6th Annual Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon

Cherry Blossom time has bloomed once more over Washington, DC and with it comes the 6th Annual Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Taking place this Saturday, April 5th, four films will be featured in this day long event. Based on their official website, this year's event includes a costume show courtesy of the DC Anime Club as well as surprise special guests. Tickets are free for all films, but be sure to come in as early as possible, as tickets are available on a first come basis, and take it for me, they go by fast. Ticket distribution will begin at 10:30 AM Saturday morning (limit 2 per person per film). If you plan to get there by 9:30 or 10:00, expect a long line.

This years line-up, of which 3 are presented in Japanese with English subtitles are:

11:30 AM
Jungle Emperor Leo
Adapted from a manga comic by the legendary Osamu Tezuka, this charming fable directed by Yoshio Takeuchi is a treat for animal lovers of all ages. Leo, a majestic white lion, rules the jungle at the foot of mysterious Moon Mountain, living in harmony with the other beasts – until humans show up and threaten to shatter their peaceful existence. 1997 / 100 min., Rated PG, Dubbed in English.

2:30 PM
Atagoal: Cat's Magical Forest
Hideyoshi is, literally, a fat cat who loves nothing more than gorging himself on tuna and rocking out at the annual town festival in the magical land of Atagoal. He gets into trouble, however, when he accidentally releases the imprisoned Botanical Queen Pileah, who has sinister plans for Hideyoshi and his feline friends. Mizuho Nishikubo’s film is fun for the whole family. 2006 / 81 min., suitable for all ages.

5:00 PM
5 Centimeters Per Second
The title of Makoto Shinkai’s wistful coming-of-age film describes the velocity at which cherry blossom petals fall – a metaphor for the impermanence of human relationships that is the theme of its three connected stories. Each story takes place at a different point in the lives of the film’s three main characters, from puppy love thwarted by a family move, to an unrequited teenage crush, to melancholy reminiscences in adulthood. 2007 / 62 min., unrated, appropriate for all ages.

7:00 PM
Appleseed: Ex Machina
The year is 2138. Society is divided between humans and peaceful cyborgs developed to prevent the wars that killed half of the world’s population. But what happens when nefarious forces find a way to make them violent? Inspired by a popular manga comic, Shinji Aramaki’s sci-fi brain twister offers state-of-the-art animation, thrilling action scenes, and a provocative meditation on what our world might become. 2007 / 105 min., PG-13.

In related news, the Freer Gallery is also featuring an Anime Artists Workshop on Saturday (1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and Sunday 2:00 pm). Join ImaginAsia's Anime artists to see how contemporary artists refer to the Japanese tradition of action drawing to create their Anime characters and scenes. Bring your own drawings to share, and learn how to expand your drawing technique. The event is free of charge and participation is on a first come first serve basis, due to limited seating.

J-POP LAND is back again this year, so if you're in the area be sure to hit the street festival. Rock with Mitsumassyu, a J-POP music group from Tokyo that is back for its third year at the Sakura Matsuri. For more information, check out www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.


X JAPAN in Paris

The first of X JAPAN's three reunion concerts took place on Friday, March 28. Before the second concert on Saturday, the band held an urgent press conference to announce that they have finalized plans for a concert performance in Paris on July 5, 2008.

The conference was held at Tokyo Dome, the site of X JAPAN's first concerts in over a decade. Tokyograph notes that Japan Expo will also be held in Paris from July 3 to July 6...possible site of the concert, maybe? Yoshiki says the band hopes to draw in a crowd of about 20,000 people. I couldn't make it to Tokyo Dome this time, and I only wish this concert is a possibility for me.

Update (4/3/2008): X JAPAN has just announced, in a April 3 press conference, that it will perform its first live concert in the U.S. at New York City's Madison Square Garden on September 13.


FFVII: Crisis Core

FFVII...the game that shook the gaming industry and has made the FF series and its fanbase what it is today. The little feat of simply transitioning from 2D sprites to 3D marked the start of the RPG revolution. After over a decade, "FFVII: Crisis Core," the prequel to the original RPG classic materializes. Undoubtedly, all FF fans will be picking up this game and with good reason.
"Crisis Core" is set seven years prior to the events of the first FFVII, the Shinra Company is rapidly increasing its influence through its monopoly on mako energy and military might, and is becoming ever powerful. The game focuses primarily on Zack, SOLDIER 2nd class, aspiring for 1st, and his interactions with three other principle characters: Angeal, Genesis, and Sephiroth. Other familiar characters make an appearance, but generally speaking, these four SOLDIER operatives are the highlight of this story.

The story is well developed and maintains the legacy of FFVII quite beautifully. With all the pieces in place, it is hard not to feel nostalgic as a familiar soundtrack plays in the background, as you walk through the lobby of Shinra Headquarters, and as you meet some old faces. Gameplay, for lack of a better word, is perfect for the PSP and on-the-go gaming. "Crisis Core" offers action and realtime battle, similar to the "Kingdom Hearts" battle system. While the side missions may be on the heavy side, it is appropriate for a handheld game. One of the most unique aspect of its battle mechanics is the DMW, or Digital Mind Wave, which enhances the real-time battle system. "Crisis Core" brings innovation to the table and all of its extra elements work to its advantage -- one of which is its use of emails. There is also so much potential for the individual RPG player, especially with the nice amount of leveling up potential.

Loading times can occasionally be a minute too long, but nevertheless it is quite impressive, especially with its beautiful presentation. The cut scenes are of the highest caliber with "Advent Children" quality. The details and expressions are also something to be gawked at. It's no wonder that Square Enix is the leading studio in this realm of computer-generated cinematics.

Yet another fantastic PSP title. First "Chains of Olympus," now "Crisis Core." We're 2 for 2!


Square Enix Members

The SQUARE ENIX MEMBERS Site officially went live on March 24th. While there isn't a plethora of goodies at the moment, there are some nice features already building up. The site is currently featuring a Q&A with Crisis Core director Hajime Tabata, soundtrack giveaways and some web parts including a Zack Squat Test and Shinra ID generator. Also featured is a creator's roundtable from "The World Ends with You." There's a section for videos and downloads such as wallpapers, and a blog updated daily. Registration is free, and here's hoping that SQUARE ENIX North America will resemble the Japanese counterpart.


Blade of the Immortal

After so many years since its manga debut, Hiroaki Samura's "Blade of the Immortal" (Mugen-no-Jūnin) will be getting its television anime premiere this summer in Japan.

Set to play the main character Manji, a ronin swordsman condemned to immortality unless he kills a thousand evil men to compensate for the good men he killed, is Tomozaku Seki (who also played as Van in Escaflowne). Noir's director Mashimo & Bee Train studio are set to animate the new title. ANN has the entire casting listed.

One of the major elements that brings "Blade of the Immortal" above all others is its beautiful "raw" art form. I was curious to see how the unique drawings will be translated on the screen. But the picture from the official website eased my qualms and shows something quite promising.


Saint Seiya Life-Size Figure

The March 19 opening reception for Bandai's Tamashii Nation 2008 toy celebration featured a life-size, wearable replica of the "Gold Cloth" armor from "Saint Seiya" manga and anime. The 180-centimeter-tall, 24-carat-gold-chromed plastic replica weighs 20 to 30 kilograms (about 40 to 70 pounds). The armor is wearable, but it does not transform like the fictional original in creator Masami Kurumada's stories. The event runs from March 20 to March 23 at Tokyo's Akihabara UDX building. [Source: ANN]


MGS Mobile

Konami brought me good news and bad news at the same time this morning. It seems that "Metal Gear Solid Mobile" is now available for only $10.99 ($4.99 monthly). So why should I be disappointed? Maybe because it is available exclusive to Verizon Wireless customers of which I am not...arghh! Therefore, I have no review unless my carrier is deemed worthy in the long run. In the mean time, I'll just sulk in the corner.


The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind, Volume 2

Almost one year has passed since the first of seven books of Fuyumi Ono's "The Twelve Kingdoms" was released. And finally, the second installment, "Sea of Wind," arrives. Once again, translation is done exceptionally well and Ono's stylist writing is preserved. By the end of the first book, after a roller coaster adventure in a strange land, Yoko begins to accept her role in one of the Twelve Kingdoms. The second book takes us 3 years before "Sea of Shadow," and follows a young boy, named Taiki. Like Yoko, Taiki is taken to a whole new world and given their true purpose. Yet Yoko and Taiki's role is quite different. Taiki must take a crash course on what it is to be a kirin, with noone able to give him any details, all the while having a whole kingdom depending on him.

Though the experience may have been short-lived, as I finished the book in a couple of hours, it was constantly riveting throughout, and had incredible lasting appeal. Even days after I closed the book, the ending moments still captivated me. Ono definitely knows how to keep such a vast and boundless story going, connected and utterly precise. Volume 2's "happy ending" is bittersweet as we all know that tragedy is surely coming just around the corner. Even with this knowledge, we're still left with more questions than answers. I'm sure anyone who reads this will be itching for the third volume. I know I am.


Armored Core Figures

If you've been around me at all this week, you'll know what currently ails me. As I've stated so emphatically, I want ALL the Kotobukiya "Armored Core" Figures. And staring at the beautiful pictures really isn't helping me. Let the drool fest begin. Anyone feel like buying these figures for your friendly blogger? As you can no doubt tell, each figure is stunning in it of itself. Here is a definite case where pictures speak louder than words. Shhh...the figures...they emanate beauty.


FFXII Gabranth 1/1 Scale Helm

For the veteran collector and fan of Final Fantasy comes a collectible that's out of this world -- the Final Fantasy XII Artifacts Judge Master Gabranth 1/1 Scale Helm. This replica helmet measures over 14" high and was created from FRP fiberreinforced plastic utilizing the CG data from the game, ensuring a perfectly authentic reproduction of Akihiko Yoshida's elaborate designs. The HELM can be placed on the display stand, which includes a FF12 logo nameplate.

It is set to arrive at the end of July 2008. With pre-orders still open, you can grab this magnificent piece of FF history for 1,000 bucks. Thus far, the cheapest I've seen it for is at $799.99. Judge Master Gabranth never looked more fierce! WOW!


GOW: Chains of Olympus

My review is coming a little late this time, but I figure better late than never...

By now, we all know the tales of Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta. After being deceived into ending the lives of his wife and daughter, Kratos vowed revenge and denounced his service to Ares. But long before his battle with Ares, Kratos sought absolution from his past sins by pledging himself as a champion to the Gods. These brutal crusades in the name of Olympus became legendary, and it is this 10 years of servitude that is recounted in his first handheld appearance called "God of War: Chains of Olympus." In his plunge into darkness, Kratos must face the most feared creatures of Greek Mythology and forced to choose between his own personal redemption and saving the ancient world from certain destruction.

With two absolutely all-around spectacular GOW games, it was hard to fathom a smooth console to handheld transition at a quality level we've experienced thus far, but Ready at Dawn proved they had the chops to kick it out of the ball park. They deliver with uber perfection. The most obvious feature of the game is its outstanding technical and artistic visuals and combat. At a visual standpoint, this has got to be the best PSP game in existence. Without a doubt, I can think of no other game that matches the true visual potential of the PSP system. As far as combat goes and very impressive enough, almost no difference exists between the PS2 and PSP versions. Once you pick up the PSP, you're hands will immediately adjust and you'll feel as though you're playing on the PS2. Tight control and nice combos make up for lack of various weapons. Sound quality is sensational -- headphones are a MUST!!

The only cons I would bring up is its short gameplay -- a mere seven or eight hours worth. Though nothing new was brought to the table, "Chains of Olympus" fits perfectly snug in the GOW franchise. Fewer weapons, puzzles, and boss fights, but more action, blood, and gore. With absolutely no hesitation, this is one title that should be in everyone's library. Instantly thrown into battle, "Chains of Olympus" keeps the adrenaline pumping and gameplay moving.


Death Note: Another Note

L is back, this time in a novel spin-off entitled, "Death Note: Another Note - The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases." Written by Nisio Isin, "Another Note" serves as a sort of prequel to the "Death Note" manga series, pre-Kira. I admit I was a bit hesitant at the concept -- mainly on its execution, but was pleasantly surprised and entertained.

Mello narrates the story of L's first encounter with FBI agent Naomi Misora and delves into the inner workings of L. The story centers and stems from Wammy's House, Watari's orphanage, and the whole system of geniuses such as L, Mello, and Near. Following a detective-mystery format, the novel combines what we know from the manga and adapts it quite well to form a concrete recording of a serial murder.. Though it isn't perfect by any means, there is enough there, not to mention a big, hard-hitting twist in the end, that definitely captures the essence of L and the series. It makes a nice addition to the hit series and I'm glad I picked it up.

A quick note, I feel is worth mentioning: the illustrations, both on the cover and scattered inside, are absolutely sensational.


What's Next for Kojima?

The long awaited MGS4 will bring an end to the renowned saga of Solid Snake and the Metal Gear games. But no need to fret, genius Hideo Kojima is hard at work developing the concept for his new game outside the Metal Gear universe. Konami president Fumiaki Tanaka, could not reveal anything more at this point and stated that a formal announcement won't be coming this year, which in all sincerity makes perfect sense.

So what of the MGS movie? ComingSoon.net (via Japanator), is reporting that site reps recently spoke to Metal Gear Solid movie producer Michael De Luca who dropped word on a possible scriptwriter and director -- Kurt Wimmer. His past works include Equilibrium and Ultraviolet. Yeah, sorry, but I'm not sure if I'm impressed. But I'm definitely hoping that with Hideo Kojima executive producing the Metal Gear movie, the saga will be preserved.


Fruits Basket Vol. 19 Preview

TOKYOPOP.com will be hosting a manga free for all this Friday, March 14th. At exactly 19:19 EST, readers will be able to view "Fruits Basket" Volume 19 in its entirety for, you guessed it, 19 minutes. So if you simply cannot wait till the newest volume hits shelves March 18, 2008, set your clocks, cut off any distractions, and read away.

As the Fruits Basket saga continues, the relationship between Tohru and Kyo becomes increasingly complicated, especially since most of the members of the Zodiac seem to look down on him. Tohru comes to the realization that if she wants to save Kyo, she'll have to create some sort of trigger to break his curse. But what, if anything, can cure Kyo?


Guinness World Records: Guitar Hero Feature

To mark the launch of the first Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008 book, the best players of "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" gathered in New York City to break some records (Thanks for the heads up Yuna aka Crystal!). Among the records smashed was the "Highest Score for a Single Song" on GHIII with an incredible 840,647-point completion of the infamous DragonForce song, "Through the Fire and Flames," the toughest song on the game, played on Expert Mode, 97%.

In related news, Play N Trade will be holding a nation-wide GHIII contest this Saturday, March 14th. The grand prize is $2000!!!... in store credit. Runner up gets a PS3, Guitar Hero III bundle, and $500, while third place gets a Guitar Hero III bundle and $200. I find these types of prizes (excluding the first prize) very interesting because chances are those entering the contest probably already own a PS3 and/or GHIII. Nevertheless, "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" have definitely brought about a big phenomenon in gaming.



In case you've been wondering what hole I've crawled into with the lack of updates and all, don't despair. I've been stuck with the flu (along with my boss) for what seems like ages and have only recently become sane again (or as sane as I ever was). That was one hell of a week, but I'm back, more or less. So be on the look out for more entries heading your way, and thanks for your patience!