I-Sega-i: The Deep Gaming Cuts of Uncle From Another Worldby Heidi Kemps,
Uncle From Another World isn't your standard isekai adventure. It's a story about a man who, while in a coma for 17 years, finds himself in a dangerous and unfamiliar fantasy world. When he wakes up, he shares the stories about his otherworldly deeds with his nephew Takafumi and Takafumi's wishes-she-was-more-than-a-childhood-friend Fujimiya. Uncle, however, isn't exactly a charismatic hero. In fact, his accident tore Takafumi's family apart, so now textbook-NEET Uncle's stuck living in Takafumi's apartment, playing video games all day and making a living off performing magic he learned in the other world for YouTube clicks.
Uncle's life in the other world wasn't an ideal isekai fantasy, either. Despite wielding some incredibly powerful magic, Uncle was treated as a misfit at best and a freakish, misfortune-bringing monster at worst, suffering imprisonment, vicious beatings, angry mobs, and entire villages pouring their magic reserves to try and kill him, just to name a few. So how did Uncle survive 17 years in isekai hell? He turned to the thing that made the greatest impact on his life… Sega's video games.
Sega's a well-known global name in video games, but Uncle's Sega fanaticism seems like something else entirely. But even those of us who swore by Sega's output at the height of the 16-bit console wars might be a bit mystified by Uncle's actions. It isn't just that Uncle is a Sega fan: he's a Sega fan in Japan, where Sega's role in the console world played out much differently. Fully understanding Uncle's Sega obsession—and why he behaves the way he does—requires some knowledge of what Sega fandom in Japan was like.
While the Uncle From Another World manga initially makes a deliberately half-hearted attempt to partially conceal the Sega titles being spoken about, the anime adaptation embraces them wholeheartedly from the outset. In the opening alone, there are references from everything from Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe to obscurities like Digital Dance Mix and Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru (one of the rarest and priciest Saturn games out there, which Uncle has no qualms about obtaining for a princely sum). The mid-episode eyecatch is also a very obvious riff on the logo of the Saturn classic Panzer Dragoon.
The deep cuts don't stop as Uncle attempts to adjust to his new life in a world where Sega doesn't manufacture hardware anymore—a task that seems much more difficult for him than re-acclimating from his fantasy isekai life. So how does Sega's perception in Japan differ from the west, and how deep does Uncle From Another World's nerdy rabbit hole go? Let's have a look...
THE MEGADRIVE ERA: FOR SERIOUS GAMERS ONLY
When the Sega MegaDrive first launched in Japan in late 1988, the response was rather tepid. By this point, Nintendo's Famicom (which we know as the NES) was well entrenched into Japanese homes, and NEC's PC Engine (known in North America as the Turbografx-16, launched in 1987) proved to be a solid alternative for power players who wanted better graphics and sound quality.
While Sega was always highly respected as a pioneering arcade company in Japan, things were very different on the console side. Sega's previous console, the Mark III, was a cult favorite among older tech-savvy players, but not among the mass audiences the Famicom and PC Engine were targeting. That meant the Sega MegaDrive, despite impressive hardware, had a small brand following out of the gate. MD games were pretty sparse for the first several months, and those that were available were not particularly great—or, in the case of the notoriously awful Osomatsu-kun game, legendarily bad.
Things fared better when the system launched in North America and Europe, with the at-the-time-impressive port of Altered Beast proving to be a head-turner. Europe proved to be the strongest market, while Sega still struggled in North America for a few years. The MD's profile in Japan improved, too, thanks in part to some excellent arcade ports like Ghouls and Ghosts, Tatsujin, and Golden Axe. Developers liked the hardware's capabilities and ease of development, but the small marketshare made development hard to justify.
When the Super Famicom debuted in Japan in 1990, Nintendo's dominance meant that NEC and Sega would be stuck in a battle for that market's second place medal—and NEC definitely had the edge. 1991 would be a big year, however: the launch of the globally beloved Sonic the Hedgehog, along with an increase in notable MD exclusives like Streets of Rage and Shining in the Darkness, brought the console some much-needed positive attention in Japan. Of course, over in the US and Europe, things were even better: Sonic was a huge hit, and Sega's overseas marketing sold the system as the slicker, hipper alternative to stodgy Nintendo. It worked beautifully.
But could this newfound popularity topple Nintendo and NEC in Japan? Well… no. Neither could the launch of the Mega-CD add-on. Money flowing from overseas markets encouraged Sega and third parties to ramp up development for the console, but the MegaDrive was never truly a smash hit in Japan. However, Sega was establishing a distinct "personality" for the MegaDrive while building a small but devoted market of loyal fans. The MegaDrive might not have been the popular console, but it was the console of cultured gaming connoisseurs. (There's a reason why SeHa Girls's personification of the MegaDrive is a quiet, bookish type.) It's a stark contrast to the images projected by Sega's European and North American marketing: this console is the hottest thing ever and you had better play it or risk being terminally lame!
Uncle's MegaDrive-fan upbringing affects his personality in obvious ways. After being so devoted to the "unpopular" console, he's used to being the underdog and having his passions in life misunderstood.
THE AGE OF SATURN: A TASTE OF SUCCESS
The Saturn is considered by many to be where Sega lost its way. The Saturn was console that was simultaneously over- and under-designed, it was hard to program for, expensive, and strangely limited in 3D polygon power just as the market was shifting dramatically in that direction. It sold only a fraction of what the MegaDrive/Genesis did in the US and Europe, diminishing Sega's image and leaving them desperately scrambling to create a better successor console.
…Well, that's the story in the West, anyway. But in Japan, things were different. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that the Saturn was Sega's most popular console ever in Japan.
Sega and Sony launched the Saturn and PlayStation very close together in 1994. Sega took the early lead, primarily on the strength of its arcade conversions. Sega's arcade games were seeing a massive boom in popularity at the time, and the Saturn offering a conversion of Virtua Fighter—with Virtua Fighter 2 promised at a later date—gave it a strong initial edge. This initial enthusiasm also made third parties interested in the Saturn, as more advanced hardware capabilities and cheaper CD-ROM media were very appealing. The Saturn library quickly began to flourish.
Then Square-Enix announced in early 1996 that Final Fantasy VII would be a PlayStation exclusive. Momentum shifted over the course of that year, and eventually Sony's global victory was all but assured. Sega was, once again, the underdog.
Still, the Saturn thrived in its second-place spot. The N64's late launch, expensive cartridge media, and anemic third party support kept it from reaching its full potential, and in the end the Saturn would outsell it by about 250,000 units in Japan. It was a great time to be a Sega fan in Japan, provided you were ignoring the bleeding coming from Sega's NA and European sides. That was easy to do when you were playing exclusives like Sakura Wars.
It's at the end of the Saturn's heyday and the start of the Dreamcast era where Uncle is knocked out of this world. Unfortunately, we all know what happens with Sega while he's out adventuring. His attachment to the Saturn remains strong, however—in the anime, whenever Uncle opens or closes a vision of his adventures, it's accompanied by sound effects from the Saturn's system interface.
UNCLE'S ULTIMATE TREASURE
While Sega references permeate the entirety of Uncle From Another World, there are a couple of games that get a particular focus. Uncle might be a Sega fan, but he's an especially big fan of Treasure, a developer who was closely associated with Sega in the heyday of the MegaDrive and Saturn.
Founded by several ex-Konami staffers in 1992, Treasure immediately gravitated towards development for the MegaDrive, using their programming expertise to push the system's Motorola 68000 processor to its limits. Their MegaDrive output includes titles like Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and the unique anime-based 4-player fighter Yu Yu Hakusho Makyou Touitsusen. Their high-quality output continued on the Saturn with Silhouette Mirage, Radiant Silvergun, and Guardian Heroes.
It's that last game that serves as a strange plot point. Uncle, of course, was an avid reader of Softbank publishing's official Sega platform magazines, including Sega Saturn Magazine. This mag began life as a general-gaming publication called Beep! before morphing into the MegaDrive-focused Beep! MegaDrive, and then into Sega Saturn Magazine. (Unsurprisingly, it became Dreamcast Magazine around the time that console launched.)
A highlight of these magazines was the section where readers could send in their reviews of released games for the console (MegaDrive, later Saturn). The readers' submitted scores (out of ten) would then be averaged and added to an ever-growing ranked list of games. This section was very popular among readers, and helped give some otherwise under-the-radar titles some attention… for better or worse. (The scathing reader reviews for the hilariously bad lightgun game Death Crimson helped that title secure its reputation as a truly legendary kusoge.)
Unfortunately, Uncle was in a coma before the final, definitive reader-voted Saturn software ranking was published. When he finally gets to see it, he doesn't seem surprised, just extremely disappointed that the top-ranked game is EVE Burst Error, an edited port of a PC visual novel. He goes outside to vent his frustrations in the way only Uncle can:
Guardian Heroes was ranked 197 out of 1156 total games. Which isn't terrible! But it does seem likely that the game would probably be ranked higher if a "best Saturn games" survey were taken now, seeing how it's become a beat-em-up genre classic. Uncle was just ahead of the curve.
And then there's Uncle's favorite game: Treasure's 1995 action masterpiece Alien Soldier.
While it was unreleased in the United States, Japanese and European Megadrivers were able to enjoy this fast-paced, extremely technical, incredibly difficult game. It's known for intense, highly nuanced game mechanics, spectacular boss fights, and pushing the capabilities of the console to its limits. It's the kind of game you'd drag out in a "which is best" console war argument to prove your point… so it's easy to understand why die-hard Sega fanatic Uncle is so attached to it. (So much so, in fact, that he spends a big chunk of his YouTuber earnings to re-acquire the original cart.) Alien Soldier has since been re-released globally in various forms—including on the upcoming Genesis Mini 2 console—so if you're curious, it's well worth checking out.
Alien Soldier also features a surprisingly complex story that's partially presented in a confusing infodump at the start of the game. Said story is expanded on in the Japanese manual. Which, of course, Uncle has completely memorized.
When Uncle is asked about his first love, after talking about his grade-school infatuation with the Sonic 2 title screen, he mentions the name "Kaede Nanase." Kaede, as you probably expect by this point, is a game character—the tragic heroine-turned antagonist of Alien Soldier. A former friend of Fou Misaki, the human host of Alien Soldier's protagonist Epsilon-2, she has been killed and her body used for nefarious purposes by an evil syndicate. You fight against her in the form of "Seven Force Kaede" during one of the game's most challenging and memorable battles, a grueling, non-stop boss rush where she changes forms multiple times.
(While Kaede only has five forms in this battle, Seven Force is a reference to an enemy from another Treasure game, the much-beloved Gunstar Heroes.)
Even in the strangest of situations, Uncle's brain seems to hyper-focus on Alien Soldier. Later in the series, when Uncle is asked his name, he gives multiple pseudonyms—all of which originate from that game. The name he gives Mabel, "Wolfgunblood," isn't just some cool-sounding chuuni word salad, but the name of another well-known boss from Alien Soldier—a wolfman riding a mechanical horse. Another name he uses is "Kuroki Tenma." This is the host for Epsilon-2's rival and "evil half," Epsilon-1.
With both the show and the manga still running as of this writing, our beloved Uncle's adventures in adjusting to a world where Sega doesn't make consoles anymore look likely to continue for a while yet. The series' popularity in Japan has boosted the profile of classic Sega Games considerably: the manga ran a special chapter with Uncle getting the MegaDrive Mini and discussing his favorite games from the selection, and Alien Soldier's inclusion in the lineup for the upcoming MegaDrive Mini 2 was announced during the anime's debut prestream. Uncle might not be the most smooth or attractive isekai hero, but his tenacious Sega love—and the adventure-aiding wisdom he somehow derives from it—makes him one of the most memorable and relatable world-hopping protagonists out there. And if his infectious enthusiasm convinces you to give more obscure Japanese MegaDrive and Saturn classics a look, then I'm sure Uncle considers everything he went through to be worth it.
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