River City Girls and the San Fransokyo Aesthetic

River City Girls is a new game in the aged genre of the side-scrolling beat-em-up, and a role reversal of the classic damsel-in-distress story. As friends Kyoko and Misako, the player sets out to rescue their boyfriends by clobbering everyone in their way. As suggested by its title, it’s a sequel of sorts to the classic NES game River City Ransom, which is itself a heavily localized version of the Japanese Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari from the Kunio-kun franchise. Because River City Girls aims to be a successor to both River City Ransom and Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, it takes cues from both the former’s American-esque “dudes with attitudes” style and the latter’s Japanese “yankee delinquents” presentation, resulting in a fascinating mashup of both aesthetics.

Rather than lean in one direction or the other, River City Girls mixes things up. The game takes place in “Cross Town” (from River City Ransom) but the boyfriends’ names are “Riki” and “Kunio” instead of “Ryan” and “Alex.” Japanese street gang figures (banchou) roam the street at the same time as cheerleaders. Kyoko wears a letterman jacket on top of a school uniform while Misako’s takes cues from Japanese fashion, and they both kind of resemble Powerpuff Girls in a way that calls to mind the anime adaptation Powerpuff Girls Z. A story cinematic shows the girls in an American-style school cafeteria.

Some Double Dragon characters even make cameos (Double Dragon was originally developed from the original Kunio-kun engine but with more international appeal). While those games always took place in the US, River City girls specifically uses the Double Dragon Neon versions of the characters, a game that was much more American-facing than Japanese.

The result is that Cross Town comes across in the same vein as Big Hero 6’s “San Fransokyo” and Hurricane Polymar’s “Washinkyo”—a place that’s both Japanese and American at the same time. I can only guess at the reason behind this decision, but I imagine it has to do with the fact that both River City Ransom and Kunio-kun are beloved in their respective regions. There’s a certain generation of Nintendo fan that holds the game River City Ransom in high regard. One part beat-em-up, one part adventure RPG, there really wasn’t much like it back in 1990. Kunio-kun, in turn, has starred in many, many games over the years, and he was a company mascot for Technos Japan. River City Girls aims to please both audiences, and maybe even poke fun at those bygone days of extreme localization.

Because River City Girls is this deliberate combination of Japanese and American, it also begs comparison with another piece of media heavily inspired by manga and retro gaming: Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. In fact, Scott Pilgrim is itself heavily influenced by River City Ransom, as indicated by one of the comics’ characters crying “BARF!” as they’re hit, and the Scott Pilgrim video game being a beat-em-up. The senses of humor found in River City Girls and Scott Pilgrim, while not wholly identical, are similar in their irreverence and fourth-wall breaking one-liners. There’s even a boss fight in River City Girls against a musician just as there’s one in Scott Pilgrim. At the same time, enough time has passed that Scott Pilgrim (itself a love letter of sorts to the NES era of gaming) is old enough to be a nostalgia trip for fans of comics, video games, and other media. That, in turn, makes River City Ransom an even more distant memory in the collective video game and pop culture fandom.

River City Girls is an entry into a genre whose heyday has long since passed that uses 2D sprite graphics and playful animations. In taking from the late 1980s of both Japan and America, and filtering them through a contemporary lens in an age where “anime-influenced” works are more common than ever before, RIver City Girls ends up feeling somehow both extremely current and incredibly nostalgic, instantly dated yet also timeless. It’s an aesthetic I can get behind.

Scott Pilgrim, Monkey Manga, Negima! Decisive Interviews Against the Comics Industry!

Comics Alliance put up an interview with Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, and Takekuma Kentarou and Aihara Kouji, authors of the satirical yet highly informative guide, Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga. It focuses mainly on the influence Monkey Manga (a cocky, saucy book this one is) had on Bryan as he was getting ready to make Scott Pilgrim, as well as how the series differs from manga (Scott breaking up with Knives for no reason would have been a no-no).

Before you read that talk, or alternatively after you’ve read it, I highly recommend checking out the discussion between Takekuma and Love Hina and Negima! artist Akamatsu Ken, which was translated a few months ago. Whereas the Comics Alliance post focuses almost entirely on the creative side of things, the Takekuma-Akamatsu talk looks at where manga is headed as an industry and how it might have to change. You can see my thoughts on that article here, but I’m putting it next to the O’Malley one just to show how various ideas are being thrown about in terms of how manga and other forms of comics can intermingle on artistic and pragmatic levels. O’Malley talks about the influence of manga on his work, Takekuma and Akamatsu talk about potentially having a division of the workload similar to American comics, and at the very least, it gives the impression that the future of comics will look very different from today.

Read both articles and tell me what you think. I’m very curious to see what kind of impression is given when they’re experienced together.

Scott Pilgrimage

I have never read Scott Pilgrim.

I’ve definitely heard about it, and I plan on reading it eventually, but as of this point I have never done more than glimpse a few pages. Regardless however, I know that Bryan Lee O’Malley has become a household name among geeks, and with the final volume of Scott Pilgrim out, he’s going to be well-remembered.

Imagine my surprise then when I discovered that the covers of Scott Pilgrim are not the first place I had seen Mr. O’Malley’s name.

Years ago I enjoyed reading the stories over at Improfanfic, a site dedicated to both fanfics and original stories with an anime flair. Each chapter of a story was written by a different person, providing the “improvisation” in the site’s name. Of these improfanfics, my favorite was probably Furniture Warriors, a parody  of shounen fighting tournaments and the like where all of the characters wielded chairs and tables with deadly precision. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to look at the page for Furniture Warriors at Improfanfic, where in the middle of the fanart section one name in particular caught my eye.

Could it be the same person? Could the “Bryan O’Malley” who drew these images and wrote various chapters of Improfanfic be the same Canadian whose work has had the honor of being adapted into a feature-length film?

All signs point to “yes.”

Bryan has mentioned at conventions that he is inspired by anime. Not only that, but if you look at the fanart there and compare it to the artwork in Scott Pilgrim, even though there is a markable difference in style, skill, and experience, I think you can definitely see small inklings of what the man would become.

Not only that, but going to the archive.org record of the website listed with his name and e-mail address on the FW page, it says:

In real life, incidentally, they call him Bryan L. O’Malley. And the L, of course, stands for Lunacy. He happens to be the only Canadian member of Maison Otaku.

So there you have it.

Keep in mind that my reason behind this post was not to show off my internet detective skills or anything, but to simply be amazed that the person whose artwork I saw way back would become responsible for such a phenomenon. It makes the world feel so much smaller, and yet also so much grander.

Now, time to get reading.