After decades on the fringes of American culture, anime _ that uniquely Japanese form of animation _ is everywhere. From the Cartoon Network to manga books to the Academy Awards (where Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" snatched an Oscar a few years ago), Japanese animation is becoming almost as familiar as the American kind.
Anime's popularity can be directly traced to the growth of video games, especially the "Final Fantasy" series and other role-playing epics like "Dragon Warrior." For kids who grew up playing video games, anime's big-eyed, spiky-haired characters and apocalyptic stories doesn't seem so alien.
Some of Japan's most popular exports are cross-platform smashes, like "Pokemon," which encompass anime, manga, video games, collectible card games and even stuffed animals. In some cases, the cartoons exist solely to promote the games _ or is it vice versa? Whatever the case, here are some anime-based games that don't require knowledge of their sources' complicated mythologies:
_"One Piece: Grand Battle" (Bandai, $39.99 (Ђ32.58), for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube): How can you not like a cartoon whose main character is named Monkey D. Luffy? He's a seafaring lad who wants to become King of the Pirates, but first he has to find the One Piece, a massive treasure left behind by an executed buccaneer. Sounds like a neat premise, but Bandai throws it overboard. Rather than letting us set sail on the high seas, "One Piece: Grand Battle" is just a fighting game _ a good fighting game, but still. You can pick Luffy or one of his wacky crewmates, and then beat up on the rest of your pals. The battlefields will remind Dreamcast stalwarts of the classic "Power Stone," with a variety of crates, bombs and other items you can throw at your opponent. And each character has special skills that are activated after you've dished out a certain amount of damage. "Grand Battle" is a simple, lighthearted beat-'em-up that anyone can pick up and play. Two stars out of four.
_"Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir" (Square Enix, $39.99 (Ђ32.58) for the PlayStation 2): Edward and Alphonse Elric are two young alchemists who have been punished for messing with the forces of life and death. Ed had to replace an arm and a leg with metallic limbs, while Al's soul now resides in a giant suit of armor. While searching for the Philosopher's Stone that will restore their bodies, they encounter an assortment of rogue alchemists with the same goal. Ed can use alchemy to turn objects into weapons or even pluck them out of thin air, bringing some variety to the countless battles against elemental monsters. Al backs you up with dependable muscle, and other alchemists from the TV series help out along the way. With smooth animation and voice work by the actors who do the cartoon's English translation, "Curse of the Crimson Elixir" feels like an extra-long, interactive episode of the TV show. Three stars out of four.
_"Yu-Gi-Oh! Nightmare Troubadour" (Konami, $34.99 (Ђ28.5) for the Nintendo DS): The anime and manga versions of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" are about people who play the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" trading card game, which has been translated into numerous "Yu-Gi-Oh!" video games. "Nightmare Troubadour" is the best of those games, thanks largely to its presence on the Nintendo DS. The DS is a great platform for card games, since its touch screen lets you handle the cards much like you would in real life. (How about a euchre game, somebody?) There's no plot to speak of: You simply play cards against increasingly difficult opponents, using your winnings to buy more powerful cards to take on more challenging foes. The strategy involved, both in playing the game and assembling a balanced deck, is very satisfying. "Nightmare Troubadour" is a bargain for the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" collector who doesn't want to mortgage his house to pay for the ultimate deck. Three stars out of four, AP reported.