Bill Clinton vs. Guilty Gear

Politicians often take on video games, but they usually stick to the big and controversial ones—the Night Traps and Mortal Kombats of their eras. Guilty Gear, Arc System Works’ fighting-game mishmash of anime and heavy metal, flies well beneath mainstream attention. It’s hard to imagine such a niche series riling politicians back in 1999, when it was still obscure even in the fighter scene. But that’s what happened.

Concerned over violent marketing that targeted children, President Bill Clinton announced a federal study of the ways that games, movies, and other media might corrupt the youth of America. The centerpiece of his evidence, according to wire reports, was a video-game ad that invited players to “kill your friends guilt-free.” That ad could only be the magazine spot for the original Guilty Gear.

The ad is relatively non-violent, aside from Sol’s contorted way of brandishing his sword. In fact, Atlus softened the tagline with asterisks and a disclaimer in the fine print. It’s a particularly mild offering from a time when Sega pasted screenshots on a naked women and Sony joked about dismemberment.

Of course, Guilty Gear harmed no malleable young minds. As an impressive 2-D game on the PlayStation, it was noticed by dedicated fighting-game enthusiasts and a few others, but that was as far as it went. Clinton’s task force may as well have examined movie-industry marketing by scrutinizing posters of New Rose Hotel.

No children cared about Guilty Gear or its ads, and that’s how things stayed. Senate hearings on video-game violence made Night Trap notorious, but there would be no inadvertent publicity bump for Guilty Gear. Perhaps that’s because Clinton never mentioned it by name. So Guilty Gear stayed on the outskirts. It resurfaced a few years later with the Guilty Gear X line, which features a cross-dressing boy nun and a guitar-slamming witch who pulls off her top in victory. Such things might’ve horrified government investigators, but no one told them.

One question remains: Did Clinton’s staff put together a blown-up display of that Guilty Gear ad for their press conference? And did they later throw it away? I’m long past the stage in my life where I’d hang video-game posters on my wall, but I might make an exception for a souvenir of Guilty Gear’s moment in the government spotlight.

Lost Anime: Gonzo's Mardock Scramble

Studio Gonzo is known for several things: making lots of anime series, letting those series disintegrate by the halfway mark, and epitomizing the style-over-substance approach that bloated the anime industry throughout the past decade. Studio Gonzo is also known for playing it safe. Most of their work, good or bad, goes right for the mainstream jugular or the sadly reliable vein of pillow-molesting anime nerds. There are few true experiments in the company’s catalog, and one of them was abruptly canceled: Mardock Scramble.

Mardock Scramble began as a novel by Tow Ubukata, a prolific author rarely at a loss for some bizarre idea. His works were behind Capcom’s Chaos Legion game, Production I.G’s mystic historical anime drama Le Chevalier d’Eon, and the incomprehensible Renaissance-superhero manga Pilgrim J├Ąger. Unlike Ubukata’s more fanciful tales, Mardock Scramble is straight science fiction: in Mardock City, a prostitute named Rune Balot is murdered by her amnesiac boyfriend. Resurrected by the local authorities, she awakens with powers over electricity. Then she tries to bring down her killer, with only a vague conspiracy and a talking, shapeshifting mouse named Oeufcoque to guide her.

Gonzo announced a Mardock Scramble anime series in 2005 to mark the studio’s 15th anniversary. Many were skeptical of Gonzo at this point, having endured Kiddy Grade and Burst Angel and other disappointments. Yet Mardock Scramble had names behind it: Ubukata himself provided the screenplay, artist Range Murata’s disquieting sad-girl artwork suited the story, and director Yasufumi Soejima had crafted the shifting patterns of Gankutsuou, which will likely be remembered as Gonzo’s only interesting series. Apparently out to make a good impression with this prestige project, Gonzo announced that Mardock Scramble would use a new type of 3-D digital animation.