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Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 1

Anime, much like any form of visual storytelling, is a collaborative effort, but most people tend to look at a single name when giving credit to its creation & final product: The director. It makes perfect sense to do so, as a directorial role is that of someone who leads others, so the director is the person who generally takes command & claim over how the final product is. Some directors wind up having a strong style to them, which makes it easy to see which ones are done by specific people. For example, no one's going to confuse an Osamu Dezaki work with a Yasuhiro Imagawa joint. There is something to be said, however, for a director being a reliable hand, i.e. someone who can deliver quality work consistently. For me, one of the most reliable directors I can think of is Toshifumi Kawase.

Back in 2014 I did a series of posts called The (Yasuhiro) Imagawa Chronicles, where I gave a general overview of the entire catalog (at the time) of Yasuhiro Imagawa, who started with Tatsunoko before quickly making a name for himself with Sunrise. Toshifumi Kawase's career starts off very similarly, as he also made his name with Sunrise. He started back in 1980 as a production assistant for Invincible Robo Trider G7 before doing more or less the same from 1982-1984 with Combat Mecha Xabungle & Aura Battler Dunbine. It was during Dunbine that Kawase would see his first taste at directing, as he was episode director for Episodes 17 & 22, and even got a character named after him in the form of Captain Kawasse. Following that, Kawase worked as a storyboarder & episode director from 1984-1990, working on Heavy Metal L-Gaim, Zeta Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Metal Armor Dragonar, Mister Ajikko (the last time he & Imagawa would work on the same production), Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers, Jushin Liger, Kiteretsu Daihyakka, & Brave Exkaiser. In 1987 he made his debut as director when he headed up the OVA Dead Heat, which is most known for being the very first 3D anime & one of the few initially made for the obscure VHD videodisc format; I might check this out & review it, one day, though I can never see it the way it was intended.

Following all of that, however, Toshifumi Kawase would start working as the director of entire TV anime series, and his reliability is easily shown here, since every year from 1991 to 2004 saw at least one anime series directed by him. A 14-year streak of directing anime (if you include his work with series composition, it becomes 17 years) is nothing to sneeze at, so what I want to do is give a general overview of what exactly Kawase directed during his decade-plus streak. This isn't going to be quite as extensive as what I did for Yasuhiro Imagawa, but that's mainly because, during this very streak, Kawase still worked on other anime as a storyboarder &/or scriptwriter, & adding those titles would literally double the amount of shows to cover! I'll be splitting this up across three parts, and for Part 1 we'll be sticking to the early-to-mid 90s, from his most "iconic" work to how he helped reinvent a highly influential mech anime of the 70s.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Culdcept (Manga): Naja, You Can Go to the Buffet After You Save the Forest!

If you were to ask a reader of manga what his or her "first manga" was, they'd likely answer something along the lines of Naruto, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, etc.; you know, something that had some relation to an anime that has some sort of "mainstream" popularity. Now, my "first manga" was technically a chapter of a Pokémon manga that Viz released in the old flipped-artwork floppy fashion, but I didn't actually realize that until just a few years ago; I forgot I had even bought it as a kid. No, if you were to ask me what my "first manga" really was, as in reading it because it was manga, I'd answer with a series I doubt many would know of. Much like how I started getting into anime, though, it all has to do with video games...

Created by Omiya Soft (Front Mission: Gun Hazard, Kikou Sohei Armodyne) in 1997, Culdcept has become the franchise that's defined the company. Debuting on the Sega Saturn, followed by updates, sequels, & ports on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox 360, DS, & (most recently) 3DS, the game series is best described as a mix between Magic the Gathering & Monopoly. Like the former players utilize decks of cards filled with monsters, spells, items, & more to compete against each other, but like the latter it's all played on a board game-like field & winning requires you to achieve a certain amount of magic & reach a goal, capturing spaces on the board & taxing unlucky visitors in order to do so; you can also fight to take over land, too. It's an intensely addictive & outstanding series that North America has only seen two entries from, Culdcept II/Second Expansion on the PS2 (simply renamed Culdcept) from NEC Interchannel (from the company's hyper-short-lived revival outside of Japan) in 2003 & Culdcept Saga on the 360 from Bandai Namco in 2008; Europe has never seen an entry. Well, with the newest entry, Culdcept Revolt on the 3DS, actually being released abroad by NIS America later this summer (complete with a European release, for those across the pond!), I think now is the best time for me to give my "first manga" a re-read, plus finally check out that final volume we never got.

That's right, Culdcept was adapted into manga, debuting in the second ever issue of Kodansha's Monthly Magazine Z in 1999. With editorial supervision by Omiya Soft, illustrator Shinya Kaneko was hired to create his own take on the world of the game, and it first ran until about early 2004 or so, being canceled after four volumes. It would be brought back, however, within a year & last another two volumes before either going on hiatus or being canceled a second time; regardless, Magazine Z went defunct in 2009, so it would have been canceled eventually. The ever ambitious & reckless TokyoPop, obviously wanting any sort of tie-in it could get a hold of, licensed the manga & got the first volume out roughly half a year after NEC brought the PS2 game over, and would eventually release all but the sixth & final volume. Why that last book never came out is a mystery, since it came out long enough before Kodansha took back all of the licenses it had with TokyoPop in 2009, but I recently decided to finally import that last volume for completion's sake. Therefore, let's see if Shinya Kaneko's Culdcept manga holds up now, nearly 13 years after I first started reading manga seriously.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Chosoku Spinner: Yo? Yo. Yo?! Yo!!

I've said it before on the blog, but the thing about anime & manga that appeals to me the most is how either medium can literally be about nearly anything; you can bring up something & be told, "There's an anime/manga for that." This is especially true for sports & games, which has allowed anything from boxing to baseball to go to shogi to mahjong to pachinko/pachislot to ice skating to bread baking to be made into an anime or (at least) manga. Speaking of bread baking, probably one of the most famous for adapting nontraditional things to manga is Takashi Hashiguchi, the creator of Yakitate!! Japan. I reviewed the anime adaptation of his manga across three parts in 2015, but that wasn't even the first time Hashiguchi saw a manga of his be adapted into anime. It first happened in 1998 for a manga focused around competitive yoyoing.

Like I said, anime & manga can be about anything.

Debuting in late-1997 in the pages of Shogakukan's CoroCoro Comic, Chosoku/Super Speed Spinner was the first notable manga to come from the mind of Takashi Hashiguchi (who had debuted in the early 90s), after an initial one-shot a few months earlier titled Moero/Burn! Spinner. The focus on doing tricks with a yoyo isn't really all that absurd, since the toy has always been very popular in Japan; most World Yoyo Champions from the past 10-20 years have come from Japan. The manga would run for nearly three full years, ending in mid-2000 after seven volumes, and during the serialization Shogakukan would work with TV Tokyo & a young animation studio called Xebec to adapt the manga into a TV anime from late 1998 to mid-1999. Maybe it was because it aired as part of children's show Oha Suta, but the anime had a bit of a bizarre airing schedule to it. The first four episodes came out weekly to close out 1998, but once the new year started only two episodes would come out every month (on two consecutive weeks), resulting in the anime only running for 22 episodes across the better part of a year. Not just that, but the anime has seen very little re-releasing in its home country, with the only home video release being across five VHS tapes from 1999-2000 (which are copy-protected, so I can't record them onto DVD), & the only seeming re-airing being on Oha Suta back in 2008 (so maybe a remaster was done?), where it was considered a "legend". In 2003, though, Chosoku Spinner (both manga & anime) was exported to Singapore, with the anime being given a completely uncut English dub by Odex under the name Super Yo-Yo. So, what happens when anime gets a hold of the yoyo? Let's find out.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Obscusion B-List: Completely Unexpected Video Game Crossovers

Last year I did a B-List titled "Video Game Crossovers with Completely Unexpected Rosters", where I brought up six(-ish) crossover video games that featured line-ups so non-traditional that it was almost worth checking them out solely for the rosters. It was a rather successful piece for the blog, at least in terms of what I'd consider "successful" here, so I have decided to create a sort of "sequel list" to that one. Now I could have been rather blasé in that regard & simply made "More Video Game Crossovers with Completely Unexpected Rosters" (& I won't say that it will never happen), but rather I want to twist this concept around a bit & instead put the "Unexpected" focus on the crossovers themselves.

Crossovers can be weird... And I mean WEEEIIIIRRRD. It's one thing for a crossover that sounds obvious to feature some crazy surprises in the roster, but what about those crossovers that just make you tilt your head & leave you speechless? Comics legend Archie is a surprisingly notable one, having crossed over with The Punisher & Predator, but there are plenty of other memorably unexpected crossovers. Products like Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, that Power Rangers in Space/Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation crossover episode, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, & even Who Framed Roger Rabbit are perfect examples of when the very existence of said crossovers are a major appeal in & of themselves. Therefore, let's look at six times when video games featured out-of-nowhere crossovers... And, to no surprise, Capcom makes up half of this list, because the former Japan Capsule Computers Co., Ltd. really likes its crossovers.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Shinken Legend Tight Road: A Standalone Story Mode Without a Fighting Game

In our modern times, the apparent standard for most new anime is to run for one entire calendar season, or roughly 12/13 episodes; this is often called a "cour", after the French word for "course". Anyway, while this essentially started being a standard once anime started moving into late-night slots, this wasn't the only time anime tried out the single cour format. An interesting experiment with this idea was actually done by Toei Animation & TV Tokyo back in the second half of 1994, and in the complete opposite of late-night. Instead, two single cour anime were aired Fridays from 7:35-8:05 in the morning, and while the first show (Metal Fighter Miku) did see release in North America on DVD by Media Blasters back in 2001, the other has gone on to hyper-obscurity... So you know that I'm the perfect guy (i.e. the only man stupid enough) to check it out.

Running from October to December of 1994, Shinken Densetsu/True Fist Legend Tight Road (or simply Shinken Legend, as the VHS covers say) actually has a bit of an interesting, but short, history behind it. Similar to Metal Fighter Miku, this was conceived as a multimedia production, with Shinken Legend in particular meant to promote an upcoming fighting game published by Zamuse & developed by a small little dojinshi developer called Gust. Unfortunately, the game never actually saw release (if even development), though Gust would go on to become a successful RPG studio through its Atelier & Ar Tornelico franchises, & is now owned by Tecmo Koei Games. While it's not the only time an anime has been made to promote a video game that never came out (90s OVA Early Reins is another example), I'm not sure if any others were actually done to the scale that Shinken Legend was, i.e. an entire TV series being made.

So when an anime is based on a fighting game that never actually comes out, what's the end result like? Let's find out.

Taito Masaki is working on a cruise ship as payment for a trip to the country of Grazia, which is where his father went to five years ago in search of a dream, only for him to die. While on the ship, Taito becomes involved in the search & apprehension of Charlie, a missing British solider who's also part of a "Human Weaponization Concept" codenamed Rabbit, due to the red eyes test subjects have when enraged. This is only the beginning of Taito's journey in Grazia, though, where he teams with Brigadier General Sarah Jones (Charlie's commanding officer), Gerard Gelain, & Kicks Rockwell as they decide to take on the Spiral Palace run by Captain Klaus Daggats, Grazia's "God of Fighting", who has a relation to both the Rabbit project & the death of Taito's father.