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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Following the Blue Bird's Path: Experiencing Zone of the Enders Chronologically

Ask hardcore fans of the PlayStation 2 what one of the best series is on the console, and it won't be long before someone answers with Zone of the Enders. Though generally credited as the creation of the legendary Hideo Kojima, though he only acted as a (highly supportive) producer, the series was actually the creation of Noriaki Okamura, who had worked with Kojima on games like Policenauts & Metal Gear Solid. While most generally only consider the two main games when thinking of the series, Z.O.E was created as a bit of a larger & more multimedia production, which in turn all take place in a shared world & timeline. As someone who's never really given the series a chance before, I've always wondered if going through all of Z.O.E in actual chronological order would be a great way to experience it all. So, over this past summer, I finally went through a massive Orbital Frame bender, checking out Konami's (& Sunrise's) cult-classic franchise in a way that I'm sure most haven't really considered. While I will give my general feelings about each production here, this is going to be focused more on how what happens in each part of the story, and if going through it chronologically actually provides any benefit.

So "Kiss Me Sunlights", as I put a "Ring on the World" to go "Beyond the Bounds", because "You Know Where We're Going?"


Just using the Japanese logos for consistency.

Before we start, though, some quick set-up to establish things, for those unfamiliar. Zone of the Enders takes place in the latter half of 22nd century, specifically from 2167 to 2174, following mankind's colonization of Mars & space colonies being set up around the orbit of Jupiter. The eponymous "Enders" are what those in control on Earth call the Mars & Jupiter colonists, which in turn has resulted in harsh laws & taxes against them. This has resulted in various groups & organizations rising up to rebel on Mars, the most important for the overall storyline being the military force BAHRAM, based out of Vacilia County. As for the giant robots themselves, they come in two main forms: The standard Laborious Extra-Orbital Vehicle, or LEV, & the more advanced Orbital Frame. With those basics out of the way, let's start running!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Investigating the "Eva Clone" Part 2: Are Any Worthy of Kaworu's Grace?

*cues up "Komm, süsser Tod"*
Everybody thinks they understand Eva. (They never understood anything.) They thought it was supposed to be a world without copying... Without references. (That's because they thought that nothing else came before it.) He betrayed them! Anno betrayed their feelings! (They misunderstood from the very beginning. They just believed what they wanted to believe.) Nobody wants these "clones"... So they can all just cry. (Then what are their hands for?) Nobody cares whether or not they exist... Nothing ever changes. So they can all just cry. (Then, tell me, what is their heart for?) It would be better if Eva never existed... So it should just cry, too. (Then why are they all here?) ...Is it okay for them to be here?


Huh, looks like the "Evangelion discourse" from the Netflix airing has already long died out... Oh well, I might as well finish what I started. As I said at the beginning of Part 1, Neon Genesis Evangelion's influence went far beyond the world of mech anime. 1998's Serial Experiments Lain was touted as being "Pioneer's Eva" in terms of importance, and it was certainly an influential hit, in its own right. 1999's Betterman was more of a horror anime than a mech anime, though there were giant robots, but it definitely took some notes from Eva's handbook. And let's not forget the "sekai-kei" genre that people attribute Eva as having started, which found its own icon in the late 90s in the form of the Boogiepop light novel series. That being said, I've generally seen the term "Eva Clone" reserved mostly for mech anime, and generally as a quick & dirty way to deride a show, which if nothing else shows the shallow, vapid, & generally derogatory connotation it carries. For example, few would call Lain or Boogiepop "Eva Clones", but people have no trouble using it to describe something like Darling in the Franxx. I bring this up mainly to illustrate why I'm only investigating titles that can be called "mech anime", because that's where the term itself originates from. Also, I've already gotten 12 anime to look at, & I value my sanity; I want to believe my feelings at that time were real, & not simply an obligation.

Anyway, let's move on to the second half of this investigation, covering the rest of 2000 up through 2005, the 10-year anniversary of Evangelion.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Demo Disc Vol. 15: Jump Juku

Two years ago, I covered some anime pilots that went nowhere for Volume 9 of Demo Disc. Last year, Volume 13 covered what I called "precursors", as they weren't all "pilots", that did see later productions made. So, this year, it's time to check out some of what are probably the most synonymous of them all: The Jump Pilots. Most anime & manga fans are probably at least somewhat familiar with Shueisha's annual end-year Jump Festa, which has been going on ever since 1999, as it's where new anime announcements related to Shonen Jump (& the occasional other Jump magazines) are essentially guaranteed. In the past there was also Jump Super Anime Tour, a travelling road show where anime pilots for popular newer manga got showcased to the public to gauge interest in potentially making them into full-blown anime series; in turn, they usually become available to purchase for a short time at the later Jump Festa. While not a truly annual occurrence, and there hasn't been one since 2013, it has resulted in many pilots to Jump anime that, to this day, have not seen official release outside of Japan, even if their later anime productions have seen some sort of official release. Usually, this is due to licensing complications, as these pilots can have completely different companies involved (& Shueisha is the primary producing company here), and this has even resulted in most of these being without any sort of re-release in Japan.

So let's take a look at four Jump pilots for series that have all seen an official English release at some point, in some form... And where better to start than one of the very first Jump pilots?

Kimagure Orange Road: Shonen Jump Special
About a decade before the Jump Super Anime Tour ever became a thing, Shueisha's first actual road show was the Jump Special Anime Daikoushin/Big March in 1985, which appeared in 22 cities around the country. At this travelling event, Shueisha showed off its first two anime pilots: One for Kochikame, animated by Tatsunoko, & the other for Kimagure Orange Road, animated by Pierrot. While the former wouldn't actually see a TV anime adaptation for a little over a decade, the latter saw its own 48-episode TV anime adaptation in less than two years, debuting in 1987 & even featuring some of the same staff as the pilot, like director Osamu Kobayashi; Pierrot even returned to animate. These two pilots were then re-shown in 1988 as part of the Jump Anime Carnival, alongside an OVA conceived by Akira Toriyama titled Kousuke-sama Rikimaru-sama: Konpei-tou no Ryu, which also offered VHS copies of both pilots as prizes in a contest. Since then, neither pilot has ever been re-released, but while Kochikame's pilot has effectively become a "lost anime", as there isn't even a photo of the cover art anywhere online, Orange Road's pilot has since been discovered, ripped, & even fansubbed. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, Discotek has so far been unable to license the pilot as part of its recent rescue of the anime franchise, but at least it's out there, somewhere, so might as well see how things started out.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Investigating the "Eva Clone" Part 1: You Can (Not) Take Influence!

On October 4, 1995, Gainax, Tatsunoko, & TV Tokyo introduced Japan to Neon Genesis Evangelion, a mech anime created & directed by Hideaki Anno (Gunbuster, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water) that helped revolutionize not just the mecha genre, but anime in general; even today, its influence can be felt. Now, to be fair, "Eva" (as it's often shortened to) wasn't truly all that original, as Anno is an Übermensch of an otaku that few can truly match, and took influence from everything he loved, like Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, Eiji Tsuburaya's Ultraman, & Yoshiyuki Tomino's Space Runaway Ideon, while the various Gnostic, Kabbalic, Judaic, & Christian references were primarily put in simply because they sounded the coolest. Still, it was the fusion of all of those elements, alongside Anno's own bouts with depression at the time heavily affecting the writing, that wound up transforming Evangelion from a quirky love-letter to all of Anno's favorite things, plus some personal soul searching, into a generation-defining pop-culture icon; it's even considered the originator of the vague & debatable "sekai-kei" genre. Also, just to clarify, Eva originally aired on TV at 6:30 pm, actually replacing the Japanese dub of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not at late-night, as some online will often state; it'd later re-run during that time, after it had become popular. Late-night anime wasn't even a thing by 1995 (that started mostly in 1997), and Eva wouldn't have become a cultural icon if it had aired in the otaku-focused late-night hours.

Naturally, Eva's success resulted in similar anime being created, many of which came from other notable creators! Over time, anime fans abroad would categorize these alleged imitators with a simple, if not amusingly ironic, phrase: "Eva Clone".

Okay, now one of you Rei's MUST be able to sing as good as Kaye Ballard,
Frank Sinatra, Claire Littley, or Helena Noguerra... Or just don't even bother, like Netflix did.

Now, to be fair, it's not like people immediately chomped at the bit at simply copying Eva wholesale; this wasn't NG Knight Lamune & 40 debuting barely a year after Mashin Hero Wataru finished airing. No, no... They waited a year after 1997's End of Evangelion, the movie finale, debuted in theaters! But, in all seriousness, the term "clone" is a rather harsh one & honestly is only used by those who simply want to belittle or lessen the potential relevance of these anime. After all, mech anime in general is intensely iterative & runs primarily off of whatever becomes the next big thing. Mazinger Z started the super robot boom of the 70s & Mobile Suit Gundam started the real robot boom of the 80s, while Wataru & Matchless Raijin-Oh started the early-to-mid-90s trend of either making the robots more chibi-looking (though not fully Super-Deformed) or having young children (rather than older teenagers) pilot the robots, respectively. Without "clones" from those eras, we wouldn't have series like the Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy, Fang of the Sun Dougram, Armored Trooper VOTOMS, or the Brave & Eldoran Series, many of which advanced mech anime & became classics, in their own right. Also, while Eva is one of the most popular anime of all time, it is simply true that not everyone has seen it, or at least saw it before seeing any of these "clones"; for them, those later productions are the valuable & influential ones. In fact, I'm one of those heathens who honestly has no major interest in ever watching Neon Genesis Evangelion in full; let them who is without sin cast the first stone (Wait... No one is shamed about sin on the internet!). However, I am still somewhat familiar with Eva's themes, characters, & some of its important scenes, simply due to a mix of cultural osmosis (i.e. I couldn't NOT know something about it), playing a bunch of Super Robot Wars games (which Eva sees inclusion in somewhat often), seeing the first Rebuild of Evangelion movie (which was mostly a recap of the first six episodes, with some differences), & seeing the climax of End of Eva years ago (because how could I NOT have seen it at some point?!).

Therefore, to celebrate Neon Genesis Evangelion's long-awaited return to legal availability in English via Netflix's streaming option (complete with a [controversial] new English translation!), I want to investigate these so-called "Eva Clones", and see what they tried to bring to the table; I will only be seeing the first 5-7 episodes of each, though, as this is merely a basic look at them. Also, as someone who hasn't seen all of Eva before, do these other productions truly showcase their "clone" status? After all, even the greatest in scientific research can result in a copy showing flaws in a way that even the most lay of people can tell at first glance. I'll be covering up to Eva's 10th Anniversary in 2005, because that's around the time the term itself stopped really being used for most newer imitators (it's still used, but nowhere near the frequency it used to be), but that still gives 12 different anime to cover, so I'll be splitting this up across two parts, & we're starting with 1998 to 2001.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Arc the Lad: Sing Me a Song of a Lad That's Wanted by the World!

While I wouldn't consider myself to be a truly identifiable "anime fan" until 2004, when I started following the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime via fansubs, I had already been a fan to some minor extent before then. I'd say that I first started knowing what "anime" was back when Digimon Adventure, Ultimate Muscle, & Escaflowne were airing on FoxKids & Kids WB, and I became more of a fan when I found Toonami via G Gundam in 2002. But it wasn't until 2003 that I decided that I really wanted to own an anime on home video, and much like how I originally got into JoJo's Bizarre Adventure back in 1999 because of the Dreamcast port of Capcom's 2D fighting game, my first anime DVD purchase was because of a video game.

When Sony debuted the PlayStation in Japan in late 1994, one thing the system needed in its home country was a killer RPG. That would come in June of 1995, when Arc the Lad saw release; it'd become the best-selling Japanese PS1 game that year, at ~1.11 million copies sold. What's most surprising is that it wasn't really a complete game, as developer G-Craft (Front Mission), later Arc Entertainment, had loftier plans, but knew that it wouldn't get the game out in time, so it was decided to split the game into two, with the first title really being more of a prologue to the REAL plot. Arc the Lad II came out in Japan November of 1996, also selling over a million copies, & told a truly epic (& tragic) tale that, sadly, didn't see international release at the time... Though not for a lack of trying. You see, as soon as the first game was announced, Victor Ireland wanted his company Working Designs to bring it over into English, but Sony Computer Entertainment of America played hardball, denying the idea because of how it was a strictly 2D game, which SCEA wanted to downplay in light of the PS1's polygon-pushing capabilities. In the end, it wouldn't be until April of 2002 that Working Designs finally released the game, but only as part of a giant Arc the Lad Collection that contained Arc I, Arc II, spin-off monster battling game Arc Arena: Monster Tournament, & 1999's Arc the Lad III.

At that time, the release was very hyped, & I made sure I got that collection as soon as it came out. I wound up loving the hell out of the release, though I never did finish Arc II (got to the final dungeon, though) or even play Arc III. Then, one day at my local Best Buy, I came across the anime section & saw a DVD boxset for an Arc the Lad anime; to say that I got excited about it would be an understatement. Anyway, this was a 26-episode TV adaptation of Arc II that originally aired in Japan throughout 1999 via satellite network WOWOW, and ADV would release the anime across six dub-only VHS tapes & six dual-audio DVDs throughout 2001, & the collection I saw came out in mid-2003; the Arc the Lad Collection was originally announced in 2000, so ADV likely tried to take advantage of that. As soon as I could save up the money, I bought that boxset & watched every episode, first via the dub & then about a year or so later via the original Japanese audio (with English subtitles, of course).

So now, roughly 15 years later, how will I feel about my first anime purchase? I still own that boxset, so it's finally time to take it off the shelf & pop those discs back in... They should still work just fine, right?