MMM… Megaman 10

Megaman 10. That’s 10 Megamen. Actually, more like 50 or so, but hearing news that last year’s retro revisit of the classic franchise is getting a sequel brought joy and happiness to this anime blogger. There’s a lot of positivity and negativity floating around because of the announcement, and I want to just talk a little about it, go through some of the things that pop up in my head when I read these conversations.

The Megaman series is very special to me. If I had to pick a favorite classic NES series, the Blue Bomber’s exploits would be it. I even wrote an entire post about it  where I talked about the way its graphics affected me.

Two of the most frequent criticisms I saw leveled towards Megaman 9 were that its mode of play and concept of difficulty was a relic of older times that should have stayed buried and that it was a cheap cash grab that fell back on a tried-and-true formula with little innovation and a gimmick to tug at older player’s feelings of nostalgia. While there’s no way to play Megaman 10 at this point, it’s a fairly safe bet that the former complaint will resurface, while the latter’s already being tossed about.

Is there any merit to these criticisms? Well sure, Megaman‘s idea of difficulty falls under the banner of “NES-difficult,” an unofficial term which describes the days where games could be brutal and unforgiving and would often require you to play many times over before you started to get the hang of it. Megaman was particularly cruel. Whereas a game like Super Mario Bros. would place an item somewhere in order to give you some respite, Megaman had a somewhat frequent tendency to deceive, placing items as bait to lure you into inescapable death traps. That’s how Dr. Wily rolled, and whether you could handle that or not was key to whether or not you enjoyed those games.

As for the whole cash-grab thing, I can totally believe that, but that doesn’t diminish the amount of effort that was put into 9 and that I assume will be put into 10. It’s also easy to attack the use of 8-bit sprites as a “gimmick,” but when you actually sit down with a Megaman game you realize just how significant the graphics are towards the gameplay. Yes, what I’m saying is that in this case graphics matter, just not the advancement of graphics. And this is coming from someone who played the hell out of Megaman 8 on his Sega Saturn. I loved how bright and lush that game was, I loved how hitting the bosses with their weaknesses would cause unique effects and animations. I even tolerated the JUMP JUMP SLIDE SLIDE rocketboard sections. But when I went back to the NES Megaman games and Megaman 9, I could really feel the difference that those simple (yet still very good-looking) 8-bit graphics made. They were graphics that assisted the gameplay immensely. Same goes for the music. Try as they might, I’ve never heard a remix of an NES Megaman song that I liked more than the original, and that includes live bands like “The Advantage.” They’re songs that work best as video game music.

Megaman 9 was a look back at things that the series did right. While constantly moving forward in the name of progress is great and all, sometimes a look backwards can be just as important, as it can teach you what to keep and what to discard. Many people called it the best Megaman since 2 and I’m inclined to agree.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to Megaman 10. I hope they make Protoman more unique, rather than just him being the “challenge” character, and I’m eager to see who the third playable character will be. Maybe it’ll be Roll, hot off her victory over Gold Lightan. Or maybe it’ll be Bass making his first non-cameo 8-bit appearance. Better yet, let’s get some multiplayer up in here. If New Super Mario Bros. Wii can do it, why not?

The Effects of Visual Falsehood

In the Anime World Order review of Nobody’s Boy Remi, Gerald Rathkolb discusses the way in which the narrator plays with the expectations of its viewers by saying things that turn out to be completely false a short while after. If the narrator says that Remi found some money and spent it happily, there would likely be a scene shortly after where he accidentally drops the money down a sewer.

Generally, identity-less narrators are seen as omniscient, so either the narrator does not actually know everything, or is actively deceiving the audience. A similar effect happens with misleading episode titles. How many times does Chiba Shigeru in Hokuto no Ken declare in the next episode that a major character is definitely going to die but actually doesn’t? It makes a person begin to doubt the authenticity of words in fiction.

But words are easy to ignore as lies. The very idea of lying is tied closely to the use of words. If someone says you’re lying, it usually has to do with what you’ve said and not what you’ve done. What happens then, when the lies are not words but pictures?

Ambiguity in a given scene is a common technique used in anime and manga to create a sense of tension and drama. In Dragon Ball Z, a character attacks an enemy with so many energy projectiles that a giant explosion occurs where the target was standing. This ambiguous moment is meant to leave the viewer in anticipation as to whether or not the attack worked, though the explosion itself begins to take on a symbolic identity as a red herring and leads the viewer to assume that the opponent did not in fact die. What I’m referring to with visual falsehood though is something far more sinister.

While I cannot speak for everyone, I tend to believe that what is presented to me on the screen or on the page is what has happened in the story. In other words, there is a certain degree of “truth” to the visuals of a manga, because without them how are we supposed to know what has or has not happened?

One prominent manga author who uses visual falsehoods to their utmost advantage is Fukumoto Nobuyuki, creator of gambling series such as Mahjong Legend Akagi: The Genius Who Descended into the Darkness, Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji: The Suffering Pariah -The Ultimate Survivor-, and Gambling Emperor Legend Zero. In Akagi and Ten for example, mahjong hands are displayed right on the page and presented as what a given character has to work with. In the anime for Akagi, the hand is generally displayed by itself floating in a space, as if to say that this is an objective view of the mahjong hand. Of course, it turns out not to be, and we are presented with what is really there.

This is a scene from Zero where the main character is faced with a scenario where he cannot see who is behind the wall. Fukumoto lets us the readers take a peek at the person behind the wall. Then he reveals the truth!

What are we to believe? Reveals like these are downright disarming.

A non-anime/manga example of this comes in the form of Megaman 9. In this game, there is an enemy that disguises itself as a 1-Up icon. Attempting to get a free life will of course result in an unpleasant surprise.

Though the enemy is not difficult to defeat, it creates some paranoia in the player. Just which 1-Ups are real? Does that 1-Up seem too good to be true? The game has challenged your perception of what “should” be.

I do not believe these visual lies impact these works negatively, but when the images themselves are untruths, it can create a sense of imbalance, a distrust for what is in front of you. Keep in mind that in Fukumoto’s case, this never damages the “gambling” or “mystery” aspects of his stories, so you are also unable to just doubt everything and view his works from a position of absolute superiority. It adds a new layer to reading manga, one where you are in a sense competing against the creators themselves.

Garbageman IN ACTION

 

Seriously, go download Megaman 9.

Oh my god, I was wrong, it was “anime” all along

For almost as long as I’ve been playing video games, I have held the Megaman franchise on a pedestal atop a pillar atop a tower with seemingly never-ending steps winding towards the top. Even when it was clear the series had begun to lose steam and ideas were being rehashed, I was still all for it because it meant more Robot Masters. As a kid and even today I love the concept of bosses in video games, these greater menaces that the player needs to overcome in order to gain safe passage to the next part of the game, and Megaman was king of this. Hearing news that Megaman 9 would be out this Monday, the 22nd of September, I took it upon myself to celebrate in a number of ways. I downloaded Megaman 2 on the virtual console today and beat it within a few hours. I also began to make sprites out of the many, many robot master designs I had thought up as a child, one of the first being the one you saw above, the creatively named “Garbageman.”

The hideousness of the Western Megaman art boxes has become relatively common knowledge by this point. Capcom even decided to parody it by making Megaman 9 box art resemble these fiascos. As a kid, I always thought something wasn’t quite right with the Megaman 2 cover, where a macho-looking guy in blue holding a futuristic pistol stands prominently. I knew this wasn’t what we were expected to see when we saw Megaman’s wide-eyed sprite blink and run and die over and over. Years later, I obtained Megaman 8 for the Sega Saturn, and watched the intro sequence involving Megaman fighting select robots from each of the seven previous Megaman games in full animation. It was at that moment that the intended “style” of the Megaman series hit me: “Megaman is anime!” The big eyes, the round faces, the colors, this all came from an anime style. I had gotten into anime in a big way around the time I first started playing Megaman 8, and I was fascinated by the designs, especially of the Robot Masters. Megaman looked like Megaman, but sleek and streamlined without having those features be too prominent a la Battle Network franchise (though I have nothing against that series or its designs). I even started to look for the existence of an actual Megaman anime, thinking the intro couldn’t possibly be the only thing.

Being wowed by fully animated introductions was not new to me even at that point, as years earlier I told my friend to play the intro to Sonic CD on his Sega CD over and over, but Megaman 8 came out at just the right time. Technology in games was steadily improving, allowing games to look more like anime than ever (Guardian Heroes to name one). I was in high school at the time, and thus was big into anime, though definitely not as much as now, and actively sought out things related to anime. And of course it was Megaman, a character whose games I grew up loving. So it was with Megaman that I began to realize just how much companies tried to cover their Japanese origins.

I’m pretty sure that I knew the fact that video game companies in the 80s and 90s didn’t want Americans to know of their Japanese origins, but it was with Megaman though that I investigated this anew. I took a lookat the NES Bionic Commando, and the full body image of (MUTEKI NO) Spencer they’d use at the end of levels, and realized that it definitely had some anime influence to it. I opened up an old issue of Nintendo Power and saw a title, Clash at Demonhead. At the beginning of the section was a large, colored image displaying a blond guy in armor and weapons done in a very cartoony style. Near it however was screenshots from the game’s intro, with character designs reminiscent of late-80s, early 90s anime such as Mikimoto or Takahashi’s stuff. And there were not one, but two Golgo 13 games, though I don’t think the steps taken to cover up Golgo’s origins were too extensive.

I find it amazing how much FULLY ANIMATED INTRO SEQUENCE FOR VIDEO GAMES were able to influence me and many others. Seeing the intro for the Sega Saturn Magic Knights Rayearth game in a store, I cared little for what the actual game was like. It was these intros that gave an air of legitimacy to games, and also provide plenty of fodder for fanfiction, which they most definitely did. These intros, prior to having games simply look that good all the time, provided enough of an inspiration to construct and elaborate everything necessary for creative endeavors.

If you look at the Megaman 9 official art though, the designs in even the official art have gone all the way back to 2, with a chubbier Megaman at the helm. So maybe Megaman 8 was a bit of a lie after all. Perhaps Megaman was anime all along, just not to that extent.

(Dr. Wily Dr. Wily! Dr. Wily Dr. Wily! Dr. Wily Dr. Wily, ohhhh Dr. Wily!)