Monday, March 24, 2014

Road to 508: The Freeza Arc

Road to 508 is a blogging project that I have put down and picked back up numerous times. Although this has taken me far longer than expected, I am intent on finishing up a beginning to end viewing of the entire DragonBall franchise in Japanese for the first time in my life. As a refresher, I am someone who holds the Manga in far higher regard than the Anime and someone who for a large number of years solely watched the English Dub for the pure nostalgia of the voices. But I've never gotten around to watching the entirety of the series in Japanese. Having finished up the Freeza Arc now, I am more than halfway to the 508th Episode that would mark the end of DragonBall GT and reaching the goal of chronicling this is now all the more attainable. One of the challenges that I have faced with this series of blog posts is how to make it interesting for all DragonBall fans. I want Dub fans to find it educational (in a sense) and I want fans of the Japanese version to find it intriguing to view what they already love through the eyes of a newcomer. Taking all that into account, I still want each entry to be fairly direct and not drag on. That is why it has taken me so long to get this far. I want to chronicle my feelings as I am actually going along, so due to troubles with how I want to format things, I have taken long delays in writing and thus have not wanted to continue onward with my viewing until the prior Arc's thoughts are written out.

Upon finishing the Freeza Arc, one thing that is clear to me is that this Arc was far more of a mixed bag of feelings for me. While mainstay voices like Nozawa and Horikawa continued to impress, many of the memorable side villains possessed very underwhelming performances. One of the prime offenders in this case is Yukitoshi Hori in the role of Dodoria. While Hori's voice fits the character well enough, his performance is riddled with under-deliveries. As someone who becomes very aggressively animated when he's angry, Dodoria is a character that needs very loud and have over the top screams because that's just the type of character he is. Both of FUNimation's in-house voice actors (Chris Forbis for Z and John Swasey for Kai) represent the character in the light that he is intended and are both easily my preference over Hori.

Continuing onward with some more negative impressions, unlike Dodoria, these next two are not based on a poor acting performance, but rather unfitting voices. The two that I am referring to are Hideyuki Hori as Ginyu and Yukimasa Kishino and Butta. Now believe me, I already know that most Japanese Version fans are not going to agree with my reasoning, but I feel that given the extreme alien appearance of these characters and their very over the top personalities, they should have voices that are unnatural. Maybe it's because I'm used to the FUNimation voices, but the Japanese voices are completely unmemorable and just sound like random people speaking. One thing that I love about a lot of older Anime is that many of these now veteran Seiyuu are very strong character actors, which mends very well with the strange and eccentric characters that Toriyama created. Voices like Ginyu and Butta's seem entirely out of place in my eyes and my preference lies in Brice Armstrong's Ginyu and Vic Mignogna's Butta.

But enough of the negativity, let's switch the focus to a more positive tone. First up is Sho Hayami as Zarbon. What's great about Hayami's performance is that he's able to portray the more subdued and self-indulgent nature of Zarbon so precisely without having the "obviously trying too hard" tone that Chris Sabat took with the character. Meanwhile, Kenji Utsumi's ReaCoom is phenomenal in the sense that the character comes off as much more sadistically evil and wanting to play with his opponents in a purposely tormenting way. This is a huge difference from the "herp de derp" persona that Chris Sabat gives the character. I feel that this makes ReaCoom far more layered than the Dub's purely comical interpretation.

Continuing onward with the unintentional Chris Sabat bashing, Kazumi Tanaka was a refreshing change from the accented take on Jheese in both the Z and Kai Dubs. Although, in all honesty, I didn't really find Tanaka's performance to be very memorable. The acting was a bit dull at times, but I'll take the far more suiting voice of Tanaka over the higher energy of Sabat and Lebrecht in their respective Dubs. Frankly, I think if FUNimation ditched the accent and Jason Lebrecht used something near his natural voice in the Kai Dub, I'd likely find him to be the perfect Jheese on all accounts.

Next up, closing out the Ginyu Force is Kozo Shioya as Ghurd. This is one character that I feel the Dub has done a good job on from day one. Ghurd is a fairly easy character to the cast and none of the Dub voices have really strayed too far from Shioya's original. That being said, I found Shioya's performance to really highlight the immature and whiny side of the character, much like Greg Ayres performance in the Kai Dub. Whereas Bill Townsley's performance in the Z Dub seemed to more portray the "dweeby" side. Personally, I find these different takes to each capture the character well in their own way, but I find myself leaning more towards the Shioya/Ayres route. Both Shioya and Ayres are equally suited for Ghurd and both play the character to a tee, but I'd have to say my preference lies in Greg Ayres solely because I'm a longtime fan of his work.

Finally, closing out the voices new to this Arc is the one and only, Ryusei Nakao as Freeza. The one thing that differs for me with Nakao's Freeza in contrast to the prior voices discussed in this entry is that this is a voice that I have loved long before I began these Road to 508 blog entries. Up until I started reading the Manga, all I knew was the Z Dub and its take on Freeza. To me, Freeza was just a run of the mill villain. It wasn't until around 2004 that I actually began reading the original Manga and came to see Freeza for the character that he truly was. Shortly after that, I became well acquainted with Nakao's Freeza and from that point on, he became the quintessential Freeza to me. What's so wonderful about his portrayal is that Nakao is able to not only capture the smug and flamboyant nature of Freeza, but also flawlessly capture the calm and, at times, two-faced nature of Freeza. Freeza is character that, for all intents and purposes, has the Universe on a string. He has no real fears and no worries. He's a man that, despite his super strength and ability to fly, chooses to sit in a floating chair while he makes his demands just to further display his status. It's a trait that shows how little he cares and how he has no remorse for what he does. Nakao's nature and tone in scenes like this are simply unparalleled. Chris Ayres does a phenomenal job in his own right during the Kai Dub and is pretty much as close to Nakao as you can get. But what puts Nakao in the Winner's Circle is what happens when that confidence that Freeza has slowly begins to shatter. As Goku begins to give him a run for his money and the other little "maggots" around him still refuse to die, Freeza slowly starts to lose that cool composure that he normally has. Once Goku actually becomes a Super Saiyan, Freeza completely loses it and essentially goes insane. This build up is reflected in Nakao's voice over several episodes up until Freeza actually snaps, at which point, Nakao sounds entirely insane.

Well, that closes out this edition of Road to 508. I hope that you enjoyed this read and will look forward to the next entry where I will discuss both DragonBall Z Movie 1 and the Garlic Jr. Arc.

Friday, February 14, 2014

New Retro Gaming Podcast

Hey guys, I've got some pretty fun news. Ryan (My long time Podcasting partner) and I will be starting up a new Podcast series called "The Retro Warriors Podcast." Each episode, Ryan and I will discuss and review a different retro Video Game from (mostly) the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras. While the format and flow of each episode probably won't derive too much from a typical Gaming Podcast, our goal is to provide reviews of these classic and beloved games from two completely different view points. Let me explain...

Although I grew up as a Sega kid in the 90's and greatly enjoyed the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, it wasn't until years later when I played the Playstation 1 that I really started to play a lot of Video Games. As a result, I never played many games from the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras (And absolutely none from Nintendo's home consoles of the time). But over the past year, I have taken a deep interest in the classic games that I never played and have begun playing and enjoying them. My new hobby of retro gaming has led me to want to do a Podcast about these games that I am finally getting to enjoy. But I thought to myself, would people really want to listen to one guy talk about games that they as listeners have played for 20-30 years as if the games were new? Probably not.

So Ryan and I have come up with what I believe to be a fresh and new Podcast idea. The two of us, reviewing these classic gems: One from the perspective of someone who has played them his whole life and another from the perspective of playing them for the first time. Needless to say, Ryan will be the veteran gamer to my newcomer. I have high hopes that this unique take on Gaming Podcasts will be as fun of a listen for people as it will be for us to record.

Finally, I'd like to invite all potential listeners to join in on the fun. Please tweet your questions or comments to us with the #RetroWarriors hashtag. Feel free to also tweet your own feelings on whatever games we will be reviewing or have reviewed. Your tweet may be read and discussed on the Podcast!

Anyway, I really hope that you guys will enjoy this new project. We hope to record our first episode, which will review Super Castlevania IV, next weekend. The first two or three episodes will be hosted on Ryan's Six Dollar Cookie server, just to make sure everything works out as planned. After that, I'll be moving the Podcast to its own server, so make sure to follow both me and Ryan's twitter to keep up to date on all things "Retro Warriors."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How to Increase the Wii U's Sales

It's no secret that Nintendo's Wii U has been a big under-seller on the market. Especially considering the fact that it was the first of the eighth-generation consoles to hit the market, a full year before the Playstation 4 and Xbox One no less. Coming off of the monster numbers that the original Wii put up, this is quite a hit to Nintendo's standing in the home console industry. Just about everyone has chimed in with their opinions as to what Nintendo can do to increase interest and subsequently sales. But few really give examples beyond one or two sentences of what can actually be done. So let's take a look.

First and foremost, Nintendo needs to up their advertising. Posters and Ads at GameStops and in gaming magazines is simply not enough. Core gamers know what the Wii U is and they have already made their decisions on whether or not to purchase one. Advertising where gamers shop will do no good a full year later. Both Sony and Microsoft know their market and are doing a good job of creating hype for their respective systems in numerous forms of media. Microsoft on one hand wants to hype the Fantasy Football aspect of the Xbox One, so they have a number of commercials air during NFL games. But on the flip-side of that coin, around a month before the Wii U released, rather than having exciting articles looking forward to the system, Game Informer was forced to pen an article that basically asked and answered the question, "What the Heck is the Wii U?" This was due in great part to Nintendo's horrendous advertising.

So what can they do to hype up their crowd? First, they need to answer this question: Who is their Market? Despite their early claims that the Wii U was also aimed at core gamers, this is simply not the case. Unlike the Xbox One, Nintendo is not trying to appeal a single system to every possible demographic on the planet. Their company does not appeal to cliche frat boys who spend 30 hours per week playing first-person shooters while simultaneously screaming into a microphone and ostracizing any female gamer that comes along. So once again...Who is their market? Two groups: Families and Nerds. The former goes without saying, but who is the latter? Well, people like me. Nerds like me. Go to your average Gaming Convention and what do you see? Tons of people carrying around PSPs and Vitas. Go to your average Anime, Comic, or Sci-fi Convention and what do you see? Lines of people holding a 3DS. Unlike families with young children who really only open their wallets once a year around the holidays, this group is the one that is willing to throw every cent of their paycheck at you if you give them the motivation. But how do you reach this group en masse? TOONAMI! Cartoon Network's newly revived Toonami block on Saturday nights is the prime venue to get your message across.

Now with that defined, the next step is to choose a marketing strategy. Marketing towards families is simplistic enough and Nintendo's current advertisements match that scheme. The nerdy crowd is a bit tougher and my thoughts are that Nintendo needs to hype the classic and/or retro aspect of their numerous beloved first-party franchises. Yes, I mean play the nostalgia card. A good set of commercials should take franchises like Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and even Sonic (If they can get the rights) and use footage from their earliest incarnations coupled with their most well-known musical themes. The commercial should then zip to the present and feature the vibrant colors of present day incarnations along with modernized versions of whatever musical piece played over the classic footage. I would even go as far as to say that the commercials should throw around the extremely overused, but highly effective buzz-word, "High-Definition."

Jumping off of the thought that Nintendo needs to take the "Classic Approach,"  the second thing that Nintendo needs to do is to really get a lot of older Video Games from the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras available for download via their Virtual Console. So far, they've done a great job of getting a good chunk of their most beloved games up for download, however there's still much left to be desired. First off, I think that it's almost a near universal opinion that Sonic the Hedgehog is a perfect fit for Nintendo consoles more-so than any other. So a key component for Nintendo's Virtual Console should also be to get a lot of the classic Sonic titles available for download. In addition to that, they should also focus some of their Virtual Console attention on cult-classics like Mutant Football League and Shadowrun. EarthBound's VC release has proven that there is a market for these games and although Mutant Football League may be a little tough to get the rights to considering the relationship between Nintendo and EA right now, this is nonetheless a market that Nintendo needs to address. Sony, Microsoft, and Steam have all been doing their part as well in bringing classic games back via download, but no one has really placed that as a large focus. Putting some real money towards it could help Nintendo to easily win that fan base.

Finally, the last thing that Nintendo needs to place its focus on is becoming the home for Indie games. Every single gaming hardware company in the business claims that it wants to attract the Indie market. But let's be honest, no one's doing a good job at all. Android and iOS continue to be the leader for the Indie market because statements from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony saying that they want to attract Indie developers are all just red herrings. They're hoping that by saying that, they'll come out in a better light to the gamers who really have their interests lying in Indie and thus those gamers will want to purchase their systems. But if Nintendo really puts some effort and focus into attracting these developers, they'd prove that their words are not just words. Nintendo is truly the perfect home for Indie developers for two reasons: Because Nintendo is both faithful to the past as well as innovative. Now that may seem like a contradiction, but take a look at what they focus on as a company. Nintendo is everything that current-day, mainstream gaming is not. Some of their games focus on old fashioned concepts and platforms via their long running franchises, while others focus on new-age motion control via many of their newer franchises. This is why Nintendo is the perfect platform for the Indie market. Many Indie games are very reminiscent of the games of old. From platforming concepts to use of Sprites to even musical choices, many Indie developers want to relive the gaming that they remember as a child and bring them to life again in their own vision. Meanwhile, another large chunk of Indie developers like to make games that involve moving the controller and/or touching the screen. Although phones have typically been the source for games like these, the Wii U's Gamepad is also the perfect tool to utilize these concepts and further advance them given that it doubles as a standard controller.

To close things out, I'd just like to say that I understand that none of this will attract the core gamers and will not make the Wii U the best selling home console of the generation. That title will likely go to the PS4. The fact is that the mainstream market has changed exponentially over the past 15 years and Nintendo has been too far removed from that world for 3 straight generations now. Nintendo simply cannot compete for the same gamers that Sony and Microsoft are. But what they can do is focus on what they do best and stop pretending like they're going to appeal to core gamers. People like myself who enjoy what Nintendo does and has done need them to stay around to create a gaming alternative. We need features like Miiverse, which is actually moderated so that it's pleasant and not laced with F-bombs and cyber-bullying. Nintendo strives to create a fun and happy atmosphere for people to enjoy games without ridicule and for that, I love them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Widescreen DragonBall Z...Again

Gather 'round young'ns and Old Man Gozar will tell you a story. Once upon time, way back in the year 2007, FUNimation Entertainment made the bone-headed decision to take DragonBall Z and crop its aspect ratio to 16:9. Naturally this resulted in 20% of the picture being lost. Now, here we are, 6 years later and on the cusp of 2014 FUNimation is planning on revisiting this travesty to animation via a new Blu-ray release. The end.

I'm not sure if I should be more upset with FUNimation for doing this or with their fans for requesting it. If you recall, this past summer, FUNimation posted up a survey asking people their opinions about a potential Blu-ray release of DragonBall Z. One of the questions that they posed was whether the survey takers would prefer this release to be in its proper 4:3 (Fullscreen) aspect ratio or in a cropped 16:9 (Widescreen) aspect ratio. Clearly the masses have spoken. While I understand that FUNimation is still a business, are they making the correct decision even from a purely business standpoint? It is clear that this decision to present DBZ in 16:9 again is going to alienate a portion of the fan base. At this point in time, anyone who is a fan of DragonBall for more than mere internet memes and Toonami nostalgia should have a certain level of respect for the film's integrity. I myself am a part of this group of people and like a massive fraction of this group, I will not be purchasing this release for the sole reason that the footage will be cropped. Needless to say, FUNimation will be losing a great deal of sales due to this decision. On the other hand, how many people out there who want DragonBall Z on Blu-ray will actually pass it up if it were to be presented in its original and correct 4:3 aspect ratio? I can't imagine that this number would surpass those who will not be purchasing these releases based on it being in 16:9. But even if it were, I pose this question: Is that the type of fan that you want to cater to as a business?

In addition to the loss of film integrity, there's one other simple fact that FUNimation and their 16:9 supporting fans seem to be overlooking. Most widescreen TVs feature the ability to stretch or zoom the image to fill the entire screen. While zooming the image may not be as effective as the Pan and Scan technique that FUNimation will be using, if you're the type of fan that doesn't care about losing 20% of the picture anyway, I highly doubt that you'll care how the image fills the screen. Even more-so, I think what may make FUNimation not want fans to have to zoom the image is the fact that a portion of the subtitles may be cut off at times. Well, I've got news for anyone who shares in that opinion. If YouTube is any basis of the "general fan base" (And you can bet it is), the people who actually want DragonBall Z in 16:9 are not watching the series in Japanese. They're watching the Dub and then making their way over to YouTube clips of the Japanese version with the sole intention of flaming it.

I understand that not everyone views animation as an "art." I also understand that there are many who only view products along the lines of Ghibli Films to be artistic. But in my eyes, while there is a clear difference in animation quality between the DragonBall Z TV Series and "Laputa," any drawing on a professional level deserves enough respect to not have the top and bottom of it chopped off.

Ultimately, I know that some will just view this article as an angry nerd ranting. But I hope that I have at least compelled some of you to not purchase this product.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"3 Jackets" Podcast Episode 75

It's funny, after all of this time, I still haven't begun regularly posting the new Lupin Has 3 Jackets Podcast Episodes on Otaku in a Bottle. Well that ends now!

Here on Episode 75, Ryan and I discuss and review the first two English Dubbed Episodes of "Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine" which FUNimation has recently posted up on their website.