Thursday, November 13, 2014

Matchless Raijin-Oh "Season 2": Truly an "Honorable Brave"

Previously in the Matchless Raijin-Oh Review:
"Matchless Raijin-Oh is simply a joy of a mech anime to watch, and it's nothing short of astonishing that Anime Midstream has been able to keep releasing DVDs of it... Here's hoping that the change to sub-only will only result in an accelerated release rate for "Season 2" once Volume 6 comes out, and hopefully this company won't simply disappear into the aether afterwards."
Well, this was faster than expected. Last November I held the second ever Mecha Month on the blog, and I started with a review of the first half of Anime Midstream's release of Raijin-Oh, partially because the do-it-yourself English dub was ending with Volume 5 & partially because I had no idea when the entire thing would finally get released. Now, just barely over a year later, I am holding the third Mecha Month here & I'm starting once again with the Earth Defense Class. Yeah, that's right, this past September Anime Midstream finished their release of this anime by putting the second half, all 26 episodes, into a 5-disc complete collection.

I hope no one put actual money down against this show ever being fully released over here.

The title splash doesn't change, so here's an eyecatch featuring the EDC.

It's definitely been a long wait for this moment to finally happen. Hell, I remember reading the initial announcement of Matchless Raijin-Oh's licensing back in December of 2008, six years ago(!), on my relative's computer when I was visiting family in Budapest; yeah, only when I'm in another continent can stuff like this be announced. Anyway, I was familiar with Raijin-Oh only slightly when this news came out, by way of the series being used in Super Robot Wars GC, but due to it's relative obscurity I had never seen any of it before. Naturally, I was excited about this show getting released here in North America, and I pre-ordered every single release as soon as it was scheduled. So, all these years later, there's only one question left to (finally) answer: Did this show meet my expectations & curiosity?

Does "Season 2" start with a giant vacuum monster sucking up all of the animals in the African Sahara? (... The answer is "Yes")

The battle between the Eldoran-powered Earth Defense Class & the Jaku Empire has reached the point where one mech vs. one Jaku Beast isn't enough anymore. Class 5-3 now have access to Bakuryu-Oh, a dragon robot that Maria & the command center control, and when combined with Ken-Oh, Juu-Oh, & Hou-Oh can create the almighty God Raijin-Oh. Belzeb, Felzeb, & Taida, however, now have access to Jaku Satan, a crystal mech that can not only fight alongside the Jaku Beasts that form from the strewn about Akudama but also combine with them to create Super Jaku Beasts. Unfortunately for the Jaku Empire's generals, however, their constant failure to defeat the EDC & conquer Earth is slowly angering Jaku Emperor Warusa. With the threat of being considered expendable imminent, Belzeb, Felzeb, & Taida decide to make finally identifying their opposition & locating their base a priority.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hakaba Kitaro: Trick or Treat, Smell Nezumi Otoko's Feet...

Greetings & salutations, denizens of the dark! It's Halloween, and what better way to finish off a month of horror anime than to take a look at a show based on the work of the living cultural icon himself, Shigeru Mizuki.

At 92 years old this year, Mizuki may very well be the oldest person ever to still draw comics. And with him being as old as he is, it's impossible to detail the important parts of his life, but here's a (very) basic primer: He was the hopeless black sheep of his family, was drafted into World War II, continually survived when he should have died in battle, lost his arm while sick in the war, came back to Japan when he was marked as dead, & went on to reteach Japan the yokai stories that the government tried suppressing before the war. Really, if you want more info on his life then simply read some of his manga; Drawn & Quarterly has brought over a good amount of them already. What I want to focus on his most iconic work: a young boy named Kitaro. In Japan there are few manga as iconic as GeGeGe no Kitaro, the tales of a young yokai boy who tries to help humanity coexist with his kind. It's so celebrated that, ever since the 60s, Toei Animation has made a new Kitaro anime every decade, and I'm positive that a new one will be made by the end of this decade. But Mizuki didn't start with GeGeGe, actually. Instead, Kitaro's tales were originally a little darker & not as kid friendly, and in early 2008 Toei celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the original GeGeGe anime, while the newest version of that was still airing, by making a slightly more accurate adaptation of the original manga. Bringing in some influence from Mononoke, noitaminA's 10th series was a call back to the early days of Mizuki's beloved boy, the days of Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro).

A man named Mizuki is brought in by the hospital he works with to see a medically impossible sight: A dead man who is still moving around in his bed, just as if he never died. Mizuki is told to investigate how this happened & his only lead ends up being the abandoned house next to where he lives. Sneaking into the house he's welcomed by a disfigured woman & a giant mummy, who greet Mizuki. They explain that they're the last living members of the Ghost Tribe, who existed before humanity but were forced to live underground once humans became the dominant species. The woman is pregnant & she and her husband came to the surface for help; she saw a man in pain & gave him some of her power, resulting in the hospital issue. The next day the dead man turns to dust, and when Mizuki checks on the couple they're both dead as well. Mizuki buries the wife, but out from the grave comes a newborn child. Mizuki is understandably freaked out, but eventually takes in the baby named Kitaro & raises him into a young boy. Meanwhile, though, Kitaro is taught about his origins on the side by Medama Oyaji, an eyeball (& sole remaining part of his father). Kitaro is now a yokai who lives with humans, continually getting involved in one weird situation after another.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mononoke: Arrive. Raze Hell. Leave.

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~ was definitely an interesting series, an anthology of three horror stories produced by three fairly different staffs, with help from Toei Animation. While it was definitely different from the previous two shows that started off Fuji TV's noitaminA, which were both josei manga adaptations, Ayakashi still fulfilled the block's theme of being different from your usual anime. It was also a fruitful change of pace, with the Goblin Cat episodes apparently being the highest-rated production Fuji TV had on that time block at the time. Obviously, Fuji TV & Toei weren't going to let a successful production like that be forgotten, so in mid-2007, after Jyu-Oh-Sei, Honey & Clover II, Hataraki Man, & Nodame Cantabile had their noitaminA runs, the Medicine Seller came back to Japanese television with a series all his own, Mononoke (not to be confused with Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke). Was the glory of Goblin Cat simply a once-in-a-lifetime case of the stars aligning, or did lightning strike a second time here?

Mononoke tells five stories about the Medicine Seller's travels, each one utilizing a different monster from Japanee myth. Zashiki Warashi (episode 1 & 2) is about a pregnant woman named Shino who is on the run & begs a full inn the Seller is at to let her stay the night. The innkeeper allows her in & has her stay in the storeroom located in the attic, which is haunted by baby-like beings that come from daruma dolls. Sea Bishop (eps 3-5) has the Medicine Seller traveling to Edo on a boat along with Kayo (the servant from Goblin Cat), Genyosai Yanagi (an ascetic exorcist), Hyoue Sasaki (an unrepentant swordsman), & some others. The boat, however, winds up in the Dragon's Triangle, a literal "Sea of Ayakashi", where all of those on the boat will be tested against their greatest fears. In The Faceless Monster (eps 6 & 7), the Seller winds up in jail with Ocho, a woman who is accused of killing her husband & his family while they were home. The truth behind Ocho's actions, however, is clouded in mystery, made all the tougher for the Seller to crack when a fox masked mononoke tries to save Ocho.

For Nue - The Japanese Chimera (eps 8 & 9), the Medicine Seller visits the home of Princess Ruri, who had invited four potential suitors for a game of Kumiko, a.k.a. incense smelling. The reason why the suitors are actually there, though, are more selfish than altruistic. Finally, the Seller's journey bookends itself by ending with what it started with back in Ayakashi in The Goblin Cat (episodes 10-12). Taking place on a train in what seems like the 1920s, a sharp contrast from Edo-era Japan, the Seller is in a car with people that look similar to the cast of the original Goblin Cat, having to take on another bakenenko, this time brought about by the apparent suicide of a young woman.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~: Goblin Cat: Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That... Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Cat?

Two-thirds of Ayakashi out of the way, and only three episodes to go. Even though this final story in the anthology horror series is the shortest, it's also become the most well known & beloved part of the entire series, so much so that I'm sure most anime fans who know of this last story don't even know the names of the other two stories. Part of the reason for this notoriety is because of the extremely distinct visual style these three episodes utilize, and the other part is because this story is the major directorial debut of a man who has quickly come to be known as one of the most visually entrancing anime directors of the present day. Finishing up Ayakashi is the sole original creation of the series: Bakeneko/Goblin Cat.

It's the arranged marriage day for Mao Sakai, whose marriage will help with her family's financial troubles. While the last bits of preparations are finishing up, a nameless Medicine Seller comes to the house & tries to sell some medicines that will help with Mao's (gocha gocha gocha). He's denied, but shortly afterwards Mao falls dead upon exiting the house, in front of her family. It looks as if she was stabbed by something, and while everyone panics the Medicine Seller senses supernatural danger. He's tied up for being suspicious, but when a servant who was sent out to get a doctor for Mao crashes through the ceiling in a bloody mess, the Seller removes the ropes & sets up barrier seals. He tells the family that a mononoke, a bakeneko specifically, has invaded their home & that he'll help remove it, but first must find out the shape, truth, & reason for its existence. Finding out these three things will require digging into the Sakai family's dark & shameful past.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~: Goddess of the Dark Tower: A Love Story for the Ages, Yet Not Even a Century Old

Above is the title splash that every episode of Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~ features during the opening sequence. I include it now for two main reasons: First, I like to showcase title splashes with my reviews, but each story in this show features it's own title splash after the opening plays; second, Geneon started their DVD release of this anime with the second story, so it's only fitting to show the general title splash now. While I have no idea why Geneon's releases started with the middle story instead of the beginning, I can say that this second tale is one that I saw with a friend years ago, not long after the DVDs had all come out. Unfortunately, I don't recall much of it nowadays, so is this story a flub in the grand scheme of Ayakashi, or am I fool for forgetting what it was about? This is Goddess of the Dark Tower, based on the 1917 play Tenshu Monogatari/The Castle Tower Story by Kyoka Izumi.

Himekawa Zushonosuke is the falconer for Lord Takeda Harima-no-Kami, but when his falcon Kojiro flies away, after being shot at, Zushunosuke is commanded to retrieve the bird or commit seppuku. While searching he comes across a naked woman swimming & feels as if he was dreaming. He ends up going to Shirasagi Castle, an abandoned tower that houses supposed mononoke/evil spirits. Inside he finds Kojiro as well as the woman he saw earlier. Her name is Tomihime & is in fact a forgotten god, one who came to Earth & feeds on human souls for energy. Instead of killing Zushonosuke, though, Tomihime instead falls in love with him. Unfortunately, the leader of her cadre of handmaidens, Uba, strongly opposes this love & when the human Oshizu, who is in love with Zushonosuke, finds out about this relationship she encourages Harima-no-Kami to storm the castle & kill everyone there to retrieve his falcon.