Monday 22 February 2016

News roundup: A KobaP interview and some new product information

KobaP speaks to the Asahi Shimbun about the Sengoku Basara series

We may still be waiting for actual news through the gaming press, but in the meantime an interview with Sengoku Basara series producer Kobayashi Hiroyuki was recently published in the digital edition of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Much of the interview covers information we already know since they talk about incidents dating back to the creation of the very first Sengoku Basara. It's nice to look back a little right before the promotion begins for the newest game, right?
  • When KobaP and YamamotoD were first working on the game, they wanted to make a title with distinctive characters - like those in the Street Fighter series.
  • Back at the start, there weren't any staff members working on the game who were especially familiar with the Sengoku period. KobaP joked that they didn't let it worry them and kept going anyway.
  • Still, even though they wanted the game to be quite crazy they set out some basic rules to ensure that they kept to the historical setting. Although one of these rules was that they wouldn't take the series into outer space, there ended up being things like laser beams coming from the sky.
  • (Raindrops' note: As several Japanese readers joked after reading the article, there are also a few opening sequences which push the limits of this choice...)
  • Another rule was that they wouldn't shift the focus of the story overseas; there are often requests for famous foreign characters to appear but they want to keep the game based around Japan. Xavi is an original character with no relationship to Francis Xavier.
  • (Raindrops' note: We all believe you, KobaP).
  • Back when they were making the first Sengoku Basara they thought long and hard about whether to include blood. KobaP has also worked on the Biohazard (Resident Evil) series which incorporates a lot of bloodshed but he wanted Sengoku Basara to use light and sound effects to thrill the player when they made an attack instead. He hoped that it would broaden the series' appeal and mean that even small children and elderly people could enjoy the games.
  • On the topic of why they picked Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura as the leads, KobaP explained that they were both popular historical figures (though Yukimura didn't have the same widespread name recognition a decade ago that he does now). They came up with a setting where these two warriors from a younger generation would be setting their sights on unifying the nation with Oda Nobunaga as the 'final boss'. The veterans such as Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin would then be having their own confrontations too. They thought that the formula might appeal to fans of shounen manga.
  • Some elements, such as Yukimura serving Shingen, aren't accurate since in reality the characters were active at different points in history. The team deliberately overlooked the timing issues and treated it as a 'what if' scenario. They thought they could make it into something like a 'Sengoku Dream Team All Stars'.
  • KobaP joked that he'd like to end the trend of angry mothers blaming them when students get confused and write the wrong answers in exams. He hopes that Sengoku Basara can inspire people to study the real version of history.
  • Yukimura is relatively popular. KobaP thinks there are a number of reasons for this ranging from his hot-blooded 'hero' image, which contrasts with Masamune's cool attittude, to his straightforward, tenacious personality. The older female fans probably think he's rather sweet, too.
  • Talking about the BSR48 character ranking back when Sengoku Basara 3 Utage was released, KobaP reflected on the shock when Yukimura was ranked in third place behind Masamune and Mitsunari even though he's always been popular. Since that time they've avoided running another popularity ranking because they're too frightened. Maeda Keiji dropping out of the top ten (he took 11th place) was just one of many shocks...
  • They're often asked to organise another ranking and always decline; messing with the characters' images by releasing an official ranking isn't viewed as a good thing.
  • On the subject of Yukimura's appeal, the real Sanada Clan had a dramatic history with links to various other warriors. Even setting this aside, the family was split across western and eastern factions which set brother against brother (and father). Then there's the phrase The Greatest Warrior of Japan ('Nippon Ichi no Tsuwamono') which is associated with Yukimura, and the trouble he gave Ieyasu at the Siege of Osaka. As with the Hanshin Tigers (a famously unlucky baseball team from Kansai), perhaps there's something about being the loser that makes people want to cheer for you.
  • The interviewer remarked that Yukimura is handsome in Sengoku Basara while the actual historical figure was said to be grizzled with missing teeth. KobaP simply responded that games are just like movies and television dramas. It's good to see a cool guy in a fierce fighting stance; don't male and female viewers alike enjoy seeing people like Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves clinging on in dangerous situations? Even if someone has an amazing lifestyle, if they don't look good people won't be interested. This doesn't just affect Yukimura. They portray fresh, cool characters to expand the series' appeal.
  • The interviewer remarked on the popularity of anthropomorphism in recent manga and games with countries, trains and battleships all showing up in human form. Sengoku Basara is a little different in that the characters are all actual people, yet each of them has a strong sense of individuality.
  • KobaP thinks that basing the characters on famous warriors gives them extra importance. For example, if they called Date Masamune 'Blue Dragon', gave him six katana and had him speak English, he'd just be a regular game character and might be overlooked. Having him represent Date Masamune pulls people in and makes them wonder about him.
  • While the game is mostly aimed at people in their mid-twenties, it's played by teens through to fans in their forties. Many of the male players enjoy the gameplay, while the female players tend to be drawn in by the characters and stories.
  • The interviewer asked whether the large number of attractive guys meant that there were more female fans than male. KobaP responded that around 70% of the people purchasing the game are male. Although the live events and stage plays are overwhelmingly dominated by women, there are a lot of men playing the games too.
  • Even within Capcom there are people who don't realise this.
  • Decisions such as making the characters handsome and avoiding the use of blood are so that the games can appeal to people of all ages, including women, rather than because the team is directly targeting women. There are also characters who aren't good-looking such as Shimazu Yoshihiro and Xavi.
  • (Raindrops' note: He mentions Xavi an awful lot in this interview given that the poor guy has been gone for years, doesn't he?)
  • When the first Sengoku Basara did well it got the attention of female fans. The 'Rekijo Boom' (the rise of women with a deep interest in history) expanded and there was more coverage, even on television. Although the team was delighted by this reaction, they were also worried about the risk that it would alienate the male fans.
  • They have produced a great deal of merchandise for the series but they've never made things like cosmetics or underwear for women. They avoid going too far with the 'Sengoku Basara = Women' imagery for the sake of the male fans.
  • The interviewer joked that if they did release that kind of merchandise, it would probably sell. While KobaP agreed he thought that it was better to focus on the series' long term prospects instead of making money in the short term.
  • They summarised the recent tourism campaigns they've organised with local governments in regions such as Kouchi and Koufu.
  • KobaP considers July 2016 the official end of the tenth anniversary celebrations.
I hope we'll get more solid news about the new game soon. There's a newsletter due for fan club members in the first week of March which promises to include an interview with directors YamamotoD and Tanaka and information about Sengoku Basara: Sanada Yukimura-den, and there's also the Basara Matsuri event which takes place on the first weekend of the month which is guaranteed to incorporate discussions about what we can expect. After all of this waiting, we should know a lot more very soon.

A new Sengoku Basara art book has been announced

Fans of Yoshihara Motoki's Sengoku Basara 4 manga adaptations will be pleased to know that an art book is on the way this spring. Sengoku Basara Motoki Yoshihara Illustrations will contain cleaned-up versions of those awesome pictures we've been seeing on Twitter over the last few months.

The Game No Dengeki Kanshamatsuri 2016, Dengeki Comic Matsuri 2016 and Dengeki Bunko Haru No Saiten 2016 events on 13th March 2016 will be offering the book ahead of its official release and a bonus is planned for those who purchase there. The rest of us will have to make do with regular mail order shops.

Animate TV previews the cover artwork for the third new drama CD

The third and (for now) final CD in the current series, Drama Yose CD Sengoku Basara -Sen No Rikyuu-, is being released this week in Japan. Accordingly, Animate TV have posted their usual preview article now with the cover artwork.

There's also a preview for the Animate-exclusive acrylic keychain which comes with the CD.

Preorders open for the latest stage play DVD

The listing for the first press special edition of the Butai Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi DVD went up on the official Ace Shop more quickly than usual, almost right after the show finished its run. The set is priced at ¥7,000 plus ¥500 for domestic shipping, and comprises two DVDs including the 160-minute show itself (filmed on the last day of the Tokyo performances) and 120 minutes of bonus footage. The first press bonus is a photo booklet. The audio is Japanese only and there are no translated subtitles. According to the listing, the extras will include footage from the curtain call of the grand finale in Osaka, a digest clip from the candid 'talk show' sessions with the actors and cast interviews.

The DVD sets are expected to ship out in late April 2016 and all specification details are subject to change. There's still no word on a proper wide release for the recent stage plays, sadly; even though several foreign fans made the trip to see the live show the discs are still being treated as a Japan-only release.

A few other pieces of leftover merchandise are also available from the Ace Shop for the benefit of fans who couldn't make it to the theatres in person.

Monday 8 February 2016

News roundup: The next Sengoku Basara stage play is going back to Honnouji

The next entry in the stage play series has been announced

In between closing the current stage play's run and posting cute pictures on Twitter, the Butai Sengoku Basara team found time to announce the newest stage play as Butai Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi drew to a close.

The next entry in the series will be titled Zangeki Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi: Honnouji No Hen ('Swordplay Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi: Incident At Honnouji'). Interestingly, they've changed the 'Butai' ('Stage') in the official title to 'Zangeki' which usually means a slashing attack, except the second character uses a different character meaning 'play'. I'm struggling to find a concise way to write that in English without ending up with something inadvertently invoking another meaning of the English word 'slash', so please forgive my inelegant attempt at a translation which approximates the deliberate double meaning of the original. I'll call it Zangeki Sengoku Basara for short.

It's being reported that the new title indicates that there will be a deeper focus on the combat scenes from now on and the staff are going to try to make even more adventurous fights. Social media reactions have been mostly positive so far. We already know the Sengoku Basara version(s) of the Honnouji story pretty well at this point.

There's a video on the official site (all of the actual footage is from the previous play).

The new play will be performed eighteen times in total across two venues: at the Zepp Blue Theater Roppongi in Tokyo (1st July - 10th July 2016) and at the Umeda Arts Theater's Theater DramaCity hall in Osaka (16th July - 18th July 2016). Cast and ticketing information will be revealed at a later date.

The results of the second official online Basa-ranking survey

The second official Basa-ranking survey was for the game which fans thought had the best gameplay mechanics. The results have been tallied and the final ranking is as follows:

1. Sengoku Basara 4
2. Sengoku Basara 3 Utage
3. Sengoku Basara 3
4. Sengoku Basara 2 Eiyuu Gaiden (HEROES)
5. Sengoku Basara 2
6. Sengoku Basara Battle Heroes
7. Sengoku Basara X (Cross)
8. Sengoku Basara
9. Sengoku Basara Chronicle Heroes
10. Sengoku Basara HD Collection

The special smartphone lock screen images based on the winning game can be downloaded here.

The third survey is now available too in the usual place. This time, the team wants to know which game's story interested you the most. Click the gold-coloured button underneath the picture of the game with your favourite storyline and then click OK to register your vote! The voting will end at noon on 29th February 2016.

They should really replace the HD Collection with Sumeragi in the options; it's just way too confusing this way!

Another guest is announced for March's Basara Matsuri event

It's only a month away now but the announcements are still coming! Okiayu Ryoutarou (Toyotomi Hideyoshi) is the latest seiyuu guest confirmed for the Sengoku Basara 10th Anniversary Matsuri ~Feast of Ten Years, Ten Shades~ event, which he will be attending on Sunday 6th March 2016. The guest list is looking quite impressive by now.

A new fan club gathering: Basara Club Fan Meeting 2016 Spring

If two days of Basara Matsuri aren't enough, fans who happen to belong to the official fan club can look forward to two additional 90-minute gatherings on Saturday 28th May 2016. The Basara Club Fan Meeting 2016 Spring will take place in Tokyo's Nissho Hall and a number of special guests have been confirmed.

Afternoon show (14:00): Seki Tomokazu (Ishida Mitsunari's voice actor), Koyama Rikiya (Kuroda Kanbee's voice actor), Fujita Ray (Shibata Katsuie in the stage play), Shiramata Atsushi (Chousokabe Motochika in the stage play), Kobayashi Hiroyuki (series producer)

Evening show (18:00): Ookawa Tooru (Tokugawa Ieyasu's voice actor), Hayami Shou (Akechi Mitsuhide/Tenkai's voice actor), Matsumura Ryuunosuke (Sanada Yukimura in the stage play), Shiina Taizou (Sarutobi Sasuke/Mori Ranmaru in the stage play), Kobayashi Hiroyuki (series producer)

I bet they'll be revealing a few details about the new game at these fan meetings!

Mobile phone stands for each character will be available from e-Capcom after all

Remember the 51 different mobile phone stands which e-Capcom was accepting reservations for a little while ago? It's since been decided that all 51 designs will be made available after all, rather than only the options which receive enough preorders.

The Sengoku Basara 10th Bushou Ransen Mobile Stands are exclusive to e-Capcom and cost ¥2,500 (¥2,700 with tax) apiece. Delivery is expected to take place on 14th April 2016.

Preorders need to be placed by the end of February, and as e-Capcom doesn't accept foreign orders (or foreign credit cards) it's likely that fans outside Japan will need to use a deputy service to make a purchase.

The Sengoku Basara series might be reaching out to a global audience again soon

Perhaps the biggest news of all though over the last couple of weeks is the single tweet on the official Sengoku Basara account which reveals that an official Chinese language edition of Sengoku Basara: Sanada Yukimura-den is on the way this summer. The games have been distributed across the Asian region for a while but they have been left in their original language, which is obviously not terrifically convenient for the majority of players even if the prices tend to be lower than importing the Japanese editions.

The same tweet also urges fans to keep looking out for news about further 'worldwide' plans for the series. I don't want to get my hopes up, but if they do manage to try expanding internationally again I'll certainly be doing my best to support the Sengoku Basara team!

Friday 5 February 2016

Event report: Butai Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi

It won't be possible for me to make it to March's huge Basara Matsuri celebration in Japan this year due to work commitments, so to soften the blow I decided to take a trip to Tokyo this month instead to see the newest stage play: Butai Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi. It's been a busy few days with lots of castles and shops to visit, but I've finally found the time to write a few thoughts about my experience. In short, it was fantastic.

It's been more than a year since Butai Sengoku Basara 4, and since my DVD copy of the Devil May Cry crossover play arrived too late this was my first chance to see a play staged by the new production company which now manages the series. As a huge fan of the original Butai Sengoku Basara series it was impossible to avoid some concern about how the changes would affect things - most of the old cast members have moved on by now, and I feel a lingering sense of loyalty towards the old staff members. Even the familiar team of black-clad extras is full of new faces.

Then there's the plot - Sumeragi has a huge number of sprawling interconnected storylines loosely tied together by the presence of Ashikaga Yoshiteru. Yet his story was already covered in Butai Sengoku Basara 4 back in 2014 and he wasn't even scheduled to appear this time. How well would the new play's staff be able to tie the story together into a coherent narrative?

With these questions lingering in the back of my mind I managed to order my ticket early enough to win one of the fan club seats in the lottery. It was a great ticket - six rows from the stage, right in the middle. A perfect view, made even more fun by the fact that the actors passed by less than a metre from my position several times during the show.

Before I get started on my personal impressions, I'll include some facts about the play. Butai Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi is running between 21st January and 7th February 2016, comprising 22 performances across two locations: Zepp Blue Theater Roppongi in Tokyo and Sankei Hall Breeze in Tokyo.

I went to one of the Tokyo shows

The play is split into two parts (70 minutes and 65 minutes) with a 15 minute interval in between if you're seeing it live. Several of the shows have bonus talk sessions after the finale where the audience can see the actors fooling around out of character

The full cast list is as follows (newcomers are in bold):

Shiono Akihisa (Date Masamune)
Matsumura Ryuunosuke (Sanada Yukimura)
Inoue Masahiro (Katakura Kojuurou)
Shiina Taizou (Sarutobi Sasuke)
Kotani Yoshikazu (Mouri Motonari)
Shiramata Atsushi (Chousokabe Motochika)
Sakurada Kousei (Azai Nagamasa)
Sueno Takuma (Fuuma Kotarou)
Kawamura Yukie (Tsuruhime)
Mamoru Asana (Saika Magoichi)
Fujita Ray (Shibata Katsuie)
Juri (Sen No Rikyuu)
Matsuda Kenji (Matsunaga Hisahide)

In addition, Nakayama Yuuki and Yamaguchi Tomoya of boy band SOLIDEMO appear as members of Motochika's crew.

Composition and direction is credited to Ujigawa Masanari. The Sengoku Basara game series' scenario writer Matsuno Izuru assisted with the story and creators KobaP and YamamotoD worked on planning and supervision. This is important as the play contains new material which hasn't featured in the games to date; the staff have gone on record in the past to say that they sometimes try out new content in the stage play to help them monitor the audience reactions. Will we see some of these scenes appearing in future games?

The rest of this post contains spoilers for Butai Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi and the game series itself as well as a few of my personal opinions.