My First Fansub

The mid-1990s weren't such a bad time to watch anime. Japanese cartoons didn’t fill an aisle at Best Buy or clog all corners of the Internet like they do today, but they were conveniently infiltrating television and video stores back in 1995. I was better (or worse) off than many young anime geeks who picked through the “animation” sections at their Blockbusters. My local comic shop rented just about every new anime officially released in North America, no matter how awful it might be. This let me discover many things I could’ve done without, but it also kept me well outside of anime fan circles.

I was dimly aware that there was a large community of people peddling tapes of anime that you couldn’t find at Suncoast, but I didn’t care as long as I could freely rent Dangaioh, Gunsmith Cats, El-Hazard, Blue Seed, Urusei Yatsura, Angel Cop, and whatever else the comic store bothered to stock. Then my sister went to a comic convention and returned with one of those “fansubs.” It was Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, only this version had Japanese dialogue, Chun-Li’s uncensored shower scene, the original lawsuit-friendly character names, and a soundtrack free of Alice in Chains. It also came with a flyer listing a bunch of other tapes offered by a fansub distributor.

So I look over the titles, and something jumps out at me. Why, they have the sequel to that Silent Möbius movie I oh-so-vaguely enjoyed! And it’s only $19.99! That’s a steal for something that’s only available in Japan! I’m ordering that right now!

Yes, it was a massive rip-off in several ways, though at least the tape came in a clamshell with a Xerox of the movie’s Japanese packaging. That way I could see that this thing cost about $98 in Japan, making a $20 price tag seem a bargain at the time. Of course, it wasn’t long before I ventured online and learned that a lot of fans just traded fansubs, and that most of the people who flat-out sold them charged about seven bucks per tape.

And what about Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture 2? Disappointing. Silent Möbius is and always was a cliché carnival about women hunting slimy trans-dimensional invaders in rainy future Tokyo, but the original Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture had some slickly animated battles. The second film is much slower, featuring more of reluctant heroine Katsumi Liqueur whining about the exact same things she whined about (and seemingly got over) in the first movie. It also makes the mistake of humanizing the Lucifer Hawks, the other-dimensional antagonists of the series. The first movie keeps them as slavering monstrosities beyond humanity's realm, sorta like a low-caliber Lovecraft story with generic anime women instead of virulent racism. Silent Möbius 2 makes the Lucifer Hawks more like the angry, conniving demons found in just about every anime ever made, robbing itself of a good chunk of novelty.

It’s a different world today. No one cares much about Silent Möbius, fansubs are so plentiful online that they overwhelm the official anime publishers, and VHS bootlegs like this are just quaintly embarrassing pieces of nostalgia. There’s certainly nothing else interesting about my blurry old copy. It was subbed by “E. Monsoon Productions,” a name that now brings up only a few lists of obsessive anime fans’ videotape collections.

The anime nerd that I was can take comfort that Silent Möbius: The Motion Picture 2 wasn’t officially released in North America until years after he paid for his pricey fansub. Bandai brought both films to DVD in 2008, redubbing the first one and unwisely not selling the two movies together. I didn’t bother buying them, as I was hurting for money and my interest in Silent Möbius 2 had faded by then. Perhaps I knew that I’d already spent too much on it.

Depressing Game Endings: M.U.S.H.A.

The Sega Genesis library boasts an estimated 47,000,000 shooters, and Compile’s M.U.S.H.A. is the best of them. It’s visually stunning even today, it's well-designed, and, of course, it's unfairly hard. From the fourth level onward, it’s a frantic battle for survival that all but forces you to exploit the game’s cheats to their fullest.

There’s even a nasty surprise after the game’s assumed final boss, as a recurring orange-and-black mecha swoops in to pelt you with one last flurry of lasers and homing fireballs.

And then it’s over. The M.U.S.H.A. mecha’s pilot, a young woman named Terri, limps out of the cockpit, and her nerve-flaying battles are finally at an end.

Well, not quite. Terri has only minor injuries, and the game assures us (with three exclamation points) that she’s just waiting for future adventures! Funny how Terri doesn’t really look like she’s waiting for future adventures, especially not any in the form of grueling, Compile-made shooters. She looks like she’s praying for merciful death to release her from the unending, robot-waged war in which she's trapped.

Or maybe she’s actually in rehab for a crippling heroin addiction, as the M.U.S.H.A. manual suggests.

Fortunately for Terri, Compile stopped making shooters around 1993, as the company landed a hit with the puzzle-game series Puyo Puyo and created little else until 2001's Zanac X Zanac. Then Compile folded. This denied the world many excellent shooters in the vein of M.U.S.H.A., but at least their mecha pilots were finally allowed to retire.

Metal Storm: The Destruction of Gundam Copyrights

Irem and Tamtex’s Metal Storm is an often under-appreciated marvel from the NES era. It’s a solidly designed mecha-shooter at its base level, but then it throws in the ability to reverse gravity, affecting enemies, obstacles, and the player’s M-308 Gunner robot. It’s a wonder that this idea hasn’t been ripped off countless times since Metal Storm’s 1991 debut, but then again, the game was never a huge success.
There are several reasons for that. For one thing, Irem couldn’t afford to market or distribute Metal Storm heavily. And even though the game landed a Nintendo Power cover, it didn’t catch on among a gaming press that was already inundated with NES releases.
I doubt that the M-308 Gunner itself had anything to do with Metal Storm’s low profile, although it lacks something found on most robots of its day. Everything about the M-308 Gunner makes sense until you notice that it has no head, and that big orange shape on its chest doesn't immediately register as a cockpit. Perhaps American kids just weren’t ready for a mecha without a face. Someone involved with Metal Storm’s print ad thought the exact same thing and decided that this robot needed a head. Any head would do.
So the advertised version of the M-308 Gunner borrowed a head off one of Japan’s most recognizable anime robots: the Zaku from Mobile Suit Gundam. As low-level enemy mecha, Zakus are destroyed by the truckload in various Gundam series, and by the end of the 1980s, they were almost as recognizable in Japan as the iconic white Gundam robots themselves. In America, however, no one would spot a Zaku’s head (or a Gundam-like shield) outside of a few devoted anime nerds who happened to page through a GamePro issue. Nobody at Bandai, which had canceled a Zeta Gundam NES game back in 1988, noticed this copyright violation either. They were too busy prepping Doozybots for that fall's TV schedules.
Metal Storm also might’ve stolen its name from a movie about The Destruction of Jared-Syn, but that’s another story.