DISCOVERING MECHA ANIME THROUGH VIDEO GAMES

During episode 3 Craig and I talked about how in a pre-internet age we had to rely on magazines for information on anime and about the influence and affect of video games on our anime habits.

I used to be a massive gamer but these days I have a demanding Head of Engineering job and a busy family life so my free time is more limited and I tend to spend it watching anime and working on my youngest son’s racing car rather than playing video games but both of my boys are big gamers and Lewis who co-hosts Retro Anime Podcast with me now works in the industry.

But the other reason  I don’t play video games much these days is that I’m just not a great fan of modern games if I’m honest. Other than racing games (which have got better and better over the decades) the current trend of first and third person shooters and expansive open world games don’t actually excite me that much anymore and I find them quite tedious now. My favourite type of game has always been the horizontal and vertical scrolling shoot’em up and back in the early 90s I didn’t realise how the classic 2D shooter would shape my anime tastes.

I’ve been around video games since the early 80s. I  loved the arcades and my Dad worked in computers (he was one of only a handful of IBM Master Programmers in the country during the 60s) and he bought my brother and I an Atari 800XL which was our first introduction to home gaming but the games were basic and took an age to load. Then in the late 80s my brother got a Sega Master System and opened up the world of entertaining platformers and instant loading times and in 1990 I got a Sega Mega Drive.

I’d played a few shooters in the arcades but it was the Mega Drive that really opened the genre up to me. The first shoot’em up I got was Arrow Flash (1990), I bought it purely on the cover art and the screenshots on the back. This was before I had discovered what anime actually was and I just liked the cool looking robot and characters in an art style that I liked and was familiar with but didn’t really fully understand why. I played Arrow Flash loads, it was a standard sideways scrolling shooter (as they all were) but I enjoyed playing it but looking back it was hardly surprising it appealed to me, if you look at our Top 10 Mecha article, Arrow Flash’s Dragonar/Obari-esque design is exactly what still exactly what I find appealing about mecha anime today.

           Arrow Flash (1990) UK Cover Art and screen cap from ending sequence

 

I got several other shooters including Thunderforce III (1990) & IV (1992) (Thunderforce IV is still one of the best shoot’em ups I’ve played and its imminent release on the Nintendo Switch might mean I have to own that console ). The Datel Universal Adapter cartridge, that overcome the UK machine’s region locking, opened up the import market to me. I picked up GleyLancer (1992) but it also allowed me to play Compile’s M.U.S.H.A (1990) (known as Musha Alesta in Japan). By this point I knew what anime was and had started to watch VHS fansubs in addition to the titles that were being released officially in the UK. The mecha in M.U.S.H.A looked even cooler than those in Arrow Flash but despite some nice cut scenes and full on weapons I found the game was disappointingly short and the end of level bosses were bland and not as challenging as those in the Thunderforce games and if I’m honest I  always preferred sideways scrolling shooters to vertical scrolling games.

m1

 M.U.S.H.A (1991) US Cover Art

m2

M.U.S.H.A (1991) Menu Select Screen

 

Craig talked about his glass collecting job in episode 1 of the podcast but I initially funded my anime and game habit with several paper rounds each week and then a job delivering pizzas that allowed me to buy a Sega Mega CD in late 1993. The Mega CD with its extra game memory capacity exposed me to more anime based imagery. Sol Feace (1991), a sideways scrolling shoot’em up that was packaged with the Mega CD had, at the time anyway, a fantastic animated opening sequence what really set the scene for the rest of the game and I loved it. The use of the animated intro and cut scenes on numerous Mega CD games was one of the reasons I adored the console, even though I had seen them lots of times I still used to regularly sit through every intro sequence, looking back they were basic and low resolution but I loved them and would show them off to anyone who I could convince to sit through them. This content on the Mega CD went hand in hand with my immersion into anime fandom through video tapes and only drove my desire to learn about and watch more anime.

 

  

                     Screen caps from the ending sequence of Sol Feace (1991)

 

After reading a review of the Japan only release Devastator (1993) in the magazine MegaTech (it was  through this magazine review that I learned about Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)) and getting excited about another really cool looking mecha shoot’em up, I purchased the Datel Pro CDX cartridge that defeated the region locking on the Mega CD. I really liked Devastator and how it mixed platform blaster and scrolling shoot’em up action. It also had some great animated cut scenes that I would later learn were from the anime D-1 Devastator (1992) in which the mecha supervision and animation direction was done by Masami Obari (you can see a common theme developing here) but would be another 15 years before I finally got to see the anime, 10 years after I had sold the Mega CD for a PlayStation.

                     Devastator (1993) Japanese Cover Art and screen cap from game

 

The shoot’em ups on the Sega consoles and the discovery of anime went pretty much hand in hand for me. At that time in the early 90’s with no internet, magazines were the only source of information and with the way games came out globally, normally being released first in Japan and the really interesting stuff not reaching the UK, it in many ways it created a sense of mysticism about all the games and articles about the consoles like the PC Engine and Neo Geo which you just never saw only helped to fuel that. I would eagerly wait for the next edition of MegaTech to come out, spot something interesting, save for a few months and finally phone around various importers to find a copy of whatever game had caught my fancy. There was no instant access or gratification like you get today!!!

Learning about anime was much the same, through magazines and fanzines that contained articles about films and shows that seemed so exotic and often with no actual avenue to be able to watch them, which was really frustrating I can tell you. The advent of digital fansubs, took much of that away, but even now when I’m doing some research into some of the older anime that I’m still discovering on the internet and come across something genuinely new, I still get that tingle of excitement.

The release of Dangaioh (1987) by Manga Entertainment in 1994 sealed my fate as a mecha fan for life and I was genuinely enthralled to see so much that had been in many ways teased to me as mecha anime in all the games I’ve mentioned so far in this article actually playing as proper animation. For me personally Dangaioh was actually the perfect mecha anime for me to see at that point as its aesthetic tied in perfectly with that of the games I had been playing. Yes it was rather butchered and the dub was hilariously awful but I didn’t really know any better at the time and playing Devastator and watching Dangaioh back in the early to mid 90’s is why I’m still a massive fan of Masami Obari and Toshihiro Hirano today.

         Screen caps from the anime Dangaioh (1987 – Left) and D-1 Devastator (1992- Right)

 

The final shoot’em up with that anime crossover that I played and once again adored was another entry into the Aleste series – Robo Aleste (1994) (known as Nobunaga and his Ninja Force in Japan). Robo Aleste had a great opening sequence and quite a few cut scenes that really helped drive the story through the game. To me it felt like playing anime, I thought it was a great shooter to play and to be honest I enjoying playing Robo Aleste to see the story play out just as much as I did for the actual gameplay.

         Robo Aleste (1994) UK Cover Art and screen cap from game opening sequence

 

The RPG Vay (1993) would be my swansong of that golden period of anime influenced games on the Sega consoles. I was always quite jealous of my SNES owning friends and plethora of cool looking RPGs that were available to them on that console, the Mega Drive, by comparison, had very few so when one came along with mysterious looking mecha on the cover, I just had to get it. Vay had a great story about a rogue mecha of unknown origin coming to the planet, wreaking havoc and needing some wizards to stop it and hide it’s terrifying power away only for this mystical mecha being the key to overthrowing a tyrant taking over the land and your quest was to find this Armour of Vay! I never played RPGs very much but I found Vay really immersive and would play it for hours on end often losing track of time in the process.

                     Vay (1993) Japanese Cover Art and screen cap from game

 

After that the next generation consoles came out, the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. By then I was a student and by the time I could afford a new console it was obvious the PlayStation was winning the console war and I sadly moved away from Sega consoles and gaming was never quite the same for me after that!

Complete play-throughs of all the games mentioned in this article can be found on YouTube.

 

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