Matt Kamen has a sneak peek at the newest Naruto Shippuden game
While over 40 distinct Naruto game titles across almost a dozen console formats have been released in Japan, here in the UK we’ve mainly enjoyed those released by Namco Bandai. Chiefly, that’s been the Ultimate Ninja series, which enjoyed five games on the PlayStation 2 – three covering the events of the original Naruto series, two progressing onto adaptations of the Shippuden sequel’s events – before jumping to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with the Ultimate Ninja Storm line. Perhaps most popular of all, however, are those titles released on the PlayStation Portable, delivering top-tier graphics and home console levels of finesse for gamers on the go.
The PSP is where you’ll find the latest release, the lengthily-titled Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact. Developed by Cyberconnect2, it’s set to offer large-scale battles taken straight from the world of Naruto, pitting you against hordes of enemies at a time. A new ‘Rush Battle System’ will see you slicing through up to 100 enemies at once, while more conventional one-on-one battles connect more important moments in the plot.
The game’s story mode sees you fighting through the Naruto Shippuden saga, from Naruto’s return and re-training in the earliest episodes, through his battles against the malicious Akatsuki organisation, right up to some of the most recent developments from the series. The mythical Tailed Beasts – the fearsomely powerful creatures at the centre of Naruto lore – would appear to take the place of some of the game’s bosses too, so expect some large scale battles against the monsters. Luckily, you won’t be alone in your endeavours, as you’ll be able to link up with nearby friends for a two-player co-op mode.
Although the game is perfect for fans of the anime, if CyberConnect2’s previous Naruto games are anything to go on – and this certainly seems to be following in their footsteps – Impact should still be a solid, competently made and enjoyable action brawler even for those who don’t care for the series. Visually, it accurately captures all the characters and their signature jutsu techniques that fans are familiar with, delivering a gorgeous cel-shaded style that brings you closer to actually playing the anime than ever before.
With Impact’s release not due until the end of the year, expect a few surprises to be revealed about the game between now and then. That said, if you just can’t wait for it to hit shelves, you could do worse than picking up the recent Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive – a hybrid action-RPG also for the PSP, that tells an original story in the Naruto-verse – or Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 for PS3 and 360, which boasts over 40 playable characters. It’s fair to say, when it comes to Naruto titles, gamers are spoilt for choice!
Andrew Osmond reviews the reviews from 20 years ago.
On its explosive arrival in the West,Akira crossed the Pacific to catch the generation that grew up on the films of Spielberg and Lucas; it was also the generation that read adult superhero strips such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Akira, though, offered the shock-and-awe widescreen violence akin to that of enfant terrible live-action director, Paul Verhoeven. For example, both Akira and Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) have a gory money-shot scene in their early minutes, in which a luckless bit-part player is graphically torn apart by a hail of bullets. Unsurprisingly, such imagery excited reviewers.
“Otomo’s animation resembles Disney like Peter Greenaway reflects John Hughes,” wrote Angus Wolfe Murray in the weekend supplement of The Scotsman. “His imagery is so violent that it chokes the expectations of little children and drives teenage fantasies to the edge of ecstasy. Blind men at the British Board of Film Classification have awarded his two-hour apocalypse cartoon a 12 certificate [in cinemas], which is the equivalent of trailing Driller Killer on Junior Screen Test… Otomo’s imagination is like a cluster bomb. Visual shockwaves crash against the eye.”
There were exceptions to this line, including a probing analysis of Akira by Tony Rayns in Britain’s Monthly Film Bulletin. Rayns acknowledged Akira’s visceral power, noting, for example, that the finale where Tetsuo mutates in the Olympic stadium was close to David Cronenberg’s “new flesh” body-horror in the likes of The Fly. But Rayns also argued that, “Akira’s centre is still and quiet… Akira manages to express a particular kind of adolescent confusion and despair, locating it precisely between a disturbing vision of childhood and a sense that adult ‘maturity’ is a sham. Its sensibility is closer to Nicholas Ray [Rebel Without a Cause] than Ralph Bakshi, let alone the dozens of also-rans in Japanese animation.”
New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin agreed, celebrating Akira’s aesthetics beyond its violence. “The drawings of Neo-Tokyo by night are so intricately detailed,” she wrote, “that all the individual windows of huge skyscrapers appear distinct. And these night scenes glow with subtle, vibrant colour. Never resorting to the gaudiness of much ordinary animation, Mr. Otomo uses a wide range of colours in thoughtful, interesting ways… When its characters hurtle through space, they do it with breathtaking energy... Violent as it is on the surface, Akira is tranquil at its core. The sanest characters plead for the wise use of mankind’s frightening new powers, lending the whole film the feeling of a cautionary tale.”
Matt Kamen examines Japanese funerals in the real world.
In the world of Corpse Princess, mystically powered monks are able to form contracts with recently-deceased girls, empowering them to fight off Shikabane – restless spirits of the dead whose unfulfilled last wishes corrupt them into rampaging monsters. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen in reality but monks really do play an important role in mourning rituals.
Japan is a mostly secular society – elements from both Shintoism and Buddhism factor heavily into daily life but few people actively practise either in a Western sense. Religion in any walk of life is largely ceremonial rather than theological -- many Japanese weddings employ a typical western ‘white wedding’ style, for example, but fewer than 1% of the populace are Christian.
For funerals, the vast majority opt for traditional Buddhist ceremonies. This is why characters such as Keisei in Corpse Princess are presented as Buddhist monks with a sideline in supernatural combat – the imagery already fits with what Japanese viewers associate with last rites and the realms of the living and dead.
Buddhist funeral ceremonies can extend over 49 days. Immediately after death, the corpse is washed and kept on dry ice, while any orifices – ears, nostrils, etc – are packed with cotton wool. It is then placed in a coffin, with women dressed in kimonos and men in black suits or, less commonly nowadays, a male kimono. The kimono will be tied right-side over left, the opposite of the way they are worn in life.
On the day of the wake, the family of the deceased dress in black – a western formality that has overtaken the formerly traditional white funeral wear – and accept gift donations from other mourners. Buddhist sutras are chanted by the monk to bless the departed spirit and help it on its way to the afterlife. The funeral itself is usually the following day, and sees the deceased adorned with flowers and taken away for cremation. Before this, a new posthumous name is given to the deceased, which is said to help prevent the return or manipulation of their spirit.
After cremation, family members use chopsticks to carefully place bone fragments in an urn, working foot to head so their loved one is ‘upright’ even when in bits. The remains are then taken to the family home where incense is burned and prayers are said. When the spirit is believed to have moved on, the remains are then placed in a graveyard, with a monument for surviving family to visit.
If nothing else, the role of the Buddhist monk in the proceedings certainly opens up more creative fictional endeavours, as in Corpse Princess – somehow, the idea of the local vicar fighting the undead over here doesn’t hold quite the same appeal....
Corpse Princess 2is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. It has more guns in it than the average Japanese funeral. For a more realistic view of life in a Japanese undertakers, we recommend the live-action movie Departures.
Never as twee as Twilight or as bloody as Blade, Vampire Knight has stood the middle ground between romance and horror. This popular series now draws to a close and we finally see how the love triangle of Yuki, Kaname and Zero finally resolves. And so it is with a little sadness, dapper suits and Blood Rose close to hand, we say adieu to the last disc in this Manga Entertainment supernatural series.
Vampire Knight has been a steady influence on people’s choice of cosplay throughout its duration. The Manga Entertainment photo booth at MCM Expo has seen numerous Vampire Knight costumers ever since the series first aired on TV Tokyo in 2008 -- long before Manga Entertainment even picked up the UK rights! The very first was an entire group, with seven characters all cramming themselves into the same photo: Sarah Kwok, Simone Kwok, Yuki Chung, Yuyi Chung, Mai Nong, Hin Gian, and Winkei Chan. Since then, we’ve had a steady number pass in front of the camera, with Vampire Knight characters proving particularly popular with the ladies: check out Ruby Howell and her umbrella, or the flame-haired Starla Star (right). Maybe it’s the combination of vampire lovers and a promise of something more than just a peck on cheek (a nibble on the neck?) that continues to attract, but cosplayers do seem to enjoy portraying this series with a genuine hunger for what it represents.
Matt Kamen has a 2020 vision... careful, you might go blind...
Higher education in Japan can be fiercely competitive, with students facing punishing exams to get into the best high schools and even tougher ones for University. It doesn’t look like it’ll get any less stressful by the year 2020, as Minato Sahashi is reduced to a spineless wreck, having failed his entrance exams twice. On top of that, he’s a wet blanket, allowing his mother and sister to walk all over him, while everyone else considers him a complete loser. If only he had a girlfriend or six to boost his confidence....
Luckily, an ego boost is in Minato’s future, with the cute and impressively buxom Musubi literally falling into his arms. He’ll have to fight for her though, as he learns that Musubi is a Sekirei – a humanoid alien that can bond with a chosen human to activate their superhuman powers. Unsurprisingly, Minato turns out to be just such an individual and the newly formed duo is dragged into a survival tournament known as the ‘Sekirei Plan’, organised by the secretive MBI Corporation. As Tokyo becomes a battleground pitting the Sekirei against each other, Minato learns he can “contract” with more than one girl, creating a veritable harem of tough-as-nails warrior babes! When losing a battle also means the loss of the Sekirei, can Minato actually bring himself to compete when it means destroying other girls?
The male-oriented series is a departure for Sekirei’s manga creator, Sakurako Gokurakuin, whose body of work is dominated by boy-on-boy titles which usually target straight women. Gokurakuin – who also publishes manga under the name Ashika Sakura – first gained attention with self-published fan comics of Gundam Wing, before debuting her first original work, Night Walkers, in 1994. One of her earliest series, 1997’s Tokyo Renaikitan, focused on the relationship between a distressed teacher and his guardian demon, introducing a fantasy element that would go on to infuse many of her works.
Gokurakuin’s 2003 anthology series Sensitive Pornograph would receive its own video series adaptation in 2004, the first of the creator’s original works to be animated. Running only two episodes, the animated version echoed its anthology roots, with one episode exploring the addictive relationship between two manga creators with a decade’s age difference between them, the other a more whimsical tale of a man pet-sitting a rabbit which bizarrely turned out to be another man.
Sekirei, however, has proved Gokurakuin’s most popular work by far, with two TV seasons to its name so far and the manga seeing new chapters published fortnightly in Square-Enix’s Young Gangan magazine. While the true purpose of the Sekirei Plan and the mysteries of the aliens’ origins are still to be revealed, the answers begin to unravel in Sekirei: The Complete First Series…
Ciel Phantomhive seems a very privileged boy, especially for an orphan living in Victorian London. Inheritor of the family manor and business, the internationally successful Funtom toy company, Ciel is a young man of considerable means. But the death of his parents was no accident, and he craves vengeance on those responsible – so much so that he offers his soul for the servitude of Sebastian Michealis. A Satanic Jeeves, Sebastian is perfect in every way, a master of any domestic, social or martial task that is asked of him. He is, as he likes to boast, one hell of a butler, often fulfilling the duties of Ciel’s inept staff, and 100% committed to helping his master achieve his goals. Once he has, Ciel agrees that Sebastian will kill him, claiming his soul for the underworld. But before that comes to pass, Ciel must also fulfil his family obligation to Queen Victoria, investigating the strange crimes that plague London Town – including a certain Jack the Ripper....
Black Butler debuted in manga form in 2006, the first ongoing series from creator Yana Toboso following her short work Rust Blaster. Those were only her mainstream works– the talented 27-year old also published “boys’ love” manga under the pseudonym “Roku Yanao” (Rock Ya Now – get it?).
However, Toboso’s most notable visual influence in Black Butler is her love of Victoriana and Neo-Victorian styles. The Japanese obsession with such refinements dates back to the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the musical genre of Visual Kei started to take off in the 1990s that the trend really took off – a movement that took ornate Victorian fashions and blended both male and female styles into a rock-infused androgyny, paraded around in music videos and elaborate on-stage performances, and soon in numerous Gothic Lolita and Steampunk fashions.
As such clothing styles grew in popularity in Japan, they generated a fascination with the social behaviour of Victorian times, particularly that of high society with its outward image of propriety and decorum. To a Japanese audience, nothing exemplified this more than the English aristocracy’s staff of butlers and maids – and the latter have crept into manga and anime with incredible regularity. The Victorian London setting of Black Butler allowed Toboso to engage all of these elements at once – elaborate clothes, tense master-servant relationships, and ornate backgrounds, with a supernatural twist befitting the city’s dark and foreboding gas-lit streets. It all combines to make one hell of a show…
Takashi Komuro notices a disturbance at the school gates, escalating to strange bites, sudden death, then rebirth accompanied by a terrifying hunger. ZOMBIES! As the growing swarm makes their way through the school, he rushes to his ex-girlfriend and childhood sweetheart Rei, and insists on dragging her to safety. Her current boyfriend, Hiroshi, comes with them but is soon food for the undead.
Elsewhere in the school, a few other pupils somehow survive – kendo expert Saeko, pushy and political Saya and shy nerd/military fan Kohta. Along with airheaded nurse Shizuka, the group comes together to try and survive the end of the world. Meanwhile, the personality clashes of the survivors constantly threaten to shatter whatever illusion of safety they’re able to create for themselves in the anime series Highschool of the Dead.
Director Tetsuro Araki previously helmed Death Note and episodes of Black Lagoon. This is a man who can handle both dark horror and fast paced action at their best, which is exactly what you need in the face of an undead onslaught. The series is the latest offering from Madhouse, the famed anime studio responsible for more fantastic series than we you can shake a shotgun at.
It’s a rare Japanese attempt at a typically western genre – with a powerful influence from George Romero. There’s also the same kind of near-palpable fear and sense of claustrophobia that Kinji Fukusaku brought to the big screen in his 2000 adaptation of Battle Royale, which similarly cast school children in a different battle for survival. There are also numerous nods to zombified video games, from Capcom’s Dead Rising to a cheeky use of ‘H.O.T.D.’ in the opening credits – the same initialism as Sega’s House of the Dead shooter series.
Like all good zombie films, the ravenous cadavers are held up as a mirror to our own worst behaviours. This is driven home in the first episode, where two girls are practically skipping away from the undead, extolling their friendship and how they’ll survive because they’re together…. until one of them gets a little too close to a reanimated brain chomper. Then it’s “screw you, sister!” faster than you can say “brain candy”. Takashi’s own conflicted feelings for Rei and how he ‘won’ her only after Hiroshi’s death sets up a similar study in psychology throughout the show, as does his growing enjoyment of gruesomely dispatching the infected.
The violence is authentic, harsh and often gory but always powerful, and the series as a whole is a fantastic examination of humanity and survivalism in the most horrible of settings. Manga Entertainment were chasing the rights to Highschool of the Dead before the series even went into production, and fans the world over are already gnawing our arms off in anticipation! At last, it’s here… RUN!
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We grew up with them: Garth, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes. The comic strip has a long history. Four-panel strips have been around in Japan since at least the early 1900s. Classic comics like Sazae-san and modern hits like Axis Powers Hetalia all started as four-panel strips, and K-On! grew out of the same tradition.
K-On!derives its title from kei-ongaku, the Japanese word for light music. Four teenagers join a high school club at risk of being disbanded, and the clueless rookie turns into a star, leading them to success.
Central character and lead vocalist Yui Hirasawa is one of a long line of clumsy, hapless anime and manga heroines. Dopey enough to need mothering by her kid sister, she is only average in class and can’t play an instrument or read music, but when properly coached and motivated she displays astonishing innate ability. Her main gift is to communicate a sense of optimism, fun and joy to which audiences never fail to respond. Despite this, she still forgets lyrics mid-song.
Her band mates fall into familiar anime stereotypes – rough girl, shy girl, rich girl, needy outsider – with teachers, siblings and friends to broaden the potential audience appeal. Carrying on the wish-fulfilment motif, the girls all play top-notch instruments, from Yui’s Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitar (the 2005 re-release, not the 1958 original) to drummer Ritsu’s Rick Marotta Signature Yamaha Hipgig skins.
Creator Kakifly, a male Japanese artist born in Kyoto, has contributed short works and illustrations to a handful of professional and fan anthologies, but K-On! is his only known original work, starting in Manga Time Kirara magazine, it ran until September 2010.
It was successful enough to be collected into four volumes, the first of which sold over 25,000 copies in its first week in May 2009. Sales were boosted by the debut of the first 13-part anime adaptation from Kyoto Animation on TBS. They built steadily: collected volume 3 sold 120,000 copies in its first week in December. Another 26 episodes and a standalone short followed, with a movie planned for December 2011, all directed by Naoko Yamada.
Secrets, unsuspected talents and the hard-won loyalty of a peer group tie K-On! to classic high school tales like Kimagure Orange Road and Slow Step, but its total focus on girls and their world, combined with its guitar geekery, signal its true genre: “moe” – anime’s ever-present pandering to the male gaze. This is a show about girls, not for them. The target audience doesn’t want them to grow up and away. Even when they go to college in the manga, it’s the same local college. They are cute, endearing and frozen in time: like the music of our teenage years, forever young.
K-On! is out on 29th August 2011 on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Andrew Osmond investigates an unexpected link between Madhouse and Disney
Cartoon fans should know Stitch. He’s the toothy blue delinquent, aptly described as “an evil koala,” who fell to Earth in Disney’s 2002 film Lilo and Stitch and was tamed (a bit) by a little Hawaiian girl. Now he’s the star of the Madhouse TV anime Stitch!, in which he falls to Earth again and is tamed by a little Japanese girl. What, you’re a Stitch fan and you’ve not heard of it? Actually, not many Westerners have…
Lilo and Stitch had anime links from the beginning. Film directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois made no secret that one of their inspirations was Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro. According to DeBlois, “We were inspired by the way Miyazaki created realistic relationships between the human characters, [Totoro’s)] sister-sister relationship, and wove in a realm of fantasy and whimsy very subtly.” In Disney’s film, Lilo was voiced by Daveigh Chase, while David Ogden Stiers voiced Jumba, Stitch’s alien inventor. Both actors reunited in the Disney dub of Spirited Away, where Chase voiced Chihiro and Stiers voiced the spider-man Kamaji.
In Lilo and Stitch, the delinquent Stitch fled from the galactic authorities to Hawaii, where he met Lilo, a cutely stumpy six-year-old eccentric with boundless imagination and energy. One of the main charms of the Disney version is that Lilo and Stitch are obviously kindred spirits, lovers of mischief and adventure. However, the film also played up their dark side; they’re both damaged, angry infants with a terror of rejection. Stitch sums up the moral at the film’s end: “This is my family… Is little and broken, but still good.”
Disney spun off Lilo and Stitch into a 65-part TV series and three video films. Then it surprised everyone by announcing that the Madhouse studio in Tokyo would make its own TV version of the franchise. In the anime Stitch!, the blue monster crashes not on Hawaii but on a fictional Japanese island, Izayoi. Instead of Lilo, Stitch meets Yuna, a preteen girl tomboy who practices karate and helps Stitch carry out good deeds. Several adversaries from the Disney version return in the anime, including the bungling Gantu, who looks like a walking whale, and the megalomaniac Dr. Hamsterviel, who looks like… Oh, work it out.
Later episodes of the anime introduced Delia, Hamsterviel’s long-eared femme fatale partner, who was voiced by the actress Romi Park, Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist. Stitch himself was voiced by famed actor Koichi Yamadera, whose roles include Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop and Togusa in Ghost in the Shell. Yamadera has dubbed the Japanese versions of numerous Disney characters, including Roger Rabbit, Sebastian in The Little Mermaid and the Genie in Aladdin. (The American Stitch was snarled and gibbered by the film’s co-director, Chris Sanders.)
Stitch, of course, is clearly the reason why the anime was made. He’s a truly inspired cartoon character, with a personality akin to a Joe Dante Gremlin or a Tasmanian devil but much cuter than either. Even before the anime, Stitch softtoys were festooning the shelves of Tokyo toyshops, competing with the likes of Totoro. Sanders, on his own account, is fascinated by a particular kind of mammalian head; low eyes and a nose that’s big and high on the face. Remember that when you watch the film that he and Deblois made after Lilo: Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon, which has a very Stitch-ish firebreather.
Then there’s the Madhouse factor. In recent years, the anime studio that brought us everything from Ninja Scroll to Redline has been busy adapting Western properties like there’s no tomorrow. Madhouse contributed to the Animatrix and Batman Gotham Knight anthologies; it animated Highlander: The Search for Vengeance; and it’s now adapting American TV sagas (Supernatural: The Animation) and Marvel heroes (Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men and Blade). In that respect, Madhouse’s version of Stitch! fits right in.
Except… why haven’t we heard more about it? Domestically, the show seems successful; it’s run three years and 85 episodes. Yet Disney seems in no hurry releasing it elsewhere. The early episodes, at least, have been dubbed into English, though none of the original Anglophone cast has returned. The dubs have reportedly shown in the UK on the Disney Cinemagic channel, and in some other territories, but with very little fanfare.
Why? Perhaps because, in honesty, if you’re a fan of Lilo and Stitch, then the anime Stitch! won’t measure up. You feel the difference in animation quality; the characters’ stock, frequently static expressions are a thin substitute for L&S’s quirkily charming toon acting, even in its TV incarnation. You miss the stubby, bottom-heavy designs of Lilo and her Hawaiian peers, and the softly luminous island scenery.
Far more important, though, Yuna and Stitch lack the eccentric chemistry of Lilo and Stitch. Disney’s Lilo was as much of a character as Stitch himself, arguably more, while Yuna just comes over as a standard anime girl. Having one without the other is like Snoopy without Charlie Brown, or Scooby-Doo without Shaggy.
There’s also the puzzle of the story’s relationship to the Disney original. Why isn’t Stitch still in Hawaii with Lilo? An obvious answer would have been to establish the anime as a parallel universe story, in which Stitch landed in Izayoi instead of Hawaii. You could even have a crossover where the anime Stitch met Lilo via a dimension jump. The Disney series included a time-travel episode, with a fairly similar plot to the anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, so parallel universes would be no stretch.
Instead, the anime is ill-advisedly presented as a sequel to Lilo and Stitch, supposedly set after the Disney duo split up. One confusing Stitch! episode, broadcast this January, had Lilo visiting Izayoi and joyfully reuniting with Stitch… only for her to turn out to be Lilo’s daughter, with an adult Lilo showing up for a last goodbye. It was meant as a touching crossover, but it was likelier to offend fans of the Disney characters by breaking up the definitive partnership. Imagine an American Doraemon in which the blue robot cat blithely moves on from Nobita, the little-boy hero of the decades-long anime, to hook up with an L.A valley boy!