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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Anime Midstream Surprises with Big News! Raijin-Oh to go Sub-Only!

Ever since its debut in late 2008, Anime Midstream has been an anomaly in the North American anime licensing industry. While most companies handle recent anime, Midstream handles older anime; while most companies do 12/13-episode box sets, Midstream does singles; finally, while most companies handle multiple titles at once, Midstream is only handling one: 1991-1992's Matchless Raijin-Oh (Zettai Muteki/Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh in Japan). That's right, a company is releasing an obscure mech anime from the early-90s via singles, and they even are making a dub for it! For all intents & purposes the company should not have made it past their first year, but here we are in 2012 with "big news" from the company. But, first, a question: What the hell is Matchless Raijin-Oh?

When's the last time you saw an anime licensor that had a mascot?

Raijin-Oh is the first entry in the Eldoran Series, which was the super-robot anime franchise that Sunrise animated & Tomy made toys for. The Eldoran Series debuted as a response to the runaway success of the Brave Series, the Takara/Sunrise super-robot franchise (the most popular title of which was GaoGaiGar). The Eldoran Series was aimed at an even younger audience than the Brave Series, but Raijin-Oh had an interesting take on super robots. The basic story is that an evil group called the Jaku Empire starts to invade Earth with their dark orbs called Akudama, which take monstrous forms based on things that humans find to be nuisances, but Eldoran, the guardian of the Earth, tries to stop them... Only to end up crashing on top of a school room filled with kids. But Eldoran uses his powers to save the kids, which also forces him to entrust his giant robot, Raijin-Oh, to the class. Eldoran also turns their classroom into a secret headquarters, so even though there are only three pilots, every member of the class has to be involved in the operation of Raijin-Oh. Together the kids, calling themselves the Earth Defense Class & being known to the public, have to take on the Jaku Empire & protect the Earth.

The great thing about Raijin-Oh is that it's not only willing to poke fun at itself, but it actually makes it a priority to give every member of the Earth Defense Class an episode that focuses on him/her. The Jaku monsters are fairly inventive, each member of the class is distinctly recognizable, & even though it's aimed at kids, really young kids, it doesn't dumb itself down to be simple-but-shallow entertainment. There's a reason why Raijin-Oh is the most-popular entry in the Eldoran Series, & was even added to the PlayStation 2 game Shinseiki Yuusha Taisen... Which was a celebration of the Brave Series! Yeah, Takara & Tomy are now one company, Takara Tomy, so the Brave & Eldoran series are now siblings, in a sense, but only Raijin-Oh is an honorary Brave Series.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Anime Midstream. Well, the company had an industry panel at A-Kon this weekend, and at that panel company founder Jimmy Taylor revealed three big pieces of news. The first news was that Volume 4, which will contain Episodes 16-20, will be coming out in "a couple of weeks", with Volume 5 (eps 21-25) hopefully coming out at the end of the summer. But the next two reveals were big, at least for the company: First, after Volume 5's release Raijin-Oh will be continued as sub-only DVDs; second, the company will be moving from St. Louis, Missouri to Dallas, Texas.

Let's tackle the news one at a time. First, for those who don't know, Anime Midstream's releases have been slow. Volume 1 came out in January 2010 (though they did start selling it on their website back in December 2009), while Volume 2 came out in September 2010 & Volume 3 in July 2011. Many anime fans have come to feel that Anime Midstream is a side-project of Taylor's & therefore the releases are slow to come out, though they are very solidly-produced DVDs, with minor issues that are usually later fixed in future releases, & well worth buying. But there's another reason why the releases come out slowly: The dub. Anime Midstream, right from the start, went in a nontraditional route and decided to dub it themselves, using local talent as well as holding auditions at Anime St. Louis 2009, which is actually where they found the person who would voice main character Jin Hyuga. Yes, this means that the dub is fairly amateur in execution, but the dub is actually very well done and you see the performances improve with each DVD release, not to mention that you can tell that everyone had fun dubbing Raijin-Oh. But the big "issue" is that Midstream also hired people who are still in school, both public & college/university, which means that dub recording had to be scheduled around those actors' school time. Likely, that means only summer was the best time to record steadily, not to mention that nearly none of the actors were out-and-out professionals who did this for a living. Suddenly, the long waits between releases make sense. The move to Dallas means that Midstream can't keep dubbing in St. Louis, and they would rather release the rest of Raijin-Oh sub-only than have to recast everyone. So if you've been buying the Raijin-Oh DVDs (and you should!) & enjoyed the dub, then cherish Volumes 4 & 5, because those will be the end of the dub. The biggest shame, unfortunately, will be that those St. Louis actors will be losing their big chance to show off their talents, since some of them, like John Urbanek (who voiced the class' teacher Mr. Shinoda), were actually extremely good, not to mention that Midstream was able to get voice acting legend Mike Reynolds (Gennai in Digimon) to voice the Secretary of Defense, who plays a minor role in Raijin-Oh but apparently becomes more important in the later Eldoran titles.

As for the move to Dallas, it makes some sense if you know a little about Jimmy Taylor. Last year the GunDAMN! podcast interviewed Taylor & YUKI (who voiced Jin), & in that interview Taylor revealed that he actually was a voice actor back in the bubble days; he specifically mentioned that he played a bit role in ADV's dub of Saint Seiya. Likely, Taylor made some connections in the Dallas area during his voice acting days, & moving the company there is probably best for the future of the company. Let's face it, New York is no longer a big name in the North American anime industry, & even California is losing importance, which leaves only Texas. In fact, Taylor seems to have bigger goals in mind for Anime Midstream. For example, when ANNCast interviewed Midstream shortly before Volume 2 was released, Taylor admitted that he was looking into doing some live-action in the future.

Moving to Texas does make Raijin-Oh a sub-only release after Volume 5, but that also means that the second half will likely come out much faster than the first due to a lessened workload, which also means that I can review the show on this blog, something I REALLY want to do, sooner rather than later. Also, if Midstream wants to do dubbing for any future licenses they hopefully will get, then they have a multitude of local actors & studios that are already known for dubbing anime, which will obviously speed up the dubbing process. Essentially, moving to Dallas should only be the beginning of bigger things for Anime Midstream. I've been supporting their releases of Raijin-Oh, and I've been really enjoying the show whenever they get a DVD out, so I definitely want to see this company evolve from one that releases a new DVD once in a blue moon to one that can at least get a new DVD (or boxset) out every few months, ala Discotek. Jimmy Taylor has admitted that he wouldn't mind releasing the other two Eldoran titles, Genki Bakuhatsu Ganbarugar & Nekketsu Saikyo Gosaurer, in the future via sub-only sets, and there's even a 4-episode Raijin-Oh OVA that the company doesn't have yet.

"But what of the St. Louis natives who are being left behind?", you may ask... Well, I can only hope that some of them use the experience they're gained these past three years and try their own hand at making it in this industry; even if Anime Midstream won't be in St. Louis anymore, that doesn't mean that there's nothing that area can still offer. As nontraditional as the company's execution may be, Anime Midstream is a survivor in an industry that has seen its fair share of deaths, & for being that bold & "successful" (relatively, hence the quotation marks) I can only give them credit... And my money.

Though I don't drink, here's to you, Anime Midstream, & here's hoping that you continue to survive and can only be more successful with your move to Texas!

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