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Monday, October 31, 2011

Manga DVD Kyoufu Shinbun: I Want to End My Subscription...

Back when I was reviewing the Ring ni Kakero anime series & Super Famicom video game I had mentioned something called the "Manga DVD". The Manga DVD series were a trio of DVDs produced by a company called Shadow Entertainment and distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Each DVD was based on a different manga series, Jirou Tsunoda's Kyoufu Shinbun, Masami Kurumada's Ring ni Kakero, and Sho Fumimura (a.k.a. Yoshiyuki Okamura/Buronson) & Ryoichi Ikegami's Sanctuary, and they were all released on October 3, 2003 at a price point of 980 Yen. With a tagline of "Enjoy the Digital Comics World!", the best comparison I can give for the Manga DVDs are that they were the manga equivalent of those video graphics novels based on popular comic series that occasionally come out here in North America, usually now with one of those original animated features that Marvel & DC produce lately. From what I can tell, SPE was hoping to make Manga DVD a larger brand, with these three being a test. Unfortunately, sales must not have been good since nothing else came from Manga DVD, making these three productions an obscure-yet-interesting part of anime & manga history. It isn't quite manga, since there's audio involved, and it isn't quite anime, since it's not actually animated but rather uses the manga panels with some video effects added in. And since today is Halloween I figure that it's the perfect time to talk about one of these productions.

Kyoufu Shinbun/Newspaper of Terror originally debuted back in Ahita Shoten's Weekly Shonen Champion magazine in 1973 and ran until 1976, totaling 29 volumes. Jirou Tsunoda is mostly known for doing horror manga, and Kyoufu Shinbun is no different, and with an apparent occult boom occurring in Japan during the 70s this manga was in the perfect time to shine. Even after its end the title still has a strong name behind it. In mid-1991, Studio Pierrot made a two-episode OVA based on the manga, with Tohru Furuya voicing main character Rei Kigata, and just a few months ago a recent live-action movie adaptation of the manga was released on DVD. In between the two, though, is Manga DVD Kyoufu Shinbun, an 86-minute feature that adapts the beginning, three individual stories, as well as the end of the manga. Though it's not subtitled in any way, if you have a basic knowledge of Japanese you should still be able to follow this feature just fine.

Rei Kigata is a no-nonsense high-school student who only believes in what he can see, so things like ghosts and the like don't exist to him. One night, though, a mysterious newspaper comes through his window; calling itself the "Kyoufu Shinbun" the newspaper describes the death of Rei's teacher that will occur the next day. Confused, Rei shows the paper to his teacher the next morning before they get to school, but all his teacher sees is a normal newspaper. After shooing Rei away, the teacher is then hit by a car and dies, making Rei believe fully in the paper. The paper Rei gets the next night reveals that every time he gets a paper 100 days will be taken from his remaining life. From here on out Rei becomes involved in mystery after mystery involving the occult, with the Kyoufu Shinbun still being delivered to Rei.

The basic idea of the Kyoufu Shinbun itself is a neat idea, honestly. It's very similar to something like the VHS tape from The Ring, where those who watch it will die in a week, but it allows Rei to try to stop his death from happening by trying to solve the mysteries he gets from the newspaper. After the introduction is done, which is where the synopsis above comes from, the Manga DVD adapts three stories from the manga. The first is about a piano that is supposedly haunted and when people sit down to play it they become forced to play a specific song against their will and blood can appear on the keys as well as their hands, and it cannot be washed away. The second story is about an abandoned baby that, when taken care of, seems to get heavier and might be possessed by a demonic spirit. The third story is about a mysterious girl calling herself Rei's litter sister Reiko Kigata, even though Rei has no siblings. After those three stories comes the end of the manga, where Rei visits a woman named Kaguya-hime in an attempt to remove the Poltergeist of the Kyoufu Shinbun from his life, which will hopefully free him from the paper's grasp.

All three stories are well-told and Tsunoda does know how to keep a story creepy up through the end. There are some neat touches, too, such as when Rei has Yousuke Nakagami, his partner in solving the mysteries, stay overnight at his home so that he can see the Kyoufu Shinbun delivered. Upon delivery, the Kyoufu Shinbun reports that Nakagami must immediately die for seeing the paper, and is promptly attacked by an evil spirit. While I couldn't find any of these stories scary per se, they were appropriately creepy and freaky, and that's probably the focus of this title: Not to scare you, but rather to creep you out with its occult-styled mysteries. If there's any problem, though, it's the fact that the Kyoufu Shinbun doesn't seem to be all too important. Only in the first story is the Kyoufu Shinbun the catalyst for the mystery that Rei investigates, while in the other two stories it's more of a means to the end. Still, all three stories are good and it's a pretty cool way to adapt the manga, though those who would rather not be spoiled by the ending should stop after the story involving Reiko Kigata.

There is no real "adapting" of Jirou Tsunoda's artwork, since what you see are actual manga panels. Admittedly, Tsunoda is never going to win any awards for his artwork, as his characters can sometimes be a bit crude in their designs, though his art isn't "bad" by any means. In fact, Tsunoda's artwork actually works really well for the horror-style and it lets creepy moments look even creepier in the end. There is some color added to the panels to help accentuate moments, like showing off blood or giving a proper mood to a scene, and the visual effects work really well; things like spinning the panels and warping character faces really help push the atmosphere here. Probably the freakiest effect seen is when a live-action actor, possibly Tsunoda himself, appears in the top left panel of a still shot & talks to the viewer. It happens out of nowhere & almost makes you think like you've just watched the tape from The Ring & Sadako is coming to get you! This feature was directed by Mitsu Shionaga, who hasn't done much with anime but he does a good job adapting the manga panels to a not-quite-animated production. There's actually very little music in this feature, outside of a main theme used to introduce each story as well as the musical numbers that are used during the piano story, but what music there is is fitting, so I say that Tomohiko Kira did a good job. Kira hasn't done any music specifically for anime, but he did arrange & compose the opening theme for the Spice & Wolf anime and the ending theme for the Twelve Kingdoms anime.

I do have a cast list as well, but I couldn't tell which characters they are assigned to. Since they are listed first in what I could find, my guess is that Rei and Nakagami are voiced by Masanori Ishii (Hakubi in Kekkaishi) and Yoshiyuki Ishizuka, who together form the comedy duo Ant & Grasshopper. Both do very good jobs with their characters, and Rei in particular definitely sounds like the smart yet somewhat easily scared man he comes off as. Other performers include Saho Tsunoda (possibly Jiro Tsunoda's wife or daughter?), Masaki Aizawa (Wiper in One Piece, Kusanagi Shiyuu in X TV), and Etsuko Ishikawa (Seia Onoue in Brave Police J-Decker). Overall, it's a well-acted production.

Manga DVD Kyoufu Shinbun is definitely an interesting feature to watch, though I can't call it an "anime", since it really isn't one. I even tried to add the Manga DVD titles to ANN's encyclopedia, but they were denied, and I don't blame them; it's such a fence straddler in that regard. It's interesting to see a manga take on this idea of turning a graphic novel into a visual production and it really does make me want to read the manga, even if I do know how it ends now. But, really, the manga looks to be a series of mysteries, so the ending is really more like a way for Tsunoda to simply stop doing the story then actually an end to an overarching story. The title does live in manga form again, though, as there is a sequel running in Shonen Champion right now. Drawn by Shinji Saijyo, the creator of the awesomely-insane cooking-battle manga Iron Wok Jan!, Kigata ga Kita! Kyoufu Shinbun Yori takes place 35 years later, i.e. the present, and tells the story of Mei Kigata, a relative of Rei's who becomes the new "subscriber" of the Kyoufu Shinbun and decides to stop the reported deaths before they happen. Mei hopes that stopping the deaths from happening will result in the negation of the 100-days of remaining life "subscription fee" for each paper. It's honestly a really cool twist on the idea that the original manga created and I would love to see Kyoufu Shinbun Yori licensed one day. In the end, these Manga DVDs are very hard to come across if you don't live in Japan, but luckily they can be watched over at NicoNico Douga, the Japanese video streaming website. Well, technically, two of them are viewable, since Manga DVD Sanctuary isn't on the site. But I got the video for the two that were over there, and with Manga DVD Kyoufu Shinbun out of the way, there's one more Manga DVD I can still review... And it's the last Ring ni Kakero video production that I can talk about.

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