Last month brought the first trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One movie, based on Ernest Cline’s book about a virtual-reality treasure hunt in a dystopian future. This prompted me to finally read Ready Player One, and it convinced me that the future of profitable literature is all about nostalgia: pure, vacuous, unreflective nostalgia that namechecks as many childhood fascinations as print allows.
Well, I want a piece of that. I’m now at work on a science fiction novel called Mission One Start, and I know it’s bound for the best-seller lists. Here’s a sample.
I always liked Critical Mass Eisley. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of clubs across the OMNIWAY based on the Cantina from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but this one went beyond rote imitation. The layout echoed an alien version of the classic sitcom Cheers, and tonight a Skeksis from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal tended bar, wearing mirrored cyberpunk shades while mixing a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here they knew the difference between a Trandoshan and a Gorn.
Even the patrons were a more eclectic mix. As I grabbed a Romulan Ale, I ducked around a winter-camo Robocop, a gaggle of teenage girls dressed as the Bangles in Voltron pilot outfits, and an impressively well-rendered Destro from G.I. Joe wearing Ghostbuster gear. It was great.
I slipped behind a table styled like the monster checkerboard from the Millennium Falcon and tapped my line open.
“You sure she’ll be here?” I asked.
“Totally,” Rhodel said in my ear. “The Minicons may be weird, but they always follow through. Besides, they need our passcodes, and we need their access.”
“I think I see her.”
She wove through the crowd like a ninja about to kidnap the president. Her avatar was a slim, sharp-featured woman with long red hair and just an adorable hint of anime around the eyes. She wore a Dune stillsuit that glowed with subtle crimson highlights, topped off with a visor and yellow trenchcoat right off Jubilee from the X-Men.
“Quit gawking and talk to her, man!” Rhodel piped up through my ear. I’d forgotten that he had a link to my visuals. “And don’t get caught up talking about that awful Dune movie.” Read more »
What’s the anime-manga industry up to these days? Monster girls, from the look of it. Mike Toole recently wrote an Anime News Network article about this trend, which seizes the base elements of sex comedies or domestic dramas and adds centaurs, lamia, harpies, mermaids, ogres, spider-people, slimes, and other creatures, most of them female.
I find this fascinating in concept. I always like it when people appropriate legends and creatures in new and ridiculous ways, so I see nothing wrong with a sitcom about a guy forced to share a house with a snake-person or a pile of sentient protean goo. I’m sure the storytellers of ancient Greece and general antiquity came up with things like this. They just didn’t write them down.
The problem with most of these monster-girl series is that they’re typical stories beneath the new paint. The leader of the whole movement is Monster Musume, a manga and anime about an average guy with various roommates from the monster realm: first a lamia who can’t keep her coils off him, then a juvenile harpy, then a noble centaur, and so on. It adheres to the same bland template as countless other risque comedies, as nearly all of the mythical beast-women want the protagonist in one way or another. That’s why I gave up on the series. Well, that and I started feeling sorry for the lamia, who met the protagonist first and clearly liked him best.
Monster Musume doesn’t hesitate to overload on titillation, and rarely does it take its premise to imaginative heights. For example, we’re told that lamia are all female and thus require human males to breed (gosh, how convenient), even though many brands of fiction have male snake-men. What about Michael Swanwick’s The Dragons of Babel, where a male lamia is called a lamius? What about the G.I. Joe movie, which features a serpent-emperor voiced by Burgess Meredith? What about those Piers Anthony novels that a lot of people warned me against reading? I’m sure at least one of them has a male lamia.
There’s one section of the monster-girl trend that I actually enjoy, if only for selfish, nerdy reasons. It’s a manga called T-Rex na Kanojo, or My Girlfriend is a T-Rex.
It’s ostensibly a parody of the whole monster-girl thing, and it envisions a world where dinosaurs didn’t go extinct so much as they evolved over untold epochs to live and work alongside humans. Of course, this evolution means that dinosaur girls look human as far as their heads and torsos are concerned—everywhere else they have scales, claws, horns, or armor plating.
I realize that I let Rygarfield fall behind schedule, as I’ve made only two strips in fifteen months. I’m not worried, though. All of the best webcomics and many of the terrible ones go on long, largely unexcused hiatuses, so it’s only natural that Rygarfield reflect its medium. And I think the third strip is the best yet!
Abysmal webcomics aside, making Rygarfield led me to appreciate the NES version of Rygar more and more. It already occupied a special place in my nostalgia, since it was the first NES game I saw nearly in its entirety. A neighbor kid had mastered most of it, and he spent one afternoon showing me the whole game up to the final boss. I was so fascinated by the sprawling scenery, the cool monsters, and the little secrets that I didn’t realize I never actually got to play the game. Rygar may as well have been a crude pixel movie for me.
More to the point, Rygar is highly impressive for a 1987 NES offering. Most of that period’s worthwhile games came straight from Nintendo themselves; the majority of third-party titles were simple arcade derivatives or crude side-scrollers. Yet Tecmo recast the boring arcade Rygar as a spacious NES quest that mixes overhead stages with horizontal stuff, offering the player RPG-ish leveling and an arsenal of neat accessories (well, the grappling hook is neat; the rest are rarely used). The creatures encountered are remarkably varied, and there’s a lot to explore as each new item opens up previously impassible areas, like some fantasy-themed Metroid. It even has one of the earliest floating castles in an NES game!
I’m surprised that Rygar didn’t become a series-launching cult classic along the lines of Castlevania or Mega Man. Tecmo tried a PlayStation 2 remake, but it doesn’t count.
No matter. I’m sure that Rygar will see a parasitic resurgence once Rygarfield lands itself a movie deal, a low-budget CG cartoon, and fields of merchandise. Maybe someone will make bootleg T-shirts that show Rygarfield peeing on, say, a Sega Master System.
The first two Lunar games remain cases of RPG clichés done unimpeachably right. They button up every little part of the genre that grew old during the early 1990s, but they do it all with exceptional artwork, grand music, likeable characters, and cinematic aplomb (oh, and goofball Working Designs localizations that I still find irresistible). That’s especially true of the second game, Lunar II: Eternal Blue. In fact, in the whole skein of RPGs where plucky young heroes meet mysterious, blue-haired women, Lunar II is the best damn RPG where a plucky young hero meets a mysterious, blue-haired woman. And you can quote me on the box.
The original Lunar: The Silver Star gets most of the attention when it comes to remakes, but you’ll find that Softbank’s Lunar artbook, source of early production art and other things, grants a touch more space to Lunar II. For example, the second game gets this comic strip by artist Akari Funato. In it we see Eternal Blue protagonists Hiro and Lucia visiting their makers at the Game Arts offices.
It’s easy to follow if you have even a minor understanding of Japanese and game-development gags, but here’s a rough translation anyway.
I discussed the Demo Demo PlayStation series here before, partly because it has the only publicly released bit of Bounty Arms and partly because it’s a neat relic of the PlayStation’s uncertain first year. The Demo Demo line appeared in store kiosks shortly after the PlayStation’s debut in late 1994, when Nintendo and Sega and even the NEC-Hudson alliance dominated much of the game industry’s giant Risk board. Demo Demo lasted only a few years and was soon forgotten, but it helped show off Sony’s new system in time of need.
Demo Demo discs weren’t sold commercially, but they had to catch the eye in stores. That’s why a lot of them have comics on their covers. They’re simple strips with a few recurring characters, and among them are two girls who serve as a doofus and a straightman (or “boke” and “tsukkomi” if you want the Japanese terms) as they promote Sony products. I previously looked at one of their cover comics, and I now present their first appearance, which comes on the only Demo Demo PlayStation disc I still own. Through no coincidence, it’s the one with the Bounty Arms demo.
I guessed wildly and incorrectly when I summarized a Demo Demo comic before, so I’ll translate it here. Neither character has a name as far as I can tell, and it’s tempting to label them Demo and Dummo. But I’ll be consistent.
PANEL ONE Brown-Haired Stupid Girl: I wonder if these games are any good… Blonde-Haired Smart Girl: Why don’t you just go to the store and try them out on Demo Demo?
PANEL TWO Smart Girl: Check out videos of new and upcoming games! Play demos yourself! And there’s a new edition every month!
PANEL THREE Stupid Girl: Wow, this game’s really interesting! Oh, but so is THIS one! Uh oh, which one do I want? Smart Girl: Sigh. There she goes…
There’s less of a joke here than we see in the girls’ later outing, but it revolves around the fact that someone can’t decide what PlayStation game to get. And why? Because every PlayStation game is amazingly good. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nekketsu Oyako or Cosmic Race or TAMA or Toshinden or Kileak: The Blood, my dear, because you’re guaranteed to love it!
Our indecisive heroine’s friend could just tell her to get Ridge Racer, which was the console’s most impressive first-round release and still plays well today. However, Sony has a Demo Demo quota to meet this month. Something’s gotta move PlayStations, and I’m afraid it won’t be Bounty Arms.
I’m afraid that Rygarfield has not yet emerged as this century’s hottest new comic strip. At first I didn’t know what the problem might be. It has everything kids like: video games, webcomics based on video games, and ironic Garfield humor. Then I realized what was wrong. Rygarfield had only one panel instead of the multi-panel format used by every good comic that isn’t The Far Side!
Now Rygarfield is the complete work that it should have been at the start. It also delivers biting commentary about cats and the marginal secrets of old NES games. It’s like Howard and Nester meets Heathcliff!
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You know what’s wrong with webcomics? They just don’t have broad appeal. Name any webcomic, and you can find a great mass of people who hate it or, worse yet, ignore it.
Fortunately, I have devised a new project to scale magnificent heights in online comedy and profit. It is a webcomic that no one could shun, a webcomic that fuses the Internet’s boundless affection for old video games with the proven success of one of the past century’s most marketable characters. I call it Rygarfield.
Rygarfield is available for syndication, merchandising, and whatever funding you might care to send me. Feel free to make ROM hacks and memes about Rygarfield, so long as you credit me and pay me royalties. And if anyone points out that Rygarfield is a blatant arrogation of copyrighted material, tell them it’s OK under the doctrine of fair use. Just don’t tell them to look up what the doctrine of fair use actually means.
Be sure to check back for regular Rygarfield comics about sarcasm, dog abuse, and that weird, unreachable door in the water just above Dorago’s lair!
Flash Hiders and Battle Tycoon rarely draw notice in the history of fighting games. The two titles were the now-defunct Right Stuff’s attempts at snatching a piece of the genre’s sugary and super-saturated pie in the 1990s. Neither succeeded, but I suspect they were ahead of the curve. Every modern fighting game has a console-oriented story mode with RPG-ish customization, and Right Stuff explored that territory with the original Flash Hiders in 1993. More can be read in this GameSetWatch piece I wrote years ago, even though I now see some typos and at least one factual error: Patchet is a were-polar-bear, not a werewolf.
I like Flash Hiders, and I also like its manual. Game instructions usually include guidelines for handling a cartridge or CD, and every so often the publisher might add little comics of the game’s characters failing to heed such advice. This is a lost art today, but it was common in the Japanese market of the early 1990s, when CDs were a new technology and there was always the chance that some consumers would try to play a game by breaking the disc apart and picking their noses with the shards.
My favorite game-safety guides are the ones from Phantasy Star III and IV, but the last page of the Flash Hiders manual is also very helpful. It offers plenty of illustrated advice for first-time CD-ROM owners.
Toren Smith passed away on March 4. Many remember him as a pioneer in the manga-translating world, and there’s a lot to his story: how he scraped by while living in Japan, how he made friends with the Gainax crew, how his name was affixed to a Gunbuster character, and how he brought all sorts of manga to North America, starting with Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed. You can read more about Smith’s illustrious career in Jonathan Clements’ writeup and Mike Toole’s recent column, so I’ll just concentrate on one small thing.
I was introduced to Smith’s work in the very first manga I ever bought: volume two of Appleseed. In those days I took for granted all of the colorful and coherent dialogue rendered into my native tongue by Smith and his fellow translator Dana Lewis. It was only after I’d digested some manga from other sources that I appreciated how much effort Smith and Lewis put into the process. It was all the more amazing that they’d handled something as technologically dense as Masamune Shirow manga.
Smith and Lewis did excellent work all around, and yet there’s one particular panel that comes to mind whenever I think of their output. It shows up in Shirow’s original Dominion Tank Police manga. Our spitfire heroine Leona has once again destroyed property and endangered lives in her pursuit of justice, and once again she expects a chewing-out from the chief of police. That doesn’t happen.
It’s one little exclamation, but it captures the way Smith and Lewis could find the perfect word for a situation. Oik. Not “huh?” Not “eh?” Not some drawn-out “Say what now?” Those would be adequate, but they fall short of the simple sputtering “oik.” It’s pure bewilderment crystalized in three letters, and it fits Leona’s look in a way that no other interjection could.
Finding the best possible phrase is very hard. It’s a ubiquitous challenge for anyone who writes, edits, translates, or, in my case, babbles childishly about old Sega Genesis games. Most of us compromise. To paraphrase Mark Twain, we settle for the lightning bug instead of the lightning. Toren Smith didn’t, and a great many manga titles were all the better for it.
A wise observer once described Gainax as two diametrically opposed anime studios in one. Good Gainax takes chances and creates interesting stuff. Evil Gainax does its best to ruin everything. Good Gainax made FLCL and those cool Daicon shorts, but Evil Gainax made Mahoromatic and He is My Master. Good Gainax made most of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, but Evil Gainax made that scene. Good Gainax upended the anime industry with Evangelion, and then Evil Gainax exploited it with remakes and uncomfortable merchandise.
Where does the never-made Route 20: Galactic Airport fit into this tangle of heroism and villainy? We’ll never have a complete answer, since Gainax canceled the project over twenty years ago and hasn’t mentioned it since. Yet all available evidence points toward Good Gainax.
Route 20 apparently began life shortly after The Wings of Honneamise hit theaters. It was the 1980s, Japan’s bubble economy was surging to the skies, and Gainax had scored an unprecedentedly huge budget for Honneamise. A second ambitious film seemed natural, and early magazine previews suggested that Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and Mahiro Maeda’s Route 20 would be that film.