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Friday, January 14, 2011

"Half-Way There": A Look at Enoki Films USA's Catalog Part 1

Enoki Films USA, Inc. is an interesting beast in the North American anime industry. Generally an anime licensor (take your pick: FUNimation, Sentai Filmworks, Anime Midstream, etc.) licenses anime from the company that owns it over in Japan with the intent of making it available here in North America, via DVD, TV airing, online streaming, and the like. Enoki, though, licenses anime with the intent of making it available to other licensors around the world. Even though it's not exactly an appropriate title to give the company, an easy way to describe Enoki would be a "middleman". Since forming in 1986, the US branch of the 1975-founded Japanese company has accumulated its fair share of anime, and some of it has been licensed by anime companies over here for release in North America and are either still being released or will be in the near future: Super GALS!, Lost Universe, Saiyuki, Revolutionary Girl Utena, The Slayers series, El Hazard: The Wanderers, Gakuen Alice, Ikki Tousen's first season, and His and Her Circumstances/Kare Kano, for example.

At the same time, though, most anime fans, and maybe even some in the industry, feel that Enoki's line-up, though potentially filled with quality anime, is generally not the kind of anime that would sell well over here, especially since their line-up only gets older with time. Still, I consider Enoki's line-up to be "Half-Way There": Anime that are technically available in North America but aren't actually released to the public.

Upon finding out that Enoki has recently licensed the soccer anime Giant Killing, which just aired this past summer, I've decided to take a look at Enoki's line-up and bring to attention the titles that I personally feel should be given a chance to shine, even if it's just via something like online streaming. In fact two of Enoki's titles, Izumo and Koi Koi Seven, have never been licensed for DVD release but are actually available with English subtitles via official online streaming, such as at The Anime Network's online player. Enoki categorizes their line-up under these categories: Action Adventure,  Young Audience, Animation Features, Anime Action (which makes no sense as a category as all Enoki license is anime), Sci-fi & Manga, & Drama/Classics. I'm going to focus on Action Adventure, Anime Action, and Sci-fi & Manga, as the other categories either don't feature anything really worth mentioning (Anime Features) or the only thing worth mentioning has already been licensed at one point or another (Young Audiences [Flint the Time Detective] & Drama/Classics [Kare Kano]). Finally, Enoki has a weird habit of giving their anime stupid as hell titles (Utena was called "Ursula's Kiss" and Kare Kano was called "Tales of North Hill High", for example), so while the images might say one name, I'm using the original Japanese titles in these lists. So let's get started with titles in Action Adventure that are worth looking at!

Captain Tsubasa: Road to 2002 (52 episodes)
When it comes to soccer anime & manga there is no larger name than Captain Tsubasa. Yoichi Takahashi's story of Tsubasa Oozora and his friends started off back in 1981 and through many sequels is still running to this day, going from their old days as kids to their present days as world-class professional soccer players. The original manga as well as the multitude of anime adaptations have become giant hits all over the world... Except for the U.S. and Canada. We have never gotten any of Captain Tsubasa in any form over here before, and when Viz decided to give soccer manga a try they went with the overall shorter but nowhere near as popular Whistle!, which had its final volume released  about a year or two ago. Enoki has both the original 1983-1986 Tsubasa anime as well as the 2001-2002 anime, which is also the most recent anime adaptation of the series. Whereas the previous anime all linked together, Road to 2002, also known as Road to Dream, instead is two-thirds re-cap of the story, altered slightly so that it works better in this accelerated style, and 1/3 adaptation of a portion of the actual Road to 2002 manga. If there's any version of Tsubasa that deserves to be released in North America it's this version as it's made for newcomers to the series and it isn't over 100 episodes. In fact, a couple of years ago I asked Enoki about if they feel any of their catalog has a chance at getting licensed one day, and they admitted that Captain Tsubasa is the only one they feel has an actual chance still. This title has inspired people around the world to take up and soccer and some have even become professionals, with possibly the most well-known being Zinedine Zidane (a.k.a that guy who headbutted another player during the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup)... But let's not let Zidane be the poster-boy of Tsuabasa fans. I just think Captain Tsubasa should get one try over here, and Road to 2002 is the one to go with.

Senkaiden Hoshin Engi (26 episodes)
In 2001, close to six years before Viz would start releasing the original manga, ADV Films released the 1999 anime adaptation of Weekly Shonen Jump's Hoshin Engi, a comical action adventure title based on one of China's four legendary stories. ADV, in this case, decided to stick with Enoki's altered name of Soul Hunter, and though the anime isn't anywhere near as excellent as the original manga it still was a very good title in its own right. The comedy was good, the fights were interestingly based around strategy, and what was adapted from the manga was adapted fairly well, though the anime did still skip out on a number of portions from the early parts it adapted. ADV released a complete collection back in 2004 but that was the last we ever saw of it. Viz's release of the original manga seems to have done fairly well, as it's nearing the end after only recently switching to an every-three-months schedule instead of it's old every-two-months schedule. Not only that, but Viz also released Waq Waq, another title by the same manga-ka, while also releasing Hoshin Engi (Viz only does that when a manga-ka's first title actually sells well). Considering how well the manga seems to have done, I'm kind of amazed that Viz never bothered to license rescue the anime; ADV's subs were good and the dub was good as well (and the dub actually kept certain Japanese terms when characters referred to each other, which actually works in this case). Viz could have simply licensed it, released it in one complete collection with no real changes made to ADV's previous work, except for maybe removing ADV's habit of showing altered logos during the opening sequences, and potentially made some easy money. Why they didn't kind of amazes me, but I sure would love to see this title get a re-release again.

[7/2016 UPDATE: A good bit late at this point, but Soul Hunter did finally receive a license rescue by Discotek Media this past June, as part of the company's working relationship with Enoki Films.]

Jibaku-kun -Twelve World Story- (26 episodes)
This is a title that kind of represents what Enoki usually licenses: Anime that very few really know of in North America. Maybe if ADV's release of Papuwa did well they would have licensed this anime, as they share the same creator, but there was no way in hell that Papuwa was ever going to sell. Anyway, I personally haven't seen this title, but what I was able to find of it, mostly the intro, looks interesting and different from your usual fantasy adventure fare, and it seems to have enjoyed some popularity in Hispanic countries. Plus, it's main character is an asshole of a guy, and we could always use more assholes in fantasy stories...

Gokudo-kun Manyuuki (26 episodes)
Now here's an example of a title that was fairly well-liked but has since gone out-of-print. Gokudo was another fantasy adventure anime from 1999 that was released back in 2001-2002, this time by Media Blasters. Much like Jibaku-kun, the lead character in Gokudo was an asshole of a lead who only cared about riches and being a Grade-A asshole. My friends saw this title and both of them liked it very much and both wanted the complete collection Media Blasters released back in 2003, but that collection is so rare and commands such high prices in the second-hand market now that they both ended up getting the much-cheaper singles. Wait a minute... Long out-of-print anime that commands high-prices in some form... Oh my god, this is another older anime that deserves a license rescue!

[7/2016 UPDATE: Another rescue by Discotek Media, as Gokudo will (as of this update) see a new boxset release this September.]

Kishin Doji Zenki (51 episodes)
Zenki is an interesting case of an anime Enoki licensed that had two releases: The first was an incomplete release by Central Park Media back in the 90s on VHS and the second was by Media Blasters from 2001-2003 that did cover the entire anime. In fact, Media Blasters' release was an early example of a longer anime being released in 13-episode dual-audio boxsets, about a good five or six years before it started becoming the norm. Anyway, Zenki was the 1995 anime adaptation of a manga that ran in Monthly Shonen Jump, and was also another fairly well-liked anime from Enoki's deal with Media Blasters (I'll get to why this deal went sour next time). Anyway, Zenki's sets vary in price nowadays. The first two are priced fairly well and the third set is only a little more, but the fourth set was obviously given a smaller print run and goes for a good bit higher nowadays. There's also a 1997 OVA, but I don't think it was ever released over here, nor do I know if Enoki has it. Much like Gokudo, this should be given a second chance as it was apparently another quality title sandwiched between a bunch of, well, crap.
That's it for Action Adventure!  Next time we'll look at Anime Action, which is where the Enoki/Media Blasters deal becomes infamous, but there's still some titles in that category that are worth looking at.

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