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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jump Super Heroes: Tsuukai!! Comedy Heroes: Not Enough Stars & Exclamation Points, I'd Say

Even though battle manga is the backbone of Weekly Shonen Jump, right behind it in overall importance & popularity is comedy manga. Go Nagai made his debut with the semi-erotic comedy Harenchi Gakuen, one of the very first hit manga Jump ever had, and while battle titles like Ring ni Kakero, Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, & One Piece were carrying the magazine on their shoulders, assisting them in keeping Jump a cultural icon were comedies like Dr. Slump, Sexy Commando Gaiden, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, & Gintama. And that's the theme of this last entry in the Jump Super Heroes Special Collection DVD series: Comedy. Anime comedy can be a tough thing to do, though (and that's all the more evident when you consider the fact that only one of the titles on this DVD has ever been licensed, whereas all the other DVDs had at least two), so does this line-up end the series on a high note, or does the punchline fall flat?

You may boo.

This is the only title that doesn't have eyecatch...  Early-80s, afterall

I Love Strange Faces. Come Forth! Kimen Flash
1982-1987's Highschool! Kimengumi was the sequel to Motoei Shinzawa's original San-nen/Third Year Kimengumi from 1980-1982, but the anime looks to start from the beginning of San-nen. Whereas earlier comedy hit Dokonjo Gaeru was more of a traditional comedy title, Kimengumi went straight for being absolutely weird for its comedy, making it a definite precursor & innovator to the modern gag manga, which arguably started with Sexy Commando Gaiden. The plot focuses on transfer student Yui Kawa, who immediately becomes friends with Chie Uru as well as five boys (Rei Ichido, Go Reietsu, Jin Daima, Dai Monoboshi, & Kiyoshi Shusse), who together call themselves the Kimengumi/Funny Face Club. The Kimengumi essentially love being weird & odd for the sake of making others laugh... But the major focus is that they're all weird.

No, really, Kimengumi is simply weird. The opening footage itself is a joke, making it look like some sort of story about Yui & her ambition to make it through school with a happy life (kind of like a "Ganba! Ganba!" thing), but in reality the show is simply about the Kimengumi, with Yui & Chie in tow, just being weird & downright unexplainable. For example, at one point Rei, the leader, is being chased by the others because he has food they want, but Jin catches him by breaking through a wall like it was simply paper. After they catch Rei, they all tie him to a small tricycle & take him outside (by walking through another wall like its paper), where they decided to drag Rei around & torture him. Really, there's no discernible reason why they're torturing Rei, at least from what I can tell without any subtitles, and while Shigeru Chiba does an amazingly zany performance as Rei it all just comes off as simply odd, with maybe a few laughs here & there. And don't get me started on the Kimen Flash itself, where the five form a face-like combination & get hit with lightning. Overall, I can't really call Highschool! Kimengumi bad, mainly because I'm almost 100% sure that most of the jokes were lost on me without any sort of translation, but I can definitely say that it certainly made an impression on me.
Take that however you want.

I swear, Madoka is giving everyone the lazy eye for no reason...

Transfer Student! My Humble First Love
At one point in the 90s, & maybe even early-2000s, I am 100% sure that Kimagure Orange Road was the title everyone thought of when they were asked, "What's anime?" Izumi Matsumoto's 1984-1987 manga was already nearing it's end when the TV anime adaptation debuted (there was a pilot made back in 1985, alongside the Kochikame pilot), but it definitely became a favorite of many anime fans in North America during the 90s & early 00s, when AnimEigo released the TV series, movie, and OVA & ADV released the 1996 sequel movie, Summer's Beginning. Really, KOR has become one of the biggest names when it comes to romantic comedies that ran in Jump, and even though the comedy isn't in full-effect in this first episode it's easy to see the appeal this show had back in the day.

Kyosuke Kasuga & his family move to a new town, and while checking out the area he runs into a nice girl who he quickly gets into a silly argument over. On his first day of school, he soon finds out that the girl was Madoka Ayukawa, a jazzy delinquent, and he also meets Hikaru Hiyama, Madoka's fiesty friend. After school, Hikaru gets into a fight with some older students, and Kyosuke wonders if he should interfere until Madoka comes in to save the day. Upon seeing Madoka act, Kyosuke realizes that he's in love, but Madoka acts like she never met him before. Unfortunately, much like Madoka, Kyosuke is also hiding a secret: The entire Kasuga family has psychic powers, like super-speed, levitation, etc. KOR's first episode does a really good job introducing the major characters, their personal traits, & setting up the eventual love-triangle that obviously happens between Kyosuke, Madoka, & Hikaru. I've heard complaints that the whole "psychic powers" element isn't really necessary, and I do agree to a point for this episode, but at the same time I don't see it being a hindrance in any way. If anything, it helps give KOR a nice identity for itself, and while I wasn't exactly sold on it right away I ended getting somewhat more interested in watching Kimagure Orange Road. If it ever gets license rescued I might pick it up & give it a go.

Farewell Mountain Days! Brother of the Big City
Much like Hareluya II BØY in Volume 4, there has never been a DVD release for 1988's Moeru! Onii-san, based on the 1987-1991 manga by Tadashi Sato, making this the first time it's been featured on DVD. Also like Hareluya II BØY, it's pretty sad to know this, because Moeru! Onii-san is really, really funny. It's a variant on the whole "Long-lost person meets up with his family" idea, but it's the execution that really sets it apart from some other titles of this ilk, making it something I hope gets a proper DVD release soon. The Kokuho family was enjoying a simple picnic by a river one day, when the father accidentally dropped the son, Kenichi, into the river; naturally, they thought Kenichi died & they continued to raise their daughter Yukie. In reality, Kenichi was picked up by Cha Genmai, a martial-arts hermit who lives in the nearby mountains, while fishing & he took Kenichi in and raised him for the next 13 years as a super-strong martial-artist. As a kid, Kenichi saw the bright lights of the city & at 13 he decided to finally head out. Gensai decided it was time to finally reveal the truth, while also revealing that his "sister" Kaede isn't actually Gensai's daughter either, which made Kenichi all the more determined to find his family. Luckily, it doesn't take much to find Yukie... He just ended up having the entire city's police force & riot squad after him at the same time.

Onii-san works because it embraces absolute audacity & ridiculousness. After learning the truth, Kenichi wonders if his name is even the real one, but Gensai assure him it is, because the clothing he found Kenichi in had his name on it (and Gensai never really cared to simply return Kenichi to his family). Kenichi's lack of knowledge of modern technology, combined with his insane strength, also results in some good comedy, like when he walks in the middle of the road, almost getting hit by a truck. When he sees a woman crossing the street, he thinks she's going to die, so he attacks the vehicles that have stopped at the red lights, followed by him easily flipping a police car after they try to stop Kenichi. Even the next episode preview shows some great promise, especially when one of Yukie's classmates has an eternal devil face & challenges Kenichi to a fight, because all Kenichi wants to do is make his true family proud of him. Yeah, its absolute silliness, but it really works well, and combined with a few other visual & audio jokes (the police chief looks a little like Nintendo's Mario & Kenichi's dog is named Flipper), as well as a hilarious performance by Kazuki Yao as Kenichi, Moeru! Onii-san defintely makes it impact felt.

I am a Great Magician
To many people, Tatsuya Egawa's legacy in the anime & manga industry is Golden Boy, the story of a genius college drop-out who decides to journey across Japan, meeting all sorts of women & experiencing all sorts of perverse adventures. But everyone has to start somewhere, and for Egawa it was in the pages of Shonen Jump in 1989-1992's Magical Taruruuto-kun; literally, Egawa went straight from finishing Taruruuto-kun to starting Golden Boy. Much like Dokonjo Gaeru before it, Taruruuto-kun was the story of a boy who gets a partner/friend who helps him out in his everyday life, but Taruruuto-kun differs in that it adds a magic element. Honmaru is your everyday boy: He goes to school, has trouble with a bully-of-sorts, Jabao, has a rival-of-sorts in the girl Rui Ijigawa, and he has a crush on the lovely Iyona Kawai, but can't really show his feelings. After a rough encounter with Jabao leaves him beaten up, Honmaru heads home and tries asking his dad, who apparently knows a thing or two about "magic", for help. Dad is asleep, but Honmaru sees a seemingly-useless book. Honmaru then wishes he had someone to help him, and he accidentally summons a small kid named Taruruuto. Taru is the son of a demon, and after showing Honmaru his powers the two become friends.

Taruruuto-kun's first episode is a nice intro to the series, introducing the immediate recurring characters, and showing how Honmaru's life might not be ideal, but it's not like it sucks. In fact, Iyona obviously sees Honmaru as a friend right away, so it's not like she's out of his reach... He's just that shy. Also, it's going to be obvious that most of Honmaru's troubles are going to be brought about by own silly ideas or by Taru's innocent attempts at helping. In a nice twist, though, Taru isn't a secret that's kept to Honmaru, because he's introduced to Iyona & the others really fast; if anything, the fact that Taru is a "great magician" is a secret, but it probably won't be for long. Taru has an odd habit in this episode of growing his tongue out and licking people, not to mention at one point he repeatedly slams the giant Jabao around like it's nothing, and the climax has Taru makes Honmaru's remote control helicopter into a real helicopter to help drive away the biker gang that they, accidentally, tried messing with... Only to have the air force shoot Honmaru down (literally, they don't even ask who's piloting the helicopter; it's simply shoot to kill). Overall, Magical Taruruuto-kun gives a really good first impression, and it would be interesting to see what kind of silly & crazy predicaments Egawa would send his characters into.

Mantis Alien is Lucky!
Popular manga can be adapted into anime at a varying amount of time, but usually the ideal is to do it as soon as it seems doable, with around three years (or about 150-200 chapters) being a rough average. Well, 1993-1997's Tottemo! Luckyman by Hiroshi Gamou likely holds the record for shortest amount of time between manga debut & anime debut, not including series that were originally planned to be both an anime & manga (like Mazinger Z), because when the first episode debuted on April 6, 1994 the manga was only on its 29th chapter! That means that Luckyman was a gigantic hit right from the start, and the first episode does a great job showing why that was likely the case. Yoichi Tsuitenai is probably the unluckiest person in the world. When his alarm goes off he pulls the wrong cord & gets electrocuted, when birds tease him they also drop poo so big & heavy that he falls off his balcony & injures his head, and when he tries to give a love letter to his crush Miyo (Mi-chan for short), who hates Yoichi because he's so unlucky, he somehow accidentally gives it to Desuyo, the absolutely ugly girl who's in love with him. Oh, and there's the fact that a UFO just crash landed on him, killing him. Fortunately, "friend of justice" Luckyman, the luckiest superhero ever, arrives to stop the Praying Mantis-like alien from killing people... But he's also running late for his part-time job at a Planet Lucky supermarket, so when given the chance to protect Mi-chan, Yoichi agrees to take Luckyman's spot, becoming a new Luckyman!

Luckyman is probably the final link between old-school gag manga & modern-day gag manga, because it has elements of both. Like older gag manga, the comedy comes from cause & effect situations, but like modern gag manga there are a few moments that are absolutely silly & ridiculous. For example, Luckyman's superpower is that he has seemingly-infinite luck, so attacks like Lucky Punch & Lucky Kick are extremely slow & weak, but the end result still is a success. For Lucky Punch, Luckyman accidentally ends up grabbing the alien's genitals and squeezes them, & for Lucky Kick the alien simply runs away until he accidentally runs into the stretched-out foot of a random stranger. It's all very silly stuff but it's also highly entertaining, and even the animation seems to be part of the joke, because when Yoichi is himself his mouth animates like everyone else, but when he's Luckyman his mouth never animates... It's simply a giant, gaping hole of a mouth. What helps seal the deal, though, is a hilarious performance by Mayumi Tanaka, who brings about a gigantic amount of energy to Yoichi/Luckyman. Unfortunately, Luckyman was Hiroshi Gamou's only hit manga... At least, under that name. Supposedly, there are indications that Gamou has two other popular mangas under his belt, specifically Death Note & Bakuman. Yeah, apparently Gamou might actually be the real identity of Tsugumi Ohba, whose identity is a giant secret. How is this possible? Well, Bakuman.'s main character has an uncle who was a one-hit wonder managaka with a gag superhero manga, much like Gamou & Luckyman, and apparently there are storyboards drawn by Ohba that look almost exactly like the style of Luckyman. Well, regardless, Tottemo! Luckyman definitely deserved to be animated as soon as possible if the rest of the show is this funny.

Surprised to be Born!
And coming in to finish up this DVD series is Midori no Makibao, the 1995-1998 race horse comedy manga by Tsunomaru. Yeah, that's right... That ugly white thing is a horse, and he's the main character. In fact, not one character in this title is exactly a looker, except for Midoriko, Makibo's mother, and she's a horse! One night, on the ranch where he she lives, Midoriko gives birth to a son, a nameless white colt (or foal, if you prefer) with the face of a mule. Very quickly, though, Midoriko realizes that her son is naturally fast & strong, making him an ideal race horse. Unfortunately, the colt is also strongly against running & just wants to be with his mother, especially since the other horses make fun of his looks, but when Midoriko is injured & taken away, the colt decides to leave the ranch & go after her, especially after one of the horses seemingly tells him his mother went "beyond the mountains".

Interestingly enough, Makibao's first episode is surprisingly dramatic, & Makibao doesn't get his name in this episode; he's simply called Chibi by the ranch owner's son, Masaru. Sure, there's comedy in the episode, but almost all of it is based around the characters & not gag-based. The ranch owner never seems to realize Makibao's true ability, even when Masaru tries showing his father, he somehow sees a UFO instead of looking at his horses, and the UFO joke is actually the reason why Midoriko trips & injures her leg! I can easily tell that most of the comedy in this series is going to come from the eventual career Makibao will end up taking by being a race horse that's about 1/4 the size of every other race horse, but I must admit that I actually liked the dramatic turn this first episode took. I had absolutely no idea how this show would work going into this episode, and if the rest of show is able to mix together comedy & drama then I would love to watch more of this one day. Just like Makibao himself, you can't judge a book, or horse in this case, simply by the cover.

Tsuukai!! Comedy Heroes ends up being a great bookend to the Jump Super Heroes Special Collection DVD series, with all of these titles being fairly different from one another & none of them were boo-worthy. Remember, I'm almost positive that Highschool! Kimengumi is something that absolutely requires a translation to fully understand. This DVD showcased a nice range of comedy, from gag titles to romantic comedy to even dramatic comedy (or would that be comedic drama?), and it really helps showcase how comedy is easily #2 in the history of Weekly Shonen Jump, if action/battle is #1. Another thing to bring up is that this DVD showcases what Studio Pierrot tends to really excel at, and that's comedy. Two-thirds of the titles on this DVD (KOR, Onii-san, Luckyman, & Makibao) are Pierrot productions, with the other two being split between Toei & Studio Comet. Even though Pierrot would enter the 2000s focusing more on serious Jump anime, like Hikaru no Go, Naruto, & Bleach, in 2011 the studio returned to Jump comedy with Level E & Beelzebub, so there's always the chance that they'll do more comedy in the future.

As a whole, this entire DVD series was well worth the purchase, as it really let me check out a great amount of Jump anime that I have never seen anything of, and it let me re-watch the first episodes of titles that I already loved. Sure, there aren't any subtitles on these DVDs, but a great appeal to Jump anime is that they tend to be easily-accessible for people to at least check out. Even if you might not get any Japan-focused references, jokes, & puns Jump has a worldwide appeal for a simple reason: The titles they end up being so well-known for are the ones that have an appeal not just to Japan but to the world. Even if they are focused on Japanese concepts, there are still enough parts for people to want to watch. Plus, it's always fun learning about other cultures & the like. Considering that for me to get Volume 5 I had to be put on a waiting list over at Amazon Japan, I'm going to take a guess and feel that this DVD series has been a success for Shueisha over in Japan. If that's the case then I certainly hope that we get more volumes in this series, because there are still plenty of titles to use, not to mention some that still don't have a DVD release.

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