Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saint Seiya Hades Inferno: The Same Nostalgia Won't Work Twice on a Saint!

Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary was both an extremely well done production & a giant blast of nostalgia for the pre-existing fanbase. The success of the OVA series lead to Toei making a new Seiya movie, the first in 15 years, that would finally continue off of the manga's ending. The final product, 2004's Tenkai-hen Jousou ~Overture~, was a fine movie in itself but director Shigeyasu Yamauchi may have overstepped his boundaries in focusing on making the movie he wanted instead of telling the story Masami Kurumada wrote. Kurumada was so displeased with the amount of changes the movie made from his planned story that he removed Yamauchi from all future Seiya Hades OVAs. Combined with the recasting of the five main characters, this resulted in (supposedly) massive hatred from the Seiya fans. The Hades Chapter anime adaptation would return to Animax in late 2005 with Saint Seiya Hades Inferno, a production that was noticeably different from the previous. Not just from a staff & main cast side of things, mind you, but also from a release perspective: All 12 episodes were split up into two parts, literally called Zenshou & Koushou/Former Part & Latter Part, with the first part debuting from December 2005 to February 2006 & the second part from the same months in 2006-2007. The obvious reason for the split was because Toei was alternating between doing a Ring ni Kakero 1 anime season & then a Seiya Hades production, but all of this added up to the hardcore fanbase absolutely hating this second part of the Hades Chapter OVAs. But, honestly, was all of the hate warranted?

The Inferno: The domain of Hades, God of the Underworld. In order to put an end to the newly started Holy War that began with the invasion of Sanctuary, Athena has decided to go to Hades' territory while still alive by relying on the Arayashiki, the "Eight Sense" of Buddhism. Meanwhile, Seiya & his friends also make their way into the Inferno to deliver Athena her Cloth, because otherwise she won't be able to fight Hades if need be. Alongside Gemini Kanon & later Phoenix Ikki, Seiya and the others have to make it past the eight prisons of the Inferno, each guarded by numerous Specters, in order to reach Judecca, the final palace in Cocytus where Hades sits atop his throne.

[NOTE: I'll try to keep spoilers to the middle of a story arc to a minimum, but advance at your own risk.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary: Legitimately Great... Or Just a Giant Nostalgia Bomb?

Ask any hardcore Saint Seiya fan and just about every one of them will likely say the same thing: 2003's Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary is the absolute best of the anime productions. It has the (major) original cast returning to reprise their roles, is directed by the man who is given absolute love by the fanbase (though maybe too much at times), & adapts the most beloved part of the manga story. So, the question must be asked: Is Hades Sanctuary truly as perfect as the Seiya fanbase seems to tout it, or are they simply relying on those ubiquitous, rose-colored nostalgia glasses?

Not too long after the fight with Poseidon Gold Saint Libra Dohko, the Old Master at the Five Peaks, has a dream of Athena being killed by a demonic figure, which worries him greatly. His worries are true, though, as Athena's seal on Hades, the God of the Underworld, has finally worn off after being placed 243 years ago at the end of the last Holy War. Meanwhile, Aries Mu, guardian of the first temple of Sanctuary, is visited by a cloaked figure who emanates a familiar Cosmo. The figure is that of his dead master Shion, the previous Aries Saint & the Grand Pope who Saga killed 13 years ago. Shion has joined forces with Hades, being granted the body that he had during the prior Holy War & a dark-colored Aries Surplice (the armor of Hades' 108 Specters), and he's not the only one... All of the Gold Saints who died during the Bronze Saints' battle to save Saori Kido/Athena have done the same as Shion & joined Hades's side; they have 12 hours to kill Athena or else they return to the Land of the Dead. Doubting the true intentions of these revived Saints, though, is Wyvern Rhadamanthys, a Specter of Hades & one of the three Judges of Hell, who goes against the orders of Hades' representative Pandora and sends a small group of Specters to Sanctuary to make sure the job is done.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Saint Seiya Soushu-hen: Burning Your Cosmo, the Cliff Notes Way

Naturally, it would be impossible to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary without talking about Saint Seiya, so I've decided to save it for last by reviewing the entire OVA adaptation of the Hades Chapter. But first, let's talk about what came before these OVAs...

Boy, they're so happy to be fighting evil, aren't they?

Masami Kurumada debuted Saint Seiya in the very first (combined #1 & 2) issue of Shonen Jump for 1986 with the very intention of creating a mainstream hit after bombing hard with Otoko Zaka right before it. It was so immediately popular that Toei Animation wanted a be a part of the success & got the TV rights as soon as possible, debuting their anime on October 11, not even a year after the manga debuted. The anime, likewise, was a big hit, creating iconic roles for seiyuu like Tohru Furuya (Seiya), Hirotaka Suzuoki (Shiryu), & Hideyuki Hori (Ikki), making character design duo Shingo Araki & Michi Himeno veritable superstars in their field, giving music composer Seiji Yokoyama some real recognition, and has maintained popularity to this very day. Like many things, though, popularity waned over time and on April 1, 1989 the 114th, & last, episode of the anime aired, ending the Poseidon Chapter. The cancellation was obviously not planned, though, as Toei had started doing pre-production for the anime adaptation of the last story arc of the original manga, the Hades Chapter. Yokoyama even made an entire soundtrack for the adaptation, which would later be released as "OST IX", and an audio drama based on this work would be made in the early 90s.

What fans really wanted, though, was an actual anime adaptation of the Hades Chapter. Well, during the 90s Kurumada was all about B't X, which saw its own anime adaptation by TMS Entertainment, but their wish would finally be granted with the coming of the new millennium. Apparently inspired by a high-quality fan-produced adaptation that got traded around online, in 2002 Toei decided to dust off their pre-production work & finally do that Hades Chapter adaptation. After a preview showing late that year, Toei debuted the first two episodes of Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary, Saint Seiya The Hades Chapter-Sanctuary if you prefer the Japanese styling, in early 2003 on Animax. Obviously, though, with a time span of about 13 years between episode 114 & the first OVA (considered episode 115), some fans might need a refresher. To assist with that, Toei included on the first DVD release a 25-minute special called Saint Seiya Soushu-hen/Omnibus, which recapped what had occurred previously in the story. So, before I get to reviewing those Hades OVAs, let's take a look at Soushu-hen.

In the Age of Myth the Greek Gods have always wanted to claim Earth as theirs, but continually in their way has been Athena, Goddess of Wisdom & Strategy, who leads a group of young warriors known as Saints. Each Saint dons an armor called a Cloth that is based on a figure or creature of mythology & a known constellation. Whenever the Earth is looking to be great peril Athena reincarnates & leads her Saints to victory. The present reincarnation is that of Saori Kido, who was adopted by Mitsumasa Kido of the Grande Foundation after finding her as a baby outside of Sanctuary, Athena's base-of-sorts, alongside Gold Saint Sagittarius Aioros. Aioros took Athena away from Sanctuary after seeing the Grand Pope, Arles, try to kill her & ordered for Aioros' head. A battle with Capricorn Shura has injured Aioros to the point of death, and Mitsumasa promises to take care of the baby & the Sagittarius Gold Cloth by raising a new group of youths who will act as new Saints to protect her. The attempted murder of Athena is only the beginning of the trials of Pegausus Seiya & his fellow Bronze Saints, as they will have to take on Sanctuary itself and, later, the Sea God Poseidon, who has been freed of the seal Athena put on him centuries ago.

[NOTE: There will be slight spoilers regarding certain parts of the Saint Seiya story... So fair warning.]

Friday, July 4, 2014

B't X (Manga): Infinitely Ignored, But Deserving of Much Better

At this point I've essentially wrung out everything I can possibly review from Ring ni Kakero, outside of Ring ni Kakero 2 (which I don't own all of), & Fuma no Kojirou, outside of the original manga (which I can review but would mostly be repeating stuff from the OVA reviews, so I'll wait on that). With two of Masami Kurumada's major works essentially covered in full on this blog I might as well do the same with a third, right? Luckily, there's only one more thing to cover for the tale of a boy & his robotic qilin (or kirin, if you perfer).

Masami Kurumada started his manga career with Sueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump magazine in 1974 and gave the publisher two highly-influential & successful series in Ring ni Kakero & Saint Seiya, as well as a minor hit with Fuma no Kojirou. At the same time, though, Kurumada knew how it felt to fail. The title he had planned for years as his magnum opus, Otoko Zaka, was forced into cancellation after only three volumes worth of content due to a lack of interest from readers; ironically, Kurumada made a manga that was everything that he helped shonen action move away from. And even though Saint Seiya was a hit, Kurumada was forced to end it early in late 1990 due to decreasing readership. Shueisha pushed for him to make a similar manga to Seiya, hoping it would be another giant hit, but the resulting manga, Silent Knight Sho, failed to attract readers & was cancelled after only two volumes. Kurumada's response was to emblazon the final image of Sho with a two-page splash that said "NEVER END" in front of the Earth, and in the second volume he thanked his readers & said "Good Bye", ending a 18-year run with Shonen Jump in 1992. Kurumada left Shueisha at that point, determined to work with a publisher that would allow him more free-reign; he did return shortly in 1995 for a one-volume story, Akane-Iro no Kaze, in Super Jump, though.

In 1994 Kadokawa Shoten wanted to launch a new shonen manga magazine and they wanted something big to help promote it. The end result was that Masami Kurumada would debut a brand-new manga, his first non-Shueisha work, in the very first issue of Kadokawa's Monthly Shonen Ace magazine. B't X (pronounced "Beat X"), which debuted alongside the likes of Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam, Macross 7 Trash, & the shonen-styled Vision of Escaflowne manga, would become Kurumada's definitive manga series of the 90s, and though there are some similarities between it & his other work, B't X is still a title that needs to be more well known & definitely deserved more than what it got here in North America.

Why TokyoPop changed the logo is beyond me...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fuma no Kojirou (Live-Action): The Definitive Yasha Chapter Experience

As a blog that focuses on anime & manga, it's natural to see live-action products be a non-factor here. I did challenge that fact once, though, three years ago when I reviewed Team Astro, the live-action TV adaptation of the 70s manga Astro Kyudan; it's still over at DramaFever (subs are still rough, though) & has since joined Viki's line-up (though only one episode is crowdsubbed). Before that review, though, I did reference another live-action adaptation of a manga. I'm specifically talking about the 2007 J-Drama/tokusatsu adaptation of Fuma no Kojirou.

Excuse me for a moment while I laugh my Cosmo off to beyond its limit...

While this is the only made-for-TV live-action production based on a Masami Kurumada work, it's neither the first one nor the only one. First, in August of 1991, Bandai sponsored a musical adaptation of Saint Seiya's Sanctuary & Poseidon Chapters, with the Bronze Saints & Poseidon being played by the members of iconic boy band SMAP, while members of the band Tokio played Aries Mu, Leo Aiolia, & Scorpio Milo. From what I've been able to find out, no one dares to ever talk about it & is apparently an infamously bad musical. The third production, done in late-2011 & called the Saint Seiya Super Musical, was an adaptation of the first Seiya movie, Evil Goddess Eris (the original anime of which you can now buy on DVD from Discotek!). From what I can tell, this was a better-received production & even saw a home video release in Japan. Now, on the off chance anyone thinks this, I will NEVER review those musicals, but I can certainly review this second live-action production, which ran in late-07 on Tokyo Metropolitan Television, or Tokyo MX for short. In fact, I should have reviewed this series back when I finished up reviewing the Fuma no Kojirou OVAs back in March of 2012, because this is the perfect example of how to improve on "Masami Kurumada's Fourth-Most-Well-Known-Title".

Seishikan High School has been "stealing" the best & brightest students from all of the other schools in the Kanto area, resulting in many of them closing down. The only remaining school is small little Hakuo Academy, and to keep from closing Himeko Hojo, a schoolgirl who has inherited the position of Principal from her deceased grandfather, has asked her friend Ranko Yagyu to find someone who can help them. Ranko's solution is to climb the Japanese Alps in search of the Fuma, a ninja clan who has helped the Hojo Family since before the Sengoku Era. Feeling that there's some bigger force behind Seishikan's dominance, the Fuma agree to help & give Hakuo a young ninja named Kojirou, who immediately falls in love with Himeko. Soon Kojirou finds out that Seishikan is being helped by the Yasha Clan, the eternal rival of the Fuma Clan. When Seishikan's Musashi Asuka, himself a "for hire" warrior, is given the Eight Yasha Generals to fend off Kojirou, the Fuma send their young ninja assistance, turning a simple fight for school survival into an all-out battle to the death between ninja clans.