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Thursday, July 21, 2016

G-Saviour (the Game): The Final Men of UC Destiny

While we here in North America only received G-Saviour in the form of the live-action movie, at least until Yoshiyuki Tomino publicly disapproved of it, in Japan it was more than just a Japanese/Canadian co-production. Over there, Sunrise gave it a fairly notable push, conceptualizing it as a multimedia promotion truly worthy of being part of Gundam's 20th Anniversary Big Bang Project. Aside from the movie, though, the only other product that really gets any recognition is the video game. Developed by game studio/toy manufacturer Atelier-Sai (Cyber Formula ~Road to the Infinity~, Sunrise Eiyuutan, Sunrise World War) & released by Sunrise Interactive (Astro Kyudan: Kessen! Victory Kyudan-hen), G-Saviour was a PlayStation 2 game that saw release on September 14, 2000, a month before the system saw international release. In fact, the PS2 game was the very first piece of G-Saviour to ever see release in general, acting partially as a bit of promotion for the main attraction that was the movie, even though the game takes place after it. As time has gone on, the game has wound up receiving a much warmer reception than the movie, but now that I wound up enjoying the movie more than expected I wonder if the game can live up to the relative praise it has received. Only one way to find out, I'd say...

Universal Century 0223, Winter. It's been close to one year since the "Light of Gaea Incident", where Mark Curran helped Side 8 "Gaea" fight back the forces of CONSENT & declare itself a truly independent Settlement, which has started to cause panic among the other Settlements. Colonel Bais Bashing, loyal confidant to the late General Garneaux, has decided to put his secret "Project Raven" into action to enhance CONSENT's military power & quell any more potential rebellion. After finding out about Bais' plan, the Illuminati of Side 4 sends Lightning Squad to Earth to put a stop to Project Raven. With help of his commanding officer Ben Bolt & operator Asaka Field, Reed Fox pilots the same G-Saviour used a year ago to take the fight to CONSENT. To combat Lightning Squad, Bais sends out Gremly Sheep, his own elite squad lead by the shady Rysis, which will require the G-Saviour to be upgraded into the even more powerful G3-Saviour ("G-Third").

Friday, July 15, 2016

G-Saviour (the Movie): Blame Canada?

Sunrise's Gundam is something that doesn't require any sort of introduction; it's one of the biggest names in anime, let alone mecha. That being said, there is the occasional lesser known or forgotten product from the franchise, like when I reviewed the very silly & fun Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G (the spiritual precursor to the fan-favorite Gundam Build Fighters) back in December 2012. That being said, there is one notorious entry in the franchise that may be too known to be considered "obscure" or "forgotten", but this is something that I've thought about reviewing here for a long whole... And now I have enough to make this worth multiple pieces.

It's time to cover G-Saviour.

The Gundam franchise turned 20 years old in 1999, & to celebrate Sunrise came up with the Big Bang Project. The main attractions of the project were two new productions, with the first being Turn-A Gundam, a 1999-2000 TV anime which brought back Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino to his baby after a five-year hiatus following the end of Victory Gundam. Today, Turn-A Gundam is considered a cult favorite & saw its first ever international release just last year via DVD. The other product was G-Saviour, a multi-media project, headed up by a live-action movie, that followed the iconic Universal Century timeline. With a budget of roughly $10 million, Sunrise teamed with Polestar Entertainment to produce a ~95 minute, made-for-TV movie that was filmed in English before being dubbed into Japanese for its December 29, 2000 broadcast on TV Asahi. It wouldn't see an actual American release until 2002, but while it received a rave review from ANN's Bamboo Dong back in the day, the movie has become easy cannon fodder for franchise fans. I remember seeing G-Saviour over a decade ago (remember, I am 30, which is "old" for anime fans), but I think it's time to finally give it another go. Is it truly as embarrassing as most Gundam fans treat it, is it simply your usual made-for-TV movie, or is it actually better than you might think?

Universal Century 0223. The Earth Federation has collapsed & the "Side" space colonies have become independently run Settlements. From this has formed two sides: The Congress of Settlement Nations, or CONSENT, which governs Sides 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, & Earth, & the Settlement Freedom League, which is comprised of Sides 1 & 4, plus the Lunar Cities. Ex-CONSENT pilot Mark Curran works at a sea lab for Hydro-Gen, a corporation that hopes to utilize hydrogen to help fight the Earth's dwindling ability to produce agriculture. One day, Mark winds up helping a CONSENT pilot whose Mobile Suit crashed into the sea, before the lab becomes commandeered by a Congressional task force lead by Jack Halle, Mark's former commander. The lab also gets invaded by spies from Side 8, Gaea, shortly after Jack arrives. While Jack's forces kill one of the intruders, Mark is able to save another, Dr. Cynthia Graves, which is only the start of his journey that will put him against Jack & General Garneaux of CONSENT, due to their goal of getting a hold of a secret experiment that could change the power balance of the Universal Century.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Demo Disc Vol. 6: Illumitoon's Illusive Investment

Anime licensing companies have come & go in the history of the North American anime industry, and when they do go away it's usually in one of three categories. Some, like Bandai Entertainment, Central Park Media, or Geneon Entertainment, leave behind a legacy of greatness & maybe even innovation. Some others, like AnimeWho or ArtsMagic, die quietly after only a few releases, only to be brought up by oddball wannabe historians, like myself. Others still, though, wind up being remembered for having absolutely no idea as to what they were doing in the first place. A perfect example of that last category would be Illumitoon Entertainment. Formed in 2006 by FUNimation co-founder Barry Watson, Illumitoon's "Not-So-Rise & Absolute-Fail" was something I covered back in 2011. In the short couple of years the company actually mattered, it managed to get one DVD out for three of the anime it licensed (Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Beet the Vandel Buster, & B't X [this one got two]), but there was a fourth anime picked up by Illumitoon that never saw any sort of release in North America, or at least one on home video. It did see a year-long stint on The Anime Network in 2008 when it was still an On-Demand TV cable service, alongside B't X, but even that was dub-only & lasted for only 14 episodes.

I think it's time to finally give AM Driver it's (partial) due, because Illumitoon never did.

Running from 2004-2005, Get Ride! AMDriver was a 51-episode TV series that actually ran in a prime-time slot on TV Tokyo, 18:30/6:30 pm, replacing Croket! before being itself replaced by The Law of Ueki. Animated by Studio DEEN & directed by Yuji Yamaguchi (the man behind DEEN's Fate/stay night anime productions), under the name Isao Torada, the anime was part of a multi-media franchise that featured a kids manga & even a PS2 game & toys developed by Konami; some of the staff involved in the toys would go on to work on the Busou Shinki product line. In terms of attention outside of Japan, there was a single episode fansubbed back in the day (to my knowledge, at least), showing that next to no one really cared about it. There was a Hong Kong bootleg DVD set, though, that covered the first 13 episodes, so while I prefer to not have to rely on bootleg English subtitles anymore, I have absolutely no other choice here; at least the subs here work well enough, if maybe a little too literal. Sadly, the dubbed episodes are nowhere to be found, so I can't judge that product, nor can I cover episode 14, but let's see if there was even any potential to be found in the first quarter of AMDriver. Did Illumitton put money down on this anime because of any actual quality, or was Barry Watson simply hoping for a multi-media product, like it was in Japan?

It's been ten years since the Bugchine, a mysterious race of monster, invaded Earth. To combat the Bugchine, an organization was formed that was made up of armored warriors named AMDriver. Instead of simply being a combat troupe, though, AMDriver is a government-funded cadre of various "depots" made up of small units of AM Drivers that both work together as well as compete with each other. Units that do the most Bugchine destroying get more funding, not to mention become more & more popular with the general populace due to their battles being televised live. After two years of training, Jenus Dira, Ragna Laurairia, & Sera May officially join AMDriver's Little Wing depot, where they quickly learn just how the various AM Drivers themselves handle their jobs. When a trio of other armored warriors make their moves against the organization & a force called the Justice Army comes in, though, Jenus & his friends start to wonder... Is AMDriver really about protecting the people from monsters, or is it nothing more than a way to placate the populace & keep them under the control of the government?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dororo (Live-Action): Unfaithful Adaptation or Neat Reimagining? You Decide!

I've reviewed live-action adaptations of anime & manga before, see Team Astro & Fuma no Kojirou, but they've definitely been a rarity here. Honestly, though, I have been interested in covering these kinds of products for a while, so I might as well make up for that slightly. Luckily, since I just reviewed an anime based on a manga that also received a live-action adaptation about a decade ago, I should start there.

Osamu Tezuka's catalog is no stranger to live-action, both before & after his death in 1989. Astro Boy was a live-action TV series in 1959 before it ever became an anime in 1963 (something which Tezuka quickly regretted ever having been made), the 1966-1967 live-action TV adaptation of Ambassador Magma was the first ever color tokusatsu series, & even as recently as 2009 saw a live-action movie based on Tezuka's MW ("Mu"), which was a response to the gekiga movement of the 70s. What I'll be covering here, though, is the 2007 live-action movie based off of Dororo. Released during the 40th Anniversary of the manga's debut in Shonen Sunday, the movie was (supposedly) originally planned to be the first in a trilogy, but wound up being only a single film; granted, it wound up being a 139-minute film. Directed by Akihiko Shiota (YomigaeriDakishimetai: Shinjitsu no Monogatari/I Just Wanna Hug You), the movie was the eight top-grossing Japanese film of 2007. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, which was releasing the occasional foreign film at the time, brought the movie over to North America via sub-only DVD in 2008, coming out just after Vertical finished releasing the manga.

If you didn't notice, I refrained from calling the Dororo movie an "adaptation", because it isn't exactly one. Does that mean I'm condemning the movie? Not exactly...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dororo (& Hyakkimaru): A Litany of Anime History

Anime with great historical value isn't something that tends to get released here in North America on any sort of basis, at least in the sense that it's historical nature is completely established by the time it is picked up; normally, a title becomes historical after it's already been brought over (i.e. titles like Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Sailor Moon, etc.). Even more rare to ever see released over here is black & white/B&W anime, which is pretty obvious to see why. Most anime fans are young & interested in the here & now, with older fans only being so interested in titles from the 60s, which is when B&W anime was still being produced. That's what makes the subject of this review so interesting & important, though... This is a B&W anime being released in the year 2016 because enough people were interested in it, & it's historical significance is absolutely through the roof. In fact, it's so important in the history of anime that it being adapted from a manga by Osamu Tezuka seems kind of blasé.

Dororo originally debuted in the pages of Weekly Shonen Sunday back in mid-1967, but it only lasted a year before Tezuka had to cancel it, though that certainly didn't stop it from winner an Eisner Award in 2009 once Vertical published it in North America. Anyway, Tezuka's original anime studio, Mushi Productions, was interested in adapting the manga to anime in 1969, after making a pilot film in 1968 that caught the interest of Fuji TV. As the story goes, though, Fuji was leery about Mushi's use of blood, which resulted in Mushi having to produce the TV anime in B&W; Fuji also mandated the inclusion of a puppy to follow the leads. By 1969, though, anime was well into the age of color, which meant that the Dororo anime wound up becoming the last anime to ever be completely produced in B&W. While anime since it has used B&W in varying ways for artistic purposes, this was the last one made without color because of the very time it was made in.

Also, half-way into the show's airing, the anime changed names slightly, going from Dororo to Dororo & Hyakkimaru, due to how the latter was technically the main character. Come episode 20 would be a new sponsor, Calpis Co. Ltd. (which makes the soft drink of the same name), with the idea being that Calpis would sponsor each & every anime that would air in the time slot that Dororo ran in for the time being; after Dororo finished the slot changed to airing anime based on classic children's literature. Ten years after the creation of Calpis Manga Theater, though, Calpis would stop sponsoring, though the slot itself would stay the same; House Foods would later be the sponsor at times. In short, Dororo was the very first entry in the venerated World Masterpiece Theater franchise, which produced anime like Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Anne of Green Gables, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, & A Dog of Flanders, many of which became international classics of anime. It's also the first entry in the anime staple to not be based on a piece of classic literature, with only 1994's Tico of the Seven Seas doing the same by being an original story. Only an anime based on an Osamu Tezuka manga could be both the end of one era & the start of another, & yet there's still more historical significance to Dororo.

That last bit is housed within the staff list for this anime, but we'll get to that when appropriate. For the moment, let's finally get the show itself, which finally saw a DVD release by Discotek Media earlier this year.