My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls), which aired during the Autumn 2014 anime season.
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided here for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click and scan through numerous pages of unrelated material.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode one]
Allow me to level with you:
Of every possible show airing this Autumn 2014 anime season, this one is the series I was most excited about on a personal amusement level.
I had this prematurely pegged as something I would expect to be putting on a “Favorite Anime of 2014” list when the time comes. I was on the Sega side of the home console equation until they bowed out of such hardware, and this series comes courtesy of Sōta Suguhara directing and doing the screenplay (character designer for gdgd Fairies, then later director of the second season, which was in my favorites for 2013).
Maybe I have something of an expectation about this series. Maybe some would think I have terrible taste for holding out such hope for a corporate branding gag comedy, and thus I must be disqualified from any Serious Anime Opinions League.
But I had a big doofy grin on my face the whole time, so that is fine by me.
I had fun, at any rate, haha!
The basis of this series then is Sega’s video game hardware of old are anthropomorphized girls (hence “hard[ware] girls”), and they are attending the SeHaGaga Academy. Which amounts to what is in essence a funhouse dorm building of Sega memorabilia, from the floor, walls, and ceiling. Following the gdgd format, we have three girls of vastly different personalities.
Dreamcast as the well meaning, energetic, willing to try anything once but kind of falls on its face a lot archetchye. Mega Drive operates as our academic glasses pusher, with a last library at its fingertips as well as being the one most prone to deadpan their way through a scene. Saturn is the middle ground between the two, sporting and sure of themselves but needs to steer conversation back on track if it goes off course lest they get frustrated. While everyone has costumes based on their console and history, she has heterochromia of the eyes for their parallel processors (part of why the Saturn was so hard to program for in its day), which is neat as a subtle move.
As we have gdgd staff on hand, the immediate poking and prodding is to see how and where SeHa may break up its segments. The former would go through three as a general rule, between initial tea time discussions, the Room of Spirit and Time, and either the Magical Dubbing Lake or its audio scene creation equivalent. The natural inclination would be to see the episode as it progressed this week (Lobby, JoyJoy Room, Video Game of the Week), and assume the same.
At the moment though, I do not think one may be able to do the same division for SeHa, as this episode ends on a “To Be Continued” note while they are still in Virtua Fighter and they should picking up there next time given the preview. So it is possible they may play the segments out in reverse next time. I can not imagine they would drop the Lobby segment entirely, as that is a whole set with a lot of references built into it. Though I could see it being less prominent than the general chats on tree stumps were in gdgd, depending on how this show wants to balance hardware and history humor through casual dialogue around the set versus doing so via in-game shenanigans.
To wit then, I did find their discussions greatly amusing, though there is probably a case to be made for me understanding the jokes they are going for. Dreamcast being very excited to look something up on the internet via their dial-up modem, only to abort the operation when they realized it was not Toll Free calling hours yet and because their parents are not well off financially? Sega’s five year net income between the Dreamcast’s lifespan of 1998 and 2002 was, to put it lightly and as an understatement of their entire history, non existent. So to me, that whole exchange is funny to see played out and adapting such things into the fabric of the show as a sitcom bit.
Would other audiences find it as laugh worthy in its humor content? It is hard to judge. I would like to think that the conversations flow well even if there is some reference being made, because the interaction itself is fun to watch and flows well in context. Rather that than the humor being entirely reliant on “getting” some bit of obscura, and then one would just have dead air if they didn’t get the nod. I think the series leans more towards the former than the latter, as I do not feel it has ample dead air space where it is left hanging. Though this is also an introduction episode.
Even the modem and Toll Free calls parts of that conversation still perhaps require one to have an internal basis for what is even being talked about there in this age of always on broadband, setting any Sega specific history aside.
That the JoyJoy room segment, where the cast goes to be transported into the magical world of Sega video games, provides at least some light historical context I feel is appropriate. Verbally mentioning for a few sentences how Virtua Fighter was the first full 3D polygon fighting game, flipping through the character select screen, that establishes why the destination is significant and some of its variety without drowning the show in overblown laborious company lore. That is important, especially for what amounts to maybe a ten minute show without the credits, so timing is going to be everything. Both not overstay its welcome, and to be snappy without feeling rushed. And I consider Suguhara to have good eyes for that, especially with his previous projects under his belt.
Nintendo may have launched the newest Super Smash Bros. just a few days ago, but I am more than content having this series as my Sega equivalent.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode two]
We return to the wonderful world of Virtua Fighter.
Complete with jokes where, after Akira is hurling his basic punching moveset in the background to his “You were ten years too early!” line, the Dreamcast remarks that he looks a lot more angular in person. So he collapses while quietly remarking “I was ten years too early?” as Saturn and Dreamcast chat about their graphical situation (the Virtua Fighter arcade port was one of the Saturn’s first titles, and was even a pack-in game for the US launch).
It is simple enough humor, but it is both what I signed up for and it never dwells too long on a specific punchline, so it flows well as a series of interactions.
Having a fighting game for the first game exploration challenge does serve at least two very particular purposes.
For one, it gets across the general idea of how these in-game events will function, while using a very straightforward game genre to understand the basic mechanics of. In this case, each of the girls being given a single Virtua Fighter move, and they are told they need to work together to win. This will allow for easier transitions into more involved or hyper specific game mechanics in the future (Space Channel 5 is next week for instance, where I imagine each girl may have certain button presses and they need to be in sync). Any given viewer would at least understand the general flow of how a fighting game would go however, so it makes a swell starting point in addition to the historical aspects of Virtua Fighter’s place in video game history.
Secondly, well: you know that saying about a joke being funny at first, but the more one repeats it the less funny it becomes? Until it is repeated enough and in conjunction with the right timing (the “There is no possible way they would say/do that again right now”) it comes back around and is thus funny again? That is sort of the only possible joke ruleset one can do for a fighting game episode challenge and in this style of show. Which is to say: our cast needs to defeat not only the entire Virtua Fighter cast, but then also some various oddities, custom settings, and then just flat out needing to bring the smackdown to characters from entirely different games. For one hundred wins in all.
It is the kind of method where, as a second episode it may not be as strong or varied as the first, but it would likely bomb had it comes more towards the end of the series after more advanced cards had already been played. This does, in its own way, give the series room to move forwards and build up, which I can appreciate. Better to do this now than later, expecially as Virtua Fighter would be a key game they would almost have to bring up for this kind of fan letter of a show.
I must say, that the final boss of this challenge happens to be a rather particular leader of Sega’s own steam powered mecha contingent? Who destroys a lot of each of their health bars essentially on the raw power of their original game level Full Motion Video special moves?
That is rather nifty to see adapted as a gag in a genuine fully animated television series, itself done to look by and large like a video game.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode three]
It feels weird saying the “old” credits are back this week, given that the show has only been on the air for three episodes.
I happen to like the Sega franchises and references parade that this version of the credits are more than the idol dance sequence credits, though that is not to say that I dislike the latter either. The creative team related and stylistically similar gdgd Fairies just happens to have an idol dance ending of their own as well, and the Sega materials drive a lot of the visual flavor for this series as a distinctive factor. I imagine next week will be back to the idol dance, then returning to the super deformed credits, and so on, as the format of the show seems to maintain a setting where the episodes are effectively two parters. A first half at the academy, an eventual scene in the JoyJoy Room about where the next assignment for the girls are, and a follow-up the week after inside of a game world selected.
So Space Channel 5, while we saw a bit this week, will be tackled more thoroughly next time. Much to the Mega Drive’s alarm, I am sure. It is a very interesting choice to me as Dreamcast game to cycle towards, after Sega Saturn’s (as far as home ports are concerned) Virtua Fighter. Games such as Crazy Taxi or Jet Set Radio would be just as natural selections for example (and JSR even shows up in the newer credits this week), as they have just as bright and colorful color choices as Space Channel 5. The later is even largely responsible for the popularization for a time of cel-shaded video game graphics, so it would even have a direct avenue to a slightly altered graphical style. The selection of Space Channel 5 though I feel tells a few things. For one, Ulala is a solidly fun female character from Sega’s roster of the era, and still makes appearance in titles like their multi-franchise racing and sports games. She has a very quotable retro-future verbal style, and her music rhythm game series leads itself to rather silly and exaggerated moments as she attempts to rescue hostages from aliens with the power of dance.
Crucially, and this is perhaps its bigger factor as a selection for a television show like this, are the core gameplay mechanics for Space Channel 5 are very simple to learn. The characters even go through the rhythm motions here! Up, down, etc on the directional pad end of things, and “Chu” for actually blasting an alien. That is all one needs to do to play. So as a game it is very easy to build a television episode setting around, since like Virtua Fighter the basic objective and the how/why is easy to get across due to the relatively few rules it needs to get across.
Also much like Virtua Fighter, Space Channel 5’s visual format (in this case a rhythm game where the parties are apart from one another) has a very defined staging and blocking element. It is the kind of thing which allows the simplicity of the moveset to create character situations for humor with ease, while the game itself also is not drowning out the experience for those with less of a personal background with it. The characters remain in focus, elastic as they are through the worlds they will travel to.
And that is good design, and paramount to this show doing well for others who are not giant Sega nerds like myself.
Now, Space Channel 5 takes up very little of this episode, in terms of total running time.
It is fun to see Dreamcast be absolutely ecstatic at the prospect of meeting Ulala (the similarities of their character design from a color perspective should not go unnoticed), but most of the episode is actually not about that at all. It is about the lobby scene, which I had mentioned as a potential hub in the first episode.
Now, this was prime gdgd Fairies material, right here. A simple topical discussion (“What happens after we graduate?”), very casual, and rapidly ramping up to levels that are both wholly over the top and yet quite sincere from the person speaking them. The humor is not hyper, so much as it is merely increasingly exaggerated. Sega Saturn growing up to become a weather reporter, marrying a foreign baseball player, having the rich and famous lifestyle before a crushing series of declining game performances and poor financial management resulting in her making crafts out of a small apartment to even attempt to provide for her family.
One could easily see pkpk, shrshr, and krkr having this kind of conversation over tea in the fairy forest, and who would have what kind of line deliveries in different areas of the script to either amp up to comment upon the developing fictional future. Yet it still feels like a natural extension of what Dreamcast, Saturn, and Mega Drive might talk about and behave like as individuals in their own right here in this show, given their prior characterizations (they even had a small conversation about potential dating partners in the first episode, which this sort of dovetails with). So as much as gdgd Fairies led to this series being developed as it has been, Sega Hard Girls does not feel wholly like a simple reskin with the character names scrubbed off. Stylistically similar in places, to be sure. But able to stand on its own as well, and have its own tweaks and quirks to the characters personalities to have its own voice as well.
As an aside, on a personal level I found Mega Drive’s joke / mixing up of maps between Japan and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the weather forecast sequence because she wants to study abroad in the latter to be quite identifiable. I wanted to study abroad a lot when I was in the later points of high school and looking towards college and university as well. While I never made it to Bosnia and Herzegovina specifically, I did still make it to parts of the former Yugoslavia like Serbia and Kosovo. In addition to many, many others, ranging from Rwanda to the Ukrainian parts of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone.
So to me, it is just neat to see a representation of a game console I spent a lot of time with as a kid talking about wanting to do the whole study abroad thing when they graduate.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode four]
The balancing act with this series, if it does indeed wish to maintain a train of two parter episode arcs, is trying to weigh how much to talk about a given game or not in the “first” part.
Which is to say, now that the girls are fully immersed within the world of Space Channel 5, but I spent so much time last week considering the benefits of this game being selected as a stage to build an episode around from a screenwriting perspective, what do I go into at length now? I do not inherently mind the two parter nature of what the series has been romping around with, though it does leave me at consistent risk for using up a lot of potential writing ammo prematurely. Everything I said last week applies here for the simple ruleset and dance mechanics of Space Channel 5 giving it visual strength and opportunity timing gags without losing the audience still more than applies in its execution here.
This being said, I am keenly interested in how this series is being put together on a mechanical level.
A majority of the episode takes place in what is the literal first stage of the Space Channel 5 video game, both in layout design and seemingly also in graphical fidelity. I own a copy of Space Channel 5 for my own Dreamcast, and this is very much the correct level of texture quality and aliasing in the character polygons. The visuals even retain a 4:3 ratio for the action, pillarboxing the widescreen sides of a modern television episode and having them filled with opaque stretches of what is going on within that center of the screen. Take this in contrast to the Virtua Fighter episode, which seemed to have recreated and cleaned up things like character models while retaining the classic chunkier art style (also, no pillarboxing tricks). Even the Virtua Fighter 10th Anniversary remake does not have folks like Akira and Jeffery looking as nice as they did there.
My initial inclination then is that the majority of the Space Channel 5 footage is from a direct feed recording of the game, with the Sega Hard Girls characters superimposed and inserted within them. Even with that though, there are certainly some filming angles which would not be present within the game itself and its handling of the camera, which would generally require then the animation team to either pull things like background assets from the game source or to recreate them with the use of visual aids.
Making an episode of Sega Hard Girls must be, well, hard.
If one considers the primary audience for this sort of television program (so, older Sega fans like me), it is the exact sort of scenario whereby the production team can assume they will be judged every step of the way. What games are selected. How are they presented. How can they be shown and played around with for television gags while retaining their visual quirks. This, without the series being a glorified youtube Let’s Play or the like, and so on down the line. It is not an enviable position, given the glut of entertainment media out there and a shorter ten minute an episode series like this being very easy for one to set aside or forget about were one given the opportunity.
But, I feel Sōta Sugawara and his team are doing well overall. I feel the first “half” to this two episode arc is the stronger of the two, given the character situations and comedy it provided. But as an exploration into the second major game adventure within the series, and another rather straightforward type of game at that, I feel it sets viewers up well for more complex and crazier antics to come down the road.
This episode did drag out the Virtua Fighter and Golden Axe gags again, which I do hope does not become too much of a crutch going forwards. Sure, seeing Jeffry McWild in a dancing game is kind of amusing in its own right, but I also just saw him last week in his own game as well. There is a lot of potential game history this series is equipped to deal with, so ideally we do not get a cycle of the same series hogging jokes and being trotted out time and again every week.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode five]
The first standalone episode of the series so far, which is refreshing after two arcs of two episodes each.
For as many gdgd Fairies comparisons I may have made at the outset, and for however much that series may have been strengthened by its ability to retain a series of “stations” within its episodes and formula, breaking out of two parter marathons is a nice change of pace here. It also shows some different situational dynamics we have not been able to deal with as of yet, which is always welcome. All the more where there are only three (four, if one includes Center’s small transitional parts) recurring characters to drive the comedy.
The front of the episode deals with things like what Sega Saturn looks for in pets, and associated imagery like Mega Drive breaking out the cyclops mammoth from the Space Harrier title screen as an ideal choice (among others). Which, in its own roundabout way, reminded me of something which had somehow slipped my mind to bring up in earlier episode write-ups when the series had been talking a fair amount about Saturn’s love life (I chalk it up to the newness of the program and wanting to delve into game or screenwriting mechanics).
Namely, the Sega Saturn was essentially the console of choice of its era when it came to visual novels, dating sims, and other games of similar progression models and visual style. Even high profile franchise exclusives such as Neon Genesis Evangelion: Girlfriend of Steel were acquired, or in cases where a Playstation and Saturn version of a visual novel may have existed the latter was often the superior choice. For as nightmarish as its 3D was to work with for many developers, the system had powerful 2D capabilities that outstripped its competitors. Which, if ones game is based almost entirely around art rendered in such dimensions, made it any easy choice for such works.
In some respects, the Mega Drive and the Dreamcast providing ample fantasy choices and “What If…” life scenarios to the Saturn to trip her up to comedic effect could be taken as a nod to this legacy.
I do not feel that is overthinking things too much, given the circumstances and the game history research done throughout the program as a whole.
Our actual game this week is Puyo Puyo, though handled in a different fashion than previous escapades.
While originally an arcade game (like Virtua Fighter before its Saturn port), it would make the jump to the Mega Drive. This then fills out a complete set, as each console represented by the girls can lay claim to at least one featured game so far. Here though there is no large scale visitation to the game world as the exploration, but instead the little ladies trying to pitch different game concepts using Puyo Puyo images and branding.
Puyo Puyo is a historically important game in Sega’s arsenal, being one of the most successful of the various attempts by different companies to capture the puzzle magic and block destroying success of Tetris. But visiting the world of Puyo Puyo in the way this series has handled Virtua Fighter or Space Channel 5 would, well, not be as dynamic. Or interesting. Blobs of a few different colors fall on a two dimensional plane, match a chain of four blobs of the same color to pop them. Set things up right, and one can get a snappy cascade combo as one chain detonates, causes other blobs to fall, and cause yet more detonations for massive points (and to mess with your opponent’s board). It works well as an experience when one is playing the game themselves, but watching it as more passive television entertainment would be a tall order.
It was a good call then to switch things to more of a classroom presentation style here with various ideas being tossed around, which serves double duty given the flavor of this series as being one where the hardware girls are technically students trying to graduate. The additional bonus at the end, where the girls get to go inside the game world of their last Puyo Puyo creation, is a nice touch and about as much in-game Puyo Puyo as one could reasonably expect the production team to have included.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode six]
This Week in I Can’t Believe My Sega Consoles Are This Cute:
Should I Be a Gundam Pilot, or Can I Really Be an Armor Hunter Mellowlink Girl.
Backing up a bit, the series takes little time getting into the game this week after our standalone episode last time, and our antics take place in Border Break: Sega Network Robot Wars. This is the first post-Dreamcast game Sega has made to receive this level of attention so far within the show, which while I had considered such things to be within the realm of possibility it still threw me a little off guard.
It makes perfect sense from a cross promotional standpoint of course, and in that respect Border Break is one of Sega’s big success stories in recent years. As an arcade sensation, it has sold several thousand machines and up to twenty robots on two teams of ten can be involved at once. It features multiple classes to fill the role of, and users can save and customize their machines for later use. While several years old now (originally released in 2015), it is still heavily supported by Sega and players to the extent of having a two tier Grand Prix competitive series which will be continued into 2015.
So, it is not Virtual On, which is what I had been hoping for on the Sega robot game spectrum for this show to pick up and place on a pedestal. But, it does place all three console girls in entirely unknown waters to their own libraries.
Furthermore, given that it is a presently played game and a networked one to boot, it does make the “hacker” plot turn of this episode at least a little more plausible.
Do not misunderstanding me: of the equipment this show has in its back pocket, it is a free pass to be as impossible as possible.
And the show has already crossed characters between game wires before. But, if the series does want to go down the “outside forces break into the game world” route, a popular and currently played arcade game does ease the plot point more as a potential access point than if they were using a Saturn NetLink for dial up Virtual On play. Furthermore, this does also shake things up a bit more from the norm, as while this is a two parter episode we have forces colliding in new ways rather than just another Complete The Assigned Task While Some Zany Things Occur runout. As established in Virtua Fighter and Space Channel 5, we have been there and done that. Halfway through the show then becomes a good time to go beyond what we have already done before in the progression department.
Of course, that the hacker is none other than Dr Robotnik / Eggman does help matters all the more.
In watching a show like this, which is a nice bundle of trivia, love letters, and gags around Sega franchises and memorabilia, there is no question of “if” the Sonic the Hedgehog universe shows up. It is a given expectation for the life fiber of the program. It also can be something of a great concern, given Sega’s track record of faceplanting that series in recent years (even as I type this, bad press for and awful coding displays within the recently released Sonic Boom has already become an internet talking point).
But, Sega Hard Girls has been an enjoyable show so far. It has a fun loving respect for its subject matter and the viewers at home. As next week will show off Sonic more prominently, his arrival here being the cliffhanger of the episode, there are questions for how the series could progress from here. Sonic could save the day, and Robotnik shutting down the game exit could be immediately undone, sure.
Or, there is potential that even if Robotnik is pushed back or defeated in the world of Border Break, the girls may have to do some sort of Reboot style game hopping of their own to someday find their way back home. If that is the direction this show wanted to go with for a time, I would be all for it, and it would be one of the more exciting things involving Sonic the Hedgehog in quite some time.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode seven]
As it was foretold, as we always knew this day would come: The Sonic the Hedgehog episode.
Well, at least a Sonic the Hedgehog episode. There may well be another before the series is over, for all I know right now. It would for sure be the most prime Sega franchise of all to pick should the show ever double back and bring up a property for another featured showing. It is a tricky headliner property with a lot of twists and turns over the years, and there is only so much which can be shown off in a single ten minute or so chunk of time while also spinning enough of a narrative platter for the girls to try and make jokes with.
And this episode sure knows it.
In bringing out the bad news first, as it were: this is probably the weakest episode of the show so far. Its timings, setups, jokes, and all the rest move at a very different pace than the rest of the show thus far. At the same time, the reasons for that can be sussed out rather cleanly, I feel. Sonic as a video game character is known for his incredible speed, and the corresponding action he could bring with that sort of power. Dr. Robotnik (I still to this day think of that name first far before Eggman, for better or worse) broke into Border Break last week, and with Sonic putting a stop to his forward advancements there the mechanical madman is now on the run. So, Sonic chases his greatest nemesis to shut his entire hacking project down. Which, in turn, involves a series of snippets from some of Sonic’s games as we warp from zone to zone, from the original and bonus stages on up to Sonic Adventure. Meanwhile, some Sonic games not on screen such as Sonic R get music tracks mixed in as well, to pack in as much of a blue hedgehog fueled trip down memory lane as possible.
As a raw plot, that has a solid structure on paper. I would even go so far to say that it works on screen from that perspective. But as viewers, we are sort of… not watching this show for the plot. Not as a top level driving force, anyway, outside of any light trappings such as the medal count which will allow our console hardware girls to graduate some day. And comedy shows can, of course, find great strength in switching to more plot focused or even dramatic escapades for a time (Urusei Yatsura comes to mind immediately, for instance).
A character like Sonic though, well, that changes some vectors a bit.
I should state I do like how the Sega girls were miniaturized to a micro card size, where they would be capable of holding the quills on top of Sonic’s head. That has a neat, Falkor from The Neverending Story sort of quality to it on its own. The air of the fantastical is welcome, and it far and away beats either artificially slowing Sonic down or needing to rig something together for the girls to keep up with him by either foot or vehicle. If one is going to use Sonic, and a series like this essentially is expected to, showing him at a level of full display of his capabilities has a desirable streak to it.
Given his speed however, this does also introduce its own quirks into the comedy equation. Our shots of the Sega girls become largely restricted. We see either a very zoomed in view of their clinging to Sonic’s head (so, an angular blue environment and some more obvious modeling clipping than would be usual given the plainer surroundings), or a zoomed out view of gameplay footage from various games in Sonic’s history as the girls comment in little circular bubbles on the side. While there are some limited frivolous on can do in such parameters, such as having the side bubbles spin as Sonic does, it is a much colder experience than we are accustomed to in this show. Be it either in very zoomed in or out mode, we never get to see the girls interact with, in, or around one of Sonic’s game environments.
For the most part, it is more like the Sonic elements of the episode and the Sega girls components as sliding by and next to each other in space, but not quite operating within the same place. Combine that with the speed of the zone changes and the (understandable) need to have Sonic do a few tricks on his own, and the opportunities for comedy become far more difficult to hit their mark.
While in prior episodes it felt like the girls were interacting with the game material, here things seem somewhat more distant and removed from play.
I still had my own fun with the episode of course.
The arrival of music from Sonic R is the sort of thing which can always amuse me for instance, such is the (perhaps infamous) nature of it. And I enjoyed Sonic being mute, as it keeps the focus more on him as a character outside of any particular voice actor they could have pulled from his various game and television appearances. As a raw “I wonder what parts they will pull from what games for the Sonic montage” exercise, it is interesting to see what is picked.
This is, effectively, Sonic interacting around game consoles he has not visited in just about a decade and a half at minimum. And with that, there is a neat quality as they fangirl out and he gets to take center stage. I had hoped more for the girls getting to really interact with the parts of Sonic’s games though, as they have with other properties. Here it is more like there is a thin wall of glass separating them, like a kid pressing their face into a store display case for a Sonic game on a Sega console years ago.
We do get something of a mystery nugget for later in the show, in seeing a scrambled version of Center and what appears to be their human counterpart on the other side of his temporarily still garbled up video feed back to the the JoyJoy Room. Speculation on who they could be varies, as Sega has more than enough famous industry figures to pull from for this kind of love letter show.
At the moment, I am of the disposition they could be one of two potential people.
Hayao Nakayama, one of the cofounders of Sega Enterprises Ltd in 1984 and who restructured the company which existed prior to really get its video game niche into high gear, would be a keen selection. Alternatively, and perhaps most thoughtfully, would be Isao Okawa. He was the founder and Chairman of CSK Holdings Corporation, which held the majority of Sega’s stock from that 1984 restructuring and up until 2004. He loaned Sega tens of millions of dollars to finance and support the Dreamcast during their financially stressed times in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Upon his death in 2001 Sega was not only forgiven this debt by his estate, but the company received a windfall of almost seven hundred million dollars of both their own stock as well as CSK’s. Had this not occurred, an event which allowed the company far more of a degree of leeway in navigating its way out of years of losses, Sega as an entity may have met significantly crueler business world fates. It may well have been hacked up or, jokes from its transition from competition to including Sonic in Nintendo games aside, otherwise have ceased to exist in recognizable form today.
Certainly, the chances of us having a celebratory television show in 2014 for their game history catalog would have plummeted by a significant margin.
Next week breaks out the House of the Dead series, which is kind of a shame in a missed opportunity sense. I am glad to see it of course, as it will be interesting to see how the light gun shooter is adapted for a screenplay.
But it also could have made for something of a neatly topical Halloween episode some weeks ago too.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode eight]
Contrary to my assumptions based on the last preview, this was in fact not an episode about The House of the Dead series. But, I do not think anyone would blame me for thinking so at the time!
What we have instead is a move back towards the “first half” episode structure the series deployed a few times, where the cast chatted and goofed around in the lobby and JoyJoy Room with little presence in a selected game.Which, as the last two whole episodes have been inside of games (Border Break, and the Sonic the Hedgehog multiworld montage), seems fair enough. The ten minute timing of the Sega Hard Girls episodes does make for choices the fifteen minute or so gdgd Fairies had more wiggle room with, and in the grand scheme of things all I want in order to say the episodes succeed is for them to be funny with a fallback plan for being cute.
Our framing concept here then is the good old anime standby of the looming school culture festival. And our girls need to develop some sort of a plan for how they are going to participate. And I historically like to see festival episodes, as they provide an opportunity for group planning or back and forth engagement we may otherwise not see in a series. They are a nice gear check to see if the characters and situations are working. Not that I was worried about this particular series, as I am already very much in its supportive corner.
In the write-up sense, this also turns into a scenario where I am pressed for what to say, at the risk of just over explaining too many jokes. Dreamcast mentioning they only know how to play maracas, as well as one other dialogue shout out to the musical instrument game Samba de Amigo, is neat and feels wholly natural in context. The joke is far funnier if one connects the dots and knows what Dreamcast is talking about, but if not I do not feel the script slams to a halt if one misses the reference either. A happy go lucky and silly character like Dreamcast only knowing how to play an instrument that involves energetically waving their arms around makes sense for her character, regardless of ones video game knowledge of Samba de Amigo as a property. It has been a consistent strength of the show, and it remains so here. The House of the Dead brought up as a potential haunted house idea works well, and not only for the naming pun that creates.
It is probably one of the only ways I can imagine such a violent light gun shooter franchise fused into a cuter character humor show like Sega Hard Girls.
Our key sequence for the episode involves our girls flipping through the contestants list for the Sehagaga Academy Lovely Girl Contest.
Also known as SegaLove.
Or in other words, the beauty and/or contest part that tends to come along with a lot of school festival episodes.
We get to see our limited cast of Sega’s three most famous home hardware endeavors flip through their competitors elsewhere in the educational system, which is something I had been looking forward to for some time. The designs already more than exist, and have been known for a long time now, but seeing them placed in the show (in however small of a capacity that is in practice here) is still nice.
To have the lines about Genesis being from from the United States of America and her nickname. The Sega Master System having a great musical sensibility (the Master System uses the same SN76489A soundchips as would be retained for use on the Mega Drive and Game Gear, so it had very advanced tech there for its time). Hearing the cracks about the Game Gear being really tired all the time, and usually having to leave by third period, as acknowledgement of the terrible battery life the bulky portable system was saddled with. Simple stuff perhaps, but pleasant and a mean of showing off more machines and characters with a low impact setting.
I would like to see these other console characters come into the show more directly for at least an afternoon (even gdgd Fairies expanded its core trio cast a little by the end). It would be far and away too much to have that at this stage, as that is perhaps more series finale grade material for a graduation party.
But the nods theses other machines exist as character designs is I feel a positive event, and a hopeful promise we will see them again sometime soon.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode nine]
The Chain Chronicle episode.
This is very interesting timing, although I do not know if it was meant intentionally. But it seems almost too coincidental otherwise. Chain Chronicle is not only a current mobile phone strategy roleplaying game of Sega’s within Japan, but its global release is December 8th, 2014. So between the time of this episode airing, and the following episode a week afterward (which looks set to be Jet Set Radio), viewers at home like you will be able to play the game yourself in many major territories. Should you possess the appropriately powerful cellphone, of course. It is a definite niche, in a similar manner that Border Break: Sega Network Robot Wars was one as a still active arcade property: it allows the show to be “topical” at select times, bringing up a game someone could conceivably go and play today. Even if they did not already own Sega hardware and associated classic games, an arcade scene or mobile game would be potentially accessible in their own ways.
I still feel it is a bit of a strange choice in certain respects, in that the demographic for this style of show is already going to mostly consist of viewers who were Sega fans from years past. Especially given some of the really swell company history zingers. Is episode nine too late to be bringing up a current generation mobile phone tie-in for people who may have already switched off from watching the show? Is it a move to see if this gets older Sega fans who may be more out of the current mobile gaming loop to try out the game themselves?
A video game bit comedy sitcom like Sega Hard Girls probably does need to recognize the rise of the modern mobile gaming scene though, or at least get some mileage out of it existing. Perhaps this was merely as simple as that, to have these older home console characters engage with what a portable smartphone can pull off today, and react with their own sense of wonder, confusion, or refusal to get with times.
Even if the Mega Drive considers roleplaying games to their specialty area.
Which I feel there was some fun with, regardless of any hypothetical marketing motives. “Failure to connect to server” frustration is quite a real thing with many a mobile phone game, as while they often do not require a constant data connection (which would be disastrous, not only for servers but data plans and batteries) they do need to check in a lot. Most of the positive aspects of mobile phone gaming involve it utilizing a device one may already have in their possession all through the day anyway.
So when that accessibility gets throttled due to server connectivity issues it is indeed a big difference over other game machines one could be using.
In the event the console characters themselves are ever added to the Chain Chronicle global release, I will leave my notes for what they were listed as in the television show here for any later comparison.
Dreamcast: Valkyrie / Warrior, Attack 1740, HP 1790
Mega Drive: Wise Woman / Priest, Attack 1560, HP 1400
Saturn: Magician / Mage, Attack 1580, HP 940
Otherwise, outside of general mobile phone gaming gags, tavern patron references via the likes of Bonanza Bros., Osomatsu-kun, I feel this was all pretty standard material for the show thus far. I can not say I was surprised by anything in particular (outside of what little characters would pop in, of course), but it did its job and I enjoyed it well enough. They fought the monsters, the monsters fought back, there were fancy mixed drinks, and bigger monsters.
The most last memory I suppose it may leave folks with is how it looked. This episode made full use of its mobile phone trappings to present itself within the style of its game, just like Space Channel 5 or Virtua Fighter. But with the added curveball of that meaning extremely limited 3D animations and a whole lot of still portrait images. This is probably a good episode of the show for the team to have produced on either a smaller budget or to better shift available resources as we get closer to the end. I would hope we are nearing what should quite the love letter avalanche in these last episodes, and it needs to be in a position to be able to produce them. So, while I am nowhere near privy to backroom information, Chain Chronicle was potentially quite helpful in that regard.
After all, while the battery of the phone in the episode can die off, I would really rather not have the show itself perform such a feat as a way of method acting.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode ten]
Jet Set Radio, we have arrived.
In the far earlier days of this series, I had been trying to conceptualize for why I found selections such as Virtua Fighter and Space Channel 5 so solid for screenwriting purposes. Simple gameplay and design mechanics, with relatively straightforward visual perspectives, among others. These elements in turn allowing opportunities for the potential comedy scripts to be draped around a functional core. Getting across the meat of the gameplay that made these productions memorable, with simple visual cues and associated choreography, without feeling like the uninitiated viewer would be completely lost. It is a careful balance, since the series needs to also very much appeal to the older Sega fans as well, but on the whole I feel the series has tried to work through this well.
Jet Set Radio is a free roaming (within the confines of a given level), free skating, graffiti art splashing, run from the police and do cool tricks in the process sort of affair. Technologically, it is renowned for being the vanguard of the cel shading process in commercial video games, a graphical design and rendering process which styles 3D polygon models to have outlines and shading qualities mimicking hand drawn animation. For a game like Jet Set Radio, which is extremely colorful to boot, this gave it a further funky vibe to play around with, and added more of a cartoony wackiness to events over a more realistic edge.
So even with giving the game most of a full episode outside of Center’s initial explanation, this is still a very complex game on a mechanical level by the standards of what the series has often made use of before.
And I am not convinced it succeeds as well as episodes like the Virtua Fighter one.
In many respects, despite the rule breaking punky nature of the original game material, this episode is much more of a “normal” slice of life moe girls than the show has been previously.
Mega-Drive can not skate well, as might be expected. A substantial amount of time in a custom photo sticker booth making funny faces. Saturn and Dreamcast having a race against one another. Mega Drive learning to have fun with a situation she originally found uncomfortable, and getting dedicated cuts to specially remark to herself about the same. Our “all’s well that ends well” finale.
It is interesting to perhaps consider that the more open mechanics of Jet Set Radio may have even pushed the production team to double down on doing it via a more standard moe episode. Playing around in a photo booth does sort of jive with the custom graffiti creation mode of the original game (especially as it does in its own way come back around by the end). Meanwhile, jamming the characters into such a space and having a parade of references in there while they muck about with the device with the different photo graphics also means less time skating around and doing tricks as well (which are much harder to choreograph and make engaging for a long period of time).
The characters do not even interact with any of the individuals from the game either; we see Gum in passing as part of a gag, but she never moves. We do not even get a DJ Professor K cameo, which one would suspect to almost be a shoo in for a comedy series, as he both runs the pirate radio station of memorable music and provides ample comic relief in the actual game series.
These curious interactive omissions aside, something which further struck me as particularly odd is the episode does not go so far as to cel-shade the console girls post-transformation. They are as they always are. While even showing off footage from Jet Set Radio in Center’s introduction, and Gum having it for her fleeting seconds long scene, this round of gaming misadventures never really makes use of the unique graphical appearance Jet Set Radio would warrant. Which is especially odd, given that graphical appearances got to be a driving point in places like the Virtua Fighter episode, where our console girls were so radically different than the sharp angular models there. I feel there were clear missed opportunities here.
I could understand a series not wanting to repeat itself or its jokes too much, but visual punch and art direction is a lot of what has kept Jet Set Radio around as a name. It is very much part of why is has continually gotten re-releases and even a high definition port over the years, even if very few games exist in the actual series. There are very few games which manage to embody its aesthetic even today, let alone run with it as far as it did.
Mega Drive having a nice afternoon with her friends in the city, with their inlineskates and picture sessions, all is a pleasant enough time in its own right. Do not misunderstand me on that front. But it does also feel like the series intentionally shied away a lot from the freewheeling, aggressive-yet-cartoony, punky funky style of the game they were playing around in.
Some solid chances were missed here, and so it is hard for me to shake a very definite sense of disappointment. I never really felt the girls were “in” Jet Set Radio the same as I did in some of the other games they have visited, and that bled into how the comedy was executed on.
Next week looks to be a Phantasy Star Online 2 adventure, which brings us back to a modern and still active online game like Border Break and Chain Chronicle. As a game franchise Phantasy Star has a history across all three systems that make up the center of our show though (and unlike Sonic, does not have the weight of being a company flagship mascot).
So while that game in particular is one which can not be played on any of the staring consoles, I do hope they make a move to consider how each of them would reflect on the series based on the entrants they did receive.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode eleven]
At the start, I was worried if this episode would be too cramped.
Its stated goal is to try and tackle two of Sega’s most prolific roleplaying game franchises within the same ten minutes or so. Phantasy Star can be traced back to 1987 on the Master System, while the bloodline for the various Shining titles originated in 1991’s Shining in the Darkness on the Mega Drive. To do either one of them alone could be a pretty large task in and of itself, were a select entry to not be chosen for dedicated focus. Center even flat out says there would be too much history here for him to cover in one of his introductory bits, and for viewers to go and Google it. The television show going with making use of some of the most recent versions of each game series via Phantasy Star Online 2 (a PC and mobile MMO) and Shining Force Cross Exlesia (an arcade enhancement for Shining Force Cross on Sega’s RingEdge hardware) I can at least understand from an editing and cross promotional standpoint.
But, I can not deny that it was disappointing from a larger Sega history perspective that some of the more classically influential entries of either series were not selected to showcase. We are getting also getting dangerously close to a point of the console girls adventuring in recent titles to almost the same extent as some of Sega’s historical achievements, which is somewhat worrying in its own way as well. One or two recent games in a thirteen episode show I can more than understand, even if the girls do not visit a game each episode. Getting past that though, and juggling multiple recent games to boot, and things begin to look less like a history and trivia celebration lovingly mocking various Sega properties.
That Sega Hard Girls has traditionally been at its strongest when it is allowed to run hog wild like that stands out all the more. I begin to wonder how much the production team are holding back, and thus need to default to a standard set of moe girl anime antics when dealing with the more recent game titles, as part of any sort of “Do Not Damage This Active Brand” oversight.
We approach matters then as a play on a previous real life event: Phantasy Star Online 2 had a promotion for Shining Force Cross Exlesia that involved special costumes and the like. So, our girls head out to adventure around in SFCE each wearing a set of PSO2 clothes.
Which in this case, is applied as each of them getting a Rappy costume.
In the larger Phantasy Star franchise, the Rappy is a notable fluffy chicken like creature.
First appearing in Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom, one could consider them similar to the image of the Chocobo in Final Fantasy. But, there are key differences. Rappy’s are far more akin to a large landbird, while a Chocobo can be ridden around like a horse. Also, Rappy’s are massive cowards, often playing dead during battle. In the original Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast, there was even an entire side quest called “Fake in Yellow”, where the player goes down to the forest area of the planet Ragol and must search through packs of the birds, looking for a biologist who has convincingly costumed themselves as one. This, in turn, is where the Rappy costumes the girls wear this week originate (and the ensuing confusion over who is and is not a Rappy).
So on the one level, there is a more classic sort of cartoon humor. The Rappy’s all lining up and hiding behind Saturn as she looks around, the misunderstanding and inclusion of a regular Rappy into their quest party due to confusion over where Dreamcast went, and so on. None of the jabs are particularly stinging or surprising, as one has more than likely seen similar setups and executions a thousand fold over the course of their media consumption in all kinds of formats. These antics are the equivalent of the show doing stock gags on a three camera sitcom set.
Right down to lines about using a mother-in-law as a weapon.
And therein lies something of a problem as well. The episode is entirely functional on a base level, but this is also 2014. It “works” in such a way where it near washes over the viewer in a haze of having seen these performances who knows how many times before. As an episode about an in-game promotion event it is, well, rather uneventful itself.
There are some nominal gameplay gags, such as Dreamcast’s overenthusiastic camera use. There is a /”/a cam” command one can use as a lobby action in PSO2, and trigger a silly set of associated animations. Saturn’s inability to change direction once she starts her multi-hit punching combo is a holdover of a bad design mechanic I remember well even from PSO1 days. Attacking locks one into moving directly forward, and rhythmically continuing the three button attack press even if you missed your target completely was often about as fast as just outright stopping depending on your weapon. So one may as well push buttons anyway while waiting for the animations to complete. But in the grand scheme of things, it is a pretty bare-bones attempt in a series which has done far better in prior excursions.
For our penultimate episode time time around though, things look be drawing heavily from Space Harrier for our near finale push towards graduation and perhaps learning the secret of Center.
And I am still looking forward to that very much, as again: this is the sort of material the series has often been at its sharpest with. A strong two episode punch at the end can easily forgive some of the antics of recent weeks.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode twelve]
The final test of the Sega Girls, as they again face their greatest kind of foe: hacking incidents.
While not directly related to the plot here at all, it is personally interesting to me that all three systems had online functionality. Dreamcast most famously with their built-in modem, but there were also the Sega Saturn Net Link and Sega Meganet devices, as well as the Sega Channel service. Though, as our consoles traverse a virtual theme park of games, it is also very easy to see a nice connection there, intentional or not.
Lest I get too far ahead of myself: rather than a return of Dr. Robotnik / Eggman, our perpetrator is another force entirely. Center has been captured, and Black Asobin has acquired the reigns to command (in turn draining all the girls hard won medals but one). So, something else which has been cursory to the entire experience of this show but I have not brought up really at all since it was not, well, front and center.
Professor Asobin was a fancy white rabbit character, complete with a top hat and monocle, who in practice was the first unofficial mascot of Sega and the design after which Center borrows his appearance. A lot of his appearance is based off the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, and Asobin was referenced as a small joke by Mega Drive episodes ago, but it was not significant enough to go on about at length at the time. But, nevertheless, Professor Asobin made appearances in practically giving advice about gameplay mechanics within nearly every manual Sega produced from 1983 – 1987, barring an absence in 1984. And he continued to make visual appearances in Mark III manuals after 1987, though his gaming tips and tricks instead turned towards instead providing care and maintenance information for cartridges. He faded out, though Alex Kidd never managed to capture mascot status and there was even a short reign of Opa-Opa, the spaceship from Fantasy Zone.
Space Harrier, it should be noted, takes place in the same universe as Fantasy Zone. It is how the game even audibly greets the player (“Welcome to the ‘Fantasy Zone’! Get Ready!”), right from stage one, which the series retains when Sega Saturn enters the game world. So there is this interesting element, in having Black Asobin challenge the girls to a game of Space Harrier for their entire educational career.
Likewise also with designing exploitable faults, like a single missing pixel for a one hit kill, into his own design.
Black Asobin, of course, was never a real threat.
He was Center, all along, albeit as rushed as that felt given the smaller episode size of this series and trying to spin a whole lot of reference plates at once. But I liked the design, the aesthetic, of Black Asobin World, even if we do not get to see all that much of it between the JoyJoy Room and the Space Harrier shenanigans.
And I have to admit, Space Harrier is one of my favorite video games of all time, Sega or otherwise. I enjoy its bright colors. The upbeat music. A world where clouds can be made of stone, and cyclops mammoths exist within the same world as giant robots and dragons with faces at both ends of their body. There are seemingly endless possibilities in its world, a most genuine fantasy zone, and that is something I appreciated a lot as a kid. Perhaps even all the more now as well, as so many games have turned to draber color scenes and more realistic tones.
I did not grow up in a time where my local arcade had a Space Harrier machine or the like, as that was phased out in favor of other spectacle things like deluxe light gun cabinets. But I did get to somewhat simulate that experience via Shenmue and its sequel on the Dreamcast, where you can choose to visit the local coin operated game establishments for a variety of classic games. And I think it speaks well that even within what was at the time the bleeding edge of 1999/2000 era gaming, I still made a lot of time for going to the arcade for Space Harrier.
Within weeks of Shenmue’s launch in western markets, and with it the arcade, Sega announced they were withdrawing from the console video game market.
Next episode: graduation.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [Episode thirteen]
Sometimes, this series had had pacing problems. Trying to find a balance.
Time spent in-game and doing reference and character humor that way. Out of game and the more social gdgd Fairies style hangout scenes. Doing such segments as their own episodes, such as the clean breaks at the start between Virtua Fighter or Space Channel 5. Aiming to blend them into the game episodes themselves, like the Jet Grind Radio adventure being less funky and punky and more moe girls anime sticker booth fun, without bringing in much of the cast from the actual game.
But the series has its heart in the right place here. I feel it is appropriate to have the cast not within a selected game world itself, but speaking more generally among themselves outside. Though the idea of what constitutes “outside” here becomes a debatable subject.
We establish that the universe, as the Sega Hard Girls have ever known it to be, is not in fact the “real world.” They are figments of imagination within their creators minds, and having qualified for graduation they will need to exit this plane of reality to enter production as physical consoles. I will not attempt to pretend this is some sort of groundbreaking narrative device, but it is one I think is applied well and makes for some cute scenes and character reactions. There is a pleasant element of heart to it all, Center speaking of the console girls having been raised with lots of love and the kinds of endless opportunity that exists for them.
This is still all Corporate Branding, of course, and I am well enough aware of that.
But, it strikes me as as a nicer sentiment, as these are all machines whose heydays have long since passed.
There are people in high school now who were born when the Dreamcast had its curtain call. For people who would have been babies at the time, and thus would not remember the final Sega console period anyway, and they are university students now. So while there there are elements of hope as the machines set out, the trepidation of if they are going to be good at what they were born to do, there is also a certain kind of sadness as well. They can not dominate forever, even when some of them were successful. And the regional successes of the three do vary wildly. The viewer would already know what happened to these consoles, after all, even if only from online encyclopedia articles.
Intentionally on a metanarrative level or not, it is appropriate for Dreamcast to be the most worried about their future prospects. The pause the most. To question if they will really be considered good hardware. But an entire room of Sega properties gives them the go ahead and a unanimous confidence vote. Effectively, the hopes and dreams of an entire company. And there she went. A sadness also exists within that.
She forever remains the youngest child, and had the shortest life of her group.
I like the little ending credits nod a lot, as small as it is. An off screen child of some unknown age unboxing a gift, and it turns out to be a Dreamcast rather than the new unnamed console they wanted instead. And the youngster is quite incensed by this development! But an off screen adult explains that they used to be quite a gamer themselves, back in the day, and their aim is to be able to play some of those games now with their kid. To pass things on, as it were. Those who would have been young teenagers during the last Sega console cycle would be at an age now where some may be considering raising children of their own, if they do not already have them already. There is the encouragement to share both the gaming time and the memories, while also creating new ones all the same.
Of any possible parting message a series like this could have, it is the single most important thing it could have said.