By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
anime games revisited
erhaps one of the defining images to be found in the landscape of Japanese animation is that of the anthropomorphized machine. In the world of anime one repeatedly comes across these armored wonder machines built around a kaleidoscope of revolving parts. One often finds at the center of these giants a human occupant, rendered in fragile miniature by the glacial sweep of the machine. It is a potent symbol of the common motif in anime of the strange relationship between humanity and technology.
The people of anime universes are both dependent on and threatened by technology, both hooked into each other in a symbiotic tug-of-war of veins and cables. It is the life blood of the genre and the recent release of Shogo: Mobile Armor Division continues the tradition. Shogo, developed and distributed by Monolith, is essentially an anime adventure. It is based on the particular Quake version of the common first person "find'em and kill'em." The game utilizes anime character and technology designs to breathe life into an environment that serves as mute witness to the carnage. While on the surface one might think this a wonderful idea (and it is) the execution, for the most part, regrettably falls short of the heights which might have been reached.
The opening cinematics of Shogo are assembled from a montage of images from the game. We watch as battle machines scurry across frozen landscapes, soldiers stalk dark corridors and bodies explode in rainfalls of gore. The animation itself is ultimately disappointing. The style looks rather crude undefined in a way unlike most anime films. The designs, while accurate on the surface level of basic mimicry, lack the details of a dedicated vision. This discrepancy between traditional anime standards and the game's style is made that much more apparent by the overlap of actual anime illustrations on the opening montage. Of course it is easier to draw the detailed worlds of anime than it is to animate them with a computer, but the muddy, blocky washed-out feel of Shogo's designs seem to be problems which could have been overcome. Despite the visual design problems, however, Shogo does have some interesting elements.
The most intriguing aspect of the game is its use of sound design. Actually in the opening montage there is a very strange and humorous discrepancy between the events seen taking place on the screen and the music chosen to accompany them. While you watch as flaming tanks obliterate one another and people slaughter each other in storms of gunfire, the soundtrack groves to the music of bubble-gum pop (and Japanese pop at that).
The juxtaposition of a happy-go-lucky tune with kill-them-all-and -let-god-sort-'em-out images is a hysterically ironic one. It's nice to think that the creators are making a clever little comment on the genre, but actually it seems far more likely that it is just another common element of the anime genre. The actual sound design of the game itself is quite impressive. One hears the characters speaking to one another in fleeting snippets as one moves through the ship. There is a genuine feel of daily affairs being carried out while the particular adventure you are playing is unfolding. Voices overlap and fade into inaudability as the player moves through the various environments. The creators manage to fashion a much more dramatic, impressive sound landscape than they attain in the visual arena. Shogo also continues the tradition of the technology obsessed sides of the anime consciousness. The soldiers are more often than not encased in walking battle machines. Violent acts become strangely alienated things, an action which has to be translated from one world to another, between the mind and flesh of the human and the machine that actually "does" the killing. It has an odd numbing effect on the narrative, an uneasy balance between heroics and simple violence. Of course this is the situation of most videogames that attempt to construct narratives in which one is expected to care somewhat for the characters and their interrelationships.
The cinematics of Shogo
are indeed flawed. Despite this, however, the creators do manage a
few interesting touches in the more "sophisticated" videogame narrative
devices, namely the sound design. Yet one cannot help but feel that
the visual universe is relying very heavily on anime patterns but only
on a surface level. The lower depths are hollow of any of the details
one so often finds in the realm of anime film. The framework may be
intact, but the substance is missing. The game is in many ways like
the hulking war machines depicted in the visual design, standing listlessly
in silent contemplation of nothing; the human occupants who provide
the body, the driving force, having jumped ship in favor of better hunting
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.