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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues... Overloaded!! Part 1

Considering how big Jump January was, I hope you all can understand me taking a week off. Anyway, I'm starting to come up on another milestone for the blog: Review #100! Yeah, Tsuukai: Comedy Heroes was the 90th review I have done for the blog, so any review coming up will be simply counting down to that triple-digit achievement. Much like my preparation for Review #50, Gundoh Musashi, I have the title in mind for #100 planned now, and from what I can tell it's yet another absolutely horrible anime production, but it won't be anywhere near as long as Musashi; in hindsight, Crystal Triangle would have been an excellent choice, though. In fact, a title I had originally planned for #100 was actually already covered over at the Golden Ani-Versary, a blog that's celebrating the 50 years that have gone by since the debut of the original Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy anime in 1963, so there's a hint for what it might be. Also, look forward to the essay I'm doing as a part of the celebratory gang this July, where I cover the year 2004!

All right, enough shameless promotion... In the middle of last year I brought back my personal favorite of the many "Twelve Anime" lists, which was the license rescue list, and I was paid back by my readers with Part 1 becoming the fastest entry into this blog's Top 10 Most Viewed Posts. Well, I think enough time has passed for another one to be made, and I had enough worthy picks this time that the twelve anime wall of entry had to be broken through. Yeah, I never actually have only twelve anime in these lists, but can't I at least try to talk them up like they're something special?

Anime based on video games, especially fighting games, really run the gamut in terms of quality, ranging from horrid (Tekken) to average (Psychic Force) to pretty damn good (Street Fighter II: The Movie). Among those are some underlooked gems, though, and Virtua Fighter fits that bill in both its original game form as well as its anime. VF was not only the very first fighting game to use 3D models & polygons, but it still stands to this day as one of the most intricate & complex fighting games in the industry, with a focus on realism (read: actual fighting styles are used) & simple to play, hard to master gameplay (read: there's only three buttons, but there are tons of moves). All of this results in a barely-there story, though (Kagemaru won the third tournament? When did that happen!?), so how do you adapt this into an anime TV series from 1995-1996? Make it into a not-100% serious story that uses the game as a basis but otherwise does its own thing.

For many who saw the TMS-produced Virtua Fighter anime via its release by Media Blasters, both on dub-only VHS in 2000-2001 or dual-audio DVD sets in 2003 (years before sets were a regular thing), this unexpected execution was amazingly amusing & entertaining to watch, and a very solid dub by rarely-heard-in-anime Coastal Carolina only helped endear it to fans. Hell, Justin Sevakis even included it in his Buried Treaure series! Nowadays, one can still get the two DVD sets for a fair price, so why is this being included on this list? That can be explained by one reason: We never got the entire show. All we got were the first 24 episodes, though that did tell a complete story. In Japan, though, there was another 11 episodes made that aired right after those other episodes & acted as a second season-of-sorts. From what I can tell, it was a more serious story that focused on Kagemaru, whereas the first story focused on Akira, Jacky, Pai, & Sarah. For that reason alone, I think Virtua Fighter deserves a license rescue, maybe releasing the first 24 episodes in one dual-audio set followed by a second, sub-only, set that finally gives the other episodes their very first North American release. Hell, I would love to see a company try to fund a dub through Kickstarter, even if only partially. Eleven episodes-worth of dubbing wouldn't be completely ridiculous to try to raise money, and I bet those North Carolinians over at Coastal Studios would love to do this show again.

If there was one company who showed Yoshiaki Kawajiri more love than any other, it was Urban Vision. They had a fair number of Kawajiri titles in their catalog, and to think that now only three Kawajiri titles are in print (Discotek's re-release of Demon City Shinjuku, FUNimation's re-release of X TV, & Manga's release of Highlander: The Search for Vengeance) is kind of sad now, especially since the third one isn't even Kawajiri's original cut (only in Japan), & a fourth one (Batman: Gotham Knight) doesn't even list Kawajiri in the credits for his own involvement! In an interesting twist, Hideyuki Kikuchi isn't getting too much love here with anime, either. Sure, his novels (specifically Vampire Hunter D & Wicked City) are in print, but in terms of anime adaptations, only Demon City Shinjuku is in print right now, and I think that should be rectified.

1987's Wicked City in particular has generally been in the shadows of the North American anime industry for almost as long as such a thing existed. Streamline Pictures gave it its first North American penetration back in 1993 with a theatrical run, and then Urban Vision kept it in fans' minds with a dub-only VHS release in 1999, followed by a Special Edition, dual-audio DVD release in 2000. To this day, it is still considered one of Kawajiri's finest works (in fact, Kawajiri did such an excellent job that the original 35-minute cut was extended to 80 minutes & WC even made Kawajiri a known name), yet it hasn't had a release of any sort in 13 years. Granted, it isn't exactly uber-expensive to buy right now ($20-$40 at Amazon), but for some titles simply being made easily available again can do a lot. One can only hope that Demon City Shinjuku has sold well for Discotek Media, because if so Wicked City should be the next thing to grab.

[2/2017 ADDENDUM: Man, I've been slipping... Because Discotek Media not only license rescued Wicked City, but released a remastered DVD back a the start of 2016!]

I had to "steal" a picture from eBay, but that's how hard it is to find a good cover of this release...  Plus, it's Betamax

On my second license rescue list, I included Mad Bull 34, a title known to be horrible, but that's part of why it was worth including. Discotek seemed to agree, which is why in two weeks MB34 will be getting its very first DVD release here in North America, dual-audio for the very first time, at that! So I think it's fair game for "so bad it's good" anime to be included in these lists as well, because only getting the very best is not a fair & honest look at what anime can be. Case in point is this little co-production between Toei & Marvel, Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned, which is based on the Tomb of Dracula comic series. It's bad... Horrifically bad. But therein lies the appeal, and Harmony Gold's dub only helps with its silliness. The VHS release for this production is really hard to find, as not even Amazon or eBay have listings for it right now. Also, by means of this eBay auction, I may have discovered the only anime to have ever been released on Betamax (at least in North America, as there were some Beta releases in Japan)! Can you name another anime that's been released on Beta in North America? Hell, do you even know what Beta is!? Anyway, this entry in the license rescue list was kind of "suggested" by slight deception, since I simply asked Zac Bertschy & Justin Sevakis (Buried Garbage entry here) via Twitter on ANNCast what "bad-good anime" they would love to see rescued, & this was Zac's answer. Great choice, Zac, and I'm sure Dracula would approve of my sly deception.

I really, really hope that Mad Bull 34 does well for Discotek, because if it does it certainly opens up a completely new wing of anime that can be looked at as "worthy of rescuing". Imagine a world where titles like Mad Bull 34, Crystal Triangle, & Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned can be bought on dual-audio DVD (sub-only for Crystal Triangle), allowing older fans to entertainment themselves once again by poking fun at how amazingly bad & entertaining these titles are, & newer fans can even potentially join in on the fun. I mean, come on, who doesn't want to see a wheelchair-bound descendant of Van Helsing try to chase down & attack a reluctant partner while his female compatriot pushes him along? Hell, who doesn't want to see Dracula in a diner eating a hamburger!?

Okay, enough silliness. It's time to get serious, and you can't get more serious than Barefoot Gen. When most people think about an anime movie about the survivors of the atomic bomb, Studio Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies instantly comes up, but right behind it is Barefoot Gen. The recently-departed Keiji Nakazawa's semi-fictionalized story about his own experiences surviving the atom bomb & its aftermath (the names were changed, but the events were real) is probably one of the toughest manga out there to read because of how somber it is, and the 1983 movie adaptation (also the debut work of Madhouse) is probably one of the hardest anime to watch, because it actually shows viewers the horrors of how people died via the dropping of the Little Boy bomb. At Otakon 2011, my friend & I got DVDs signed by Madhouse co-founder Masao Maruyama, and my friend swears that when he gave his copy of Geneon's Barefoot Gen DVD release (which also features the 1986 sequel movie) to Maruyama for a signing, he saw the man almost tear up upon recognizing what he was about to put a marker to. I have a copy of the DVD myself, as well as the first two volumes of the manga, but I am simply afraid to watch and/or read it... I'm honest-to-God scared of what I'll see, even though I really want to experience this story.

Streamline Pictures actually put the first movie out in North America in the mid-90s with an English dub (I can only imagine what parents thought they were going to show their kids when they decided to watch this), but when Geneon gave the movies their first DVD release in 2006 it was a sub-only release. I honestly don't know why the DVD was sub-only, at least for the first movie (Gen 2 was never dubbed), but I'm going to guess that there might be the possibility of Streamline editing the movie for time first, no doubt to possibly keep kids from getting terrified, which would make a dual-audio release tough. Unfortunately, such an important anime production has been out-of-print for years and now easily goes for $100+ "new" over at Amazon; "used" is actually more expensive! Sentai Filmworks recently gave Grave of the Fireflies a new remastered re-release on both DVD & Blu-Ray, complete with a brand-new English dub (though the old CPM dub was also included), so one can only hope that Barefoot Gen will not be left ignored. Sometimes a license rescue has to be done for more than just making money... Sometimes it's about preservation & keeping a historically important production in print.

[2/2018 ADDENDUM: As always, leave it to Discotek Media to make the save on these lists! As of this update, both Barefoot Gen movies have since seen a new release, and not only does the first movie have Streamline's dub brought back, but they're also available for purchase on HD remastered Blu-Ray! Now every can experience the dropping of the Little Boy in glorious high definition...]

First off, a big thanks to NJ_ of Twitter & the Fandom Post forums for suggesting this entry!

Aniplex of America may be doing just fine with their super-premium releases for shows like Garden of Sinners & Fate/Zero, but they were just succeeding where Bandai Visual USA had failed. With Discotek giving Diebuster: Gunbuster 2 a re-release this May, I think it's fair to start including BVUSA titles, and what better way to start than with Super Robot Wars? SRW actually getting its own anime adaptation was a real-deal "coming full circle" moment, since the series itself started as a celebration of mech anime. Oddly enough, though, the first SRW anime, simply titled SRW Original Generation The Animation, was a three-episode OVA series from 2005 that acted as a sequel to the original OG games on the Game Boy Advance. In true cyclical fashion, the story told in this OVA would then be adapted into game form with the release of 2007's SRW OG Gaiden for the Playstation 2. It wouldn't be until 2006-2007 that an actual adaptation of the GBA games would be made, with SRW OG: Divine Wars, which adapted the original OG game's story & went with the interesting choice to have all of the giant robots be done in CG.

BVUSA released the OVA series & Divine Wars on DVD, with the OVA being a single 2-DVD set & Divine Wars was released across nine singles. Unfortunately, BVUSA's focus was on releasing Region 2-quality DVDs at Region 2 pricing, so each of these sub-only releases were $49.95, and it's obvious to say that these releases sold poorly, which is probably being nice. Nowadays, BVUSA releases are mostly even more expensive than they originally were, with the OVA going for $45-$65 at Amazon & each of the Divine Wars singles range anywhere from $35-$135. A re-release that prices both of these productions at more reasonable numbers (like the OVA for $20-$30 & Divine Wars at $30-$45 per 12/13-episode set) would really make these titles much more accessible to people who are interested in seeing what SRW can offer when it's all original. CrunchyRoll simulcasted 2010-2011's SRW OG: The Inspector, which adapted OG2's story, so it's obvious that people know of this series, and making two-thirds of it easier to get would only help this franchise out.

[2/28 UPDATE: A few days late, but Media Blasters announced that they had license rescued these very two SRW anime, barely a week after this post went up! Great news to hear, simply because it will be available again, this time for a fair price.]

Putting an end to Part 1 of this list is what I want to call the "Bandai/d-rights DVD Remainder". I had mentioned this before, but for those who don't know when, the company that Bandai would buy & turn into Bandai Entertainment, was starting out a number of the titles they licensed came from Japanese licensor d-rights, who isn't exactly an unknown name here in North America (hell, when Media Blasters released Sentimental Journey & re-released IRIA: Zeiram the Animation d-rights requested that their logo be on the covers & spines instead of MB's). This d-rights line-up was made up of both Eat-Man anime (which were featured on the original list), Next Senki Ehrgeiz (which was featured on the second list), and two titles that make up the focus of this entry, hence the term "remainder". What's that? "What about AWOL: Absent WithOut Leave?" I don't know what the hell you're talking about...

Haunted Junction was the story of Saito High School, which is filled with all sorts of supernatural beings, and its Holy Student Council, who have to protect the school & its students from whatever trouble the supernatural bring about. It's focus on oddball comedy & horror-themed hijinks made for an interesting title that still looks pretty original to this day, though it might have some modern competition from something like Is This a Zombie?. Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy is the story of a (bomb) sheltered technology prodigy named Techno & his continual attempts to gain the love of a girl he notices & names "Daisy". This "love" story is meant to be an awkward one, showcasing Techno's attempts to try to make his "Daisy" fall in love with him, even if his methods aren't exactly "normal"; pure & honest, yes, but not normal. Both Junction & Daisy are interesting by way of their concepts & even though AnimeVillage gave them VHS releases in 1999-2000, followed by Bandai giving them DVD set releases in 2001 (yes, straight-to-set releases in the early days of DVD!), I have to put them down along with the Eat-Man anime & Ehrgeiz as titles that do deserve license rescues. Hell, John Sirabella agreed with me a few years back when he felt that "Eatman and the other ones are old D-rights titles which may eventually find a home". Media Blasters may not be that home, but hopefully someplace will. Yeah, the DVD sets aren't terribly expensive yet, but considering that Bandai's sets likely used the same masters as the VHS releases, there's a very good chance that better masters are out there that can be used now. Sometimes you just got to cheer for the oddballs that dare to do something different.
Part 1 of this license rescue list has now come to an end. Come back in a couple of days for Part 2, which will feature more Urban Vision, an underrated shonen fighter, another "bad-good" entry, & other surprises that truly make this list "overloaded"!!


  1. I had Maruyama sign my Cyber City Odeo dvd collection back at Animazement 2011, and he seemed pretty cool about it.

  2. Being that I look for anime I'm told to stay away from, I looked for this "AWOL" show. I found nothing. No VHS, no DVD, not even torrents. Wow... I'm sad now.


      Have fun, though Volume 4 looks to be unavailable at the moment.