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Friday, February 14, 2020

One Last Ride into the Winds of Saṃsāra: A Look at Fuma no Kojirou: Ultimate Final Edition

Masami Kurumada's Fuma no Kojirou/Kojirou of the Wind, the manga he did after finishing up Ring ni Kakero, has never really had the benefit of being given a proper farewell. The original 1982-1983 run looked to have been ended early by Kurumada himself, as his father passed away during that time, which in turn killed his enthusiasm for continuing the manga; the death also made him quit smoking, too. While I do still feel to some small extent that Kurumada also finally just felt ready to start making Otoko Zaka (life is only so long, after all), his father's death would also certainly explain why the last story arc of FnK, the Fuma Rebellion Chapter, was so fatalistic, nearly becoming a Yoshiyuki Tomino-esque "kill-em-all". Regardless, the original manga's ending was rather sudden, with Kojirou defeating the villain of the arc, followed by literally just a handful of pages that end with Kojirou running into the distance with the flag of the Fuma Clan; it didn't feel like much of a resolution. Twenty years later, Kurumada had a second chance with 2003's Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsucho/The Yagyu Assasination Pledge, a full-on sequel, drawn by former assistant Satoshi Yuri, that was meant to show how Kojirou would become the leader of a new generation of Fuma ninja. Unfortunately, that went into indefinite hiatus in 2006, and today it still remains unfinished after only 16 chapters across three volumes, & a 17th chapter that was serialized but never got collected.

It would take another 13 years for Fuma no Kojirou to be given one last chance at a proper finale.

Look, I don't make the rules here...
"The Greatest Comic Writer" is Kurumada.

In July of 2019, Akita Shoten announced that Kurumada would be drawing a brand new Fuma no Kojirou short story, subtitled Jou no Maki/Prelude Chapter, in Champion RED magazine the following month that took place before the original manga's first arc, the Yasha Chapter. When the manga, which would run for three issues & total 75 pages, debuted that August, it was also announced that there would be a brand new re-release of Fuma no Kojirou starting the following November. Titled the "Kyukyoku Saishuban/Ultimate Final Edition" (& released by Shogakukan, of all publishers; there's even an official Twitter page!), it would collect the entire 10-volume manga across three giant tomes, each over 700 pages long, & would include all of the original color pages, title splashes, & end-of-chapter text, 100% reproduced from the original Shonen Jump run, as well as bonus content. November's Volume 1 contained the entirety of Prelude Chapter, followed by all of the Yasha Chapter. December's Volume 2 housed most of the Sacred Sword War Chapter, which was literally half of the entire series, plus a 15-page "rare illustration" gallery, with some images that had never been seen by readers before. Finally, January 2020's Volume 3 was home to the rest of the Sacred Sword War Chapter, all of the Fuma Rebellion Chapter... And a brand new, never before seen, 14-page Tsui no Maki/Final Chapter epilogue; after almost 40 years later, Kurumada was able to give this series a proper sendoff. Naturally, I pre-ordered all three books as soon as I could, and now they've all arrived together, so instead of a traditional "review", I'll just go over what the Ultimate Final Edition brings to the table, as well as what these two new "Chapters" do for the overall story of Fuma no Kojirou.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Kiss Dum R - Engage Planet: Gentlemen, We can Rebuild it Better than it was Before... Better, Stronger, Faster

Previously on Volume 16 of Demo Disc:
"...You can tell that I decided to focus this Demo Disc more on Kiss Dum's apparent production hell, and how that seemed to radically alter the direction the story took, alongside the sometimes rough visuals, rather than have it be a direct assessment of things like storytelling, the characters, or the people behind the animation, visual style, designs, music, or voice work.

That's because Engage Planet Kiss Dum did eventually see a home video release, one that actually did see the series officially make it outside of Japan."

Satelight's sixth original anime production didn't work out quite like how it was intended, either as the sci-fi novel adaptation it was originally intended to be, or as the original story that Yasuchika Nagaoka conceived before having to effectively bow out due to whatever problems he was having; the staff apparently did had a rough scenario to work off of, but that's all. A DVD release was planned to start in June of 2007, & had even been licensed for English release by Bandai Visual USA, before getting delayed to that July & then being "indefinitely postponed". You see, even with the problems that came about, the staff for Kiss Dum were driven to deliver the best product that they could muster, and what aired on TV Tokyo in late-night was simply not good enough for them. They wanted another go at it, and this time they'd do it "right".


So, on April 27, 2008, Kiss Dum R - Engage Planet (again, the halves are essentially interchangeable) re-debuted on TV, this time airing midday on AT-X, TV Tokyo's anime-focused satellite service. It would start airing a few days later on fellow satellite channel BS-11, with each episode there being followed by a short, minute-long segment called Road to Kiss Dum R, where the staff & cast openly discussed the production of the original version. As for Yasuchika Nagaoka, he was apparently not a part of this "retake" of Kiss Dum, though he was re-credited for "Original Concept", replacing the "World Business Enterprise" that had replaced him on the original TV airing; he was also still credited as "Chief Director". In turn, director Hidekazu "Eiichi" Sato, who went on to direct Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline as a Japan/France co-production following Kiss Dum's original airing, took full control of this new version. Once this airing ended, though, a home video release was still nowhere to be found. However, an online survey done by the Blu-Ray Disc Association in July of 2009 saw Kiss Dum ranked at the third-most-wanted anime to see a BD release, at least within the small sample that took the survey, beating out the likes of Clannad, Toradora!, Gurren Lagann, & The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Three years later, when this new version got re-aired on BS-11, the Road to Kiss Dum R segments for Episodes 1 to 18 got replaced with Kiss Dum R Information, and along with that came a new website titled "Road to Kiss Dum R BD", which featured documentary-esque footage starring Sato as he revealed plans to finally give Kiss Dum R a home video release, complete with brand new OVA episode; later that June, it was announced that enough pre-orders had been made to put the release into production. Finally, in September of 2017, it was announced that Maiden Japan would give Kiss Dum R an official English release on BD, a decade after Bandai Visual USA's original announcement; within a year the entire show was streaming on Hidive, with the addition of the OVA to its catalog. So, after everything this series had gone through, how did it end up, is it truly any better than the original TV version, & did the staff manage to stick the landing & deliver a proper ending?

[NOTE: If you would like a proper introduction & initial synopsis of Kiss Dum's plot, please read the first few paragraphs of the Demo Disc article linked at the top.]

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Obscusion B-Side: The DC Hero Who Refused to Die! A Resurrection Man Retrospective

During the early 90s, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning were two British employees of Marvel Comics. Abnett was known mainly as an inker, though he had written every now & then, while Lanning had previously written for 2000 AD magazine. The two considered teaming up to revive the Great Lakes Avengers, a comedic off-shoot of the iconic team, but there was one main problem they had: Mr. Immortal, the leader, was just too boring. In particular, they felt that the simple power of immortality gave them nothing to really work with, so they dropped the idea. However, Lanning did think that it'd be interesting if they had a character that would gain a new superpower every time he resurrected, and when the duo moved over to DC in the second half of the decade they pitched it to editor Eddie Berganza, who absolutely loved the idea. Teaming up with artist Jackson "Butch" Guice, a last-minute addition who was one of the lead pencillers for the entire Death & Rebirth of Superman storyline a few years earlier, the end result was Resurrection Man #1, which debuted in May of 1997; no relation to the 1998 British film directed by Marc Evans, or the two novels written in 1994 & 1995. I first heard of this series just a couple of years ago, but only recently gave it a chance, and now I would like to go over the story of one Mitch Shelley, the wild ride he had during the twilight years of the 90s, and how he resurrected one more time over a decade later.


It all starts with our lead, unsure of anything about him other than his first name, coming across some gangbangers about to commit a drive-by on some hapless teenagers outside the town of Crucible who walked into their territory. Mitch, wanting to do the right thing, jumps in front of the teens... Only to start flying, which he never knew he could do. Unfortunately, while the gangbangers were distracted by this, it also made Mitch into a giant target, so he gets shot down, with his only consolation being a rough flashback of whatever memories he has, as scattershot as they are. However, Mitch then wakes up, confused as to how he survived getting shot down in a hail of gunfire, finding out that he now has the power to harden the air around him. Using the jumbled memories he gained, he enters Crucible & heads to the library to look up any info he can, getting the help of a librarian named Irma, who helps him search & realize that his name is Mitch Shelley, a lawyer who was reported dead two days ago after a gas explosion in the nearby town of Viceroy.

Irma takes Mitch to a nearby mission for the homeless to feed him & cut his long hair, only for the mission to be attacked by Bonny Hoffman & Carmen Leno, two assassins calling themselves the Body Doubles. They're hunting after Mitch, who only manages to escape because of Irma sacrificing herself, & later Mitch comes across a gas station diner shortly before an out-of-control truck risks everyone's life. Mitch manages to stop it with his hardened air power, & save the unconscious driver, before dying in an explosion created by the gas the truck had started leaking. Three days later, the Body Doubles come across the diner, only for everyone to find out that Mitch's body, which was dumped in the freezer room while waiting for the police to slowly arrive, had gone missing. Yes, Mitch resurrected once again, this time with pyrokinetic powers, and wanders off, deciding to consider himself a "Resurrection Man", after hearing someone at the diner talk about a rumor of such a man, one who hails for free rides, only to leave the good Samaritans dead. Unbeknownst to Mitch, though, this rumor is real... And it's on the hunt for him. Issue #1 does a great job introducing Mitch Shelley, his interesting power (which is like a more randomized take on Dial H for Hero, though activated by dying), some ongoing villains, & the general storyline for the time being, i.e. finding out who Mitch really is, why he was in a gas explosion, & how he gained these powers. We also get a good feel for Mitch's character, showing that he values human life & wants nothing more than to help those in need, and since he can't die he's more than willing to risk his life in ways others simply can't.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Tatsunical Legacy Over Two Decades: Tatsunoko's Ultimate Cross Generation Fight

Founded on October 19, 1962 by the Yoshida Brothers (Tatsuo, Kenji, & Toyoharu [better known as Ippei Kuri]), Tatsunoko Production has gone on to become a legendary & respected studio that helped define TV anime during the 60s, 70s & 80s, while from the 90s to today it's mostly either re-interpreted its standard-setting icons in new ways, or has done more traditional, for-hire work. As for said icons, Tatsunoko's biggest impact will most certainly be its various hero & comedy series, done primarily during the 70s & 80s. Whether it's Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Neo Human Casshan, Hurricane Polimar, Space Knight Tekkaman, the Time Bokan Series, Hakushon Daimaoh, Gold Lightan Golden Warrior & beyond, Tatsunoko is probably best recognized for producing what were essentially the Japanese anime equivalents of Marvel, DC, & even Hanna-Barbera, with some of them even seeing international airing on television during the 70s, 80s, & 90s.

So, naturally, it would make sense for "Tatsu's Children" to eventually come to blows!

Hey, don't underestimate Hutch the Honeybee...
And Kerokko Dematan will most certainly kick your ass!

Now, to be fair, the first real major crossover between these various Tatsunoko characters would come in the form of 1993's Time Bokan: Royal Revival, a two-episode OVA celebration of the titular franchise. The first episode was a Wacky Races-esque race between the various villainous trios from all of the Time Bokan anime that existed at the time (& would inspire similar trios in shows like Nadia & Pokémon), while the second saw numerous Tatsunoko heroes unite (& argue) to take on evil. Beyond that, & the occasional cameos in more recent anime, there have really only been three full-on crossover productions involving Tatsunoko characters, with two of them being fighting games that are celebrating notable anniversaries in the year 2020; the third is Infini-T Force, which comes in both 2015 manga & 2017 anime flavors. Therefore, I think it's only fitting to look over said games, and see what each one brought to the table, whether it was giving a "gaijin" artist his chance to create something original, reviving a fan-favorite fighting game series that many had waited literally years for more of, or showing that even if Tatsunoko isn't exactly on the lips of the world's mouth, the studio can still bring smiles & joy to people all around the world... Even if pugilistically.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Demo Disc Vol. 16: Nagaoka's Necrotic Northot

As much as we, as fans, like to give credit to singular people when it comes to celebrating titles we like, anime production is generally NOT a one-man show; sure, there is the occasional OVA or short, but those are rare & generally proof-of-concepts. However, original anime works are sometimes the creation of a single person, who then works with an entire staff to make into reality. That's what led to people like Yoshiyuki Tomino, Tadao Nagahama, & Shoji Kawamori being known as the singular names behind series like Gundam, Voltes V, & Macross. What makes this work, though, is for said singular "creator" to share their ideas with the rest of the staff, so that they are all united... Just in case something was to go horribly wrong.

A perfect example of when things go horribly wrong is seen with 2007's Engage Planet Kiss Dum.

Sorry, but Kiss Dum's eyecatch is one of those "It's better in motion" examples.

Before debuting on TV Tokyo on April 3, 2007, the sixth original animated series by Satelight was hyped up fairly well, though by debut had already gone through a number of changes. Originally, the plan was to adapt a Japanese science-fiction novel using the same staff as Macross Zero, but when Satelight couldn't get permission from the author, it was decided to switch over to being an original work. By this point, it was already decided that the director would be Yasuchika Nagaoka, a long-time animator who in the past couple decades had started making a name for himself as director by handling New Cutie Honey, both Crest & Banner of the Stars, & (most recently) Shinkon Gattai Godannar!!, the last of which was actually an original creation of his. So in March 2006, at the Tokyo International Anime Fair, Satelight announced its new upcoming anime, "Mugen Kikou/Infinite Armor Necrodiver", with Nagaoka credited as "original creator" alongside Satelight!

Obviously, the anime wouldn't actually debut for another year, & would go through a major name change in the process. However, things got very curious shortly before the first episode actually aired. Alongside the name change to Engage Planet Kiss Dum (the two halves are seemingly interchangeable), Nagaoka's "original creator" credit had also been removed, with him being replaced by "World Business Enterprise", which is so generic that I can't find any real info about it; I highly doubt it's the first result a Google search gives. Not only that, but Hidekazu Sato, who at this point had never directed a series on his own, was now the "Director", with Nagaoka being moved to the more general & less hands-on position of "Chief Director"; Hiroyuki Kanbe was also brought in as "Assistant Director". It's obvious that Nagaoka was being, more or less, removed from the entire production, but there's just one problem: He was the man who created the entire thing in the first place, the man in charge of "Series Composition", after the original novel adaptation plans were axed!