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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Money Wars -Nerawareta Waterfront Keikaku-: New Hong Kong is About to E・X・P・L・O・D・E... With Money!

Let's face facts here: Beat Shot!! & Circuit no Ohkami II: Modena no Ken were projects Gainax did simply because they needed work. After Wings of Honneamise & Gunbuster, the studio needed work to do. In fact, before Gunbuster, they did the 1988 Appleseed OVA, based on the Masamune Shirow manga, for likely the same reason; this, too, isn't acknowledged by Gainax's "WORKS" page, but this OVA at least got licensed. Then, on April 13, 1990, something big happened for Gainax: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water debuted on Japanese television. Needless to say, it became a giant hit for the studio, it's still the longest work they have ever done, & it gave them more mainstream attention. So, hoping to go off of that attention, Gainax & Pony Canyon teamed up to create a two-episode anime based on Kazuhiko Shimamoto's popular manga, Honou no Tenkousei/Blazing Transfer Student... As the "World's First Original Laser Animation!!", with Gainax getting special attention on the packaging. That's right, an anime released exclusively on laserdisc, with no VHS release in sight, & on May 21, 1991, just a little over two months after Nadia ended, the OLA reached Japanese shelves. Unfortunately, laserdisc was never going to be a mainstream way to watch anime, & the release bombed; at least, the LD-exclusive anime getting a VHS release on January 1, 1992 seems to indicate that. Still, Gainax needed to stay in work, so on September 21, 1991, the studio released one more 45-minute OVA based on an existing property, only for the studio to ignore its existence afterwards.

Though why one would ignore an anime based around the stock market is beyond me!

There isn't much info to find about Souichiro Miyakawa, because in terms of manga he didn't do much. He debuted in 1980 & stopped doing manga in 1989, with his biggest (and, from what I can tell, only multi-volume) work being Money Wars, a manga based on battles in the stock market, which ran in Business Jump magazine from 1985-1989, lasting nine volumes. This is not to be confused with the 2000 Lupin the 3rd TV special 1$ Money Wars, known as Missed by a Dollar outside Japan, or the Money Wars Chapter spin-off of Salaryman Kintaro. What happened to Miyakawa afterwards? Well, interestingly enough, he founded Family Soft, a video game company that dealt in games based on various anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam, Area 88, Crusher Joe, Aura Battler Dunbine, & Armored Trooper VOTOMS, in 1987, but their most well known work was the Asuka 120% series of 2D fighting games before they died out in 1999. Anyway, when Gainax made this OVA, subtitled Nerawareta Waterfront Keikaku/The Targeted Waterfront Project, the manga had already ended two years prior, so instead of adapting any part of the manga it instead told an original story. As the last of Gainax's ignored works, does it follow off of the excellent momentum of quality that Blazing Transfer Student had, or does it follow the former two "forgotten" OVAs & decide to be lackluster?

Tsuyoshi Aiba is a stockbroker who buys & sells stocks for his clients alongside his fellow workers Hitomi Yamazaki (who works the front counter) & Haruhiko Emoto. One morning, he awakes to news of a big shake-up with the stocks of a company that's in charge of a new waterfront area that's being made in Tokyo. After receiving a phone call from his friend Kurihara, about how he was fooled into selling other people's stocks to Chinese mafia member Lin Haifeng, followed by Kurihara's immediate suicide, Aiba vows to avenge his friend's death. He hopes to do this by stopping Lin's plan to take control of the waterfront by becoming majority stock holder, & turn it into a gateway for the Chinese mafia, essentially turning Tokyo into "New Hong Kong".

Money Wars' greatest asset is in taking what sounds like a silly concept (Really? An anime about the stock market?) and actually making it work. Yeah, there is a scene which involves nothing more than Aiba & Ba Kou (Lin's right-hand man) playing the stock market against each other, by buying more stock of the company that's in charge of the waterfront project, but aside from that the story actually takes its time & focuses on the characters themselves. Aiba is actually very similar to a shonen lead in some ways, such as his dedication to his friends, his love for what he does, & his never give up attitude. Yamazaki doesn't do much here, but she gives off a good "reliable friend" vibe; I wouldn't be surprised if she played a love interest in the manga. Emoto, likewise, is only seen in the first half, but his snarky attitude makes him easy to identify. Gen Daimon, vice-director of the brokerage firm Aiba works for, actually differs slightly from the usual boss in titles like these & actually trusts Aiba's instincts when it comes to what Lin is planning. He still calls out Aiba for his sudden impulses, though, like going off to Hong Kong to investigate Lin. Lin himself is absolutely self-assured without coming off as cocky; he knows what he's doing but doesn't brag about it. Ba Kou, on the other hand, almost feels out-of-place in this title, because he's very assertive, to the point where he has no problem kicking Aiba's butt on sight; Aiba, naturally, isn't a fighter. Still, these characters definitely keep the title interesting.

The story, admittedly, is one that's hard to fully explain, especially since this OVA has never been subbed into English; hell, a "raw" of it only got online earlier this year. The first 15 or so minutes is a bit tricky to really get into without knowing complete Japanese, but once it gets to Kurihara's suicide it becomes easier to follow. Still, while it becomes easy to follow visually, & even language-wise if you understand a little Japanese, there's a ton that can easily get by you due to the subject material, i.e. the stock market & business. It's obvious that a lot of business lingo & stock market jargon is tossed around in Japanese, & I'm sure that I missed some of the finer details of how Lin's plan & Aiba's counterattack exactly work (why does Aiba head to New York before the climax again?), but the story doesn't become completely unapproachable, which works in its favor.

Another reason why this OVA is still approachable is because it does take some other action-styled elements & implements them into a decidedly non-action fashion. For example, when Aiba gets to Hong Kong, he trails Lin only to get surprised by Ba Kou, who attacks Aiba & chases him throughout a warehouse destrict; Aiba has to hide to escape his pursuer. Another is Lin's scheme itself, which I honestly can't tell if it would work in real life or not... But it sure as hell works in a piece of fiction like this. The best example, though, would be the scene of Aiba vs. Ba Kou, which is filled with images of their heads continually going against each other, with each appearance resulting in more money being spent to buy stocks. It's kind of silly, admittedly, but it really shows the energy that this OVA has to it, which I can't help but love. Who would have thought the stock market could feel so invigorating & "action-packed"? Only Gainax, I guess...

Still, after the absolutely quality animation Gainax put into Blazing Transfer Student, which I re-watched before seeing Money Wars to get a proper sense of progression, it's sad to see its successive OVA regress somewhat. Granted, this OVA beats out Beat Shot!! & Circuit no Ohkami II by a fair margin, but there are still obvious signs that the two productions were not exactly given the same budgets. There are a fair amount of still shots used, & even some establishing shots are literally nothing more than a static photo of a real-life location that has a filter-effect put over it. Also, upon a second look while getting screenshots, I noticed an especially appalling budget shortcut used: When Aiba talks to Kimura, his Hong Kong connection, Kimura's mouth doesn't actually animate... Instead, a series of drawings of an open mouth (shoddy drawings, at that) are simply super-imposed over Kimura's closed mouth! How I didn't notice this the first time escapes me, because it's absolutely awkward to see in motion. If anything, I'm going to give Gainax the benefit of the doubt, & hope that it was simply the studio noticing that they forgot to animate Kimura's mouth at the absolute last second, right before the OVA got put to tape, so they had to improvise; at least it's better than simply ignoring it, & hoping no one would notice. Overall, though, this OVA still looks fairly good, showcasing the added money Gainax likely received from their success with Nadia.

Whereas the first two ignored Gainax OVAs had a main staff that wasn't notable in any way, Money Wars does benefit from a slightly more notable staff, though it still doesn't have any of Gainax's recognizable names. It was directed by Yusaku Saotome (one of the directors of the Outlanders OVA), who keeps everything moving at a good pace & keeps the energy level good. The script by Junichi Miyashita, of Detective ConanSuper Sentai, & Resident Evil fame, worked well for what I could understand, though I certainly can't compare it to Miyakawa's original manga story. The character designs & animation direction by Chuji Nakayama (Space Adventure Cobra the Movie) are a nice simple look that really evokes the visual style that the late-80s/early-90s had. Again, not exactly easily-known names in the industry, but there was definitely more effort put forth in this OVA than in those first two.

The cast, too, pulls off some nice performances. Aiba is voiced by Daiki Nakamura (Haohmaru in the Samurai Shodown series, Dayakka in Gurren Lagann), and he does a nice job putting in lots of passion & energy into the lead character. Yuko Kobayashi (Washu in the Tenchi franchise) does a good job with Yamazaki, though she doesn't appear too often; the same is said with Akira Murayama's (Perm in Urusei Yatsura) snarky Emoto. Hideyuki Umezu's Ba Kou is perfectly crazy at times but also very cunning & fast, while Shuichi Ikeda absolutely "Char's it Up" as Lin Haifeng, making the character all the more fun to watch. The rest is rounded out by the likes of Osamu Kobayashi & Kiyoshi Kawakubo.

Money Wars -Nerawareta Waterfront Keikaku- could have easily gone wrong & become a prime example of why Gainax has come to ignore it, but it manages to become a pretty enjoyable little OVA that, while not one of Gainax's finest, is still worth a watch. Unfortuantely, it isn't subbed in English at all, because it can be a slightly tough watch for those who don't have much knowledge of Japanese. This is a perfect example of why I love to watch anime, though, because it can truly take any subject, & make it interesting and fun to watch, even when it's something as potentially boring as the stock market. Anyway, with these reviews out of the way, can we come to any sort of potential idea as to why Gainax ignores these 1989-1991 OVAs? In fact, just barely less than a week after Money Wars came out in Japan, Gainax released the first episode of Otaku no Video, a mockumentary of otaku culture at the time that has since become a classic. What makes these four OVAs so different from Gainax's other works of the time to the point where the studio seems to act like they don't exist?

Well, I think I have an answer. Gainax is a studio that seems to really pride themselves on their original works; every one of their biggest & most popular works has been a creation of their own. Also, post-Evangelion, Gainax works tended to have really nice animation, even if it was an adaptation & not an original creation, such as with He is My Master, Corpse Princess, & Medaka Box. Beat Shot!!, Circuit no Ohkami II, & Money Wars, though, were made before Gainax became that juggernaut of animation; they were made because they had to make them, not because they wanted to make them. If anything, these three OVAs are simply a reminder that Gainax was once nothing more than a "for-hire" studio... And maybe Gainax doesn't want to remember those days, back when they had to take commissions just so that they could stay in business. As for Blazing Transfer Student, I still stand by my assertion that Gainax only ignores this title because of the whole OLA fiasco, simply because they put way too much effort & attention into something that they would only ignore years later. But, hey, this is simply my theory. We can't get any real answer unless Gainax's heads get asked this, and the chances of them giving a real answer are likely very low.

[2018 ADDENDUM: Since this review, Blazing Transfer Student was given its first re-release since the 1992 VHS, this time on Blu-Ray, complete with a HD remaster from the original film; it was just too good to keep locked away. As for the other three "forgotten" OVAs I reviewed during this month, however, they still remain ignored to this day. To be fair, though, their obscure infamy isn't without reason...]

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