VPN is digital importing

I’ve been importing games since the NES days. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was supposed to get a full-blown PAL region release and was even advertised to get one, but the looming SNES probably was the reason they cancelled it. Too bad, TMNTIII is best of the bunch, even better than Turtles in Time. It’s been an easy time overall for importers. Region circumvention has been a thing since day-one and relatively easy. Sometimes you just need two pieces of wire, sometimes you need an extra in-between cart, and sometimes all you need is a boot disc that does the job. However, with the further digitalisation of machines, importing became somewhat an issue with the Xbox 360 and 3DS. The 360 was a semi-region free machine and it was up to the developer/publisher if their game was to work on different region machine. 360’s online store was also region bound to the console’s region, meaning you couldn’t access out-of-region stores and their exclusive titles and content. Sometimes a release of a game would work in two regions, sometimes in all three, but it’s really a toss of a coin without some resources on the ‘net, and not all of them are complete listings.

Importing machines is an adventure and a half unto themselves. With older hardware you’ll come across with stuff like having to get a separate power converter if the power leads are physically connected, or buying a new power cable at easiest. The hardest thing I’ve seen people doing is modding the power components or modding the cables to feed the proper volts and ampere. It would of course solve all the problems with the game compatibility, considering mixing NTSC and PAL software and hardware always produces mixed results, especially if your television doesn’t support both standards (though I know a Russian method to introduce colour to NTSC signal via extra lead on a PAL telly that can’t understand it) , importing consoles really solves a lot of problems in regards of the games and their online stores. The question just is if you’re willing to dish out several hundreds of your local squirrel skins to get one. Chances are that you’re not, and will resort to modding your machine and just use other ways to obtain the games for play.

Why am I talking about importing like this? Importing has been in a breaking point for some time, at least from a personal perspective. Yes, this post is a bit out of character, as you guessed. With the constant and further digitalisation of titles, you’d think unifying the regional availability would not be much of an issue. That’s ultimately hubris, considering everything from regional currency and legislation will step in to block this. You can’t appease everybody, and if you are adamant to attempt to do so, you’ll find yourself offering the same titles in different forms in different regions, which is already what they’ve been doing, or you’ll have to use the tightest and most draconian rules as a whole. I’ve discussed China’s policies to some extent and the whole thing with Sony now practicing global censorship is one of the end results you can get in the end. I would still consider censorship a service failure like this. Hell, it’s a brand failure, as it directly fights against PlayStation’s image as the console of choice for more adult and refined console. Censoring your games just shows how easily the brand is swayed by politics and ideologues outside the market’s wishes and demands, especially when kicking the developers nuts.  What’s the point in importing, if all the titles are the same across regions? One of the many reasons to import titles in the first place was to get uncensored version of the games, or games with extra content that were cut out or added in for whatever reason. The proverbial drive to find the purest version of the game out there usually takes some research, but with older titles you can bet religious and sexual themes, and gore, usually got cut on Nintendo consoles. Things change with time, for better or worse.

With the further digitalisation, using a VPN will end up being a modern way to import things. That is, to gain an access to region specific variety of goods that would not be available to you otherwise. This doesn’t work on consoles that have the region hardcoded into them, but increasing amount of machines allow cross-region stores to be accessed based on the account information. It’s not too uncommon to find a Switch or a PS4 with multiple accounts simply because they serve as a way to access multiple regions. Nevertheless, things like Amazon Prime, Netflix and even Steam can be access out-of-region with a VPN, and get that access protection while you’re at it. VPN, as much as I’d dislike to say it, is more or less a modern way to import in the digital environment that is the Internet. Not as much in ways of how it works, but in the principle of what’s the goal; access to materials that are not available in your region. Is there an echo in here?

This will become more and more relevant as companies want to downsize their physical output. Preaching the inevitable death of physical media has been around for good decade now, but the death has been extremely slow if it is going to happen, and the chances are it will never truly go away. There are too many collectors out there, and Japan still loves their physical media. This will also go in cycles, I bet your ass, where a new generation will begin to appreciate then obsolete way of having a physical copy you yourself own rather than have an access of bits and bytes on a server somewhere via your subscription to a service.

To be completely honest with you, I’m tired of importing, or considering to use a VPN in order to access sites and goods that I can’t otherwise. Some of these breaking legal boundaries without a doubt, especially when it comes to console modifications, and even after importing physical machines to access games sometimes isn’t enough. There are so many hoops and loops to get across, that straight up piracy is simply the best option. The provider won’t lose a sale anyway, because there is no way I could even make a purchase to begin with. You’d think that someone who’s game collection is 41% of imports and 60% with DVD/BD media, all this would be easy and nothing to worry about. I don’t have time for that anymore. Life has become so hectic that I’m late on every project I set up two years ago, not to mention the time I spend socialising with friends has dropped. Readers probably have noticed how my posts have gotten later and later due to this, and I might have to cut blogging to once per week, something I don’t want to do.

If physical goods has one edge over digital, it’s they’re available in online stores to purchase across the globe. As long as the seller is willing to ship outside their own nation, and there are always options, you can procure yourself an item without any hassles. Sometimes you might need a proxy service, but that’s a whole other post I probably will never type out.

Muv-Luv: What is Exogularity?

Hoo boys, bronchitis is such fun. Every time I get it, the worse it hits. Please take care of your health, dear reader.

 

To save you time;

What Exogularity is; a source booklet series.

What Exogularity is not; name for a story or a setting within Muv-Luv franchise.

This should be relatively straightforward post, but considering the Muv-Luv fandom has a history if mislabeling titles with something else, with Before the Shimmering Time Ends constantly being referred as Altered Fable because Altered Fable is the name of the compilation disc it comes on, it’s no wonder the lack of language skills and information easily translates misconceptions that spread far and wide. Misconceptions, like with AF, that just can’t be uprooted anymore for whatever reasons.

Here’s Altered Fable’s main menu, with Before the Shimmering Time Ends being highlighted just under the disc’s title. Notice all the other good stuff that’s on Altered Fable

Exogularity is essentially rebranded Lunatic Dawn. Lunatic Dawn were a series of booklets or mooks self-published by âge at their Comic Market stands. LDs (not the confused with Laserdiscs in this context) have been collected into three larger books titled Allied Strike. Since 2017, Exogularity has taken LD‘s place as official source material for fans. If you consider this, both LD and Exogularity can be taken as sort of additions to Muv-Luv Alternative Intergral Works, which served as the core backbone for the Codex.

Sometimes Lunatic Dawns came with a name, like LD3  was titled Code: Rebellion. LD7 had a full title of Muv-Luv Alternative Lunatic Dawn 7 Total Eclipse, which is boring and unimaginative, but somehow fitting for Total Eclipse materials.

So, what can you exactly find in Lunatic Dawn? Each LD contains their own special illustrations, colour or not, with line arts of Declassified Tactical Surface Fighters. For example, LD3  showcased the Rafale and gave a blurp about it.

 

 

These books also consisted of staff interviews, rough sketches and designs, rough animation boards, jokes, short stories and such. At times, LDs covered future subjects or touched on titles in-development, though that was more what Agekunohate, âge’s official fan book, as for in general. Essentially, all these are major parts of the hype engine directed at the fans rather than any part of the larger public. It must be said, âge has some stupidly dedicated fans across the globe.

So, in what way is Exogularity rebranded Lunatic Dawn? Let’s take a look at contents of the first volume.


The first thirteen pages cover content regarding Strike Frontier, the mobile game DMM ran. The second part, starting from page 14 begin to cover plans for stories that would take place after Muv-Luv Alternative‘s, events. As these are merely plans and drafts, outlines at best, and should be taken as grain of salt to showcase that might come out in the future. Nothing is definitive before the actual product announcements and titles are rolling out, and knowing âge/anchor that’ll take some time.

That is not to say there is no validity here, as the first volume states, these are the Horizon of the next attempt. The depths of its creations. The latest material of âge. What we can assume with the first volume is framework, from posthuman characters to new generations of TSFs, from Operation Olympus and Moon War II to BETA striking back and TSF-like BETA being a thing, to the whole New Beginning with the idea of humanity going out there in space to meet the BETA creators with warp-capable TSF.

The tagline for the booklet is All converge points, and a new beginning. While we can overanalyse this and pull stuff from our collective asses, it would seem that âge/anchor are intending to do a sort of re-launch of the franchise. After Muv-Luv Alternative, âge/anchor (then ixtl) really haven’t managed to roll out anything that would’ve broken the bank. Total Eclipse as a side story failed rather hard, Schwarzesmarken tanked even worse. The Day After didn’t really see success in Japan and currently is left as is. Whether or not it’ll be collected in the future with some sort of definitive end is anyone’s guess, but seeing this is the timeline Takeru cancels with Alternative‘s events, the ending itself is more or less a moot point. Some would even argue that TDA in itself was a useless story.

If you look at most English-language resources for Muv-Luv, like the Wiki, they’re mostly lacking in mentioning any of the Strike Frontier stuff when it comes to Exogularity Vol.1. This is because nobody has cared a bit about the Strike Frontier stuff, it really was rather unpopular in overall terms. The second volume, published in the upcoming Comiket #94, is supposed to concentrate more on cut Strike Frontier content, and content that they never had the chance to put in the game. Whether or not it’ll have anything on the numerous post-Alternative settings Vol.1t touched upon is currently unknown.

But you know what I don’t see people talk about too often? The storyboards at the back of the first volume where we have Meiya-lookalike fighting one of those BETA-TSFs.

Also no post this weekend, and even this is two days late because I’ve been mostly sleeping or coughing my lungs out. Stay healthy and eat your veggies, kids.

Review: Muv-Luv Kickstarter goods

The approach to this review will not be anything different from any other review I’ve done thus far. No special treatment, no kids gloves on; I will approach this as any product reviewed in this blog thus far. It’s only fair towards you, the readers, and the staff behind the Kickstarter. However, I won’t be reviewing all the KS goods. I’ll be concentrating on the main dish most people probably got through their backing; the Kickstarter physical package, the Codex and the Destroyer Class plush. This will strictly discuss the items themselves, not their translation or such.

Let’s start with the physical package.

This is also the image that was used on Alternative‘s original DVD release. It’s honestly the perfect choice for this

At first appearance, the package seems pretty on-par. Despite using thin cardboard, the appearance isn’t half bad. The decision to put the description and all copyright information to the bottom is an interesting take, as now its reversible to every other direction. This breaks how commercial boxes are designed, which some perfectionists might find jarring, as now the box doesn’t flow well with other software boxes.

However, visuals aren’t all. While the box still feel sturdy in hand, the contents inside are loose. The image above is just before I opened the box, and I could hear and feel the items inside rattling back and forth. This isn’t great to any extent. A box like this should have necessary support inside to keep items in their proper places during transit, as now no matter what sort of stuffing is used around it the items can be damaged. So, let’s open this one up and see what’s inside.

You could fit another booklet in there or something

This is exactly what I didn’t want to see; items rattling around in an oversized box. Because the box is made thinner cardboard, the same some DVDs have around them, it loses most of its structural integrity when opened. I can feel the CDs being lose inside their jewel case, let’s open that one up to see if they’re damaged. The case’s cover is nice choice though, but the back cover should have been revised. Maybe drop the song titles here completely and have them inside in an insert.

Oh. Ooooooohhh…

Luckily, only one of the CDs were loose, but the discs’ printing is not up to quality. While the chosen images are good in themselves, for whatever reason the images are lower resolution than the text, which itself is sharp. The typeface and font chosen for the CDs ends making these look like something printed at home. Furthermore, these discs should have been labelled as numbers, e.g. Muv-Luv Alternative Original Soundtrack Disc 1, not Volume 1. The fact that OST is used on the discs like this, and the fact that there is no kind of information who composed the songs, makes all this feel like a homebrew compilation.

As for the games themselves, the front covers are what you’d expect and look good. Nothing to say about these, but the back covers are another thing. There’s too much text on them. Even when these VNs are long, the descriptions should have been cut in half and with heavier emphasize on images. To use Sweet Home as an example, the flavour text is two whole sentences, being straight to the point. The word homebrew creeps back to my head with this, as things like Minimum Requirements should be on the box. Actually, they’re not seen anywhere on the packaging.

The discs however are rather standard, overall speaking. There’s nothing to mention about them, though I would’ve expected more legal text on all of these. Perhaps printing a monochrome image on the disc similar to âge’s Japanese releases should have been brought on to the table, as its much easier to make them look sharp rather than what might end up looking like a sticker on a disc.

I must mention that the disc I have for Muv-Luv seems to have been damaged somewhere along the way, as it has a strange arc on the underside. Despite this, the disc seems to be readable. There’s also a weird discoloration, as if something had spilled all over it inside. This might be a quality control issue, and I’ll be sure testing this disc further down the line.

The darker wavy line is easy to spot, the lighter arc near not so much., I have no idea what they are and I am slightly worried

The shikishi, a drawn image signed by the author, that came with the box is pretty great. Sumika doing a Drill Milky Punch is nice, even when it’s just a print and not a real thing in itself. The artbook uses similar typeface and font as the CDs, and doesn’t exactly look the greatest. Everything’s printed on a thin, glossy paper that in itself isn’t terrible, but the cover should have been heavier duty. The feeling the book gives is flimsy, plus it creases extremely easily. Corners will get damaged fast in normal use with this paper too. Because of the thinness, the pages are slightly transparent and the images on the other side bleed through. The images and character descriptions are on-point, though the complete lack of illustrator credits anywhere in the codex is a bit disheartening. Seeing the second and last to last pages under the covers are completely blank, these would have been great places to put them on.

Here’s how I solved the rattling the contents: I added two pieces of cardboard on both sides, and a support structure to keep the CD jewel case in place. To be completely honest, the outer box does feel like something you should throw away, as the package overall lacks any sort of premium feel to it. The added cardboard makes it feel more rigid and gives some extra heft. There shouldn’t be any reason for me to do this addition, but as things stand now, I had to. For comparison, here’s how Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal laid its contents. Notice the use of sturdier cardboard, how the items are laid and fit perfectly, and the use of supportive thinner cardboard at the bottom of the PS4 case.

 

Well, let’s move unto the second big thing, the long-time Holy Grail of Muv-Luv Alternative source of information translated and recompiled with Lunatic Dawn content; The Codex.

Like some majestic predatory bird

The first impression of the book is nothing short of impressive. I didn’t expect hardcover version of the book, especially considering the number of pages, but first looks can be deceiving. When you stop and look at the cover, it’s not pretty.

On the right, you see the scanned cover of the Muv-Luv Alternative CODEX. On its left you have the same illustration, scanned from Muv-Luv Alternative Integral Works. I recommend opening them in Full View to fully see how badly the covers have been fucked up. Either someone forgot to pit High Resolution mode on in In-Design, or something seriously went awry during data process. Both covers have been printed in low resolution, while the cover text nice and crisp. While a book shouldn’t be judged by its covers, this piece can never be called high quality or premier product. A way to remedy this situation would be to create a dust jacket for the book with high resolution print on the cover.

However, the meat of the piece is on the pages. With some few hours looking through, there appears to be no real concern how accurately things have transferred during translation. There are also welcome changes, like changing Melee Halberds into Close Quarters Combat Melee Blade. While a mouthful, melee blade in itself is more than enough. Back in 2016 I wrote a post concerning the topic, which was comped with a review of TSF’s close combat weapons. I strongly recommend you to read them both if you haven’t. There is one fib that has leaked through, where BWS-8 Flugelberte is described to resemble a halberd, when in reality it resembles an axe. Or a bardiche.

The information itself is great stuff, but it shows that this is a book that’s glued together from multiple sources. The Lunatic Dawn content that’s in the latter part of the book is just bolted on, rather than taken and included into the book proper. The word on the street originally was that the book would need to be completely revised, but in the end it follows Integral Works‘ looks and design with the occasional change in order accommodate English.

Good ol’ Gekishit. Isn’t ‘Play Back’ one word though?

The paper used is similar glossy paper that’s in the artbook. It’s a level heavier, but creases still extremely easily. Despite being heavier and slightly thicker, it still isn’t near heavy matte paper in terms of preventing transparencies, as seen above. Fingerprints will be abound while reading this book. I’m rather surprised that this wasn’t a softcover book similar to Integral Works or Mega Man & Mega Man X Official Complete Works, to which I compared IW to back in the day as well. Codex‘s paper is nowhere as heavy and hefty as the two aforementioned, but the book is third thinner due to the new paper. It doesn’t allow the book to have any air to it either.

Because of the glossy surface and the sheer amount of text, people with poorer eyesight will have headaches while reading this. The typeface selected is just small enough to cause extra strain on the eye. As everything’s also packed very, very tightly in this small size, people who suffer from either vertical or horizontal dispersion in vision, meaning certain letters will lose lines, making reading a chore at best, extremely headache inducing at worst. This is easily alleviated with the use of different typeface or slightly larger font size.

The use of this sort of glossy paper can also be a double-edged sword. While Yakuza 6‘s artbook had the same paper, some copies were completely glued together, some were completely warped and some had ink smudges all over them. The feel of glossy paper works best for single leaflets and photos. When going for a book like this, its still best to consider heavy matter paper first and foremost, as it offers longer life and cuts down possible ink and paper problems down to mere percents.

All in all, the covers are just a damn travesty, sadly. Well, that and one of the pages, p. 353, get repeated on the following opening. While accidents like this sometimes happen, this does sting of lack of quality control.

Lastly, we have the Destroyer Class plushie, one of the things that was suggested very early on due to its role in the fandom. The plushie is based on a very certain background piece in Joshi Eishi Cryska EX.

While the plushie is clearly different from it CG original, this is due to difference in reality and fiction. The overall quality is damn nice, chosen materials feel sturdy enough to give this to a child to play with. Interestingly, the back end has a sack that’s filled with grains rather than fluff the plushie is filled with otherwise.

The grain section is about one-third from the back, starting from the tag on its arse

It’s just a joy to see and have, maybe even the best part of the package in terms of quality. This thing really should see mass production. Clearly, there is a market for BETA plushies.

I’m sure that at this point it’s rather clear what’s the end verdict is. The Kickstarter original products are largely a disappointment in terms of quality. I’m not going to mull over whys or hows, that doesn’t net anything. They are what they are, now’s too late to do anything about it. Other items, like the ones in Yuuko’s Gift bag, have higher quality. Stickers are hard to screw up as are postcards (though mine are rather warped, requiring me to straighten them down.) It must be also mentioned that Valkylies has been corrected into Valkyries with the patches.

Those patches were produced by Cospa, company that produces cosplay goods, including the jackets and shirts that were on the Kickstarter. The pilot jacket may be 100% polyester, but I can’t expect a cosplay clothes company to manufacture clothes like they were actual military wear. The Drill Milky Punch T-shirt is at 100% cotton and I’m wearing it while typing this review. This extends to the dakimakura, which is of standard Japanese productions for items like it, I expected no less.


The experience with the Kickstarter goods, delays and pretty much everything including the end results of the goods probably affected negatively both backers and staff. It would not be surprising if this was the first and last Kickstarter we see, and the rest are done away with less fanfare, which would also mean no physical products would be produced. However, in cases like this, I would always strongly recommend companies and people looking into Limited Run Games, a company that specialises in doing limited physical run on goods. At the time of Muv-Luv‘s Kickstarter, the company wasn’t relevant, but now it has managed to establish itself just fine. For example, they are delivering Shantae: ½ Genie Hero‘s Kickstarter goods. But all this is academic at best. I can only hope that lessons have been learned, but have not allowed to snuff the staff’s spirit.

I’ve got no good end for this review. Shit happens, we will probably never know what, but the end results are in our hands.

 

It’s Mega Time?

This week has seen slight avalanche of Mega Man related news. We’ve seen more gameplay and stages revealed from Mega Man 11, some  footage of the cartoon has been made available, a Rockman pachinko was announced and Rockman X Mega Mission is getting a States-side released.

To start with Mega Man 11, the one thing I mentioned early on was that it looked like it’d hit the spots with controls and add some neat new controls. To use an official source, check this gameplay in Fuse Man’s stage. Early on there is a showcase for change in the sliding mechanics that gives more control to the player, where previously sliding was more or less dedication motion to a direction. Now, you can change direction mid-slide. This is accompanied with slight yellow sparking and a sound effect. The reason why I’m pointing this separately is because this is detail quality is build on.

Should I also mention that enemy explosions are very 1980’s?

With the introduction of Power and Speed Gear the game’s core play has changed to a significant degree. Previously this sort of elements would’ve been relegated to supportive role and mostly as gimmick function. In Mega Man 11, the Gears are part of the core design to make stages and enemies easier. It would appear that neither of them are not required to complete the stages, but are used to make them significantly easier at places. This is an extremely welcome decision, as it means the core Mega Man play design is left untouched for those who would rather have purist approach to the game.

This doesn’t seem to extend to the bosses to certain extent. The Fuse Man Boss fight we see around 13 minute mark, the normal pattern is something that’s easy to deal with. Its power attack is specifically designed to be taken advantage of with the Speed Gear, though without a doubt a player can beat the boss without the use of it. However, saying that you don’t need to use it doesn’t null the fact that the bosses patterns and attacks are designed around the Gears to a degree, effectively making them additional weakness to the normal Rock-Paper-Scissor weapon cycle. This isn’t a negative in itself, as all this means the Gears are more or less completely integrated to the overall design rather than bolted on top of standard Mega Man design. On one hand, hopefully this won’t mean that future Mega Man games all share different important gimmicks jammed on top of them, but on the other hand, can the Gears be recycled into future titles with revisions to it? Is the Classic series to become like the X-series, where each game has a new gameplay mechanic in form of Gears to X‘s armours? We’ll have to see.

Otherwise, the game seems to be coming together just fine. The run cycle’s still a bit jarring and visuals are still rather plastic, but overall Mega Man 11 looks like its been carefully crafted to be a good entry in the series. You don’t need a million dollar budget for that.

To stick with “base” Mega Man for a bit, the whole thing with Pachislot Rockman came pretty much out of nowhere outside the rumours, but for Western audience this means jack shit. You’ll be playing this only in Japan, and we don’t even have a cabinet pictures, just few low-quality magazine scans and an announcement pdf. The designs are all over the place with this, combining elements from all the mainline series into one. This is easiest to see with Blues/ Proto Man there, as he has that hair from his Battle Network version and glasses look like Star Force‘s Rogue dropped them by, with the Life Gem on his forehead and chest being something that’s prevalent in the X-series. I’m interested in seeing how they’ll include Mega Man series’ elements into pachislot, and how garish the machine will end up being.

Speaking of Mega Man X, Capcom has hinted that Mega Man X9 will be a thing. With the X Legacy Collection hitting store shelves early in Japan, the manual mentions that the story isn’t over yet. Mega Man 11  was teased in a similar manner. It’s good that Capcom decided to pack all the X games into one package, as there’s less nostalgia for the newer games in the series to pull in the audience. Mega Man Legacy Collection should’ve been one package as well, with the Game Boy titles with it, but those won’t be re-released anytime soon outside Virtual Console. Hopefully they’ll drop most, if not all pretenses that there’s some sort of deep and meaningful story in the series and concentrate on making a damn fine game with Sigma as the final boss.

Udon has also procured the license for Mega Man X: Mega Mission, a one-shot Hitoshi Ariga adaptation of the Carddass series of the same name. Sadly, it’s in full colour, so we’re going to miss the intended gray scale. I’m guessing they’re doing this because the previously coloured Ariga Mega Man comics sold more than their untouched originals. If you’re interested in checking what the original story was about, The Reploid Research Lavatory has you covered.

Then we have the cartoon, fully titled as Mega Man: Fully Charged. While it looks slicker than previously and this particular trailer drops all of Mini-Mega, who we see more in the US region only preview, the show’s pretty much Cubix remade. It says Mega Man on the tin, they’re forcing sprite graphics to tell a story, they’re even using cues from Wily Castle I theme from Mega Man 2, and yet it doesn’t look or feel what you’d expect from a Mega Man cartoon. Then again, like a broken record I am, this isn’t exactly an adaptation. This takes the idea of a good boy robot fighting evil robots with some general resemblance to its namesake. However, the more there’s footage, the less impressive the whole show looks. Neither the 3D or the designs look impressive, but seeing this isn’t supposed to be anything groundbreaking, it’ll get the pass by the viewers.

All in all, Capcom is gearing Mega Man for the next few years, and depending how all this goes, the franchise may become relevant again. It won’t happen overnight, but maybe in few years if things keep at a steady pace and all good things are taken advantage of.

The continuing fall of Jurassic Park’s world

Might as well go full movie themed this week and discuss Jurassic Park. It’s a franchise that, much like so many other movie series out there, should have ended with the first movie. The follow-ups have not added much worth to the setting and story, as the first movie pretty much put everything into one nice package.

The demand for more is not exactly the problem here, but how the movies themselves are ultimately formed up. The lack of scientific accuracy is a non-issue with these particular dinosaurs, as they’re cloned hybrid monsters to begin with, modeled after how the perception of the dinosaurs were. For some, it still gets weird to think that dinosaurs had feathers. What is the problem with these movies is that they’re not terribly interesting or well written. Lost World is the most interesting one of the four sequels, despite putting a new island in. The setting makes it interesting if for nothing else, a good juxtaposition to mirror against the first movie.

However, there’s an element in Jurassic Park that has loomed behind its story for years now, and with the World that’s being realised; genetics. One of the first Jurassic Park III script suggestions were about some kind of SWAT team using modified Velociraptors that would behave like dogs and had been trained for operations. This didn’t come to pass with with the third movie, which honestly was for the better. As much hate as JPIII gets, it’s more or less a side-story as Trespasser was. Which in itself is pretty telling, concerning both JPIII and Trespasser had similar story premise. You can’t tell the story of people being stranded on a dinosaur island too many times over.

Then again, Lost World told the same story as some of the comics and sequel games were going for, where dinosaurs were being lifted off the island and being taken elsewhere. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom uses this same premise, and is as much a remake of Lost World as World was of Park. It’s like they aren’t really keen on trying think of new ways of utilising the islands themselves properly, but concentrate on the same themes and topics that most Jurassic Park has already explored. Even the hybrids dinosaurs from the World movies was already an old concept, as the Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect toyline had nothing but hybrid dinosaurs. It’s rather clear that someone at Universal loves the idea of spreading the dinosaurs across the world and using in warfware in a time where a drone strike is one of single most effective method currently used next to information warfare.

As discussed with previous entry about Star Wars, there is no room for phenomena movies any more. Jurassic Park was most definitely one of them, with TV specials, hardcover making-of books, comics, toys, candies, games on multiple systems and God only knows what else. All of this was possible only because it’s a great movie and everybody wanted to cash on in its wake. Special effects are by the numbers with nothing special to tell about, and when special effects have become not only mundane, but expected, the story and actors need to be exceptional. Something neither World movies, and arguably none of the sequels overall, have managed to do.

The reasons why Jurassic Park as a franchise has been in constant decline are many, mostly the same ones as with Star Wars. Maybe Jurassic Park doesn’t lend itself to wider variety of stories to be told, and despite the original was partially a monster movie, that was its least of roles. However, we’ve seen people being dumb and chased by dinosaurs multiple times over now, do we really need another movies of people yelling and screaming as a Raptor runs and claws them? Well, clearly the movie directors of the past two movies wanted to throw in lots and lots of visual references to the past movies to the point of Fallen Kingdom replicating scenes one-to-one for the sake of nostalgia. Having a dinosaur winking at the crowd that it was faking its tranqed state was pathetic at best. We can always go for nostalgia when trying to have a consistent new brand, right?

There are stories that you can find within Jurassic Park, but these stories would be less about the monster horror these movies tend to go now. Jurassic World should have been a movie about building the new park, how the idea came together, how exactly Masrani came into buying Hammon’s legacy and InGen, how the dinosaurs were re-captured and penned up, what were the setbacks, how were they able to build it and so on. Have the movie end with Jurassic World a park opening up, with promises of greater futures. You can have those chases and moments of terror just as fine without taking anything from it all the while having something new. Then again, re-opening the park on the original island was explored in the Topps Comics, so maybe just remaking everything from scratch or making a new park somewhere else in the world would have been the better option.

Unlike with Star Wars, the only real reason why new Jurassic Park entries are made is because its still reasonably lucrative. At least Star Wars had a whole galaxy to explore and stories to set in there that would allow a worldy series be set in. Jurassic Park has become a fascimile of itself in franchising. Ian Malcom’s speech about stamping and selling things for profit without first considering what people have in their hands resonates throughout the every merch based on these movies, even the first one. This isn’t to say that merchandising is bad in itself, just that are these movies anything else at this point but cash cows for extended materials to be sold?

I can’t but to live in hope that the next movie in the franchise will aim to have a script that’s not stupid and about dinosaur horror. Long shot hopes, I know, but the franchise has run its course. If we’re going to have dinosaurs roaming the Earth and used as bioweapons, we’re finally in Saturday morning cartoon area and there’s no return from that. I always wanted a Jurassic Park cartoon, so maybe there’s something in there. Have Owen lead a group of Dinosaur Savers to oppose the evil terrorists who use dinosaurs for evil. Go balls deep into it all and disregard everything else. Cut the last thin line the series has been teetering on.

Three approaches in designing a mecha

The three approaches to mecha design this blog uses is based on their role and function within fiction rather than in-fiction. The first archetype is the Protagonist, a mecha that functions or acts like any human character and is treated as such within the narrative.

The Protagonist mecha as a character serves an integral role within the narrative. Initially they may seem like simple machines, like the eponymous Mazinger Z, yet they exhibit clear-cut human characteristics in actions and behaviour. Mazinger Z sunbathing in the original series Mazinger Z-series is this exact human-like behaviour the mechas are written with.

Here, the symbolic action of shaking hands is not represent the pilots themselves per se, but the relationship and role of the mechas

These type of mecha can also be explicit characters unto themselves, as it is with the The Transformers and Brave-series. These mecha are only separated from their human co-characters is their nature as giant mechanical beings. In cases like Beast Wars, there is no distinction between characters as such, all of them simply are the characters, but share the main characteristics of being human equivalent in different form.

The Protagonist has a unique role within the story. Not necessarily the main protagonist in itself, often sharing that role with another human character or another mecha. The same categories of heroes and villains apply to these as much as they apply to human characters.

In visual design, Protagonists more often than not share a humanoid body with strikingly human face. Heroman, by all intentions, shared all the previously mentioned points; a human-shaped mecha with human face and sits in a prominent role within the fiction as one of the main characters next to the main human protagonist.

American made in Japan

However, there is extremely wide variety of Protagonist mechas which toy with the concepts and ways to realise the main role. GaoGaigar, for example, in itself has no characters outside as it is an extension of Guy Shishioh; it less piloted as it is a giant piece of armour for Guy.

It must be mentioned that most Protagonist mechas are found in media aimed at younger audiences with healthy amounts of toys, and tend to have connections to the Super Robot side of mecha. This is not to degrade from the fiction itself, only an observation.

Naturally, the opposite of human-like characters would be the lack of humanity, as it tends to be the with the second archetype, the Machines.

The utilitarian approach to mecha design has always been there, though it gained most of its popularity in the 1980’s. While Mobile Suit Gundam certainly paved the way for Real Robot as a sub-genre, shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and FLAG have taken the concept to its more natural direction due to lack of needing to sell toys as much.

FLAG‘s HAVWC, High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, is equipment.

Unlike with the Protagonists, a Machine has no nature to speak of. To make a blunt comparison, they are toasters. Their use is largely utilitarian. The form is made and designed for a purpose first and foremost, following the necessities over flavour.

The mechanical design is far more industrial as opposed to organic contours, than anything else among the Machines. Take Heroman above for an example. Most of its shapes are round to further accommodate its humanoid visual. While at a first glace HAVWC would fit this as well, its shapes are equivalent that of a car, lines made to increase aerodynamics. Heroman is not exactly an aerodynamic character, and its not supposed to. That is a tertiary concern at best. In order for it to be more aerodynamic in its forward position, it would require some sort of wind-breaking apparatus around its chest to lessen drag.

However, FLAG is an example of the more more adhered end, similar to Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01, which has been described as equivalent of mechanical pornography due to its attention detailed opening.

The Machine comes in many varieties, all of which share multiple characteristics. Mass production is one, where the mecha can be or is mass produced. Scopedogs are a dime in a dozen in Votoms and are easily replaceable. Round Vernian Vifam is another example of a show, where mechas are tools, and the cast goes through numerous units during the course of the show.

Valkyries from Macross, despite often gaining a prominent role as a single unit or a customised main character vehicle, are all from a production line of similar units. While later entries in the series have made an effort to give most characters their own unique snowflake Valkyrie, in the end all of them are more or less faceless machines that showcase no human characteristics, outside the genre-defining four limbed humanoid shape.

Specialist roles are not exactly uncommon among Machines. Full Metal Panic!’s Arm Slaves, while mostly consisting of non-unique units, the units used by the protagonist Sousuke Sagara deviate from this mould in form of Lambda Driver, which allows the pilot to turn their willpower into physical force. This specialist position, be it due to extra equipment, prototype role or simply because the mecha is a protagonist’s unit, is a common trope. This position does not change them into Protagonists per se, unless human characteristics are applied. It is not uncommon for people, fictional or not, humanise their devices to a large degree and treat them accordingly.

Vehicles technically fulfill this spot,

However, it’s not uncommon to see the the aforementioned archetypes mixed either.

The Hybrid approach takes characteristics from both sides of the fence in a happy mid-ground. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this would be the Evangelion units of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While treated as equipment and something that can be mass-produced, each EVA-unit exhibits overt human-like characteristics from in-universe and in their role. EVA-01 is effectively one of the main characters while still serving the role of a toaster. Its design goes for utilitarian, but only in terms how the EVA-unit itself allows this in-fiction. The base design idea was, after all, a monster barely controlled by humanity.

A some sort of purple mom bot

Another method to give mecha character is by keeping the core mechanics itself intact in terms of its role though the use of Artificial Intelligence. Jehuty from Konami’s Zone of the Enders series of games is exactly this.

Jehuty in itself has no conscience or awareness within fiction, no character to speak of. Its actions and behaviour are determined by its pilot and support AI, A.D.A. In principle, A.D.A. could be embed into whatever Orbital Frame would support the addition.

These three approaches are more or less starting points, more or less. While at first it may seem arbitrary to make a category of three, one of which is effectively just combining the first two, they serve their role in setting the proper mindset for design work. That is, the nature of the mecha rather than the end-visual the designer ends up making. That is up to the designer’s own style and research into the subject materials.

For further reading on expanded subjects, such as combiners, basic design tips, controls and similar, please visit the Robot Related Materials section.

Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

Previous: MARZ

Kamachi Kazuma, a novelist for Dengeki Bunko most known for his A Certain Magical Index series was approached by Sega to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Virtual-On series with a novel. Their approach for Kamachi was to do a new sort of Virtual-On instead of just doing what had been done in the past, resulting in a cross-over novel. This was a sort of dream project for Kamachi, and at this point, it’s not longer just a dream, with A Certain Magical Virtual-On game released in early 2018.

A Certain Magical Index‘s first novel was released in April 2004, debuting Kazuma Kamachi as mainstream light novel writer, which also gained a popular animated series in 2008, and gets its third season in 2018. The series mainly takes place in a fictional city called Academy City, west from Tokyo, where science has advanced more than in the outside world. This city is of scientific marvels, making leaps and bounds to every which way. This means the city has constant testing of new technology and designs, including testing such things as weird soda drink flavours. The city is walled all around, protecting the valued assets and data, but also keeps other people out.

The most important project that’s running in Academy City is its espers. The city has around 2.3 million espers, all students who partake in Power Curriculum Program, which aims to attain one’s own Personal Reality in order to awaken esper powers. Personal Reality is essentially one’s own secular view on reality, able to affect the objective reality’s state through their own “power” to the system in microscale. Essentially an esper believes, if you will, that she can control electricity, and so she does. However, the Curriculum requires quite literal rewiring of the person’s brains through use of various drugs in all forms, various forms of hypnosis and suggestions, slight surgical manipulation of the brain, and different sensory deprivation methods. This rewiring effectively separates the students from reality, after which they may develop powers depending on their own reality. All these powers of course are not as potent as others, with some never manifesting any.

However, this is the science side of things, and the main story takes place in the magic side. Sorcerers mostly belong to different sects and religions of the world, and their magical power does not stem from being separated from the world, but rather from idol worship, where a system of rituals are prepared in order to invoke higher powers to grant supernatural effects on reality. This can range from creating golems to controlling wind with a tool. These are fundamentally different kind of power from that of an esper, and due to the sheer difference how the users’ are wired thanks to the Curriculum, an esper can’t use magic without physical trauma. Similarly, a sorcerer does not have access to espers’ powers, as they lack a Personal Reality.

Enter Kamijou Touma, the series’ main protagonist, who has the power to break down supernatural powers with his right hand. He has a rotten luck, which drops him into fights, causes him to lose money, or in one case, meet up with an English nun named Index, who is being chased. Due to circumstances, Touma is made Index’s companion, with the English church allowing him to accompany her despite the clear threat his right hand poses to them. Index is important asset to the world of magicians, as she holds Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a library of 103 000 forbidden books, in her head due to photographic memory and can recollect information from those pages. This places them both in a crossroad of events and situations, where both the world of science and magic collide with each other, often despite of them, sometimes because of their direct actions.

This is, of course, very short and spartan introduction to the A Certain Magical Index series’ world, as we need some context for A Certain Magical Virtual-On.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On”