Mars of Destruction / Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven

Boy oh boy ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at the endgame. If you know me, then you surely know one of my favorite characters of all time across all of the games I’ve played and animes I’ve seen is I.F, short for Idea Factory, a literal anthropomorphization of the video game company Idea Factory present within the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, which Idea Factory develops alongside Compile Heart (who are themselves a subsidiary of Idea Factory). So, why do I like I.F (who I usually call “Iffy”, Neptune’s nickname for her in the games and what I assume is a pun on “Idea Factory International” which would be abbreviated as “I.F.I”)? Is it because she’s my favorite character from the Neptunia games, or maybe because I’m a fan of Idea Factory itself? Actually, no. I do like Iffy as a character, but it has more to do with sentimentality than the source material itself. If we consider Iffy as purely an extension of the real world company Idea Factory, I have zero attachment to them. In fact, I have yet to actually play any of the Neptunia games to this day, something I’ve been meaning to do for years (I own like almost all of them too). My relationship with the Hyperdimension Neptunia series has been a bizarre one for a really long time; I discovered the existence of the series through hacking Smash Bros. Brawl, which eventually led me to watch the anime and to the creation of something you may have heard me talk about before—“Iffy syndrome”. It’s a silly term I coined for a situation in which you either pick a favorite character in a game or show before playing or watching it, or you like a character for a show/game you’ve never seen/played before enough that it gets you to watch that show/play that game (usually a combination of the two). If you couldn’t already guess, that’s exactly what happened for me in regards to Hyperdimension Neptunia and the character Iffy; keep in mind this was many years ago during my early teenage years, around the time when I was first getting into anime. There are probably other examples of this happening which I can’t remember off the top of my head (considering I coined my own term for the phenomenon)—the only other example which sticks out in my mind is Azusa from K-On. If you asked me whether or not I have any love for the real world company of Idea Factory, I’d say I’m pretty apathetic towards them. One of the first things which comes to mind in regards to the Neptunia games themselves is the really terrible DLC practices they use; tons and tons and tons of extremely low effort cosmetic and other crappy DLCs which are individually cheap but cost a ridiculous amount together (which is part of why I don’t feel at all bad about jail breaking my PS3 to play the original trilogy, especially when I own all of the remakes on Steam). Still, when considering that this sort-of thing is really common in Japan and doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the games too much, I can mostly gloss over it (even Nihon Falcom—a company I absolutely adore—is guilty of doing largely the same shit with their newer games). Honestly, most of why I still appreciate Iffy’s character to this day is because I’ve done myself the favor of completely divorcing it from its origins. This isn’t nearly as extreme obviously, but it’s a bit of a J.K Rowling/Harry Potter scenario; separating the art from an artist you don’t respect so that you can still enjoy it. Idea Factory hasn’t done anything particularly egregious, but all I can really see them as is a giant corporation. By that same logic, you could argue that the whole idea of Iffy’s character is very conceited and self-congratulatory. I’d say there’s some truth to that, but at some point I think the character and its place in the Neptunia series kind-of became its own separate entity independent of whatever the fuck Idea Factory is doing in reality or how they’re trying to project themselves onto the character of I.F. But enough of that; why the fuck am I even talking about this shit in the first place? Well, ladies and gentlemen, both of the shows we’re gonna be talking about today are anime adaptations of visual novels created by—you guessed it—Idea Factory. Before I continue though, let me say this; I understand that the Neptunia games are not masterclasses in storytelling. Most of what makes them enjoyable is their constant and sometimes clever meta humor mixed in with some really unashamed fanservicey weeb shit and over the top characters. Even still, I’d say that the games and their anime adaptation are at least competent and enjoyable with a really strong basic premise. By contrast, Mars of Destruction and Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven are absolutely fucking abominable. I found out that Idea Factory was in some way responsible for these before watching them, and as a result my longstanding joke of Iffy being the #1 waifu has gone and made things personal. That brings us to the question of “how much was Idea Factory actually responsible for?” I did some research on this, and while Idea Factory is solely responsible for developing and publishing the two games being adapted here, the actual anime “adaptations” were done by a studio called King Records. Now, nobody here’s gonna deny that most of the blame for these so-called “anime adaptations” being bad falls on King Records, but it’s not all their fault. With the context of the source material these shows were born from, let me explain to you what exactly they are; utterly lazy and completely shameless rips of cutscenes from the games themselves compiled into single 20-minute OVAs, one for each game. It seems like there might be at least some original content sprinkled throughout each of the adaptations, but they’re mostly ripped straight from the games; hell, the opening video for Tenkuu Danzai even uses CGs pulled directly from the game (which is what initially clued me into the fact it might be adapted from a VN). When considering how much of these shows is taken directly from the source material, you have to admit that Idea Factory takes a lot of the responsibility for how fucking terrible they are. Granted, it’s difficult to judge the games as a whole based purely on the cutscenes that we’re shown. Not only are the cutscenes not necessarily indicative of the game’s quality (something I can’t judge at all because no English translation of the games exists and I can’t read moon runes), but the fact these OVAs are using game cutscenes results in the whole narrative being squashed down into less than 20 minutes when we should be getting the context of a game that lasts for several hours. The constant sudden jump cuts—particularly in the case of Tenkuu Danzai—are absolutely terrible, and it’s easy to see why once you know how they came to be. Now, we’ve established that Idea Factory definitely takes a good chunk of the blame here, but there’s another question; was Idea Factory responsible for making the aforementioned cutscenes, or was that task outsourced to King Records? Honestly, I don’t know, but my assumption is that this is probably the case. Just look at the release date of the game for Tenkuu Danzai, then the anime release date. The anime came out less than two weeks after the game. For fucking shame, man. More importantly, we can see just by going on MyAnimeList that both Mars of Destruction and Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven were supposedly directed by a man named Yoshiteru Satou. What his page doesn’t tell you is that he isn’t just a representative director for Compile Heart; he’s the fucking president of Idea Factory. So is the label of “director” he’s attributed with here inaccurate? Not necessarily; it seems like he’s listed as the “director” primarily because he was responsible for overseeing the development projects for the games and their cutscenes, all of which were more than likely outsourced to the animation studio King Records. If we’re trying to understand how much Yoshiteru Satou actually sabotaged the game this show was born from, we would need a more complete understanding of how much of it was his creative vision and whether or not he was heavily involved in the development process of either game. Unfortunately, short of me flying to Japan with an interpreter and interviewing him, I doubt we’ll ever truly understand what the hell happened here or who is primarily responsible for these dumpster fires. Moving on from that, much of the fact these are early 2000’s era PS2 cutscenes shows here, especially in Tenkuu Danzai; the CGI is absolutely fucking abysmal. The juxtaposition between the 2D characters and the 3D mechs they’re piloting is really, really bad, and neither the 2D or 3D elements of either Tenkuu Danzai or Mars of Destruction are particularly good. The so-called “stories” we’re told here are laughable—which doesn’t look very good on Idea Factory considering that the dialogue is coming straight from the games. Not only is the whole story condensed into a 20-minute cutscene compilation, but the actual dialogue and narrative is god-awful. Mars of Destruction is about this teenage boy named Takeru who gets bullied by his dad into piloting this thing called the M.A.R.S suit and using it to fight aliens with a bunch of teenage girls. There are a few fight scenes and eventually we find out that the Martians were actually from Earth originally and humanity is an invasive species… and then it ends. Real fuckin’ nice job there, guys. The only character’s name I remember is the protagonist’s; all of the girls look nearly the same aside from their haircuts, are completely irrelevant to the plot and have zero distinguishing features or personality traits. So much of the presentation and plot here turns the show into an accidental comedy right from the very first scene. For the record, the very first scene we’re shown in Mars of Destruction has literally nothing to do with the rest of the show; some random spaceship burns up and explodes on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, everybody on it fucking dies and then we just jump cut to the actual show. I’m sorry, did I miss the part where this is somehow relevant to the story? You know what, who even cares about any of that; what really grinds my gears about both Tenkuu Danzai and Mars of Destruction is the music. You know, using royalty free music is one thing, but being this blatant about it is another entirely; if I can immediately recognize the specific music tracks in your show as being royalty free, we have a problem. Not only is there not a single shred of original music in either of these dumpster fires (even the opening and ending songs are ripped from the games), but the direction of those music tracks is fucking awful. Worse still, this isn’t limited to the anime adaptations of these games from what I can tell; the games use the same fucking royalty free music (and it’s arguably worse in the games because the music never stops, there isn’t even a music fadeout between cutscenes). Have I mentioned yet that the animation of both Mars of Destruction and Tenkuu Danzai sucks absolute ass? Mars of Destruction’s art style is terrible and bland looking, the character designs are generic as hell and the actual animation quality is pathetic, not to mention several scenes blatantly reuse animations. Tenkuu Danzai’s 2D artwork is slightly less offensively bad, but the CGI is so bad that it makes the 2D animation worse than it would otherwise be (as a result of the really uncanny juxtaposition between the two I mentioned earlier). The story of Tenkuu Danzai is even worse, too; basically there’s a team of these mech pilot girls who are tasked with going and fighting a giant squid monster. They go and fight the squid monster, all of them die except for the protagonist who defeats it after confessing her love to some random dude we’ve known for like 10 minutes, the dude doesn’t even respond and then the protagonist talks with the squid monster before destroying its neurocore or whatever and the squid guy is like “I’m justified because humanity are the true monsters” and then the protagonist literally says she’s not even fighting to protect the people, she’s just fighting to protect her boyfriend. So the squid monster gets defeated, we find out that the protagonist is an artificial human and then we cut to a scene where like a million squid monsters have descended upon the city. ANIME OVER. Setting aside the terrible cliffhanger ending, this shit reads like incomprehensible spaghetti code written by somebody with negative IQ points. Both of these shows try to pack their entire stories into 20-minute OVAs, but even moreso than the narrow time window they’re working with, another big part of why these shows suck ass is because so much of their runtime is dedicated to showing off really poorly done action sequences. You’re telling me that you’re gonna spend 10 of the 20 minutes you have to work with on action sequences instead of actually telling the fucking story? Truly a brilliant narrative decision by the apex masterminds responsible for developing Mars of Destruction and Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven. Yes, I understand that these cutscenes are supposed to be interspersed throughout a game that lasts for several hours, but that absolutely does not excuse the poor execution of its anime adaptation. Why even bother releasing an anime adaptation if you’re not even going to put effort into it? Was Idea Factory under some kind-of misguided pretense that they would somehow profit from making a couple of cutscene compilations and releasing them to suckers who expected an actual original anime adaptation? You know, I was thinking just earlier about how infamously bad shows like Tenkuu Danzai, Mars of Destruction and Utsu Musume Sayuri get far more attention than they deserve because they are so bad people are drawn to them out of morbid curiousity. Maybe they fully understood the gravity of what they were doing and decided they might gain publicity and attention by intentionally releasing something people would passionately despise. Also, a quick reminder that these two shows came out between 2004 and 2005, which would be around the same time as shit like Samurai Champloo. These were not prehistoric ancient times; the bar had already been set high by animation studios and writers who actually gave a shit. But we’ve already talked enough about these two shows; at the end of the day, both Mars of Destruction and Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven are insultingly bad, completely unoriginal and it’s clear that Idea Factory takes just as much of the blame as King Records, if not more. Am I gonna let that change my perception of Hyperdimension Neptunia or the characters from it that I like? No, of course not. Even if I did have a vested interest in the real world company of Idea Factory, this shit happened almost two decades ago; I’m willing to forgive and forget. Most every company has probably worked on properties they aren’t particularly proud of *cough*Ninja Blade*cough*, and it seems like the division of Idea Factory responsible for making these games, IF Mate, was dissolved sometime in 2007. Hell, Yoshiteru Satou is still the president of Idea Factory to this day; from what little I know about him and how little I understand the scope of his involvement with these particular projects, it’s hard to say whether or not he can really be considered the mastermind behind them. And even with Yoshiteru Satou still at the helm, God only knows how much turnover there’s been within Idea Factory over the last 18 years; logic dictates a solid chunk of the development team for their modern titles is probably completely different. I’d say the moral of the story here is that you really shouldn’t compile the cutscenes of your shitty visual novel into a show and release it as an original anime adaptation, like seriously please don’t do that we don’t need a repeat of these godless abominations.

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