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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hareluya II BØY: Repent to His Back, FØØLS!

Haruto Umezawa is one of those mangaka that North American fans likely don't know of, but I can honestly see have a bit of a fanbase over here if his titles were more well known. He started off in the industry as an assistant to Tsukasa Hojo and then broke out on his own with Hareluya, a manga about the literal "Son of God" who is sent down to live as a human in order to learn humility; I sent in a short review of that manga for ANN's Right Turn Only!, and it was posted this past SeptemberHareluya ended (read: likely canceled) after only one volume, but Umezawa seemingly felt that his characters had potential so he gave it another go with a reboot: Hareluya II BØY, which removed the whole "son of God" angle and instead treated Hareluya as a normal human... Well, as "normal" as a character like him can be. BØY became a very successful title for Shonen Jump, even becoming a Top 3 title a few times, and ran from 1992-1999, totaling 33 volumes, his longest title to date. Throughout 1997 Triangle Staff, a now-defunct studio whose biggest titles were Magic User's Club, Macross Plus, & Serial Experiments Lain, made an animated TV adaptation of Hareluya II BØY that ran in the early days of "modern-day" late-night anime, also making it the first late-night Jump anime. Unfortunately, this anime is extremely obscure & rare but it's also one of the most unique anime productions to come from the pages of Shonen Jump.

Kiyoshiro Okamoto is just starting his time at Rakuen High School and has only one dream: To go to Paris and become a painter; he even secretly breaks Rakuen's rules and works part-time at a construction site so that he can save money for the trip. One night on his way home he gets harassed by Shozou Momiyama, the "leader" of Rakuen's delinquents, but is saved by Hareluya Hibino, a classmate of his who was suspended on the first day of school for beating up come upperclassmen. Hareluya's dream is a simple one: World Domination. Shortly afterwards the duo meet two of their classmates: Michiru Yamana, a girl who dreams of becoming a jewelry designer & sells her work on the street, & Makoto Ichijou, who fronts his own band, Fire Guns, and dreams of becoming a rock star. Together, the four of them will support each other & help out those who are in trouble.

Hareluya II BØY is an interesting mix of genres. Characters like Hareluya & Ichijou can technically be considered delinquents, but at the same time they aren't anything like Taison from Rokudenashi BLUES or Bouya Harumichi from Crows (BØY's characters dress better, for one). Hareluya & the gang help people out, like Gin-san Odd Jobs & the Sket-dan do in Gintama & Sket Dance, respectively, but BØY's characters aren't doing it mostly for a job or as an extra-curricular thing in school, but instead help others out solely because they are kind-hearted & benevolent people. There are a fair number of fights in this title but they aren't enough of a focus to call this a battle title. Finally, there seems to be a sense of characters living their everyday lives in this title (granted, as "everyday" as their lives can be), but you also can't call this a slice of life title in any way. All of this does end up making Hareluya II BØY a pretty identifiable title within the history of Jump, though.

Much like a delinquent title, though, BØY's real appeal is through its characters. Let's just get the main attraction out of the way first & talk about Hareluya Hibino himself.  Hareluya is rude, brash, cocky, self-conceited, arrogant, & egotistical on the surface, commonly calling himself "Ore-sama/The Great Me" & "Invincible", but beneath that he is also kind, well-meaning, trustworthy, self-sacrificing (he takes the most physical abuse in the show, no doubt), and even benevolent. For example, in Episode 21 Hareluya at first doesn't want to help Yamana's friend who's in trouble since he has nothing to do with her, but decides to help solely because Yamana wants to help her, and anything that's important to Hareluya's friends is important to him. Hareluya nearly steals every scene he is in, and he knows it, and is, appropriately, the biggest reason to watch the show. Kiyoshiro is not exactly a strong-in-muscle boy, but his convictions & guts more than make up for that and he ends up usually being the first person who tries to stop any wrongdoings. Yamana isn't much of a fighter, though she does throw some good blows every once in a while, but she does a great job as the string that helps tie the group together. Ichijou is the mostly level-headed one of the group in that he isn't quite as impulsive as Kiyoshiro but also is not rude like Hareluya, but is easily the second-strongest in the group, right behind Hareluya. This main gang generally has very good chemistry and you get a true sense of camaraderie from them.

There are some reoccurring characters to mention, as well. Momiyama is first introduced as an antagonist, but in reality is an occasional fifth member to the group, bringing some very nice physical comedy & having great information that the gang can utilize, and he can also fight his way out of trouble when the need arises. Harebare Hibino, a priest, is Hareluya's father and mostly works as a final voice of reason as well as giving some funny moments between him & his son. "Old Man Bob" is a street-side painter with long dreadlocks who doesn't appear too often but generally is entertaining when he is utilized. Finally, there's Reiko Ibu, a female delinquent who, like Momiyama, first appears as an antagonist but later helps the gang out near the end. These recurring characters only add to the already entertaining chemistry that the main gang has.

BØY is a show with no real long-running story arc, but rather is full of short stories; nearly every episode is its own story, and BØY differs from most Jump titles of this sort by actually dealing with, or at least insinuating, some pretty heavy material. For example, Episode 7 deals with a female friend of Ichijou's who admits to have been forced to be intoxicated and have lewd pictures taken of her, and her attempts at escaping from the people, including Ibu, who do this to her. Episode 14 focuses on Shizuka, Momiyama's little sister, who is captured by a stalker who wants nothing but to literally cut her up and see her beautiful insides. In Episode 15, Ichijou is attempting to escape with his life in a literal game of manhunt (the hunter has an actual crossbow & bolts) while handcuffed to Ibu, who was unknowingly roped into the game. That's not to say that BØY doesn't have more upbeat & lighter episodes, though, because it does, like Episode 6, which has Momiyama talk Kiyoshiro into having Yamana, who he is starting to have feelings for, go on a date with Momiyama, though Kiyoshiro is dragged into the date as well for support.

The best stories, though, are definitely the four multi-parters. Episodes 4 & 5 deal with Bob and his past involving a once thought-lost painting that's now priceless. Episodes 9 & 10 focus on a baseball team from rival school Gedou High, lead by beanballing pitcher Junichi Hidou, who is injuring members of Rakuen's baseball team & making it all seem like Rakuen's star player, Yuichi Honjou, is behind it. Episode 10 is a rough baseball game between Hidou's team & Honjou, who has gathered Hareluya & the gang for help. Episodes 18-20 are about Reiji Marukido, the spoiled son of a rich businessman/yakuza who always gets his way by way of his giant bodyguard (a former boxer who once killed an opponent), and his kidnapping of Yamana because she didn't like his advances. Coincidentally, all of Reiji's actions in the second half of the story seem to indicate that he wants to rape her; he throws her onto a bed, takes off his shirt & jacket, and was even trying to lick her before that! Finally, Episodes 22-24 focus on Taro Momoyama, a notorious fighting game child prodigy who thinks up a variation that uses actual people for profit. These multi-parters obviously benefit from having more time to tell their stories & develop the people that are introduced solely for these episodes.

Even though it's meant to mostly be based on reality, BØY does have its silly parts to it. For example, Hareluya has the Doraemon-esque ability to pull objects from behind his back, but whereas in the original manga Hareluya only pulls out either a frying pan or a metal baseball bat the anime has no such restrictions, though the two are still the main two he pulls out. Throughout the 25 episodes of this anime Hareluya pulls out objects such as bowling balls, an electric guitar, a giant fan, a torrent of BBs that he sucks up and spits out like a machine gun, and, at one point, even Momiyama himself, among other objects! Even though this is absolutely ridiculous stuff, it does add to the fun-factor of the title, and the reactions that the characters have to Hareluya's hammerspace-pulling ability just adds to it. Also, the show does poke fun at itself by having Ichijou pull out a frying pan from behind Hareluya's back a couple of times, with Hareluya naturally getting annoyed.

If there is one main problem with the show, though, it's the time that it aired in. Those early days of what we now call late-night anime were notorious for being light on budget, and it does show in Hareluya II BØY. While the show doesn't look horrible by any means there are moments where the lower budget does show itself, with odd character drawings in some moments (some faces are really, really chintzy-looking), shots being repeated to save money, and some moments of limited animation. Also, this show features some pretty blatant music label promotion. I commonly like to bring up the original Eat-Man opening footage, or lack thereof, as a great example of blatant promotion, but BØY is a close second, with its opening footage having absolutely nothing to do with the show itself, outside of Hareluya appearing in it; it's honestly more like a very cool looking music video for the song itself than an actual opening for the anime. The first ending theme footage was even more blatant, with the first episode showing nothing but the group itself. Luckily, the studio wised up quickly and made the footage mostly recap of the episode itself from Episode 2 on (the second ending theme footage is all about the anime). Also, the opening theme, both ending themes, & SIX insert themes are all performed by the same group, SPYKE. Unfortunately, these songs were made during SPYKE's short-lived time with King Records, during which they released only two singles & no albums, which essentially made all of this promotion via the anime pointless. At least the anime did utilize SPYKE's songs well, even having the group act as the sound of the Fire Guns in the three episodes where Ichijou actually played with his band, ala how HUMMING BIRD was the sound of Fire Bomber in Macross 7.

BØY was directed by Kiyoshi Egami (City Hunter '91, storyboarder of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX through Zexal), but the real name to focus on this anime is that of Yasuhiro Imagawa (Giant Robo, G Gundam, Shin MazingerTetsujin 28 [2004]), who was the overall series composer & wrote the script for about half of the episodes. Imagawa's composing & scriptwriting credits, which includes the likes of Bartender, Berserk TV, Fist of the Blue Sky, & Violinist of Hameln, aren't as well-known as his directorial work, but his style is still noticeable in BØY. It certainly explains some of the more ridiculous moments in the show, including the final episode's absolutely unbelievable (but entertaining as hell) climax, though he didn't write the script himself for that episode. The character designs were done by Takahiro Kishida (Durarara!!, Baccano!Madoka Magica), who does a nice job of adapting Haruto Umezawa's Tsukasa Hojo-inspired sleek drawing style. The music was done by Shingo Kobayashi, with this being his only anime soundtrack work (though he has done anime theme arrangement & composition), and it's a nice mix of lighter beats & rougher songs, with the best ones being awesome rock renditions of classical music like Bach's "Toccata & Fugue in D minor" &, obviously, Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" (Handel's version is also used a couple of times).

As I mentioned, SPYKE's music is all over this show... And it's a shame that they never got an album out with King Records, because all nine songs are awesome & really show the range this group could do. The opening theme, "Tight-Break", has a great addictive sound to it and, combined with the cool looking footage, makes it an opening that I rarely skipped. The ending themes, "Words of Free" & "Closet Freak", are mostly opposites of each other, with "Words of Free" being high-energy & "Closet Freak" being slower-paced, and though both are great ending themes, I prefer "Closet Freak". The insert themes, "AFTER", "Before Lies", "Breath", "egoistic", "EVE", & "HEAT IN MOTION", are likewise varied in sound, with some being slower-paced ballads and others being high-energy rock songs. "Before Lies", "Breath", & "HEAT IN MOTION", though, are the best of the bunch, in my opinion, fitting the scenes they were used in perfectly. In fact, "Before Lies" was such a great "climax to a fight" song that it was used for that purpose in two separate episodes. Also, the vocalless versions of "AFTER", "Before Lies", & "EVE" were even utilized as parts of the soundtrack at times, also fitting very nicely when used. I was really surprised by how good this band was, so it's kind of sad to know that they broke up shortly after this anime finished airing. Luckily, all nine SPYKE songs are featured on the two anime OSTs that were released, Hareluya of the First & Hareluya on the Second.

The cast also pulls out a great job, and features some lesser-known seiyuu. Hareluya is voiced by the venerable Shinichiro Miki, who performs the character perfectly, combining both an air of cockiness & benevolence. Ichijou is voiced by Katsuaki Arima/Yusei Oda (Kurokage in The Law of Ueki, Dorado Spear in Saint Seiya Omega), and he likewise pulls off a great job, with this being one of his few major roles in his career. Yamana is voiced by Urara/Naoko Miura (Safine in Cybuster TV, Sumire in Z-Mind), and she does a very nice job as the character, with this being one of Miura's few major roles. Kiyoshiro is voiced by Yuji Ueda (Akito in Nadesico, Sanosuke in Rurouni Kenshin), and his performance captures Kiyoshiro perfectly: Gutsy & hot-blooded, but with a hint of scratchiness & whine in his voice. Ibu is voiced by Hiromi Tsuru (Bulma in Dragon Ball, Meryl in Trigun), and she does a great job as the oldest (sometimes) member of the gang. Finally, Momiyama is voiced by Koyoyuki Yanada (Thymilph in Gurren Lagann, Akagi in Slam Dunk), and he delivers a nice mix of rough & tough attitude but also kindheartedness that the character shows off. With so many different stories in this show it would be impossible to list everyone else, so I'll end off with the likes of Nobuyuki Hiyama (Hidou), Hiro Yuuki (Honjou), Kazuki Yao (Reiji Marukido), & Fumihiko Tachiki (Bob).

Hareluya II BØY is kind of a mystery to properly categorize. It has elements of delinquent, slice of life, comedy, & battle anime, but it isn't exactly any of that but rather an interesting & entertaining mix of all of them. Also, some of the subject matter the show deals with is definitely stuff that would make this impossible to air in anything but late-night, but at the same time it results in the show having a limited budget that does hurt it slightly, but overall it's a really interesting kind of Shonen Jump anime and well worth checking out... Is what I'd normally say, but I can't in good conscience recommend watching the show as it is available right now. In Japan, the show only received a VHS & LD release, both of which are now rare & hard to collect in full, and the only raws out there digitally come from a very rough Chinese TV airing. The video & audio is far from ideal, with many glitches, there's a channel watermark in the top-left of each episode, every episode has hard-encoded Chinese subtitles, and two of the episodes (6 & 12) feature Chinese audio. But the worst problem of all is that a good number of the episodes have audio problems where a portion of the audio is skipped over, leading to the second half of those episodes having out of sync audio. There are fansubs of the first three episodes that have slightly better-quality video & audio & no watermarks, but they still feature the hard-encoded Chinese subtitles. As it is right now, I begrudgingly just can't recommend hunting for the raws of this show, unless you're willing to deal with the problems I mentioned above and are willing to fix the syncing problems a number of the episodes have, like I was. I was lucky enough to get two of the LDs, which allowed me to watch eight of the episodes in great quality, and it let me watch Episodes 6 & 12 in the original Japanese audio, but I was lucky... I can't say the same for everyone.

The lack of a DVD release really hurts this show's availability in general, and it's really annoying that this show is stuck in such an obscure position. When I looked at the first couple years of late-night anime I saw that Hareluya II BØY was one of only two titles that were never licensed for North American release; I have no idea why BØY never got released on VHS over here (maybe the music rights were too much?), but it's a shame. Luckily, there might be hope of a better release in the future: Shueisha has been releasing budget-priced DVDs that feature the first episodes of many Jump anime & the fourth DVD, which comes out this month, will feature the first episode of Hareluya II BØY, marking the very first time any portion of this show has received a DVD release. There could be a chance that Starchild, the anime division of King Records, is allowing Shueisha to include BØY on this DVD so that they can gauge present interest in the show, and if they feel it's worth it they might finally give the show a DVD release. It would obviously be too expensive for me to feel comfortable buying (damn R2 DVD pricing!), but at least there would be better raws out there for it then, and then I could recommend full-heartedly to check this show out. As it is right now this show, though awesome & definitely worth the watch, is also viewer beware.

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