Heroes, Jojo, Studio TRIGGER, and Lab Zero – Anime Expo 2018
I’m sitting at the Studio TRIGGER live drawing, it’s about to start and legendary artist Sushio walks to the panel table. Along with the crowd I begin to chant, “Sushio! Sushio! Sushio!” He’s taking it in with a smile on his face, an in-joke shared by him and the fans. Before he sits down he scans the crowd and then lifts his shirt to flash the audience. This has the room erupting in laughter and officially opens the TRIGGER live drawing panel. For the next hour and a half we watch two talented artists sketch and listen to questions being delivered to the studio, some insightful, some not. Nevertheless there’s always a humorous response. This is what a panel at Anime Expo (AX) is like. The air is a laid-back experience, much less corporate than E3 or Comic-con. Everyone is having a good time, discussing animation, new shows, and, of course, who has the best wiafus. The expo is also a great testing bed for many devs to show the public new games in the anime space. So let me walk you through some of the stuff I got to see and demo this year.
My Hero, One’s Justice.
It’s no secret the My Hero Academia is the biggest anime there is at the moment. Between a fun cast, great arcs, intense fights, and amazing animation there’s a lot to love about this show. Season 3 has been non-stop amazing (the animation of All Might powering up in the opening always gives me goosebumps) and I can’t wait to see more. This year at AX My Hero had a huge presence. On Day 1 they premiered the movie My Hero, Two Heroes, which I sadly could not get in to due to the room reaching capacity before the expo proper opened. But on the bright side I got to demo the brand new game My Hero, One’s Justice on the exhibit hall floor. It was great and I can’t wait to play it on release in October. The demo was a two player versus match, so of course my opponent was my girlfriend. The game is a one-on-one fighter that is a best of three rounds. Both players control one character and have two characters assisting them with Quirk abilities. My team consisted of Midoriya, Uraraka, and Todoroki, with Midoriya being my main fighter. My girlfriend chose All Might, Todoroki, and Bakugo. Gameplay is quick as both players run around the arena and beat the ever-loving shit out of each other. Moves are over the top and flashy, just like the show. You have one standard attack, the other two attack buttons are saved for your Quirk attacks. Since both All Might and Midoriya use One for All their Quirk abilities are heavy punches and kicks. Where the fighting is made more interesting is counterattacking and using your supports for help. Counters can be done at any time but are best used when your opponent is winding up a heavy attack. When the counter is initiated your character glows a yellow gold color and takes reduced damage while they dish out a punishing hit. But if it doesn’t connect it will leave you exposed. Supports can be called in after a cool down period and they can help build higher combos or provide a defensive edge. For example with my support pair I could freeze my opponent with Todoroki then use Uraraka to float them up allowing Midoriya to launch then into the sky. Whereas my girlfriends setup was all about power. Todoroki still froze but Bakugo uses his explosive blast to do tons of damage, launching anyone unlucky enough to be hit into All Might’s waiting fists. Lastly there’s your super attacks, which have two levels. Level one has two versions and each are based on something from the show. Midorya’s are his flick blast from the UA Sports Festival and a rush charge that he used often in the first and second season. The level two version is called a Plus Ultra Attack. While neither of us got to use it, one can guess the Plus Ultra attack has a small cinematic and the character’s Ultimate Move. In our match my girlfriend kicked my ass, All Might hits hard and her damage supports helped her edge out. But I took defeat gracefully, though I did vow revenge come October. The only aspect we didn’t get to see were the full roster and the customization elements, the latter I’m still skeptical on. My Hero, One’s Justice releases October 26th 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Lab Zero and Indivisible
The Lab Zero panel was great fun as they discussed the progress of the long awaited Indivisible. While game did experience a small delay the team is confident in the early 2019 release. The team, known for their previous game, Skullgirls, has expressed that this is their most ambitious project yet. From art to level design, from combat to quests, this is new territory for Lab Zero but they are excited to deliver one hell of a product. They showed a small teaser of the opening animation, produced by TITMOUSE and animated by TRIGGER, specifically the legendary Yoh Yoshinari. It looks beautiful, with fluid animation and detailed backgrounds. This wasn’t new though, this slice was revealed last year. The new announcement is that the composer has finally been revealed, this tease had new music laid over it. The composer is the legendary Hikori Kikuta, who’s work includes Secret of Mana, Soul Calibur, and more. Kikuta-san spoke very highly of the team and the game, saying this was one of his most challenging projects, seemingly relishing the opportunity to compose in different styles. The game was also available for demo on the exhibit floor. While I didn’t try it, the impression I came away with is that the gameplay is fluid, switching from 2D exploration into active battle sequences seamlessly. The character designs are adorable with bright colors, plenty of detail, and lots of personality. Boss battles that were in the demo were intense, often mixing the battle system with the 2D movement. The music is perfect with slower pieces during exploration to excited, intense themes during boss battles. I’m impressed with what this small studio has done, the game looks on par with what can be expected from bigger studios. The future looks bright for Lab Zero and I cannot wait to get my hands on the final product. Indivisible releases Early 2019 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. One other point at the panel is there continued support coming for Skullgirls Mobile, with new character tiers, elemental abilities, and more characters being ported to the mobile game. Skullgirls Mobile is available on iOS and Android. Finally there was a surprise for show goers, Skullgirls will be coming to the Switch! While no date has been announced it is the 2nd Encore of the game, with the DLC.
Kill la Kill: The Game ‘IF’
Following the Lab Zero panel gears shifted as Arc System Works and Studio TRIGGER took the stage to discuss the long-awaited and highly requested Kill la Kill game. For those not familiar Kill la Kill is an anime that stars a young girl named Ryuko Matoi searching for the individual who killed her dad. Along the way she must face a super-powered school counsel with the help of her own supersuit, Senketsu, a living sailor uniform that gives her powers. The show is a playful parody of shonen tropes, especially the less means more trope. Senketsu is a pretty skimpy uniform but when he transforms for Ryuko to power up he gets even tighter on her body, while embarrassing it does make Ryuko much stronger. Kill la Kill: The Game won’t star her as the protagonist though. The game has the subtitle IF, which in kanji translates roughly to Alternate Thread, according to TRIGGER. So this alternate story stars rival and antagonist Satsuki Kiryuin and her Elite Four. TRIGGER and Arc are promising that this story line will act as sort of a gap filler, exploring what exactly Satsuki was up to early in the show and how she influenced later events. With all this announced TRIGGER and Arc thought it would be a good time to show us a tease of the project. The room darkened and the screens along the front wall lit up. Familiar music began to play with small cuts to clips from the show, which transitioned into a small slice of what can only be considered alpha gameplay. The most immediate point that stood out to me was the visual style. While it is 3D and cell-shaded the game looks remarkably like the show. Both Ryuko and Satsuki look like they were ripped from the show, even in this alpha slice. Later Arc discussed how they went to Sushio about every aspect of the design, trying to stay as faithful to the show’s art as possible. The next big point is that the game ISN’T a 2D fighter with a deep learning curve, rather, it is a 3D brawler. Arc System Works explained that they chose a 3D brawler because accessibility was the first bullet point on their design list. They admitted that their fighting games can be prohibitive to casual players due to the combo memorization and the time commitment required to learn the game. They feel the brawler design will lead to less intricate systems while maintaining fluid action and fun gameplay. From what we’ve seen of early footage I’m inclined to agree. While they confirmed that there will be multiple playable characters nothing was said about the multiplayer aspect of the game. They also teased the possibility of several characters being playable, most notably Mako. Mako Mankanshoku is Ryuko’s best friend who is the comedy relief of the show, she’s also the fan favorite of the show for her humorous and often monologues. She does get a Goku Uniform (the uniforms club presidents and the student counsel wear) in the show, which reflects her standing as the President of the Fighting Club, so she would be a great fit for the game. After some small announcements they opened up the Q&A for the audience. This helped reveal some details as well as design suggestions that the team are taking into account. The most notable suggestion is that of a dubbed cast. TRIGGER and Arc had originally intended to keep it subbed but one fan said that the dub actress for Ryuko was interested in providing her voice for the game, this lead the team to take it under consideration. Meanwhile there were several hints about a new story element. In the anime Ryuko gets an Ultimate Form for Senketsu, leading TRIGGER to playfully ask, “What if Satsuki had an Ultimate Jenketsu (her uniform)?” Well during the Q&A Sushio answered that question when he put his phone under a camera watching him sketch. On the screen was a rough design for her Ultimate Jenketsu. While I couldn’t see the details what I could see looked promising. Kill la Kill: The Game ‘IF’ is releasing 2019 for PS4 and PC.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Parte 5, Vento Auero
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest running shonen series, about as old as Fist of the North Star, and the inspiration for many things taken for granted in shonen today. There’s a saying that goes something like, ‘If it didn’t borrow from Fist of the North Star it borrowed from Jojo’. It’s easy to see why it’s so influential though, Jojo has cool powers, a fun and sometimes winding story lines, and great humor. This year at AX there were several announcements that should excite fans of the series. First the manga for Part 4 will be officially translated for the first time in America. So while they are still putting out the Part 3 volumes be on the lookout very soon. The second announcement, Part 4 is officially dubbed and is heading for Toonami on Adult Swim. In addition, the live action film is being subbed and released to America. Araki-san also announced that there will be a Jojo art gallery in Tokyo coming soon, with new and exclusive art. Then came the big moment, the première of Parte 5, Vento Auero. The first episode gives us a taste of protagonist Giorno, a Stand user and possible child of another Jojo character. His ability Gold Experience (translated as Golden Wind, for copyright reason) can manipulate life and even deflect attacks. Jojo (aka Giorno or GioGio) is a petty thief with a good heart, trying to make a living in the crime run streets of Italy. When his business practices catches the eye of a local mob it will send Jojo spiraling into a world of violence and Stand battles. Parte 5 will air in October.
Studio TRIGGER panel
After the Jojo première the official Studio TRIGGER panel started. This panel was wall to wall announcements and reveals. Things started with a tease of the final episode of Darling in the FRANXX, which if you haven’t watched it all I can tell you is that the show is really fucking weird. Then they talked again about Indivisible and Kill la Kill: The Game. After that we were treated to a teaser trailer into their new show that should be coming in a year or two, Promare. Promare will be heavily stylized with comic-book like art. The director of the show is Imaishi, whose other credits include Gurren Lagann and Space Patrol Luluco (just an aside, Luluco is adorable, if you want a humorous feel-good anime I highly recommend it). From the story details I was able to gather through hints Promare takes place in America most likely in the future. In the trailer we see black fires that burn high-rises. These supernatural fires seem to be the primary antagonist and conflict for the show. To support this theory we got our first look at the hero, Galo. In one still we see him wearing fire protection gear that looks strikingly similar to American firefighter equipment. On top of that he uses a mech called a Matoi (no relation to Kill la Kill). The name Matio is a very old term used to describe firefighters in Japan, so it’s safe to assume that Galo is part of some special firefighter force that combats supernatural fires. Everyone on the panel were quick to point out that Galo, while kindhearted and strong in character, is incredibly stupid. But given this is TRIGGER and Imaishi that’s to be expected. While that is all the real details at the moment stay tuned to TRIGGER for more info in the coming months. We were allowed to get a picture of Galo, something that would normally be prohibited but TRIGGER wants to get people excited, so they cleared it. All they ask is if you use the picture in a Tweet please tag it with #Promare. Lastly we got the world première for SSSSGridman. This new series is being headed by the director of Inferno Cop and will leverage the younger talent at TRIGGER. Gridman is a new take on a much older franchise that was live action show in the same vein as Ultraman. The show has beautiful art and the first episode puts forward an air of mystery that I hope continues as the show airs. The show masterfully blends traditional 2D and 3D animation techniques. The story stars an amnesiac and his two friends as they fight Kaiju with the help of an enigmatic being called Gridman. But behind the scenes there’s seems to be a darker force controlling everything. Gridman airs in October.
Assorted games at the show
While there were plenty of games at the expo I didn’t get to play but I saw some of them in action. The biggest game at the show was of course the legendary Kingdom Hearts III. The line for the game was through the roof, packed every time the line even began to let people in. But from what I saw of the action it looked smooth and hectic, so for all the KH fans out there I think you’ll find the wait worth it. My brother went with me to the show and got to try two games that I didn’t mange to play. He agreed to share his experiences for this piece, I hope you enjoy.
Mitchell: Bandai Namco showed off three games other than My Hero, One’s Justice which included Shinobi Striker, Code Vein and Jump Force. I was unable to try Shinobi Striker because I elected to jump in line for Code Vein, these two demos took the longest to play so the lines moved very slowly. Starting with Code Vein, Bandai Namco staff announced that anyone who beat the boss in the allotted 15 minutes would win a free Code Vein water bottle. Over the course of the two-three hours I spent at the Bandai Namco demo area I only saw one person actually receive the water bottle, which is a great confidence booster going into the demo. When I finally got my hands on the game I was surprised how fluid the movements felt as compared to the rolls I was used to in Souls games even when wearing what would be considered heavy armor. For the demo you have access to different weapons as well as armor, the weapons consisted of a halberd, a one-handed sword, a two-handed great sword, and a two-handed “sledge”-hammer. You can run around and practice on enemies in the level and naturally make your way to the boss or rest and travel to the boss directly. I got stomped by the regular enemies because I had Souls/Borne controls stuck in my head so I wouldn’t actually attack and I looked stupid for the first few tries. Once I got some understanding of the controls I teleported to the boss area with my companion and started the battle. The first attempt went surprisingly well once I stopped using the halberd and moved onto the sword, it also helps that your AI partners are actually competent even if they have their own health bars. One thing that surprised me was the fact that your partner and you have the ability to drain health from yourselves and send it to the other to heal or revive them. This was very useful because it meant that I could take some risks to try to beat the boss even if I got knocked because it was not necessarily a game over. The combat reminded me very much of God Eater but the enemies and bosses act like they are from a Souls/Borne game giving players the challenge of doing their best to not take the unforgiving damage and trying to gain more energy for magic attacks by draining enemies. The item/magic systems work well in combat and I found myself frequently using them to give my team the edge. While I did not win the water bottle I did play a game that was very fun and something I would consider playing, coming from the guy who only played Souls/Borne games on other’s consoles/PCs because I hate how bad I am at them. Moving on to Jump Force I was also pleasantly surprised with how much fun the game turned out to be, I had feared that some Shonen Jump characters would be left behind because characters like Goku and Frieza seemed so much more powerful than Monkey D. Luffy and Zoro. But I played as Luffy for a majority of the demo and he absolutely stands toe to toe with the other fighters really well, that also goes for Naruto and Sasuke who were my other two picks while on the other team Zoro, Frieza, and Goku came at me with super moves aplenty. The AI were not difficult to beat which I hope means they were on a low setting for the demo. This demo was the shortest by far because the win condition was to defeat one member of the other team which I did not discover until I actually achieved a win, but what super moves I was able to pop off were brilliantly shown and true to the source material. All in all it was a well crafted experience and I am excited to see how the roster expands as we approach the release date.
So that was Anime Expo 2018. We got to see a lot of amazing things and meet some really cool people in the industry. I can’t wait to go back next year, hopefully some of you dear readers will also head there as well. But until next year, thank you Anime Expo!