Monday, May 13, 2024

The Tezuka Star System Taken to the Extreme? Saint Seiya's Callbacks to Masami Kurumada's Prior Works

If you've read manga for a decent enough amount of time you more than likely have noticed that some mangaka have a habit of re-using certain character design "templates", if you will, and while some may try writing it off as "laziness" the truth of the matter is that there's actually a name for this concept: The Tezuka Star System. Officially titled the Tezuka Manga no Character Ichiran/Tezuka Manga Character List in Japan, the Tezuka Star System was the late Osamu Tezuka's habit of reusing certain characters across his various manga, as though they were actors being cast in multiple roles across numerous productions, with the English name for this concept being a reference to the real world "star system" that Hollywood utilized from the 1920s through the 1960s. For example, iconic characters like Astro/Atom, Black Jack, & Don Dracula have made appearances more or less as themselves (or, at least characters with the same designs & names) across various manga or anime from Tezuka, while characters like Rock Holmes, Ham Egg, Shunsaku Ban, Acetylene Lamp, & many others appear in various productions as essentially the same character they play in other ones. Therefore, Rock is often a "bad boy", Ham Egg is a villain, Shunsaku is a well-meaning good guy, Lamp is conniving, etc., & even Tezuka himself was a part of this, appearing in various series as a mangaka. Tezuka liked to treat his characters as though they were actors, even joking that some received "pay raises" if they performed well, and by reusing these characters readers could instantly get a bead on the kind of character these "actors" were portraying in a work, and sometimes he could even have them "play against type", like how Rock was originally a consistently heroic character before going "bad".

One mangaka that absolutely adheres to the Tezuka Star System is Masami Kurumada.

As you can see in the image above, for his 50th Anniversary art exhibition that was unfortunately cancelled, Masami Kurumada tends to use the same character template for his main characters, with some exceptions, like Okita Souji in Akane-Iro no Kaze, Maya in Evil Crusher Maya, and most notably Rei Kojinyama in Sukeban Arashi, which remains Kurumada's sole female lead. In fact, it's with Kurumada's debut work from 1974 that his form of the Tezuka Star System really got started, as Rei would be "recast" as Kiku Takane in Ring ni Kakero, her love interest Morita would be "recast" as Jun Kenzaki in RnK, & even her rival Shizuka Ayakoji would eventually "return" as Himeko Hojo in Fuma no Kojirou, among some other "recurring actors". Of course, the big one would be Ryuji Takane from Ring ni Kakero, who would become the recurring main character template I previously mentioned, being "recast" for Kojirou in FnK, Jingi Kikukawa in Otoko Zaka, Pegasus Seiya in Saint Seiya, Aoi Tendo in Aoi Tori no Shinwa, Sho in Silent Knight Sho, Teppei Takamiya in B't X, & most recently Pegasus Tenma in Saint Seiya: Next Dimension; it's really no different than how Tim Burton would often cast Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter in many of his films (8 & 7 out of 20, so far, respectively). However, when it came to one specific work, Kurumada seemingly decided to take the Tezuka Star System to its absolute limit.

Upon debuting Saint Seiya in Weekly Shonen Jump Combined Issue #1-2 of 1986 Kurumada had been making manga professionally for nearly 12 whole years, and while there were naturally long-term Jump readers who would continue to read the magazine for as long as they could, there was also now new, younger, generations of readers who might have at least heard of Ring ni Kakero or Fuma no Kojirou, but had only really known of Kurumada by way of Otoko Zaka's failure, at best. Therefore, Kurumada seemingly decided to reutilize many concepts, names, & terminology from his prior two hit works, but mainly from Ring ni Kakero, and repurpose them into new forms, if possible. That way, long-term fans of Kurumada's work would be able to identify the reference & have some bonus fun in that way, while the newer readers would be able to experience it for the very first time, and ideally in a way that's unique for them. In essence, Kurumada took the Tezuka Star System when it came to Saint Seiya & expanded it into more than just characters, and while some might try to argue that it's, once again, "laziness" there's no denying that the concept worked, as Saint Seiya is what people immediately think of first, despite some of its stuff being callbacks to Kurumada's prior works.

While I can't claim that I've collected them all, let's take a look at the ones I picked up on while re-reading Saint Seiya for the recent review of the manga I did.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Saint Seiya (Manga): Selling Out? More Like Bleeding Out (Especially When It's Shiryu)

When Masami Kurumada debuted his fourth serialized manga in Weekly Shonen Jump, Otoko Zaka, in mid-1984 it was with the plan for it to be the true representation of what kind of storyteller he could be, and with it he finally felt comfortable calling himself a proper "mangaka/manga creator" instead of a mere "mangaya/manga drawer". Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, Otoko Zaka was a massive flop & Kurumada was forced to bring it all to an end in early 1985 after only 30 weekly chapters, though he was at least able to stand defiant & declare that it was "Incomplete" to readers, rather than admit full closure of its story. Still, it was a sense of defeat that Kurumada had not really experienced since the cancellation of his debut serialization, Sukeban Arashi, a decade prior, but whereas Sukeban Arashi was simply a case of a newbie still learning how to adjust to the weekly manga grind Otoko Zaka's cancellation was partially caused by one man: Masami Kurumada himself. While planning out his (intended) magnum opus over the past decade Kurumada wound up altering the landscape of shonen action manga with both Ring ni Kakero & (to a smaller extent) Fuma no Kojirou, so when Otoko Zaka saw Kurumada eschew a lot of the more spectacular elements of RnK & FnK for a (somewhat) more grounded tale that called back to stuff like Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho from the late 60s & early 70s, it was immensely outdated when compared to the likes of Kinnikuman, Fist of the North Star, & later Dragon Ball that were running in Jump at the time, all of which took some influence & inspiration from Ring ni Kakero.

Therefore, Masami Kurumada seemingly came to one conclusion: If the readers didn't want the kind of manga that he wanted to make, then he'd make the kind of manga that he knew readers would love.

Taking the second half of 1985 to conceive of his next work, Kurumada initially thought of making a wrestling manga, before moving over to a karate or judo manga, but after some denials from his editor he went in a different direction. Instead of sports, Kurumada decided to make a more general "nekketsu/hot-blooded" action manga, one with an aspect of "fashion" to it, to contrast with how his prior manga all featured characters garbed in traditional school gakuran or simple sports garb. Specifically, he looked to his fascination with Greek mythology (which he had previously utilized for Team Greece & the 12 Gods of Greece in Ring ni Kakero) & combined that with the idea of constellations, resulting in the idea that his characters would wear personalized armor to battle, which also allowed him to make more explosive & spark-laden combat, which the armor could act as protection for. Originally going with the title "Ginga no Rin/Rin of the Galaxy", Kurumada decided to change the lead's name to "Seiya", initially using the kanji 聖矢/Holy Arrow before deciding on 星矢/Star Arrow, to better match the constellation theme; likewise, one of the first ideas Kurumada had for "Seiya" was a special attack that looked like a meteor shower. Finally, Kurumada would decide to name this new manga Saint Seiya, after both the lead's finalized name & the fact that he was a "Saint", which in this case was the name of the armored warriors who fight for Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, warfare (specifically strategy & generalship), & handicraft. In the end, Saint Seiya would debut in Combined Issue #1-2 of Weekly Shonen Jump in 1986, and while it initially had a bit of a rough start in its first year, it would eventually go on to find success... and then some.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Oh Me, Oh My, OVA! ε: Thank You! Good Bye!!

Born on April 5, 1955 in Kiyosu, Aichi, Akira Toriyama was your normal, everday child growing up, outside of his fondness for drawing, especially after seeing the 1961 Disney film 101 Dalmatians. Naturally, while in elementary school he was a fan of anime & manga, but once he moved on to middle school & beyond he actually stopped reading manga & watching anime, instead being more interested in live-action TV & film, especially tokusatsu productions like Ultraman & Gamera; this meant that he more or less missed out on experiencing the massive evolution manga was seeing throughout the late 60s & most of the 70s. While he would still draw his own manga while growing up, he eventually graduated & decided to enter the work force, despite his family wanting him to continue his education. Toriyama would work at an advertising agency for three years, designing posters, but eventually grew sick & tired of the job, especially things like the dress code & the need to come into work early in the morning, neither of which he was big on, as he preferred to dress more casually & wasn't a "morning person".

So, at age 23, Akira Toriyama decided to try his hand at submitting manga one-shots in an effort to make some money, and he found a consistent home over at Weekly Shonen Jump & its monthly Newcomer Award submissions. His initial one-shots didn't really find an audience, usually coming in near or dead last, but Toriyama's stubbornness made him want to keep trying, and he luckily had the encouragement of Kazuhiko Torishima, his editor at Jump. Eventually, it was decided that Toriyama should debut a proper serialization, which resulted in the 1980 gag manga Dr. Slump... and the rest is history. Akira Toriyama would become a household name in manga almost instantly after Dr. Slump's debut, and after he ended that he became an even bigger star with 1984's Dragon Ball, where he combined his love of comedy with action that was influenced by his fellow Jump mangaka at the time (he admitted to not reading manga again until he started submitting his own to Jump, so his contemporaries were his primary influences), creating one of the most influential, cherished, & beloved manga the world over. Following Dragon Ball's end in 1995 Akira Toriyama would only make the occasional short-run manga, content to mainly continue doing character design work for stuff like videos games (Dragon Quest, Tobal, Blue Dragon, etc.) & helping conceive of & produce later Dragon Ball content, to varying extents. Unfortunately, Akira Toriyama passed away on March 1, 2024 at the age of 68 of an acute subdermal hematoma, with information slowly coming out that Toriyama had been ill for the prior year, the long-term effect of how he took care of himself over the decades, by his own admission; for example, he was known to be a consistent smoker throughout his life.

To honor the legacy & memory of someone as incalculably influential as Akira Toriyama, while still staying true to what this blog's about, let's take a look at four OVAs that he either worked on in some fashion, or at least were based on his manga. Yeah, most of it's going to be related to Dragon Ball (though we'll be diving deep into the weeds, even for that franchise!), but our first entry for this volume of OM, OM, OVA! isn't.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1995 (Part 5)

Previously on Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog:
"In terms of where the Jaguar was by the end of November 1995, there's no way to sugarcoat things here: It's a console that's now dead man walking, being supported by a manufacturer which has literally given up at this point, though not admitting it publicly, and while there are still two more games by third-parties set for release before Atari Corporation truly bites the dust, they're still technically co-published by Atari, so third-party support is more or less dead for a while; even the Jaguar CD is already on life-support, despite only being out for a handful of months."

It's now December 1995, a mere three months after the Sony PlayStation finally launched in North America, and the Atari Jaguar is, to put it simply, effectively screwed. Behind the scenes, Atari Corporation has given up, and might actually be considering transitioning from being a hardware manufacturer to being strictly a software company so as to possibly stave off going out of business; this will be important next time. Still, there are games for the 64(?)-bit Panthera of a console ready for release, so release they shall... and there's a new holiday season on the brink, to boot. Likely with hopes of taking advantage of the increased sales this season usually brings about, Atari Corp. decides to lower the price of the Jag once again, the second time in a single year (the last one was in March), now selling the "Core" package for just $100 starting December 16. That date was likely done on purpose, as over the course of the next two days four games would come out for the Jaguar, bringing an end to the console's most "prolific" year, at least when it comes to how many games came out in a 12-month span.

So, does 1995 at least end off with the Jaguar baring its fangs & claws in defiance... or will it be the whimper of a battered wild cat?

The day after the Jag's second price drop, December 17, saw the release of a single new game, I-War. Not to be confused with the 1997 PC game of the same name, which likely got renamed to Independence War in North America because of this Jaguar title existing first, I-War marks the end of a run that started all the way back with the Jag's launch in November 1993. Specifically, this is the final Jaguar game to be developed by Imagitec Design, the UK-based studio that had previously given the console Raiden, Evolution: Dino Dudes, Zool 2, Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales, & Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, all of which were ports of other games from other hardware; according to later interviews, internal conflicts ended Imagitec's relationship with Atari Corp. In comparison, I-War is a 100% original creation from Imagitec, though it wasn't actually first made with the Jag in mind. Initially, Imagitec had proposed a racing game to Phillips Interactive Media, i.e. a game for the CD-i, before backing out of the deal & eventually teaming with Atari, with the game initially being named the likes of "Redemption" (which it used when it was first shown earlier in 1995), "Dreadnaught", & "Netwar" before getting its finalized title in time for release at the very end of 1995. Also unlike any of Imagitec's prior Jaguar fare, I-War is 100% polygonal, instead of sprite based. Imagitec would wind up getting purchased & absorbed by Gremlin Interactive in early 1997, so let's see if I-War winds up being a proper final hurrah for one of the Jaguar's most reliable supporters, as Imagitec games literally comprise 12% of the Jag's entire cartridge catalog (6 out of 50).

Monday, April 1, 2024

Dragonball Evolution vs. Knights of the Zodiac: Stop! Stop! He's Already Dead!!

It's a phrase that has brought about terror from almost all anime & manga fans who have heard it spoken: The "Hollywood" Live-Action Adaptation. While there have obviously been good to even great examples of this, for every Alita: Battle Angel, Guyver 2, Crying Freeman, or even Netflix's One Piece there have seemingly been at least two or three examples of a Ghost in the Shell, Fist of the North Star, or Netflix's Cowboy Bebop, if they ever actually make it into proper production (see: AkiraRobotech, or Neon Genesis Evangelion); yes, not all are actually from "Hollywood", but it helps establish the idea. It's arguably one of the prime examples of the old "Roll the Dice" or "Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal" adage, i.e. take a chance & hope for the best, but you know the chance is greater that it'll wind up terrible. The year 2024, in particular, is both one of celebration (on this blog, at least) as well as loss, as while we're in the middle of celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Masami Kurumada's career in manga here at the Land of Obscusion, we've also recently mourned the passing of Akira Toriyama, creator of Dr. Slump & Dragon Ball, someone who was in the trenches with Kurumada over at Shonen Jump, specifically during the 80s & early 90s (i.e. "until Kurumada left").

We'll give Akira Toriyama a much more fitting piece to honor him with later this month, but this is Kurumada's 50th Anniversary year... and it's April Fools' Day.

Dragon Ball was a smash hit, and with it (initially, at least) being focused on martial arts it only made sense that there'd be people who wanted to adapt it into live-action. Over in Korea & Taiwan two unofficial movie adaptations were produced: 1990's Dragon Ball: Fight Son Goku, Win Son Goku (which is known for being the most accurate live-action adaptation) & 1991's Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (which actually got a licensed release in English by Tai Seng in the 00s). Legendary action star Jackie Chan voiced interest in producing an official live-action adaptation back in 1995 but admitted that it'd require special effects & a budget that was simply untenable at the time. It wouldn't be until 2002 that Shueisha finally sold the live-action rights to Dragon Ball, in this case to 20th Century Fox, and while Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) was approached to direct (& was a fan of the manga), he declined & simply agreed to help produce, since he only wished the direct stories that he created; he'd later break that vow somewhat when he co-directed 2013's Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Eventually James Wong (The One, Final Destination 1 & 3) would get hired to direct, and while Ben Ramsey wrote the initial drafts (& was credited in the final product) it was Wong who wrote the final draft himself. The finished film, Dragonball Evolution (yes, it's a single word for this film), would finally see release in 2009, first in Japan on March 10 & the United States on April 10... and it was utterly trounced. Ben Ramsey himself has gone off on the film numerous times over the years, it's often lambasted by all anime fans (voice actor Kyle Hebert has even done live roastings of the movie at some anime cons; it's how I first saw the film), and while the commonly stated rumor of Akira Toriyama hating it so much that he conceived of 2013's Battle of Gods in response isn't exactly true (Toei had started pre-production on it without Toriyama's involvement), it is reasonable to assume that Toriyama wanted to be more hands-on with the franchise following Evolution's release, if only to prevent something like it from happening again. Really, the only "good" thing to come from this film was the PSP video game adaptation, which was pretty much just DBZ: Shin Budokai, but with a modified cast; it was actually the first time Bulma was playable in a Dragon Ball fighting game.

Meanwhile, Masami Kurumada had wanted to see a live-action adaptation of Saint Seiya more or less since the manga debuted in 1986. There was an attempt at such a thing sometime in the 90s with StarStorm, which never went beyond a proof-of-concept pitch, but for the longest time the closest thing was a pair of musicals based on Saint Seiya, one in 1991 (starring members of the bands SMAP & Tokio) & another in 2011. That all changed in 2016, when Toei Animation announced a trio of Saint Seiya productions, including an anime adaptation of spin-off manga Saintia Sho (which eventually came out in late 2018), a full-on CG anime reboot series (which debuted in 2019 & is still getting made to this day), & a live-action theatrical adaptation, with Stage 6 Films (a division of Sony Pictures) co-producing the last one. Polish animator/illustrator/director Tomek Bagiński (then best known for his intros to CD Projekt Red's The Witcher series of games) was hired to direct. Befitting this being a (mostly) non-Japanese production, the film was titled Knights of the Zodiac (the name Saint Seiya tends to use abroad), though in Japan it eventually got the final title of Saint Seiya: The Beginning. After some delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film finally came out on April 27, 2023 in Latin America (natch), followed by Japanese & US releases over the next few weeks... and it was utterly trounced, even more so than Dragonball Evolution; DBE earned ~$9.36 million in the US ($56.5 million, worldwide), while KotZ only earned ~$6.986 million (with no reported worldwide box office).

In many ways, Dragon Ball & Saint Seiya have always had a bit of a symbiotic coexistence, even if Toriyama & Kurumada themselves respected each other too highly to ever consider each other "rivals", so to continue celebrating Kurumada's 50th Anniversary &, to some extent, celebrate the legacy of Akira Toriyama, let's compare both of these Jump icons at their (apparent) worst & see which film comes out on top!