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Monday, January 17, 2022

Fuma no Kojirou Trivia Track: Six Neat, Important, or Interesting Factoids

Back at the start of 2017, I celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the debut of Ring ni Kakero, Masami Kurumada's first hit manga, by dedicating all of January to RnK. One of the things I did to celebrate was create a "Trivia Track", i.e. a listicle detailing six factoids regarding RnK that I felt were fun or cool to share. In all honesty, I've occasionally considered bringing back the Trivia Track concept for other anime & manga, but never really went much further than just think about it. It's now been five years since that listicle, and the start of 2022 technically marks the 40th Anniversary of the debut of Masami Kurumada's follow up to Ring ni Kakero... so let's have some fun, shall we?

"They're not actually color-coordinated like that, right?"
"No, they're not, but it sure looks neat."

After the final chapter of Ring ni Kakero was serialized in Issue #44 of Shonen Jump in 1981 in "full-color" (read all about it in the aforementioned Trivia Track), Masami Kurumada took a break in order to get ready for his next series. Eleven issues later, in early 1982, Kurumada returned with the two-part debut of his next serialized manga (his third overall), Fuma no Kojirou/Kojirou of the Fuma. I say "two-part" because FnK's first chapter was technically split up across two issues. First there's the January 10 special, which was a small collection of five one-shots by various artists (including Akira Toriyama's Escape, as well as Outlaw Man, an early Hirohiko Araki story), and in this special issue was a 61-page "prologue" for FnK. The following day, Combined Issue #3-4 featured the "true" first chapter of FnK, which started the issue with full-color opening pages, i.e. "lead color" (plus red-tinted "all-color" for the remaining pages). In fact, FnK's next two chapters would also start their respective issues with lead color status, showing just how venerated Masami Kurumada was at that time, and the same would later be true for Otoko Zaka's first three chapters in 1984; Saint Seiya's debut in 1986, though, would only get lead color for Chapter 1. For the tankouban release, the prologue became the first chapter, while the first serialized chapter would be combined with the second to become the second tankouban chapter; combining serialized chapters into one for the tankouban was a regular thing at the time.

Now, yes, due to how Shonen Jump (& any manga magazine, really) is published, this two-part debut for Fuma no Kojirou technically happened at the very end of 1981, not the start of 1982. However, if we focused that minutely on silly stuff like that, then we'd have no real idea as to when any manga actually began, so screw it! Anyway, think of this whole "two-part debut" factoid as a freebie, because now we truly begin with our first piece of FnK trivia.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The History of Noriyuki Abe, The Man Who Defined Shonen Anime for 20 Years

For most anime fans, the chances are more than decent that they got their start with the medium in some way via an anime adaptation of a popular shonen manga. However, the majority of the most influential "shonen anime" come from a wide variety of different directors, even if they came from the same animation studio. For example, Fist of the North Star was by the late Toyoo Ashida, Dragon Ball had Daisuke Nishio (alongside Minoru Okazaki before DBZ), & Saint Seiya was by Kozo Morishita (1st half) & Kazuhito Kikuchi (2nd half), despite all three coming from Toei Animation. However, there is one anime director who was consistently directing shonen anime at the same studio, and for roughly 20 years would be behind seven different adaptations, some of which would become iconic in not just Japan but also abroad... And yet I bet almost none of you actually know who he is.

I think it's time we finally celebrate Noriyuki Abe, possibly the most prolific shonen anime director you never knew of, despite likely having watched (& loved) something he directed.

Born on July 19, 1961 in Kyoto, Noriyuki Abe would graduate from Waseda University with a degree in Architecture before joining Studio Pierrot in 1986. Abe would make his proper debut in 1988 with Norakuro-kun as a storyboarder & episode director, positions he would continue to fill for the next few years for Heisei Tensai Bakabon, Karakuri Kengo-den Musashi Lord, Ore wa Chokkaku, & Marude Dameo, all for Pierrot, before going freelance in 1990 & working on Honou no Tokyuji: Dodge Danpei for Animation 21 and the original Chibi Maruko-chan anime for Nippon Animation, working on a single episode for each in 1992. However, despite going freelance, it would be with Pierrot that Abe would define his legacy with, as in late 1992 he made his debut as a series director... And it'd be for the anime adaptation of what is today one of the most beloved, iconic, & influential Shonen Jump manga of all time.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Theory Musing: An Alternate Take on Anime Licensing... And Why It'd Never Actually Work

On December 11, 2021, Pluto TV started streaming The Gutsy Frog, TMS' 1972-1974 anime adaptation of Yasumi Yoshizawa's comedy manga classic (& one of Shonen Jump's earliest hit manga), an anime which had never seen official English release before, or at least in a fashion that was widely available like this. For example, it had previously had an English subbed broadcast in Hawaii back in the day, which did happen for some anime over the decades, due to Hawaii's notable Japanese population. Unfortunately, it was quickly found out that the subtitle translation for Pluto TV's streams were of "dubious" quality, leaving some to wonder if TMS had actually gone with a literal machine translation, while others wonder if TMS simply just used the same translation as that old Hawaiian broadcast; either way, the translation was absolute crap & made the show hard to enjoy properly. Unfortunately, this is something that has honestly started becoming slightly more common as more companies start offering Japanese media when they traditionally aren't experienced in it beforehand; just look at the translations for Mill Creek's releases of shows like The Ultraman or Gridman: The Hyper Agent. To be honest, I can't exactly fault these companies, as they are simply looking for content to put out, and if there's already an existing translation (no matter how unknown it was publicly in the past) then they'll use it.

However, incidents like these remind me of a concept I've continually had in my head for a number of years, one that would technically reduce the likelihood of subpar translations being used for titles (especially anime) that would otherwise almost never get traditionally licensed. Unfortunately, every time I think about this concept I come to same conclusion... IT'D NEVER WORK OUT. So allow me some time to ruminate my thoughts & feelings regarding this concept.

While the absolute ins & outs of anime licensing will forever remain a trade secret (& for good reason), there have been articles in the past decade that have helped explain the general idea of how it works. Things like how long a license generally lasts (5-7 years has been the usual standard ever since the mid-00s or so), what a "minimum guarantee/MG" is, certain terms of agreements when it comes to stuff like regions & restrictions, & even a rough idea of who to talk to to get things going are now general knowledge, or at least can be found out relatively easily. However, this also means that, for the most part, anime licensing follows a relatively rigid format, one that doesn't really allow for much experimentation to be done. Aside from finer details involving the differences between streaming & home video, licensing an anime usually comes down to the same path, which would be "Get the license for a set amount of time, upon which the licensee has to produce a release with hopes that it will do well enough to not just recoup the total costs of the MG & production of said release, but also continue selling so as to make a profit for the licensee, upon which the original licensor starts getting regular royalty payments for said license". This has been the standard for decades, and doesn't look to change in any way, for good reason.

So what exactly is the point of my concept?

Monday, December 20, 2021

Ninja Bugeicho (Band of Ninja): A Manga Adaptation In Its "Purest" Form?

On October 8, 2021, Noboru Okamoto passed away at age 89, due to aspiration pneumonia; four days later, his brother Tatsuji passed away of interstitial pneumonia. However, Noboru Okamoto was better known by his pen name, Sanpei Shirato, one synonymous with things like the rise of gekiga during the 60s & 70s, the foundation of gekiga magazine Garo, and his penchant for social criticism by way of stories involving ninja, while Tatsuji was an occasional collaborator with his brother. However, what's even more interesting is that Shirato's apparent left-leaning stories were influenced in part by his father, Toki Okamoto (1903-1986), who himself had a notable life. Toki was a well known proletariat painter & good friend of Takiji Kobayashi, author of the 1929 short story Crab Cannery Ship who was summarily tortured & killed in 1933 by the infamous Tokko (a.k.a. the "Thought Police") because of his socialist ideals; Toki was one of the people photographed with Kobayashi's corpse shortly afterwards. Also, in 1929, Toki taught some 19-year old nobody called Akira Kurosawa how to paint... I guess that name rings a bell, right?

Anyway, Noboru Okamoto's dream was to become an equal to his father as an artist, and initially started off drawing images for kamishibai shows. In 1957, he was encouraged by Kazuma Maki (a female mangaka who was also in the same theater troupe as him) to enter manga, so after working under Maki as an assistant for a short bit "Sanpei Shirato" made his professional debut with the short story The Kogarashi Swordsman later that August. After two years of producing rental manga, Shirato made his non-rental debut in 1959 with Ninja Bugeicho/The Ninja Martial Arts Book, later getting the subtitle Kagemaru-den/The Tale of Kagemaru, which was published by Sanyosha (now known as Seirindo), a publisher founded by Katsuichi Nagai, who would later become the first editor-in-chief of Garo magazine. Ninja Bugeicho would run until 1962 for 17 volumes, its length being a rarity at the time (it rivaled the likes of Astro Boy & Tetsujin 28!), and today is not only considered one of the earliest gekiga stories, but it quickly found itself a fervent fanbase among left-leaning students & intellectuals, who felt that its themes mirrored that of the Anpo protests that were happening at the same time; Shirato denied that this was intentional, however. Though a pilot was made for a potential TV anime in 1969 by TCJ (now Eiken), which Shirato apparently denied, Ninja Bugeicho did find itself adapted into film in 1967 by Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas, Mr. LawrenceIn the Realm of the Senses), which over the years has also been referred to as both Band of Ninja & Tales of the Ninja. For the sake of clarity, I'll use Ninja Bugeicho when referring to the manga, but Band of Ninja when referring to the movie.

However, Band of Ninja today is infamous because of the way it was produced, making it possibly the most unique film in Nagisa Oshima's entire catalog... Which, from what I can tell as a complete Oshima neophyte, is definitely saying something.

Monday, December 13, 2021

There's a Whole "Sesang" Out There: North America's History with Korea's Long-Running Manhwa Part 2

While the world of traditional printed Korean manhwa is still around, it's definitely nowhere near the size it was back in the heyday of the medium, i.e. from the 90s to the late-00s. Part of that was due to a double-blow in 1997, which saw both a financial crisis in Eastern Asia (though not Japan or China, interestingly enough) & exclusive to South Korea was the passing of a "Youth Protection Law" that seemingly went a little too far, in some regards. Because of this, & likely other factors, many manhwa magazines eventually went out of business by the late 90s or during the 00s, while even the most successful magazines either consolidated with sibling magazines, slowed down publication pace, or did both. For example, Seoul Cultural's IQ Jump went from weekly to biweekly in mid-2005, followed by Daewon C.I.'s Comic Champ (which had been Boys Champ until 2002) doing the same at the start of 2006, while Haksan Publishing's Chance & Booking magazines both went from biweekly to monthly in 2009, before simply getting fused together into its current form, Chance Plus, in 2012.

What has helped keep these old printed magazines still relevant in today's webtoon-obsessed market? Namely, they've always had some help from their Easterly neighbor...

Wait, in South Korea, Dragon Ball & One Piece are in...
rival magazines?! Whaaaaaaaaaaaa........?????!!!!

Yes, you are not seeing things. Shueisha does not have a singular publishing partner in South Korea, so ever since the 90s it's worked with Seoul Cultural, Daewon C.I, & Haksan. Because of that, while Dragon Ball has been associated with a magazine called "Jump" over there ever since 1989, & it even shares a home with Shogakukan's Detective Conan ("Dogs & cats living together; mass hysteria!"), titles like One Piece, Naruto, Boruto, & even Slam Dunk are associated with Champ, while something like Spy x Family currently runs in Chance Plus. However, also residing in those same magazines are homegrown Korean manhwa, some of which would thrive alongside their Japanese cohorts, so let's return to those long-running manhwa that actually did see English release, and see how much (or little) we actually received of some of the longest manhwa of all time. A couple of them are so long, in fact, that they even rival the likes of Naruto, Bleach, & Gintama; one not only surpasses them all, but is still running to this very day!

TokyoPop was responsible for a literal 2/3 of the titles in this second half, and it just so happens that the first five we'll be covering all come from that publisher.