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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Early Days of Late-Night Anime Part 2: Good, Bad, Popular, Obscure... It's All Here!

In Part 1 we looked at Those Who Hunt Elves & Eat-Man, the original two "modern day" late-night animes, and then looked at how TV Tokyo expanded on this concept by looking at what the Monday & Wednesday equivalents offered up through 1998. Now in Part 2 we finish this look, and to start let's go back to the original Thursday 25:15 slot quickly...

While Hareluya II BØY & Maze TV were airing on Mondays & Wednesdays, respectively, the show that immediately followed Eat-Man was Hyper Police, which ran from April to September of 1997. Really, Hyper Police is simply a forgotten title whose only real gem is likely the fact that Kenji Kawai did the music for it. Image Entertainment did license and release the entire show on DVD from 2002-2003, back when Image actually did anime somewhat regularly. Okay, maybe if you're a big fan of half-human/half-animal people then you might be interested in this title, as the entire cast is done like that; the general fan ratings I can find seem to be above-average, too. Following Hyper Police was Virus Buster Serge, which ran from October to December of 1997. Being a Masami Obari title, Virus Buster Serge is generally known as something you'll likely either hate or at least enjoy somewhat for its "Obari-ness", though I don't think anyone really "loves" it, but if you are interested in checking it out it's still a big catalog title for Manga Entertainment. The DVD collection still seems to be in print, it's available digitally on PCs and consoles, and it even got TV airtime on SyFy's now-defunct late-night "AniMonday" block. Whether being so readily available is a good thing comes down to personal taste...

While Virus Buster Serge generally has a mixed response, what came after it is generally a much more liked series: Outlaw Star. Running from January to June of 1998 Outlaw Star got a big break in North America three years later in 2001 when it got TV airtime on Cartoon Network via Toonami. Even today, Outlaw Star is still fondly remembered, and Bandai Entertainment even admitted upon their bowing out of the industry that it was one of their best-selling anime of all time. Honestly, though, even if the show ends up being forgotten to an extent as time goes on, I don't think it's insanely-memorable opening theme, "Through the Night" by Masahiko Arimichi, will ever be forgotten. The original late-night anime slot had only two titles during 1998, and after Outlaw Star came Shadow Skill, the TV adaptation of Megumu Okada's battle manga of the same name, which had received two OVA adaptations earlier in the decade. Manga released the OVAs back in 2001, but the TV series wouldn't come over until 2005-2006, when ADV licensed and released it on DVD. From what I've seen of it Shadow Skill is a really good action series, and it's still in print so if action tickles your fancy then I say go for this show. After Shadow Skill was a non-anime series called face4/4, so maybe TV Tokyo was losing interest in late-night anime at this point, or maybe they were trying something different, but either way at this point we get into 1999, so we'll stop here.

When TV Tokyo decided to expand on their late-night anime venture, not only did they add more days, but they also made the Thursday slot into an hour-long block by having new anime air right afterwards, replacing non-anime show Model Factory. This is the Thursday 25:45-26:15/1:45-2:15 AM slot, and it debuted with Haunted Junction, which aired from April to June of 1997; while the other time slots were showing six month-long shows, this slot went with a three month-long show. Haunted Junction was licensed by back in 1999 and released on VHS, followed by a DVD boxset release in 2000 when the company became Bandai Entertainment. This anime mixed together school life with supernatural happenings, with the main characters being the Student Council who are supposed to handle all supernatural problems, all in a comical way. Hell, this show even went into somewhat taboo territory for TV anime by featuring a main female character who is a shotacon, i.e. she's attracted to little boys. I've generally heard good things about Haunted Junction, honestly, and it does sound silly enough to be entertaining.

After that came Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy, which aired from July to September of 1997. This is the story of a boy named Techno, who has lived in a bomb shelter all his life, but when he decides to leave the shelter and join normal society, he instantly falls in love with Hitomi Matsuzawa, who he immediately calls "Daisy"... Unfortunately, Techno is incredibly socially awkward and his actions do often reach stalker-ish behavior. From what I saw of Daisy years ago, it's not a bad show by any means, but it definitely is about as awkward as it's main character is around the girl he blindly loves. I will give the music two points, though. It's opening theme, "Girl Friend" by Side-One, is simply awesome (probably too awesome for this show), and it's ending theme, "One More Chance" by Yukie Nakama, was also used as the ending theme for Mega Man X4 in Japan, likely making it the only song to be featured by two completely unrelated anime & game titles in the same year. Following Daisy was the return of the originator with Those Who Hunt Elves II, which told the continuing elf-stripping adventures and aired from October to December of 1997. Starting off 1998 was AWOL-Absent WithOut Leave-, which aired from January to April... Honestly, the less said about this abomination of an anime the better, as I already brought up what sucks about this title in my "Anime I'd Love to Review" list.

One of the quirky things about late-night anime is that the difference between two shows in the same time slot can be so utterly massive. Case in point: Sentimental Journey, a series of romantic stories which aired from April to June of 1998, which followed the (attempted) terrorist-fighting story of AWOL. Sentimental Journey is an anthology show based on the game Sentimental Graffiti, with each episode starring a different female lead and their tale of love; Media Blasters licensed and released it straight to DVD boxset back in 2004. In yet another case of giving viewers something completely different, what followed Sentimental Journey was Night Walker - Midnight Detective, a mystery/horror show starring a private eye who is also a vampire which aired from July to September of 1998. Originally planned as a 4-episode OVA, it was delayed in order to become a 12-episode TV series, with a different director brought in to handle the latter eight episodes. This anime is also fairly well-received from what I can tell, and I must admit that I do kind of want to check it out one day. Finishing up 1998 for this time slot was another originator's return with Eat-Man '98, which aired from October to December. Again, the original Eat-Man anime was 99% inaccurate to the original manga, so '98's focus was to be as accurate as possible, and this show did it by adapting four stories from the manga as well as creating two original stories that were conceived of by mangaka Akihito Yoshitomi, which aimed at maintaining the style of the manga. As a giant fan of the manga I do prefer '98 over the original anime, but both are so different in execution that I feel that watching only one is a disservice. From what I could tell, the time slot only lasted for two more shows after Eat-Man '98: Legend of Himiko, which had a manga adaptation done by Oh! Great, & A.D. Police, the TV reboot of the Bubblegum Crisis spin-off OVA. After that the trail completely ends, so I'm going to guess that the slot ended for the time being, at least for anime.

But what of the original time slot? Did that ever return to anime after face4/4? Why yes it did, though it didn't stay solely anime-related. face4/4 ended in March of 1999 and was followed by Betterman, the odd-but-interesting spin-off of GaoGaiGar, which was then followed by Excel Saga, which I think needs no real introduction. Excel took the slot into 2000 but was followed by SPORTS BEAT, another non-anime show. That didn't last too long, though, as the slot would get a solid stream of anime afterwards: Argento Soma (now mostly forgotten), Noir (the original "girls with guns trilogy" show), Kokoro Library (an early case of a "moe" anime, or at least "cute girls doing cute things", and has yet to be licensed), & Aquarian Age. At this point it was 2002, and following Aquarian Age was the second half of Shin Shutsudou! Mini-Skirt Police, another non-anime show. After Mini-Skirt Police ended in September of 2003, though, the idea of the slot itself was moved over to Friday nights, ending roughly six years of (mostly) late-night anime.

Naturally, though, TV Tokyo is not the only station to do late-night anime, but most of the other stations didn't join in until a bit later. NTV tried their hand at it from October 1997 to March 1998 with the Berserk TV anime, but didn't actually start doing late-night anime normally until 2000. Fuji TV did join the movement in 1998, but their treatment of the shows was generally considered rough, with fairly inconsistent placement that resulted in some weeks featuring two or even three episodes of a single show in a row, and in 2004 Fuji TV decided to stop doing late-night anime in the "infomercial" style; in Spring of 2005, though, they debuted the noitaminA block, which is still running to this day. TBS joined up in 1998 with their "Wonderful" block, which debuted with a re-airing of 1995's Ping Pong Club before debuting a new title with the hilarious Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoiyo, Masaru-san!, which shamefully remains unlicensed, and TBS still does some late-night anime to this day. TV asahi, though, is hard to find an actual start for, as this station mostly airs anime during more traditional time slots, and the earliest late-night anime I can find for this station dates back to about 2003 or 2004, which is when late-night anime finally changed from a novelty into an industry standard. Since then, & to this day, most new anime airs via late-night.
----- Just to clarify, I don't claim this to be 100% complete knowledge of the early days of late-night anime. I just thought it would be interesting to take a look at the first two years of a type of anime programming that many of us now rely on for new shows. Within those first two years of TV Tokyo programming the only anime to be unlicensed are Hareluya II BØY & St. Luminous Mission High School, and even taking the entire timeline I could find into consideration the only other unlicensed anime is Kokoro Library. Even from its start late-night anime has been very essential to the North American anime industry, and I always feel that it's important to understand the beginnings of something before you can truly appreciate it.

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