As reported by Anime News Network, FUNimation made an interesting announcement at Kamikaze Con:

Funimation also announced that, at upcoming cons, they would be circulating petitions in order to bring the Sakura Taisen games to the US.

Personally I’ve still associated FUNimation with bad Dragon Ball Z anime episodes, but I’m seeing that this is no longer the case.  Because of a discussion over on Matthew’s Anime Blog, I remembered I had a copy of the first volume of Fruits Basket, which was put out by FUNimation.  Fruits Basket was brought up as a really nice release because it came out on only 4 DVDs, even though there were 26 episodes.  Having gotten a DVD burner recently I’ve really learned how low bitrates can really destroy a video, even on DVDs.  Most companies (anime and otherwise) still seem to prefer DVD5s, which hold about 4.7GB.  On these, if you have extras taking up space as well, 4 episodes is about the max you can get on it and have really good bitrates and video quality.  If the company’s willing to fine tune the encoding, 5 is also possible, but this is unfortunately rare.  DVD9s on the other hand are dual-layer and can hold a littler over 9GB of data.  You can pack more episodes on these discs and keep a high bitrate for a quality picture.

So, I wondered which FUNimation had done.  Was it 6 episodes + extras crammed on a DVD5 with noticeable video quality problems, or had they used a DVD9?  A quick check and it was clear, the first volume contains 6 episodes and is around 7GB.  Additionally I checked the bitrate through the first episode or so and it became clear it had been fine-tunes quite a bit.  The rate varies quite a lot, I’ve seen it around 2mbps, and as high (so far) as 7mbps.  I’ve yet to see any noticeable video quality degradation.  In fact what I watched looked simply stunning!  When the video needs the higher rates it has it, and when it doesn’t (and there are a lot of low/no motion scenes in these episodes) the rates goes down to save space.  The only real problem I can find with it is the audio is only encoded at 256kbps.  I suspect this is done to save space for the inevitable volumes with 7 episodes and they wanted to keep the audio encoding consistent across volumes.  That I can live with.

So back to the main point now.  It’s obvious to me now that FUNimation is not the company I remember, they’ve changed quite a bit and are doing quality work.  What impresses me the most here is that this is on a shoujo title, something other companies seem to treat like an unwanted stepsister compared to their other titles.  Add to this that they’re trying to get the Sakura Taisen games brought over and, well, wow, what a change!

For those who don’t know, the Sakura Taisen games aren’t exactly like standard dating sims, but there are components of that in them, something that no one seems to think a US audience would be interested in except the bishoujo H games.  Personally I think there’s a market for dating sims in general here, at the very least there’s lots of guys who don’t have any luck with women who would likely enjoy them.  I think there’s a bigger audience than that though, they can appeal on many levels: trying to win the hearts of the girls  you like is fun, and in a game it’s not nearly as painful if you goof things up; most are set in high school, I know to me there’s a LOT of appeal to being back in high school again when things were much simpler; and many would enjoy the different culture as well.  Anime fans can relate to this one, not only is it a dating sim, but it’s a return to high school and a chance to experience virtually a bit what it might have been like to go to school in Japan.  (Granted it’s not very realistic, but it’s a game and it’s the closest we’re going to get. ^_^)  Do note I’m not talking about H games here, I’m talking about the non-H dating sims.

Sakura Taisen though adds in the whole story that we’ve only seen bits and pieces of in the OVAs and TV series.  I understand there’s much more to what’s going on and the whole story is quite intriguing on its own, even without the dating sim aspects.  I think they would do well here.  Not blockbusters, but they’d do pretty well, certainly enough to cover localization costs.

Incidentally I do know of one game released in the US with dating sim aspects.  Thousand Arms for the PS1 is a RPG.  In it you’re a “spirit blacksmith” and you forge skills into your weapons, along with one of the girls.  What skills can be forged depend on your relationship level with the girl.  You have to go on dates to change the relationship levels, and you have options you have to pick to try and get the best date possible.  Annoyingly you really have to tick them off sometimes too to lower the relationship level to add skills to new weapons you acquire.  Still, the dating sim aspects were there.

Too bad I will most likely not be attending any cons, I’d like to sign the petition, I urge everyone else to do so as well!  Even if the Sakura Taisen games aren’t your favorites, if this is successful it may lead to other titles being brought over that we never thought we’d see.  I know I’d like to see Tokimeki Memorial come over sometime, from what a friend’s told me about it I think it’d be great fun. :)

(Please correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t played them but have seen them in action and have a good friend who’s played them all, but I do not claim to be an expert by any means.)

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Filed Under (Anime, Classic Anime, Nadesico) by Maestro on 15-03-2005

Originally Aired: 1996
Length: 26 TV episodes, 1 Movie, 1 Spinoff OVA

Martian Successor Nadesico was a huge hit right off the bat.  Its crew of misfits defy any normalacy to take place, and subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) poke fun at anime fandom.  Let’s start off by explaining who’s who of the main cast:

  • Hikaru Amano: Mech pilot, doujinshi artist and anime otaku (of Gekiganger 3 mostly)
  • Ryoko Subaru: Mech pilot, very brash tomboy, totally clueless about handling romance
  • Izumi Maki: Mech pilot, master of bad puns and jokes (so much so that her dialouge is/was hard to translate into English, even for the subtitles!)
  • Yamada Jiro: Mech pilot, Nadesico’s ace pilot, insists on being called “Daigouji Gai”, complete and total Gekiganger 3 otaku (to the point of thinking he’s living in the Gekiganger 3 universe)
  • Akito Tenkawa: Cook & Mech pilot, just wants to be a great cook but can’t seem to avoid fighting, grew up on Mars colony and is a childhood friend of the captain’s
  • Yurika Misumaru: Captain, 20 years old, brilliant tactician, daughter of an admiral, is deeply in love with Akito, can be a bit childish at times
  • Megumi Reinard: Communications officer, formerly an anime seiyuu, is in love with Akito
  • Minato Haruka: Crew/Ship manager, was a secretary before joining the Nadesico crew
  • Ruri Hoshino: Ship’s Computer operator, 11yo child genius, her favorite word is “baka,” has a crush on Akito
  • Jun Aoi: 2nd in command, in love with the captain (Yurika), although she’s only interested in Akito
  • Seiya Uribatake: Chief engineer, an engineering genius, has a family but chose to escape them to join the Nadesico
  • Inez Fresange: Engineering designer, she designed the Nadesico’s phase transition engines based on alien technology discovered on Mars, of unknown origin and age, her hobby seems to be explaining things to the audience

There are more crew members, and while their roles are important, the above cast’s roles primarily define the series.

As you can tell from the character descriptions the Nadesico is staffed by a crew of misfits.  Each character is well defined, and their characters are developed over the course of the series.  While the crew may be a bunch of misfits, they are dedicated to their cause and hope to end the Earth/Jovian war.

One of the things that drives Nadesico to greatness is the fact that it is more than just the sum of its parts.  While the crew make up alone leads to plenty of humorous situations, there are serious storylines entertwined into the plot.  For example, at the beginning no one knows who the Jovians are, as they only send mechanized forces to attack Earth and its colonies.  As the show progresses the crew of the Nadesico discover the startling secret as to who the Jovians really are.  Another example is the crew’s obsession with Gekiganger 3.  It starts out mainly with Gai and Akito, but as the series progresses more and more of the cast become obsessed with the show.  Later on the ship actually throws a mini anime convention to celebrate Gekiganger 3.  All of this sounds like the Gekiganger 3 stuff is there just for laughs, but it’s not.  In fact the Jovians know about the show as well, and it plays a huge role in defining them and their actions.  Through all of this Nadesico manages to show both the good and bad sides to anime fandom. 

Nadesico has something for pretty much everyone.  It fails (probably purposefully) to be pigeonholed easily into any genre type.  While there are lots of girls chasing after Akito, it’s not a harem show.  While there’s lots of mech battles, it’s not a giant robot show.  Even though it pokes fun at anime and anime’s fans, it’s not  a parody.  Even the storytelling is creative, episode 21 takes place non-sequentially, with the story playing out in a series of flashbacks into the past.  Along with that, the main crew are playing an illusionary “Memory Mahjongg” because their memories have been linked together.  Even here small details are important.  Events hinted at in this episode are finally shown for their true significance in the final episode.

In 1998 a movie was released, called “Prince of Darkness”.  The movie’s story takes place 5 years after the end of the TV series, and stars a now 16yo Ruri as captain of the Nadesico-B.  A lot has changed since the end of the TV series and the movie doesn’t delve into what happened very much.  A game was released for the Sega Saturn that covers the events in that missing frame.  A single OVA of the show within the show, Gekiganger was produced in 1996 as well.

If you’ve never seen Martian Successor Nadesico you really should try to see it sometime.  A lot of in-jokes are commonly used both in the fan community and even other series that originated here.  This is one of ADV’s earlier titles and has now been re-released in their value line, you can find the series for around $18 a DVD so it’s a cheap buy too. :)

Note: Mostly finished, will be adding links to some things later.

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