A peek into the Japanese franchise industry
"Persona 4 Arena" is a fighting game from Atlus that features many characters from the popular franchise.
October 9th, 2012
11:57 AM ET

A peek into the Japanese franchise industry

While titles like "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat" may ring a bell if you ever spent any time in arcades as a kid, you may not have heard of "Persona." So why is Japan going totally nuts over it, with American otakus quickly following suit?

This August, "Persona 4 Arena," debuted on the U.S. market. The game features popular characters from a Japanese franchise of role-playing games that was founded by gaming company Atlus in 1996. Since its Japanese release on March 1st, the game has sold more than 128,000 units for PlayStation 3, making it the fasting selling fighting game of all time.

Persona's tremendous success as a franchise can be chalked up to a mix of well-defined characters and marketing savvy that the Japanese know how to execute with finesse.

If there's one thing most gamers excel at, it's devotion. Ever since I discovered the first "Final Fantasy," I have stood dutifully at the door of the local game store at the midnight launch, waiting to get my copy.

I fell stone cold in love with "Persona 3" first and worked backwards: The modern fantasy settings, great dialogue and character development have me hooked like a helpless fish.

The latest installment, "Persona 4 Arena," is a perfect example of the power of the Japanese franchise. By appealing to a hardcore Japanese fan base - and the American fans that carefully follow the same trends –and creating a game that features already beloved characters, Atlus is swinging for a home run. Square-Enix did the same in 2008 with "Dissidia Final Fantasy," which featured characters from every major Final Fantasy game and gave fans a chance to fight against one another. The game nailed a spot as the best selling PSP game of 2009 as a result.

However, the way franchises work in Japan is a bit different from the way they work in America. This is a key element to the reason games like "Persona 4 Arena" and "Theatrhythm Final Fantasy" have performed so well. FULL POST

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September 18th, 2012
12:36 PM ET

The universal language of 'Gangnam Style'

If you haven't heard of "Gangnam Style" by now, it's likely you live under a rock (or at the very least, have no access to the Internet). Korean performer Psy has made quite a splash for himself with the quirky song and video, which is currently sitting pretty on YouTube with more than 194 million views (and counting) since its release on July 15.

It's now among the most liked videos of all time, and it just recently hit #1 on the U.S. iTunes charts. Everyone loves the singer's trademark "horse dance," celebrities included. The video has been recognized by Tom Cruise, American rapper T-Pain, Nelly Furtado, Katy Perry ... and the list goes on. 

Now Psy is a hot commodity. He's just been signed by Justin Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, who promises that Psy will be the first Korean artist to break a big record in the United States.

I'm not surprised. Psy is only the latest entertainer to make a splash in the Korean Wave.

We talked about it back in May, months before anyone in the United States had a clue what "Gangnam Style" was. I've always cheered on this phenomenon (or "hallyu" as the Koreans call it), hoping to see more recognition of the music that I love here in the States. As a devoted fan of Korean pop, I'm cautiously interested in where this movement is going.

Naturally, people want to know the reason why something is a massive success. And so, journalists dug. The Atlantic had all sorts of things to say about the song's meaning. Korea Law Today mined deeper than most with a piece on the meaning behind the song's lyrics and cultural nuances. Init_Music even explained how Psy's success is an example of how Asians have to conform to certain roles in order to make an impact overseas.

As interesting as it was to understand what could really be going on in "Gangnam Style" from its roots, ultimately, it has little to do with its mainstream success. After all, the majority of the people dancing to "Gangnam Style" right now don't speak a word of Korean.

The true language of "Gangnam Style" isn't Korean. It may be the language of the song's lyrics, but its true means of communication is a universal one: meme culture. FULL POST

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July 26th, 2012
03:22 PM ET

Hidden beneath the costumes

Every summer, thousands upon thousands of people pack their suitcases to head to San Diego, California, for Comic-Con.

Sometimes that's a challenge: Many of those suitcases contain a costume packed underneath their daytime clothing (or, perhaps the costume IS their daytime clothing).

Convention costumes can be an all-year endeavor  - some attendees have a different costume for every day of the con. And even as cosplayers walk the show floor, they may already be thinking of how to assemble the fantastic costumes they will wear next year.

Why do people cosplay? Well, it's simple. Everyone needs a hobby. And yet, it seems like there can be so many other explanations. Like, it's fun (and yes, it is). Or, there's the theory that cosplayers are just attention junkies (and yes, sometimes, we are). But just like every other human habit, there's something a bit more complex beneath the surface.

It's my experience that when a cosplayer puts on a costume, we capture a moment. In costume, we are all children again. We are joyful, open, excited, able to let go of responsibility. We also wear what makes us happy. By becoming a character that we love for a day, we transcend our own reality and enter one that we often dream of inhabiting.

Yes, it's wish fulfillment, real-life role play. We lose and find ourselves in those costumes. We stand in a sea of other people who are drawn to the same things that we are. We fit in, and at the same time, we don't. But we want to.

Underneath our costumes, we dare to reveal ourselves to the world, bit by bit. By wearing a mask, we reveal who we really are.

Does Comic-Con really cater to otaku?
We're willing to bet not too many people recognized this "Black Rock Shooter" at last year's SDCC.
July 10th, 2012
11:08 AM ET

Does Comic-Con really cater to otaku?

This is my fifth year attending San Diego Comic-Con (or SDCC, as fans know it). Of course, it's not the only con I have ever attended. I have also gone to Otakon, Tokyo Game Show, Anime Expo, E3Dragoncon, Wonder Festival, and a host of smaller cons I am probably forgetting. In the con world, five years isn't much - there are veterans with decades of con-going under their belts.

Even after only five years, I am sure of one thing: every time I go to SDCC, something is missing. That's because when it comes to San Diego Comic-Con, the otaku classes are treated like second-class citizens.

I know what you're thinking: Comic-Con is for comics, not anime, or otherwise it'd be called Anime-Con. And since there are literally hundreds of different anime series screening throughout Comic-Con weekend that you can watch, and plenty of anime cosplayers running around in between all the Batmen and Spidermen, that SDCC gets anime just as well as it gets every other nerd they cater to throughout the weekend.

I don't agree. FULL POST

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Why 'Neon Genesis Evangelion' keeps fans coming back for more
Evangelion unit 01, steered by Shinji-kun, goes after an Angel.
July 5th, 2012
05:04 PM ET

Why 'Neon Genesis Evangelion' keeps fans coming back for more

SPOILER ALERT: If you're new to this whole anime thing and you have not watched "Neon Genesis Evangelion" in any of its iterations, beware: We need to discuss some plot points in order to understand why this franchise continues to affect fans.

This year's J-POP Summit Festival (held in San Francisco's Japantown on August 25 and 26) boasts the Evangelion Pop-Up Museum, delighting - but not surprising - "Neon Genesis Evangelion" fans.

Seventeen years after this influential anime series' original run, fans are still just as excited about it as they were in the beginning.

In addition to  showing off rare sketches, drawings and collectibles at the pop-up museum, The J-POP Summit Festival is one of the hubs for the first ever "Neon Genesis Evangelion" worldwide stamp rally  - a beloved Japanese summertime tradition that challenges attendees to collect stamps from different locations. This rally intends to be the longest-distance stamp rally in history.

But a stamp rally bent on a world record is only one of many events celebrating "Evangelion," as it's known to fans, that happen year-round.

For example, there was a pop-up Evangelion Gallery Cafe late last summer in Tokyo's Harajuku district. Dozens of American fansites such as EvaGeeks are anticipating the release of the third film in the "Rebuild of Evangelion" series, coming to Japanese theaters this November. Fans can practically depend on finding new fansites, cosplay groups, giant statues of the characters and Evangelion fan fiction whenever the mood strikes.

"Neon Genesis Evangelion" tells the story of an apocalyptic event that destroys a large portion of Earth in the year 2000. In the aftermath, a research organization erects a militarized civilian city and invents giant mechanized robots piloted by teenagers called Evangelions.

These mechs (a Japanese colloquialism for mechanized robots as well as the related genre of sci-fi) are Earth's main line of defense against an enemy force called Angels. "Evangelion" was an early example of a genre that's known as "sekai-kei," which interweaves apocalyptic themes with human lives in order to make them relatable, personal events.

" 'Evangelion' was the first show that questioned how creator and creation coexist on a grand scale," said Andres Cerrato, a mecha expert and longtime "Evangelion" critic. "When fans tired of the archetypes of 1990s anime, it offered engaging relationships, complexity and mythos."

"Evangelion's" characters are the main focus of the story, Cerrato said, but the way fans relate to the characters is part of the show's enduring strength. FULL POST

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