Sunday, May 24, 2015

Otoko Zaka (The Original Run): All Guts, No Glory

Weekly Shonen Jump is no stranger to controversial & infamous endings to some of its manga. Go Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen dared to kill off most of its schoolkid cast in a literal war against the PTA due to actual controversy with the organization (though this was obviously retconned years later). Yasuhari Kita's Makuhari revealed that the "main character" was actually Hiroshi Gamou, creator of Tottemo! Luckyman & likely the true identity of Tsugumi Ohba, due to the increasing hostility the two had for each other once they were paired together during the manga's serialization. This is only a small portion of a list of infamously known Jump endings, but it just showcases the various reasons why manga can come to a sudden end, whether it's forced upon by outside forces, the result of vile hatred between authors, or some other reason that can be listed.

The most common reason why manga ends, however, is simply because it didn't maintain the readers' interest. Jump is notorious for putting the ax to many new manga after only a couple volumes-worth of content, and sometimes it just happens to manga that weren't actually bad at all. For Masami Kurumada he had an early end with his debut manga Sukeban Arashi, back in 1975, before becoming one of the biggest names in the magazine with Ring ni Kakero. As I mentioned in the previous review, his follow-up, Fuma no Kojirou, seemed to end rather suddenly at the tail end of 1983. I think that was because he finally felt he was ready to do the story he had always wanted to tell. Kurumada admitted that he, in his own words, "became a manga creator to draw this manga," even admitting that he considered himself a "mangaya/manga drawer" up to this point instead of a "mangaka/manga creator". In 1984, ten years after his debut, Masami Kurumada finally drew the manga he had always wanted to do. Much like the "Man's Hill" it was named after, however, Otoko Zaka had a steep climb to traverse, and with Shonen Jump in the early days of its "Golden Age" at this point, the manga had no chance to succeed; it was canceled after only three volumes. Kurumada, however, refused to admit defeat & acknowledge the story as being over before its time, which made it's final page one of the most infamous in not just Jump history, but likely manga in general. Now, 30 years later, Otoko Zaka has returned, so I want to see what the original 84-85 run was like. I have a theory as to why it was canceled so early on to test, so let's look at "Masami Kurumada's Most Infamous Manga".

Jingi Kikukawa lives in Kujukuri, Chiba & has never lost a fight in his entire life. He'll take on any & all challengers, including the legendary Kenka Oni/Fighting Demon that lives in the Kizan/Demon Mountain area. One day, however, Kujukuri Beach is visited by Sho Takeshima, the "Don" of Western Japan who has learned to take on & defeat any fighting style he comes up against in order to become Don of the entire country. When Sho's men take out some local delinquents that got in their way, Jingi comes in to save the day... Only to be completely outclassed by Sho. Unwilling to accept defeat, unless it's with his death, Jingi chases Sho to Narita Airport, where a party is being held before Sho flies off to America. The fight makes Sho acknowledge Jingi as his last true rival when it comes to ruling Japan's young gangs, but this is more than just a domestic issue. Sho is heading to American to join the Junior World Connection, or JWC for short, a group made up of the strongest Dons in the world. The JWC have decided to soon invade Eastern Japan & make it their collective territory, without Sho's knowledge, leaving Jingi no choice but to try to get all of Japan's remaining gang leaders to help him take on the upcoming threat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fuma no Kojirou: Before Naruto... Before Ninku... There Was...

The year is 1981. Masami Kurumada is a superstar mangaka in Weekly Shonen Jump because of the massive success of Ring ni Kakero, his second series. It helped bring the readership to over 3 million (which is where it hovers around nowadays), helped revolutionize the way sports manga (& later action manga in general) operated, and publisher Shueisha gave the manga the very first full-color final chapter (something that has only been duplicated in Jump three times since, most recently last year with Naruto). Naturally, hopes & anticipations were high for what Kurumada was going to debut next in the magazine, and what would come was something completely different than what came before. Instead of another sports manga, it was a tale of ninja. From what info I could find, this follow-up manga was in fact popular with readers as soon as it debuted in the beginning of 1982, but the title was not to last nearly as long of RnK. Though it seemed to remain popular throughout its run, Kurumada would end his third serialized manga at the end of 1983, after only two straight years, leaving it at a total of 10 volumes. Since then the series would become Kurumada's least known major work; I've even deemed it "Masami Kurumada's Fourth-Most-Well-Known Manga." Why did it end so (comparatively) early? Was it any good in the first place? I'm going to try to give an answer to both of those questions.

This is Fuma no Kojirou/Kojirou of the Fuma.

The story focuses on the titular Kojirou, a young ninja from the Fuma Clan, and is split up into three arcs: The Yasha Chapter, where Kojirou & his Fuma brethren are called in to save Hakuo Academy by Himeko Hojo, a descendant of the clan they protected back in the Sengoku Era. Her school is on the verge of closing due to rival school Seishikan, which has recruited rival clan the Yasha to help steal students & make Seishikan the only school in the area. Following that is the Sacred Sword War Chapter, where Kojirou, fellow Fuma ninja Ryoma, & for-hire warrior Musashi Asuka (who previously fought for Seishikan) become involved in the revived battle between the forces of Cosmo & Chaos after two of the ten legendary Sacred Swords (Kojirou's Fuurin Kazan & Musashi's Ougonken) are uncovered during the Fuma/Yasha conflict. Finally, there's the Fuma Rebellion Chapter, where the remaining Fuma from the battle with the Yusha must now fight a civil war within what remains of the Fuma Clan, while trying to figure out who leads the "New Fuma Clan" & for what purpose.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Pachislo Kizoku Gin: Much Like the Reels, My Finger Will Stop Time

When people think about gambling, especially casino games, one of the first thoughts will be about slot machines, those games of chance where one inserts some coins, pulls a level, & hopes to hit a jackpot. In Japan, however, traditional slot machines are illegal due to the country making gambling illegal, not to mention the more or less random nature of the game. In place of that is Japanese slots, also known as pashislo (a.k.a. pachisuro, a.k.a. pachislot, a.k.a. pachinko slot), where tokens are used in place of actual currency, winnings are traded in for prizes & snacks (though there's always a shady booth outside of a parlor or game center to cash those in for actual money), and a trio of buttons are used by the player to stop each of the three reels. Combine all of this with some stringent rules & regulations and pachislo gives the allure of actually relying on skills (even if mostly illusory) & is big business in its home country. Part of the continued appeal in pachislo (& its pinball-influenced cousin, pachinko) is the fact that, since the start of the new millenium, it has become the secondary home of many licensed properties, including anime & manga.

If you can name a popular anime or manga, even if it hasn't seen anything recent via film or print, then there's a big chance that there's some sort of "pachi" machine based on it. Rokudenashi BLUES, Aquarion, Code Geass, Saint Seiya, Ashita no Joe... Hell, it doesn't even need to be anime or manga, as there are literally pachi-machines based on people & stuff like Elvis, Koda Kumi, or even Knight Rider! In fact, some machines with original concepts have even been adapted into anime, like Battle Girls - Time Paradox, Yoshimune, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman, or Rio Rainbow Gate!. So, to modify the gambler's fallacy slightly, shouldn't that mean that there's anime & manga about playing these things? Well the answer is yes, and I'm not talking about something like the second half of Kaiji: Against All Odds, where the lead character goes up against the pachinko machine from Hell, or the amusingly large number of pachislo & pachinko manga that's out there. Rather, I'm talking about an utterly forgotten anime called Pachislo Kizoku Gin, or Slot Noble Gin, as the official English title translation says. While there was a short manga that ran alongside it, as pictured above, the main attraction was a 23-episode, late-night TV anime that ran throughout 2001 on Fuji TV. To my knowledge, this is the sole anime about playing pachislo that has ever been made, & I didn't even know it existed until last June, when Lynzee Lamb included it in her list of "6 Obscure Anime Series Lost in Time" over at ANN. Since then I managed to actually buy the Japanese R2 DVD boxset from Amazon Japan for a shockingly cheap price, ~$40 (including shipping!), so let's see if I gambled my money well on this show about pachislo & the "slotters" that play them.

Ginya Otonashi dreams of one day becoming a novelist, but for the time being works part-time as a journalist for a pachislo magazine, even though Ginya isn't exactly too interested in the game. He's told by his editor Hino to find the best slotter in Japan so that he can do an exposé, but not knowing where to start Ginya winds up at the local bar he frequents, where his on-again/off-again girlfriend Yuri works part-time. Bar owner Dai Shibaura, a former pachislo maker, decides to let Ginya in on a big secret & takes him to an underground parking lot, the elevator in which leads to the Slosseum, a secret organization where people can compete against each other in pachislo. The goal of any Slosseum slotter is to advance up the ranks, from rankless to Knight to General to King, in order to earn the right to go up against the Ultimate King, Ryo Daiba. Shibaura brought Ginya along because he sees potential in Ginya's visual acuity, as he can even stop a pinwheel on the exact color he wants. By giving it a try, Ginya not only becomes more interested in playing pachislo but gains the attention of Daiba. With the goal of fighting Daiba in mind, Ginya will move his way up the ranks in the Slosseum, but by becoming more involved in pachislo he'll also dig up, & have to put closure to, his old childhood memories of his real father, Kojirou Shinbashi, a pachislo maker who left his family behind & was never seen again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Doamaiger D: So Retro It's Tasty

Short anime are a subject that rarely gets discussed by most anime sites, and the reasoning is a simple one: How much can you really write about something that takes longer to write than it takes to watch? This is especially true when the writer has to do a weekly report on the show, hence why places like Anime News Network doesn't even bother to cover short anime for the most part (at least, anything shorter than 10 minutes/episode). Sadly, that has resulted in some very enjoyable series, like My Neighbor Seki/Tonari no Seki-kun, not receiving as much credit as it deserves. The show I want to talk about, however, didn't even receive the luxury that Seki did by getting a simulcast; it didn't even get fansubbed, and it only aired this past season! At the same time, it's not exactly surprising that this show didn't get a translation, because it also doubled as an advertisement for a Japanese locale, Kyoto.

Anime that's made mostly to advertise actual places in Japan is something that's been happening for the past couple of years, and just about none of them ever received any sort of English translation. For example, does anyone remember hearing about Tenpo Suikoden NEO, a 2013 ONA about a girl who gets teleported back to the past & was made to advertise the town of Tonosho in Chiba prefecture? I'd imagine the majority answer would be "No," simply because it was never simulcasted nor fansubbed (now that I've brought it up, however, watch me review this one day, just for the hell of it). In fact, the only anime of this type I can think of that saw an English release of any sort is 2009's Miracle Train, which advertised Tokyo's subway lines via anthropomorphism. This past winter had a short anime run on KBS Kyoto & Television Kanagawa/tvk called Doamaiger D, which was made to help promote Kyoto's sweets industry. What made this show catch some eyes when it announced back in September 2014, however, was the style of the show, as it utilized a completely retro, 70s mech anime-influenced look. Now that it has ended last month, I'm curious about Doamaiger even more so. Was this 13-episode series of 2.5 minute shorts hiding more than its purpose indicated, or was it really nothing more than a 30-minute advertisement for an industry in the former capital of Japan? Or, simply put, was this show just as disposable & high in sugar as the sweets it promoted? Let's find out.

Daijirou Kyogyoku is the 15th generational proprietor of the Amasho-do sweets shop in Kyoto. One day, after falling down the steps into the basement, Daijirou finds a hidden door, behind which is a giant hangar housing a mecha named Doamaiger D. At the same time, people start getting turned into giant mecha/kaiju monsters called Mekaiju, and the only way to return them to normal is for Daijirou to prepare & feed them sweets made via Doamaiger! While fighting off each successive Mekaiju, however, Daijirou will also find out who's behind the creation of these monsters, learn about the origin of his robot, & take on Mr. Robert, an American sweets magnate who uses his own giant robot to automatize sweets production.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fantastic Detective Labyrinth: Elementary (Schoolkids), My Dear Watson

Right Stuf introduced the Lucky Penny label in 2012 as a way for the company to license & release anime that they felt didn't quite meet the criteria for the Nozomi label that was introduced in 2007. Right Stuf wanted Nozomi to be more for beloved titles that the company can put out in with things like boxsets, not to mention expect to simply sell more than other titles. In turn, Lucky Penny would be simpler releases for anime that either just wouldn't have enough art assets to warrant boxset production, or simply would have been too risky or niche for even the Nozomi label. While it started slow, the LP label has brought us titles like Ristorante Paradiso, Hyakko, & re-releases of Princess Nine & Ah! My Buddha. At Anime Expo last year, however, "Dark Lord" Shawne Kleckner announced that one of the new LP releases would be for a show that no one, & I mean NO ONE, would have ever expected getting licensed. As someone who loves seeing stuff like this happen, I can't ignore it when the DVD set is now out (plus, I had planned on watching & reviewing this show one day, so might as well do it now).

In 2006, writer Meito Manjo & artist Seiji Wakayama debuted Suteki Tantei/Fantastic Detective Labyrinth in Kodansha's Magazine Special, home of manga like Gacha Gacha, Pastel, & School Rumble Z, & ran until 2008 (totaling eight volumes). A little over a year after the manga debuted, a TV anime adaptation by Studio DEEN started up & ran for 25 episodes. As was the usual thing of the time, it was fully fansubbed in English while it aired in Japan, before becoming outright forgotten almost immediately after it ended. In the years since it never came up in any real conversation & more or less simply became one of those anime that just came & went. That's what made Kleckner's announcement at AX last year such a surprise, but it was the reason why he & his company picked it up that rekindled my interest in checking it out: It was simply a show that he & his people came across recently, found very enjoyable, & felt that it deserved a chance over here. Upon being released, however, reviews more or less put it down, calling it disappointing & lackluster. So was Labyrinth a show that was meant to be buried under the sands of time, or did the reviewers simply miss what Kleckner & his army of minions saw in it? Well I can't quite answer that definitively, but I can at least toss my hat into the ring.

It's been 30 years since a giant earthquake ravaged Tokyo like none before; it was later deemed The Great Fall. Afterwards, a new city called Shinto was made around the outskirts of Tokyo, and when Shinto was made the new capital after most of the populace moved there, the ravaged old capital was renamed Kyuto. Since then, Kyuto has become home to many "phantom cases", crimes that look to have no discernible culprit, motive, or even evidence. The Shinto police force is technically in charge of protecting Kyuto, but don't really care to do their job, except for two detectives: Ryusuke Inogami & Miyako Tomaru. Lately, they've been able to solve some phantom cases by way of a series of mysteriously helpful phone calls by someone who can explain everything. Tracking the phone call leads them to a European-styled mansion in the middle of the forest, and inside they meet Mayuki Hyuga, the 12 year old boy who has been calling them. Turns out Mayuki has a power unknown to him that allows him to locate the "exits of the labyrinths" & solve cases put before him. While helping out the detectives, Mayuki will also try to solve the mystery behind his power & family lineage, especially when a mastermind named Seiju starts challenging Mayuki with mysteries.