Friday, August 30, 2013

Video Game Women You Wouldn’t Fuck With

There’s a funny phenomenon I’ve mentioned before on this blog: finding some elusive online thing by simply blogging about how you can’t locate it yourself and then letting the answer come to you. This was the case with a previous post here, in which I said it seemed strange that no comprehensive, chronologically organized list of video games that have female heroes seemed to exist. The very first comment turned up that very list, along with suggestions for games that like The Krion Conquest featured female characters on the box art, looking tough and imposing in a way that we didn’t see back in the day and still don’t often enough see today.

Here’s what we got. Oh holy lord, how the represent a time that came and went. Like Athena here.

Athena NES box art

The title character looks full-on godly, which is appropriate, given the game. What you see here is a very American take on the same SNK character that eventually became the King of Fighters regular Athena Asamiya, who is more based on the Psycho Solider version of the character than the goddess-y one seen here. But the Psycho Soldier version gets a shout-out as well for looking rather badass.

SNK Psycho Soldier box art

She looks very Deanna Troi, but with Chun-Li’s thighs, which is a far cry better than how she looked in the Bob Wakelin art for the original title.

Athena box art Bob Wakelin

Yeah, the character skews a lot more cheesecake-y over in Japan, though to me the official art for her there reads as more cute than sexy. I’m not sure which is worse. Of note, aside from Athena’s bared skin? The minotaur’s phallic midriff, which Wakelin himself admits is a little weird.

The original Phantasy Star doesn’t disappoint.

Phantasy Star Japanese box art Sega Mega Drive

The heroine, Alisa, is clearly looking to cause some serious trouble. Please note how her breastplate doesn’t just serve as a boob-enhancing armor Wonderbra, especially in comparison to the Dolph Lundgren-looking lummox on her left. His breasts? Nuts. Maybe they swapped armor. Bonus points for the She-Ra-worthy kitty car familiar. I’m less psyched on the back-of-the-box art...

Phantasy Star Japanese box art Sega Mega Drive

But I suppose even non-stereotyped female video game characters need sleep. In fancy bedrooms. Overlooking surreal landscapes.

Alisa looks even tougher in the American box art. Certainly more action-ready.

Phantasy Star box art Sega Mega Drive

And her hunky friend with the armor boobs looks even more like something from the Folsom Street Fair. So there’s that.

Sega in 1985 released Ninja Princess, whose heroine was changed to a male for the Master System re-release. The original Japanese box art, however, is all about her.

Sega Ninja Princess box art

Sure, ninja-hime is a poorly aimed high-kick away from exposing her birth canal, but importantly she’s not doing that quite yet, at least from the angle provided. And while she looks tough, I like that Sega didn’t shy away from the fact that the main character was female, at least in this version. For context’s sake, 1985 was also the year in which Super Mario Bros. was released, and I’d imagine that most people who remember video games back then wouldn’t think of many home console games that starred female characters but weren’t overtly girly in their presentation of them. Here, the main character’s gender seems incidental to everything else about the game.

Similarly, there is Namco’s valkyrie heroine — from a Japan-only NES title, Adventure of the Valkyrie — also sports a hint of leg and a whole lot of plausible armor. I support.

Adventure of the Valkyrie Nintendo box art Namco

The sequel shows more of the valkyrie but preserves the dignity. I wonder if she’s the Scandanavian Kid Icarus?


Spacehunter never made it to the states, but I wish it had — in spite of heroine Al Tiana’s pink leotard and because of her weirdly expressionless face. At least she’s not grinning for no reason. After all, there’s much spacehunting to be done.

Psychic World Sega Mega Drive box art

Not to be confused with Athena from Psycho Soldier, there’s also the Sega title Psychic World, which stars the psychic-enabled Lucia, who looks like all manner of space badass in the art for the Master System release.

The Game Gear release for the title puts Lucia in a more anime style, and that apparently necessitates the birth canal possibility, but she still looks like the superhero the game wants her to be.

Arrow Flash box art Sega

Check out Anna Schwinn on the box art for the Mega Drive title Arrow Flash, looking every bit the Samus Aran-type that Sega would have wanted her to be. What’s especially interesting is how the North American box art compares with the Japanese counterpart...

Arrow Flash Japanese box art Sega

The big difference here being that the American box art was telling you, “Hey, check out this video game about some space chick and her GIANT FUCKING ROBOT,” while the Japanese box art is just saying, “Ooh, look! A space girl!” In the latter, there’s really not anything more you can take away aside from the fact that the lead character is female, and while the colors and pose are identical for the two depictions of Anna, she looks a hell of a lot tougher in the American version.

And finally, Ghost Lion...

Nintendo NES Ghost Lion box art

I know I titled this post “Video Game Women You Wouldn’t Fuck With,” and I stand behind that even though in this instance I’d guess you wouldn’t want to fuck with this character because she looks annoying as hell. Just looking at our heroine here, I’d guess this hit shelves around 1985. Nope. Ghost Lion didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1992, and that makes everything about this all the more baffling. It’s the video game equivalent of a Robin Sparkles video. Yeah, maybe the heroine, Maria, looks like a mallrat version of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, if she were to be played by Tina Yothers instead of Tanya Roberts and also had been Photoshopped into the promotional materials because she refused to be photographed for weird personal reasons. (It does look like her face was pasted in, right?) But all that awfulness aside, you have to hand it to Kemco for not dressing Maria in pink, not showing off her body, and not giving her a tiara. And even if they had, I still feel like anyone’s take-away looking at the box art now would be “Wow, that is not a current look. Is the game about getting her to a theme party?”

The biggest difference between the American and Japanese versions, I suppose, would be that the Japanese version of Maria looks a lot pinker, though not offensively so. Also, the lion looks a lot cooler here.

Nintendo Japanese Ghost Lion box art

This? Appealingly dated. The Lisa Frank nightmare above it? A great example of how being very of-the-moment, aesthetically speaking, can make you horrendously, laughably dated shortly thereafter.

It wasn’t all sensible shoes and armor that actually works, however. In looking through these old titles, I saw a lot of butts, boobs and bows. I think maybe next time I’ll round them up. Also, I’m sure I missed some great examples of women in early video game box art. Did I? Tell me. I can include them in future posts.

Gender and video games, previously:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ten Takes on Maui

I won't elaborate on what I did, because I didn't do much aside from drink and swim. Really, Maui itself did all the work, what with the light and the foliage and the majestic, saturated hypercolor. It will be the least painful of vacation slideshows, I swear.

Yes, all photos link to Instagram. Do follow, if you're so inclined, but be forewarned that the photos won't look this good again for some time.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Krion Complex

No, this is a not one of those “raised, bumpy print” novels you’d find in the genre corner at the bookstore. It’s a video game, and I’m not bringing it up for the reasons the gaming nerds who read this blog might guess.

Krion Conquest box art

Back in the early days of home console video games, the name Vic Tokai didn’t exactly rank alongside the Segas and Nintendos. It wasn’t even among the Data Easts. But until it wasn’t anymore, this company was in the mix, releasing games that at the very least had memorable names — among them, From the Legend of Balubalouk, Block Gal, The Gene Machine, Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs, King Salmon: The Big Catch, Daedalian Opus, and the game that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gave a second life, Clash at Demonhead. And for the purposes of this post, it’s also notable that Vic Tokai developed a game called The Krion Conquest.

If you know much about the also-rans of the NES era, you may know that Krion has a reputation for being a shameless Mega Man rip-off. See for yourself:

From the background music to the robo-enemies to the fact that the witchy main character’s sprite color changes according to what special weapon she’s using, the game seems like a hacked Mega Man title. Steal from the best, I guess. I can say one good thing about The Krion Conquest, though: In translating the game for a Western audience, Vic Tokai chose to keep the lead character female. This is not always how games make their way out of Japan, importantly: A Sega Mega Drive title released that same year by Vic Tokai transformed from Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure, which starred a fellow wearing a turban, to DecapAttack, which stars a mummy named Chuck D. Head who, naturally, kills enemies by chucking his head at them because that’s more American. In the end, Americans got a wholly reformated game with new levels and completely altered graphics. It’s a different case with Krion, which ditched the original Japanese version’s intra-level cut scenes but at the very least kept the witch — Francesca in the American version, Doropie in the original — as the hero. In fact, not only did the game retain Francesca, but it embraced her femininity in a big way.

Check out the full version of the box art for the American release:

Krion Conquest box art

She’s pretty boss — thoroughly feminine with a touch of Glinda the Good Witch, yes, but not pink, not covered in bows and ribbons and not showing so much skin that she’s imperiling her personal safety. (Though identical onscreen, she’s far less cutesy here than she looked in the Japanese release. She also looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones. That is neither here not there.) I’m struggling to think of another female lead character in an NES-era video game who got the main spot on the box art and isn’t princessed out, be-bowed (like Ms. Pac-Man, whose gender basically hinges on that one accessory onscreen), violating the basic rules of armor (Arkista’s Ring, I’m looking at you) or just wholly disguised (looking at the Metroid box art, not even the most perceptive of us would have guessed Samus was a spacewoman and not a spaceman).

I’m now spinning my wheels in an effort to think of other female characters of that early home console era that got this treatment, and I can only come up with one that even comes close: Giana from The Great Giana Sisters, who shows up on the box art for the Commodore 64 release.

Great Giana Sisters Commodore 64 box art

She has a mighty, Supergirl-ish vibe, sure, but now that I look at in large format, I see she’s got some damn mighty nipples, too — visible straight on and in profile! Which is maybe less so with the progressive. It’s worth mentioning that Great Giana Sisters is only famous for being a shameless rip-off of Super Mario Bros., though it has endured where Krion has vanished. I suppose both games attempted to re-create the success of more popular series by stealing the play mechanics and then slapping some female characters into the protagonist roles in order to emphasize how different they were, so it’s maybe not surprising that the marketing emphasized the heroines. Still, I’d feel better if I could think of a single example from a wholly original series. I can’t. Today, we don’t remember The Krion Conquest for being much other than a mediocre Mega Man wannabe. That’s too bad. For one, it actually innovated the Mega Man play mechanics by, for example, enabling Francesca to charge up her projectile to unleash a more powerful attack. Mega Man 4, released nearly a year after Krion, incorporated the idea, so clearly Krion wasn’t entirely without merits. I’m more concerned with the gender politics here, of course, and I like that Vic Tokai elected to create a female main character and then run with it — and “do her right,” so to speak.

The Wikipedia page for Krion claims that even in the planning stages at Vic Tokai’s Japanese office, the decision caused controversy. I can see why. But to me — back then, a kid whose Super Mario Bros. 2 default was the princess and whose Gauntlet default was the valkyrie — this box art grabbed my attention enough that I stopped and said “This is the one.” That was the point, I think, and at the moment, that seemed like enough.

Francesca sprite from Krion Conquest / Magical Kids Doropie

(A concluding side note: Surprisingly, there’s no Wikipedia list of video games with female protagonists. And a Google search only turns up sloppy attempts that aren’t organized chronologically ordered. Of all that I found, Giant Bomb’s list is the best, but it’s far from complete. You’d think that would be a thing by now, right?)

 Gender and video games, previously:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Additional Things Reality Contestants Aren’t Here to Make

Okay, so you’re not here to make friends. We got it.

Somehow, this is a statement people on reality shows keep making. For the record, there are more interesting things you could not be here to make, and I’d rather you declare any of the following in the confessional:
  • “I’m not here to make grits.”
  • “I’m not here to make babies.”
  • “I’m not here to make minimum wage.”
  • “I’m not here to make obscene gestures at deaf people.”
  • “I’m not here to make irregular BMs.”
  • “I’m not here to make love in a utility close LIKE I’M IN HIGH SCHOOL AGAIN.”
  • “I’m not here to make funny faces in the mirror for seven hours straight.”
  • “I’m not here to make social strides for Filipinas because I'm not even Filipina anymore since my reassignment surgery.”
  • “I’m not here to make a name for myself in the competitive ballroom dancing circuit.”
  • “I’m not here to make death threats to Rosie Perez.”
  • “I’m not here to my bed.”
  • “I’m not here to make any furniture, really.”
  • “I’m not here to make you feel uncomfortable, because that's just a byproduct of me being here, not the purpose of my being here.”
  • “I’m not here to make muffled squeaky noises as I suffocate beneath several heavy blankets.”
  • “I’m not here to make those creepy dolls that have dried apples for heads, because what crazy place do I come from that a shriveled apple makes the best stand-in for a head?”
  • “I’m not here to my amends.”

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Solution to the Back Acne Dilemma

Heads up: This post will not offer you a miracle cure for your back acne. That’s between you and your dermatologist. Instead, this post is about the word bacne — or backne, depending on your preference.

back acne bacne backne

This week I found myself texting the word backne — and yes, my SMS output is that sexy — when I realized I had no idea how the word should be spelled. My first inclination was how I spelled in the previous sentence, with the “k,” but then it occurred to me that bacne might be better, if vaguely evocative of Greek mythology. I’d heard the word, sure, and while I think it’s the best blended word to describe an unfortunate medical condition since cankle, I don’t read articles about skin care, professional sports or bodybuilding and therefore had never actually seen the word in print. Unable to decide on backne or bacne, I took to Twitter and to Facebook.

What I found out:
  • Apparently the trend at the moment is to use bacne. Thanks Mike “Pizza Back” Piazza!
  • However, a Google search for bacne yields 207,000 hits, while a search for backne gets 817,000.
  • Weirdly, if you search for backne, Google asks if you meant bacne, even though the latter is more popular. Does Google prefer bacne because it is more popular at the moment?
  • Doing Google searches for back acne yields image results that I find unsavory.
  • Even though I don’t hesitate on how to pronounce acne, I do with bacne. Is it a soft “c”? Is it “back-nay”? Is it a type of fancy bacon?
  • I don’t think “The spelling doesn’t make the pronunciation clear” is a good enough complaint in English, a language that has non-intuitively pronounced words like awry and chaos.
  • It seems less likely that you’d mispronounce backne, and it makes it clearer what you’re referring to right off the bat. That said, it emphasizes the word back in this portmanteau over acne. Does that mean back is more important, semantically speaking?
  • In the end, the Twitter responses almost unanimously recommended backne. Facebook initially said bacne but then the tide turned in favor of backne. Linguistic logic seemed to win out. That may be a first for social media.
  • There’s also back-knee, but that seems like an even stranger medical condition.
And that’s how you decide it’s backne instead of bacne. #TeamBackne.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ladies’ Polio

Sure, most of us instantly forgot about Mad TV the moment it went off the air — you know, in the same way we forgot about it a half-hour into each airing, when we changed the channel to SNL. But we don’t have to pretend that folks like Ike Barinholtz or Mo Collins just magically materialized where they are now without having spent their formative years on late-night Fox. Mad TV was a thing, and maybe they spent a little too long trying to make Ms. Swan happen, but they had a few good sketches.

One of them I just re-encountered for the first time since I originally saw it: “Excuses! Excuses! Excuses! Excuses! 98!” It’s a perfectly odd little sketch that is very Mad TV, yes, but it’s also very funny in a way that I couldn’t imagine being on SNL. It’s responsible for the phrase ladies’ polio entering my vocabulary. I still use it today in casual conversation.

Please enjoy before it gets pulled from YouTube, which it almost certainly will:

Points of interest:
  • Please note that Josh Meyers = Seth Meyers + Patrick Bateman.
  • “Hello? Boss speaking.”
  • “Now we’ll never get to the amusement park. I wish you were dead.”
  • Debra Wilson’s delivery of “Who’s there with you?” reminds me a lot of angry Tracey Jordan.
  • “Welcome to church. Love, Jesus.”
  • The fact that when everyone dances around the table, they each play a different invisible instrument.
  • “A bleedy bleedy blood in your stool!”
In closing, I would just like to point out that Debra Wilson should be doing stuff. She is as funny as Mo Collins. She deserves more. And while we’re begrudgingly naming off the virtues of Mad TV, can we also admit that the show’s best era was ushered in by Wilson, Collins, Nicole Sullivan, Alex Borstein and Stephnie Weir? And that this actually preceded the Dratch-Rudolph-Fey-Poehler-Wiig era on SNL? That’s worth something, I feel.

Related posts (and yeah, they’re all about SNL because I’ve never written about Mad TV before):

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Cursed Kleenex Commercial

I shy away from pronouncements such as “Japanese culture is so weird!” because I’ve come to associate them with a sheltered sort of person who uses the “W”-word as a put-down for anything that’s different than what they’ve come to expect. Examples: “Ew. They eat bugs over there? That’s weird!” or “Their god has an elephant head? That’s weird!” or “They put it where? That’s weird!” But “weird” is nonetheless the word that comes to mind when I read Wikipedia’s list of Japanese urban legends. The layering of the horrific on the absurd on the mundane adds up to something I don’t have another word to describe.

Of all the Japanese urban legends described in the Wikipedia list, the strangest has to be the Kleenex commercial that viewers found disturbing. It is weird, and of this I am certain. But I’m puzzled as to why people would have found it disturbing to the point that they circulated rumors that the actress died, was institutionalized or gave birth to a demon baby. Watching it, I’m unable to explain why Japanese people would have been that disturbed by it, to say nothing of why they would have imagined that the featured song — the original, pared-down version of “It’s a Fine Day,” before it became a club anthem — sounded like a curse, German or otherwise.

Here’s the video (via Pink Tentacle):

A few questions:
  • It is it disturbing simply because it features a child dressed up like a Japanese oni?
  • It is disturbing because the Japanese oni looks a hell of a lot like an Oompa-Loompa?
  • Is it disturbing because it’s in slow motion, and that suggests some weird dreamy version of normal life?
  • Is it disturbing because the content of the commercial — an angelic woman hanging out with a demonic child — stands in such stark contrast to the very ordinary content of the song? Or are the lyrics completely irrelevant, because so many Japanese viewers apparently thought the song was in German and therefore couldn’t have understood the English lyrics?
  • What does the red background add?
  • Why do I have goosebumps right now?
  • Is it disturbing because they are sitting on haybales? I mean, buy some furniture, Keiko.
But really, what do you think? I am eager to hear someone else’s opinion on this might be.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Yet Another Five Words With Surprising Etymologies

The long-awaited sequel to “Five Words With Surprising Etymologies,” “Five More Words With Surprising Etymologies” and “Another Five Words With Surprising Etymologies,” of course.

greyhound: I’d imagine that most people would guess that the grey in greyhound referred to color, even though we’ve all seen greyhounds sporting the full range of dog colors. I did (and I have). However, according to Etymonline, the grey actually comes from the Old English grig, meaning “bitch.” So greyhounds are bitchhounds, etymologically speaking. Of course, this doesn’t seem any more appropriate, since not all greyhounds are bitches, just like not all greyhounds are gray. But there you go.

torpedo: The name for the naval weapon comes from the genus Torpedo, which includes various species of marine rays that can shoot out electricity to defend themselves. In Latin, torpedo literally means “numbness,” because of how getting shocked makes you feel, and is related to the word torpor, which I forget is a word and which always looks misspelled.

pinochle: Etymonline speculates that the word could have come to English via the Swiss German Binokel, which in turn comes from the French binocle, “pince-nez.” Pinochle is derived from an older card game, bezique, which uses two decks, and that’s apparently the connection between the game and eyes — two decks, two sides of a pair of glasses. More important than any of that, however, the name can also be spelled peaknuckle, and I insist that’s how we spell it from now on.

soccer: It’s an abbreviation of assoc., which itself was an abbreviation for association, as in football association. The Etymonline author actually gets a little sassy and points out that “they could hardly could have taken the first three letters of assoc.

squeegee: I would have guessed that it came from a brand name that just became the generic term for that particular item, like xerox or google, but squeegee actually goes back to 1844, when it meant pretty much what it means now. Etymonline guesses that it could have come from the word squeege, “to press.”