Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Apricotsushi Reviews: Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2

One of my favorite aspects of the Vocaloid phenomenon is how it's powered by the fan community, with people all over the globe coming together to celebrate the digital idols through music, art, and more. Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2 showcases a wide variety of Vocaloid illustrations from both professional and up-and-coming artists, making it the perfect way to see first-hand just how much talent Hatsune Miku and her friends attract.

The last Vocaloid art book from Udon Entertainment I reviewed focused on official Vocaloid artist Kei's soft watercolor-like illustrations such as the one on the cover above, but the Hatsune Miku Graphics series is great for those who like Vocaloids but would prefer to see art from a variety of artists. While the quality of illustrations varies from artist to artist, with 128 pages total, there is bound to be an art style that appeals to nearly everyone.

The majority of the book focuses on a number of Vocaloid artists, with a sampling of illustrations from each. I love the inclusion of the artist's website when available – in the case of Ryouno, I was so enamoured with his work that I immediately went to browse his site. His masking tape collages are so unique, and not at all what I expected from Vocaloid art! 

Wasabi's work is sugary-sweet, and was definitely one of the standout artists for me. I love the mint illustration of Miku with macaron hair ties! For every illustration, there are artist comments detailing where the image first appeared, which can help you track down your favorite piece.

The book also includes three short manga, one drawn by Wasabi featuring Luka. I really enjoyed seeing other Vocaloids represented besides the ever-popular Hatsune Miku.

More page samples are available on Udon Entertainment's website
In addition to the creator galleries, there are also a number of Vocaloid tribute illustrations by famous Japanese artists. Unlike the creator galleries, these illustrations each get a single page, and while I personally found more art I liked in the galleries, fans of artists such as Nanzaki Iku (Queen's Blade) and Homare (Phantasy Star Portable 2) will undoubtedly be pleased.

Finally, there is a section dedicated to Vocaloid collaborations and other products that, while very interesting for a Vocaloid fan, felt a little out of place in an art book. There are a number of pages on the clothing modules in the Project DIVA series of rhythm games, a small section on a Lucky Star collaboration, as well as a blurb on the Racing Miku collaboration with Good Smile Company.

As a fan of the, well, fan community that has made Vocaloids the huge phenomenon that they are, both in Japan and abroad, Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2 was a complete pleasure to flip through. Though it may not feature everyone's favorite artist, it's a great way to find a great new illustrator or introduce a friend to the colorful and varied world of Vocaloids. Even with a couple small sections that might have been better used to spotlight even more artists, Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2 would make a great addition to any Vocaloid fan's library.

Note: A digital copy of the book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. 

Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comic & Art Volume 2

Hatsune Miku fans, REJOICE! UDON’s sixth translated artbook featuring Superstar Japanese idol Hatsune Miku is now available! UDON Entertainment is proud to present Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comic & Art Volume 2, a new collection of illustrations, behind the scenes material, and comics(!) featuring Miku, Rin & Len, Luka, and friends!

In this latest collection, explore the world and phenomenon of Miku and the Vocaloids through illustration, short articles, and comics. Containing official Miku artwork from Kei, tribute artwork from well-known artists and illustrators, as well as album covers, short comic strips, and three exciting manga short stores featuring Miku and friends!

Release date: September 24th, 2014
Price (U.S.): $39.99
ISBN: 1-926778-83-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-926778-83-9
Format: Softcover
Page Count: 128, Partial Color (96 pages)
Size: 8.25″ x 11.75″

Buy it at a Comic Book Store Near You | Buy at Barnes & Noble | Buy at Amazon.com

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Game Art: Creative Inspiration, from Indie Games to Blockbusters Now Available for Preorder

Last year, Matt Sainsbury of Digitally Downloaded launched a Kickstarter for a book on game art that, while ultimately unsuccessful, proved that there are a variety of methods to getting a book published. No Starch Press took notice of the project and, as a result, are now publishing the book under the title Game Art: Creative Inspiration, from Indie Games to Blockbusters.

Available to preorder now from No Starch's site, Game Art is a collection of interviews and concept art from a wide variety of video game developers, from big names in the western gaming scene such as BioWare and Ubisoft to indie studios and Japanese developers. The book even contains an interview with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn producer Naoki Yoshida, which will undoubtedly be a highlight, but interviews with notable individuals from the Dynasty Warriors franchise and Hyperdimension Neptunia series are also included in the comprehensive book for fans of Japanese games. The book features artwork from over 40 console, mobile, and PC games, so there will definitely be something for everyone!

Game Art is priced at $39.99 for a physical book and free digital copy, while just the digital version is $31.95. If you preorder, however, you'll be able to get the book for 30% off the cover price, which sounds like a great deal for over 300 pages of full color art!

Game Art: Creative Inspiration, from Indie Games to Blockbusters will launch in July 2015. In the meantime, you can read Matt's work over at Digitally Downloaded.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

10 Japanese 3DS Games Worth Importing

Now that the RegionThree exploit makes region-free 3DS gaming a reality*, you may be wondering how you should utilize this newfound power. Well, what better way than to import some cool Japan-exclusive 3DS games? Keeping import friendliness in mind for those who know little to no Japanese, I've compiled a list of 10 great Japanese 3DS games worth checking out!

*Before reading on, head over to the full news post to learn how to use the RegionThree exploit on your 3DS and whether your system is compatible. While this isn't a complete region-free gaming solution, it's a great way to try out a few Japanese games before you decide to commit to importing a whole system!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nintendo of Australia Releases Adorable Mario and Yoshi Wallpaper for Summer

People often forget, but while the rest of the world is freezing, things are really heating up down here in the Southern Hemisphere! In honor of the summer season, Nintendo of Australia has released a special wallpaper to folks in the land down under, and it's pretty darn adorable:

The wallpaper, featuring Yoshi and a catsuit-wearing Mario trying to escape the heat, is available in 13 different sizes for computers, tablets, and smartphones. The wallpapers can be downloaded from Nintendo of Australia's website. Alternatively, I've uploaded the whole set here as per request of folks having problems accessing the page. 

I just can't get over Mario''s off-shoulder cat suit. And what's with Yoshi hogging all the fan?! I know I've set this as my iPhone 6's lock screen, but if you live in the frozen north, you may want to wait until summer rolls around to use this one! 

Chic Pixel's Best Anime and Games of 2014

I can't believe it's nearly three weeks into 2015 and I'm only just now getting around to finalizing my favorite game and anime picks of 2014! They always say time moves fast, but I'm definitely feeling it right now. Regardless, I'd like to take the opportunity to weigh in on some of my favorite Japanese media from the past year, in no particular order. Keep in mind that the first few items in each category were also mentioned in the holiday episode of Chic Pixel Plus, so if you want to hear more about a particular pick, please check it out!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

RegionThree Loader Makes Region Free 3DS a Reality

Have you always wanted to play Japanese 3DS games on your North American/European 3DS, but couldn't because of the region lock? Or lamented the fact that North America gets everything before Europe? Well never fear, because RegionThree is here!

RegionThree is a loader by smealum released for Nintendo 3DS, 3DS XL, and 2DS (it does not work on new 3DS models) and is compatible with firmware versions 9.0 - 9.4. With it, loading 3DS game carts that are a different region from your system is a breeze. All you have to do is download the loader, move the file to the root of your 3DS's SD card, and perform a little magic on your 3DS (full instructions on the official site) to get it up and running! 

Not only is RegionThree great for those who like to import games, but it does not in any way promote piracy, as it requires an actual copy of the game to work. There is no flash cart or other illegal method required, and I can confirm that using it to load a Japanese game on my North American 3DS did not harm my system in any way. 

So, what are you waiting for? It's time to get out there and import some games! A couple standout titles from Japan this month include Legend of Legacy and Yowamushi Pedal: Ashita e no High Cadence. You can also check out my list of 10 Japanese Games Worth Importing. The exchange rate is also really great for Americans looking to import from Japan right now, too! 

(via NeoGAF)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Japan Envy: Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Pokémon Café

If there's one thing I still regret about my trip last July to Japan, it's that I never got to go to one of The GUEST cafe&diner's themed café events. Unfortunately, even if you are lucky enough to be around Shibuya, Tokyo during one of their exciting collaborations, you'll still need to line up for anywhere from one to three hours... And they don't take reservations! Still, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can continue to drool over their adorable food items and exclusive merchandise from the comfort of my home in Australia. While their collaborations have usually tended toward specific characters, this time they've opened none other than a Pokémon Café!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January 2015 is Rhythm Month!

Happy New Year, everyone! As you probably saw in my previous post, the monthly Community Game-Alongs are continuing into 2015, and we're ringing in the new year with rhythm games! Even if you don't have a rhythmic bone in your body, it's hard not to enjoy the likes of Dance Dance Revolution, Samba de Amigo, Rhythm Heaven, Just Dance, or Groove Coaster. And no matter what kind of music you enjoy, there's a rhythm game for nearly everyone!

Thanks to Marcus of Pixel Pacas for the lovely photo of some of the rhythm games
in his collection!
To participate in the rhythm game Community Game-Along, all you have to do is a pick up a rhythm game, play it, and share your experiences! I love to see long-form reviews or impressions either in written, podcast, or video form, but as always, you can also use #RhythmMonth to share your rhythm game playthroughs with other participants on social media. Whether it's a rhythm game you're going back to for the first time in years, or a new one you've only just picked up, I want to hear your impressions!

There are so many different kinds of rhythm games out there that it's hard to even know where to go with recommendations, but here are a few titles to get you started:

Vib Ribbon (PSone, PSN) – Who would have thought that in 2014 we would finally see cult PSone hit Vib Ribbon release in North America? After unintentionally teasing the game at E3 (apparently someone forgot it was only released in Europe!), Sony actually responded to fan demand and released the game on PSN for Vita and PS3 in October.

With its deceptively simple gameplay and unique music and art direction, Vib Ribbon is definitely a must-play if you're one of the many North Americans who never had a chance to experience it before now. You can even use the CD reader function on the PS3 version to create unique levels out of your own tunes!

Rhythm Heaven series (GBA, DS, Wii) – I will never stop championing the Rhythm Heaven series, which consists of three amazing rhythm games that never quite got the attention they deserved. While Rhythm Tengoku for GBA was never released in English, rhythm games are one of the few game genres that are extremely easy to import, making it a great title to pick up if you're looking to try out a game in Japanese.

Some folks ultimately prefer the simple one button gameplay of Rhythm Heaven Fever on the Wii, but the portability of the DS version makes it another great pick, even with the tap-flick mechanic. Which version you like best is ultimately up to personal preference, though, as each game has its strengths, making any one of them a great place to start.

DJ Max Technika Tune (Vita) – DJ Max Technika Tune is one Vita rhythm game that I think has been sorely overlooked, and the fact that physical copies are extremely difficult to find doesn't help matters (though it's also available on PSN). If you're a DJ Max fan, picking this one up should be a no-brainer, but for those unfamiliar with the series, the touch controls on the Vita make it a hectic and fun twist on the rhythm formula. Unlike many rhythm games that originate in Japan and thus feature Japanese music, the DJ Max series showcases mostly Korean tracks, making it a great pick for K-pop fans.

[An honorable overlooked Vita rhythm game mention goes to Magical Beat, an awesome, bite-sized rhythm puzzle game by the folks who do Guilty Gear and BlazBlue!]

Love Live! School Idol Festival (iOS, Android) – I'll admit, I'm not even exactly sure what Love Live! is. I know it's an anime and multiple games about an idol group comprised of high school girls, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Regardless of my feelings on the franchise, it's massively popular in Japan, and is gaining even more popularity abroad with the launch of the smartphone game. And apparently, it has a pretty decent rhythm component! So, since I know probably 80% of the people reading this already play it daily, this is your reminder that it totally qualifies for Rhythm Month. If you haven't checked it out already, the game is completely free to play, so it wouldn't hurt to give it a whirl.

This month I'll be dividing my time between the aforementioned Love Live! (I need to know why everyone on Twitter is playing it!), Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd, and some Japanese PSP games such as Pop'n Music Portable 2 and Uta no Prince-sama Music 2. Hopefully I'll be able to churn out at least one or two write-ups this month, since I was very negligent on that front towards the end of last year! What will you be playing?