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Monday, July 22, 2013

Rokudenashi BLUES: Don't Worry, Goku... Taison's Got Your Back

We're taking one more trip into the yankii well this month with a reverse case of what I usually do. Normally, when I review a series of anime productions, I go through them in chronological order, which makes perfect sense... But sometimes issues come up, namely a lack of materials. That's what happened last year when I reviewed Rokudenashi BLUES 1993, the second anime movie adaptation of Masanori Morita's long-running-yet-completely-unknown (in North America) Shonen Jump manga. At that moment, I only had access to that movie, and since the two movies were made separately from each other (and featured a different staff & cast), I figured I could review the second movie first. Well, now I have seen the original movie, a 1992 production that debuted in theaters on July 11, as part of a triple-billing with the seventh Dragon Ball Z movie, known to us as Super Android 13, & the third Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken movie, Buchiyabure!! Shinsei Roku Daishogun/Defeat the Six Great Generals!!, and it makes for a great intro the Rokudenashi world.

Inside Teiken High School there's a rough rivalry between the Boxing Club & the Cheer Squad, and when Taison Maeda accidentally gets involved in one of their fights, when his scooter goes out of control & crashes into the fighters, Mr. Ioka makes it his mission to get Taison out of school. Fortunately for Ioka, wannabe-bancho Koheiji Nakata gets Taison suspended when he manages to trick Taison into fighting off guys from a rival school. Unfortunately for Koheiji, those guys now want blood and are challenging Teiken to a fight, bringing Koheiji, the Boxing Club, the Cheer Squad, Taison's friends Katsuji & Yoneji, and even Chiaki (the girl Taison has a crush on) into trouble. It's all up to Taison to save the day...

As I mentioned in my review of the 1993 movie, the biggest appeal of Rokudenashi BLUES is in its characters, & one can rely on that review for a refresher on the major characters that reside in Teiken; no Masa-san or Ms. Asano here, though, & Nakajima makes only short appearances. Still, this movie does show off a few other elements of Taison's character, like his preference for girls with ponytails & the fact that he's an absolute sucker for sob stories (Toei's page for this movie uses Taison's "sad-story-face" as the image). The members of both the Boxing Club & Cheer Squad are all hot-heads who tend to get into a fight at the drop of a hat, and Ioka's dedication to seeing Taison get into a fight is in full-effect here as well. For only being roughly 30 minutes long, this movie features a surprisingly large line-up of characters, but knows who to give focus to.

In fact, Koheiji is essentially the main instigator of this whole movie's conflict. He accidentally bumps into the rival school students, lead by Sorimachi, and acts like he's the "head" of Teiken & that Taison works for him. When those students visit the school for proof, though, Koheiji's friends have to lie to Taison, telling him that Koheiji is going to die in three months because of a disease, in order for him to play along. Then when Sorimachi & his gang challenge Koheiji to a fight, he tries to be a tough guy by accepting the challenge, due to Taison's suspension (his fault, no less), and Chiaki gets everyone else involved because she knows that Koheiji can't handle a fight like that. Really, this movie is as much about Koheiji as it is about Taison, and you really see the many faces of the character here: Faux-tough, deceiving, smitten with Chiaki, sarcastic, and even (when the need actually arises) somewhat brave. This may be a short movie, but it sure packs a lot of content.

Honestly, that was likely the appeal of this movie when it was made 21 years ago: To satiate the existing fans by letting them see their favorite yankiis animated by Toei as well as introduce newcomers to the series by creating a movie that showcases what makes Rokudenashi work. This series has an excellent mix of comedy, fighting, drama, & zany characters, and this movies showcases this very well. It may not be as intriguing a story as that of its "sequel", which delved into Taison's past, but it still delivers on perfectly introducing newcomers so that they can go into the next movie knowing who the returning characters are; though, to be fair, 1993 works well as a standalone film, too.

This movie was directed by Takao Yoshisawa (not known for anything else other than being an "Additional Director" for Kousoku Denjin Albegas), who does a fine job keeping everything moving, & to his credit there are absolutely no slow, boring parts. Yoshiyuki Suga (who would return for 1993) did the script, which stays accurate enough to the original story this adapts to work well on its own. Interestingly enough, though, the character designs for this movie were supposedly done by Masanori Morita himself, and I can honestly believe that because this movie is really, really accurate to Morita's style. Taison's sobbing face is completely accurate, there's a moment where Taison makes a face that looks like wrestling legend Antonio Inoki (a common joke in the manga), and the first minute or so of the movie even features everyone in a SD-styled look for comedic purposes, all of which are things Morita did in the manga. The music was done by Yasunori Iwasaki (You're Under Arrest!, Getter Robo Armageddon, Orphen Revenge), and it fits nicely with the series, mixing both an early-90s style with some jazzy bits, plus a really cool rendition of the ending theme. Said ending theme, "Niji ~Rokudenashi BLUES~" by Masatoshi Ono (i.e. the singer of the OP to the presently-running Hunter X Hunter anime reboot), is an excellent rock song that makes for a very fitting theme for the series; odd how both Rokudenashi movies feature ending themes with the word "Niji/Rainbow", huh?

The voice cast is also well done, featuring a number of seasoned seiyuu. Taison is voiced by Hideyuki Hori (Ikki in Saint Seiya, Bartholomew Kuma in One Piece), who does a great job in making Taison tough, caring, but also easily agitated. Katsuji & Yoneji are voiced by Masaya Onosaka & Ryo Horikawa, respectively, who do nice jobs as Taison's best buddies; Horikawa would return for 1993 as the voice of Taison's little brother Youkou. Koheiji is voiced by Yusaku Yara, who manages to deliver on all of the character's different ways of behavior, but also might sound just a little too tough-sounding for someone who isn't actually all that tough. Yara would also return for 1993 as Taison's older brother Fujio (a much better fit), while Kazuki Yao would come in to nearly steal the show as Koheiji. Rounding out the cast are Yoshino Takamori (Chiaki), Shigeru Chiba (Sorimachi), & Miki Itou (Chiaki's friend Kazumi), who all do fine jobs as well. Overall it's a great cast, but in the end I still have to give the edge to 1993.

The first Rokudenashi BLUES movie is fine on its own, and acts as a great introduction to the series for newcomers. Unfortunately, it also doubles as a great intro for an even better movie in the form of Rokudenashi BLUES 1993, which takes everything about the first movie that worked and makes it bigger & better. That's not a slight against the first movie, but at the same it really does make me wish that this series had an actual TV anime series made from it; it's currently the longest-running Jump manga to never have an anime TV series. Hell, I've heard that the live-action TV series adaptation from 2011 wasn't even all that good, moving everything to modern day & removing a number of the things that made the manga work in the first place. Like the second movie, this feature isn't subbed in English in any way, and the chances of it ever being given an official English release are as high as a TV anime series being made (i.e. not gonna happen), but I would love to see these two movies released together on one DVD as a "Rokudenashi BLUES Double Pack"... Regardless, these movies need a nice, remastered release in general, because even in Japan these movies remain VHS-only.

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