April 1, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
The name “Cowboy Bebop“ should be familiar to any serious anime enthusiast. It appears on virtually every “top” anime list, and many fans consider the series to be one of their personal favorites. Cowboy Bebop also received the prestigious Seiun Award in 2000, joining the ranks of other science fiction classics such as The Empire Strikes Back, Alien and Blade Runner. The series established Watanabe Shinichiro as a top director, whose ability to synchronize action and story to any genre of music gives his work a unique quality that is rarely seen in other shows. In my opinion, however, Samurai Champloo is his finest effort, and perhaps the best anime of all time. That is why no one should ever watch it.
Although I personally feel that Samurai Champloo is the greatest anime ever made, I never recommend it to friends, as doing so would be immoral. In fact, it is not uncommon for me to first sing its praises, and then tell people to avoid it at all costs. The reason is simple: Samurai Champloo is so good that it will make all other Japanese animation feel inadequate. After experiencing the series for the first time, for example, I was left with a burning desire to watch something else that featured samurai, ninja or both. Eventually, I settled on Basilisk, which turned out to be a really great show. The problem, though, was that the entire time I was watching it, I wanted it to be Samurai Champloo.
Admittedly, Samurai Champloo is not perfect; there are two or three completely ridiculous filler episodes that I tend to skip during successive viewings, and the plot twist about the “sunflower samurai” was anything but surprising. These minor issues do not ruin the overall experience, however. Hip hop and swordplay go together beautifully, and unlike Cowboy Bebop, the focus on a single genre of music gives Samurai Champloo a cohesiveness that the former lacks. Until Vagabond or Lone Wolf and Cub are adapted to the small screen, it will probably continue to stand as the best samurai anime in existence.
The only issue, therefore, is that Samurai Champloo is simply too good. After seeing it once, no other series will do, which is a serious problem for immersion learners. There is nothing wrong with watching the same series multiple times, of course; Japanese is Japanese, and any input is better than no input. Samurai Champloo will make everything else seem boring, however, and finding new immersion material will become unnecessarily daunting task. The best advice I can offer to those that have never seen it is to watch it last.
Samurai Champloo aired from May 2004 to March 2005 on Fuji Television, and has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in both Japan and the United States. In our opinion, the collections released by FUNinmation are the best value; they contain the original Japanese voice acting, and although they only include English subtitles, they are significantly cheaper than the sets sold in Japan.
March 4, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
Available free on the PlayStation Store, the PlayStation Vita version of Phantasy Star Online 2 is technically region-locked. Because the console itself only supports a single PSN ID at any given time, the downloadable client must be accessed by a Japanese account. However, SEGA also released a physical copy of PSO2, and users have reported that this version allows them to connect to the game servers regardless of region. A Japanese SEGA ID is still required, but it can be tied to any PSN account.
There are some things to consider before importing the Phantasy Star Online 2 Special Package, though. Should PSO2 be released internationally in the future, for example, it may not be possible to link a second SEGA ID to the same PSN account. That being said, although an English version has been announced, news has been sparse since its reveal. Moreover, the servers will not be worldwide; they will be separated by region, so English-speaking players may prefer to stay on their original Japanese “ship” regardless. In addition, there was a time when the international PSO2 community feared that SEGA would ban users with foreign IP addresses from playing the game. That never came to fruition, but players using this trick could be blocked in the future if SEGA decides that it is an exploit.
February 20, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
Yesterday afternoon, expatriate writer Donald Richie passed away in Tokyo at the age of 88. A name that is easily recognized by anyone with a background or interest in Japanese film studies, Richie spent most of his adult life in Japan, becoming a respected critic and cultural analyst. He is credited with exposing Kurosawa Akira to Western audiences, and also wrote extensively on the work of Ozu Yasuhiro. For many years, in addition to publishing his own fiction and non-fiction writings, he reviewed films and books for The Japan Times.
The contributions Richie made to the Western understanding of Japanese culture make his death a great loss to all that are interested in the country. More information about his life and death is available in both English and Japanese.
February 14, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
The team behind the upcoming sequel to Ore no Shikabana o Koete Yuke (俺の屍を超えてゆけ) has started a development blog called “The Road to the Sequel.” Since its announcement at the Tokyo Game Show last fall, not a single word had been said (until today) about the PlayStation Vita title, which will be the first new “OreShika” (俺屍) game since the original was released for the PlayStation in 1996. According to their first post, however, the team at Sony Computer Entertainment hopes that regular updates will help to ease any worries that were created by their six months of silence.
Unfortunately, they have not shared any specific details about the game yet, but the information posted this afternoon does suggest that development is progressing steadily; environments are being built and characters are being put in motion. They are still brainstorming new ideas, though, and adjusting to the unique Vita hardware has meant a lot of trial and error for the team at this stage.
To develop the new OreShika title, SCE is working with Alfa System, who developed the first game in the series as well as its 2011 PlayStation Portable port. They insist that each trip to Kumamoto Prefecture (where Alfa System is based) is strictly for business purposes, but the local cuisine appears to be having a big influence on the game as well.
The Ore no Shikabana o Koete Yuke sequel has no release date at the moment, and as neither the PSOne original nor the PSP port were localized for Western release, it is hard to guess whether or not it will ever leave Japan. Fortunately, PS Vita consoles are region-free.
February 6, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, a Nintendo 3DS launch title, was rereleased today as Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask Plus (レイトン教授と奇跡の仮面プラス). An eShop exclusive, Miracle Mask Plus includes numerous upgrades, such as new animated cutscenes, three save slots, and more puzzles. Level-5 has also added some features that will make the game more friendly; extra tutorials and hints will make things easier for younger players, and the downloadable content from the original release will be accessible immediately in Plus.
The expanded story events in Miracle Mask Plus are said to deepen the original plot, but as it is technically an entirely new game, anyone that already owns Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask will have to upgrade (for 3000円) in order to get the “full” story. The Professor Layton series has always been friendly towards Japanese learners though, so for anyone that has yet to experience the series’ 3DS debut, Miracle Mask Plus is certainly worth its asking price.
February 5, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
Tadoku (多読) is an immersion learning contest that challenges participants to “Read More or Die;” to compete, entrants must read as much as possible in their target language (or languages) over the course of one month. Unfortunately, the first round of Tadoku 2013, which ran from January 1 to January 31, is now over and the winners have been announced. According to the results, the top five finishers all read the equivalent of over 3,000 pages each.
The Tadoku competition is all-inclusive; in addition to books, competitors can read anything from a long list of acceptable media that includes manga, subtitled video, news articles and even games. Tadoku does weigh each genre differently, however, but the freedom the contest allows for opens the door to language learners of all levels.
The next round of Tadoku will be shorter than the January contest, and will run from March 15 to March 31. Information about how to sign up is available on the official site.
February 4, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
Last week, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland Plus (メルルのアトリエ Plus ～アーランドの錬金術士3～) was featured on the cover of Dengeki PlayStation, but unfortunately the magazine provided very little new information regarding the upcoming PlayStation Vita title from Gust. Announced in early January, Meruru Plus is an upgraded port of the original Atelier Meruru game for PlayStation 3. The new features and gameplay improvements outlined in Dengeki, however, are also presented in detail on the game’s official site. More interesting, therefore, was the interview with series illustrator Kishida Meru, whose comments provide some insight into the possibility of future entries in the “Plus Project.”
When Atelier Totori, the second game to take place in Arland, was announced as the first Plus release, many wondered why Gust had elected to skip over the original Arland adventure, Atelier Rorona, and start from the middle of the trilogy. One popular theory suggested that because Atelier Rorona is arguably the weakest title of the three, Gust may have thought it better to introduce newcomers to the series with a more balanced, enjoyable experience, making Totori the natural choice. When Meruru Plus was announced, however, a port of Rorona began to seem even more unlikely. Thankfully, the interview with Kishida contains enough hints to give fans hope.
Admittedly, Kishida does not explicitly say that Rorona Plus is coming, but there is enough evidence in his comments to suggest that it is still a possibility. That the series of Plus releases has an official name, for example, reflects the enthusiasm Gust has for bringing more Arland games to the Vita, and he specifically says “Arland,” not “Atelier.” Kishida also notes that the success of Totori Plus was influential in green-lighting Meruru; if the games continue to be strong sellers, then it seems likely that the company will consider making more ports. Finally, the artist expressed his own surprise at the speed at which Meruru Plus was produced. Atelier Meruru is considered to be the strongest game in the trilogy, however, so its short development cycle could be a reflection of the original’s quality. On the other hand, Rorona Plus, which would be based on weaker source material, might simply be taking more time and effort to complete. While this is all speculation, Kishida’s words do not make it seem like there is any reason to give up on Rorona Plus.
Atelier Meruru Plus launches on March 20 in Japan, which is the same month that Tales of Hearts R, Soul Sacrifice and a new entry in the Madou Monogatari series will also hit stores. If it can hold its own, Rorona, who makes cameo appearances in the other two Arland games, may finally come to the Vita in her own adventure.
February 2, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
In the year 20XX, Tokyo has become overrun with grotesque monsters, and to save the city, the Japanese government has created a secret team of soldiers known simply as “X” (エクス) to exterminate them. You, the player, are a high school student who, after being attacked by a mysterious black knight, discovers his hidden powers and joins X on their mission to rid Tokyo of the 異形 (モンスター) menace.
Following the success of Demon Gaze, which sold 50,000 copies in its first week, Experience has announced their next PlayStation Vita release; this time, they will be bringing Labyrinth Cross Blood (a PC and Xbox 360 dungeon crawler) to the handheld as Labyrinth Cross Blood: Infinity. The Vita port, which was detailed in Famitsu this week, is expected to add an extra game mode and many other new features. It will be out on April 25 in Japan.
Among the additions in Infinity are collaboration events with characters from Students of the Round, the ability to enable chibi character portraits in cutscenes and dungeons, and a new level of difficulty called “Infinity Mode.” Designed for experienced DRPG gamers, Infinity Mode lowers the default party size from six to five, but grants access to new, powerful items created specifically for the Vita release. Finally, players will be able use near to download information about other parties. As with Demon Gaze, however, items will not be exchanged between users.
Character classes in Labyrinth Cross Blood are called “blood codes,” which are each based on a famous historical warrior such as Joan of Ark or Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Two blood codes can be equipped at once, meaning party members can be altered to fit nearly any play style. In addition to class customization, players can also alter their characters’ appearances in fourteen different ways for virtually endless possibilities.
According to Famitsu, development for Labyrinth Cross Blood: Infinity is currently eighty percent complete. Infinity will be the second DRPG from Experience on the Vita, but it is doubtful that it will be the last; they seem passionate about the genre and are excited to increase its popularity via the handheld. Their games have yet to be localized, however, so importing will probably be the only way to play Labyrinth Cross Blood: Infinity.
January 30, 2013 | J.J. Cappa
Sony has finally announced international release dates for the upcoming PlayStation Vita title from Inafune Keiji; Soul Sacrifice will arrive in North America on April 30 and is set to launch in Europe the next day. They further confirmed that the preorder bonuses being distributed in Japan will be available worldwide as well, with one special exception; those that reserve the game in the West will also be given a Japanese voice-over pack, which will later be sold as downloadable content, for free.
Although most Western releases only include English and other relevant local languages, it has become easier to find games that offer Japanese support in recent years. Even in those cases, however, the extra voice work or translated text is usually included from the start instead of being sold for a premium. Sony, therefore, is most likely using Soul Sacrifice as a test case; for some games, a Japanese option can be marketed as a selling point, but this is an experiment to see if literally selling a language pack is a worthwhile venture.
If the Japanese voice-overs for Soul Sacrifice do well as downloadable content, other developers may follow suit by selling the original audio for their games as well. This could encourage some companies to begin charging for what they had once provided for free, but it is also possible that the number of games that give users the option to play in Japanese will increase (for those willing to pay). Overall, the price should remain significantly cheaper than importing; Soul Sacrifice, for example, is expected to retail for around $40 in the United States, as opposed to $70 for an imported copy.
With Soul Sacrifice, Sony might start a trend that makes Japanese support more readily available in games sold outside of Japan, which would be worth a slight increase in overall cost.