Pokemon to porn, animation rules in Japan.
The national obsession with animation helps explain Japan's profound influence on -- and dominance of -- the video-game business. Japan's animators are the world's trend-setters in producing both kiddie fare and violent and nightmarish interactive animated adventures such as ''Fear Effect.''
The Japanese public has a seemingly insatiable appetite for -- and tolerance of -- the entire spectrum of animated entertainment.
On the bright side, there's the Pokemon phenomenon. On the dark side, there's the monsters-from- the-id genre -- ultraviolent and explicitly erotic animated films, often featuring rapacious demons and teenage girls, popular with a huge segment of adult Japanese males.
While Pokemon has permeated every facet of U.S. kid culture, the hard-core ''anime'' has yet to achieve more than a cult following among adults here, though it's been available on video since the early '90s.
Japan's most successful animated exports for mature audiences during the past decade have been films exploring apocalyptic or thriller themes that are, typically, handled by Hollywood in live-action features.
For instance, ''Perfect Blue,'' a psychological thriller that had a theatrical run here and has just been released on DVD by Manga Video, has been described by Hollywood veteran Roger Corman as ''a startling and powerful film. If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney, they'd make a picture like this.''
Aiming for the same audience with a PlayStation game, Kronis Digital Entertainment's twisted thriller ''Fear Effect'' indisputably owes its vision and style and mood to Tokyo -- although the multicultural staffed studio is, in fact, located in San Francisco.
It's set in an ominous and dehumanized ''Blade Runner''-inspired Hong Kong of the future. The story opens with a world-weary and fugitive young woman stoically awaiting the arrival of an assassin. When he cuts her throat, there's a cinematic flashback to the events in which the gamer will participate -- as three different characters.
They are a trio of street-savvy mercenaries who've set out to find and retrieve the young woman we've just watched being murdered, the missing daughter of a big-shot gangster. You play these characters in succession, until each completes his or her particular mission. The first, a woman, is a former prostitute who's as deadly with a knife as with a pistol.
Pokemon, clearly, this is not.
''Fear Effect'' earns its Mature rating (suitable for players 17 and older) with violence, gore and suggestive themes.
There are so many of these cinematic sequences it requires four discs to store them all. Hard-core players would have preferred more game time and less animation. I've heard skilled gamers complain that as much as they like Fear Effect, the total playing time, for them, was only about 20 hours -- when they wanted twice that. But if you're a casual gamer, it'll probably take longer to finish ''Fear Effect.''
''Fear Effect,'' $40, from Eidos Interactive, for PlayStation, rated Mature.
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