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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Demo Disc Vol. 14: Diminutive Delinquents

Without a doubt, one of the most curious genres in the history of manga is that of the delinquent variety. Known as "yankii" in Japan ever since the Post-War Era, delinquent culture has always maintained an allure to Japanese manga readers, which has resulted in icons of the genre, like the Crows x Worst franchise or Rokudenashi Blues, to titles that have utilized the culture to add a unique spin on a subject or simply poke fun at it, like Nyankees (where cats are portrayed as yankii); at the same time, though, this is mainly a manga genre, as yankii anime is extremely rare. This isn't simply a male-oriented culture either, as women are just as known to have their own delinquent culture, with the most well known being "sukeban", the female equivalent to a "bancho", or male delinquent boss. According to the book Beyond Polite Japanese: A Dictionary of Japanese Slang and Colloquialisms, the word sukeban was originally a bit of an insider term until 1972, when it entered the general vernacular, which makes the subject of this volume of Demo Disc all the more interesting, because it may have been one of the very first manga to use the word sukeban in its title. You see, at essentially the same exact time (there were probably only one or two weeks between their debuts), Go Nagai started the manga Oira Sukeban/Delinquent in Drag in Weekly Shonen Sunday, which was about a boy delinquent having to dress as a girl to infiltrate an all-girls school, while over at Weekly Shonen Jump a newbie mangaka made his debut in the industry with his own (sort of) take on sukeban culture.

The works of Masami Kurumada is a subject that is nowhere near foreign to this blog; hell, I've already written four prior articles regarding the man's various works this year alone. Still, for all that he's generally known for being about hot-blooded, passionate boys who grow to become "true men" by way of combat, it is interesting that his debut manga was NOT exactly like his later works. First appearing in Weekly Shonen Jump in mid-1974, though apparently the debut chapter actually got re-run due to the existing oil crisis at the time (a.k.a. the "first oil shock"), Sukeban Arashi/Delinquent Storm originally ran irregularly for six chapters until early 1975. Ten weeks later, the manga returned as a regular part of Jump's weekly schedule, but would end up canceled by the end of the year. It wouldn't be until late 1977, due to Kurumada's success with Ring ni Kakero, that Sukeban Arashi would actually be compiled into a proper tankouban release, but this two-volume edition only covered the later weekly run, plus a 1976 one-shot titled Mikeneko Rock. It wouldn't be until 1983, during the run of Fuma no Kojiro, that the original six chapters would get collected, though instead of being considered a Volume 0 or 3, they were instead treated as a bonus to the main attraction of one-shots Mabudachi Jingi & Shiro-Obi Taisho, with the former story also being the name of the book; I actually reviewed both of those one-shots years ago. Then, in 2013, a scanlation effort started up for Sukeban Arashi, which started with the original irregular run & then moved into the weekly run, but died out shortly into Volume 2; only 19 chapters were fan translated into English. Because of that, I can't properly judge the entire series, nor can I ever cover Mikeneko Rock, but I've always wanted to cover this manga, so let's see what a 20-year-old Masami Kurumada was up to in the mid-70s, before he truly made a name for himself.

Monday, December 3, 2018

In Remembrance of Yu Yamamoto, the Most Unique Mech Anime Writer We Barely Knew

Last week, anime fandom found out about the passing of anime screenwriter Yu Yamamoto, who died on November 25, 2018, just a month shy of his 72nd birthday. To most anime fans outside of Japan, this news isn't really too shattering, as most of the titles that Yamamoto worked on did not see release outside of Japan. Those that did, like Green Legend Ran & Dark Warrior/Makyo Senjo, weren't highly notable releases, either. Looking into the man's resumé, however, showcases that Yu Yamamoto actually has a bit of a legacy, specifically for mech anime, and it's one that should be celebrated, so let's look over it.

Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1946, Masaru "Yu" Yamamoto graduated from Tokyo's Hosei University before entering the anime industry in 1973. He got his start on comedies & action shows like Dokonjo Gaeru, Jungle Kurobee, Zero Tester, & Hurricane Polymar, but eventually found himself working on more & more mech anime episode scripts. Titles like Dino Mech Gaiking, Gowapper 5 Godam, & Super Electromagnetic Robo Com-Battler V all featured Yamamoto on the writing staff to varying degrees. For most, he'd only be responsible for no more than a handful of episodes, but in the case of Super-Combining Magic Robo Ginguiser, which was infamous for being utterly absurd in what the robot could transform into (because magic), he wrote 12 episodes, out of a total 26. Yes, half of the show was done by Yamamoto himself, with another five people handling the rest of the episodes. While certainly not the most amount of episodes he had to write for a single show by any means by that point, he had previously written 33 of the 108 episodes for Yatterman (including the finale!), Ginguiser was effectively the first time a good majority of an anime's plot followed the stroke of his pen... Or maybe not.

You see, upon further research, I came across something interesting. There's another writer for Ginguiser, Akira (or maybe it's Rou?) Hatta, who was only credited for writing the unreleased two-part finale of that show, plus the two recaps that took the place of the final episodes. His only other notable credits are for Blocker Corps IV Machine Blaster, where's he's also listed as "Original Creator", & 1977's Her Majesty, The Queen Petit Ange, also known as Angie Girl or The Casebook of Charlotte Holmes, both of which Yu Yamamoto also wrote for (& even was the credited creator of, for the latter). Similarly, Ginguiser's head writer, who never actually wrote a single episode, is listed as Rei (or maybe it's Rai?) Hatta, and his name never appears again from what I could search. It's not unheard of for an anime writer or director to create pseudonyms that allow them to work on more episodes, possibly due to studio restrictions & the like, so it's possible that Yu Yamamoto created the Akira/Rou/Rei/Rai Hatta name(s), which would mean that he was the original creator of two (admittedly obscure & forgotten) mech anime of the 70s. Anyway, moving back on track, Yamamoto would continue writing throughout the 70s, & in 1979 was brought on by Sunrise to help write for a new mech anime that was being directed by a bit of a loose cannon named Yoshiyuki Tomino.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Tobor the 8th Anniversary: Countdown to Final Obscusion?

"Weirdest Dresser", Judd Elementary School Class of 1998

Yes, that was a real "award" I was given by my sixth grade class as we left elementary school for middle school. The interesting thing about that, in retrospect, is that I wasn't a "weird" dresser for the reasons you'd think. I wasn't bad with color coordination, my mother made sure of that, & I wasn't dressed in any peculiar way. Instead, I simply preferred to wear shirts that were either one solid color, or have some sort of pattern (lines, checker-boxed, etc.), & I really didn't like wearing any sort of licensed property on it; today, I'm not as picky, but I'm still prefer simpler designs. No, I was deemed the "weirdest dresser" simply because I didn't follow the status quo, and for some reason my classmates didn't like that I was so "different". My fellow boy classmates would call me an "alien", say that I wasn't from this planet, & just pick on me in general, while the girl classmates simply didn't want to have anything to do with me... And then it all stopped once someone decided to apparently get so annoyed at me for being "different" that he decided to punch me in the head after school; not the face, but the forehead.

Boy, did that shut everyone up, and I think it really made them realize something about ostracization. After that moment, everyone treated me just a little bit nicer, & by high school I was at least tolerated enough that, on rare occasion, they'd ask me to help them if they had a question about an assignment, because I guess I was smart, in their opinions. But by then the damage had been done years ago, and I'm sure it really hurt my ability to relate to others... And it's something that's honestly stuck with me to this very day, unfortunately, if even only a little bit. If you ever came across me in real life & I wasn't exactly the most open guy to talk to, I hope that at least explains why I might have come across like that, and I'm sorry if I gave you a less than stellar first impression.

If I was to be my own (hack) psychologist for a moment, I'd say that's the reason why I love focusing on the obscure & forgotten: Because they deserve the attention & respect that others wouldn't give them, kind of like how I was ignored or treated as "less". Today, a common claim is to "fly your freak flag high" & celebrate what makes you special, but the truth of the matter is that, deep down, those who say that tend to be the ones who still determine what's "normal", even within little niches like anime fandom; be yourself, but not so much that you're too unlike others. Ever since I started The Land of Obscusion, I've had moments where my "different" tastes were questioned, simply because they were not like those of others & were unexpected. I once got called out, in person, by professional translator Neil Nadelman, because I had the apparent gall to give Zaizen Jotaro, a constant pick for his Totally Lame Anime panel at cons, a more positive review over here a few years prior; to clarify, he brought it up, not knowing I was in the same room as him. Once on ANNCast, I told Zac Bertschy & Justin Sevakis, two guys I have nothing but the greatest respect for, that Ring ni Kakero 1 was my most-wanted anime license, and their collective response was effectively, "WHAT?! WHY?!?!?!"; granted, they heard me out & humored me with a conversation, but the reaction said it all. Finally, & most recently, I had a friend pretty much say to me, "Well, you are a [insert anime title here] apologist, so..." when I defended another anime I enjoyed; I get that it was in jest, but the joke still comes from a feeling of superior opinion. Obviously, all three are isolated incidents, and only the first actually came off as aggressively intentional, but they still, unfortunately, all carried the same general air to them: You're "different", and that's not a "good thing" to the rest of us.

Friday, November 30, 2018

GR -Giant Robo-: You're Not Alexand... Er, I Mean Imagawa!

I've said it before here, but it bears repeating that Mitsuteru Yokoyama might be one of the most underappreciated people in the history of anime & manga, and that even applies to mecha. While the likes of Go Nagai, Ken Ishikawa, Yoshiyuki Tomino, & even Tadao Nagahama are acknowledged for their contributions to the genre, they all worked off of the template that Yokoyama introduced back in 1956 with Tetsujin 28. After that manga was made into a wildly successful TV anime from 1963 to 1966, Toei Company contacted Yokoyama with an offer for him to create a pilot for a new tokusatsu show, likely to follow up on the success of shows like Ultraman & Ambassador Magma. What Yokoyama created was Giant Robo, which still featured a teenage boy controlling a giant robot by way of a voice-operated remote control on his wrist; unlike Tetsujin, though, which could be controlled by anyone, Robo could only be controlled by a "hero". The toku series ran from 1967 to 1968 for 26 episodes, & would shortly later be brought over to North America under the Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot. Alongside this, & similar to what Go Nagai & Shotaro Ishinomori would do with their creations later on, Yokoyama also drew his own manga take on Giant Robo, which ran for three volumes in Weekly Shonen Sunday while the show aired on TV.

Of course, as time went on, this title has become associated with something else entirely: The 1992-1998 OVA series Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Created by cult-favorite director Yasuhiro Imagawa, this OVA was not really an adaptation of Giant Robo, as Imagawa was actually barred from using any of the supporting cast from either the manga or toku. In response, the OVA became a celebration of Mitsuteru Yokoyama in general, featuring characters from a bevy of the man's manga catalog. That honestly seems like how the Fleischer Brothers didn't want to make Superman cartoons in the 40s, so they asked for an absurd amount of money... Only to wind up making said cartoons because they were being paid more than they ever had. Still, once that OVA came & went, the name "Giant Robo" was automatically linked with what Imagawa created. That's why, when production company Softgarage announced a new 13-episode TV anime to celebrate Giant Robo's 40th Anniversary, there was a fair bit of trepidation, hesitation, & annoyance from anime fans, even with it being in the seemingly good hands of director Masahiko Murata (Mazinkaiser, Corpse Princess) & head writer Chiaki J. Konaka (Digimon Tamers, Serial Experiments Lain); fans wanted more of Imagawa's story, not something completely unrelated. In the end, 2007's GR -Giant Robo- has become a bit of a mystery to most people, as the only English translation it ever received was for the first three episodes by Softgarage itself via its YouTube channel... Which quickly only became Episodes 2 & 3, as BandaiChannel copyright claimed Episode 1 not long after Softgarage put it up in 2009; yes, the Japanese production company got copyright claimed by the Japanese streaming service. Those who have seen some part of this show also aren't too hot on it, either, so I want to finally see for myself what happened with the Giant Robo anime no one speaks of.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

King of the Braves GaoGaiGar Final Grand Glorious Gathering: I Won't Give in 'till I'm Victorious, I Will Defend, And I'll Do What I Must Until the End!

"The Year of Unfinished Business" here at The Land of Obscusion is nearing its end, and one part of it that I had planned but never actually had the chance to get to was knocking out those anime on my original "Want to Review... But Can't" list from 2011. Since then, seven of the twelve anime have actually been covered on this blog, either via full review or through single-series volumes of Demo Disc. That being said, out of the remaining five anime from that list, three of them are mech anime (four, if you count Kiss Dum), so how about I take advantage of yet another Mecha Month & get another two of those shows out of the way? First up is an alternate take of the sequel to one of the most iconic mech anime of the 90s!

In early 1990, Yusha/Brave Exkaiser debuted on Japanese television & marked the start of the Brave Series, a collaborative effort between Sunrise & toy maker Takara, as the latter wanted a spiritual successor to Transformers, which had lost interest in Japan come the new decade. The Brave Series would run until the start of 1998, totaling eight entries, with the last being 1997's Yusha-Oh/King of the Braves GaoGaiGar. By this point, interest in the Brave Series itself was waning, and this wound up being the final entry. A ninth show, Saint of the Braves Baan Gaan, was in pre-production, but never got made into an anime, though it would be included in crossover 1998 PS1 game Brave Saga, & elements of it would be re-purposed into 2000's Gear Fighter Dendoh. What's most interesting, though, is that while kids weren't really watching GaoGaiGar as much as hoped, the home video releases on VHS & laserdisc were surprisingly strong. In short, the anime found a notable otaku audience, and that resulted in the staff at Sunrise Studio 7 being given the greenlight to produce a sequel.

Now, to clarify, this was NOT the first Brave Series sequel, as prior series Brave Command Dagwon did receive the two-episode Boy with Crystal Eyes OVA while GaoGaiGar was airing. Still, King of the Braves GaoGaiGar Final, which came out across eight episodes from 2000 to 2003, has gone down as not just one of the greatest mech anime of the 00s, but is considered by many to be one of the best mech anime of all time. I am not reviewing the OVA, however, mainly because of how synonymous it has become. No, what I'll be reviewing is the retelling it received on late-night TV in the Spring of 2005 (the same year the original series took place in, coincidentally enough). You see, in between the TV series & Final OVA, a spin-off series called Betterman aired in 1999 that took place in the same world as GaoGaiGar, but otherwise was completely different, thematically. Still, the OVA did call back to Betterman, especially since a character from that series became a supporting cast member in the OVA, so Studio 7 wanted to more directly link the two productions, while also giving otaku who didn't buy the OVA a chance to experience the story. The end result was King of the Braves GaoGaiGar Final Grand Glorious Gathering, or just King of the Braves GaoGaiGar Gathering for short, which expanded the eight-episode OVA out into twelve episodes, but has otherwise been forgotten with time. So what better time than the year that marks the 20th Anniversary of the Brave Series' finale as a yearly production to check out the very last anime made for it?

[WARNING!! There will be some slight spoilers regarding the end of the original GaoGaiGar TV series, so you've been warned.]