Welcome back, everyone! Fantastic news: I finally had the opportunity to play Xenoblade Chronicles 3 over the weekend! It’s really great to have some free time. The game is still introducing some amazing characters (although I’m a bit confused by how it handles 30-year-olds). However, I’m a bit disappointed that the story seems to be taking a similar twist to DARLING in the FRANXX; I hope it improves as it progresses. On another note, I’m quite interested in an ongoing anime this season! 16bit Sensation: Another Layer is heavily focused on classic visual novels, both the adult and safe versions. Some of the creators behind it used to work at AQUAPLUS, so their expertise is evident (especially if the presence of visual novels like Koihime Musou didn’t give it away). I’m definitely going to watch this anime, not just to see if they reference any of Root’s visual novels like Moonlight Lady or Touka Gettan. Additionally, there’s Shangri-La Frontier, which I covered in the Fall Manga Preview Guide last year. I love the concept of a protagonist’s passion for “shitty games,” and I remember enjoying the manga. According to my friends, it looks promising and has a decent beginning. However, I tend to lose interest in isekai-themed stories once they focus too much on the protagonist’s stat alignment. There are so many stories that could explore someone’s love for “shitty games” (which is why people adore Uncle Derek from Stop Skeletons From Fighting). I just wish we didn’t have to endure a character min-maxing their way to fame and fortune to get to the good stuff.
Before we dive in, I have something exciting to share! As I hinted on Twitter earlier this week, I received something special in the mail! I’m sure some of you already know what it is if you’ve been following recent news about Japanese games, employment, and ninjas. It’s the Izuna Official Art Works! There’s a dinosaur covering one corner because there was a rather risqué illustration of Shino touching Izuna that used to be a downloadable wallpaper on Atlus’s old promotional website. However, it was eventually taken down as it was considered too explicit. Anyway, the recent Izuna news got me in one of those moods where I search the internet for merchandise related to things I like but can’t find. Sometimes, I look for out-of-print manga that were released between 2012 and 2015 when I had no money to afford them. I’ve come to accept that I may never find some of those titles. However, Yoshida-On, the artist who worked on the Izuna games, did release a doujin featuring several sketches of Izuna and Shino called “Romantic Fool.” Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find, and the only evidence of its existence is from old scans on certain websites. To my surprise, while searching for Izuna items on eBay, I discovered that there was actually an Izuna artbook published in Japan in 2009! I missed out on one particular copy that was bought before I could get it with my next paycheck. Subsequent copies on eBay skyrocketed to triple-digit prices. However, I found a website selling a copy for less than $100, and now I have it. I’m absolutely thrilled! The Izuna games garnered enough popularity in Japan for Success to throw a launch party for the second game, complete with cosplay competitions in Akihabara (although the photos from that have been lost to time). This artbook compiles everything- sprite work, early draft designs for Izuna (she almost had an “ahoge” hairstyle!), and even photos of old pre-order bonuses. It’s a detailed book, breaking down all the individual components of Izuna’s outfit (which is essential for cosplayers). They also featured the pre-order bonuses for the game, including small copies of the in-game talismans with Izuna and her step-sister Shino’s faces on them. The dust jacket even includes fake talismans that you can cut out, but I wouldn’t dare damage the book by using scissors on it. The game also included mini-posters that were later used as pre-order bonuses for the US release of Izuna 2. I wasn’t a fan of how they handled it at the time, as Amazon and Gamestop each had a different exclusive rice-paper poster inside the case. Even back in 2009, they knew how to capitalize on our fear of missing out. It seems like a majority of the art focuses on the second Izuna game (given that Ino’s profile picture is from the sequel), but that’s likely due to availability. There are a few sketches from the old promotional website that aren’t included in the artbook. Apart from the production art, there are some interesting additional sketches featuring Izuna in the modern day, often accompanied by Yoshida-On’s cat-plush mascot. The book also provides detailed dungeon guides for the first game, as well as breakdowns of the sprite work and profile art used for Izuna and Shino’s cameo appearances in Success’s Rondo of Swords and Windy X Windam for the DS. I appreciate that Japanese art books often include basic game guides. An old Lunar Legend Tsukihime artbook I imported years ago also included a guide on how to achieve all the best endings for each of the routes. Interestingly, it seems that there were three Izuna cards for a Japanese arcade card game. I envy any Japanese nerd who has those cards lying around. Along with the art, there’s a section dedicated to interviews with key staff from the Izuna games. From what I know, Yoshida-On wasn’t included in these interviews, as he tends to be a bit reclusive. There’s also a section where Izuna and Shino “converse,” which I assume is a transcript from an audio drama. Unfortunately, I can’t read Japanese, so most of this content is lost on me, particularly the longer “light novel” section, which appears to involve Izuna meeting another pair of sisters at a hot spring and reminiscing about her missing mother. If my assumption is correct, it would’ve been nice to see the games touch on that aspect. Overall, I’m ecstatic to have this artbook in my collection. Just like the news of Izuna getting a third game after all these years, I’m amazed that such an obscure game has leftover merchandise that I can actually find. Maybe I’ll come across a copy of the Romantic Fools doujin, or maybe not. We already know that Yoshida-On won’t be returning for the art, but I’ve come to terms with that (and I wish him the best in his support of Inugami Korone). I’m just delighted to have found something special related to one of my favorite obscure games that I can proudly display on my shelf and flip through whenever I please. For series like Final Fantasy or Persona, you can always find artbooks. But for more niche titles like Shiren the Wanderer or Super Robot Wars—and even Izuna—you have to dig deep and hope for the best. I can already envision a devoted Battle Fantasia fan shaking their fist at me, lamenting the fact that they can’t even find Coyori fanart! But don’t lose hope, because someone out there is likely keeping the flame alive for that obscure passion.
In other news, Nintendo recently announced a crossover between LEGO and Animal Crossing. Lately, I’ve been reminiscing about LEGO’s older sets and missing their simplicity. While LEGO now focuses on branded sets for franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter, I long for their earlier, more straightforward lines…