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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ring ni Kakero 1 Pilot Film: Five Minutes of Yamauchi

Now that we've taken a look at the first two seasons of Ring ni Kakero 1, let's go back to early 2004, before the first season aired. Again, to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 30th Anniversary as a manga-ka, Toei decided to return to their anime adaptation of Kurumada's international hit, Saint Seiya. Not only was Toei going  to adapt the Hades Chapter of the manga, which they started doing early work on back during the TV series' airing but stopped doing after the show was canceled, but they were also going to team up with Kurumada himself to create Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen Jousou ~Overture~, a theatrically-released movie that was going to continue the Seiya story from where the manga left off at by. 

Both the first Hades OVA, Hades Sanctuary, and Tenkai-hen movie were directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi, who had previously and since directed the two Dr. Slump TV series, some of the Dragon Ball Z movies, the Street Fighter Alpha movie, Xenosaga the Animation, and Casshern SINS. Also, the Tenkai-hen movie was going to lead into a future TV series that would continue the Heaven Chapter that the movie started, hence the "Overture" part of the title. Unfortunately, while the Hades Sanctuary OVA is highly regarded as possibly the best part of the Saint Seiya anime in its entirety the Tenkai-hen movie, while still an interesting movie, ended up being a very different story than what Kurumada had wanted, and his disappointment with it resulted in him pulling Yamauchi off of all future Hades OVA productions and the Heaven Chapter TV series was canceled before production could really start. But we're not here to talk about Seiya, we're here to talk about Ring ni Kakero 1...

From what I can understand, during the production of the Tenkai-hen movie, Toei also had Yamauchi and his crew create a 5-minute anime pilot for Ring ni Kakero which would be shown to movie goers right before they saw the Tenkai-hen movie; I can't verify this, but it sounds believable. This pilot was Toei's way of seeing if there was any interest in making an anime adaptation of Kurumada's first hit manga... And here we are today, with Season 4 debuting in April 2011. So let's take a look at what Toei calls the "Animation [Ring ni Kakero 1] Pilot Eizou/Footage".

Rather than adapt a single fight or anything like that the crew instead decided to adapt different parts of the manga, so that each of the main characters can get focus (Shinatora, though, is the odd man out as he isn't in this pilot one bit). The first piece adapts a small portion of the first real fight Ryuji has with Kenzaki, which Season 1 showed even less of as a flashback. The main focus is that Kiku sees how badly Ryuji is getting beaten up and thinks that Ryuji has proven himself enough and that he shouldn't get back up and fight. Ryuji in turn gets back up and is able to pull of a counter on Kenzaki, which prompts Kenzaki to remember a proverb he once heard, "He who rules his left rules the world." The second piece is a mix of two scenes involving Ishimatsu; the first is a part from the Champion Carnival Chapter, which was shown in Season 1, where he talks to Kiku about how his short stature results in him having to reach and try three or even four times as hard as a normal boxer. The second part is an adaptation of his fight with Monster Jail from the Nichibei Kessen Chapter. Here, Monster is portrayed as even larger than he is in Season 2 and overall this part is more in line with the manga's version of the fight, as Season 2 heavily stretched the fight out.

The rest of the pilot adapts from the World Tournament Chapter, specifically the fight with Team Greece, so there will be slight spoilers in terms of who fights who. The third piece focuses on Kawai and his fight with Orpheus; Orpheus is somehow able to continually evade Kawai's punches and it's up to Kawai to follow the beat of a song his sister taught him in order to get the upper hand. The fourth piece happens during Kenzaki's fight with Theseus; Theseus is getting the upper hand and even lands his superblow, the Heart Break Cannon, on Kenzaki. Luckily, Kenzaki had a good luck charm on him that he got from Kiku after the Tokyo Tournament (see episode two of Season 1) that was able to save him. It's also worthy to note that one piece from this part as well as a part of Kawai's scene is actually used during the opening credits footage of Seasons 1 & 2. Finally, the last piece is taken from Ryuji's fight with Apollon, though Apollon is barely visible here, where Ryuji talks about how he got to that point because of the strength of his friends. Overall there isn't any plot, but that's because there doesn't have to be here. This pilot film is nothing but a compilation of scenes from the manga and was made solely for fanservice.

Since this uses a different crew, I'll list off the important ones here here. Masashi Kubota wrote it and it seems to be very accurate to the original manga in terms of what is being said. Seiji Yokoyama did the music, which is literally just the work that he did for Saint Seiya and therefore is great; that being said, though, I still think Susumu Ueda's music just fits Ring ni Kakero better. Shingo Araki and Michi Himeno adapted the characters designs for this pilot, and they are the only similarity to the later anime. Finally, as I've mentioned before, Shigeyasu Yamauchi directed this and it really has that same feel that both the Tenkai-hen movie and Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary had. When Yamauchi is at his best, it definitely shows, but at the same time I don't think Ring ni Kakero would have needed this style the whole way through. It works here, but I think Toshiaki Komura did a perfectly fine job with Season 1.

I'm not sure if this pilot has the same exact cast as the later anime, though the characters do sound similar to their later counterparts, except for maybe Ryuji. In fact, the only voice outside of the main cast I could identify exactly was that of Kazuya Nakai's, who voiced Theseus, and that's only because Theseus was one the only character who actually said something, aside from Ryuji, Kiku, Ishimatsu, Kawai, and Kenzaki. The cool thing is that Toei decided to keep continuity with this pilot by having Nakai reprise his role in the upcoming Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen. Interestingly enough, this pilot film did apparently get dubbed into English by Ocean Productions. The only proof of this dub, though, is from voice actor Michael Coleman's website, an IMDb page that lists him as the voice of Ishimatsu, and a listing of Ocean productions that has this title listed (the site also lists some promotional videos that Ocean likely produced for Toei). More than likely Toei paid Ocean to do this dub solely so that they can show it off to potential licensors, though I have to say that this pilot probably isn't the best way to show off this series.

And, of course, there's the animation. Yes, the animation in these five minutes easily blow every season of the anime made so far out of the water. It's excellently fluid and just looks really great. But you do have to remember that this pilot was made to be shown on big theatrical screens and more than likely used a portion of the budget that was spent on the Tenkai-hen movie. Therefore it's just ridiculous to directly compare the pilot film with the later anime series, as it's an easy choice as to which is better, but to think that Toei was ever going to use animation of this quality for a TV series of Ring ni Kakero is probably nothing but a dream.

Overall, the Ring ni Kakero 1 Pilot Film is an interesting little piece of animation to look at, but I personally don't think that it's worth showing to newcomers of the series. Instead, this is more of a fanservice production that is only for people who are already fans of Ring ni Kakero. Granted, it isn't exactly easy to find (the English fansubbed video I saw is probably impossible to find now), but for fans I'd say it is worth hunting down. Maybe if, one day, the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime ever gets licensed we can potentially get this pilot as an extra on one of the DVDs. In fact, there was even a "Special DVD" that came with specific issues of Shueisha's Super Jump magazine that not only featured an extended version of this pilot (which simply features a prologue of live-action footage showing Kurumada drawing as well as a short interview with the man himself that comes after the pilot) but also a short "History of Ring ni Kakero 1" feature that pretty much recaps the entire manga; it's also narrated by, I believe, Kazuya Nakai. While the "History of" is downright spoilerish, it does help add to the potential of there being some nice extras to potentially have with a license. Here's hoping for the best...


  1. I think I've seen the interview you're talking about somewhere in youtube.

    Is that the one where kurumada makes a rough sketch and then throws it away? XD

    Do you know anybody 's ever made a translation or a resume?

  2. Can you link me to where I can download the subbed version, please?

    1. Sorry, but I don't supply links to unofficial English subs on this blog. That being said, the english fansub for the pilot has more or less become lost to time, barring keeping a hold of the file itself. My old video overview of it is still on YouTube (Toei hasn't claimed copyright over it yet), so if you're okay with hearing my voice over it then you can find that over at YouTube.