Sunday, September 28, 2008

Toonami is Dead. Long Live Toonami.

And so, after more than 10 years (you better be right, Wikipedia), Toonami is finally dead. Shows over, folks. And to be honest, I'm not really sure how to feel about it. I wasn't around for it's humble beginnings of running Thundercats and Voltron. I didn't even really get cable till around 2002 (and we'll get to that.) I sure as hell didn't really stick around for the end, either. My interest tapered off around the end of 2004 due to the general lack of anything new or interesting. I had already discovered the joys of fansubs and high speed internet, and, to be honest, had no interest in the shows on at the time. I did catch on to Gundam SEED later on though, and later became a Megas XLR super fan. But that's another story.

But it was that 2002-2003 Toonami stint that I remember the most. I can probably thank those programs ran during those 2 years for ultimately solidifying my love of anime. Some of them (namely Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z) don't really hold up now that I'm somewhat older and wiser in the medium, but it was definitely a step up from what I had been watching before. As previously stated, my Saturday morning cartoon watching was limited to whatever was on the basic channels in the area. Admittedly, some of these were Batman TAS and Sailor Moon. But most of them were KidsWB throwaway cartoons that maybe aired 2 to 3 episodes before realizing that no one really cared. Pokemon, of course, was still hot then, but even then I was growing tired of it. So the switch between that and weekday afternoon viewings of Toonami was pretty staggering to say the least. "What's that you say? You guy's have got cartoons with killing and PG swear words!? Sign me up!" Ah, the thought processes of a young anime fan. At the time, I was at least semi-aware of the fact that Toonami edited their programs and that the opening sequences were by and large cut out, but it was mostly irrelevant to me. I hadn't even seen Adult Swim when I started out, much less an episode of DBZ with it's original audio. Put simply, I had nothing to judge it by.
Toonami sort of drilled into me a lot of the prefrences and tastes I have when it comes to anime. G Gundam, which debuted in 2002, was probably what made me the giant robot freak I am today. For all the flack the series gets from, well, MOST anime fans, I think G Gundam is, in many ways, one of the best introductions to the super robot genre. It really carries on many of the traits that make the genre awesome. It was a series with a borderline idiotic premise that existed for it's writers to show off how zany their international robot designs could be, and where every character always has something crazy and melodramatic to say, most notably Domon Kashu's Indigo Montoya-esque repeated battle speech. As much as I through enjoy Gurren Lagann, shows like G Gundam were doing the over the top impassioned monologues years before Gainax tried their hand at it. The action was fast and furious, without any care to outdated concepts like "logic" and "science" and "realisim". And the special attacks? Totally memorable. Despite having some of the most bizarre names ever (Bakuretsu God Finger? Hot.), using a burning mech hand to crush another mech's head is about as visceral as it gets. I was totally pumped at every new episode for the whole production of stock footage and the aforementioned impassionate battle speech, followed by the attack name screams. To say that it's stuck with me would be an understatement.

And then there was Yu Yu Hakusho. I had seen a couple episodes from it's short run on Adult Swim, but I never got fully into it until it made the switch to Toonami. I've actually been slowly trying to rewatch the series as of late. I've watch only the first 3 or so episodes, so the jury's still out on whether it holds up. The first couple episodes are, as remembered, pretty damn slow (who's bright idea was it to begin a shonen fighting series with episodes of Touched By an Angel?), but we'll see where that goes. And of course, there's Kenshin and the Dragon Ball shows which, say what you will know, where totally fascinating to me back in the day. The Big O, another classic robot series, ran a bit before my time, but when I caught it rerunning on Adult Swim, I fell in love with it's outlandish designs and obivous Batman influence.

I'm not sure really what to say. It's a shame that Toonami got to the state it did. It's really an sign of the times. Anime (and action cartoons in general) are on the out. Cartoon Network is making no secret of wanting to switch to some kind of live action dominate format like Disney Channel. I'm definetly not going to have an outburst over them betraying their name or anything ridiculous. They can do what they want, and I probably wouldn't watch their channel either way. I do fear what this will do for the anime industry as a whole however. One must assume it won't be a change for the better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Silent Hill 3

I often find myself a latecomer to game franchises. It sort of just happens that way. For example, my first Metal Gear game was Metal Gear Solid 2, followed by 3. It's been only recently that I went back to play the first Metal Gear Solid. My experiences with the Silent Hill series have been similar. Walk in to a used game store (at least in the great state of Missouri) and there is a decent chance you'll find a $10 used copy of Silent Hill 2. You're going to have to look hard for anything else. 3 is noticeably vacant. The Room is abundant on the Xbox, but I've sworn off of Xbox games based on my prior experiences with the 360's shoddy emulation. Meanwhile, if you DO find a copy of the original Silent Hill, be prepared to pay upwards of $50. So when I found Silent Hill 3 at my local Game XChange (after me and my friends narrowly escaped death from tornadoes that turned out to not actually be there), I bought that shit in an instant. I'm sure completing an entire game in a single day is wildly unhealthy. I was surprised that I was able to finish the game in just under 7 hours. Surprised, but not really disappointed.

The two Silent Hill games I have played have kept me coming back as a result of expert presentation. The music, visuals, and story are what allows the game to vastly excel over it's often weaker gameplay aspects. One of the most defining aspects of this presentation is the music and it's relation to the events on screen. Team Silent composer Akira Yamaoka obviously understands something that I wish more composers, both in video games and in cinema, would catch on to: sometimes the best music for a scene is little or no music at all. Silent Hill 3 is a game with no shortage of tense battles and utterly disturbing moments. I think one of the things that sets Team Silent apart from the rest is that in most games, you'd expect some rousing John Williams-esque orchestral score, perhaps with some guitars and latin chanting to accompany these scenes. In Silent Hill, you're often treated to little more than a pulsating background noise. It's brutally effective for conveying the chillingly surreal, dream logic-contingent world of Silent Hill. I think Yamaoka's skills also lie in variety as well, which serves to add emotional depth to the games. He sets the intense mood for the game with the hard rock opener You're Not Here, while tracks like End of Small Sanctuary give us a break from the paralyzing horror of the game.

The variety in music definitely helps, because the game changes environments quite often. In addition to the area's around Silent Hill, the game often lapses into the "Other World", a rusted, shit covered nightmare version of the real world. You could be cynical and say that the Other World concept largely exists as a means to reuse the same maps with different textures, but sometimes great gameplay design is born from budgetary constraints. The change is often times jarring and unsettling, and I think in many ways more effective than in Silent Hill 2. For example, the hospital in Silent Hill 3 becomes a fiery red throbbing mass where you'll find yourself running against the walls in order to find out where the hell you are. As usual, Team Silent's fetish for rusted grates and fans are more than present. It all contributes to this grimy, cerebral universe that really makes the series is so great.

In some ways, however, the story is a step down from it's predecessor. Silent Hill 2's deeply personal story is, in my opinion, almost unrivaled in the gaming industry. And Silent Hill 3's is definitely an interesting endeavor. A tale of a girl with a connection to the mysterious town that draws her back in after years of absence. It's a story that definitely works, but it very rarely surprises. There aren't many twists and startling revelations to be had when compared to the original. It's a largely straight forward horror story. And that's good, really. I found myself liking Heather by the end of the game, but the same level of obscurity just isn't there. And I'm not sure that's really a mark against it. It's really just something to mention.

As I ready myself to play Homecoming, the newest entry in the series, I'm finding myself tallying the differences between 2 and 3 and 4, and wondering how much Homecoming will build upon it. But ultimately, it's really only the presentation that I'm thinking about. Much like a point and click adventure game, I'm not looking for game play advancements in this series. They'd be nice, but as long as Double Helix supplies the same interesting level of presentation that Team Silent has maintained over the last few years and hopefully takes it to new places, I have high hopes.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Game Log #8

A crash course in why I should keep these up to date:
  • Played and, over the span of one Saturday afternoon, beat Silent Hill 3. This marks the 2nd Silent Hill game I've played, the other being Silent Hill. If only the other games in this series weren't so obscenely hard to find. I'll save my thoughts on 3 for my review.
  • Played and, over the course of a week and a half, beat Resident Evil 4. Expect a review for that as well.
  • I'm afraid I'm about to do with Persona 3 what I do with far to many RPGs: namely, I'm not going to finish it. I can't get over my feelings on this. I've put 40+ hours into the game; that's far to much to turn back now. But at the same time, with so many other, shorter games to play, and so many new games on next month's terrifying horizon (Silent Hill Homecoming, Fable II, Fallout III, and so on), it's easy to put away a game that has, by all accounts, 50 more hours to go. And I hope I don't give up on it; I'm still enjoying the game. It's the pacing that's keeping me down, mostly, and RPGs are, in general, designed to be slower-paced. It's weird how attracted I am to this genre that seems so obivously not made for me. As for my progress, I've got 4 full moons to go, supposedly. The boss fight wasn't especially challenging, but satisfying as most P3 boss fights are. As I've said before, the exploitability of the combat system is what makes the game truly unique for me. Hopefully, I'll have the game completed before Persona 4 see's it's stateside release. Is that an unrealistic goal? And even if not, will I even PLAY, much less beat Persona 4? Good question.