Friday, July 30, 2010

Battle of the Sexes

"If Muggsy Bogues could play in the NBA, then why shouldn't women be allowed?" asked the guy across from me.  "Are you telling me that Muggsy Bogues is better at basketball than Lisa Leslie?"

What had begun as an already depressing discussion concerning the legitimacy of women's MMA had somehow come to this.  Some coworkers around me had begun to debate whether there should be more cross-gender competition in professional sports, since evidently nobody cared about the women's leagues.  While certainly no one wanted to see Brock Lesnar beat up Gina Carano in the ring, I personally felt that, if Serena Williams wanted to enter the men's tournament at the US Open and was able to qualify, then she should be allowed in.  My feelings were somewhat different, however, when it came to team sports.

The guy did have a point about Muggsy Bogues and Lisa Leslie.  The 5' 3" Bogues would be considered short in civilian society, yet he was able to compete at the highest level in a sport of giants.  He worked well with the diminutive frame he'd been given, but even though he was the same gender as the 7' 1" Vlade Divac, surely they were nowhere close to being in the same division physically.  Lisa Leslie, at 6' 5", should theoretically have been more a peer than Bogues for the average NBA player.

Yet when the dude posed the question, the first thing that came regrettably to my mind was that awful John Travolta movie, The General's Daughter (1999).  I decided not to bring it up, however, for fear that I might have had to explain it, in case nobody else had seen it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Princess and the Frog

I finally got around to seeing Disney's The Princess and the Frog, which I missed in theaters last year.  I liked it better than either Up or Ponyo, both of which I did catch in theaters.  I wouldn't rank it among the great Disney animated features, and it surely was not the prestige picture that Disney needed in order to mark a momentous return to traditional animation after a five-year slumber.  But I think it fits well enough within the whole Disney animated canon, and future generations of children, coming to this as just another in the vault of classics, should be able to enjoy it as exactly that.  It's a good story, thoroughly entertaining, possessing both beauty and personality in its visuals, and it imparts a fine moral.  . . . Or does it?

Bear with me, dear blog readers, for though I previously spared you having to take in my revulsion at Jake Sully sleep-banging some giant blue thing in Avatar, and I tried, for my own sanity, to think as little as possible about the prepubescent boy-fish romance in Ponyo, it was regrettably only a matter of time before another movie finally drove me to composing this post.

The Princess and the Frog tells the story (SPOILERS) of the romantic love between a young woman and a prince who has been cruelly voodooed into a frog.  What I find icky about it is that they only fall in love after they have both become frogs.  Perhaps you could argue that they are simply that confident that they will undo the curse, and so they are all along looking forward to their life together as humans.  But the heroine, Tiana, only meets the prince after he has been transformed into a frog.  She shouldn't even know what he looks like as a human.  So her only image of her lover is of him as a frog.  And that's supposed to be how she falls for him?  What, does she have a thing for amphibians?

Perhaps you think I am taking things too literally.  I know, the lesson is supposed to be simply that true love transcends all barriers, right?  But I think there is a limit to the scope of the lesson--love shouldn't transcend all barriers--and this story crosses the line into perversion.  Consider, what if this were not fiction, but the true story of a human woman falling in love with and wanting to marry a frog?  Would that be a case of true lovers seeing beyond the surface into the soul?  Or would that just be bestiality?  I pray the answer is obvious, and I wonder, isn't that the story that The Princess and the Frog is effectively promoting, even if not intentionally?

I was similarly disgusted by Avatar and Ponyo.  Ironically, the one story that truly gets it right is a much older Disney animated classic, The Sword in the Stone (1963).  Recall that, at one point, Merlin transforms himself and Arthur (AKA Wart) into squirrels.  The transformed Wart quickly attracts the unwanted advances of a female squirrel.  He tries to turn her away, but she seems beyond reason in her infatuation.  Then, when Wart reverts to human form, much to his own relief, he tries to make friends with the female squirrel, but she won't have it.  She runs away, heartbroken but realizing at last that her feelings were a lie.  She is not sad that she cannot be with the human Wart.  She is sad that Wart is human, that the squirrel she fell in love with never really existed.  There is no such thing as love between a squirrel and a human.  That's what The Sword in the Stone says.  That's real.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Billionaire Fighting

Street Fighter X Tekken?  It's a bit like pitting the Yankees against the Lakers.  What form would the contest even take?  What could the rules possibly be to keep it from becoming a complete farce?  Ed Boon has had to explain many times that, however cool fans might think the idea sounds, a Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat crossover game wouldn't make any sense from a design standpoint.  The games play by different rules, and any compromise would end up satisfying no one.  And that's coming from Ed Boon, mastermind of a series that has been historically much more open to mechanical overhauls than either Street Fighter or Tekken.

Capcom vs. SNK worked well enough because SNK's fighting games were mostly all Street Fighter derivatives to begin with.  And still some hardcore SNK fans were not satisfied with the results.  Meanwhile, Tekken is a game without special moves, super meters, any real air game, or even much of a range game.  Does that sound like something that would match up very well against Street Fighter?

Capcom will do its best, of course, to adapt the Tekken characters into a Street Fighter-style engine (compromise, in other words), essentially creating a set of new characters that will only look like Tekken characters, while playing more like Street Fighter characters.  The early footage suggests that the Tekken characters' bigger signature attacks will become their special moves, they'll have super combos, and all characters will have rudimentary chain combo abilities as maybe the one nod to Tekken's style of combat.

This will not be the game to unite the Street Fighter and Tekken communities, bringing together the top Street Fighter players to battle it out against the top Tekken players for the title of "undisputed grand master."  At most, those Tekken players who happen also to play Street Fighter will just play this as they would any other Street Fighter title.  But mostly I think it will just be Street Fighter players playing this.

That's still reason enough for me to get excited.  At the very least, this should be another solid 2-D fighting game from Capcom--one where half the cast will effectively play as brand new characters.  And while I may not know how to play Tekken, I do think the series has some pretty cool character designs.  Super Street Fighter IV may have, in my opinion, the best roster ever in a Capcom fighting game, but I would still gladly trade some of those characters (mostly the SFIV new bloods) for Tekken's best.  And it will have tag team gameplay!

And then there's also Tekken X Street Fighter coming from Namco.  Instead of the two series coming together for one title, we're still getting two distinct games from two different developers, just as we always have.  By far the shakier concept, this is even less likely to achieve crossover appeal.  I suspect the Street Fighter characters would stand to lose a lot more from the transition to the Tekken engine than the Tekken characters would the other way around.  Will Ryu be allowed to keep his fireball?  Projectiles are not exactly common in Tekken.  But what is Ryu without his Hadouken?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Toy Story 3

I was twelve when Toy Story came out in 1995.  I originally didn't care for it.  I thought the CGI visuals looked very ugly compared to the traditionally animated Disney films that I had grown up on.  Moreover, I resented that everybody else seemed so insistent that it was a revolution, and I was terrified that its arrival signaled the end of hand-drawn animation.  My anti-computer animation prejudice endured for a few more years, as I passed on A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), and Monsters, Inc. (2001).  It was in 2001, however, that I happened somehow to catch Toy Story 2 on the Disney Channel, and I had to admit that I had been wrong.

It was the rare sequel that surpassed the original, although that didn't mean much to me.  I was simply entranced by the sharp humor, inventive set pieces, and astonishing emotional potency.  It was perhaps the most nearly perfect film I had ever seen.  It also encouraged a better appreciation of the first film, although I still didn't quite love the original Toy Story--a cruder work in every way, more notable for its technological advancements than its script.  But Toy Story 2 remains the only movie that, on any given day, when I am asked what some of my favorites are, will always spring to mind.  I'm not sure yet whether Toy Story 3 quite reaches that pinnacle, but it is no disappointment, which is saying a lot, considering what it had to live up to.

Toy Story 3 is not so nearly perfect a film as Toy Story 2.  To a large extent, it feels like a retread of Toy Story 2, only slightly more cynical.  In the last movie, Andy's toys were already made to consider that, one day, Andy would outgrow toys altogether.  But the mere painful suggestion of the idea was apparently not enough; in Toy Story 3, that scenario has finally come to pass, as the now seventeen-year-old Andy is preparing to go to college.  And however much his toys tried to brace themselves for this inevitability, nothing could have prepared them (or the audience) for such a heartrending farewell.

I must say, I never gave a damn about the Andy character in the first two movies.  I wonder if anybody really cares about the human characters in these stories where the toys are the stars.  So it was very easy for me to hate Andy for his abandonment of the toys.  But then it seemed to me that maybe, by proxy, I was hating myself for outgrowing my own toys, and I wondered if maybe Toy Story was losing its point with this movie that was, more than ever, about the fictional lives of toys themselves and no longer so much about how kids play with them.  But, of course, it's about more than that.  The toys aren't really just toys, after all, and it's okay for the viewers to identify with them instead of with the human bit players, because they are certainly more relatable than, say, the characters of Inception.  From people who have now spent large portions of their lives working on this series, this is a story about life, about change, the things we lose, the things we find, and the things we hold forever dear on this journey.

And it's also kind of brave, which is not a word one expects to apply to a second sequel.  Although it easily could have been just cheaply sentimental, Toy Story 3 is as robust an adventure as any of Pixar's works.  It pulls few punches, plunging the toys into great peril and great sadness (too much for some of the very young audience members at my screening).  It features a truly irredeemable villain, whose hilarious origin story, as presented in flashback, is practically a travesty of Toy Story 2's most affecting scene.  And in the end, it brings it all back around and goes straight for the heart.  As the story drew to a close, I must admit that I was fighting back tears, yet as I sat there in the theater, I wasn't even sure what I was so torn up about.

I know that a lot of older viewers said of the first two films, ostensibly pictures aimed at younger audiences, that they were experiences that reminded them of how it was to be a kid.  For those of us who were still kids (or at least teens) when those movies came out, I don't think the effect was quite the same.  But I think, with Toy Story 3, we get to experience something very unique to our generation.  While many movie years have passed for Andy and the toys since Toy Story 2, eleven real years have also passed for us viewers.  It went by quickly--too quickly, as it always does--but it is a long time, and seeing Toy Story back again after such a time, like meeting up with a friend you haven't seen in years, really puts things in perspective.  It's an effect that is not easily achievable in film--not something you could get, for example, by producing the back two episodes of a trilogy concurrently.  In the case of Toy Story 3, even days after viewing it, I found myself at work, suddenly emotional while still deep in thought (or feeling) over the movie.  I would recall the opening scenes showing Andy growing up with his toys, and I would reflect on how much had (and hadn't) changed in my own life during the same span of most vital years between films.  I knew then that this was something rare and powerful.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Distant Worlds

I was able to attend the "Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY" concert in San Diego last night. I thought the set list could have been more diverse (too much VIII and XI, not enough IX, nothing from I-III, V, or XII), the selections from XIII and XIV were less than inspiring, and the very poorly edited video presentations dragged down the legitimacy of the event, but ultimately it was still cool to hear Nobuo Uematsu's music played by a live orchestra (with Nobuo in attendance!).

In honor of the event (but mainly just for the hell of it), I thought I'd offer my personal rankings of the first ten (because that's as far as I've gotten) numbered Final Fantasy games.

Ranked by story:

1. IX
2. VII
3. VI
4. IV
5. X
6. V
8. I
- II

Ranked by systems:

2. V
3. VII
4. IV
5. X
6. IX
7. VI
8. III
9. I
10. II

(I still haven't finished FFIII for the DS, but I'm pretty sure its placement won't change.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Set in the dreams of professional information thieves who are able to share and shape their dream worlds to ensnare their unwitting victims, Inception is visually and thematically evocative of The Matrix and Dark City.  For me, it falls short of those films because it doesn't go far enough in exploring its dreamscapes, which should be the most interesting part of any story about creating worlds.  The image of a city folding in on itself, as seen in the trailer and TV spots, is awesome, but the movie almost immediately pulls back and warns its characters against that sort of godly mischief.  Ideally, the thieves' targets are not supposed to realize that they are in a dream, so the dream architects strive to create convincingly realistic worlds, which are certainly less fantastic (or horrific) than the things I usually dream.

At its core, Inception is really a heist film, however, and a pretty remarkable one.  As with any good heist film, it is fun to watch the protagonists' intricate scheme come together (or unravel) through the stages of infiltration, extraction, and getaway.  But the challenge that Christopher Nolan takes up with Inception goes beyond the average caper, as the scheme operates according to a set of science fiction rules that the movie entirely makes up.  It necessarily walks a fine line, but the great achievement of Inception is in how far it is able to get the viewer to follow along with this fake science that doesn't always feel like the pure fiction that it is.  The actual heist does not even begin until about an hour in, but by that point, I understood perfectly what a "kick" is, how time expands within a dream (and again in a dream within a dream), and how another person's subconscious is no place for tourists.  Once the action got started, I scarcely raised an eyebrow through brilliantly layered sequences that probably shouldn't have made sense.

Of course, the movie does commit a few cheats, and the experience is not devoid of eye-rolling.  Remember how, in The Matrix (or, heck, A Nightmare on Elm Street), dying in the dream meant dying in the real world as well, because the body could not survive without the mind?  Well, Inception's characters early on rather proudly try to correct Wes Craven, explaining that death in their dreams is not doom but actually one sure way back to reality.  Er, until the movie decides to change that rule with little explanation.  But at least the new rule is established early in the heist.

Finally, Inception is like a non-interactive video game.  That first hour is essentially a lengthy tutorial, setting the stage, introducing the characters, and establishing the fundamental mechanics.  As with many video game tutorials, I grew impatient with it, retaining less and less as the words grew more numerous.  I wanted to get into it already, and finally the meat of the experience arrived as three distinct maze-like (and typically senseless) levels filled with deadly hostiles, but most notably a recurring Nemesis-style stalker (or perhaps a Pyramid Head) with seemingly a vindictive grudge against the protagonists.  And it all culminates in an apocalyptic final confrontation.  You're even told that the fate of the world somehow depends on the heroes' success.

Dang, now I kind of want to play Inception.  Well, maybe not that third stage.  That snowy fortress was so 1998.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Welcome to the PS3

Felt like playing LittleBigPlanet again for the first time in over a year.  On load, was informed that I needed to download and install ten (10!) updates.  PS3 useless while installing, so decided on a whim to ease the wait by playing some of Konami's arcade classic, Sunset Riders.

Before I knew it, I had beaten Sunset Riders.  Turned back to my PS3 to find that it still had not finished updating.  This is garbage.

Yeah, I know--"welcome to four years ago," right?  Still, this is garbage.

One More Ride

Super Street Fighter IV was not the only game to be fought at Evo 2010.  I thought I'd highlight some play from two titles that will most likely be replaced at next year's Evo by the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

First up is the grand finals between Justin Wong and Sanford Kelly in Marvel vs. Capcom 2:

There's not a lot to say about the match itself.  Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a ten-year-old game at this point.  It's been a fixture at Evo since before Evo was Evo, and this is how it has looked for the last several years--Storm, Sentinel, sometimes Magneto on acid on the front lines, while Cyclops and Captain Commando jump in constantly with anti-air assists off the bench in near mirror matches.

It was probably the most popular fighting game to come out between Street Fighter II and Street Fighter IV.  For many years the marquee event at Evo, it was the game that Justin Wong made his name on, and a day after falling short in Super Street Fighter IV, he went on to win his 7th MvC2 world championship in 10 years.  The game's depths have been plumbed further than perhaps any other title, and most players would agree that it's about time to retire it.  If you've never witnessed high-level MvC2 play before, however, it's worth marveling at how these players are able to maintain complete control over their characters moving at such blistering speeds.  The number of button presses they must be inputting per second, without it ever devolving into button-mashing, is mind-boggling.

It wasn't always this way.  Before Justin showed off the truly dominating potential of Magneto's flying rushdown, the most popular characters in competition were methodical lockdown fighters such as Cable, Doctor Doom, and Spiral.  Cable still shows up on some teams, but Doom and Spiral are almost never seen nowadays.  One player at this tournament, however, had the guts to bring back, not only Doctor Doom, but Strider as well.

Strider (with Doom assist) was once considered by some to be theoretically the best character in the game.  In practice, most players found that the guaranteed damage offered by his orbs summon super did not offset the high risk posed by his low health and the ridiculous level of execution required to play as him.  He pretty much died off in competitive play even before Doom and Spiral did.  It didn't help his case that Storm, a ubiquitous character in the post-Spiral era, also happened to be the perfect counter to Strider, foiling his trapping game with her ability to fly off the screen and out of his range.  One guy never afraid to rep Strider/Doom, however, is Daniel "Clockw0rk" Maniago, an OG player who has been utilizing that combination almost since the game has been out.  Seeing Clockw0rk crawling out of the woodwork with this team to make it all the way to 3rd place at Evo 2010, beating modern Storm and Magneto masters along the way, is perhaps a bit like the idea of Pete Sampras coming out of retirement at Wimbledon to mess some fools up with his now nearly extinct serve-and-volley style of play.  Alas, Clockw0rk's 3rd place was still a distant 3rd.

MvC2 was, appropriately enough, followed by the Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars tournament, probably the first and last time that most of us will be seeing high-level play in this game.  Before Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was announced, some people had pegged Tatsunoko vs. Capcom as the game to replace MvC2, but the Wii fighter didn't quite take off.  More comparable to the turnout for a Guilty Gear or BlazBlue, the pool of competitors at Evo was composed mostly of TvC specialists.

Although I originally perceived TvC as a regression back to Capcom's earlier Marvel crossover titles, the Evo play reminds me of Guilty Gear in other ways as well.  Even without MvC2's constant assists, it's a very fast-paced game with a heavy emphasis on meter management, and unlike MvC2, it still exhibits great variety at the highest level, with its roster of quirky characters committed to diversely intricate and extreme fighting styles, ranging from Yatterman-1's aggressive rushdown to Doronjo's elaborate zoning game.  Granted, TvC has not been around long enough for players to exhaust and distill it the way they have MvC2, but it's a fresh and exciting game that maybe could have lasted a couple more years.

On the other hand, maybe we have seen enough of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Evo 2010

For fighting game enthusiasts, this past weekend was Evo 2010, this year's installment in the biggest fighting game championship in the world.  Over the course of three days and nights, thousands of players and spectators gathered in Las Vegas for this fan-run tournament showcasing the highest level of competition in Super Street Fighter IV, Tekken 6, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2.  Katsuhiro Harada, director of the Tekken series, and Yoshinori Ono, producer of Street Fighter IV, even made guest appearances--separately and together--to show their support for the community, and Capcom also gave attendees a sneak peak at the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

But the main event had to be the Super Street Fighter IV tournament.  Approximately 1,800 competitors battled it out for a hefty pot and the title of "world's greatest" in the most popular fighting game since the glory days of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.  In the end, it came down to American Ricky Ortiz as the challenger against defending champion Daigo Umehara from Japan.

Ricky was, once upon a time, the nation's best overall 2-D fighting game player, but he was never able to win Evo.  His most memorable match was probably in the Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike tournament at Evo 2003, when Ricky played Daigo to a controversial time over with equal health in the second round, which the game's virtual judges then randomly ruled in Ricky's favor.  Because Ricky had won the first round and the players had already split two games, this decision would have given Ricky the game AND match over Daigo.  The Evo committee, however, never anticipating such a scenario occurring in actual tournament play, let alone in such a critical match, felt this was a bit bogus, as nobody even understood the in-game judgment system, so they forced both players to replay the round.  Daigo won that round and the next, officially winning the match.  But seeing Ricky's dissatisfaction with the overrule, Daigo offered to play one more decisive game, which he then proceeded to win handily, performing many taunts as well.  And that was Ricky Ortiz.  When Justin Wong far superseded him as the top American, representing his country admirably on the international stage, Ricky kind of just stepped aside and joined Justin's cheering section.

But Justin was denied a rematch against Daigo this year, and suddenly Ricky found himself once again, for the first time in years, the last American standing, with only Daigo and a Korean player in the way of his winning the most coveted title that had so long eluded him.  As the crowd began cheering his name upon his clutching out a victory against the tough Korean player, securing America's position as at least the number two Street Fighter power for one more year, the camera captured the elation clear on his face for the nearly 30,000 viewers watching the online stream.  He had missed the spotlight, if not the pressure.  One more hard-earned chance to win it all, it was the moment that every competitive player dreams of--playing on the biggest stage for the highest stakes, more than his own pride on the line, the home crowd cheering him on to become, not just a winner, but a national hero.

For Daigo Umehara, it might as well have been Tuesday.

The real story of this year's Evo was, of course, Justin Wong's failure to make the finals.  The biggest upset of the tournament came probably in the round of 32, when Justin found himself matched against Vance "Vangief" Wu, a relative newcomer who plays Zangief on a stock PS3 pad.  (Actually, there were two pad players in the final 8 this year.  Not only that, but HD Remix, the most classical game at Evo, was actually won by a new player using Zangief on a MadCatz FightPad.  Yes, the PS3 one with the bulging battery slot and the unreliable wireless dongle.  The moral of the story is, as I've said before, only scrubs would still insist that the only way to get good is on a joystick.  The actual top players find ways to win with whatever they are comfortable with.)

Justin is reportedly proficient with multiple characters, but his tournament main since the original SFIV has always been Rufus.  After Daigo swept his Rufus with Ryu at the GameStop championship last year, Justin tried to surprise Daigo with some different character choices during their last few encounters, but he still sticks with Rufus against most other players.  And with the new Super edition, Rufus, already a very solid character in the original SFIV, has become widely regarded as the strongest character in the game, largely on account of his new Ultra Combo II, the Big Bang Typhoon, which allows him to spin through projectiles, tipping the odds in his favor now against formerly troublesome fireball characters such as Ryu.  So Justin should have been coming into this tournament very confident for his expected rematch against Daigo's Ryu.  That said, even Rufus has weaknesses, and one of them happens to be Zangief.

The Justin vs. Vangief match is actually not very exciting to watch unless you have a highly advanced appreciation for the game, so I'll just summarize.  Like two taekwondo experts "respecting" one another, both players spend eternities just dancing in and out of each other's ranges, each hoping to bait the other into making a mistake.  It's competitive Street Fighter at its most fundamental and usually where Justin shines.  He wins the first game, but Vangief adapts to take the second.  In the first-to-two-games format, Justin has an opportunity to switch characters after losing the second game.  Zangief has the advantage against a close-range character such as Rufus, but he himself also faces more nigh impossible match-ups than almost any other character.  As confident as Justin may be in his Rufus to overcome the mismatch, surely the safer bet, after having already lost one to this Zangief, would be to counter with Sagat or Akuma and zone the Russian out.  Instead, in a decision he'll long regret, Justin sticks to his guns with Rufus and pays the price, losing the decisive third game.

All that was really prelude, however, to the best match of tournament.  In this double-elimination tournament, the loss to Vangief merely sent Justin to the losers bracket, where he had one more chance to qualify for the final 8.  In an elimination match, he needed to defeat "GamerBee," a Taiwanese Adon player.

For a player on the verge of elimination, it is almost a worst case scenario to be matched up, in a first-to-two format, against an unknown player using an unknown character this deep into a tournament.  You've got only a few games to figure out an opponent--both player and character--that you've probably never seen before, and even though, in theory, Adon should be easily beaten, the truth is that nobody knows how to approach the Adon fight.  Why would you need to know?  Nobody would be fool enough to bring Adon to Evo, right?  Nobody with skills enough to matter, anyway.

Actually, some of the cooler things to see in these huge international tournaments often come during the early pools.  Although the final rounds invariably come down to a handful of familiar selections (Rufus, Ryu, Akuma, Honda), it's a guarantee that, with so many players in attendance, there will be at least one mysterious entrant showing off his mastery of an obscure character.  Maybe somebody will get to take Gen onto the big screen and come away with a crowd-pleasing victory using the one nasty Gen trick that nobody else knew about.  For a game or two, he'll have people believing that Gen can actually contend, or at least that "it's the player, not the character."  Then an established player using a better character will see through the parlor tricks, declare "We've let these humans win enough," and send the briefly inspiring Gen player packing.

One would have expected the same thing to happen to GamerBee and his Adon, rarely seen but generally considered a low-tier character.  Instead, he proceeded to progress deeper and deeper into the tournament, toppling many solid players along the way.  He wasn't exploiting any secret combos either; on paper, Adon still looked like a weak character.  Yet many a favored top player must have been quaking in his boots as GamerBee frustrated one opponent after another with his repeated Jaguar Kicks (the hopping axe kick) and perfectly timed Rising Jaguars (Adon's equivalent to the Dragon Punch).  These should have been moves with obvious counters, right?  Yet GamerBee was playing Adon as though he were the best character in the game, and nobody seemed to have an answer.  Hell, even I got nervous watching him win--I've spent about half my life, after all, believing that Adon is a pretty worthless character.

By the time GamerBee drew Justin, the Adon shenanigans were far past being cute.  With all the pride to lose and probably none to win, you definitely did not want to be a top player losing to some Taiwanese Adon on the big screen at Evo.  It would be competitive Street Fighter's equivalent to getting struck out in schoolyard baseball by a girl pitcher (even if that girl's skills are legit and your bros, even as they laugh at you, are secretly praying that they won't be next).  No, the gag had gone far enough.  Or had it?

Actually, although I say GamerBee is unknown, he had actually won a bit of Internet fame already for the YouTube videos showcasing some of his tight online battles against top Japanese players, including Daigo himself.  I'm sure Justin and other top players were wishing during Evo that they had studied those matches more closely.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nozomi Entertainment rescues Utena license

Only in the realm of anime could one find excitement in the announcement of a new domestic edition, in standard-definition DVD format, of material already previously released on Region-1 DVD.  But, yes, this is exciting because, after all, it's Utena, one of the most literary works of serialized moving-picture storytelling.

To clarify the headline, word came out of Anime Expo last week that Nozomi Entertainment had secured the North American license for Revolutionary Girl Utena--both the 1997 television series and the 1999 film.

Central Park Media originally released the first 13 episodes of the series to home video here in 1998, but contractual difficulties held up the rest of the series until CPM was able to release the remaining 26 episodes between 2002 and 2003.  After protracted financial problems, CPM filed for bankruptcy last year, although their Utena license had likely expired before then, as the DVDs had long been out of print.

Although most of the CPM DVDs are not all that hard to come by in the secondhand market, it can take some doing to assemble the full set of 10 discs (plus the movie, which is still available new from a handful of retailers).  For such a critically acclaimed series, one might have hoped that another company would pick up the rights and offer a reprint.  Many fans, however, had resigned themselves to the reality that, as it was in CPM's days, the TV series was still an exceptionally difficult license to negotiate.  Since it also now qualified as old and was never mainstream in America to begin with, it was doubtful that the hassle and expense would be worth it to any of the potential distributors.

A smaller, enthusiast-oriented operation, Nozomi Entertainment is actually just a division of The Right Stuf International, which operates principally as an online retailer.  TRSI stands to profit on the merchant side, no matter who releases a title, so it usually only picks up licenses that the bigger companies have already passed on.  These are niche or older titles that have merit in TRSI's eyes, even if they are not likely to be big sellers.  These people are clearly themselves lovers of anime, in touch with fans and treating them to premium packaging and occasional bonus goodies.  I've been happy to support their work thus far (you can look for my name (among a thousand others, ahem) in the "special thanks for pre-ordering" section of the Emma: A Victorian Romance box sets), and I'm obviously very excited to see what they have in store for Utena fans.

The one thing they don't do is produce English dubs, but they've already stated that their Utena release, due sometime next year, will include CPM's old English track.  Hopefully they will also carry over CPM's notable extra features--exclusive interviews and commentaries by creator and director Kunihiko Ikuhara--which were uncharacteristically substantial for an anime release.
But I'll be happy just to see Utena available again in America.  It is too great a series to simply fade away, and I would encourage everyone to support Nozomi's release.  If you've never seen it before, then this is a second chance to experience probably the finest television anime of all time.  (No, I don't guarantee that it will change your life.  I'm not a sucker.)  For fans who already own the CPM release, this new edition will be sporting much improved remastered video taken from the 10th anniversary Japanese DVD release.  (Yes, it's still only DVD, but I should at least be able to get a better screen capture for my profile pic.)