance, both Hitmonlee and Kabutops appear as Red’s Pokemon, and both are Pokemon whom you have to choose over others in the game (Hitmonchan and Omastar). Snorlax is a Pokemon you have to encounter because of the way it blocks certain routes, and a sign that the Poke Flute was used. Using the Legendary Birds against Mewtwo also shows how Red intended to go against it at full strength. Perhaps the most interesting decision of all, however, was having Pikachu appear only towards the end, to acknowledge its value to the franchise but to prevent it from overshadowing everything else or associating it too closely with the other anime.

After much delay, I finally started playing NiGHTS into dreams… HD. I’ve never played too many games on my PC just because I didn’t even have a proper controller for a lot of the genres I normally play otherwise, but I decided to just go, “To hell with it” and purchase an X-Box 360 controller. I know I was hankering for some retro gaming when I decided to buy it in euros even though it’d cost me a little extra.

I’m not really going to review NiGHTS here just because the game has such a powerful reputation, a cult classic that all Sega Saturn owners either remember fondly or always pined after. It is indeed an exquisite game, especially in its visual presentation and its smooth controls, but what I’ve found upon returning to my old favorite is that the game occupies this strange space for me where it is both somehow therapeutic while at the same time motivating and challenging.

Actually, I will say one thing about the game: it doesn’t control quite like the original Sega Saturn NiGHTS, and while the difference isn’t huge, it’s still noticeable for someone like me who poured hours and hours and hours into the old one. Playing widescreen can also throw off my sense of timing because the camera changes at ever-so-slightly different points.

I’ve written previously about how a current hobby of mine, Japanese mahjong, is a combination of luck and deception, and is thus enormously nerve-wracking. NiGHTS isn’t this, but it also doesn’t feel “casual” or “mindless.” Rather, it’s a game with a simple, clear-cut goal (get the highest score while beating each stage and boss), but I always feel like the game is only as intense as I want it to be. Unlike another perennial favorite of mine, Pokemon, it also isn’t hampered by the permanence of decisions (can’t use your single-player team because it wasn’t EV-trained properly!!!) If I want to just enjoy the bright colors and scenery, I can. If I want to push myself to get as close to perfect as possible, I can. If I just want to fight the bosses over and over again (and I do love doing that), I actually can now, thanks to NiGHTS HD. I can kill Gulpo in 10 seconds.

That reminds me that, even back then, my biggest complaint about the game is that the bosses are simply too easy regardless of whether you’ve played the game a ton or not. It’s the one thing that I think the sequel, NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, improved upon tremendously (except for that stupid and frustrating fight against Bomamba).

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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