Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dance Dance Retrospective: The Spin-Offs

When a franchise reaches a certain level of popularity, like Dance Dance Revolution did in Japan at the turn of the millenium, its creators will expand on its popularity beyond the canon entries.  And you know what that means: spin-off games.  Fandom must work differently in Japan.  How else could you explain that there were so many DDR titles released within the span of only a couple of years?  (Seriously, it makes Guitar Hero look like Mega Man Legends in that regard.)  And yet despite only packing a dozen or two songs each, they sold most of them for 5,000 yen* a pop?  I've brought up the 2ndMIX Club Version games and the Solo games in previous entries, and I have let slip that even these games pioneered certain tweaks which would become commonplace in the core series.  So let's explore the rest of the... rest, and see if they have anything worthwhile to contribute.  Please bear in mind that very, very few of these were released outside of Japan and as such, I've never seen any of them in person.  I gathered much of my research on these topics from the website DDRer's Stomping Ground, so if you can read Japanese or have a translator handy, I invite you to read up for yourself.

*5000 JPY = 47.52 USD in Jan. 2000

Until 2008, the Dance Dance Revolution series was known by the name "Dancing Stage" in Europe.  I don’t know, maybe repeating the word "Dance" in the title was too Japanese.  But for some reason, Konami used the Dancing Stage name for a couple of small-name releases in Japan, too. Dancing Stage featuring Disney’s Rave is, as you might expect, a tie-in with Disney, and as such features arrangements of songs from their films and theme parks.  The game also features covers of other licenced songs as well, and not very good covers if I say so myself.  But it did include the "Dance Magic" mode, an extention of versus play where both players can "attack" their opponents with modifiers in the hopes of messing them up.  For 2006's SuperNOVA, this feature was brought into canon as Battle mode.  Oddly, Disney's Rave was one of the few spin-offs that got published in America, as Dance Dance Revolution Disney Mix (PlayStation, 2001).  It replaced some of the licenced songs with Konami originals from the core series, including the mighty "B4U", of all things, and added the Single Maniac difficulty missing in the original.

But say Disney isn’t your thing, maybe you need your licenced games to be a bit more… Japanese in flavour.  They’ve got you guys covered too, with the subsequent releases of  Dancing Stage featuring True Kiss Destination, in 1999, and Dancing Stage featuring Dreams Come True in 2000. Both games feature tracks from their respective J-pop bands, but with only about a dozen songs each, I’d just barely recommend them for fans only.  The same goes with Dance Dance Revolution Oha-Sta, which was a tie-in with the childrens' variety show Oha-Sta (short for "Ohayo Studio", or "Good-morning Studio").  DDR Oha-Sta is yet another game based on the 3rdMIX engine and boasts the standard Basic, Another, and Maniac levels, but as expected from its target demographic, the charts are easier than most of their core series peers.  Taking this concept further is Dance Dance Revolution Kids.  The songs here include TV and anime theme songs, including those from Pokemon and Digimon Adventure.  So, in case you've been dreaming of some sort of Pokemon/Digimon crossover, then sorry, this is the closest you're going to get.

By this point, nearly all the home DDR releases were made for the PlayStation. But that changed with the release of DDR GB for the Game Boy Color.  One wouldn’t think the Game Boy Color was a natural choice to serve as a home for DDR.  Think about it: the 8-bit sound processor is forced to beat the songs beyond recognition, and the traditional dance pad is not an option.  But apparently portable gaming is a bigger deal in Japan than I could've imagined, because somehow it caught on.  Japan got a total of five games for the DDR GB series, including ports of Disney's Rave and Oha-Sta.  And what's more, they even made a dedicated DDR controller that plugged into the GBC's headphone port.  For the longest time, the only other releases for Nintendo platforms were Dance Dance Revolution: Disney's Dancing Museum (Nintendo 64, 2001, Japan only), and Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix (Gamecube, 2005).

You may have noticed that many of these games were released around the turn of the millenium.  For better or worse, these habits died out around 2002, the year when games like Dance Dance Revolution Extreme and Beatmania the Final more or less swept away the old generation.  But the spinoff games never stopped, far from it.  There's the Ultramix and Universe series, which I've mentioned before, and licenced titles like DDR Disney Channel Edition and DDR High School Musical in America, and DDR Winx Club in Europe.  To think I've come this far and I haven't even made a passing reference to the Hottest Party series on Wii...  That's because it deserves its own entry, next time on Dance Dance Retrospective.

Dance Dance Retrospective: SuperNOVA 2

After SuperNOVA, Konami kept the ball rolling with the arcade release of Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA 2, for Japan on 22 August 2007 and North America on 17 January 2008.  (Europe was left out, due to EU sanctions preventing the import of the PlayStation 2 hardware on which the game was based.)  As per the name, SuperNOVA 2 keeps most of the features from its predecessor, including the Tutorial, Battle, Nonstop, and Challenge Modes.  As such, I had by this point in time noticed the lack of innovation this series had to offer, and the game left me with a lukewarm opinion at best.  However, this game offers a couple of neat points if you do the research.

Sometimes, character graphics flash on-screen with good performance.  (Europe PS2 version)
First off, we have the inclusion of the e-Amusement system which Konami had used in its other Bemani arcade games over the past couple of years.  Basically, it combines stat tracking and internet ranking.  The player gets a card which stores data on calories burned, performance trends, and "Enjoy Points", which serve to unlock songs and features.  Machines connected to the Internet can also compare the player's scores with those from players around the world.  While DDR first got e-Amuse support with the Japanese version of SuperNOVA, Konami tried to put it out to the rest of the world for SuperNOVA 2.  But there was one problem: apparently, setting up a DDR machine to use e-Amuse requires a hardware upgrade, and a US$50/month subscription fee, presumably for the online functionality.  So, it never caught on abroad.  (The only known DDR machine to use e-Amuse outside of Asia can be found in Naperville, Illinois, where they held a location test for SuperNOVA 2.)  And that's where trouble started: since the game was designed to use e-Amuse to control song unlocks, there was no work-around to access the hidden content, at least until Konami released a series of unlock codes from their website.  This also meant that the ability to save local high scores, which was one of my favourite parts of the arcade SuperNOVA, was taken out.

I'd like to jump back into the Pump It Up! series for a moment here.  Around the time of the SuperNOVA games, Andamiro was adding campaign modes to their arcade PIU titles, starting with World Tour from 2005's Zero, and hitting their stride with WorldMax from 2008's NX2.  WorldMax mode presented players with challenges laid out in a map format, like Dance Master Mode from DDR Extreme 2.  Each credit paid would let the player play three stages, depending on the machine's settings, regardless of whether the player won or failed each mission.  Given the massive scale of the mode, progress could be saved onto USB devices.  Now, this would be the ideal alternative to how Konami forced e-Amuse upon us.  On the consumer's side, USB is a widely-used format, as opposed to a proprietary card which players would have to buy for one purpose.  And while the operator would have to buy the USB drive directly from Andamiro, or buy a new machine with one built-in, there's no mucking about with subscription fees and all that jazz.  So, in conclusion...  KONAMI!!  Y U NO USE USB UNLOCKS!?

*ahem* Moving on.  Whereas the Marvelous timing mark had previously been relegated to Challenge Mode, since its introduction in Extreme, this time around it was introduced into the rest of the game.  As such, the scoring system has been changed once again.  The maximum possible score is now 1 million points for all Marvelous marks, while all Perfects or better is good for at least 999,000.  For whatever reason, the AAA grade, previously reserved for a full Perfect combo, is awarded for a score over 990,000, so you can still get a AAA with at least one lower mark on most charts, but the game still keeps track of full combos and Perfect-full combos separately.  Apart from that, there's nothing else that sets SuperNOVA 2 apart from the previous game.  Oh, except the music.  Notable songs include:
  • "Angelus" by Hitomi Shimatani.  A latin/house-flavoured J-pop song.  This song was also used as the opening for season 6 of Inuyasha.
  • "Arrabiatta" by RevenG Kai.  A cyber-Arabian song and crossover from Pop'n Music 10.  The Expert chart is only level 9, but it's very hard and draining, given its tempo of 225 BPM.  Among the not-quite-10-footers, it's worse than "Healing Vision (Angelic Mix)" in that regard.
  • "Music In The Rhythm" by nc feat. Electric Touch.  An electro-rock song with a fun beat and charts, and pauses throughout the track.  One of my favourite songs from SN2.
  • "My Favorite Things" by Sloth Music Project feat. Alison Wade.  Seriously?  They remade a showtune from The Sound of Music!?
  • "Trust -DanceDanceRevolution Mix-" by Tatsh feat. Yoko.  A tie-in with the anime Gurren Lagann.
  • "Unreal" by Black Rose Garden.  This rock song only shows up as the final stage until it is unlocked proper.  The charts are full of jumps; even I have trouble passing the level-9 Expert chart.
The new round of boss songs:
  • "NGO" by Keiichi Nabeshima.  A guitar-driven rock song with lots of irregular step patterns.
  • "PARANOiA Hades" by α-Type 300.  This new remix of PARANOiA has more in common with "MAX300".  And a really scary background video.  Fun fact: This remix was composed by Junko Karashima, a.k.a. "Jun", a Bemani artist who is better known for much brighter happy-hardcore fare.  So, this is a serious case of mood whiplash we've got on our hands! ^_^
  • "Pluto" by Black∞Hole.  A piano-techno song with lots of tempo changes and pauses.
  • "Pluto Relinquish" by 2MB, a remix of "Pluto".  This song set a new speed record for the DDR franchise: some brief passages run at quadruple-speed of 800 BPM.
There's also another set of unlockable songs called the "Groove Radar Specials".  These are new charts for old songs, which emphasise one or more of the Groove Radar elements (offbeat steps, jumps, Freeze Arrows, etc.).  They are pretty self-explanatory, and are as follows:
  • "AM-3P (Chaos Special)" by kTZ (from 2ndMIX)
  • "B4U (Voltage Special)" by Naoki (from 4thMIX)
  • "Brilliant 2U (Stream Special)" by Naoki (from 2ndMIX)
  • "D2R (Freeze Special)" by Naoki (from MAX2)
  • "Dynamite Rave (Air Special)" by Naoki
  • "Dead End (Groove Radar Special)" by N&S (from 3rdMIX).  This one has all five ratings maxed out, plus tempo changes that weren't in the original charts, and as such this chart is one of the hardest in the entire franchise.  Have fun.
Modules can change your score in
Hyper Master Mode. (PS2 version)
The PlayStation 2 version of SuperNOVA2 was released for North America and Europe on 25 September 2007, and Japan on 21 February 2008.  The new single-player mode in this game is called Hyper Master Mode.  It's just a series of levels, each with a series of missions, but oddly, you only need to clear the last mission in each level to move on.  But Hyper Master Mode does mix it up through the use of Modules, which are essentially modifiers that you can buy in-game and use in the missions.  Some are helpful, and some add to the challenge and the "Hyper Score" you can earn on top of your regular score.  This is a nice idea, and I do wish it was better implemented, since both the Module system and Hyper Master Mode on the whole have plenty of potential.  But because the core gameplay has remained stagnant since 2001, my interest in the series began to wane by this point.  Perhaps some spin-off series could spice things up?  Find out next time, on Dance Dance Retrospective!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Manga Review: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei
  • Author: Koji Kumeta
  • Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Del Rey / Kodansha Comics (US)
  • Volumes: 30
  • Release: 27 Apr 2005 - 13 June 2012 (JP), 24 Feb 2009 - Present (US)

It seems as if humour is different across all cultures, eh?  I mean, look at the anime scene in Japan -- there aren't many examples of comedy anime series I can think of off the top of my head.  As in good comedy series.  That rely on actual laughs instead of being bizarrely Japanese.  (Why do I keep limiting myself?)  Well, there's Ninja Nonsense, Excel Saga (and everything else NabeShin's touched), I suppose you could make the case for Hetalia as well...  Man, I feel like an anime dilettante...  Oh wait, here's one you've probably never heard of: the manga and anime series Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.

The first chapter begins with, of all things, our main character Nozomu Itoshiki having hung himself in a grove of sakura trees.  Strange for a story to end before it gets started, no?  Well that's where you're wrong, because along comes the schoolgirl Kafuka Fuura, who saves him against his wishes.  It turns out that she is a student in his high-school class, where we learn an unfortunate truth: the kanji in Nozomu's name, when written closely together, appear to form the word "despair" ("糸色" becomes "").  Thusly, he has lived out his life in despair at everything around him.  Kafuka, on the other hand, is an unnaturally cheerful girl, always assuming that there's a happy explanation to all the unpleasantries going on around her.  For example: when she saw her teacher trying to hang himself?  She thought he was just making himself taller.

And then, there's the other children in her class, including but not limited to:
  • Chiri Kitsu, the de-facto class chairman, she suffers from some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and always demands things to be done precise and properly.  She may kill you if you don't.
  • Kiri Komori, a hikikomori (one who stays locked up in his/her room); after Nozomu & Kafuka's intervention, she holes up in a room at the school instead.
  • Matoi Tsunetsuki, a stalker who goes so deep into her "super-love obsessions" that she copies the person's dress style - including Nozomu's Taisho-era couture.  (I'll explain that later.)
  • Meru Otonashi, a shy girl who sends text messages instead of talking - specifically, abusive and sarcastic texts.
  • Kaere Kimura, a blonde-haired exchange student from not-Japan who is prone to panty shots, threatens lawsuits frequently as a result, and, under certain stress, switches personalities with a demure Japanese girl Kaere.
  • Taro Maria Sekiutsu, an illegal immigrant who purchased her name and class registration from  a (male!) bum who sold everything he had.
  • Nami Hito, the class's only normal girl.  She is not pleased at her status.
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is one of those manga in which, rather than keeping a consistent story arc, each of its chapters are stand-alone stories focusing on a particular topic.  The best chapters are the ones early on, in which each topic is centred around the introduction of a particular character.  Obviously they can't very well do that all the time, lest the cast reach Negima proportions.  But as early as the second volume, a predictable routine sets in.  A situation is set up, and Nozomu complains about it.  Someone from his class, usually Kafuka, looks at the situation a different way.  Some sort of bizarre conclusion is reached, having no bearing whatsoever on the following chapter.  Sprinkle with pop culture references to illustrate both arguments -- the more Japanese, the better.  Bake at 451 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty minutes.  Serves 10 chapters per volume plus extras.  And yes, in case you couldn't tell, I seem to have gotten lost in my own metaphor.

But it's worth dealing with this routine to explore the world, this fractured take on 21st-century Japan.  In contrast with his students' contemporary uniforms, Nozomu always wears an old hakama and kimono ensemble dating back to the Taisho (1910s and 20s) period.  Plus, if you're familiar with the Japanese imperial calendar, note that they use dates as if Emperor Hirohito were still alive (i.e. AD 2013 becomes Showa 88 instead of Heisei 25).  The art style is heavily stylised, even by the standards of manga, as Kumeta-san seems dead-set on avoiding shading in favour of pure blacks and whites wherever possible, primarily in his character designs, not to mention a reliance on static plaid patterns, especially on Nozomu's clothes.  But that's not to say this series' art is devoid of detail.  For example, the translators at Del Rey Manga were nice enough to keep many of the background signage in Japanese, although they did translate some of the funny ones (what kind of school advertises a "Boys' Love Club"?).  In fact, there are such a vast quantity of references that only a Japanese reader would get, regardless of language, that each book ends with a heaping helping of translators' notes -- and even those can't cover all the details.

But far be it for Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei to rely solely on referential anecdotes. Which is good, because as anyone who’s suffered through a Seltzer and Friedberg movie knows, references are lazy writing.  There are puns aplenty to be found, primarily in the characters' names.  As can be expected with most other instances of foreign comedy, these tend to require sufficient knowledge of Japanese language concepts, like the different readings of kanji.  Without such knowledge, you'll be scratching your head -- or flipping to the translator's notes -- for an explanation on certain gags, one noteworthy example being Chiri's sudden adoption of clairvoyant powers.  Fortunately, a good chunk of the humour transcends the language barrier by basing itself around the fourth wall -- or rather, the lack thereof.  Characters often refer to one another in terms of their respective specialties, for example Kaere being the designated panty-shot girl, and Nami being normal.  In addition to the aforementioned translator notes, the manga volumes also pack in bonus features such as previews and/or recaps which have nothing to do with the actual story.  There's even a chapter in one of the early volumes where Chiri and Nozomu get the chapter to start over -- all in the name of demonstraing the point du jour.  It's good stuff.

There is one issue that got me thinking, however, and that's Nozomu's repeated propensity towards attempting suicide.  This comes from a culture which has a well-known association with the subject.  I'm sure you're familiar with the rituals of seppuku and/or hara-kiri that were practiced every so often back in the day.  Yup, made in Japan.  Even today, in this post-war, commerce-driven age, Japan continuously ranks among the top 10 countries for suicides.  For example, the World Health Organization reports that ever since the mid-1990s, Japan experienced close to 30,000 suicides every year, having only last year dipped below that benchmark.  So that makes me wonder: is it right to trivialise a such serious problem like Kumeta-san does in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei?  Because by playing suicide up for humour, he's not exactly portraying it in an undesirable manner.  Then again, could Kumeta-san's approach be not an endorsement of suicide, but a parody of such?  Given the context of the series, this may be what the author had in mind.  After all, if you read about a guy who sought to hang himself at the slightest provocation, real or imagined, surely you'd think that he was being unreasonable at least once or twice, no?  This is a complex issue, and at times like these I think back to the words of the great philosopher Basil Exposition: "I suggest you don't worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself!"  That goes for you all as well.

And it’s totally worth putting your reservations in the backseat, because Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei presents heaping helpings of hilarity to revel in. Yes, a sense of repetition creeps into this series the further you delve into it. But when it’s good, it’s nothing short of sublime. By not only breaking the fourth wall, but reaching out across it and sharing with the reader what it has learned about our world, Kumeta-san has created a surrealist masterpiece.

Artwork: 5 suicide attempts out of 5
Plot: 4 suicide attempts out of 5
Dialogue: 5 suicide attempts out of 5
Characters: 5 suicide attempts out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

In case you haven't noticed, up until now I've been primarily referring to Sayonara, Zetsubou-Senseias a manga series.  Well, there was an anime produced as well, which ran for three half-seasons in Japan.  The show was a product of Studio Shaft, and given their other works (Negima!?, Puella Magi Madoka Magica), you can bet this is one bad mother[Shut your mouth!]  What, I'm just talking about Studio Shaft!  [Then we can dig it!]  The animated version of SZS keeps the existing bizarre flavour of the manga whilst adding its own clever touches, such as non-sequitirs on the classroom chalkboard, some guy's head used as a censor, and the uber-bizarre opening and ending themes.  And for perhaps the prime example of Studio Shaft’s non-sensery, there’s a certain episode from season two.  The chapter it’s based on is a relatively straightforward one -- straightforward by its own standards, at least -- about a guy who think’s he’s Commodore Perry and goes around opening everything in the school -- and I do mean everything.  But for the anime, the dialogue was replaced with nonsense syllables, and the subtitles made the plot even more insane, if you can believe it, by telling some completely unrelated story about Goku finding the [bleep]balls.  And since my “Not Making This Up Disclaimer” can only go so far, just take my word for it.   Or watch it for yourself.

There's just one problem: Media Blasters did licence the series for North America, with the intention to release DVDs in May 2010.  Unfortunately, in the almost three years since, they still have yet to show up on the market, and the company has said nary a word about its status.  Hey, at least Capcom had the decency to explicitly state that Mega Man Legends 3's production blew up in the hangar!  ...That doesn't excuse them or anything.  Anyway, this is the reason why I focused my review on the manga instead.  If an American video release was in the works, I'd need to know whether or not an English dub would be part of the deal, so I can include it in my judgment.  Still, whether you're willing to wait for an official release or jump the gun and watch some fansubs, I unofficially deem this anime a...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Top 10: Cutest Dark-Skinned Girls

February is the month which gives us Valentine's Day, a tribute to the multiple Christian saints named Valentine.  It also plays host Black History Month, which Carter G. Woodson started in 1926 for the second week of February, only to be expanded to the whole month 50 years later.  So the way I see it, why bother celebrating one occasion or the other, when you can tackle both in one fell swoop?  These are my top ten cutest dark-skinned lady characters.  Now, please bear in mind that I'm judging them based not only on sex-appeal (or non-sexual charm, for the underaged), but also how well they are written as characters in their given universes.  And since I'm limited to my personal experiences, expect a focus on animated characters.  Also, in order to avoid having to weigh sex appeal and non-sexual childish charm, I decided to split this list into two top-five lists, one each for adults and the youth.  A cop-out for not bothering to find ten of one or the other?  Hey, I had to do this in time for Valentine's Day!  Besides, no one list of this sort will be complete, because everybody values different things in whatever they classify, so I encourage you readers to make up your own.  (NB: Release dates refer to North America unless otherwise specified.)

Adult Category

5) Kida
from Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Film, 2001)
Home: Atlantis
Age: Over 8,000 (!)

The forty-first entry in the Disney Animated Canon may lie on shaky ground critically, depending on whom you talk to, but it's a lot of fun and has some decent rewatchability.  Case in point: the animators' MO was something along the lines of "less singing, more explosions".  And then there's the romantic co-lead, Princess Kidagakash of Atlantis.  Following on the illustrious tradition of Ariel and Jasmine, Kida's default costume reveals her midriff, so we're already off to a good start.  But she's more than just looks; she gets some sweet moments of action in protecting her underground kingdom from percieved invaders.  And unlike most Disney Princesses, she takes an active role in deciding the fate of her realm alongside (against?) her ailing father.  Oh, did I mention she's over seven or even eight thousand years old?  For what it's worth, I have read rumours that Atlanteans age at a rate of 1:300 years or somesuch, thus giving Kida the appearance of a twenty-something.  With white hair.  It's true what they say: age is only a number.  Especially when you have a magic crystal around your neck which extends your lifespan.

4) Yoruichi Shihoin
from Bleach (Comic/TV, 2004-present)
Home: Soul Society
Age: Unknown

I may never have the opportunity to cover Bleach on this blog, not when there are so many manga chapters and anime episodes that I will never plausibly be able to catch up.  But if you need a reason to jump in, try Yoruichi on for size.  Despite her having been self-exiled from the Soul Reapers, I've heard she's one of the most powerful characters in the Bleach universe.  In a world where Soul Reapers rely on morphing swords to get their job done, Yoruichi does the talking with her fists, and to say the least, her size belies her strength.  In fact, her martial art of choice forces her to wear clothes with no back or sleeves, due to the way it releases Spiritual Pressure from her body.  She's incredibly skilled in the art of Flash Step, that short-range teleporty thing everyone does in this show.  Also, for some reason she can transform into a cat, and since she's naked whenever she morphs back, one of her hobbies is doing it in front of hero -- just to troll him.  So, I guess that makes her the "Flash Master" for more reason than one! =^_^=

3) Urd
from Oh My Goddess! (Comic/TV, 1994-present)
Home: Heaven
Age: Unknown

In Oh My Goddess!, college student Keiichi Nabeshima is blessed with the companionship of a goddess named Belldandy, but the fun doesn't stop there.  A few volumes in, a couple more goddesses pop in to spice up Keiichi's life, one of them Urd.  But she differs from her half-sisters in that she is half-demon on her mother's side.  (Said mother, Demon Lord Hild, could've easily made the list if I chose to expand it to ten per side, but again, I needed to get this out on time.)  Her heritage reflects her passionate, flirty, and twisted personality, in that she balances the light and the dark for maximum effect.  She's also quite the kooky chemist, as she serves as a secret matchmaker for Keiichi and Belldandy, usually by sneaking one or the other some sort of love potion or what-not.  It helps that this series is a supernatural sitcom, one of the few genres in which I could appreciate such machinations.

2) Elena
from Street Fighter III (Game, 1997-1999)
Home: Kenya
Age: Unknown

Created for the Street Fighter III mini-series, Elena brings her franchise its first representation of Capoeira, a martial art created in Brazil by ex-African slaves, who managed to get it past their white owners by passing it off as a dance.  Indeed, Elena manages to portray both sides of Capoeira in her portrayal of it.  For one, when playing as her, all 6 of the game's attack buttons are used for kicks, the opposite of the SFII boxer boss Balrog (or M. Bison if you are so inclined).  Second, if you have a chance to see her in action, her animations have a more detailed look to them; they seem to have been rotoscoped in a manner different from the other characters'.  I may admit to sucking at the Street Fighter games, but in just about anyone's hands, Elena is poetry in motion.  It's a shame she hasn't gotten so much exposure; aside from ports of the SFIII trilogy, her last appearance since was in the DLC pack for Street Fighter X Tekken -- you know, the one that was locked on the disc and therefore DESERVES TO BE OURS FOR FREE IN THE FIRST -- sorry, I seem to have had an out-of-script moment.




Edit: Please disregard the previous bout of rage; Elena has since been added to Ultra Street Fighter IV.

1) Rouge
from Power Stone (Game, 1999-2000)
Home: Mahdad
Age: 23

Oh great, another character from an under-exposed Capcom fighter.  Isn't that special.  Anyone remember Power Stone, that non-conventional fighter back from Capcom's good old days?  I sure do, thanks in large part to the lady painted right next to the arcade cabinet's controls -- none other than Rouge (not to be confused with the bat girl from Sonic the Hedgehog).  Hailing from what I assume to be an alternate-universe 19th-centure Baghdad, Rouge pulls double-duty as a fortune teller and belly dancer, which she incorporates into her speedster fighting style -- with fire effects to make her hits feel even more powerful.  And in a game where characters can morph into special forms by collecting gems from about the arena, her new costume goes over-the-top -- by which I mean her top shrinks to impractical levels and her hair catches fire.  See this is why Power Stone needs an HD remake or -- gasp! -- a sequel.  Also Mega Man Legends 3.

  Juvenile Category

5) Korra
from The Legend of Korra (TV, 2012-present)
Home: Southern Water Tribe
Age: 17

I wish to make it known that Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best thing to happen to American animation since Walt Disney.  ...Because they emulated the Japanese.  Seriously, this show is one of the few Occidental cartoons to take itself seriously, with epic storylines and characters, including the waterbender Katara, who also could've qualified for this list.  But what could be better than everything Katara and her show represent?  Try doing all that -- and being the star protagonist of your show.  As the next Avatar after Aang from the original series, Korra uses her existing knowledge of water, earth, and firebending in innovative, dynamic ways in her fights with the Equalists.  In between bouts of trying to learn airbending, Korra has a fierce independent streak, getting into unsanctioned adventures like her stint in the Pro Bending league.  As such, if I had to choose one, I'd hang with her over Aang because she's certainly more fun to be around.  Besides, for someone who's not even eighteen, she sure is stacked for her age (and for a Nicktoons character)!  She's a hottie.  Deal with it.

4) Taro Maria Sekiutsu
from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Comic, 2009-present)
Home: not-Japan
Age: Unknown

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is one of my favourite manga series of all time, and I have a review of it in the works, as a matter of fact.  It uses the characters of the title teacher's high-school class to illustrate and exploit a wide variety of personalities.  Among them is Taro "Maria" Sekiutsu, a refugee girl who illegally immigrated to Japan and bought her name and class register from a boy (!) who was selling literally everything he owned (and I'm really particular about using "literally" this year, so you know I mean it).  Her other schtick is that she doesn't have such a good grasp on the Japanese (English?) language, thus causing numerous puns.  Plus, she's just adorable!  Like, seriously: I've heard she could cause an international incident and get off scot-free because of her seeming innocence.  And then everything will be back to normal in the next chapter.  Yeah, it's that kind of series.

3) Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tiruvski IV
from Cowboy Bebop (TV, 2001)
Home: Unknown
Age: 13?

Okay, take everything I've said about Taro Maria Sekiutsu and boost it on steroids and LSD.  That should give you the girl who calls herself Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tiruvski IV.  (Fun Fact: I hear she was supposed to be a boy, but it would've thrown the male:female ratio of the main cast off balance.)  Her role on the good ship Bebop is, of all things, a computer engineer, and a thumpin' good one at that.  I mean, just look at the operating system she cooked up for herself in "Jamming With Edward"!  Work aside, how can you resist watching somebody who ambulates in every method except walking, sings cheerful chants to herself, and of all people, she was the one who got everything back to normal during the ever-popular "Mushroom Samba" episode.  See you space cowboy... after the next two entries.

2) Alex
from Totally Spies! (TV, 2001-present)
Home: Los Angeles, California, USA
Age: 14-18

Some of us were watching girls' cartoons before the Bronies made it cool.  Then again, some of those shows had pretty girls to make it worthwhile, such as... pretty much every female in Totally Spies.  But none of them struck a chord with me quite like Alex.  Really, you couldn't go wrong with any of this show's leads, since they're equally capable of tackling each villain-of-the-week with unnecessarily-acrobatic fighting moves, all in bright and tight catsuits to boot.  But compare Alex to her friends and co-leads: I doubt I would gel with Clover's valley-girl mentality, and while Sam mixes brains and beauty, she doesn't stand out quite as well in my mind.  On the other hand, Alex's personality is somewhere in between, with interests in sports and other tomboyish pursuits thrown on top.  She even tries to resolve arguments between her friends from time to time.  Except for that one episode when she left the team...  Here's hoping the upcoming season 6 gives her more defining moments.

1) Nadia
from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (TV, 1990-1991 [Japan])
Home: Atlantis / Paris, France
Age: 14-15

Anyone remember the time I reviewed the Nadia anime?  Long story short, I came for the fanservice provided by its leading lady, and stayed for her personality.  I do wish she was written to be more of an action-girl type, a shortcoming made all the more frustrating by her circus performance in the first episode, but this becomes forgivable when you take the time to analyse her.  I'll bet Nadia's respect for human -- and animal -- life can tug at the heartstrings of everyone.  In fact, I've imagined her as a memetic goddess of peace, like how we made Chuck Norris a god of... everything else.  Bet you didn't expect that from someone who shows off her midriff and legs for the majority of her screen time!

Editorial: 2012 Best Hit Songs Runners-Up

Since I had so many comments to make on the year's pop songs, I divided my runner-up list into the songs that almost made the worst-of list, and those that almost made the best-of list.  This also includes songs that didn't make the year-end Hot 100, but peaked within the top 20 any time during the year.  I might have to change the rules of my next year-end list to reflect that...  Anyway, a new wave of honourable mentions!

"Brokenhearted" by Karmin
from Hello
Year-end position: #59

Since I didn't hear anything from Ke$ha for the better part of the year, I thought she was done for.  And this song, which I assumed to be from a sobered-up Ke$ha, turned out to be the product of Karmin, a musical duo who got their start putting up cover songs on YouTube.  Its frontwoman Amy is an equally talented singer and rapper -- you don't mess with someone who can handle Busta Rhymes' verse in "Look At Me Now".  As for their original composition "Brokenhearted", the tight pseudo-disco beat gives the song a fun and funky vibe.  In the end, however, I kept it off the list because Amy's singing gets pitchy here and there, and the second rap bridge kinda sucks...
Anything you wanna do, I'll be on it too
Anything you said is like gone with the view
Business in the front, party in the back
Maybe I was wrong, was that outfit really whack?
For what it's worth, my interpretation of the lyrics differs from what I got from my usual sources.  But this is still some of the most (unironic!) fun I've had listening to a pop song all year.

"Don't You Worry Child" by Swedish House Mafia
from Until Now
Year-end position: N/A

Full disclosure: I’m a fan of dance music. No, not that nigh-identical in-da-club pop-rap that passes for dance music these days; I’m talking real EDM, genres like techno, trance, house, drum-and-bass, even a little dubstep, from artists like Ian van Dahl, Armin van Buuren, Armand van Helden... a lot of "van"s. This sort of music doesn’t get popular, though, except for maybe a few hits in the early 2000s, but lucky for me, another such song broke the top twenty at the end of this year.  Isn't it nice to have a dance song that isn't set in da club, but instead talks about a meaningful episode of doubt and consolation?  And one that doesn't rely on a "dirty bit"?  Remember when I coined that phrase?

"Good Feeling" by Flo Rida
from Wild Ones
Year-end position: #16

If the world only needs one Flo Rida song, which is giving him way too much credit, then this should be it.  I can actually remember some of the non-chorus lyrics because, instead of just rapping about his material success, he devotes the second verse to the strength of his spirit and courage.  Just look at this:
Gotta drill it in, never giving in
Giving up's not an option gotta get it in

Witness, I got the heart of twenty men
No fear, go to sleep in the lion's den
That flow, that spark, that crown
You're looking at the king of the jungle now
Stronger than ever, can't hold me down
A hundred miles an hour from the pitcher's mound
Would you dare criticise him on his weak lyricism after hearing that?  It also helps that he doesn't try to rhyme "bottles" with "models" again.

"Lights" by Ellie Goulding
from Halcyon
Year-end position: #5

After seeing this clinch high spots on best-of-2012 lists by Marc Mues and ToddInTheShadows, I actually felt a little guilty about leaving this out.  I guess the reason I left it out was because I couldn't quite decipher the message of the lyrics.  Here, see what you can make of the first verse:
I had a way then
Losing it all on my own
I had a heart then
But the queen has been overthrown
Thought not.  Still, randomosity aside, this is the kind of pop song that takes itself seriously, that doesn't try to grab your attention with some flavour-of-the-month guest star or production technique.  Yup, leave it to the British to be better than us.  Except for that whole Cher Lloyd thing.

"Locked Out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars
from Unorthodox Jukebox
Year-end position: N/A

I make it a policy of mine that no matter how bad somebody fouls up, I am always ready to forgive them if they sincerely make up for their mistakes.  Even you, Capcom, but first I’ve gotta see results.  For example, no matter how much of a clusterfail “The Lazy Song” was, Bruno Mars managed to put out some half-decent music afterwards, such as this.  The first thing that hits me is the restrained, classic rock-style production, which automatically gives it a leg up over the competition.  And the lyrics take a more spiritual approach to a subject matter which has lost much of its spirituality over the years.  By claiming that he used to feel "locked out of Heaven" until he has sex with his girlfriend, he realises how much he's been missing by not having sex over the past few... however long it was.  As I'm writing this in February 2013, Bruno's next single "When I Was Your Man" is also showing promise, so forgiveness is certainly in the works.

"Skyfall" by Adele
Non-album single
Year-end position: N/A

Yeah, I wanted to put a James Bond theme on this list. With 007 being my favourite fandom, that should be no suprise, but allow me to justify. Coming off the past two James Bond themes, which for better or worse had more of an alt-rock bent, the theme from Skyfall returns to the brassy retro-soul sound which befits the elegance of Bond's universe. And who better to bring it to life than Adele? As for the lyrics, they have a clear message for once, one about making a stand against certain death. It really works given certain events in the film, and if you still haven't seen it by now -- you totally should by the way -- I won't spoil anything. But even apart from that, it works since people have been thinking about the end of the world recently.  Truly, the best theme songs are those which work in multiple contexts.

"Swimming Pools (Drank)" by Kendrick Lamar

from good kid, m.A.A.d city
Year-end position: N/A

We get a lot of positive representations of alcohol in popupar music these days, particularly in hip-hop.  So leave it to a rap song to take boozing down a peg.  In his relatively short verses, Kendrick Lamar paints himself as an unconfident person who drinks to fit in with the cool crowd, and whilst he tries to maintain moderation, he takes peer pressure which threatens to push him past his limits.  And he does this by playing multiple roles, not only him, but the jerk who's trying to get him drunk through the chorus, as well as his own conscience in the second verse  ...I get the sneaking suspicion that alcohol can be a bad thing.  If you don't believe me, check out the Rap Critic's review.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Editorial: 2012 Worst Hit Songs Runners-Up

In making the year-end Worst Hit Songs and Best Hit Songs lists, I have to keep my ear out for as much music as possible.  I'd dare say that no one person can cover all the medium's bases, for example I admit I don't listen to a lot of country, but I've taken in so many songs that I just have to air out my feelings on them, and even two top-ten lists aren't enough to contain them all.  So here are the honourable mentions that just missed the cut for the worst hit songs of 2012.

"As Long As You Love Me" by Justin Bieber & Big Sean
from Believe
Year-end position: #34

By his own standards, I will admit that this is Justin Bieber's best song.  As a pick-up song, there's a certain apocalyptic desperation to it, so the emotions it evokes automatically give it a leg up over the competition.  Then again, its dubstep beat may not have been the best musical choice: it enhances the mood in some spots, but renders the work impossible to take seriously in others.  Plus, leave it to Big Sean -- the same guy who dumped "Dance (A$s)" upon us -- to trash the whole thing with a sloppy rap verse.  Actually, I should thank him for not giving me an excuse to like this song.

"Beauty And A Beat" by Justin Bieber & Nicki Minaj
from Believe
Year-end position: #N/A
Peak weekly position: #7

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but this one was an actual guilty pleasure of mine.  Sure, it's the most risque Bieber's ever been.  Sure, it uses a "dirty bit" after the chorus.  Sure, Nicki Minaj manages to get away with using the B-word on a Justin Bieber song.  And this...
Justin, Bieber
You know I'mma hit him with the ether
Buns out, wiener
But I gotta keep my eye out for Selener
If this line is not instantly hilarious to you, then you probably weren't aware that Bieber and Selena Gomez broke up right around the time this came out as a single.  ...What, I wasn't trying to find about them!

"Drive By" by Train
from California 37
Year-end position: #19

"Drive By" was going to be the song which represented Train on the worst-of list, but I switched it out with "50 Ways To Say Goodbye" at the eleventh hour.  Nonetheless, it contains such gems as:
On the upside of a downward spiral
My love for you went viral
More than likely, this was intended to mean that everyone knows about him and his girl.  But I and my creative mind saw this as him sticking her with an STD.  And you thought he was a nice guy. >:-)  I should've expected nothing less from someone who specifically said his relationship does not involve getting shot by rival gang members going past in a car, because that's what a drive-by is.  Seriously man, think before you fit an outside catch-phrase into a song!  And while you're at it, did Hefty really pay you to plug their trash bags in the song?  Man, I'm going to have a lot of fun reviewing the rest of the album.

"Glad You Came" and "Chasing The Sun" by The Wanted
from Battleground / Third Strike
Year-end position: #6 / N/A
Peak weekly position: #3 / 50

The boy band wars flared up in 2012, but not as I remember them.  Both parties, One Direction and The Wanted are less concerned with coordinated outfits and dances than the many that sprang up at the turn of the millenium, but sadly, tight songwriting was thrown under the train as well.  Since I view the apparent leaders, One Direction, as overhyped sell-outs, I've turned to The Wanted, who sadly left me equally as disappointed.  Sure they do use some creative rhyming techniques in the first verse of "Glad You Came", but then the chorus passes and... the second verse is exactly the same.  Even worse, their follow-up single "Chasing The Sun" feels like the exact same song, too.  No matter who wins the boy band wars this time around, we all lose.

"Red Solo Cup" by Toby Keith
from Clancy's Tavern
Year-end position: #84

To be honest with you, I try to avoid easy targets when making these kinds of list.  And a stereotypical-sounding country song praising a disposable product certainly qualifies as such.  Yeah, it's dopey, but as a novelty song it's an adorable kind of dopey, so I can't stay mad at it.  The other reason I didn't include this is, well... I don't listen to a lot of country music, which speaks to my tastes as a blue-stater, but sadly knocks out a good chunk of the Year-End Hot 100.  Without the experience of this song, I'm not able to prepare the same kind of opinions that I make for other songs, like...

"Starships" by Nicki Minaj
from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
Year-end position: #9

2012 was a big year for Nicki Minaj, with her second album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded tearing up the charts. But unlike the original Pink Friday, and mind you I don't own either album, I can't pick any track off of Roman Reloaded which I would classify as "good". Like this, for example: the album's biggest-charting single, the dance-pop jam "Starships". And where is this taking place? The beach, the dance floor, a starship? Would it kill today's songwriters to keep a little consistency now and again!? This song is scatterbrained, and the writers were, as their lyrics put it, "higher than a mother[verb]er."

"Wild Ones" by Flo Rida & Sia
from Wild Ones
Year-end position: #11

Flo Rida is such an enigma, eh?  This year he's put out an unbroken string of top-ten hits, yet none of them contribute anything to what would be his personality.  And whilst I've heard a lot of negative buzz (which I agree with) for "Whistle" and its hamfisted sex metaphors, I'd instead give the nod to "Wild One" as his worst song of the year.  At least "Whistle" had a different sound to it and was campy in its suckatude.  "Wild One" on the other hand, is a carbon-copy of his last single "Good Feeling", but with even weaker lyrics (he rhymes "private show" with itself in three consecutive lines), stealing the talents of another promising white girl for the chorus (and replacing her in the music video... again), and all around tedium.