Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Super Mario Bros. Art Style Retrospective Part 3: The Mario Franchise Then and Now

Nintendo has always promoted Mario as a franchise since Super Mario Bros. originally found success but around 1990 Nintendo began to expand this into a variety of gaming plaftforms. Puzzle games (Yoshi, Dr. Mario, Wario's Woods), art games (Mario Paint), sports games (Mario Kart, NES Open Mario Tennis), reversionings of classic games (Mario All-Stars, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, Mario Advance Series) and even spin-off platformers (Donkey Kong '94, Wario Land, Yoshi's Island). 

During this time Kotabe's art was very prevalent during most of these incarnations and served as a design basis for the overall franchise. While the core Mario cast remained the same throughout this period newer characters like Wario and Yoshi had gone through some very gradual changes resulting in their current looks.

Starting at the beginning of the Nintendo 64 era Nintendo shifted their focus on 3D designs for the Mario characters. Unlike when the Sonic the Hedgehog cast transitioned into 3D Nintendo kept the overall design of the characters continuous with their 2D counterparts. During the Gamecube era Nintendo made some minor alterations to the clothing design for the Princess and the Toads. Around this time Kotabe went freelance and sparringly made contributions to the Mario franchise.

In 2011 Kotabe made his return to the games with the 3DS' Super Mario 3D Land which he contributed to the in-game 3D artwork done in the “classic” style. It was also around this time that Nintendo began to also use the Kotabe style to promote various Mario non-gaming brands (Hanfuda cars, blankets clothes, notebooks,etc.) under the “Super Mario” franchise title. This brought a resurgence in the presence of his artwork which culminated in the release of last year's Super Mario 3D World.

Super Mario 3D World is in many ways a love letter to the series as a whole bringing back many elements that Mario fans have wanted including the ability to play the Princess again in a main series Mario game, a return of the orchestrated scores used in the Super Mario Galaxy series, and of course the return of the classic illustration style that helped define the series.

While I can not find any official source confirming Kotabe's involvement in the Super Mario 3D World art it seems pretty obvious given how much the 2D artwork is continuous with his established style.

In closing, I applaude Nintendo for staying true to Mario's core image and re-embracing the artwork that is so intergrated with the Mario franchise!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Super Mario Bros. Art Style Retrospective Part 2: Establishing the Modern Style

In my last article I discussed some of the earlier works of the Super Mario Bros. series that have fallen into obscurity. This time around I want to focus on the observations I have made on Nintendo's more familiar artwork used for Super Mario Bros.2 (USA) and Super Mario Bros. 3.

Super Mario Bros.2 (USA) Release Date- Ocotber 9, 1988 (USA), September 14, 1992 (Japan)
The US release of Super Mario Bros. 2 has been with controversy in more recent times when fans learned that what we got as Mario 2 was essentially a retool of a game in Japan called Doki Doki Panic. Nintendo of America reasoned the original Mario 2 would seem too difficult for English players so we got our version that we're familiar with instead. Putting aside debates about the game itself Miyamoto and Kotabe were still responsible for the art direction. With the release of the English instruction booklets we finally got Luigi's final design that he would be known for.

There are two very interesting observations about the artwork I would like to point out. The first observation is that back in 1988 the original art work featured some elements of the earlier designs. The princess had yet to don her opera gloves (which was consistent with most of the artwork Nintendo was relasing at the time), her hair still had a reddish blonde tint, the Mario Bros. had a blue shirt under their respective colors (even though the actual game sprites featured the known coloring), also the Mario Bros. and the Princess lack their iris colors. As Nintendo re-released Super Mario Bros. 2 in other formats they revised the artwork to correspond to their more modern appearances.

The second observation has to do with an illustration that was released for Super Mario Bros. 2 USA that corresponds with a similar piece of artwork from the Japanese release of Doki Doki Panic. Much like the game itself the Mario characters replaces their Doki Doki counterparts. What is interesting is that Mario 2 USA was not released until 1992. As I will point out later in this article, by the time Super Mario World came out in late 1990 Nintendo had, more or less figured out the final designs for the characters. While there is no evidence this picture was created in 1992 it does carry some of the sensibilities of the earlier Mario artwork (the Mario Bros. overalls, Peach's ambiguous hair coloring and lack of opera gloves). Despite the lack of a dating of this piece it still corresponds with the visual consistency of the Mario 2 artwork.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Release Date- October 23, 1988
By Super Mario Bros. 3 Kotabe had settled on how the characters were designed. Much like the Mario 2 instruction booklet Nintendo did release a revised illustration of the popular “running from the castle” artwork that promoted Mario 3. What's interesting is that the changes are very slight (mainly look at Luigi and the Princess) compared to the Mario 2 revisions. The second illustration also has some visual relics from the earlier artwork.

Super Mario Land Release Date- April 21, 1989
Visually speaking Super Mario Land continued the same artwork style that Mario 3 had. It's just interesting to note Daisy's design here compared to her return later on in the franchise.


Super Mario World Release Date- November 21, 1990
The final series of illustrations come from the original Japanese artwork from Super Mario World, and the character artwork used in the American instruction booklet. By Super Mario World the standard for the characters had finally been established. Mario doned blue overalls, and brown hair. Luigi's character design had a slight alteration where his neckline is more visible. Bowser's design finally looked a little more flexible. Peach was officially a blond, and donned her opera gloves. Yoshi, being a new character, would still be revised slightly over the course of the later 90's but for most of the series mainstays the artwork stayed consistent from here on out.


The final article in this series will cover some of the design changes that took place during the 3D era as well of the resurgance of Kotabe's artwork for 3D Land, World, and the overall Super Mario franchise.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Super Mario Bros. Art Style Retrospective Part 1: The Classic Rare Illustrations

Since I was a child I've always had a fascination with the lyrical artwork of the Super Mario Bros. Universe. Being a cartoonist I tended to be more aware of the artistic changes the series went through over the years. With the recent resurgence of the classic Mario artwork through the release of Super Mario 3D World I thought it would be nice to take a look at the evolution of the 2D Mario art style since it's inception in Super Mario Bros. The purpose of these articles are to also make the modern day public aware of some of the rarer artwork that existed in the early Nintendo days, and to point out some of the stylistic changes the characters have gone through in the earlier games.

It would be unfair to talk about Mario's artwork without mentioning the two people who were responsible for the art direction of the series. Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario's creator, was responsible for setting the foundation of Mario's world. Yoichi Kotabe, was a former animator from Toei, who developed the game artwork into the cartooning style most people are familiar with today.

For the sake of this article the majority of my resources come from the original Japanese releases in the order the became available in Japan. I'm also including the anime movie, Super Mario Bros.: Peach-hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen (The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach) because it confirms several design choices that did not have corresponding official artwork at the time. The reason this article is not covering Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Mario Bros. is because they came before Nintendo decided that the Mario franchise needed visual consistency therefore I omitted them from this art study.

Super Mario Bros. Release Date- September 13, 1985
There are two pieces of artwork that define the original Nintendo game. The main piece is illustrated by Shigeru Miyamoto and was the cover art for the Japanese and Europeon release of the game. Mario is in his classic “Super Mario” pose that tended to be cut a pasted on the majority of Nintendo's 80's merchandise (including being slightly altered for the cover of the US release of Super Mario Bros.2). Almost all the other characters look completely different from their modern designs. Bowser originally sported a look that was inspired from the Ox King in Toei's Saiyuki anime movie (1960). All the enemy characters have a rougher, more simplified design. What's really noticeable is Princess Peach looking like a child and having brown hair. In fact, Peach's design had many visual inconsistencies in the early game artwork. While later on her design would be refined it took the colorists some time before they made a final decision on her official hair color and if she wore her opera styled gloves consistently.

The second piece of artwork that has fallen into obscurity is one which has Super Mario in the same pose and opposite to him is Luigi. This is the earliest example of Luigi's official art. Of course in this picture it's simply a recolor of the Super Mario design with Luigi's in game colors. The other visual difference is here Mario and Luigi are depicted with black hair as opposed to the brown hair he has in the artwork starting with Super Mario Bros. 2 USA.

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels Release Date- June 3, 1986
Known as the originally Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan this game had some very rare artwork. The first piece is a Japanese ad featuring Mario and the Princess. Unlike the Super Mario Bros. illustration this piece features the Kotabe designs and there is already a distinct visual difference between the characters depicted here and in the first illustration. While originally I thought this was the only piece of artwork associated with the Japan-only Mario 2 when I was looking through my Nintendo Sticker Album from my childhood I came across an interesting discovery.

Back in 1988 Nintendo released several sticker sets of the Mario characters. Three of those stickers were full illustrations from Super Mario Bros. Upon closer study I have reason to believe that these illustrations were actually corresponding to the Japanese Mario 2. In two of the illustrations there is a mushroom that looks like the evil twin of the Super Mushroom. Mario 2 Japan featured the debut of the poisonous mushroom so my deduction is that all three of these illustrations were originally used to promote Mario 2 in Japan. Visually the style has a consistent watercolor look that dominated most of the earliest Mario artwork. While these posters utilized the Kotabe designs they also have a more anime-esque feel which leads me to believe they may have been handled by a different illustrator. While this artwork was prevalent in much of Nintendo's early merchandise it has all but fallen into obscurity in today's times.

Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! Release Date- July 20,1986
I bring up this anime movie mainly because it is the earliest example of Luigi beginning to transition into his modern design. In this movie Luigi is taller than Mario but his mustache and hair style are similar to his brother's. Also, Luigi's color scheme is a navy blue hat and overalls over a yellow shirt as opposed to the green and blue style he later adapts. This is also the earliest example of the Princess and Bowser having their modern color schemes, something the official artwork would continue to be ambiguous about until Super Mario World.

Super Mario Bros All Night Nippon Release Date- December 1986
This is a obscure game that was released as a raffle prize for the Japanese radio program All-Night Nippon. It is basically Super Mario Bros. with altered sprites of various celebrities associated with the program. The artwork is important as it seemed to be the last piece of classic artwork from this era and another early depiction of Luigi. Most of the characters have their designs from the original Super Mario Bros. poster while Luigi dons a light blue cap and overalls with a green shirt. He still has Mario's design but this illustration does put him closer to his standard color scheme.

The next article will discuss the later NES era and early Super NES era designs. As well as commentary on how Nintendo subsequently went back and touched up the earlier artwork from Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) and 3.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Returning with a new focus

Alright so this blog hasn't been utilized for awhile. I took a break from it because of other responsibilities and passions. I also wanted to return with a renewed focus and purpose if I was going to continue blogging. 

This main goal of this post is state that I will continue to offer my commentary of the change in the US anime industry. Given many of the changes in Toonami's programming since my last post I will continue to post of observations. One of the changes I'm making is I'm expanding my commentary to animation and artwork study. I'm also not limiting it to anime alone (even though it will be the primary focus) and expanding my commentary to video games, manga, comic books and so on.

Before I delve back into Toonami I'm going to post an article study the evolution in 2D art for the Super Mario series. A few things brought this on, mainly, the release of Hyrule Historia as a visual guide for the evolution in the Zelda series. As a gamer I made many observations on how the artwork in the Super Mario series has evolved growing up. Surprisingly a lot of these changes are glossed over as the earlier art keeps getting replaced with retouched versions done in the "modern-retro" style. Since I don't think Nintendo plans on giving Mario the "Historia" treatment anytime soon I wanted to at least post my own findings.

For now I'll  try to consistently put up a few articles throughout the week but I have to try and find my pace balancing some of my other projects. Expect the Mario art study article within the week.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Toonami Revived?! Or is it just Adult Swim Action desperate for attention?!


What we wanted.

Back on April 1st, 2012 Adult Swim pulled the ultimate April Fools Day joke by pre-empting their entire Saturday night block (sans Bleach) with Toonami classics like DBZ, YuYu Hakusho, Outlaw Star, and Tenchi OAV (being the only time OAV 3 has ever been on CN). This was a prelude to Cartoon Network's plans to revive the Toonami block replacing Adult Swim Satuday Action block. The weeks leading up to Toonami's premiere was teased with commercial bumps hinting at what may end up on the block. Of course, given Adult Swim's sense of humor this could all be taken with a grain of salt. 

Days before the premiere people made theories on what was going to be on the block. Nostalgia nuts wanted Dragon Ball Z to return to the block (despite CN rerunning that show into the ground), others theorized newer anime like Tiger & Bunny, Panty & Stocking, and Inuyasha:Final Act would premiere on the block. I, personally, saw this as an opportunity for Naruto: Shippuden to air on the block, and possibly a revival of One Piece (since Funimation was about to release the newly dubbed Season Four). Then the block was revealed with two new anime series: Deadman Wonderland and Casshern Sins and the retirement of some of their older shows.

 Many fans had mixed reactions, quite a few people felt that these shows signified a positive change for the block, while other regretted that there wasn't more continuity with the Toonami of old. My reaction, while understanding that Toonami was reviving a "brand name" and not a specific set of shows, is did we really need to add the Toonami name just for CN getting two new anime shows? The last "new shows" on AS were FMA: Brotherhood and Durarara which premiered about a little over a year ago (Durarara coming about a year ago) and both shows had run their course so it makes sense that CN would announce new anime about this time. After seeing the content of these shows I have to wonder if their trying to go for a grittier darker Toonami. Deadman Wonderland alone had so many cussing blips that it was almost laughable.

Now it was revealed that Toonami had a smaller budget hence getting big names like Naruto, One Piece, and Tiger&Bunny were a no,no. Understandable, I guess what I'm getting at does slapping "Toonami" on the Saturday block make that much of a difference than if these shows were just regular AS premiere? AS' reactions to the ratings would suggest not very likely. But I know CN overall likes to operate on a learning curve so we'll see what the block brings in the upcoming weeks.

What we got!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section FINAL: The Anime Recession Part 3: Fast Forward to 2012!!! Online Media, and Potential Resurrection!!!

So here we are in 2012. Here's what has changed; Bandai finally threw in the towel and ended distribution of their titles, Sentai continues to gradually re-build their company into their former glory (ADV) while making far more practical business decisions with their anime licenses. Most anime thrives through online streaming exposure as simulcasting has become the norm.

Currently there are several companies involved in online streaming. We have Crunchyroll, Funimation, AnimeNewsNetwork Video, Viz, Crackle, and Hulu. While all these companies had professional connections to legalized media, Crunchyroll is the real underdog story. The company was founded in 2006 by a group of UC Berkeley undergraduate students which intitially hosted illegal streams from various popular fansub groups without their approval. Then in 2009, they removed all their illegal content and began making deals with the Japanese companies to legally stream their material. It was around this time I discovered Crunhyroll and mainly used it to watch legal streams of Digimon 02, and various older series like Galaxy Express 999. Somewhere down the line they became my prefered website for watching Naruto: Shippuden, Bleach, as well as keeping up with newer series from Japan. Two new series that got me becoming a Crunchyroll regular were Ristorante Paradiso (which currently isn't available) and Natsu no Arashi.
Crunchyroll's Personalized Queue Setup

...and Hulu's "dump any episode here" setup
Sometime around late 2010 I began to pay a subscription charge so I could have access to the latest streams for new shows as well as the best video quality. Not to knock Funimation, Hulu, and Viz whose efforts I also applaud BUT Cruchyroll's set-up is far more fan friendly. For one thing, if you're a subscriber they give you an extremly user-friendly interface for choosing what video quality you want. Also, if you make a queue of the shows you watch, Cruchyroll will list the last episode you watched as well as the option to take off wherever you left off on your stream. This is much more welcoming compared to Hulu's method which doesn't have the same linear organization (it pretty much just dumps new episodes into your queue despite what you actually watched) and Funimation's set-up which suffers from long loading times and constant streaming hiccups. The other issue is Funimation doesn't offer the highest quality video for a lot of their simulcast options. It's just kind of embarrasing when the likes of Toei hits like Saint Seiya Omega and One Piece have different streaming rules. The reason why I use these two series as an example is because both franchises have made a lot of money for Toei yet why is it I have the option of streaming Saint Seiya Omega (Crunchyroll) at 1080p quality yet One Piece (Funimation) I have to "tolerate" at 480 p quality? This is also the reason that led me to watch Naruto: Shippuden's streams on Crunchyroll vs. Viz's site but there at least I have an option.
Speaking of Naruto:Shippuden unfortunately Crunchyroll, Hulu, iTunes, and Viz Anime's streams are now the only way to watch the show as DisneyXD silently removed it from their schedule before the end of 2011. I was hoping the revived Toonami would pick it up but after seeing the content of their new line-up (which I'll discuss in another article) it doesn't seem likely. CN producers even went as far to say the new Toonami doesn't have the expansive budget to get shows like Naruto and One Piece for the time being. This is just a small example of how there are limited venues for anime on television BUT what is able to be aired does get strong exposure. 

In the end anime has been through a strange cycle over the last two decades, and while it may seem like we're returning to the days of old, we're not. If anything, the anime industry has normalized itself and instead of the type of overexposure we had during the Anime Boom there is a lot more thought put into how shows are promoted and which ones should be considered for broadcast television. On the other end of the spectrum fansubs have been rendered mostly obsolete. For example this anime season I was planning to keep up with Kids on the Slope, Lupin III: Fujiko's Tits (^_^), and Eureka Seven AO and surprisingly ALL these shows got legally picked up either before or shortly after their airings in Japan. I still use fansubs to keep up my newly acquired love of Sentai (I think I may blog Akibaranger just for kicks) but otherwise Cruchyroll is my primary anime fix (even though I do also regularly go to to legally watch One Piece on a weekly basis). Also attendance at anime conventions continues to grow, but based off a few discussions with some anime fan co-workers it seems these have turned more into cosplay conventions as I find that many of the people I work with focus more on that than the latest anime streams and CN airings. Which ever way you look on it anime still has an active presence in American media and it's just wonderful I can go to my local theater and see Ghibli's The Secret of Arriety (now on Blu-ray/DVD) with my mother and she can leave the film not feeling she saw an "anime" movie but a nicely animated story.