If there is one thing Shonen Jump (& shonen in general) is known for more than anything else, it's battle manga. Lots of action, drama, blood, & fighting are in the pages of Jump, & that's why it's the only "theme" in this series of DVDs to actually get two releases. Whereas Battle Heroes 1 focused on the biggest names of all time, Battle Heroes 2 focuses on titles that certainly were highly influential & revolutionary, but of the six titles represented on this DVD, only two of them have seen a North American release.
The inclusion of Ring ni Kakero 1 is an interesting one for the Jump Super Heroes Special Collection DVD series. On the one hand, the original manga from 1977-1981 was unlike a lot of what was being made at the time, & set the groundwork for a lot of the cliches/tropes/ideologies that are now standard in shonen manga, so it's kind of essential that it gets included in a DVD series that covers the history of Jump anime. Also, the inclusion of RnK1 makes Masami Kurumada the only other mangaka, alongside Akira Toriyama, to have more than one representative anime in this DVD series, showing how important his works have been in the history of Jump. On the other hand, Ring ni Kakero 1 wasn't animated until 2004, and therefore it comes from a somewhat different era of anime than most of the titles in these DVDs, the biggest difference being that this is digitally animated whereas everything else is cel-animated. Still, as a fan of RnK1 I am extremely happy to see Shueisha include this title in this DVD series. Anyway, how is the first episode?
I have not seen a full episode of Season 1 since I first watched it back in 2005/2006, mainly because I want to re-watch it via an official English release, so therefore it was neat to see the very first episode in full again. Like I mentioned in my review of Season 1, the anime does start a bit into the story, but, at the first time, the first episode covers the immediate backstory that you should know right away via flashbacks that happen throughout the episode. Everything, from Ryuji Takane & his sister Kiku leaving home, to the introduction to Jun Kenzaki, to the climax of Ryuji & Kenzaki's first fight, is covered in a basic fashion in this episode, all the while their third fight (the final match of the regional Jr. boxing tournament) is going on, with neither side backing down. This is simply a fight episode, as it decides to introduce the characters & the story through battle, and I commend the show for getting straight to the point right at the start. Yeah, the animation does cheat a bit here & there, especially when there are fast flurries of punches going on, but overall this first episode still looks good and it does a very nice job at getting newcomers up to speed on what they need to know at the beginning. There's always something going on and it definitely gets one interested in wanting to see how the fight ends. Toss in a fun cameo by Masami Kurumada himself in the beginning, and this is a perfectly fine first episode for an anime that only gets better once it's done bringing viewers up to speed.
The Bikini Girl Who Fell From the Sky
When it comes to Masakazu Katsura there are two things he is known for: Superheroes & love stories. Well forget Zetman, Video Girl Ai, D.N.A.^2, & I"s, because if you want Katsura at his most concentrated, then there is his debut work, Yume Senshi Wingman. From this first episode, you get introduced to both the superhero element, with Kenta Hirono becoming Wingman by the power of a magical book, called the "Dream Note", that grants the person who uses it whatever he/she draws in it, as well as the love story element, with Kenta having both the potential affections of his schoolmate Miku as well as the mysterious Aoi who fell from the sky (onto Kenta) & dropped the Dream Note. See a similarity to a very popular manga about another boy who finds a mysterious book? Yeah, Death Note essentially took Wingman's premise, made the Dream Note deadly, and changed a love interest into a cynical shinigami. This is why it's fun to look back at the past, because you never know when you'll come across an inspiration you didn't know of before.
In terms of first episodes, Wingman's is easily the "origin story" if you want to talk in terms of superheroes. Kenta is a superhero fanatic, even dressing up like one in class, who accidentally gets the ability to turn into the actual hero he made up, and now it's up to him to fight off evil, while also juggling his school & love life. Overall it's a solid origin, with some good-old 80s fanservice, i.e. bare boobies are shown, but I do have one big problem, and that's how Katsura handles his love of superheroes. In normal life, a kid who dresses up like a superhero & disrupts class by doing his whole "I'm a superhero!" shtick would be ridiculed & considered crazy. In Wingman, however, Kenta's antics are loved by his classmates & his teacher doesn't do anything about it; in fact, it's another teacher who is willing to put the book to Kenta('s head) and set him straight. Look, I can understand that Masakazu Katsura wanted to put his love of superheroes in a very positive light, but the way he handled it in Wingman's beginning is just so absolutely ridiculous that the teacher who's meant to look like the bad guy honestly just comes off as the level-headed one here. Luckily, the rest of the episode is enjoyable enough that it recovers from that awkward start. If this show had an English translation I would certainly keep watching it, as I'd love to see how Kenta handles his new identity & love(?) interests.
Gin, The Small Hero, is Born!
Now here's an interesting change of pace: Among all of these human leads, there is a non-human, and he is Gin the Bear Dog. Yoshihiro Takahashi loves dogs, so it's only natural that he made a manga that stars dogs. It's definitely different from the usual kind of battle manga out there, and that originality helped lead Ginga -Nagareboshi Gin- to a 21-episode anime adaptation in 1986, which became outright iconic in Scandinavia! Seriously, this anime was a gigantic hit in Norway, Denmark, & the like, and I can see why from the first episode. This first episode is a drama-filled & highly engaging start to the story, and the dogs never even say a word.
The focus on this episode is not only on the birth of Gin, but also on Gin's father, Riki. Riki's father, Shiro, was the first to take on a gigantic bear that was a terror to the people of Futago Pass, but he died in the batle, though not before his owner shot out one of the bear's eyes and Shiro forced it off a cliff. The bear survived, but now has a giant red mark on its head & back, giving it the name Red Helmet. Shiro's owner wants nothing but the death of Red Helmet, so he takes Riki with him on a new hunt, but when the two go missing, Daisuke, a boy who loves Riki & named Gin, goes after them, with Gin in tow. It's interesting to see that the first episode focuses just as much on the humans as it does the dogs, so much so that the dogs don't talk once to each other, instead telling their feelings solely through visuals. The battle between Riki & Red Helmet is told excellently just through the animation & their natural animal cries, and there's a great dramatic feel to this first episode. Combined with an excellent opening theme that is likewise dramatic, and it's easy to see that Ginga -Nagareboshi Gin- not only had an original concept to it but is also very good, if this first episode is any indication.
Freedom & Youth? This is the Rumored Otokojuku
Momotaro Tsurugi has enrolled himself into Otokojuku, a.k.a. the "Men's School". Here, so-called male delinquents are taught to become men that will properly represent Japan, but simply surviving a day of school is hard. On the way to different buildings, there are deathtrap-filled paths that students must take, and the food for them to eat is both exquisite (escargot) & crude ([dead] frog soup). If you try to break curfew & leave the premises you better not be found, because punishment comes in the form of torture with gigantic wood oars. Momo, though, simply finds all of this just as he expected. Sakigake!! Otokojuku is both a true "MANime" as well as a parody of it, but the way Otokojuku handles its comedy is what makes this first episode a great watch.
Instead of outright making fun of everything for obvious laughs, Otokojuku goes for more subtle comedy, where the more you're familiar with titles of the "manly" ilk the more hilarious it is. Every person enrolled is a big, muscular-looking young man, but very few of them are actually tough... In fact, some wear underwear with little elephants on them. Others are outright pansies when faced with a dangerous situation. But the ones who live up to their tough exteriors, like Momo & classmate Genji Togashi, naturally are the leaders, ready to help their fellow classmates in surviving Otokojuku's crazy traps, rough teachers (who look like they belong in China's Three Kingdoms era, naturally), and downright imposing headmaster, Heihachi Edajima ("I am the headmaster of Otokojuku, Heihachi Edajima!!!!!"). There is plenty to like about this first episode, and it certainly sets the mood & feel of this series right away.
Mini-Goku is Precious! I'm Gohan.
There really isn't much that I can say about Dragon Ball Z that isn't already known: It's a worldwide phenomenon, still sells amazingly well to this very day, & features iconic characters, story arcs, and opening themes. That said, it is also notoriously slow-paced, to the point where people still make "Coutdown to Namek's Destruction" jokes to this day. When I finally saw the first episode of Dragon Ball, I was surprised by how little actually happened in it, but DBZ's first episode makes DB's first episode look fast & exciting. Literally, all that happens is that Gohan gets lost in the woods & then caught in a raging river, and it's up to Goku to save him... Oh, and Raditz arrives, kills the well-known "Farmer with Shotgun", and makes Piccolo look pathetically weak. Really, compared to DB's debut, which had at least three or four things happen, DBZ only has two real things going on, & Raditz's stuff only amounts to maybe two or three minutes, max.
That said, it's still entertaining to watch. Seeing Gohan in his debut, where he's ready to cry at the drop of a hat (almost literally), reminds you of how much the character grows during the course of the story, and Toei does a great job at making everything look neat & inviting. From the perspective of only the first episode, there's nothing here that really would get you hooked on DBZ, but let's face it... Just about everyone has seen DBZ. And, if you want to be picky, this inclusion gives Akira Toriyama three represented series in these DVDs... Even if DBZ is still technically the same series as DB.
Surprised to be Dead
And now, after eleven straight titles, the grip that Toei has seemingly had on this DVD series has finally loosened, and Studio Pierrot comes in to take it!
Admittedly, it takes guts to start your manga off by killing your main character, but Yoshihiro Togashi pulls it off with perfection in Yu Yu Hakusho. The first half deals with Yusuke Urameshi trying to understand what just happened and why he's floating in the sky after seeing his body put into an ambulance by recapping what he did that day. The second half deals with Yusuke realizing his death by meeting Botan, a shinigami, and seeing with his own (dead) eyes that the people that annoyed him the most were the ones who cared for him the most, It's a Wonderful Life-style. This first episode really gets you interested in what can happen next, even if the "battle" aspect is barely apparent in this episode; the most that happens is Yusuke beating up his "rival" Kuwabara with no trouble.
With all of that said, much like Slam Dunk in Battle Heroes 1, this entry does feel different from the others in this DVD, partially because this is a 90s property and partially because it's completely different studio in work here. The Pierrot style is noticeably different from the Toei style, and it really just feels like if Toei had handled Yu Yu Hakusho it might not have ended up as good as it did via Pierrot. Overall, this DVD marks the end of Toei's dominance in terms of Jump anime that's being represented here. Sure, Toei will still get represented in two of the other three DVDs, but nowhere will they be near the dominance they had in these first two.
Nekketsu!! Battle Heroes 2 might not be filled with as many instantly-noticeable names as Battle Heroes 1 (out of them all, only DBZ & Yu Yu have ever been licensed in North America), but at the same time every one of these entries fit in with the "battle" theme, even if the first episode didn't necessarily showcase that right away (i.e. Wingman, DBZ, & Yu Yu Hakusho). This DVD in particular not only showcases how big of a force battle manga are to Jump, but it really does showcase how big of a role Toei has when it comes to the history of Jump anime, something that stills holds true to this day with titles like One Piece, Toriko, Beet the Vandel Buster, & Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, among many others. Also, we see the first sign of Studio Pierrot, who would also make a name by being a big Jump manga adaptation studio, like with Baoh, Bleach, Naruto, & others we'll get to in the other DVDs. But now with the "battle" theme done with, Volume 3 of the Jump Super Heroes Special Collection DVD series is going to go back to the 70s & early 80s to celebrate some of Jump's earliest anime adaptations... Where Tokyo Movie Shinsha was king.