Gen Con 2020 Online

Saturday, July 25th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

GenCon2020I have been attending Gen Con regularly since 2009, and reporting on the events and new games here on Black Gate. It’s one of the highlights of my year, honestly. But this year, of course, Gen Con has suffered the same fate as so many other major in-person events … a shift to online participation. Gen Con Online will run from Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2, 2020.

Registration for Gen Con Online is free for attendees. There will also be three different Twitch channels that are livestreaming demos, live games, and other broadcasts related to Gen Con, with links available here. There is also supposed to be a Discord server set up, though that is still coming. Not surprisingly, it looks like there will be ample abilities to purchase games through the Gen Con Game Store, and of course to purchase Gen Con merchandise. All of that goes live online when the convention begins on Thursday. Once you’ve signed up for your badge, you can register for individual events on the Event Page, though at this point many of the most popular events are sold out. (It is still worth checking in, though, as some people might not show up for their registered events.)

Favorite annual major events from Gen Con are still taking place, though in modified forms. For example, the annual Costume Contest allowed entries throughout the first half of July. Finalist videos will be placed on the Online Costume Contest website on July 29, allowing for votes from fans (1 vote per person). It isn’t going to be quite the same as the Saturday parade of costumes through the convention center, to be sure, but I’m definitely glad that they’ve found a way for these impressive cosplayers to show their stuff and get recognized for it.

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The Soundtrack to 2020 Was Released 29 Years Ago

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020 | Posted by Dieter Zimmerman

Cyberpunk 2020 cover

Cyberpunk 2020 from R. Talsorian

The year 2020 will always be associated in my mind with the Warrior Soul album Drugs, God and the New Republic. Explaining why requires a little back story, but let me assure you that this is the most relevant album in 2020.

In 1991 when the album came out, I was a senior in high school. While not in school, my friends and I spent many hours throwing dice on the table, role-playing different characters in a variety of different settings. One of the games we played a lot that year was Cyberpunk 2020, a dystopian future game set in the year 2020.

One of the futuristic details of Cyberpunk 2020 is a genre of music called “chrome rock”. As far as I know, chrome rock is never really described in any detail, so I have no idea what Mike Pondsmith and the other writers of the game intended it to sound like. I always imagined it to be lyrically very anti-authoritarian like a lot of punk songs, but musically more like metal and very “shiny” (clean and well-produced, I suppose?) like, well… chrome.

And that’s the perfect description of Drugs, God and the New Republic if you ask me. I heard the album and thought, “Holy f**k. This is chrome rock.” The sound seemed way ahead of its time back then, and I’ve never really heard anything quite like it before or since (except Warrior Soul’s debut album Last Decade Dead Century, but for some reason I didn’t pick that one up until years later). It’s got guitar riffs and drum smashes that would be at home in metal, bass grooves that might not be too out of place in funk, vocals that are more of the gritty hard rock G’n’R style, and lyrics born from a wholehearted punk attitude. Though Warrior Soul was generally considered “metal” at the time, they never neatly fit into that genre. That and the fact that grunge was just becoming huge when the album came out are the main reasons they never received the recognition and praise I think they deserve.

Sadly, I don’t know enough about the specifics of music recording to articulate exactly how their sound was created. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about sound equipment and mixing can tell me what pedals and filters might have been used to make it so unique.

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Vanguard Dream! A Sampling of Bushiroad Media, Part III

Monday, July 20th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

Bandori!TV LIVE-small

In Part I and Part II, we looked into the real-life/anime bands Roselia and RAISE A SUILEN, as well as the franchises with which they are most specifically associated — Cardfight!! Vanguard and BanG Dream! Here we round up a number of other media selections, newer and older and variously related, within the Bushiroad universe.

There are many more things coming from Bushiroad than we’ve examined here, or even mentioned in passing, really — so, definitely lots going on! Even in regards to the two main franchises we’ve focused on, there is plenty more to uncover — including a treasure trove of older theme songs for Cardfight!! Vanguard, for instance… and also the other groups from BanG Dream!, beyond the three actual concert-performing bands.

Well, I’m going to toss at least one of those into the fray here, before we’re done. But first, no look at the ‘Bandori’ universe can claim to be even halfway complete without taking a closer look at the number one main band of the entire series — which of course, is the inimitable Poppin’ Party!

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Goth Chick News: The Shining Opera. And No, I’m Not Joking…

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Shining Opera poster-small

As much as I love the movie The Shining, I never thought I’d ever see that title in the same sentence with the word ‘opera;’ and yet here we are.

Turns out the Minnesota Opera, located in Minneapolis, has become known for showcasing rare and unusual operas. For instance, they’ve performed operatic versions of Where the Wild Things Are, Frankenstein, and The Handmaid’s Tale. They’ve even done one called Nixon in China. Admittedly, I’m not much of an opera fan. However, I understand there are those aficionados who make it a hobby of ‘collecting’ performances of strange operas and if this happens to be your thing, keep reading.

The Minnesota Opera’s head musical director, Eric Simonson and the artistic director Dale Johnson, came up with the idea to turn Stephen King’s novel into opera. They contacted Pulitzer Prize winning composer Paul Moravec, and Grammy Award winning lyricist Mark Campbell, and three years later The Shining opera premiered at the Ordway Music Theater in May 2016.

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Vanguard Dream! A Sampling of Bushiroad Media, Part II

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

2B - RAISE A SUILEN-small

RAISE A SUILEN

Part I of this 3-part survey was an introductory overview of the Bushiroad titles Cardfight!! Vanguard and BanG Dream!, and a look at how how the band Roselia was a feature of both projects. This time we examine how the newer female rock group RAISE A SUILEN is involved in both as well…

RAISE A SUILEN, the newer of the main girl-groups from the BanG Dream! universe, has a style of heavy keyboard-laden rock similar to Roselia, the band they consider their main rival. They also have some very distinct differences (aside from just being a completely separate band, with their own specific songs, I mean). They are not only newer, but their whole means of coming into existence was substantially different.

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Vanguard Dream! A Sampling of Bushiroad Media, Part I

Sunday, May 10th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

1A - Bushiroad logo

For a prime example of just how elaborately interconnected and cross-platform some multimedia projects can become – particularly, in Japan! – you needn’t look any further than the activities of Bushiroad, which is surely one of the most quickly expanding media phenomena out there, both in its home country and internationally.

Best known perhaps as a purveyor of card battle games, for which they regularly hold official tournament events all around the world, they have also made major incursions into the worlds of anime and manga, video games, music and nearly any other medium which might promote their various properties. In particular, the Bushiroad Music division has had an increasingly huge role in their operations; and that will be the main focus of this article as well. Not attempting any kind of a detailed overview, we’ll be looking primarily at two of their best-known franchises: Cardfight!! Vanguard and BanG Dream!

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An Ignored 1952 Science Fiction Film

Friday, May 1st, 2020 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Just Imagine

Just Imagine (Maureen O’Sullivan, John Garrick)

The history of science fiction cinematic musicals may not be broad, but it has depth, dating back to the very first science fiction “talkie.” Just Imagine was made in 1930 and starred John Garrick, El Brendel, Frank Albertson, and Maureen O’Sullivan. Today, O’Sullivan may be the best remembered for her portrayals of Jane Parker opposite Johnny Weismuller in six Tarzan films beginning with Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932 and ending with Tarzan’s New York Adventure a decade later. Unfortunately, Just Imagine doesn’t work as a musical, as a science fiction film, or as a comedy. Its place in history is assured simply by the fact that it got there first.

One of the most success science fiction films is one that many, perhaps most, of the people who have seen it don’t realize, or consider, to be a science fiction film. Released in 1952, it would have been eligible for a Hugo Award at the 11th Worldcon in Philadelphia where they were first given out, had there been a Dramatic Presentation Award, along with films such as Zombies of the Stratosphere, Radar Men from the Moon, Red Planet Mars, April 1, 2000, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

The film is Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Jean Hagen.

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part III

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

3A - Hatsune-Miku-Project-Diva-Future-Tone-021617-small

In Part I of this 3-part series, we examined how the concept of the Virtual Idol first emerged in anime during the 1980s. In Part II we looked at how things opened up as we entered the digital age, particularly with the emergence of the whole Vocaloid sub-culture, and its popular software.

It’s no surprise that after the tremendous success of Hatsune Miku and her immediate follow-ups there has been a wave of newer virtual singers hitting the scene. Some have been in the form of additional voicebanks (with their own related character avatars) in directly Vocaloid-related products, often developed by partner companies, and sometimes they arise from separate yet similar voice-synthesizers.

The most significant of these competing programs would be the UTAU shareware, with their singer characters also being known as UTAU (or UTAUloids, unofficially). There are a few factors that have increased its popularity, not the least of which is that it can be downloaded free of charge! Although it comes with one starting voice named Uta Utane (more often called by her nickname ‘Defoko’) — who sounds a bit rudimentary, in comparison to the Vocaloids — users can also create their own singer voices, and make them freely available to others.

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part II

Monday, February 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

2A - Hatsune_Miku_a001_feature_prm

In Part I of this 3-part series, we looked at how the concept of the Virtual Idol first emerged in anime during the 1980s, featuring some of the more popular storylines and prominent idols to make an appearance in this genre, a phenomenon which could be seen as the precursor to an eventual reality where technology would let them enter our lives more directly. This is the reality that unfolds before us now!

As we enter the digital age, the possibilities open up considerably. Idols can go beyond just appearing in a futuristic context — and actually manifest as creations on our own computers!! The giant leap forward comes with the arrival of a line of software products called Vocaloids. Created by Crypton Future Media, and using technology developed by musical equipment giant Yamaha, a Vocaloid is a type of speech synthesis program which converts words and melodies designated by the user into an electronic singing voice.

There are some parameters for tweaking the sound, but for the most part each version of the program is based on one specific voice, and is tied to a related character avatar representing the singer. The first two major entries in the series featured a female singer named Meiko, along with her male counterpart Kaito. They remained somewhat obscure for most people though, at least in the beginning. It was the next entry, the first in the newer ‘Vocaloid2’ line, who was to become the star that would launch a massive cultural revolution in Japanese music — the virtual idol known as Hatsune Miku!!

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part I

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

1A - Mayu Watanabe - Hikaru Monotachi (BQ)-small

The concept of ‘Virtual Idols’ that I’m looking to describe here is something of a slippery and multi-faceted notion — not unlike the culture that surrounds their real-life counterparts, to a large degree! The elements form a sort of loose meshwork of overlapping scenes, which often intersect and change as they progress.

So, am I basically attempting to define the indefinable here? Perhaps! There are certain recurring themes which connect a lot of it together, so I’ll keep those things in mind as I sketch out my ongoing exploration… and with any luck, that should be enough to make it all clear.

While there are theoretically no limits where we could go with this, it’s also something very much tied to one location — and yes, it’s exactly where you expect: the nation of Japan. But before we can fully understand this phenomenon of Japanese virtual idols, we first need to get acquainted with non-virtual idols, which form such a major part of pop music culture there. That can be a bit challenging in itself, actually! While not entirely different from pop idols in other parts of the world, the term ‘Idol’ has a much more specific usage and cultural history within Japan. There are various degrees of being an idol performer as well, as the context has evolved somewhat over time… which can be confusing for newcomers, or for those who follow just one aspect of overall fandom. I’ll try to make it clearer as I go, but suffice to say that being an idol definitely involves more than simply being a singer of pop music, in Japan!

First, let’s try to very briefly pin down a few of the most important qualities of an idol.

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