Mary and the Witch’s Flower

This Ghibli-like movie is made by an ex-Ghibli director (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, the latter a film I really loved), within a new studio, Studio Ponoc, that is definitely trying to be the new Ghibli (now that Ghibli isn’t making a lot of movies anymore). I liked it, and it’s a beautifully animated film, but there’s something about that almost feels like it’s trying too hard to hit all the Ghibli notes — as my wife remarked, so many aspects of the film remind you of other Ghibli films. But despite all that, it’s really well done, and it makes me happy to see a studio like this that will continue the Ghibli legacy.

Summer 2018 Anime Season

Coming off a season where I ended up watching quite a few things that I liked — especially Lupin the III: Part V and Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but also Megalobox (which I haven’t finished), and to a lesser extent Layton Mystery Tanteisha: Katori no Nazotoki File, that I watch with my wife — looks like it’s going to be a slow summer for me. But that’s fine, just gives me time to watch stuff from my backlog. Here’s what I will check out (taken from this list) — and to that you can include Lupin III and Layton, that are both still ongoing.

Banana Fish
I feel a lot of nostalgia for the original manga, which I remember reading in the old PULP magazine. I don’t really remember much about the story, so looking forward to watching this anime adaptation.

High Score Girl
The main reason I want to check this out is because in the trailer you see them play actual video games from the early 90s (which is the setting of the series), and that sounds like it could be fun.

Game Boy 011 – Ebb and Flow

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

I was going to start sharing my GDC thoughts this week, but there’s Japanese gaming in the air. This weekend marks the 6th edition of the BitSummit indie gaming festival in Kyoto, and that’s pretty much all I’m seeing on my timeline right now — people taking in cool indie games, and enjoying (drunk) social outings around town.

I won’t lie, it’s making me pretty fucking homesick right now (when you lived in Japan for over 15 years, it’s hard not to consider it one of your “homes” for the rest of your life).

But on top of BitSummit, this week also marks the release of Ebb and Flow, a fantastic new documentary from the team at Archipel. Archipel, composed of Anne Ferrero and Alex Zabava, is the duo that for the past few years has been producing the Toco Toco series, which I’ve highlighted and recommended on this blog countless times because I think it’s terrific — each episode focuses on a Japanese creator, and although quite a few of the episodes focus on the games industry, they touch on all creative fields. They also produced the excellent documentary Branching Paths, that takes a look at the growing indie gaming scene in Japan.

Archipel as a label was launched fairly recently, and is to be the home for all of the duo’s future videos, including more Toco Toco, and even more excitingly, what looks like more long-form videos.

Ebb and Flow — with the subtitle “Conversations on the recent momentum of Japanese games” — is a great exploration of the recent resurgence in popularity of Japanese games on the world stage (they point to the start of 2016 as a milestone date). It features interviews with the creators of all those games (Nier: Automata, Yakuza, Monster Hunter: World, Rez Infinite, Persona 5, and lots more), and I of course loved seeing my friend John Ricciardi (co-founder of the Tokyo-based game localization company 8-4) be included as well, to offer some context.

It’s easy for me to recommend everything that Archipel produces — every time I talk to Anne, I tell her I’m her biggest fan — but at the very least, if you have an interest in Japanese games, you really need to watch Ebb and Flow (and follow that up with Branching Paths, to see a similar story from an indie perspective).

Batman Ninja

This movie is insanely good, and by far the best animated Batman film I’ve seen. Created entirely by a Japanese staff, it’s a Japanese take on the Batman mythos, but with tongue lodged deeply in cheek, and with stunning visuals that although CG feel more like they were taken from traditional paintings (well, inspired by them at least). The whole story is batshit insane (you can quote me on that), and seriously fun — Batman and friends, and villains, are all transported to feudal Japan, and in the climax we have giant robot battles. We get Sengoku Batman even. This was just so much fun to watch, and a treat for the eyes.

Mazinger Z: Infinity

The Mazinger Z that I watched when I was a kid was in fact the Grendizer series (that I watched in French as Goldorak), and so although I’m not really familiar with the entire Mazinger series, I was pretty excited to watch this new movie. The main character ends up being Koji Kabuto, who was the pilot of Grendizer, so it did feel somewhat familiar — and it was fun seeing my wife sing along with the theme song at the start, as she was a big fan of the original series. The story here is pretty forgettable — and close to nonsensical — but I was in it just for the robot battles, and those at least were well done. I especially like how despite the modern look of the animation — with robots rendered in CG — all the evil robots still kept the crazy color patterns they had back in the original shows. Not a great movie, but it has its moments when the action happens.

Game Boy 009 – GameStruck4

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

After keeping my weekly rhythm constant for the first eight editions, it’s now been over a month since the last one, which was never my intention. It started because of my trip to San Francisco for GDC, but then I wanted to write up the experience I had, and there was so much that I wanted to share that I just ended up not getting anything done. So in the meantime, I’ll start up again with something else, and touch on GDC at a later date — I have finished the draft for a presentation/report I’ll be doing at our next team meeting, but it’s close to 50 slides long.

So what do I want to share? Following a recent Twitter meme that saw people share four films that had a strong impact on them, under the “FilmStruck4” hashtag, some people started sharing the same but for games using the “GameStruck4” hashtag. Below is what I shared, which I consider to be some of the first games (in alphabetical order) that had a huge impact on me.

King’s Quest (PC)
I’ve always had a lot of love for point-and-click adventure games, and yes, it would be easy to point to all of the fantastic LucasArts games I played and loved (and although I love me some Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, one of my favorites was Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis), but if I’m to think back on my first memories of the genre, it’s hard to avoid naming the King’s Quest series (even if for this purpose, I just mentioned the first one). I loved these games to bits (as well as many other releases from Sierra), and have fond memories of playing them both alone, and with friends sitting next to me.

Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nicodemus (PC)
I’ve mentioned this game previously when talking about favorite games (here and here), but more than a just a favorite of mine, I think it led to my love of playing RPGs — and those Dungeons & Dragons games from SSI that I also played so much of really owed a lot to it. The other influential RPG from that era for me was the first Might & Magic game.

Pitfall (Atari VCS)
As repetitious as this game may be, this was always my favorite game to play on the Atari VCS (or 2600). Thinking back on this, it’s no surprise how platformers turned into a favorite genre for me — especially during the 80s and 90s (although it still is) — and I’d say it all goes back to this game. I’ll never forget that rudimentary sound effect (sorta like a Tarzan yell) that played while Pitfall Harry swings on a vine.

Zork 1 (PC)
I’d say Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was my favorite Infocom game, but there’s no denying that it all started with the first Zork game — from that point, I fell in love with all things Infocom. When it comes to text adventures, I never really played much of anything that wasn’t Infocom, I was just really in love with their style, the stories, and the fantastic boxes filled with “feelies.”

Here’s an extra 4 “honorable mentions“:

F-19 (PC)
I never was big into flight simulators, but the one I did get into was F-19 from MicroProse — probably because the box looked so cool (the F-19 was a “theoretical” stealth jet fighter). I still remember the gigantic manual that came with it, and I did play it a lot, so I imagine I probably got pretty good at it. Another MicroProse game from those days that I remember loving a lot was Airborne Ranger. It’s maybe why I love playing Tom Clancy games so much.

Gorf (VIC-20)
It’s probably not that great a game, but the VIC-20 was the first computer we had, and the first device we had that played electronic games (I had to go to my friends’ homes to play Atari, Intellivision, and ColecoVision games). Of all the games I played on the VIC-20, I’m sure I played Gorf the most.

Spy Hunter (Arcade)
We had a corner arcade, and the game I played the most had to be Spy Hunter. James Bond fan that I am, I loved driving my spy car while eliminating enemies, with that classic Peter Gunn music playing. While I was in San Francisco last month I went to the Musée Mécanique, and had a chance to play it again. It’s still just as fun.

Ultima VII: The Black Gate (PC)
Of all the Ultima games I played, this was my favorite, and I still have such vivid memories of starting to playing it, after opening that black and foreboding box, and embarking on a journey that was so, well, dark. And with the world now being presented full-screen, it all felt so incredibly immersive.

Aggressive Retsuko

I didn’t think this would really be for me — I remember finding the premise of the character (an office lady who loves death metal) pretty funny, but didn’t think much of it beyond that — but I got curious when the animated series popped up on Netflix the other day, and I gotta say that I had a pretty fun time watching a few episodes (which are very binge-able, at like 10-15 minutes in length). Warning though, if you’ve worked in an office in Japan, this may trigger some PTSD.

Spring 2018 Anime Season

After a few disappointing anime seasons, I found myself enjoying most of what I wanted to watch during this past winter season — I really liked Junji Ito Collection, thought Kokkoku was pretty good, as well as Devilman Crybaby (although I haven’t finished watching it), and I watched the first episode of B: The Beginning and will watch more. When I started looking into the new spring season — which I always do on AniChart — I found quite a few things I was interested in watching. Below are those series, and I’ve already started watching all of them, so I’ll indicate what I think so far, after 1-2 episodes.

FLCL Progressive
I’m a huge fan of the original FLCL (as is most everyone who’s watched it), and when a sequel series was announced, my first reaction was that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I still tried to keep hope alive that it would be good — and the fact that the original creators are back was a good sign — but I’m just shocked at how much I disliked the first episode. I’m going to watch the second episode when it’s out, just to make sure, but wow, I was bored to tears with what I saw in episode 1. I even rewatched the original series last year, and still loved it, so it’s not a case of me not being into this series/world anymore.

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
I didn’t really know what to expect with this series, but figured I’d check it out because I liked the idea of galactic battles as a setting (I don’t feel like we get a lot of series like that anymore), and that it’s produced by Production I.G. I’ve watched the first 2 episodes, and I’m really digging it so far. It really is all about the space battles and the tactics used, and the first episode ends on a great cliffhanger. I’m pleasantly surprised by this.

Lupin III: Part V
I love Lupin, and have watched a lot of his series and movies, and so was pretty happy when I saw they were launching a new series this season. I’ve watched the first 2 episodes, and so far it’s really fun. It’s an interestingly modern setup (people are following Lupin — and getting in his way — through social media), and yet it feels like classic Lupin. I’m pretty sure I’ll be enjoying the rest of this.

Megalo Box
Despite the name, this is actually an Ashita no Joe series set in the future, in celebration of the series’ 50th anniversary. I’ve never read or watched anything that has to do with Ashita no Joe, but the description sounded interesting — a world where cybernetically-enhanced boxing matches take place — and I liked the first episode. The world looks very Akira-esque (if not of that quality), and this is probably the way to get me to watch a sports-themed series (I don’t tend to like watching sports-related anime).

Fist of the Blue Sky
This is a prequel series to First of the North Star. I know the basic setup of First of the North Star — and I can’t wait to play the game by the developers of the Yakuza series — but I’ve never read or watched any. I thought the first episode was pretty neat — its CG cel-shaded, like Knights of Sidonia and Ajin, and produced by that same studio — and it’s funny to see these ridiculously muscled-up characters interacting with crazy kung-fu-inspired moves. But by the second episode I was already growing bored with the story — and lack of action — and so I’m not especially excited to continue watching it. I might give it another episode.

Like it’s 1987

Well, my latest movie marathon, for the year 1987, definitely took the longest (starting in October of last year) — not because of the quality of the films, but probably more because I burned out a bit on watching so many 80s movies last year, and needed to take a break. When I kicked off 1987 and made up my list of potential movies to watch, it was actually looking like I could end up watching 40 or 50 movies. I decided to cap it at 30 because I wanted to move on, leaving a lot unwatched, like A Better Tomorrow II, Angel Heart, Dirty Dancing, Fatal Attraction, Hamburger Hill, La Bamba, hell, even Princess Bride! But as with the other years I’ve revisited (1967, 1977, 1985, 1986), I had a good time doing a deep dive into a year’s movie output. What’s next? Since it’s 2018, I now plan on revisiting movies that go back decades, and so I’ll kick it off with a marathon of films from 1968.

Below are all 30 films from 1987 that I watched (in alphabetical order), with links to my thoughts on each — or you can just click on the “1987” tag.

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
  2. Beverly Hills Cop II
  3. City on Fire
  4. Creepshow 2
  5. Empire of the Sun
  6. Evil Dead II
  7. Full Metal Jacket
  8. Good Morning, Vietnam
  9. Hellraiser
  10. Innerspace
  11. Jaws: The Revenge
  12. Less Than Zero
  13. Lethal Weapon
  14. Mannequin
  15. No Way Out
  16. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  17. Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrole
  18. Predator
  19. Prince of Darkness
  20. Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise
  21. Robocop
  22. Some Kind of Wonderful
  23. The Hidden
  24. The Last Emperor
  25. The Lost Boys
  26. The Monster Squad
  27. The Pick-up Artist
  28. The Running Man
  29. The Untouchables
  30. Wall Street

Winter 2018 Anime Season

After rekindling my enjoyment of watching anime on a regular basis in 2016, 2017 ended up being a huge bust for me — most seasons had little if nothing I wanted to watch, and the shows that did look interesting to me didn’t keep me watching for more than an episode or two. This last season sounded promising, and again, I was disappointed by everything, including Inuyashiki, which may be fine, but after one episode I didn’t really feel the urge to continue (even though I really enjoyed the manga series). But I haven’t given up yet, and although I’ll again say that I’m actually excited by a few series for the winter season, I’ve already watched the first episode for three of them, and it’s off to a good start. Here’s what I want to check out this season (as always, I get my info from AniChart).

Kokkoku
I watched the first episode of this today, and really loved where it ended. We’re presented with a family that is entangled in a kidnapping, and to address this, the grandfather manages to stop time — and that’s just the start of how interesting things get, when everything doesn’t go according to plan. I’m definitely looking forward to watching the second episode.

Ito Junji: Collection
I absolutely adore the horror manga of Junji Ito, and was so excited when they announced this anthology series — each episode is based on a short story by Ito. I watched the first episode, and it was fantastic. This was a safe bet for me, but I’m still glad it delivered.

Devilman Crybaby
This is a Netflix original that launched this past Friday. I’ve never watched any Devilman series (or read any of the manga), but as soon as I saw that Masaaki Yuasa was directing it, I got excited. I watched the first episode, and it definitely feels like something that is straight out of the mind of Yuasa (especially in style) — I’ll admit that it was quite a bit more sexualized than I was expecting. I’m looking forward to watching the rest.

B: The Beginning
This is another Netflix original, and it’s only set to come out in March. Sounds like a mystery/thriller — chasing a serial killer — in a high-tech setting. Definitely the sort of thing I might like, and it’s by Production I.G, so will check it out.