Aside from the games of Mike Pondsmith and R. Talsorian, I often find that, for many gamers, few other names even ring a bell when it comes to Anime and Manga style RPGs published in America (or available here at least).*
Of course this is not true but as a good deal of time has passed since the height of Anime/Manga gaming popularity**, it is easy to forget all that came before. Let's see if I can refresh your memories.
BIG EYES, SMALL MOUTH
Probably the most successful and most well known Western RPG that is not mecha focused, Big Eyes, Small Mouth (or BESM), was first published in 1997 by the Canada based company Guardians of Order (now since defunct). Utilizing its own rule system, known as the Tri-Stat System, BESM attempted to be a sort of Anime/Manga GURPS. It was touted as a universal RPG system but one that distinctly maintained the flavor of Japanese comics and animation.
BESM was quite popular in its time and spawned two later editions as well as numerous supplements. Some focused on a particular genre or subgenre, such as their Science Fiction sourcebook 'Big Robots, Cool Starships', or specific settings, like S. John Ross's amazing .
In addition, the game generated a number of popular licensed sourcebooks for Anime being made available in the United States. Sailor Moon, Slayers, Tenchi Muyo and a good number of other titles came out as sourcebooks and later 'Ultimate Fan Guides', which weren't so much RPG products as much as what they're name implies, guide books on the shows for the fans.
In 2003, amid the D20 craze generated by the Open Gaming License Wizards of the Coast had made available with Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition, Guardians of Order jumped on the bandwagon to create BESM D20. Opinions on whether or not this was a good idea in the long run are of course mixed.
The game's third edition had been delayed quite some time due to Guardians of Order going into bankruptcy. The companies properties were eventually purchased by Arthaus, a subsidiary of White Wolf and BESM Third Edition was published in 2007.
While there is no denying the passion that went into making this game (it was by Otaku, for Otaku for sure), I never really took a shine to it in any of its forms. For one thing, for a game called 'Tri-Stat' (Which implied to me the simplicity of only three stats or attributes) it seemed a very crunchy and clunky system. While its basic mechanic was simple enough, roll two D6 and add the appropriate stat and/or skill as a modifier, the game was point based similar to Hero System or GURPS.
The idea was that you could take X amount of points and build a super agile, samurai sword wielding school girl while I took the same amount of points and built a telepathic, teenage mecha pilot. The problem was, for me, that while that's awesome for American Superheroes, is it necessary for Anime characters?
Furthermore, nothing amount the game's mechanics felt overly Anime and Manga-Themed. There were bits and pieces but it largely felt like the games creators and/or writers over analyzed the genre and tried too hard to translate the often over the top, ridiculousness of Japanese pop culture entertainment into exacting numbers.
BESM was a major player in the gaming hobby for quite some time and it remains a favorite for many trying to run RPG campaigns in an Anime and Manga influenced or even oriented setting. Unfortunately, it is not my personal cup of .
Matte, motto arimasu! Sugu ni modotte kuru!
*BESM comes from Canada.
**Bet you didn't know it had a height of popularity. Now you do.