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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Manga DVD Ring ni Kakero: New Cast Sound, Same Series Smell

Anyone who reads this blog should know that I am a giant fan of Masami Kurumada's Ring ni Kakero. Though you can classify it as a sports manga & anime series, specifically boxing, it's over-the-top style also makes it more of a shonen action/fight title, in the vein of Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, and One Piece. Understandably, there are people who prefer to have realism in stuff like this, and I do enjoy those kinds of titles as well, but to me Ring ni Kakero is simply 100% concentrated fun and entertaining all the way through. Like I mentioned in the last review, when Shadow Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment teamed up to make the Manga DVD series, Ring ni Kakero was chosen as one of the titles to be used. Coming in at a little over an hour in length, Manga DVD Ring ni Kakero (it uses the logo style RnK2 introduced, but doesn't have the "1", oddly enough) is the shortest of the three productions, and in some ways it does suffer a little because of that. Still, it's definitely an interesting piece that shows off how the series was adapted before Toei started animating it.

There's no real need to go into a full-on synopsis here, as Manga DVD Ring ni Kakero adapts the World Tournament Chapter, much like this year's Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen did. Instead, I'll bring up the parts that are the same and the parts that are different. The Manga DVD adapts the fights against Team France, Team Germany, and Team Greece, skipping out entirely on the beginning of the story arc as well as the fight against Team Italy. Since this is only about an hour long, this adaptation is very fast-paced, with fights going from start to finish like lightning when compared to how Sekai Taikai-hen adapted them. Admittedly, I don't really understand why this Manga DVD is only slightly over an hour long, while the other two (Manga Kyoufu and Sanctuary) are in the 80-minute range. Having it be this short results in some little portions of story being cut out, making this not as approachable for newcomers, and the fights definitely can go by way too fast, but that was probably the main idea anyway. Outside of the Super Famicom game, this was the first time the manga was adapted into a production with voice work, so they made it for pre-existing fans who simply wanted voices to go with some of their favorite scenes. But even with this shorter time, the Manga DVD does actually adapt two small scenes that the anime would skip over, both involving Team Germany; the first is a scene where Helga meets Team Golden Japan Jr. and then brags about how his country's style of data-based boxing is the future of the sport while the second scene is simply a moment where Scorpion and Ishimatsu trade some trash talk right outside the ring. They're not big scenes, but it was still cool to see that they were adapted in some way.

Also, much like the Kyoufu Shinbun production, the Manga DVD does also adapt the end of the Ring ni Kakero manga, but it's not until the credits start playing, which shows off the unvoiced highlights of Kenzaki's WBA Bantamweight Championship match, followed by an after-credits scene which adapts the highlights of the final match of the story, voice work and all. Just like Kyoufu Shinbun, if you don't want to get spoiled you can simply stop watching, in this case by not watching once the credits start appearing. Granted, though, these last scenes are adapted in a cliff-notes style, so you don't really get the full impact that these two fights have. Finally, there are some odd little inconsistencies with the way lines are read. Pretty much any foreign word that is written in katakana, like Napoleon's French or the German Scorpion's fans chant (and they even say the "Der Grosse Gott!/The Great God!" that the anime left out), is said as it's written but Scorpion and Helga stay in full Japanese, since their foreign words were written with kanji with little furigana above the kanji that have the German equivalents. This results in Helga calling Scorpion "Soutou/Leader" rather than "Fuhrer", and Scorpion saying "Kanpeki/Perfect" rather than "Vollkommenheit". It's nothing big, but after seeing the anime make it essential that the foreign champions keep as much of their language intact, it's disappointing to see the Manga DVD take the easy way out.

Even though this Manga DVD works very much like Kyoufu Shinbun did, there are differences in their executions. Since this is an action-based title, there's a lot more times where character art is being manipulated in small ways, things like action lines to indicate punches and hits are given movement via coloring to indicate when they happen, animated speed lines are added to backgrounds, and sound effects, especially the ones Kurumada put in English, are colored in very often. Also, unlike Kyoufu Shinbun's heavy use of black backgrounds, Ring ni Kakero has a lot of flat, grey backgrounds as well as some grey & black backgrounds that are handled like spotlights. It's a bit bland, but it works well enough and doesn't get in the way. This Manga DVD was directed by Toshiro Sakuma, who was a producer for Tekkaman Blade and hasn't done much aside from that, anime-wise; Sakuma handles everything well-enough, considering that this isn't actually an anime. In a complete reverse from Kyoufu Shinbun, though, Ring ni Kakero has a lot of music in it, this time done by Junichiro Suzuki, whose only other anime work seems to be the music for the children's anime Kappamaki. Suzuki's music isn't bad by any means, but it does sound a tad generic at times with only a couple of songs that are worth trying to remember... But maybe I'm just spoiled by Susumu Ueda's amazing music from the anime adaptations. Since this is the first time Ring ni Kakero ever had a completely-identifed cast (the Super Famicom game didn't say who voiced what character), I'll simply list the roles, followed by the seiyuu and what other identifiable roles they had:

Ryuji Takane: Souichiro Hoshi (Kira Yamato in Gundam Seed, Son Goku in Saiyuki)
Jun Kenzaki: Kousuke Okano (Osamu Yasuhara in Ghost Hunt, Kenta Nakamura in Initial D)
Takeshi Kawai: Hiro Yuuki (Helga in Ring ni Kakero 1)
Ishimatsu Katori: Kappei Yamaguchi (Usopp in One Piece, InuYasha in InuYasha)
Kazuki Shinatora: Nobuyuki Hiyama (Gai in GaoGaiGar, Teppei in B't X)
Napoleon Baroa: Tomoko Kawakami (Misuzu Kamio in Air, Utena Tenjou in Utena)
Scorpion: Hikaru Midorikawa (Scorpion in Ring ni Kakero 1)
Helga: Atsushi Kisaichi (Icarus in Ring ni Kakero 1)
Apollon: Toshiyuki Morikawa (Napoleon Baroa in Ring ni Kakero 1)
Orpheus: Mitsuki Saiga (Jun Honou in MazinKaiser, Rossiu in Gurren Lagann)
Icarus: Takayuki Yamaguchi (Kazuya Saotome in Hand Maid May, Kazuki Yotsuga in Dual!)
Theseus: Masato Amada (Junpei in Digimon Frontier, Daisuke Hagiwara in Dragon Drive)
Ulysses: Kenta Miyake (Dohko in Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, Zodd in Berserk Movie 1)
Takako Kawai: Yuko Kato (Akiko Hibino in Figure 17)
Catherine: Hiroko Taguchi (Miyako Miyamura in the ef Series)
Rokusuke Ohno (Rock-san): Kan Tanaka (Sean Webley in Super Robot Wars OG)
Futaba Shinatora: Rie Kanda (Al Azif in Demonbane)
Kiku Takane: Sachiko Sugawara (Noa in Legend of Legaia)
Announcer: Shinichiro Ohta (Ikemen in Kinnikuman Nisei)

As you can see, there is some overlap between this production and the anime series, with Hiro Yuuki, Hikaru Midorikawa, Atsushi Kisaichi, & Toshiyuki Morikawa having roles in this production. Yuuki's Kawai actually sounds very similar to his later performance as Helga, but that's mainly because Yuuki's voice is so easily-identifiable and he rarely makes it sound different. Midorikawa's performance as Scorpion is very similar to how he would reprise the character in the anime, truly making the voice and character inseparable. Kisaichi's Helga is actually really well done and doesn't sound exactly like his later performance as Icarus, though there is similarity. This performance also makes Kisaichi the only person to have performed in every voiced-take on the Ring ni Kakero series, as he was in the Super Famicom game, the Manga DVD, and Season 4 of the anime. Finally, Morikawa's Apollon truly surprised me, as it sounds absolutely nothing like his later performance as Napoleon; truly, Morikawa's acting ability is one to pay attention to.

As for the other major characters, Souichiro Hoshi's Ryuji is well-acted and I could have seen him working as Ryuji if he reprised the character in the anime. Kousuke Okano's Kenzaki has one main advantage over Ryotaro Okiayu's performance, and it's the fact that Okano actually makes Kenzaki sound his age. As much as I love Okiayu's Kenzaki, he definitely does sound a bit too old for the character in general, but that's really something you just get used to. Kappei Yamaguchi's Ishimatsu actually works very well for the character, and much like Hoshi I could have easily seen him working as the full-time voice of Ishimatsu, though Takeshi Kusao still wins out in the end, but barely. Seeing Nobuyuki Hiyama voice Shinatora is great, as it proves that Hiyama did in fact voice another Kurumada character outside of B't X's Teppei. Hiyama uses his not-often-heard deep and quiet voice for Shinatora, which works great, but Hiyama knows how to belt out "Special Rolling Thunder" just great as well. Also of note is the late Tomoko Kawakami's Napoleon, as she really does bring about a great nobility to the character.

The rest of the cast is interesting, as none of their performances are bad, but rather some of them just end up getting outshined by their later counterparts. For example, Masato Amada's Theseus isn't bad, but it just pales in comparison to Kazuya Nakai's later performance. Kan Tanaka's Rock-san sounds like a knowledgeable man, which the character is, but Bin Shimada's later performance brings about the silliness that the character also has. Sachiko Sugawara's Kiku definitely works well and brings out the tomboy in Kiku's character but Rie Tanaka's later performance just nails the character even better. Finally, Shinichiro Ohta does a great job as the announcer, but is also outshined by Takahiro Kawachi. The anime series just has a perfect cast, but that's not to put down the Manga DVD cast, as they do an excellent job as well.

Manga DVD Ring ni Kakero is easily one of the most interesting productions based on the manga series. The Super Famicom game is an interesting fighting game, though the voices aren't assigned to their respective roles, making it nigh-impossible to tell who voiced who in it; the compressed audio doesn't help, either. The anime series is the most-identifiable take on the series, which is no surprise and is pretty much the way it should be. The Manga DVD series is obscure in and of itself, and seeing Ring ni Kakero with a very different cast is definitely neat to see. Overall, though, it's short length in comparison to the other Manga DVD productions, combined with the portion of the story that it adapts, makes it a bad choice for newcomers to check out... The anime is still the way to go for newcomers in the end. The Manga DVD is more like the Pilot Film in that it's for existing fans, though people who hate ending spoilers should definitely stop watching once the credits start appearing. Still, if you want to check this Manga DVD out, NicoNico Douga does have it split-up across six streaming videos, so it's not impossible to see right now. Just remember that I'm talking about the Japanese NicoNico, and not the English one. This is definitely going to be for fans of Ring ni Kakero who have at least watched up through Season 4, which for English-speaking fans is tough as Season 3 is still stuck at the half-way point when it comes to fansubs. If you speak Spanish or Chinese, though, then go ahead and check this production out; for anyone else, it's your choice.

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