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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rokudenashi BLUES 1993: Kansai Calling to the Faraway Sons...

Masanori Morita is probably the biggest-name Shonen Jump manga-ka you likely never heard of. The man started as an assistant to Tetsuo Hara (of Fist of the North Star fame), and in early 1988 he debuted as a mangaka with the title Rokudenashi/Good-for-Nothing BLUES, which is essentially Jump's iconic yankii/delinquent manga. Rokudenashi is the story of Taison Maeda, a delinquent with a heart of gold who wants to become a pro boxer. Unfortunately, Taison is not always the smartest guy, so he makes stupid mistakes like not knowing that there's an age limit to becoming a pro boxer or that he can't get into fights, which are normally attracted to him, or else his license can get revoked. Ultimately, Rokudenashi BLUES is not so much a sports manga but rather a delinquent manga with some bits & hints of boxing added in at times. Still, Rokudenashi debuted in the early days of Jump's "Golden Age", where the readership eventually surpassed that of 6 million due to the success of titles like Fist of the North Star, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Yu Yu Hakusho, & Slam Dunk, and the manga lasted throughout the entire era, ending in 1997 with a total of 42 volumes.

Since then, Morita continued on with the 24-volume manga Rookies, which followed a high school baseball team made up of delinquents whose dream was the reach Koshien, and now he's working of Beshari Gurashi, which is about up-and-coming comedians. Even though Rokudenashi BLUES was very popular, it never received a TV anime adaptation, and with JoJo getting a TV anime this October, Rokudenashi now becomes the longest Jump manga to never receive a TV anime; I can't say for sure if it's the longest manga in general to never receive a TV anime, though. That said, it did get two anime movies. The first one was a 30-minute feature in 1992 that adapted the beginning of the manga & was first shown during a Toei anime festival before getting a VHS release. This movie is pretty hard to find for someone who doesn't live in Japan & it never received a DVD release, but maybe one day I'll be able to see it. The second movie came out the next year, is likewise called Rokudenashi BLUES 1993, and is a feature-length movie that also later received a VHS release, but likewise never received a DVD release. It is unavailable in English, but is it worth hunting down? Hell, is it even good for newcomers to the franchise? Well, if you're the adventurous type then this is worth checking out.

Taison & his older brother Fujio left their home in the Kansai region a couple of years ago to live in Tokyo, partially for their own dreams but also due to the family business. One day the two see a newspaper ad that is addressed to them, saying that their father is ill and it's signed by their little brother Youkou. The two highly doubt that their father is sick but decide to take the trip, especially since Taison's school is already taking a field trip down to the Kansai region. This trip, though, will force Taison to put some closure down regarding his family, his old friend Naoto Watanabe, and his ex-girlfriend Haruka, as well as make him put more faith in his relationship with his "kind-of-maybe" present girlfriend Chiaki.

The greatest asset to Rokudenashi BLUES is its cast, which is filled with zany-yet-relatable characters, all of which are memorable in some fashion. Always backing up Taison are his best friends, Katsuji & Yoneji, who are seemingly willing to take bullets for their friend. Chiaki's best friend Kazumi is Katsuji's girlfriend & easily the biggest mouth of the group. Koheiji Nakata is the self-professed rival to Taison & is always ready to think up some plan to make Chiaki his, usually to the chagrin of his friends Hiroyuki & Hironari. Ioka is a rough teacher who is ready for any opportunity to catch Taison getting into a fight & potentially expel him, and for this trip he utilizes stool-pigeon Nakajima, a student who loves to toss his long hair around. Finally, Kondou is a friend to his students, who call him Masa-san, and during this trip accidentally gets the art teacher Ms. Asano to fall in love with him after forcefully stopping her manipulative ways with men. All of these characters are just so memorable and always entertaining to watch, since they all mesh so well together, and this is part of the appeal of delinquent titles: The larger-than-life characters and their interactions.

But that's only the people from Teiken High School that are on the field trip! There are plenty of other memorable characters in this movie, too.  From a rival school comes Shimabukuro, a true rival of Taison's who wants nothing but to defeat his rival, but when push comes to shove he's there to help Taison out. Rounding out the story are the Kansai characters: Taison's ex Haruka is a fairly obvious opposite to Chiaki by being very outgoing and honest to her feelings whereas Chiaki is more quiet. Naoto is just as tough as Taison & harbors some bad feelings towards his friend since Taison never told anyone about the move to Tokyo except for him, and he wants some closure himself. Youkou is the youngest Maeda sibling and is the instigator of this whole family meeting, mainly so that he can get revenge on Taison for leaving his little brother unable to chase his dream of becoming a pro baseball player. Finally, Monson is the patriarch of the Maeda clan, and is a monk who you don't want against you, as his sons readily know & become reminded of. Yeah, the fights are cool to watch, but it's the characters that really sell this movie.

Just to clarify, this movie adapts what one can call the "Kansai Calling" story arc, which lasts from early in Volume 8 to early in Volume 10 (Volume 8 is titled "Kansai Calling"). Volume 8 itself is just the varied mini-adventures Taison & the gang get into during the trip, while fighting off some Kansai students who Taison accidentally got involved with, and the movie covers most of this stuff in the first 30 minutes. The rest of the movie combines the two major stories told during this arc: The story behind Youkou & the story behind Naoto & Haruka. By combining these stories, though, a couple of major changes are made, mainly in that the role of Kansai student Shibata, who kidnaps Youkou due to unresolved issues between him & Taison, becomes lessened due to the movie making Naoto the leader of the Kansai students, whereas Shibata was originally the leader in the manga and in the movie he becomes a second-in-command who loses that past of unresolved issues. The other major change is that Nakata becomes slightly more involved in the abduction of Youkou, whereas in the manga he only has big importance during the Naoto/Haruka story. I can understand the idea of combining the stories together, though, and it does work out pretty nicely story-wise as well as adding something that the manga didn't have: An actual final fight between Taison & Naoto. This fight is a very well done one at the end of the movie, and really works in ending any tension that they two had between each other due to Taison's move to Tokyo.

The movie was directed by Hiroyuki Kakudo, who is normally a storyboarder & episode director, but he does a really good job here, keeping the story moving with little to no points where the movie drags on. The script was written by the duo of Shun'ichi Yukimuro (both Dr. Slump TV anime & the original Ashita no Joe anime) & Yoshiyuki Suga (B't X & also the original Rokudenashi BLUES movie), and like I said earlier these two did a great job in combining two otherwise unrelated stories into one, with only a few unfortunate losses. The music is mostly comprised of really great old-school rock-style tunes, which really fit in with the style of Rokudenashi, so I must commend Kimio Nomura, whose only other anime credit seems to be the Tales of Phantasia OVA. Both the character designs & animation direction were handled by Masami Suda, and he does a really good job adapting Morita's rough, tough-guy style into a softer anime style, but this is no surprise since Suda is the go-to man for this style of manga art (see Fist of the North Star & Zaizen Jotaro). The opening theme is "WILD SIDE OF ROCK'N ROLL" by Diamond☆Yukai, credited as D.YUKAI, and it's a great, high-spirited rock song that complements the title just as well as the background music. The ending theme is "Niji no Kanata ni" by Diamond☆Yukai, and is a slower-paced song that does a great job in calming the viewer down after the high-impact climax & oh-so-sweet ending. There is also an insert song heard early on, "Rokudenashi ni Love-Call" by Sanae Harikawa (the voice of Chiaki), and it's inclusion is due to a music box that Chiaki gives Taison early on; the music box plays a quaint instrumental of the song and it work well for that use.

Even though this is the second movie, it uses a different cast from the original movie. Taison is voiced by Hiroaki Hirata (Wild Tiger in Tiger & Bunny, Sanji in One Piece), and he does a great job both in Taison's super-rough moments as well as his calmer moments. Naoto is voiced by Ryusei Nakao (Mayuri in Bleach, Freeza in DBZ), and he does a great in job in making Naoto first seem like a villain but then you realize that he's just a tough guy with some need for resolution. Kazuki Yao voices Nakata, and he almost steals the show at times due to his appropriately over-the-top delivery that fits Nakata perfectly. Ryo Horikawa voices Youkou, and he simply mixes together his Andromeda Shun voice with some hints of his more deeper-voiced performances fans recognize him by, and it really works. Honestly, it would take too long to cover everyone, so I'll just end this by mentioning the likes of Hikaru Midorikawa (Yoneji), Tsutomu Kashiwakura (Katsuji), Tessho Genda (Ioka), Daisuke Gouri (Masa-san), Yuusaku Yara (Fujio), & Shouzou Iizuka (Monson).

Rokudenashi BLUES 1993 is a great anime adaptation of the Kansai Calling Arc of the manga. It tells the major parts of the story while giving it its own spin in some ways, making it worth watching if you've already read the scanlations of the manga that are out. For newcomers its lack of English subs makes it a harder sell, but if you are willing to go that extra mile then this is worth hunting down, as there is a raw out there digitally. Unfortunately, it's a really rough raw, with some fuzziness in the video, especially noticeable when paused, some extremely minor moments of tracking issues, some burns marks in the top-right corner near the end, and even a few moments where you see "Hi-Fi Video SP" in the top-left corner at the end. Yes, this is a VHS rip, as there is no LD or DVD out for it, but you can definitely get better quality from a VHS tape. Still, the chances of this getting a DVD release, even in Japan, looks to be slim, and the raw is still extremely watchable with very clear sound, so I say that it's worth the treasure hunt.

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