Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The word 'vreid' is Norwegian for 'wrath'.

There is a metal band named Vreid that I started listening to about two weeks ago. Go buy or download their album 'Milorg'. I will brook no argument on this point. No discussion.

Oh, okay. SOME discussion. They are a black metal(-ish) band along the lines of Enslaved, though with a more of a thrash leaning than that band. Kind of like pushing Enslaved and Death Angel together. Some bands like Naglfar or Susperia are called 'blackened thrash' and I get that, but Vreid is literally black metal and thrash TOGETHER.

Pretty sure I'll be picking up just about everything else they have too. I've been listening to a lot of good new music lately but these guys just jumped out at me. I need to check out Windir, their previous band, as well.

Now go do what I told you.


The head of our dojo, in the last couple of months, has really been emphasising sword work. Normally I attend a once-a-week iaido (aiki-ken more precisely) class, while the rest of my family are in their karate class. Then one or two other nights a week I go down to the dojo and practice what I learned. Up to this point, we've memorised:

seven basic cutting drills (suburi),
an eight-direction cutting drill (happo-giri),
a footwork drill (happo-undo),
two partner exercises (kumitachi),
ten 'official' kata (the seitei series)
two jodo kata (18step, and one from kenshin-ryu)
various other waza or parts thereof.

Now my regular instructor for all of this is not the head of the school, but when that head (shihan) wants to get all into sword work, not only do you let him, but if he is doing something different than your regular class you can bet he's going to expect your class to get on board. So he has been acclimating the karate regulars to eight basic Toyama-ryu batto drills, and we've got to incorporate them. I don't mind, but I don't really remember the last time I actually had to really stretch to memorise in a martial arts class. But I sure do now. Not least because none of us in MY class have that much direct exposure. I will persevere.

Remember, its supposed to be fun, but its still work.

I AM The Legend, Baby!

Wow. I just started to really get into playing Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift 2 (Kaido Battle: Touge no Densetsu)... and this is just a kickass game.

I know I need to get over my frustration with Blazing Lazers and just finish the damn thing, but it'll be hard while I've got this one going on. Drift 2 is not a new game in terms of release date, and I actually bought the Japanese version quite some time ago, but by the time I was ready to play it, news of the English one was out, so I waited. I got into Racing Battle: C1 Grand Prix and then got stuck trying to find all the 'wanderer' character cars in THAT game when I bought the English Drift 2.

So blah blah blah, long time 'til I started this game that I should've started (and finished) a long time ago. This game just reminds me of why I love GOOD video games (or books or movies)-- immersion. And I pretty much go through this every time I start a new Genki racing game. These games are not well-loved by the critics. They are very kvlt, especially in English-speaking countries, most players totally dismissing them as not enough of a simulation, or not up to Gran Turismo or Forza graphic levels. Or having 'skatey' controls. Missing the point of the games one and all.

Genki games have COLOR. Gran Turismo is pretty, and realistic (for a medium that can't actually grant you the physical feedback of being in a real car), but has shite for driver AI and is the driest, most plot-bare game world you can imagine. The other end of the spectrum is the Pro Race Driver series and they are perhaps TOO story-oriented, tracking you pretty linearly through an adventure game-style plot, but with cars instead of guns or items, and races instead of fights. Games from the Genki Racing Project have a world. Opponents with names, identities, and driving styles. They communicate with you. You have to go find them sometimes... or wait when they get off work, or when they agree with the weather. The controls are slippery in some sense, but nothing I've found that is particularly difficult to get used to, and it actually enhances what upgrading your car will do for you. If you want your car to control just like it would in some other racing game, some effort and the right parts and settings will get it there. And it usually doesn't take very long. Genki racers aren't about grueling your way through 500 of the same goshdamn race for peanuts at a time. There is some repetition, but you get different styles of course, variable weather, different victory conditions AND a staggering number of individual opponents. The game has a constant flow of goals for you to reach. Not just 'man I gotta win this race 61 more times and I can get that Skyline R34'. You are always in a state of wanting to see what comes next, whether it is a new track to be unlocked, a new gang of drivers to defeat, or just wanting to get on the ingame BBS to read the trash talk or cries of defeat from your rivals. Reading what defeated drivers say to you when you walk up to them at a later date in Drift 2 is worth the price of admission, re: 'You spanked me so bad last time, I don't even want to talk to you, yo.' or 'It's the drift god! I'm not worthy!'.

The best entertainment experiences are about immersion. This whole world in each Genki game comes at the cost of the most detailed cars or most realistic physics. It is a compromise or a balance. I don't know if I'd characterise these as arcade racers so much as sort of 'idealised'. While the controls may seem odd at first, you can adjust so much (including your controller's sensitivity typically), that once you get used to it, the number of cars, parts, tracks, track conditions and all of that put it squarely back into 'simulating' what it would be like to be a highway or mountain pass street racer. If someone is a fan of Initial D or another racing manga getting these games is like dropping yourself into the comics. Especially the Kaido Battle games, since those are based in the mountain passes like Takumi's adventures. And of course Genki includes all sorts of nods to Initial D.

I've recently joined up with a message board for fans of Genki racing games. I guess there are just enough of us to create an online goober space. I'm inspired to find those last few wanderers in Racing Battle, and maybe someone at that forum can help me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mikogami no Jokichi

Just got done watching the Mikogami trilogy on DVD, ordered from my local Barnes & Noble. This is a fairly obscure chanbara/jidaigeki (whichever) about an ex-gangster wandering around trying to kill three bosses responsible for the deaths of his family when he tried to go straight. The star, Yoshio Harada, is pretty much my poster child for that sort of wild-haired, long side-burned anti-hero that is so prevalent in 70’s exploitation films from Japan….only he’s in a period film countryside as opposed to hip, urban Tokyo. In the eighties he would star with Shintaro (Zatoichi) Katsu in Katsu’s last period film, Roningai.

I enjoyed the films a lot, with the last one being particularly good. The ending was rather unresolved or obscure but not in a bad way, to me. These films aren’t going to topple Lone Wolf and Cub from their lofty place as the best of the exploitation-tilted samurai films, but they were worth the money.

There is a certain sense of artistry and a command of cinematic techniques that films from other asian countries working in similar genres just don’t seem to match. I love the kung fu film output of the Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest and all the rest, but cinematically, they just aren’t in the same league as analagous films from Japan. That isn’t to say Japanese films don’t have their drawbacks. And their cinematic culture is nowhere near as dynamic in many ways as that of Hong Kong, or even Thailand and Korea right now.

Samurai films are making something of a comeback currently, but these tend to be quieter studies about the feudal lifestyle, and the hard choices faced by peaceful men in a warrior society. The Mikogami trilogy comes from an era of much louder, more forceful ‘samurai’ film, though there are hardly any literal samurai in it.

Valken, Gunhed, Kaido Battle

So some time back I downloaded Cybernator for the SNES from the Wii Virtual Console service. Cybernator is the US version of Assault Suits Valken, which is the followup to the Genesis/Mega Drive cart Target Earth (Assault Suits Leynos). I was a huge Target Earth fan, back in the day. I didn’t have a SNES so the sequel just passed me by, though I DID get the third entry Assault Suit Leynos 2 on my Sega Saturn like the moment it became available from import dealers.

Just finished Cybernator and I have to say it is a pretty good game. Somewhere between the two Leynos games in challenge, the first Leynos actually being fairly notorious for its difficulty level (anyone really NOT use the all-weapons trick on the first level?). This episode DID give me some hurdles, but overall not brutal. The US version is missing some of the story events and graphics, including the enemy leader committing suicide, but one can go on YouTube and watch what you’re missing. These games are a sort of run ‘n’ gun/platformer mix with some tactical weapons choices mixed in. Cybernator eschews the complicated weapon choosing aspects of the Leynos games, opting to reduce the choices but make them available all the time. So the game comes off more arcadey than the others, but still pretty recognizable. Warning: huge plot steals from the Gundam anime series.

Around the same time I downloaded Blazing Lazers (Gunhed in Japan), an early TurboGrafx-16 shooter designed by Compile. I must be getting old because this game is just putting the stones to me. I have absolutely no problem getting to the last level. Full power, balls-out rockin’ and then….. pfft. I get killed, lose all my powerups and can’t make any real headway from there.

Part of the difficulty is that this game has a very steep level of ‘Gradius Syndrome’, the video game trope whereby taking a hit removes all your powerups… and if it happens to you in a later level you will rapidly suffer multiple deaths from overwhelming enemy force that you are no longer equipped to deal with. Gradius syndrome is usually referenced when placed in a game that also uses a checkpoint system, (as Gradius itself does), and being sent back to the checkpoint with each death can frequently exacerbate the issue, since you can get thrown back to a particularly difficult point. You wind up running up against the same wall over and over again, cycling through your pea-shooter armed ships getting crushed at ‘that one level’. So pretty much I have no problem with the game up to the last level, and then the combination of complete powerup loss and checkpoints (all before brutal points in the level) sodomises the rest of my ships.


I’ll get it, but the game, great as it is, ain’t THAT fun to play over and over. It is older, with much-lauded graphics for its day… but its day? Long damn time ago. And it is NOT a short game for a vertical shooter. Its one of those games where enough practice on the difficult part will see you through, but my trouble spot is all the way near the end of the game. So it is kind of discouraging my will to see it through to the end. At least for now. Waiting awhile and trying again, might be fine.

Also finally fired up (for real as opposed to just goofing with it) Kaido Battle: Touge no Densetsu. The third installment of the Kaido Battle franchise. I love these stupid things. Genki racing games are an acquired taste but I think they just rock. I’m only a tiny way into it and I’m totally being reminded of why I love Genki Racing Project in the first place. It is pretty rare to have that ‘gotta see what’s next’ feeling when you’ve played as many games as I have, but I’ll be damned if Genki don’t manage that in a game genre that sure as hell isn’t known for variety!

More on Kaido Battle as I get into it.