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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jump Super Heroes: Koufun!! Miracle Heroes: Because "Unique Heroes" Would Have Sounded Silly...

When it comes to these Jump Super Heroes DVDs Volume 4 is really the big question mark: What exactly is the theme here? What does "Miracle Heroes" mean? The cover emphasizes the idea of "Unique Characters", but I still don't get what the "miracle" portion of the name is there for. Anyway, this DVD's focus seems to be on Jump anime of the mid-to-late 90s, where Weekly Shonen Jump was exiting its "Golden Age" with the end of Dragon Ball and Slam Dunk & for the magazine to keep going it needed some interesting ideas, which it did to an extent. But before we actually look at the 90s, let's take a detour into the early 80s... For whatever reason.

The Girl!? is an Idol!
Let me start off with this disclaimer: The first episode of Stop!! Hibari-kun! isn't a bad episode. This was the 1981-1983 manga by Hisashi Eguchi (probably now known mostly in alternative manga circles for being the founder of Comic Cue magazine), following the end of his highly successful debut title, the baseball manga Susume!! Pirates. It may not have been as successful as Pirates (Hibari-kun only lasted four volumes, also making this the shortest Jump manga represented in this DVD series), but it did have an interesting concept behind it. The main character, Kosaku Sakamoto, moves to live with the Oozora family (a yakuza family) after the death of his mother; head of the family Ibari Oozora was an old boyfriend of Kosaku's mother. Upon moving Kosaku sees a beautiful girl and falls in love... So imagine his shock & horror when Ibari reveals that the girl, Hibari, is actually Ibari's only son! It's explained that since Hibari grew up with three sisters Hibari simply grew up like a girl and is even registered in school as a girl. Unfortunately, Hibari looks to be smitten with Kosaku, so not only does Kosaku have to handle living with a yakuza family but he also has to keep Hibari at bay.

To the show's credit, it certainly has an interesting sense of humor to it, especially when it comes to Ibari Oozora. The man threatens Kosaku with a grenade just so he could see pictures of Kosaku's mother, when he gets drunk he sees a white alligator & needs to be sedated before he gets out of control, and even his yakuza group seems more silly than threatening. If there is one thing that doesn't work (for me, at least), though, it's Hibari's whole shtick of being a guy who looks & sounds like a girl. The whole idea behind it isn't what doesn't work for me (in fact, it's neat to see the "trap" be the main character & not simply a comical side-character, like it generally is nowadays), but what I can't really shake off is how the show both sexualizes Hibari, while also making you wonder how no one in school can tell he's a guy. Really, the show does a lot in trying to make Hibari look pretty enough for young boys to find attractive, which gets a fair bit awkward, but then you have moments where Hibari is being (playfully) rough with a suave schoolmate, like putting him in a headlock & punching him across the hallway, and it really makes you wonder how no one can tell that Hibari is a guy... Not to mention how none of the girls can tell when Hibari's in the bathroom with them, but this idea never happens in this episode so I'm just thinking too hard about it. But, really, why is this show on this DVD? I guess it does fit the whole "Unique Characters" idea, but considering how all the other titles on this DVD are like, Stop!! Hibari-kun! just feels really out of place.

Hareluya II BØY does have an eyecatch, but not every episode uses it

Kiyoshiro Okamoto
If there is one really cool aspect of this DVD series it's that it allows series that have never been given a DVD release the chance to get some sort of DVD penetration for the first time, and that aspect starts here with Hareluya II BØY. Haruto Umezawa's 1992-1999 manga of the same name debuted during the "Golden Age", and kept going well after it ended, running alongside legends such as Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Rurouni Kenshin, & even One Piece. It didn't get an anime adaptation until 1997, though there is an animated short for BØY that was made alongside a supremely-obscure "Super (Hi/Secret) Video" that I can't find a year for. The TV series adaptation came out during the early days of "modern-day" late-night anime, making it the first late-night Jump anime, but I don't think that's the reason why the BØY anime never received anything more than the original VHS & LD release. Regardless, I've already reviewed this anime, and the first episode is a great start for the series.

In a similar fashion to titles like Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, & Saint SeiyaBØY's first episode doesn't show off all of the main characters, but instead introduces the most essential. In this case, it's lead Hareluya Hibino, side-kick (of sorts) Kiyoshiro Okamoto, & bully (later-turned-friend) Shozou Momiyama. It tells a nice little story where you find out about Kiyoshiro's dream to be a painter, Hareluya's infamy from his first day in school, & how tough Momiyama thinks he is up until he meets Hareluya & his dream of "World Domination". This anime also marks the only time beloved director/writerYasuhiro Imagawa has ever worked with a Shonen Jump property, and with Imagawa writing the script for this first episode he tosses in a couple of nods to his other work, specifically G Gundam, such as when Momiyama grabs Kiyoshiro's head & one of his grunts calls it, "Momiyama's Death Blow: Shining Finger!" And, don't fear, the blatant music promotion for SPYKE is intact, with the ending footage still being nothing but footage of the group performing their song "Words of Free". Considering how tough it can be to get this show complete on VHS & LD, it's great to see BØY on DVD in some form and hopefully this inclusion will lead to an actual DVD release for the show in the near future. Hey, if Galvion can finally get a DVD release then why not Hareluya II BØY?

Fusuke the Young (Rat) Ninja!
For something so short, compared to most other popular Jump titles, Ninku certainly was able to make an impact. Running from 1993-1995 and lasting only nine volumes, Koji Kiriyama's story of ninjas & their battle against an evil empire became very popular, but Kiriyama's constant breaks resulted in the manga going on hiatus in 1995, until it came back in the pages of Ultra Jump under the title Ninku -Second Stage- Eto Ninhen/Chinese Zodiac Ninja Chapter, where it ran from 2005-2011. Even with that 10-year break, though, Ninku was able to get a 55-episode TV anime series made, plus a 1996 movie that was actually released in North American by Media Blasters as a double-pack with one of the Yu Yu Hakusho movies. FUNimation has since re-released that Yu Yu Hakusho movie with a new dub, but the MB release is still worth keep for that original dub plus the Ninku movie. Oh, and Ninku was also a gigantic inspiration for a man named Masashi Kishimoto, who would go on to create a manga called Naruto... I think I've heard of that title.

Fusuke is on an adventure to search for his mother, who was kidnapped in front of him by the Imperial Army when he was younger. Along with Hiroyuki, his penguin friend, Fusuke arrives in a town with a hankering for food, but gets hung from a tree as punishment when Hiroyuki steals bread. A little girl gives him food & Fusuke quickly learns that the village believes that the Ninku, a ninja corp that fought against the Imperial Army in the past, are nothing but evildoers, supported all the more when a group of thugs invade the town & kidnap the girl, claiming to be lead by a commander from the Ninku Corps. Fusuke decides to go and rescue the girl, proving that the Ninku are actually heroes... Because Fusuke himself is the commander of the Ninku First Division. Ninku's first episode is essentially all about introducing Fusuke & Hiroyuki, and the end result is a big success. Fusuke may look dimwitted (it doesn't help that he loves sticking his tongue out at random), but he is in fact very smart & noble; he combines the dedication of the ninja with the friendliness of a young boy perfectly. Hiroyuki, believe it or not, is also dangerous by way of his gigantic farts... Which actually works out well in this first episode. Another neat aspect of Ninku is its world, which is seemingly a mix of European-influenced environments with the mystical ninja ideals, helping to give it a world that is all its own, where it's seemingly the imperialistic European-style empire going against the scrappy-but-tough Asian-style warriors. Combine that with Kiriyama's character style, which utilizes simplistic looks in a way that makes them look original, & it's easy to see from the first episode how Ninku was able to be so impactful in such a short time.

This eyecatch is more about the cool animation, so a still doesn't do it justice

The Terrifying New School Term! The Mysterious Demon Hand
Sho Makura & Takeshi Okano's Jigoku Sensei/Hell Teacher Nube is probably the closest thing there is to a Jump equivalent of Great Teacher Onizuka. That said, Nube is still very different from GTO for one simple reason: Nube has a horror motif. Meisuke "Nube" Nueno is a fifth-grade teacher who has a legend behind him. Supposedly, Nueno is also a professional of the supernatural and once fought a demon. After the battle, the demon decided to share his power with Nueno, turning his left hand into a "demon hand". Of course, his new students test him out, and all he does is accidentally take the hair off of a supposedly-possessed doll. But when a student, Hiroshi, becomes the home to a lizard-like spirit that can slowly torture him by squeezing his heart, it's up to Nube to show what he can truly do.

Hell Teacher Nube's first episode is a great introduction to this series, mixing together a nice sense of comedy with a really neat horror vibe. Granted, the horror here isn't used for scares, but rather gives it an original style & execution from other teacher-focused series. Still, that doesn't mean that there isn't a real sense of dread, since Hiroshi's heart being squeezed by the spirit still is enough to give some people some uncomfortable feelings. Simply adding to this is a great performance by Ryotaro Okiayu as Nube, who shows off his silliness & seriousness in a great mix. Nowadays, Okiayu is known mostly for his serious characters, like Toriko, Byakuya Kuchiki (Bleach), Scar (FMA [2003]), Jun Kenzaki (Ring ni Kakero 1), & Kunimitsu Tezuka (Prince of Tennis). Also great are the opening & ending themes done by FEEL SO BAD & B'z, respectively; hey, if a show got a B'z song then you know it was popular. Too bad we never got this show over here, though I doubt it could have really sold going up against the likes of GTO.  At the very least, seeing Nube makes you want to be as much a "Rippin' Roarin' Greatest #1" kind of guy, as Nube himself is.

If I remember correctly, future episodes actually show something for the eyecatch

Taikobo, You've Been Awarded the Hoshin Project
Ryu Fujisaki's 1996-2000 Hoshin Engi (his debut work) can be considered an odd mix. The story is based on classic Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi, but mixes in many shonen battle manga elements & is also highly anachronistic. Still, it is a well-regarded manga for it's comedy, epic styling, & use of a main character that utilizes highly thought-out strategy rather than the usual "bravery & guts!" mentality. Senkaiden Hoshin Engi, The anime adaptation from 1999 by Studio DEEN, released by ADV under the name "Soul Hunter", is generally thought to be a highly lesser work, mainly because it only adapts roughly the first seven volumes of the manga, and even then it skips over a fair amount of material. Still, the anime adaptation makes a fine introduction to the series, and also marks a bit of a milestone in Jump anime by being one of the first titles to utilize CG & digital animation.

China is in the Yin Dynasty Era (1600-1046 BC), but there is trouble forming. Emperor Chou has been seduced by the evil fox spirit Dakki, who now controls Chou like a puppet. Seeing the trouble this could bring about for both the Human & Sennin Worlds, Sennin leader Genshitenson, sends his student Taikobo down to Earth with Supushan, a spirit beast, to start the Hoshin Project. Taikobo will seal away all of the dangerous spirits & non-human beings, including Dakki, in order to protect both worlds. Hoshin Engi starts off in an interesting way, showcasing Taikoubou as lazy & impatient (his first decision is to go straight to Dakki and end this right away), but after a confrontation with the dangerous Shinkouhyo you see the first twinkle of Taikoubou's strategic ability. Overall, it's a slower-paced episode that's meant to introduce the major players & set the plot into motion, and it certainly succeeds in doing so. The use of CG in this episode is for a variety of moments, such as any attacks done by the weapons used by the characters, called Paopei, or for scenes where the "camera" moves throughout environments. Those moments looks fine, but at the moments where digital animation are used are blatantly obvious, mainly because the second you go back to the cel animation you see all of the grain & elements that are common in cel animation, while the digitally-animated moments are very crisp & clean. Still, this was an early use of such technology, and was essentially the beginnings of how anime is made now, and for that the Hoshin Engi anime deserves some credit.

The Mysterious DB (Dragon Balls) Appear!!  Goku is a Child!?
Why is this here? Honestly, why is Dragon Ball GT in this DVD series, let alone this very DVD itself? I can accept having both DB & DBZ, since they are both based off of the pages of the Dragon Ball manga, but GT has nothing to do with Akira Toriyama's original manga. Sure, he might have been involved in the first few episodes of GT, mainly for character designs, but this inclusion simply reeks of nothing but Shueisha shoving Dragon Ball down fans' throats. Yes, Dragon Ball is one of the biggest titles in the history of Weekly Shonen Jump, but the fact that GT, a 100% non-canon story (not to mention generally regarded as nowhere near as good as the previous two series), is in this DVD series instead of something more deserving, like Rurouni Kenshin, Ayatsuri Sakon, or even the Toei-produced Yu-Gi-Oh! anime from 1998, is just sad. This is, by far, the most unneeded inclusion in the Jump Super Heroes Special Collection DVD series.

Still, to be fair, GT's first episode isn't all that bad. Sure, it relies on some really heavy contrivances (Pilaf coming out of nowhere, the sheer existence of the Black Star Dragon Balls, & the time limit until Earth is destroyed), but at the very least it actually has a fair amount of stuff happening, which is somewhat different from DB & DBZ's first episodes. For fans of the original DB anime, it's neat to see Pilaf again for one last time, seeing the well-known DBZ cast 10 years older is neat, & even Pan gives off an okay first impression (though her shirt definitely looks a bit too small for her, but oh well). Also, as much grief as I give regarding its inclusion in this DVD series, I am not saying that there is nothing good from GT. The idea of going back to Dragon Ball's roots by having the first portion of the show be a DB-esque adventure title, complete with Goku as a kid, is perfectly fine and even when it goes back to being a DBZ-style story there are some good points (I am one of those people who actually kind of likes the Baby Arc). Dragon Ball GT isn't exactly a bad show, but it's inclusion in this DVD series is completely unnecessary.

Koufun!! Miracle Heroes is pretty much as hard to describe as its "theme" is. Yeah, the whole thing about "Unique Characters" fits, as each of these main characters are unlike one another, but at the same time, even if by accident, another theme is noticeable from this DVD: A focus on the 90s. Unfortunately, Stop!! Hibari-kun! kind of ruins that whole theme, though Shueisha could have simply switched Hibari-kun with Midori no Makibao from Volume 5 & both would have still fit the other's theme. This DVD succeeds in finally bringing Hareluya II BØY onto DVD in some form, yet also fails for shoving a third Dragon Ball anime in, whereas there were many other titles that could have been included; who knows, maybe licensing issues resulted in Shueisha having to rely on their old standard. Overall, Miracle Heroes is still a solid inclusion in this DVD series, and up next is the end of this series, where we look at another popular part of Jump history: Its comedies.

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