Saturday, May 2, 2015

Pachislo Kizoku Gin: Much Like the Reels, My Finger Will Stop Time

When people think about gambling, especially casino games, one of the first thoughts will be about slot machines, those games of chance where one inserts some coins, pulls a level, & hopes to hit a jackpot. In Japan, however, traditional slot machines are illegal due to the country making gambling illegal, not to mention the more or less random nature of the game. In place of that is Japanese slots, also known as pashislo (a.k.a. pachisuro, a.k.a. pachislot, a.k.a. pachinko slot), where tokens are used in place of actual currency, winnings are traded in for prizes & snacks (though there's always a shady booth outside of a parlor or game center to cash those in for actual money), and a trio of buttons are used by the player to stop each of the three reels. Combine all of this with some stringent rules & regulations and pachislo gives the allure of actually relying on skills (even if mostly illusory) & is big business in its home country. Part of the continued appeal in pachislo (& its pinball-influenced cousin, pachinko) is the fact that, since the start of the new millenium, it has become the secondary home of many licensed properties, including anime & manga.

If you can name a popular anime or manga, even if it hasn't seen anything recent via film or print, then there's a big chance that there's some sort of "pachi" machine based on it. Rokudenashi BLUES, Aquarion, Code Geass, Saint Seiya, Ashita no Joe... Hell, it doesn't even need to be anime or manga, as there are literally pachi-machines based on people & stuff like Elvis, Koda Kumi, or even Knight Rider! In fact, some machines with original concepts have even been adapted into anime, like Battle Girls - Time Paradox, Yoshimune, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman, or Rio Rainbow Gate!. So, to modify the gambler's fallacy slightly, shouldn't that mean that there's anime & manga about playing these things? Well the answer is yes, and I'm not talking about something like the second half of Kaiji: Against All Odds, where the lead character goes up against the pachinko machine from Hell, or the amusingly large number of pachislo & pachinko manga that's out there. Rather, I'm talking about an utterly forgotten anime called Pachislo Kizoku Gin, or Slot Noble Gin, as the official English title translation says. While there was a short manga that ran alongside it, as pictured above, the main attraction was a 23-episode, late-night TV anime that ran throughout 2001 on Fuji TV. To my knowledge, this is the sole anime about playing pachislo that has ever been made, & I didn't even know it existed until last June, when Lynzee Lamb included it in her list of "6 Obscure Anime Series Lost in Time" over at ANN. Since then I managed to actually buy the Japanese R2 DVD boxset from Amazon Japan for a shockingly cheap price, ~$40 (including shipping!), so let's see if I gambled my money well on this show about pachislo & the "slotters" that play them.

Ginya Otonashi dreams of one day becoming a novelist, but for the time being works part-time as a journalist for a pachislo magazine, even though Ginya isn't exactly too interested in the game. He's told by his editor Hino to find the best slotter in Japan so that he can do an exposé, but not knowing where to start Ginya winds up at the local bar he frequents, where his on-again/off-again girlfriend Yuri works part-time. Bar owner Dai Shibaura, a former pachislo maker, decides to let Ginya in on a big secret & takes him to an underground parking lot, the elevator in which leads to the Slosseum, a secret organization where people can compete against each other in pachislo. The goal of any Slosseum slotter is to advance up the ranks, from rankless to Knight to General to King, in order to earn the right to go up against the Ultimate King, Ryo Daiba. Shibaura brought Ginya along because he sees potential in Ginya's visual acuity, as he can even stop a pinwheel on the exact color he wants. By giving it a try, Ginya not only becomes more interested in playing pachislo but gains the attention of Daiba. With the goal of fighting Daiba in mind, Ginya will move his way up the ranks in the Slosseum, but by becoming more involved in pachislo he'll also dig up, & have to put closure to, his old childhood memories of his real father, Kojirou Shinbashi, a pachislo maker who left his family behind & was never seen again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Doamaiger D: So Retro It's Tasty

Short anime are a subject that rarely gets discussed by most anime sites, and the reasoning is a simple one: How much can you really write about something that takes longer to write than it takes to watch? This is especially true when the writer has to do a weekly report on the show, hence why places like Anime News Network doesn't even bother to cover short anime for the most part (at least, anything shorter than 10 minutes/episode). Sadly, that has resulted in some very enjoyable series, like My Neighbor Seki/Tonari no Seki-kun, not receiving as much credit as it deserves. The show I want to talk about, however, didn't even receive the luxury that Seki did by getting a simulcast; it didn't even get fansubbed, and it only aired this past season! At the same time, it's not exactly surprising that this show didn't get a translation, because it also doubled as an advertisement for a Japanese locale, Kyoto.

Anime that's made mostly to advertise actual places in Japan is something that's been happening for the past couple of years, and just about none of them ever received any sort of English translation. For example, does anyone remember hearing about Tenpo Suikoden NEO, a 2013 ONA about a girl who gets teleported back to the past & was made to advertise the town of Tonosho in Chiba prefecture? I'd imagine the majority answer would be "No," simply because it was never simulcasted nor fansubbed (now that I've brought it up, however, watch me review this one day, just for the hell of it). In fact, the only anime of this type I can think of that saw an English release of any sort is 2009's Miracle Train, which advertised Tokyo's subway lines via anthropomorphism. This past winter had a short anime run on KBS Kyoto & Television Kanagawa/tvk called Doamaiger D, which was made to help promote Kyoto's sweets industry. What made this show catch some eyes when it announced back in September 2014, however, was the style of the show, as it utilized a completely retro, 70s mech anime-influenced look. Now that it has ended last month, I'm curious about Doamaiger even more so. Was this 13-episode series of 2.5 minute shorts hiding more than its purpose indicated, or was it really nothing more than a 30-minute advertisement for an industry in the former capital of Japan? Or, simply put, was this show just as disposable & high in sugar as the sweets it promoted? Let's find out.

Daijirou Kyogyoku is the 15th generational proprietor of the Amasho-do sweets shop in Kyoto. One day, after falling down the steps into the basement, Daijirou finds a hidden door, behind which is a giant hangar housing a mecha named Doamaiger D. At the same time, people start getting turned into giant mecha/kaiju monsters called Mekaiju, and the only way to return them to normal is for Daijirou to prepare & feed them sweets made via Doamaiger! While fighting off each successive Mekaiju, however, Daijirou will also find out who's behind the creation of these monsters, learn about the origin of his robot, & take on Mr. Robert, an American sweets magnate who uses his own giant robot to automatize sweets production.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fantastic Detective Labyrinth: Elementary (Schoolkids), My Dear Watson

Right Stuf introduced the Lucky Penny label in 2012 as a way for the company to license & release anime that they felt didn't quite meet the criteria for the Nozomi label that was introduced in 2007. Right Stuf wanted Nozomi to be more for beloved titles that the company can put out in with things like boxsets, not to mention expect to simply sell more than other titles. In turn, Lucky Penny would be simpler releases for anime that either just wouldn't have enough art assets to warrant boxset production, or simply would have been too risky or niche for even the Nozomi label. While it started slow, the LP label has brought us titles like Ristorante Paradiso, Hyakko, & re-releases of Princess Nine & Ah! My Buddha. At Anime Expo last year, however, "Dark Lord" Shawne Kleckner announced that one of the new LP releases would be for a show that no one, & I mean NO ONE, would have ever expected getting licensed. As someone who loves seeing stuff like this happen, I can't ignore it when the DVD set is now out (plus, I had planned on watching & reviewing this show one day, so might as well do it now).

In 2006, writer Meito Manjo & artist Seiji Wakayama debuted Suteki Tantei/Fantastic Detective Labyrinth in Kodansha's Magazine Special, home of manga like Gacha Gacha, Pastel, & School Rumble Z, & ran until 2008 (totaling eight volumes). A little over a year after the manga debuted, a TV anime adaptation by Studio DEEN started up & ran for 25 episodes. As was the usual thing of the time, it was fully fansubbed in English while it aired in Japan, before becoming outright forgotten almost immediately after it ended. In the years since it never came up in any real conversation & more or less simply became one of those anime that just came & went. That's what made Kleckner's announcement at AX last year such a surprise, but it was the reason why he & his company picked it up that rekindled my interest in checking it out: It was simply a show that he & his people came across recently, found very enjoyable, & felt that it deserved a chance over here. Upon being released, however, reviews more or less put it down, calling it disappointing & lackluster. So was Labyrinth a show that was meant to be buried under the sands of time, or did the reviewers simply miss what Kleckner & his army of minions saw in it? Well I can't quite answer that definitively, but I can at least toss my hat into the ring.

It's been 30 years since a giant earthquake ravaged Tokyo like none before; it was later deemed The Great Fall. Afterwards, a new city called Shinto was made around the outskirts of Tokyo, and when Shinto was made the new capital after most of the populace moved there, the ravaged old capital was renamed Kyuto. Since then, Kyuto has become home to many "phantom cases", crimes that look to have no discernible culprit, motive, or even evidence. The Shinto police force is technically in charge of protecting Kyuto, but don't really care to do their job, except for two detectives: Ryusuke Inogami & Miyako Tomaru. Lately, they've been able to solve some phantom cases by way of a series of mysteriously helpful phone calls by someone who can explain everything. Tracking the phone call leads them to a European-styled mansion in the middle of the forest, and inside they meet Mayuki Hyuga, the 12 year old boy who has been calling them. Turns out Mayuki has a power unknown to him that allows him to locate the "exits of the labyrinths" & solve cases put before him. While helping out the detectives, Mayuki will also try to solve the mystery behind his power & family lineage, especially when a mastermind named Seiju starts challenging Mayuki with mysteries.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Overkill Part 2

At last you've come... friends. Last time we looked at six (actually six!) anime from various eras of the anime industry here in North America; the early, mid, & late-90s, the early 00s, & even the end of the bubble era. The other six entries in this list are more or less the same in that regard, but that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to look at anime that would be interesting to see be given new releases after years of being out of print. Do I know what I'm doing, though?

I'm fully aware of what I'm doing. Can't you see! Anyway, enough Goldman parodying & onto the rest of this list.

When it comes to iconic anime characters from the 70s, one of the most well beloved & manly is Captain Harlock, the legendary space captain who leads the giant spaceship Arcadia. What some people might not know, however, is that Leiji Matsumoto actually didn't originally conceive Harlock as a space pirate. Indeed, before appearing in his iconic cape & eyepatch in 1977, the character originally debuted back in 1972 as Franklin Harlock, Jr. in the manga Gun Frontier, a two-volume wild west manga which actually starred Tochiro Oyama, who would also be re-imagined & made iconic in space years later. Instead of space, it instead took place in a land called Gun Frontier, with Harlock being a former sea captain who now travels with Tochiro, taking out all sorts of outlaws & baddies with a mysterious woman. This original manga wouldn't see a sequel until 1999, in the form of a novel, but in 2002 (the 30th Anniversary), a 13-episode TV anime adaptation was made by Vega Entertainment, a small studio that now works in assistance to other studios.

(NOTE: None of this should be confused with the 1990 Taito shoot-em-up of the same name.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Overkill Part 1

I'm in the midst of watching the subject of the next anime review (it's another recent Right Stuf release), so in the meantime I'll do something that's essentially become a yearly standard on the blog: A license rescue list. This will be the sixth iteration of the original "12 Anime" list, since the first year featured two of them, so I think it's fair enough to say that I might be going into overkill at this point... Either that or I'm just trying too hard to tie in the fact that I've been playing some of the House of the Dead series lately. Regardless, let's check out another twelve anime (& this time I truly mean twelve!) that were once given releases here in North America in the past & could use a re-release.

Either that, or suffer like G did. The choice is yours, after all.

There's usually at least one title that gets me inspired to make a new rescue list, and for this list it was a 90s OVA based on a shonen manga. I've actually been reading the recent prequel manga to Kei Kusunoki's Onikirimaru, known as The Legend of Onikirimaru over at CrunchyRoll, and I've been enjoying it. I've heard of the original Shonen Sunday series but never checked it out before, especially since Viz only released the first two volumes of the manga (out of a total 20), and the 1994-1995 OVA adaptation has only ever been released on dubbed VHS; Viz used the literal translation of Ogre Slayer. For those unfamiliar with Onikirimaru, it follows the life of a nameless boy who's actually a full-blooded demon but looks like a normal human. He has made it his life's mission to kill every single demon that exists in the world, as his eponymous sword is the only thing that can kill his kind. If the original title is anything like the presently-running prequel (which takes place during Japan's various historical eras, detailing the boy's birth & early days), then the story is more or less episodic, with the focus being more on how each demon affects the life of a human who has dark, demonic thoughts. Personally, I'm fine with that concept, but I can see where others might prefer a more serialized story.