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This is something I've been tracking down a long time -- examples of Japanese magazines Yugekishu and its unofficial continuation Bug News. They are rarer than hen's teeth in Japan and tend to cost the most money I've seen thrown at old computer/game mags on Yahoo! Auctions when they pop up -- sort of the Japanese equivalent to Electronic Games and old Creative Computing, you could say.

Yugekishu, an A5-sized monthly from publisher Nihon Micom Kyoiku Center (Japan Microcomputer Education Center) that premiered June 1984 and closed up shop with its ninth issue in February/March 1985, is unlike any other PC game magazine I've seen from the era anywhere in the world.

How can I describe it succinctly? Let me give it a shot: You know how people sometimes whine that there's no video-game equivalent to Roger Ebert or Lester Bangs, no truly unique-sounding game pundit whose views are trusted and influential in a way that transcends whatever publication they're written for? Yugekishu (which is Japanese for "shortstop," as in the baseball position) was an attempt to attract the wannabe Eberts of video games and gather their longform reviews and commentaries into a single magazine, one meant for hardcore gamers and industry insiders. In 1984, I remind you.

(Bug News, picked up for publications by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in August 1985, kept the same theme but focused on the entire PC industry, not just games. It lasted for several more years before morphing into a Macintosh and desktop-publishing mag in the late '80s.)

What makes these magazines special? Besides the fact they cover much of Edge/Next Generation's beat nearly ten years before either of those magazines existed, it's also one of the few examples of a nationally distributed Japanese game mag that actually, uh, says things. There are, and have been, tons of game mags in Japan, but (from my admittedly removed perspective) they are in even more of a symbiotic relationship with game publishers than their US and European counterparts.

Famitsu's cross reviews are about the only chance you have of seeing any non-cushioned negativity thrown against a game in the entire mag, for example, and they can get away with that because like EGM, they've established a brand name for their reviews that goes back decades. Other mags can't, and real opinions are surprisingly rare -- often, even when they're there, they're concealed in the form of user-submitted reviews and such. To put it a more charitable way, game mags are meant to be a guide and resource that happens to be entertaining, not the video-game equivalent to Cahiers du cinéma.

Yugekishu and Bug News were different. The editors wore their biases on their sleeves -- they loved Infocom and most of the big-name American RPGs; they hated nearly the entire PC game output of Japan, which at the time was mostly porn and knockoffs of overseas games (hey, the more things change, huh?). They didn't bat an eye at writing six-page reviews of games like Castle Wolfenstein and Softporn Adventure, discussing the role of war in games and other forms of media and so forth.

They published extensive strategy guides with professionally-drawn maps and exhaustively-researched enemy and item lists. They ran multi-page interviews with industry figures, some original and others translated from Softalk, which they had an informal licensing agreement with until that mag's closure. All this in 1984!

US computer mags hated reviewing games in the 8-bit era -- the great majority of the time, the reviewers saw it as something beneath serious criticism. This mag was different. Not even the British mags of the time treated game coverage this seriously. Yugekishu was a magazine at least 15 years too early, and its existance as an obscure mag, just barely supported by a tight-knit contigent of hardcore fans in its native country, is almost as sad as the lack of a real tradition of game criticism in America.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also Executive Editor of PiQ, a new magazine hitting stands in March.]