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Hidden Anime

By Janet Houck     November 23, 2006

While playing Okami (great game, by the way; sad that Capcom closed Clover Studio), I had a revelation of sorts. It wasn’t very profound or anything, but it definitely added a dimension to my gaming experience.  

There are a lot of anime and manga influences in video games. 

With the majority of RPGs coming from Japan and Korea, it’s only expected that we’d see its characters drawn in a manga style, whether it’s super-deformed or a more realistic form. Aside from character and background artwork, the plot-heavy nature of RPGs lends itself easily to the manga storytelling format, with chapter divisions, multiple story climaxes (whee!), and characters that may seem to be “cookie cut” for the party, but who develop depth over the course of the story. 

Additionally, many games include anime cutscenes, from the early days of Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue to Final Fantasy VII (and onward). Anime stills are used in Disgaea 2, which is in its entirety an homage to geeky culture. 

We can also see manga present in fighter games, with the cinematic story mode of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, their diverse characters, and the pure over-the-top nature of the game, where charged power moves straight from Dragon Ball Z are the norm. On the other side of the street lies anime-inspired fighter games, such as the Guilty Gear and Soul Calibur series. 

Back in the days of happy and bright sprites, the format of “big head, big eyes” made sense, as how else were you going to see and bond with the characters? As for conveying emotion in a minimal amount of space... well, manga provided ready-made shortcuts of sweatdrops, hearts, eye-pulling and raspberry tongues. The Mana series (Secret of Mana, Legend of Mana, etc.) provides excellent examples of these expressions in video games. 

In the past few years, we’ve been seeing more and more zany Japanese games coming to the US and the English-speaking world. Who would have imagined the popularity of Katamari Damacy and its sequel, We Love Katamari (not to mention the PSP game, Me and My Katamari) ? Who knew rolling a giant sticky ball over people and pets and hearing them scream was so much fun? The DS has brought us perhaps the greatest amount of weird games, with the visual novel action of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the medical drama of the Trauma Center games, and Cooking Mama, which basically explains itself. Even Okami lies on this line with its usage of sake and other Shinto practices, definitely an alien element in American culture. The opening of US mainstream culture to anime and Japanese culture as a whole (sushi: uniting people!) has shown developers and publishers that yes, there is an untapped market here for quirky, yet addictive games. 

However, the ultimate match-up of anime and video games lies in...  anime video games! The Dragon Ball Z Budokai series has been quite popular in the past few years, along with One Piece Grand Battle! and the various Naruto games (one game forthcoming on the 360 and the PS3, and possibly the Wii). This hasn’t been a recent trend though; anime video games trace their origins back to the NES and SNES, where even as pixilated sprites, these games had a fan following. Currently, most anime video game franchises are focused towards a school age audience (preferably male; enter my sigh as a girl gamer), and most adult-orientated games are... adult. Now, I’m not blind to the raw statistics, that adult titles make a lot of money. But I wouldn’t mind playing something a little less sexy, say Comic Party (I know it’s a love simulation, but I know my main character, Kazuki; he won’t do the nasty) or maybe even some Fushigi Yuugi fluffiness. Another important aspect to consider with anime games is quality; many games are released purely to make a quick buck with tie-ins. See the InuYasha and Pokemon games as prime examples of this fansploitation tactic. 

[On a side note and for completeness, H-games (hentai) consist of nothing but anime, in varying degrees of... interaction. Unlike porn simulations, h-games allow for sexual encounters that are physically impossible and sometimes psychologically disturbing. Hence the draw.] 

You can’t deny the powerful effect that anime and manga has had on our video gaming culture in the US. In fact, it’s hard to imagining gaming without this Eastern influence, especially in the realm of RPGs. Without a doubt, this infusion of aesthetic style has led to a better and brighter digital world on our TVs at home.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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vichussmith 11/25/2006 3:51:35 PM
FF VII had CGI cutscenes. No anime.
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