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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Jump Super Heroes: Nekketsu!! Battle Heroes 1: Since When is Dr. Slump a "Battle" Anime?

When it comes to the line-up of each Jump Super Heroes Special Collection release, Volume 1, Nekketsu/Hot-Blood!! Battle Heroes 1, is pretty much the most obvious one to do. Why not start off these releases with some of Jump's biggest titles from its "Golden Age"? Well, those and one odd-ball of a choice.

[NOTE: For the sake of difference, the screens for each show in these DVDs are from the design sheets extras on each DVD, as well as each show's eyecatch.]

The Messenger from Planet Muscle & The Man Who Came From America
Kinnikuman is well-known for being a slapstick wrestling manga where super-powered beings fight each other in battle in the wrestling ring, usually between the forces of good & evil... But you'd never guess that from Episode 1, because when Kinnikuman originally debuted in 1979, it was a gag manga. Yudetamago used their love of superheroes & kaiju, specifically Ultraman, and originally had Kinnikuman be the one superhero that no one wants to have save them. He even had his own "Kinniku Beam" and "Kinniku Flash" attacks, which are maintained in the anime & even mentioned in the opening theme (a catchy song by Akira Kushida). Also of note is Akira Kamiya, who pulls in an entertaining Kinnikuman, switching between comical & serious multiple times in the blink of an eye.

Episode 1 here is made up of two stories. Part 1 is about Meat's arrival on Earth and finding Kinnikuman, telling him that he's from Planet Kinniku/Muscle and has to come back home; Kinnikuman in turn doesn't want to leave, so Meat has him fight a monster to prove that he's a superhero. Part 2 introduces rival/future-partner Terryman, a superhero from America who only saves people if they can pay for it (like a good capitalist, right?), but when a giant monster kidnaps a kid's father, Kinnikuman is the only one who's willing to do the job for free. It's a pretty odd, but funny, episode, though it is weird seeing Kinnikuman firing off energy beams & Terryman using a gun. Also, these two can fly, though at least in Kinnikuman's case it's shown as fart propulsion. Along with some purposefully rough-looking animation, which kind of matches the early artwork of the manga, Kinnikuman's first episode is enjoyable & entertaining, but it really doesn't give an idea of what the show actually becomes.

If I have to choose, I prefer Arale's open hand salute: All Hail Arale!

Arale-chan is Born & All Right! Friends
Dr. Slump is the manga that put Akira Toriyama on the map in the manga industry, and it's the man doing what he loves doing the most: Gag manga (poop jokes, specifically). It quickly became popular, which stretched into its anime adaptations. In fact, Dr. Slump Arale-chan's success was so extraordinary that it's the very reason why any Jump manga that has any hint of popularity gets animated, which wasn't as common before 1981. It's pretty obvious from this first episode, which involves the finishing of the android Arale & her first day at school, that Toriyama likes going for the absurd when it comes to gags, like Arale often taking her head off in front of Prof. Senbei Norimaki (her "father"/"brother", depending on who's asking), the good-old "idiot" bird, an Ultraman-like being fishing the sun out of the ocean so that the day can start, etc. It is pretty funny stuff, and Arale herself is full of naive energy that makes her easy to like. It's very easy to see why this title continued to get animated, in the form of movies, even after Dragon Ball took its spot for 11 straight years. And then after Dragon Ball GT ended Dr. Slump came back to TV with a reboot that ran for two years, meaning that from 1981 to 1999 (~19 years!) there was an anime on TV that was based on an Akira Toriyama manga of some sort. It's hard not to at least respect Dr. Slump, because it truly changed the way Shonen Jump was looked at from an anime perspective.

But, honestly, what the hell is Dr. Slump Arale-chan doing in a collection called "Battle Heroes"? Sure, Arale is super-powerful (just ask the policemen who drive their patrol car into her [twice] in this episode), but from what I know of Dr. Slump, the title is a gag manga, not a battle manga. I have no problem with the show being included, as it's a giant part of the history of Jump anime, but this title definitely should have been in the Legend Heroes (it's one of the oldest shows in this series of DVDs, after all) or Comedy Heroes DVDs, not a Battle Heroes DVD. This really just feels like a case of Shueisha tossing it in the first release simply for marquee value, because it certainly does not fit with the theme at all.

Man, Kenshiro just hates that logo, doesn't he?

God or Devil!? The Strongest Man Emerges in Hell
After two comedy-oriented shows, Battle Heroes 1 goes into full-gear with Fist of the North Star, the title that brought battle-oriented manga outside of the world of sports. And with an episode title like the one above one would hope that it can deliver... Which it does. Fist's first episode is an excellent one, introducing Kenshiro, Bat, & Lin as well as the post-apocalyptic world that the show takes place in. Dealing with the one-time appearance of the fondly remembered Zeed & his crew, Kenshiro goes from nearly-dying wanderer to badass savior with the help of some water & food from a then-mute Lin (Kenshiro heals Lin with his Hokuto Shinken "magic"), and seeing Hokuto Hundred Crack Fist animated for the first is just fun. Unlike the first episode of Kinnikuman, which wasn't 100% representative of what the show becomes, Fist's first episode does in fact show you what you're going to get from this show for the most part, even tossing in a couple of quick moments of Shin, the first major villain of the series.

Akira Kamiya's Kenshiro is now iconic, and essentially agreed upon as the best version of the character, and it's obvious here that Kamiya just meshed well with the character right from the start. Toss in some memorable music & a look that ended up defining the 80s to an extent, and it's easy to see why the first episode of Fist of the North Star is one of the best episodes in this collection. Sure, there are some little things to poke fun at, like low it's obvious right form the start what Lin's favorite word is (seriously, she says "Ken" at least 10 times in this episode, and she doesn't start talking until the climax!), but overall this episode is a great intro to the series.

Bulma & Son Goku
I must admit something right now: I have not seen the original Dragon Ball. Well, technically I did see the last episode or two of the show on a random Toonami airing a number of years back, but at that point the show had started transitioning into the battle style that DBZ would be known for instead of being the comical adventure that it originated as. Therefore, I was really interested in finally seeing the beginning of this iconic series. Imagine my surprise when I realized that not much happens in this first episode. Yeah, DBZ is known for being extremely slow-paced, but the original show didn't exactly start off fast-paced either. Literally, all this episode does is the meeting between Bulma & Goku, the introduction of the Dragon Balls (plus a quick scene with Pilaf), and then Bulma & Goku start on their adventure to locate the other four Dragon Balls. Okay, there is a climax to this episode, which involves Bulma getting kidnapped by a gigantic pteranodon & Goku saves her by knocking out the monster.

Now, admittedly, part of that is because the show starts off by just showing Goku living his usual life before meeting Bulma. He rolls a log by walking on it before chopping it up (with a flying kick) to use as firewood & he fishes with his tail, which is fun to see. Also, considering how DBZ is so well-known for its crazy energy-based attacks, it is really cool seeing Goku do actual martial arts in this first episode. Plus, that first opening theme is mighty catchy and well worth remembering next to Hironobu Kageyama's legendary DBZ themes. Overall, while not much happens in this first episode it does catch your interest and leaves enough questions open to make you want to continue watching, which is what a first episode should do, so this is still a good start to the worldwide phenomenon.

For 50% of these guys, this eyecatch is the only way they appear in 90% of the episodes.

Revive! Hero Legend
Saint Seiya is a big, fun, & epic adventure of a story... But it doesn't exactly have a great start. This first episode's main focus, which is on Seiya battling the giant Cassios for the Pegasus Cloth and the unlocking of his potential with it in the climax, is a good first episode and does get your interest well, but that good stuff is bookended with a reminder of how the Saint Seiya story begins, and that is the Galaxian Wars. Oh man, did the Galaxian Wars suck. The thing to remember about Saint Seiya is that Masami Kurumada made the original manga with the very intent of it being a mainstream title in Japan, rather than it being something that he liked right from the start; he admits this in the author's message in Volume 1. Because of that, Kurumada started the story off with what he felt was going to attract readers right away: A battle tournament for the Sagittarius Gold Cloth (that would later be revealed to be useless, because not just anyone can wear it). Also, Kurumada didn't really have any idea who the main cast was going to be, except for Seiya. For example, Unicorn Jabu was meant to be Seiya's main rival, hence why he was given the face of Ring ni Kakero's Jun Kenzaki, but when Shiryu, Hyoga, & Shun got more fans, Jabu was left to the wayside. Even gigantic fans of Saint Seiya will tell you that it doesn't really start off with a real sense of direction. Yes, Saint Seiya really does get better, much better, after this rough start, but the fact remains that one has to invest a bit into Seiya in order to get to the good stuff.

But, admittedly, this is all stuff that happens after the first episode. Like I said, the first episode itself does a really good job at getting your interest in the basic idea of the story (People donning special armor to, potentially, fight against evil), and while not terribly much happens in it the pacing at least makes it feel like something is always going on. Add to it some great music, memorable voice work by Tohru Furuya (Seiya), and a surprising amount of bloodshed (Seiya's 1st episode has more blood in it than Fist's, ironically enough) and this first episode of Saint Seiya is another great first episode. Unfortunately, after this it gets very rough, with lots of ups & downs, before finally evening out to something awesome after many, many episodes.

The Genius Basketman is Born!?
Out of this whole collection of episodes, Slam Dunk definitely feels different from the others, simply because it's the only show from the 90s. Yes, Dr. Slump Arale-chan isn't really a "battle" series, but at least it still feels like an 80s show. Slam Dunk has a different animation style to it, a different environment to it, and overall it's so different that it almost feels out of place here. Thankfully, sports anime does still have a "battle" aspect to it, so at the very least it's still more fitting in this collection than Dr. Slump. Much like that title, though, Slam Dunk's popularity must not be downplayed. Remember that more people stopped reading Shonen Jump magazine when Slam Dunk ended in 1997 than when Dragon Ball ended the year before; almost four times as many people! This first episode shows that Slam Dunk is truly one of the icons of Jump, because this is handily the best first episode in the entire collection.

The characters are entertaining, with Hanamichi Sakuragi outright stealing every scene he's in, the comedy is hilarious (Sakuragi's friends congratulating him on being dumped over & over, complete with a fourth-wall breaking sad song playing never gets old), and right from the first episode you have a scene that become instantly memorable with Sakuragi going for his first slam dunk. There is a neat delinquent style in play as well, which allows for some good comedy, the opening & ending themes are extremely catchy, and you can simply feel Takehiko Inoue's love of basketball through main female Haruko Akagi. There really isn't anything negative I can say about this first episode, outside of that freaky Engrish that's spoken during the eyecatch (Hi guyyyys! The first part of Slam Dunk of was fun, wasn't it? Basketball is great! Let's play it together! ... Thanks for wai-tiiing! The second part of Slam Dunk will start in a minute! Let's get together in front of TV!). It's pretty obvious right from the start why Slam Dunk became such a beloved series in the history of Jump, and that's always the sign of a truly excellent first episode.

Nekketsu!! Battle Heroes 1 is an excellent start to the Jump Super Heroes Special Collection DVD series. None of these first episodes were bad, with the worst I could say being that one of them isn't exactly descriptive of what the show ends up being like (Kinnikuman) & another has no real reason to be in a collection called "Battle Heroes" (Dr. Slump Arale-chan). Out of them all, though, Slam Dunk is easily the best one, followed by Fist of the North Star. This collection also not only doubles as a look at six of Jump's biggest old-school titles, but it also showcases how much of a role Toei Animation has had in the history of Jump anime, as every one of these was done by the studio. Finally, it is worth nothing that all but two of these shows have had some sort of official release in North America, with Kinnikuman & Dr. Slump Arale-chan being the odd ones out. Needless to say, this won't happen again, because every other DVD in this series of releases will be made up mostly unlicensed shows, and Toei won't have as much of a focus in future volumes, either. Up next is Volume 2, where we take a look at some of Jump's other impactful battle anime, which involve stuff like boxing, dogs, & dead people!

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