Anime Evolution 2009 Run-Down + Higurashi no Naku Koro ni 1-4
Hey you know that tone of voice a person gets when they are speaking or laughing loudly and are overtly aware of the fact they are being overheard? Kind of hysteric and self-conscious with an extra emphatic delivery as if performing in front of a crowd? Yeah well I heard a lot of that this weekend.
As part of a social experiment in fandom Noogz and I bought 3-day passes to Vancouver’s Anime Evolution, the only con of its kind on the Canadian West Coast. I had gone to a couple of AE’s earlier incarnations in the mid-to-late 90s up at SFU when I was a young anime-obsessed tyke, and was quite aware that things have changed since then. Notably, the fact that I attended cons in both Edmonton (at Grant McEwan) and Vancouver between 1995-1997 is indicative of the fact I’ve been in this hobby for a good 12 or 13 years longer than most of the teenagers swarming the new convention centre this weekend, showing off their elaborate cosplays and sitting on each other’s laps.
I was fully prepared for this and didn’t think much of it, but when faced with a program chock full of shallow panels and screenings I had no interest in, I realized my error. When I was young and forcing my Mom or teenage cousin Danny to accompany me to cons (I was only 11 when I started getting into anime heavily and none of my friends shared my passionate interest in Japanese culture), we would hit viewing rooms for hours on end. Everything from You’re Under Arrest to Tenchi Muyo, from Irresponsible Captain Tylor to Please Save My Earth, from Ghost In The Shell to Bubblegum Crisis, I first encountered at those “cons” (really a few of them were more like university club anime nights, to be honest…) Those rooms were brilliant, paradigm-changing spaces of discovery for me, before we even had internet at home let alone Wikipedia or Bittorrent. They were the only way for a little English girl living in a Canadian city to find out what shows existed and experience different anime genres without forking out cash for mystery VHS tapes in Japantown.
Nowadays if there’s a classic or current anime that I’m interested in, chances are I’ve seen it or it’s sitting on my hard drive and the rest I’m aware of and couldn’t be bothered with. I wonder if this is just a result of me spending the last decade immersing myself in my hobby (the con may well still be a great place to get an introduction to the world of anime) or if it’s more to do with the rise of the internet, thereby rendering viewing rooms redundant (or at very least changing their role).
The one notable exception this weekend was Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, a show I’ve consistently heard good things about but due to horror/mystery not being a favourite genre of mine it’s not something I would ever seek out to purchase or download. We had 2 hours to kill on Friday night though and saw that they were screening the first 4 episodes of Higurashi at the perfect time. Caught off guard by the surreal beauty/violence of the OP credits (above), I was both pleasantly surprised and utterly creeped out. What started in the first episode as a sweet and dull small-town moe anime showed horrifying and subversive flashes of brilliance as it morphed into a psychological thriller. I was riveted till the very end of the first 4-episode arc, felt kind of scared getting into my bed later on that night, and think I’ll probably seek out more of this show.
But returning to my “Wahhh, I’ve been into anime for soooo long I find your cons stupid and boring” argument… Panels, at AE at least, seemed geared even more toward beginner fans than the anime screening schedule. J-Dramas, visual novels and “working in the video game industry” (haha) are all things I’m quite interested in, but the amount I could learn from the panel discussions on offer seemed dubious. Again, I’m not hating. Just noting that despite being an epically huge fan of anime, VNs and doramas, I felt like I wasn’t really the target demographic for this con.
What would I have liked to see at AE? Some fucking Japanese guests, KTHXBAI. I realize Vancouver is a tiny, laughable city next to New York, Boston or San Diego and booking the convention centre must have cost a bomb but could we really not get a single effing voice actor, writer or musical artist? (OK, the Japanese band Minxzone played on Saturday night - which Noogz and I unfortunately had to miss because we were playing a show of our own - but my point still stands.) I suppose there were quite a few English language voice actors at the con but they weren’t recognizable to those of us who watch subs or raws, leaving us with a bit of an empty feeling. Not to mention an empty schedule…
The most enjoyable parts of the weekend for both Noogz and I were spending a few hours in the dealer room and watching some visual kei and otaku bands covering our favourite Japanese songs on the main stage. There wasn’t a lot being sold by vendors at AE that couldn’t be found in Asian import malls and Japanese bookstores all over Metro Vancouver, but it was kind of nice to have it all in one place and to have a bit of a selection of doujinshi as well. And of course, just watching all the cosplayers was great fun. Noogz and I wore school uniform cosplay both days we attended (Takasu and Minori from ToraDora and Yuuji and Shana from Shakugan no Shana respectively) but the majority of the cosplayers went WAAAAY larger.
It seems that the most popular series’ to cosplay were Shounen Jump titles (hundreds of Narutos, srsly what did you expect) and video games. Final Fantasy characters, anyone from Nintendo Super Smash Bros and even Team Fortress 2 all had pretty big showings this weekend. (I sort of wonder when anime and mainstream console game fandoms started to get convoluted, but as a fan of both I ain’t complaining.) Additionally I also saw about 6 different CCs, and one was even eating an actual, steaming hot slice of pizza.
All in all it was good times, would go again, but it’s important to keep the expectations low if you’re not 16 years old and surrounded by 80 of your closest friends wielding “yowie”(sic) paddles. The End.
Gah, nervous… This is something I’ve been planning to do for a very long time - ever since I was inspired by Hinano’s Renai Blogger last summer and realized how possible it was - but I didn’t have the confidence to announce a release date until now! Here it is, my very own visual novel coming out this August! The working title is Cream Soda and it’s an otome-style romance game set in a Canadian high school, hehe. I’ve always wanted to take the classic shoujo formula and apply it to the contexts I grew up with, like punk rock bands and West Coast culture. Here’s the cheesy synopsis to get ya hyped:
Frankie McGahey is a petite girl with a boy’s name and the stamina of an ox. Unlike most 17-year-old girls, all she thinks about is eating, sleeping, eating more and playing drums in the hardcore band she started with her best friend’s older brother Benj. It’s almost Spring Break and the band is gearing up for a week-long tour down the coast to California. Life is good and Frankie wouldn’t change a single thing. Little does she know she’s about to meet Jim Kowalski - a talented hockey prospect with an appetite that rivals Frankie’s own - who will open her mind and change everything.
LULZ! I’m a game developer and I love shoujo romance so naturally I’ve always thought I’d like to make my own otome visual novel. I tried to hustle up an artist for cheap/free but when that failed, I decided to get over the mental hurdle of being a programmer and do the art myself. Of course this means it’s taken me longer to get it off the ground but hey, renaissance game development is the new black! Hopefully the character designs won’t scar your eyes, and you’ll download it when it comes out at the end of the summer! Yoroshiku, minna-san~
I’ve been meaning to review this game for ages - I bought it in January and promptly spiralled into a sparkly pink ballroom addiction for a week or so while dancing my Princess Pengalyn to victory with her man Prince Vince. Then school kicked in and I haven’t had much time for it since. But since dating sims are pretty rare in the English-speaking market (and on a handheld at that!) I had to say something about Princess Debut.
It’s a Japanese import by Natsume, obvz, since no American developer seems to have the balls to release games for girls that don’t involve a major franchise like Barbie or Littlest Pet Shop. The premise is pretty saccharine - you’re a bored young schoolgirl who gets magically transported to a fantasy kingdom one day after school. You are asked to switch places with the kingdom’s princess who happens to be your doppelganger, because she doesn’t want to take part in a huge royal dance competition happening in 30 days time. You agree, and are thrown into a bunch of ballroom dance training (rhythm mechanics on the touch screen) and the quest to find a prince to be your dance partner at the ball (the dating-sim aspect).
The dancing mechanic is fairly simple but fluid and fun. You start with only one song and unlock more songs as you level up, but unfortunately the selection is pretty limited which means things do get repetitive. A second play-through yields a second set of songs which improves the replay a bit, but I really did get sick of playing the same songs over and over again. There are some cheesy 3D models that perform the mocapped dance on the top screen while you stylus away, which is cool because you get to see your character dance in the different outfits you collect (there’s even a witch costume, radness bonus). These 3D sequences are actually some of the better ones I’ve seen on the DS, but unfortunately they happen while you’re doing the rhythm game stuff so it’s hard to watch them. I would have preferred to have these to watch during the 10-15 second wait times between dance sequences instead of just flashing stars on the top screen. With a couple of such breaks per song, these loading times got seriously old.
But y’all know I wasn’t playing Princess Debut for the ballroom dancing crap. There are 7 suitors you can choose to be your dance partner, from the Casanova to the star basketball player to the megane-boy genius. My favourites were Vince, the class clown and Luciano, the childhood friend/brooding asshole (who also happens to be one of the hardest characters to get as your partner - I needed to use a walkthrough to get his endings). Each prince is the doppelganger of a boy from your own world, and each has a unique story path with some kind of drama (Liam has a sick sister, Vince injures his leg in a horse race) that you need to overcome in order to make it to the royal ball.
There are two endings for each prince (one if you stay with the prince for a happily ever after, one if you go back to your own world and get together with the guy at your school) and some bonus non-princely endings besides. For fans of collecting and completion, each different ending gets saved as a cute picture for your photo album. Gotta catch ‘em all!
What impressed me most about the game is how adorable and cohesive the package is as a whole - cute 2D characters and a colourful world map to explore, different costumes and songs to collect and a juicy, satisfying rhythm game mechanic that is easy to pick up and play but harder to master. It’s definitely one of the more enjoyable third party DS titles I’ve played and it’s got an angle that really appeals to me - both casual and romance/dating-sim. But I still can’t help but feel kind of annoyed that pretty princesses ballroom dancing is the only way to get an otome game published in North America. Even as a 5-year-old I thought princess pink was kind of passé. Which reminds me, I will definitely be picking up My World, My Way DS (about a cocky, spoiled bitch of a princess who wants to be an adventurer!) as soon as I get the chance.
Winter break is over tomorrow. Another heavy semester of computer science looms ahead - and how did I spend my last few precious days off? Playing hentai games of course. Uggggh…
Crescendo is my kind of visual novel - attractive character designs and artwork, and surprisingly well written dialogue/narrative. It’s also pretty “slice-of-lifey” for most of the paths which was nice since I’m not big on the melodrama. Well techically, the protoganist Ryo’s parents did die in a car crash or something and there’s an option for you to get with your not-biologically-related™ older sister… But since such things are practically a requirement in all VNs and nobody gets hospitalized except the secret unlockable character, I’m going to say I’m cool with it. The majority of Crescendo focuses on minor, intimate dramas like love triangles and betrayals of friendship. There isn’t much originality in its “last 4 days of high school” premise or in the click-click, wall-of-text gameplay but what Crescendo does, it does very well.
It has to be said that despite its short length, the game is quite slow moving - which again, is to be expected from a VN heavy on the character development. There is only one sex scene for each girl’s route, when you achieve a good ending after 4 days of long conversations gameplay. But subtle changes in the faces of the heroines and the quality writing had me immersed in several scenes much deeper than I’d expect from a standard dating sim. One of the earliest scenes, where Kaho, a fellow member of the literature club (who happens to have a boyfriend) fixes Ryo’s shirt button was pretty heart-wrenching/heart-pounding! It’s rare for me, as a girl, to get dokidoki playing dating sims made for boys… so I was impressed.
Inspired by this scene, Kaho’s path was one of my favourite story paths - since overcoming the obstacles such as Kaho’s boyfriend (who Ryo actually introduced her to) and mutual friend Kyoko who has a crush on Ryo made the route quite challenging. I kept making the wrong decisions and getting stuck on Kyoko’s or Yuka the school slut’s paths. Kaori the school nurse’s path - pictured in the screenshot - was also superbly written to emphasize the chemistry between the characters, and you really can’t go wrong with rainy night car scenes anyway. ^^
Crescendo was developed by the same studio as the much venerated “Kana, Little Sister” and boasts similar gameplay, quality writing and artwork without the illness/death/incest angle. In other words, unless you just can’t get enough of them sad sick girls, Crescendo is a good game and y’all should play it.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours in a daze, uploading bad cellphone pictures of my shoes and perfume bottles in exchange for virtual ribbons and clothing to play online dressup with. Poupee Girl is the Japanese avatar website behind this strange behaviour of mine, and I am completely fucking addicted.
When I was little I was an avowed tomboy - my current love of jewellery and bows and pretty fashion things didn’t emerge until my teen years. I mean, I was always into cute animal stuffed toys, but I hated dresses with a passion and I never owned a doll. Doll faces creeped me out. I even used to rip the heads off my little sister’s dolls and hang them by their hair. But strangely enough, I always ADORED playing with paper dolls. Something about the miniature 2D clothes with the little fold tabs hooked me every time.
Poupee Girl is a fashion-oriented social networking community based around the timeless idea of a paper doll - taken to the ultimate next level thanks to Web 2.0. You can create yourself an avatar “paper doll” and proceed to dress her up in countless different outfits with a responsively juicy drag-and-drop application, layering different items from lingerie and makeup to boots and hair accessories. Dressing up your doll daily and taking a “snapshot” for your profile page earns you ribbons, the currency of Poupee Girl, which can be used to buy new items in a live marketplace (you can also sell items you are tired of here, setting the ribbon-prices at your own discretion). It’s a mini fucking eBay with an amazing selection of fashions, where a savvy shopper can easily turn a profit - in ribbons, obvz.
The site continues to add value by releasing new fashions and seasonal themed items regularly in “Katherine’s Shop”, providing minigames and chat/messenging services, organizing contests, giving surprise gift items and changing homepage backgrounds frequently according to the season (my background above is the current New Years temple background). There is also a great incentive to spend time surfing other poupee’s profile pages to collect “shells” - which are randomly dropped when a profile loads. Shells can be sold for ribbons in the marketplace, or 5 shells can be thrown into the Shell Spring in the common area to get a random new clothing item.
There are myriad other ways to earn ribbons on Poupee Girl, but the most crucial - and unique - method is to take pictures of your own real life clothing and accessories, and upload them to your online closet. Each item you upload earns you ribbons and a free item for your Poupee to wear. You can also earn more ribbons and make friends by commenting on other people’s items, and getting them to comment on yours. It sounds like a weird feature at first, but it’s one that I’m hugely excited about.
Not only can I catalog my wardrobe and new purchases by brand and type online, I can also discover cute clothes and new brands from my Poupee friends all over the world. Most Poupee Girl users are Japanese but there are an increasing number of English-speaking users in the community thanks to a decent and readily navigatable English interface. You don’t need to know any Japanese to get around the majority of Poupee Girl, although the English pages are a tad buggy (sometimes reverting to Japanese menus) and of course you will get more out of other people’s profiles if you understand a little. I’ve had no problems getting around with the small amount of Japanese I can read - and I’m already finding myself learning new kanji vocabulary through the comments and status bubbles of Japanese Poupee friends. ^^
I think Poupee Girl is a genius example of great interface design and creating value in a niche social networking site. I guess I fit their demographic exactly, but even if you don’t, you have to give props to the designers for creating a hugely addictive niche community. My only real beef with the site is the value it places on brand name clothing over vintage pieces - it would be nice if vintage finds were easier to view by category and earned more ribbons for uploading, since they are such a huge element of street style. But you’ll excuse me, I have to go photograph some ALDO grey leather round-toe kitten heels now.
This is Faith, the protagonist of Mirror’s Edge. On the left we have the official Faith, designed by Sweden’s EA DICE. On the right is a fan version designed by a Korean gamer to better depict “Asian standards of beauty” (according to Kotaku).
WTF. This has been burning up Kotaku for over a month with people arguing over representations of women and realism in games and cultural standards. I waded through a few dozen of the hundreds of comments but ended up feeling like shit - like I always do whenever I read gamer-site comments. The fact that the vast majority of hardcore game forum posters are idiot chauvinist douchefucks aside, this sort of upsets me.
I watch a lot of anime, and play adult games, so I’m hardly offended by the big-eyes and big-tits cliches of those media, but I was really stoked to see in Faith a real, atypical, human heroine. Or at least, something that hadn’t been done to death. I don’t know whether I’m more saddened to think that her “slanty” eyes are “exotic” to gross white guys with asian fetishes, or that most gamers prefer the sexist and borderline pedophilic fan-job in the name of “beauty”. Gag me with a spoon.
This producer from EA DICE sums the emotion I’m feeling quite well, I think: “It was just kind of depressing that someone thinks it would be better if Faith was a 12-year-old with a boob job.” No doubt, dude.
I just had to play something more interactive from the dating-sim world so I downloaded the notoriously difficult Casual Romance Club. With 12 different girls in the club and 28 days of gameplay the conversation decision tree is ENORMOUS - I was considering computing the number of possible gameplay routes as a combinatorics problem (wow, that might be the nerdiest thing I’ve EVER said) but I got stuck since the number of options in each “private chat” varies. Suffice it to say that each day at the club meeting you can chat with up to 3 different girls ((12 + 3 − 1)! / 3!(12 − 1)! = A LOT) and each chat presents a wide variety of conversation subjects, responses and the choice to either call it a day, walk the girl home from club or make a date with her for the weekend.
With the incredible breadth of the game relative to its short length it is impossible to focus on more than one girl and be successful (meaning, to have her accept your final date ticket after the club ends). This is kind of frustrating because there are so many different types of characters and choices, it would be fun to be able to play around without fear of losing the game. As it was, I had to use a walkthrough to get anywhere with the girls that interested me most - “Sophie” the undergraduate student, a slightly older girl who is serious about relationships, and “Clare” the ko-gal, a trend-follower with an irreverant attitude - which made things less fun and spontaneous.
The spectrum of different characters is definitely a highlight - CRC offers much more than the standard childhood friend, dojikko and sporty girl stereotypes. There is everything from a loli to a rock musician (I didn’t go for the rocker cuz her character design was fugly), and I LOVED that there was even a ko-gal (Japanese valley-girl, with tanned skin and bleached hair). That being said, a lot of the girls are mega ditzy and the conversations border variously on the ridiculous and the banal. It’s also odd that each girl has both a Japanese and an English name, which mostly serves to make things totally fucking confusing - even when you play with Japanese names for conversation, the English names are still used in the menus. Another low point would probably be the serious lack of plot, nearly impossible when everything revolves around 3 chats per day in a family restaurant.
However the HUGEST con about the game is also the most laughable. For the same reason as the girls have English names, I suppose, the Japanese developers thought to include an English audio track. I believe it’s the same actress for all 12 girls and she is so abysmally bad that it’s hilarious. Picture late-1990s text-to-speech software crossed with Miss Swan from MADtv, reading aloud the contents of Engrish.com. Yeah. For serious. I laughed for about an in-game week but then I had to shut the sound off.
Mediocre game, good replay value, ball-bustingly difficult, would not recommend.
Wow, this game is fucking dark and disturbing. I was expecting that - and that’s part of the reason I decided to play it, hoping to experience something different from most conventional school-life dating sims - but I thought I would find it more interesting than this.
You play as Kengo Inui, a handsome and athletic chemistry teacher whose main aim in life is to rape as many women as possible and turn them into sex-slaves. Gameplay is standard visual novel fare - heavy on the dialogue and VERY light on the interactivity - but the art is some of the best I’ve seen and like other ZyX games even includes some animated sex scenes. Unfortunately most of the character designs didn’t appeal too much to me, with the one exception of Shinobu (pictured). The game’s production value is fairly high in general, with decent music, good-looking menus and competent voice acting by all of the female characters.
However, I just don’t find the game all that enjoyable despite its quality. I weirdly ended up feeling bad for most of the characters and wishing they could find a nice, normal eroge hero to save them from Inui-sensei (me). Maybe I missed the romance because I’m a ren-ai sucker, but these girls were all just too sweet. Even in the case of the two tsunderes, Shinobu and Saki - who were also the two characters I liked best - I didn’t enjoy their storylines because I wished they’d just kick my dickhead character in the balls and call the cops. I think it came down to the fact that the protagonist is so boring, selfish and unlikeable - he’s not even much of a lech, he’s just MEAN. Not that rapists are attractive people in general but rape FANTASIES can definitely be erotic. There is very little eroticism in this game unfortunately, so the dark aspects which I had anticipated could be perversely interesting just seem repetitive and cruel.
As a game developer, I wonder if some of my reaction could stem from being a female player and thus clearly not the target demographic of the game. I wonder what a game about rape or virgins would look like if it were developed by a woman (would it even exist?). As far as this game goes, I definitely would have appreciated either much more eroticism - meaning “desire”, not just sex, which would require more complicated situations for both hunter and victim - or much more interactivity - ‘cuz if I have to be a cold, calculating hunter, then at least make it strategically challenging, not a simple click-through! Preferably, more of both.
I’ve been in a weirdly nostalgic mood lately - also I am killing time while I install VS .NET on this PC - so I thought I’d talk about the first hentai game I ever played, True Love. (My little sister and I used to call it the “hentai game” when we were kids, although eroge or dating-sim is probably more accurate ^_^) I recently downloaded it again and hearing those midi themes for the first time in almost 10 years was a huge trip. I also realized it’s still AWESOME. I’ve downloaded some other translated DOS games from the DFG site like Princess Maker 2 and Paradise Heights 2, and really nothing from the era compares to True Love’s stats building system and multi-path story.
True Love’s gameplay is based on making daily schedules - sports, studying, art, grooming etc - to grow your character’s stats. Depending on these stats and also being in the right place at the right time of day, routes and scenarios with different girls open up. Sounds simple but it’s a highly addictive and replayable system, due to the number of different girls and paths. The pacing over 3 in-game months also allows for some character development and a feeling of immersion in the world, unlike the rapid-fire sex-scenes of other more linear visual novels from the same era (*cough* Paradise Heights - a vastly inferior game by the same developer). I think it’s this immersive quality that made me so nostalgic while playing it again - hearing those distinctive musical themes and revisiting familiar backdrops like the main character’s room with that desk and the lamp, the park in the screenshot above, and of course downtown at night for “pleasure”. Playing again I was surprised to find that my favourite girls are still Mayumi and Mikae, and Kazuhiko’s loli little sister. Never did snag that stuck-up bitch Remi, although she’s not as bad as I remember.
I’m planning on blogging some newer eroge titles soon (decided to pre-order Princess Waltz which is getting rave reviews and apparently has a card-battle stats system - which could go either way) so we’ll see how they compare to this classic of the genre. I also intend to continue my nostalgia kick by watching some more classic 80s/90s animes and blogging some Wii Virtual Console games, so bear with my trip down memory lane, plz?