Thursday, April 17, 2014

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues R (Returns) Part 1

Well, I'm not quite ready to get to the next review (read: sequel to the previous review!)... So how about I bring back an old standard of the blog & do another license rescue list, especially since the last one was over a year ago? The industry is still pulling them off, but there's always more of them to bring up in place of the fulfilled ones, so let's see what else was once released here in North America & may just be worthy of getting another chance. Unlike last time, though, I did keep the list down to only twelve entries... I have to keep some decorum here, no?

[NOTE: For those who don't get the reference, the post title is inspired by the newly-debuted anime Kindaichi Case Files R (Returns)]

In the second license rescue list I introduced the concept of rescuing anime that wasn't what most would consider "exquisite" when I included Mad Bull 34 (which actually got rescued by Discotek & can now be bought on dual-audio DVD!). I followed that up in later lists with Final Fantasy: Legend of the CrystalsDracula: Sovereign of the Damned, & Angel Cop, so we might as well get this list's "other" entry out of the way first. I first heard of this title last year at Otakon when Mike Toole showcased it during his "Worst Anime of All Time" panel, but I forgot all about it until Justin Sevakis wrote about it two weeks ago for his Pile of Shame column; in fact, this title made me want to make another license rescue list!

While Daiei Co. Ltd. saw their biggest success in the 60s & 70s with stuff like the Gamera franchise, come the 90s the studio was a shell of its former glory, releasing softcore porn & being the original distributor of hentai like La Blue Girl & Sailor Moon-parody Venus 5 (note: the hentai came after this specific OVA). In 1991 the studio released Makyu Senjo/Temple Battlefield, a two-episode OVA, based on the novel by the late Sho Takeshima, about Joe Takami, a computer genius who finds out that he's actually a genetically-altered clone who transforms into a muscle-bound violent warrior. As it is this OVA is considered the absolute bottom of the OVA boom barrel that offers nothing but absurd amounts of violence & gore as well as poorly-done animation, so why is it on this list? That's because it has an odd history of English dubbing. First, Manga UK licensed & released it under it's original Japanese title in 1997 on dub-only VHS, but when ADV licensed it for VHS in 1998 they did their own dub that only covered the first episode; ADV also released both episodes subbed. Granted, this may not be as "so bad it's good" as Mad Bull 34, nor does it seem to be as ridiculous as the other three titles I mentioned in the paragraph above, and the VHS tapes aren't exactly asking for high prices, but the double-dub situation gives it an odd potential sense of replayability... And there's also the "bile fascination" factor: Is it truly as bad as it's said to be? Maybe I'll find out myself for Review #200 (Why not #150? Because that's already been chosen...).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Champion Joe: Remember Kid, There's Heroes & There's Legends...

I actually kind of hesitate to review this, simply because it's one of the most iconic titles in anime & manga history. I mean, even if you've never seen it, hence why I'm reviewing it, you've at least heard of the name Ashita no Joe.

Debuting in Kodansha's Weekly Shonen Magazine back in 1968, Ashita no Joe/Tomorrow's Joe by Tetsuya Chiba (art) & Ikki Kajiwara/Asao Takamori (story) is not just a classic manga, it's one of the rare ones to be worthy of being called the classic manga. It ran for 20 volumes until mid-1973, inspiring the entire nation of Japan throughout its run. Honest-to-god funerals were held in honor of two of the characters after their respective deaths in the story! It has inspired too many other manga to count & is still referenced and payed homage to to this very day. When I reviewed the Ring ni Kakero 1 manga last year I often brought up how Masami Kurumada made his creation in direct homage to Joe, so think about it this way: One could very well argue that without Ashita no Joe Weekly Shonen Jump wouldn't have become as gigantic as it did. Naturally, when something is this popular it gets adapted into anime, and it did.

Though Osamu Tezuka left his original anime studio in 1968, Mushi Production made an anime adaptation of Ashita no Joe that aired on Fuji TV from 1970-1971, lasting 79 episodes. It wound up being one of Mushi's last big productions before declaring bankruptcy in 1973; the Mushi Pro that exists now is a different entity that owns the old studio's work. It was similarly successful & obviously only ended because the manga had not finished by then. Joe, though, had staying power & would return to anime in less than a decade. In 1980 TMS Entertainment was planning on making a new anime, Ashita no Joe 2, which would tell the second half of the manga, so Fuji Film & Nippon Herald, along with TMS, decided to make a compilation movie that would cover the first 52 episodes of Mushi's anime, which is where Joe 2 would continue off from, so that newcomers can get caught up on the story that needs to be known. Defying all logic & expectations, this compilation movie would get licensed 28 years later by the now defunct Chinese-production licensing company Tai Seng Entertainment under the name Champion Joe, their sole anime release (ignoring Chinese/Japanese co-production Legend of Condor Hero); not only that, but they even dubbed it! With CrunchyRoll now being the home to an official English-subbed stream of TMS' anime, renamed Champion Joe 2 to match Tai Seng's release, I think it's only proper to finally review this classic among classics.

Joe Yabuki is an orphan who lives in the slums of Tokyo during the Showa Era, following his own code. He'll use whoever he wants, do anything he wants, & fights anyone he wants (for no real reason even). One day a fight he gets into with some yakuza is seen by a drunkard who finds Joe's punches to be amazing. The drunkard, Danpei Tange, is a former boxing coach who offers to train Joe into a pro boxer. Joe refuses, finding boxing to be dumb, but begrudgingly agrees to some training, if only for his own amusement. After getting arrested & thrown into a dangerous juvenile hall, though, Joe meets Tohru Rikiishi, a pro boxer who's serving time for getting into a violent fight. Rikiishi gives Joe his first real absolute loss before finishing his time & being released. Joe, determined to defeat Rikishi, fully accepts Danpei's offer once he's released & enters the professional boxing world.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Robot Girls Z: He Ain't "Stupid_Boy", He's My Brother... Er, Sister... Er, You Get It

Sometimes a genre becomes a niche as time goes on & other genre's become more popular. In terms of anime this applies very strongly to mecha, which was mega-popular in the 70s & 80s before becoming slightly less notable during the 90s & turning into a big niche in the 00s. Sure, franchises like Gundam & Macross maintain their "mainstream" status, but for most classic mech anime series they end up becoming relegated to appearances in Super Robot Wars & the occasional re-release, if not getting remade for newer audiences. As much as more "militant" fans of the genre want to argue, the proof is in the pudding with the absolute failure of titles like Shin Mazinger or the purposefully short-lived productions like Mazinger SKL; quality of these shows aside, as they're both awesome, these titles tend to not appeal to modern day "otaku". Therefore, anime studios sometimes think of new ways to utilize their classic titles in ways that can appeal to modern fans...

At Tokyo Anime Fair 2009 Toei Animation announced a new project called Toei Robot Girls, which would feature four of their 70s mecha (Gaiking, Ga-Keen, Balatack, & Danguard Ace) anthropomorphised into young girls; naturally, some mecha fans took this as Toei taking a literal "fecal matter" over their precious classic mech anime. Anyway, this project was made into a 4-koma/panel gag manga & in 2011 had a short pilot film made (which was simply two shorts stitched together into one product); Toei even used the girls to advertise new DVD sets for the very anime they were based on! Anyway, in July 2013 Toei announced a new part of this project: Robot Girls Z. This would act as a sort-of-sequel to the original pilot & focus on anthropomorphised versions of Go Nagai's iconic Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger, & Grendizer. Unlike Toei Robot Girls, though, this wouldn't be a simple pilot but rather an entire miniseries of anime shorts, debuting in January 2014; an "episode 0" short was made alongside the announcement. Well, the miniseries ended this past March, even getting simulcasted over at CrunchyRoll, so the question must be answered: Is Robot Girls Z the utter eradication of mech anime as we know it... Or is it, you know, actually good & militaristic fans are just being insane?

In the Nerima ward of Tokyo is "Photonic City", which is the home of Robot Girls Team Z, made up of Z-chan, Gre-chan, & Grenda-san. Their job is to promote the use of photonic energy while protecting resources from being stolen by the Mechanical Beat Girls of Dr. Hell's Underground Empire, lead by Baron Ashura. But, quite honestly, just who are the real villains here: The Mechanical Beast Girls, who perform petty acts of villainy as a job, or Team Z, who seem to take personal joy in defeating their opponents & don't seem to care about any & all collateral damage they cause to the city?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Robonimal Panda-Z: The Robonimation: Hello Kitty-style Mecha Before the Chogokin Hello Kitty!

Name: Japan Animationsong Makers Project (JAM Project for short)
Founded: July 19, 2000 (by Ichiro Mizuki)
Hironobu Kageyama (founding member)
Masaaki Endoh (founding member)
Hiroshi Kitadani (joined June 2002)
Masami Okui (joined March 2003)
Yoshiki Fukuyama (joined March 2003)
Ichiro Mizuki (fouding member; part time since August 2002)
Ricardo Cruz (Brazilian back-up vocalist since 2005)
Eizou Sakamoto (founding member; "Graduated" March 2003)
Rica Matsumoto (founding member; on hiatus since April 7, 2008)
Iconic Song: "SKILL"

It may be April, but JAM Project March is going into overtime!

Well, this is the end... After five anime that featured songs by the individual members it's time to talk about a title that has a song done by the group itself. Interestingly enough, though, while the group lamented at Otakon 2008 how insanely hard it was for them to learn how to properly sing their song for world peace, "No Border", in proper English, four years prior they sung a song in 100% English just fine... How fittingly absurd.

Parody can be an interesting thing, especially when one is distinctly focused around a specific property. In an interview with Newtype Magazine, Shuichi Oshida was a simple man in 1999 when his job at the time bought a Macintosh computer & he learned Adobe Illustrator on it, creating a panda-themed version of Mazinger Z for fun. Eventually, Oshida left his job & went freelance before finding a job at MegaHouse Corporation, who saw his creation. Absurdly enough, the company got the full blessing of Go Nagai & was allowed to create an entire merchandising line-up based on this parody, crediting Nagai with "Original Concept". In 2004 the company teamed with Bee Media, Synergy Japan, Bandai Visual, & TV network Kids Station to create Robonimal Panda-Z: The Robonimation, a series of 5-minute anime shorts that detailed the absurd lives of the many characters Oshida created. Against all seeming odds, Bandai Entertainment actually licensed this anime for DVD release in North America, releasing it in a similarly absurd fashion... Do you get a theme here?

"Robonimal World is under attack from the Warunimal Empire. Now, wearing the scarf left to him by his father, Pan-Taron takes flight in Panda-Z, the undefeatable robot built by his grandfather. So no matter how strong the enemy, the forces of good always prevail!" - Taken from the back cover of Bandai Entertainment's Anime Legends boxset release (absurdity!!!).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Buso Renkin: Love, Shonen Style!!

Name: Yoshiki Fukyama
Nicknames: "Fuku-chan", "Basara Nekki"
Date of Birth: September 14, 1963
Debut Year: 1982 (as part of Doolin Dalton/Kougyou), 2000 (solo)
Iconic Song: The Entire Discography of Fire Bomber, "King Gainer Over!"
Catchphrase: "Ore no Uta wo Kike!/Listen to My Song!" (as Basara)

"Saving the Best for Last"... Well, it certainly wasn't on purpose (I was simply following the order of JAM debuts), but if you were to ask me who my favorite member of JAM Project is I would have to say it's Yoshiki Fukuyama. During the 80s he was a part of cover band Doolin Dalton & comedy rock band Kirenjaku, but eventually formed the rock band Maps with his friend Toshiyuki "Rocky" Furuya. In 1988 Maps was renamed Humming Bird and found some success, but in late 1994 the band got a gig that would transform not just HB but Fukuyama forever. As the first sequel to Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Macross 7 would feature an entire rock band, Fire Bomber, as the source of the anime's music, and Humming Bird was chosen to be the sound behind the group, with Fukuyama being the singing voice of main character Basara Nekki (female lead Mylene Jenius was sung by Chie Kajiura, who wasn't part of HB). Though Macross 7 is a love-it-or-hate-it anime, everyone loved Fire Bomber, instantly making Fukuyama an anison legend. Humming Bird would later be used for anime themes starting with Next Senki Ehrgeiz ("Dream Jack") and City Hunter: Good-Bye, My Sweetheart ("Ride on the Night"), followed by Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon ("Hikari Naki Yoru wo Yuke", HB's last single) & the video game Macross VF-X2 ("Get Free") before disbanding in 2000; there was a one-night-only reunion in 2011 to celebrate Fukuyama's 20th Anniversary in the music industry. Now a solo act alongside his work with JAM, Fukuyama has sung themes for anime like Overman King Gainer ("King Gainer Over!"), Kamen no Maid Guy ("Work Guy!!"), & L/R: Licensed by Royalty ("Always"), but to me Fukuyama's greatest solo work is attached to one of the best love letters to shonen action.

Nobuhiro Watsuki was essentially a made man by the end of the 90s due to the success of his debut serialization Rurouni Kenshin; it's sometimes said that Shonen Jump didn't "die" after Slam Dunk & Dragon Ball finished because of Kenshin. Unfortunately, it's notoriously tough to follow up a mega hit like that & Watsuki's wild west action title Gun Blaze West ended after only three volumes in 2001; GBW's production itself is enough of a story to detail in a separate review. Anyway, in mid-2003 Watsuki came back for a third try, fully admitting that this would be his "final shonen manga". From what I remember hearing, Buso Renkin/Armored Alchemy was initially popular with readers in Japan, but after a certain moment in the story readers kind of lost interest, resulting in the manga's cancellation in 2005 (though Watsuki was given a lot of time & pages IN Akamaru Jump to give it an actual ending). Still, it had its fans, which got it included into both Jump Super Stars & Jump Ultimate Stars for the Nintendo DS, and in October 2006 (more than a year after its cancellation) Xebec debuted a 26-episode TV anime adaptation of the entire manga. The main thing to remember, though, is that while Rurouni Kenshin will always be Nobuhiro Watsuki's iconic creation, Buso Renkin might be his most loving.

Kazuki Muto investigates a mysterious light coming from the abandoned factory in his town, only to see a girl about to get killed by a monster. Kazuki tries to save her, but instead gets killed when his heart is stabbed through by a giant snake's tail. Luckily for him, the girl is named Tokiko Tsumura & is an "Alchemist Warrior" & has on her a "kakugane", which is not only replaces Kazuki's heart (giving him a new life) but also gives him access to a weapon formed by his very spirit. He's also told that what killed him was a homunculus, and that the town may be filled with them after being "born" by a mysterious "Creator". Though he's recommended to use his new life & power to protect himself & those he holds dear, Kazuki decides to become a warrior himself & help Tokiko stop the homunculi before anyone else dies at their hands.