Friday, July 12, 2013

Those Obnoxious Aliens

I have Star Trek on the brain.

I have Superheroes in my soul (or spirit...well if I actually had either of those).

But my heart belongs to Teenagers from Outer Space.

I mentioned once before that Teenagers From Outer Space is probably my most favorite game of all time. Yes, a love Star Trek and I can hardly get enough of playing Supers but the game, The Game Itself, that I find the most fun is TFOS.

With Star Trek it's about exploring the unknown and playing in the universe of the shows and films. With Superheroes it's a combination of being a hero, saving people and emulating the comic books I grew up on. With Teenagers from Outer Space, it's an excuse to run wild.

If Mike Pondsmith was ahead of his time with Mekton, he was taking a long shot gamble on the future with the creation of this simple, flexible and humorous RPG based on Japanese Anime and Manga comedies, the likes of which had not yet been seen in the mainstream American pop culture at the time the game was published in 1987.

Robo...the R-word...hit American Television in 1985. Prior to that, American exposure to Japanese animated shows were either the early action/adventure/humor shows like Tetsuwan Atom (The Mighty Atom aka Atom-Boy - known to us as Astro-Boy) and Mach-Go-Go-Go ( or Speed Racer) or serious science fiction series like Space Battleship Yamato (as Star Blazers). A third type of sci-fi/superhero or space opera type show was seen in the form of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (known to us as Battle of The Planets or G-Force) and in some states Space Legend Ulysses 31 (simply Ulysses 31* to most Americans).

Japanese romantic comedies and shows of a truly comedic bend wouldn't appear state-side until the late 80s or early 90s. While there is some indications in my research that Akira Toriyama's Doctor Slump and the original Dragonball series aired in English on American television as early as 1984 and 1989 respectively, those shows are still not really in the style or theme that Teenagers From Outer Space is addressing.

Urusei Yatsura, which roughly translates to 'Those Obnoxious Aliens That Make Bad Neighbors', is the most obvious inspiration for TFOS and indeed, the original edition of TFOS borrows heavily from the characters, ideas and adventures seen in episodes of the show, direct-to-video OVAs and films (there were 6 feature films produced). It should be noted that Urusei Yatsura (also known as Lum, named for the starring female lead character) didn't come out in America until 1992! When it did, it was a direct to video release.

So without nitpicking the timeline too much, one can at least competently say, Teenagers from Outer Space was on the market for at least 6 years before its closest, relevant source material was available to US consumers.

So...why did it sell? How did people in the US comprehend this very, very Japanese idea?

Well, for one thing, while some of the humor and cultural references in Urusei Yatsura and subsequent series in the same vein (Tenchi Muyo, Ranma 1/2, Ah My Goddess!) are specfic to the Japanese, some of the concepts are practically universal. The idea that superpowered and/or high tech aliens from space would come to Earth and get caught up in our pop culture and life styles is quite funny. Add in romantic entanglements and a cast of quirky characters both Human and not and you have the perfect recipe for a great show, not to mention a great campaign.

One of the things we did early on (aside from my expansion of the rules, which I think I've mentioned but will expand on a bit in another post) was open the field up to more than just aliens. TFOS is perfect for magical girl shows like Magical Emi and Card Captor Sakura (although it would need some tweaking to use it for MahSh jo Madoka Magika, one of the darker and more serious examples of the genre).

Over the years our various campaigns of TFOS have included cyborgs, comic book style mutants, demons, time lost samurai, the children of comic book superheroes and giant robot pilots.

In addition, the game is so easy, fast and flexible that I've adapted in time and time again for completely non-Anime/Manga related subjects. TFOS formed the basis for my original Galaxy Quest RPG as well as a short but thoroughly awesome campaign set in the Land of Oz (adding elements of Ars Magica to my TFOS foundation).

As I noted in the comments of a previous post, Teenagers From Outer Space is a lot like rice. Every tastes good poured over it.

Examples of cool campaigns I've run with TFOS, as well as more RPG madness inspired by Anime and Manga, coming soon.

Happy Fourth of July Everybody!


Barking Alien

*Ulysses 31 is actually more well known among the hispanic community here on the East Coast and I'd wager that's true throughout most of the country. While it was aired in the United States, the vast majority of cities and states were it aired seem to have shown it only on Spanish speaking television channels.
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