The Urusei Yatsura Viewing Project, part 0

Since I started the blog, I’d been thinking about doing a project in which I view the entirety of a TV series.  I wasn’t sure what to do, though; the popular genre series of the past couple decades have been done, and I’d prefer it to be something that I own so I’m not tied to availability on Netflix.

Then it occurred to me: When it was announced that AnimEigo was losing the Urusei Yatsura license, I made a point of buying up the DVDs while they were still cheap (Right Stuf had a massive sale on them).  I managed to get the entire run of the TV series, OVAs and movies (although I had to buy a UK copy of the fifth movie because I couldn’t find a reasonably priced US copy).  That’s 50 discs of just the TV show, 196 episodes in total.  I should justify buying those by finally getting around to watching them, right?

(deep breath) So.  I’m not going to try to set a regular schedule such as watching one episode per day, because that’s not practical, but I’ll make the best effort I can.  Time permitting, I may do more than one in one sitting.  I’ve watched about half of them before, but it’s been a while, which gives me a chance to take a fresh look.

On top of that, I also want to compare the anime version to the original manga.  I own all Viz’s volumes; the chapters they didn’t print will be obtained through…other means. (Viz, I’ll buy them if you release them, honest!) The focus will be on the anime, but the anime is informed by the manga, and past a certain point the nature of the changes is itself significant.

I’ll be using Tomobiki-cho as a reference source; you can refer there for details and background I don’t cover.

Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious…SPOILERS.

Collecting classic World of Darkness, part 9: Changeling: The Dreaming

Changeling: The Dreaming was the fifth classic WoD core game, completing the original announced roster.  It stands out from the other core games in a number of ways, and as a result didn’t so much die as fade away.

CtD was intentionally designed to be a change of tone from the extremely dark Wraith.  Where WtO was done in shades of gray, CtD was bright, with full-color interiors.  It’s less of a horror game than a dark fantasy, and what horror elements there are aren’t visceral–the big threat isn’t the end of the world or personal destruction, but mundanity.  As a result, it doesn’t fit terribly well in tone with the other games.

The other feature that set CtD apart was its use of collectible cards for the magic system.  While they weren’t technically required–all the relevant rules were in the gamebook–they were intended to perform as the randomizing element for casting cantrips.  This was not a popular element, as it added to the expense of play and came off as a money-making move.

The external elements (not the tone) changed by 2nd Edition.  The full-color interiors were gone, probably to save money, and the cantrip card system was replaced by a dice-based system that had originally been an optional rule in the Players Guide.  This wasn’t enough to save it from its slow slide into oblivion, however.  Eventually it came to be published by WW’s Arthaus line, which was created as a publishing model for less popular games (also including Werewolf: The Wild West and Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade).  Unfortunately, part of the model appeared to be producing books with larger type and wide expanses of whitespace, so the Arthaus books look cheap in comparison to earlier releases.

Eventually CtD stopped publication, without being officially canceled like WtO was, and . (WtO’s metaplot lent itself better to an abrupt ending than CtD’s did, since it concerned apocalyptic destruction rather than a civil war and complicated politics.) The Time of Judgment book had scenarios for the end of the game that came as close as it would get to proper resolution.

The relative unpopularity of CtD means that some of the books can be expensive and hard to find. (This was true even while it was theoretically being published; I bought all the books as they originally came out, and paid my rent by selling them on eBay back in 2000.)

Core rulebooks: There are 2 editions, which run to the usual under-$10 for the 1st edition and $10-20 for 2nd.  Neither are particularly hard to find.

Core supplements: 1st Edition had a Players Guide and a Storytellers Guide, neither of which are particularly expensive. Each edition had a Storytellers Screen with an accompanying book; the books aren’t hard to find, but you don’t see the screens or shrinkwrapped copies very often.

Splatbooks: Seven Kithbooks were released (three of them, Eshu, Pooka, and Redcaps, under the Arthaus line).  Nobles: The Shining Host serves the role of Kithbook: Sidhe.  Kithbook: Boggan was never released. (Be careful: it was given an ISBN, so phantom listings for it do appear, and there was a fan-made version online.)

The non-Arthaus Kithbooks are fairly common and run under $10.  The Redcaps book isn’t terribly expensive either.  However, Kithbooks Eshu and, especially, Pooka are the rarest and most expensive splatbooks White Wolf ever produced.  I got lucky with Eshu, but Kithbook: Pooka was the last book I got for my collection, and one of only two where I had to pay over cover price.  You can expect to pay $40-50 for these, and their rarity means that the odds of getting a lucky find on eBay aren’t high.

Other books: Shadow Court is one of the most sought-after books, as it’s the key supplement on the Unseelie Court and is the only place to find most of the information on one subgroup of the fae.  It runs about $20-30.

The books on the noble houses can run into a certain amount of money.  The first Book of Houses runs under $10, but the second BoH runs $10-20, and the Book of Lost Houses (another of the last few books I obtained for my collection) $20+.

Other supplements that can be on the expensive side are Land of Eight Million Dreams (the Asian supplement) and Denizens of the Dreaming (one of the last Arthaus books published).

I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s not technically a CtD book, but Dark Ages: Fae is the Dark Ages version of CtD.  It has a different approach to the fae (one closer to Ars Magica‘s version) and as one of the last books released for the WoD is seriously rare.  There’s a copy on Amazon for $50 right now, which is the cheapest I’ve ever seen it online, and in eBay auctions it can go as high as $125-150.

Other game material: There was a Players Kit released, which contained character sheets and blank cantrip cards.  As a consumable product, it runs over $30 these days.

The Cantrip Cards were oversized, glossy, on heavy stock, and sold in packs of 10.  There were 168 in the set (plus the blanks in the Players Kit).  Nowadays they’re very hard to find on the market, so I can’t make a good guess as to the going rate, beyond “not cheap”.

Merchandise: There wasn’t a lot of this, given the game’s niche popularity.  The ones I know of are:

  • Dice. The CtD dice set was orange with blue numbers, in a red bag with the butterfly logo.
  • Pin. There was a pin for the gameline (the butterfly logo again) but no others.
  • Novels. The Immortal Eyes novels tied in to the adventures of the same name.  Splendor Falls was a short story collection.  There were a couple of others (Pomegranates Full and Fine is a CtD/VtM crossover) but not a large number.
  • CCG. The third WoD game to get a CCG, Arcadia.  This was an odd duck of a game, and would probably have worked better as a board game or non-collectible card game.  It was sold in two types of packs, Character Packs and Story Packs, and in theory could be played with two of each.  The Character Packs had a popup card with a character and cards with abilities and drawbacks to construct a character; the Story Packs had map cards (that joined up to make one big landscape) and hazards.  In theory there were no rarities, but in practice distribution didn’t work that well.  The first set was subtitled The Wyld Hunt; the first expansion was King Ironheart‘s Madness.  A third expansion was planned but never released.  It’s another one that’s hard to get a good read on values, but unopened booster boxes can be found for not that much.

There may be something I’m forgetting, but to the best of my knowledge I don’t think it even got a wide release T-shirt.

Spine art: One point of note is that most of the books had a piece of a larger image on the spine. (Exceptions include the 2nd Edition rulebook, the Kithbooks, and The Autumn People.) This was an interesting idea which didn’t work terribly well in execution, through a combination of misaligned printing, a duplicate image, the fact that putting them in image order wasn’t the most practical way to use them, and of course the fact that it only got maybe 1/8 of the way done.  Thanks to this link, we can see what it was supposed to look like (the page also has a recommended shelving order):

spineart

That’s the last of the original core books.  Coming up next: the 6th core game, the one that replaced Wraith, Hunter: The Reckoning!  Until next time, the Woggle-Bug says “I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.”

Any club that would have me as a member, part 4: Going solo

In previous installments, I covered the composition of various sizes of superhero teams, and the difference between characters who join a team and characters who are created full-formed as part of a team.  This time around I want to ask: Can characters created as part of a team do well on their own for more than the length of a miniseries?

The premise is simple: Characters created as part of a team are created with team dynamics in mind, which means that their personalities and concepts may be more one-sided than those of a standalone character.  Obviously a character can be rounded out as needed, as usually happens when a supporting character gets their own title.  How often does this actually work, though?  How many of these characters last more than a year on their own?

I’m going to be focusing on Marvel here, because there aren’t many DC characters created for a team that got their own ongoing series. (The first one that comes to mind is Katana, and she changed a lot over the 30 years between her creation and her series.)  Specifically, their first two constructed-from-scratch superhero teams: the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

Two of the FF have never had their own ongoing solo series.  Reed had Before the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, which was three issues, while Sue had to share her Before the FF series with her brother.  Franklin Richards has had more solo comics than both his parents put together.  To a certain extent this isn’t surprising, since in the field they’re support rather than frontline fighters.

The Human Torch had a 12-issue series in 2003, and before that he had his own feature in Strange Tales from issues 101 to 134.  It didn’t remain a solo feature for its entire run: the Thing became the co-star in issue 123, and he and the rest of the FF showed up from time to time before that.  Since the original premise of the feature was kind of strange (Johnny goes to high school and tries to have a secret identity, despite having a public identity in the main title) and he presumably wasn’t doing well on his own if a co-star was needed, it can only be considered a qualified success at best.

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The Thing has never had a solo series that lasted more than three years. “But wait!” I hear you cry. “Marvel Two-in-One lasted almost ten years, with 100 regular issues and seven Annuals!  It began in January 1974 and ran until June 1983!” you finish, because you are looking at Wikipedia at this point.

Yes, but MTIO is a team-up title, not a solo title.  And this shows us one way things can work when a team character splits off on their own: give them other characters to bounce off of.  Ben didn’t stay on his own forever in his longer-running titles; in MTIO he worked for Project: Pegaus for a while, and in his 1983 series he hung out with the West Coast Avengers and the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation.  His 2006 series, which lasted for eight issues, included a large number of guest stars in the poker game issue.

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This makes sense: Ben’s personality works best when interacting with others, allowing him to make grouchy wisecracks.  He’s used to working with others, and most of the time he’s had his own series he’s been in the FF as well. (The exception is the 1983 series, where he hung out on Battleworld for a while after Secret Wars and then bummed around on his own once he got back, with the She-Hulk filling in on the FF.)

In summary: The member of the FF who’s been most successful on his own works best when he’s with others, not solo.

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What about the X-Men?  They’re more popular than the FF (generally) and have a cast of thousands to draw from.  Surely they have a character who’s done well on their own?

Well, with one exception (who we’ll get to, but you’ve probably already guessed), no, not really.  They’ve had a lot of mini-series, but few ongoing series, and generally they do better on their own the less tightly interwoven with the team they are.

Of the original X-Men, only one has had an ongoing solo title (Cyclops) and it hasn’t been released yet.  The Beast had a feature in Amazing Adventures, but it only lasted 6 issues plus an origin reprint.  The others have only had limited series.  Havok starred in Mutant X, but that was a team book; ditto Mimic and Exiles.

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Moving on to the all-new, all-different-except-Xavier-and-Cyclops team, they’ve done a bit better, but not by that much (exception aside).  Banshee has only had a one-shot that he had to share with Sunfire.  Colossus had one miniseries and a few one-shots.  Nightcrawler is getting a new ongoing, but his previous one only lasted 12 issues, and other than that it’s been miniseries and one-shots.  Storm’s only had miniseries, although she was a major supporting character in Black Panther’s series for a while.

Kitty Pryde? Miniseries.  Rogue? A couple of miniseries and an ongoing that only made it to 12 issues.  Gambit? Three ongoings that made it to 25, 12, and 17 issues.  Jubilee?  One ongoing, six issues.  Emma Frost? 18 issues. The trend is pretty clear: Most X-Men who were created specifically for the team have a hard time making it past 12 issues on their own, and these are undeniably popular characters.  The one who did best is a loner, and the one who did second best started out as a villain.

Which brings us to Wolverine, the major exception.  I count 48 titles on GCD that have his name in the title, ran for more than one issue, aren’t reprints as far as I know, and aren’t about Ultimate Wolverine or Dark Wolverine. (Some of them are teamup titles, admittedly.)  He’s had two spinoff movies on his own.  No one can deny that his solo career has been a major success.

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We might ask whether his success proves shows that team-created characters can do well on their own, but the first question is: Does he count as a character that was created for a team, since he first appeared as an antagonist in Incredible Hulk?  To a certain extent, yes, since Len Wein knew that there was a new, international X-Men team coming out and had him in mind for the title.  However, he first had to stand alone, even though the only attributes he displayed in his first appearance were “scrappy little Canadian with claws”. (He was also intended to be a teenager whose claws were part of his gloves; but then, Storm and Nightcrawler’s visuals were originally designed for the Legion of Super-Heroes, so plans do change along the way.)

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I think the key to Logan’s standalone success is the same thing that made him popular in the X-Men to begin with: he plays by his own rules and can kick ass when on his own.  When Dave Cockrum was drawing the book, his favorite character was Nightcrawler, and Wolverine was the cross-grained twerp who kept arguing with Cyclops.  As a result, there were a lot of “kill that annoying Wolverine” letters at the time (which goes to show why creators shouldn’t always listen to fans).  John Byrne like Wolverine better and pushed for him to have a bigger role, which led to his breakthrough moment: him standing in the sewers under the Hellfire Club, having just killed a couple of guards and out for blood.

Wolverine is theoretically a loner, but that’s partially an informed attribute; looking at his history shows him to be a joiner, albeit one who’s still happy to go off and do his own thing. (As an aside, this is how roleplayers who want to play loner characters should handle it: work with others with a show of reluctance, rather than insisting on splitting from the group and never interacting.) It’s this flexibility that has made him a solo success.  He doesn’t require another character to bounce off of, but he works well with a partner. (Interestingly, he’s often paired with teenage girls, in an opposites-attract kind of way.  His interactions with Molly Hayes of Runaways are pure comedy gold.)

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He shares a number of these attributes with Gambit, who takes them in a somewhat different direction.  Although Gambit, as a thief, can work well on his own, he’s also a social animal in ways Logan just isn’t.

Overall, it appears that the team-created characters who work best solo are those that have solo potential built into them from the beginning, unsurprisingly.  Some characters have personalities that are too narrow to work solo (we’re not likely to see a Metal Men solo spin-off any time soon), and some are defined enough by their ties to others that it’s hard to see them breaking those ties to set off on their own (Sue Richards is a good example).  It also helps if the character has a solo concept that’s separate from their powers and their role on the team–Gambit as cat burglar, Wolverine as wandering ronin, etc.  Some characters still need someone to work with rather than being completely solo, even if it’s someone with whom they don’t normally interact.

And that, folks, is how you decide which die to assign to Solo, Buddy and Team in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

Until next time, the Woggle-Bug says “No, but I got a dark brown overcoat!”

(Cover images courtesy of the Grand Comics Database.)

Gone to soldiers, every one

[Note: This article includes a discussion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It doesn’t have any spoilers that couldn’t be worked out from the trailers or a basic knowledge of the Marvel Universe, but to be on the safe side, I’m putting this disclaimer here to fill up the Facebook preview space.]

One interesting trend I’ve noticed in the Marvel cinematic universe is the characters whose backgrounds have moved toward a military/espionage origin.  In the case of Rhodey from the Iron Man movies, he’s gone from a retired Marine pilot in Vietnam who became Tony Stark’s personal pilot to an active Air Force Lt. Colonel who acts as the military liaison to Stark Industries.  It’s a shift of emphasis in the character, but also one that has a purpose in the plot.  Captain America has also stayed close to the US government in the form of SHIELD rather than being a free agent.

In the case of Hawkeye and Falcon, they’ve gone from carny-turned-minor-criminal and street-hustler-turned-social-worker to SHIELD agent and Pararescuer-turned-VA employee, respectively.  One reason for this is that the cinematic universe is closer to Ultimate Marvel than regular Marvel-616, and SHIELD was a big part of Ultimate Marvel from the get-go.  In the case of Hawkeye, that character arc would have required more setup to be plausible in the movies than time allowed, so making him a SHIELD agent was a major shortcut.

Apart from the meta-reasons for this shift in backgrounds, I can see other storytelling benefits:

  • A military background automatically justifies the character having a wide range of skills that make them a good superhero/action hero.  There’s no need to set up a radioactive spider bite turning someone into a master of krav maga; any skill they exhibit in combat, tactics, etc. is already implicitly explained.
  • Likewise, a military background allows a character who isn’t a billionaire to have access to expensive advanced technology–not just the War Machine/Iron Patriot armors and Falcon’s flight pack, but also Captain America’s shields (the movie version apparently not being an indestructible one-off).  Of the movie Avengers, only one has mutation-induced superhuman powers, one is at the extremes of human potential due to scientific treatment, and one is an extradimensional being with sufficiently advanced technology.  The others have varying degrees of training and technology. (This is in contrast to the non-MCU Marvel franchises, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men, which fall heavily on the side of innate powers, and interestingly also on the side of characters operating in secret outside the law.)
  • Perhaps most significantly, making the characters agents of an official organization gives their actions an aura of implied legitimacy, as long as they’re behaving as the heroes.  (Villainous or traitorous members of these same organizations lose this aura once their villainy is revealed.) Casting policemen or soldiers as action heroes isn’t of itself new, of course.  It’s also interesting to consider how this aura applies even when the character is acting explicitly against authority to do what’s portrayed as the right thing, as in the case of Dirty Harry and his ilk, regardless of how this would be perceived in the real world, and for that matter how the organization itself might be perceived in the real world.  That’s another article, however.