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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blazing Transfer Student: The Lost GAINAX OLA

If you are a real anime fan, then you're probably at least familiar with the name GAINAX... I mean, you've heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, right? Or maybe Gurren Lagann? Or even Gunbuster? Yeah, GAINAX made every single one of those titles, plus a good few others that aren't mecha-related. They are, by far, one of the most identifiable studios in anime, which makes it interesting that I'd be talking about GAINAX on a blog that focuses on obscure anime & manga. Well, there is a title, before Evangelion but after Gunbuster, that some might not even know was made by GAINAX. In fact, GAINAX's own website doesn't even list this title in their "Works" page. But it is actually, in my opinion, one of their best short works. I'm talking about GAINAX's two-episode Blazing Transfer Student OVA... Oh wait, it technically isn't an OVA.

Ignore the subtitling, as I simply forgot to turn to the subs off when taking the picture.

When it comes to over-the-top hot-blooded anime & manga creators, there are some people that are easily named: Go Nagai, Masami Kurumada, and even the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori, among many others. Well, what would you say to a person who took inspiration from these very people; a man who personifies hot-blooded manhood to a ridiculous degree who even names his studio Honou (Blazing) Productions? Well that man exists and his name is Kazuhiko Shimamoto!

It's actually a slight shame that Shimamoto isn't a larger name when it comes to hot-blooded action. In all actuality there are a lot of people who would be familiar with his works to a point: TokyoPop released his 1997 sequel/reboot of Ishinomori's Skull Man manga (which is definitely worth hunting down), anyone who saw Mobile Fighter G Gundam should know that the characters for that show were actually designed by Shimamoto himself before they were adapted for television, and even fans of Lucky Star should be familiar with Anime Tenchou, the hot-blooded manager of the local Animate store. In fact, going back to G Gundam, some might not even know that right a manga reboot of that title is being serialized right now, written by Yasuhiro Imagawa (the director) and drawn by Shimamoto himself! But let's get back to the not-OVA...

Blazing Transfer Student, or Honou no Tenkousei in Japanese, was Shimamoto's big debut work in Weekly Shonen Sunday, running from 1983 to 1985 and lasting 12 volumes. The manga has since become a somewhat legendary title in Sunday's history, even being represented in the PSP fighting game Sunday vs. Magazine, which celebrated the 50th Anniversaries of both Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine. In 1991 GAINAX and Pony Canyon approached Shimamoto with the idea of adapting the beginning of his manga into an non-televised anime. The trick, though, was that it wouldn't be an OVA (Original Video Animation), which were released on VHS. Instead, this anime would be released solely on laserdisc, making it the first ever OLA (Original Laser Animation). Unfortunately, laserdisc never got big enough to support a title on its own and the anime wound up on VHS within a year, making it the first, and only, OLA ever made. In fact, Shimamoto would make fun of this whole ordeal in a chapter of his manga Moeyo Pen/Burning Pen (which is pretty much Bakuman., but 500% more hot-blooded!!!). Anyway, what is this OV... I'm sorry OLA, and how is it?

Noboru Takizawa is Honjakuniku High School's newest transfer student, and is arriving an hour late as he was told to by his teacher. Upon entering school grounds, though, Hall Monitor Koichi Jounouchi stops him and berates him on being late. Takizawa tries to explain himself, but Jounouchi beats him down with sheer rhetoric about how he would do whatever his teacher tells him to do... Until he admits that he would marry a famous idol if his teacher told him to, which results in Jounouchi getting utterly defeated through rhetoric. See, in Honjakuniku High, problems are dealt with through battle, whether it be physical or even rhetorical. Jounouchi challenges Takizawa to a fight, but a girl named Yukari Takamura stops him when he unknowingly steps outside of school grounds, making him realize how defeated he is. Takizawa instantly falls in love with Yukari, but if he wants to be with her he'll have to defeat Saburo Ibuki, the toughest guy in the school who wins Yukari in a boxing match against Jounouchi later on.

Yeah, that basic premise sounds ridiculous, and that's because it is. Shimamoto knows when to be hot-blooded for the fun of it and when to be hot-blooded for the sake of making fun of it, and Blazing Transfer Student showcases this perfectly. The seriousness of the anime is mixed in with the ridiculousness of it all, making you cheer for Takizawa while at the same time having fun smiling and even laughing at what is happening. Boxing is the main form of fighting in this anime, but it is definitely more in the style of Ring ni Kakero than Ashita no Joe or Hajime no Ippo (i.e. there's a lot of visual accentuation and punches look a lot more painful than they would be in real life). Speed lines are in abundance and attack names are screamed out in fine hot-blooded fashion. In fact, Shimamoto even makes fun of how attack names are screamed before punches are delivered by having Takizawa's "Takizawa Railway Punch" pale in comparison to Ibuki's "Insect-Killing Punch" simply because he can't finish saying the name of the punch before Ibuki does, resulting in him getting hit over and over. Now when people think of over-the-top style being done as a parody, then this title is just that: it embraces as well as makes fun of these things. Just being simply over-the-top doesn't mean that it's a parody; it has to actually poke fun at what it's about to actually be a parody.

When it comes to their TV series GAINAX is generally known for not knowing how to properly balance out an animation budget, hence why they never go beyond roughly 26 episodes (Nadia was a case of GAINAX being forced to make more episodes due to popularity, and those episodes became the universally-hated "Island fillers"). But when it comes to their shorter titles GAINAX seems to know how to use their budget to their best, and Blazing Transfer Student looks great. The anime at times purposefully has thick lines surrounding their characters, making them look like actual manga images in motion and color, and everything is animated very fluently. Of course this OLA also works because of the director, Katsuhiko Nishijima, the creator of anime like Project A-Ko, Sailor Victory, and Najica Blitz Tactics. The music is also appropriately epic and uber-serious during battle, making the final fight truly seem like one that is being done to the death rather than simply being done for the sake of a girl. The opening theme, "Blazing Transfer Student" by Toshihiko Seki, is appropriately hot-blooded but also comical in how the lyrics work; for example, the song literally has the lines "Snarl! Snarl! The Kick Snarls! Hit! Hit! The Punch Hits!" and "Who is that! Who! It's Me!". Without hearing the song itself the lines sound stupid, but hearing them actually being sung make them sound awesome yet hilarious at the same time. The ending theme, "Yumemiru Ki-Mo-Chi" by Noriko Hidaka, is a more traditional and bubbly theme that works well as an ending theme but nothing more.

The voice work is also very well done, and is filled with a good number of well-known and veteran seiyuu: Toshihiko Seki and Noriko Hidaka, as mentioned above, are great as Takizawa and Yukari respectively, but also Tessho Genda and Sho Hayami do great jobs as Ibuki and Jounouchi. And then there's Kazuhiko Shimamoto himself. Normally when a creator does voice work it's usually a line or two in a cameo or super-minor role, like Masami Kurumada in Ring ni Kakero 1 or Youkou Osada in Fist of the North Star spin-off Legends of the Dark King. Shimamoto, though, plays a high school-aged version of himself and acts as a second commentator during the fights. Usually manga-ka don't pull in great work, but Shimamoto pulls in a very well-done performance and since his character is seen and heard fairly often it's great to hear him do such a good job.

Unfortunately, Blazing Transfer Student is kind of a forgotten anime. Like I said earlier the idea of releasing it exclusively on laserdisc was a horrible one to start with and it ended up getting a VHS release shortly after. Since then nothing else came of it and there is no DVD release that I know of, not to mention that GAINAX is seemingly trying to forget they ever made it by not including it on their website. It is a shame, though, since it's a hilarious and very entertaining two-episode anime, especially if you're a fan of titles from the likes of Go Nagai, Masami Kurumada, Shotaro Ishinomori, and even Shimamoto himself. There's more than likely absolutely no chance of it ever being licensed, even with the GAINAX name behind it, not to mention it being directed by the creator of Project A-Ko. But if you ever get the chance to see it, I definitely say go for it!

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