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Friday, June 24, 2011

"Twelve More" Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues Part 1

Back in January I did a piece called "Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues", where I listed off more than twelve older anime that I felt deserved getting licensed and released in North America again (12 =/= 12...  Thanks, College Education!). These titles were chosen based off of a number of factors, such as present availability and affordability (i.e. is it OOP/Out-of-Print and/or is it expensive?), whether or not it ever got a DVD release over here, and if the show itself just seems worth it to license rescue (i.e. Did we get all of it the first time?  Are there dubbed episodes we never got?  Is it even good?). At the end I also listed some "Honorable Mentions" that also could deserve license rescues, which just showed how much anime we truly have gotten released outside of Japan. Well, I feel it's time to come back to this idea and list off another twelve(-ish) older anime that deserve license rescues. Like last time this will be split up across two parts, each featuring six entries, but I will say that this list doesn't have as many titles that I am personally familiar with like the first list, so this is mostly going off word-of-mouth and any research I could find. But, anyway, let's get started:

Maison Ikkoku was the creation of Rumiko Takahashi back during the 80s, debuting after Urusei Yatsura but predating Ranma 1/2. It ran from 1980 to 1987 in Big Comic Spirits magazine, totaling 15 volumes, and is considered by some to be Takahashi's magnum-opus-of-sorts when it comes to her romantic comedies. From 1986 to 1988 it received a 96-episode anime series, and Viz released both the manga and the anime in their entireties. In fact, Viz originally released the anime on VHS in the 90s before releasing the entire show across eight dual-audio, 12-episode sets, twice-a-year, from 2003 to 2006. There's only one problem: Maison Ikkoku never became a big seller for Viz, so these boxsets quickly became rare and now command high prices in the second-hand market. Well that's only partially true, as you can get the first three sets used for pretty fair prices.

But once you get to the last five sets the prices skyrocket, going from at least $80 to over $250. Even if you to shop at the Amazon Marketplace and buy the absolute cheapest releases it has, you would still be paying close to $600, which is a 50% mark-up from the $400 total you would have had to pay back when these sets came out... Not to mention that the $600 total is only for the first seven sets, as Amazon right now doesn't have anyone selling the eighth and final set. You can, though, buy a complete collection of all eight sets right now for only $1,500! Yeah, this show is expensive. There's also the fact that from 1988 to 1992 there were two specials, a movie, and an OVA that were made that have never been released in North America. Maison Ikkoku was something I had been familiar with by name, but the extreme rarity of this show wasn't really known to me until I was on an ANNCast Viewer's Special where I talked with Zac Bertschy & Justin Sevakis about license rescues; Justin brought up Maison Ikkoku as a title he could see doing well enough if re-released. That was back in March, and here I am now starting off this list with a title that truly represents every major aspect of why this show deserves a license rescue. It's loved by many, it's truly a quality show, it hasn't seen a release in about five years, and to buy it now would require you to spend potentially close a grand!

Mad Bull 34 is wrong on so many levels: It's utterly ridiculous in a "going too far" sort of way, completely unrealistic when it comes to police life in New York City, and is extremely violent and unflinching in its harshness... Yeah, that sounds like a Kazuo Koike title if I ever heard of one. At the same time, though, Mad Bull 34 sounds so insanely fun on a mindless level that it's probably one of those titles you just have to see to believe... Kind of like M.D. Geist, it sounds. This 4-episode OVA based on the Weekly Young Jump manga of the same name was released from 1990 to 1992 and easily received a VHS release in North America by Manga Entertainment. Unfortunately, Manga at the time didn't seem to do subbed releases of their anime, leaving us with only an English dub that was done over in the U.K. that is of absolutely questionable quality. Of course, you wouldn't expect Mad Bull 34 to have a dub that sounds like one of the greats. Apparently, the head of Manga Entertainment repeatedly said that they would give MB 34 a DVD release, but in 2006 they admitted that their original license had expired, effectively killing a DVD release from Manga. Now, the company is simply a label that releases Japan-America co-productions like Halo Legends and Batman: Gotham Knight, as well as one-shot movies like Strait Jacket and the upcoming Redline.

You can get the tapes for mostly fair prices nowadays, but Volume 3 in particular seems to have become somewhat rare; Amazon doesn't have it listed right now, but just a day ago I saw a listing for it that was at $999.99. Also, it's a dub-only release, and even the fan-released versions are simply rips of these VHS tapes. The original Japanese version would certainly be interesting to hear, and even though Justin Sevakis absolutely destroyed this title in one of his Buried Garbage entries, at the same time you have to think that even he would buy a DVD release of this OVA, if only to see how the Japanese audio fares. If you want another reason why this OVA deserves a license rescue, how about this: If Crying Freeman, another OVA based on a crazy and violent Kazuo Koike manga, can get license rescued in this day and age, then why not Mad Bull 34? It would certainly be unlike anything we are getting nowadays, at the very least.

[08/2012 UPDATE: Discotek!  Disccotek! Discotek!  Yeah, they rescued this as well, calling it "possibly the best bad anime ever made"]

If there's something we don't really get anymore, it's anthologies like Robot Carnival. In 1987 Studio A.P.P.P. (which stands for "Another Push Pin Production") asked nine of Japan's best up-&-coming animators of the time to create their own short stories based around a single theme: Robots. The end-product was a 90-minute anthology movie that simply cannot be re-created, partially due to the sheer excessive budget this movie had, which allowed it to look better than anything of the time, and probably a good portion of anime made now, as well. I haven't seen this movie myself but Justin Sevakis, once again, covered this title in his Buried Treasure series of articles. In actuality it was the very first Buried Treasure and was the sole title pictured in the BT logo for some time, which just re-asserts how original and amazing it apparently is.

Streamline Pictures, which is generally considered the first company to really push "anime" as such (and it was run by Carl Macek, no less!), gave this movie a limited theatrical release as well as an edited and dub-only VHS release. There's also a bilingual laserdisc out there, but it's apparently very hard to find and doesn't have good video quality. The VHS isn't exactly hard to find and isn't expensive either, but the fact that it's edited does hurt. Japan did get a DVD release in 1999 that even featured the Streamline-produced English dub as well as closed captioning, though. Super Techno Arts, Studio A.P.P.P's attempt at releasing anime over here themselves, did promise to give Robot Carnival a DVD release over here as well, but after having a lot of trouble before finally releasing all of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs S.T.A. died a slow and forgotten death. Robot Carnival now remains unlicensed and who knows if A.P.P.P is even willing to license it out right now. Note that the image I am using is from an unofficial DVD release, as the VHS cover image I could find was horribly small and useless. People now still hope for a miracle to happen, and hopefully one day a company will be brave enough to fulfill that miracle and give Robot Carnival a DVD release... Or, hell, maybe even a Blu-Ray release.

[4/2015 UPDATE: Adding yet another Discotek fix here, because they will finally be giving Robot Carnival the DVD release people have been waiting for!]

Urban Vision did a lot of short OVAs on VHS back in the 90s, and I covered one of them last time (Shin Hurricane Polymar). The Cockpit, though, is a very different sort of beast. In 1993 three stories from Leiji Matsumoto's Battlefield manga were adapted by three different directors (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Ryousuke Takahashi, and Takashi Imanishi) and then treated as a 3-episode OVA. All three stories are about soldiers who are serving during World War II and that's the only link between them. While there's no space travel, all three stories are definitely Leiji Matsumoto creations and the different directors gives it a Robot Carnival-esque anthology feel. This was a risk even back then, but Urban Vision took that chance, even giving it a New Generation Pictures-produced English dub. Justin of the Sevakis Clan likewise covered this OVA as one of his Buried Treasure articles.

The risk didn't pay off, though, and Urban Vision never gave The Cockpit a DVD release. Unfortunately, Leiji Matsumoto titles, outside of seemingly Interstella 5555, never seem to do well in North America and it will be interesting to see if Discotek's upcoming DVD releases of the Galaxy Express 999 movies will either follow that trend or buck it. Again, The Cockpit is a case of it not being hard to find, but rather expensive to buy; the cheapest Amazon has it for is slightly over $30, and only one version of the release is available there. I can't tell if it's the subbed VHS or the dubbed VHS, either. Maybe we should start asking Discotek to pick this up and give it a DVD release if the GE 999 movies do well enough...

4Kids may have done more bad than good when it came to anime, but you can't deny that they usually chose enjoyable-enough titles. Yeah, the company is still around technically, but they aren't in the best health. Anyway, I remember when they debuted Ultimate Muscle, a slapstick, over-the-top wrestling anime that was actually a sequel to Shonen Jump legend Kinnikuman. 4Kids' dub of Ultimate Muscle, which is known as Kinnikuman II-Sei in Japan (pronounced "Nisei", or "Second Generation"), is also probably one of the company's more raunchy productions, making it enjoyable to a slightly older audience as well, especially if they were fans of professional wrestling at the time; come on, how could renaming Gazelleman to Dik Dik Van Dik not have a dirty reason behind it? In my opinion, it's probably the best dub 4Kids ever did in that it actually kept the general style of the original anime, which is equally enjoyable, intact. Like other titles they had, 4Kids teamed with FUNimation to release Ultimate Muscle on VHS and DVD back in 2004, but after two volumes the releases stopped.

Ultimate Muscle did very well in North America, though. In fact, in Japan the anime was canceled after the poor reception towards a filler arc done at the end, not to mention that it was catching up to the manga. In North America, though, it was so popular that 4Kids actually commissioned Toei Animation to make more of the show, which resulted in two 13-episode continuation seasons, both of which would later be aired in Japan as well as late-night anime. Unfortunately, the title kind of suffered the "Bastard!! Effect", where it was popular back in the day but now is not recognized as much. 4Kids may not even have the license to this show anymore, though during an ANNCast which featured a 4Kids rep it was mentioned that the Toonzai streaming site might one day get Ultimate Muscle, both in it's 4Kids iteration as well as its original Japanese form. Though considering how 4Kids is fairing right now, I'm just going to hope that one day we get a license rescue for this show, as I think it's gathered enough nostalgia to make it worth releasing again.

If there's one person that still maintains some good amount of popularity around the world, it's Masamune Shirow. His Appleseed franchise is getting a new CG-animated TV series this summer, and recently it was announced that more Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex would be made. His futuristic cyberpunk style is well-loved and is easy to look at and say "This is Anime" in a way that will more than likely make other people interested in the medium. Black Magic M-66, though, is probably Masamune Shirow's least-well-known but apparently very enjoyable works. It's one of those 45-minute OVAs, but it apparently tells a really good and enjoyable story in that short time and in general the OVA has endeared itself to many old-school anime fans, feeling that it deserves a new release.

Also indicative of its quality is the fact that U.S. Renditions actually gave this title a VHS release back in 1991, where it stayed obscure until Manga got the license and gave it a VHS release. In 2001 a DVD release quietly came and went, and with that horrific cover art it's no surprise, and now the DVD goes for over $30 used and near $50 new. In this day and age licensing short OVAs like this is not a popular thing to do, which definitely hurts its chances at getting license rescued, but one can always hope. I'd certainly buy it, as it has my interest.
[Insert Buried Treasure Article Here]

[04/2013 UPDATE: Maiden Japan announced a few weeks ago that they will be releasing this anime on DVD for the first time in years, though due to licensing issues it will not include the English dub.]
Wow, I forgot how many titles of these sort Justin Sevakis covered during his Buried Treasure/Garbage days; I honestly wasn't expecting to bring him up this many times in this part of the list. Thankfully, the second part of the list won't involve him one bit, no insult intended. As you can see, this list is already very different in style than the last list, and the second half won't be any different. See you then!

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