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Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2013!! Part 1

It's Boxing Day once again, so I'm going to look back at what this past year has brought to this blog & list off the "twelve" posts that I am proudest of. Admittedly, the longer I've been doing this blog the more I see that talking about obscure & forgotten anime isn't quite as much of an unheard thing as I first thought. Ani-Gamers has The Trap Door by Phillip O'Connor, Otaku USA has Paul Chapman's Vault of Error, there are other people like Prede who talk about forgotten anime, and this year Justin Sevakis (one of the major influences for this very blog) returned to obscurity digging with The Pile of Shame. Still, I think I offer enough of a variety from the others by digging into places that few would really think about going towards. Anyway, out of everything I wrote about, which were my favorite posts from this year?

Spelunker is a Teacher (August 28)
Oddly enough, this title came to my attention indirectly from Justin Sevakis himself. In an episode of ANNCast with Mike Toole & Daryl Surat, right when he had started Pile of Shame, Justin brought this up as something he watched & enjoyed. He decided not to write about it, because of how recent it was, but when I decided to look at a couple of video game adaptations based on Western titles, this came up as a perfect choice for me to review. The end result was an absolutely hilarious Flash OVA that was long enough to play around with its (admittedly) one-note joke, yet short enough to not become tired & boring. While the joke itself requires some knowledge of the original Spelunker game, the OVA still manages to work on its own as piece of absurdist humor, and I love it. I highly doubt that we'll ever get this licensed for release in North America, though, since short one-shots like these aren't really appealing anymore. I could see the 4-koma manga it was based on maybe being brought over, but outside of a multimedia manga/DVD combo release (Enterbrain owns the rights to both productions, so it could be done) I just don't see the anime ever coming over. Thems the breaks, I guess.

Fantastic Children (April 30)
It's titles like this that make me proud to be writing reviews on this blog. It's titles like this that make me excited to look into the obscurity well, pulling out whatever catches my eye. It's titles like this that make me realize that anime fandom at large does miss out on a lot of quality work, simply because they're not the big names or recently made. While this anime was licensed & released by Bandai Entertainment in the mid-00s, it came & went with little to no fanfare, outside of some extremely positive reviews that no one apparently read, and even when Bandai released a complete collection it went by with no real promotion. The fact that dub fans were left with an absolutely sub-par English version, done by Odex, also meant that fewer people would be willing to really delve into this show. Unfortunately for them, they missed out on one of the most beautiful, engrossing, & amazing shows that they never heard of.

Takashi Nakamura is a name that few anime fans know of by heart, but they certainly know some of his work. The classic movie Akira's characters designs, which are still considered iconic, were adapted by him, as well as the flowing animation direction. He's done key animation for other classics, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Be Forever Yamato, & even was the man behind the "Nightmare" portion of Robot CarnivalFantastic Children was Nakamura's personal creation, and it was obvious that he had planned this creation out for a long time before finally making it. Everything about it is just impeccably done. The characters are memorable & developed, the story doesn't lag at any time, the themes are strong & heartfelt, and it truly is one of the best anime I have ever seen. Unfortunately, anime rarely sells based on quality & nothing more, and for Fantastic Children this was truer than ever. Though the story doesn't lag at any point, it is a slower-paced story, and the character designs were so retro-styled that it looked like an anime from the 60s, two things that made sure that most anime fans were going to simply write it off as not worth watching. Luckily, though the show is out-of-print, it is still pretty cheap to buy, both as singles as well as the complete collection. The chances of this show ever getting license rescued are next to none, so I repeat: Buy this show & watch it before it becomes expensive as hell!!!

Megazone 23's Original Dubs [Robotech the Movie & Part II International] (April 15 & 17)
This is a case where I have to include two separate reviews together, simply because they are related. In the lead up to Review #100, I decided to focus on a theme, "Obscure Edited English Dubs", because that's what the 100th review on this blog would be. In the end, Robotech the Movie (a.k.a. The Untold Story) absolutely fulfilled the goal of what is likely going to be the theme of every 50th review, the absolute worst of the worst, by being one of the absolute worst edits I have ever seen done to an anime. Carl Macek's goal of bringing Megazone 23 to American theaters, and tying it into his Robotech universe, was crushed by the money-grubbing hands of Cannon Films & turned into a Frankenstein's Monster of a film, unsure of what exactly it was; it never saw a wide theatrical release, & was only released on VHS internationally. It was barely Megazone & it was probably barely Robotech... Luckily, Harmony Gold would find retribution about one year later.

In 1987, Victor Entertainment hired HG to dub over Megazone 23 Part II as a way to help teach Japanese fans English, & Carl Macek decided to re-use most of the cast from "that other movie" to make this next dub work. While some of the names were changed, this "International" dub of Part II actually still holds up today as a quality English dub, while still having some 80s cheese to it, and it's kind of shameful that it has only ever seen release in Japan. Macek wound up making a proper dub for Part I via Streamline Pictures, one of its last dubs, and that did see a DVD release with help from Image Entertainment. Unfortunately, when ADV got Megazone they re-dubbed the entire OVA series, but never bothered to include the HG dubs (nor the Manga UK dub for Part III, though that's apparently a horrible dub). I sincerely hope that, one day, a company will give Megazone 23 a true "complete" release, with every dub included for posterity's sake... Except for Robotech the Movie. That crap can rot in Harmony Gold's vault for all time; hey, Macek seemed to agree.

Kick-Heart (July 15)
Full Disclosure: I helped "pay for" Kick-Heart by contributing money for via Kickstarter... It's the legal thing to do.

It would be odd for me to not include this review as one of my favorites, especially since I "put my money where my mouth was", and pitched in money ($115, to be exact) to make sure this short would get made. Anyway, anime being supported via Kickstarter is now a somewhat normal thing, with Santa Company being the most recent success story, but when Masaaki Yuasa revealed his goal of using Kickstarter to fund an anime short back on October 1, 2012, it was completely unheard of & no one was sure if it could be done. Luckily, it was a success & even earned enough extra money to extend the short by a couple of minutes, & even include two English dubs (one professional dub & one "backer" dub). Since then, the short was finished up, dubbed, shown at various film festivals, received a short LA theatrical screening to be eligible for an Academy Award, and even had a "surprise" appearance on [adult swim] right after the station's premiere of one of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. To think that so much has happened to this short partially because of my small contribution is pretty damn cool.

As for the short itself, there's really only one way to describe it: It's 100% Yuasa. That means that it's a visual tour de force, where anything can (& will) happen. I even showed it to my friends before we watched a movie, like how animated features used to be done, and they found it pretty cool, too. It's zany, wacky, crazy, insane, & (most of all) weird... But I don't think anyone was expecting anything less from Masaaki Yuasa. While it doesn't exactly mean that Masaaki Yuasa will ever be a "profit-successful" creator (hell, other anime Kickstarters have become more successful since then), Kick-Heart does show that, when push comes to shove, anime fans will come together in some way to make something awesome happen. Kick-Heart may not be the longest anime production to come from Kickstarter, and it certainly won't be the most successful, but it was the first; without its success we probably wouldn't see the successes of Time of Eve, Little Witch Academia Episode 2's extensions, or Santa Company. At the very least, it deserves respect for paving the way forward.

Matchless Raijin-Oh "Season 1" (November 7)
When I started up this blog, I had a list of titles I wanted to review, and while I still haven't gotten through that list just yet (especially since that list got lost), Raijin-Oh was one where I wondered if I could ever get to it. Anime Midstream's release is the sheer epitome of "slow & steady", by coming out at roughly one DVD every year, which means that when I started this blog back in December 2010, the show only had two DVDs out; yeah, even from only 10 episodes I knew that I wanted to review this show. Well, after hearing word last year about Volume 5 being not only the end of "Season 1" but the end of the English dub they were producing for it, I knew that I had a good opportunity to cover at least some portion of the show. While it probably won't go down as one of the absolute classics of mech anime, Raijin-Oh has always been nothing but fun to watch. There's a sheer sense of enjoyment that comes from watching each episode, and the fact that there are episodes dedicated to showcasing some development for each & every member of the Earth Defense Class just makes it all the more impressive; you really get to identify with each & every child in the class. Among all of that is a great sense of imagination by Takahiro Kishida, who creates such memorable Jaku Beasts that the kids go up against. Not only that, but the show's general sense of humor, which includes making fun of the mecha genre itself, keeps each episode from feeling stale due to the "monster of the week" formula it utilizes.

Will Anime Midstream speed up on releasing Raijin-Oh now that it's going to be sub-only? Will Anime Midstream even be able to release the entire show? I can't answer that myself, but I can only guess that they will try their hardest... And, hopefully, this blog will still be active enough that I can review "Season 2" when it comes out in full. Hey, I have to show off the spine-created image up above in full, right?

Ryuji Takane: Punching Out Nazis Since 1977

Ring ni Kakero 1 [Manga] (May 11)
Let's face it: I'm running out of Masami Kurumada titles to review. In my first year I reviewed just about everything I could, and in Year 2 I got what I had missed the first time around; the only anime I haven't done are the Saint Seiya productions, minus the movies. With Anime Boston coming up, and my panels being approved at the last minute, I needed to focus on those & not review anime... So why not do manga? So I decided to start off with what I felt was the only bit of Ring ni Kakero that I had left to review: The original manga (or, at least, the 2001 re-print). What came about was probably the longest review I have ever done, one where I absolutely poured out my heart & soul and wrote about everything that I possibly could about Masami Kuruamda's (& Weekly Shonen Jump's) original "mega hit". I brought up Kurumada's history leading into the debut of the manga, his influences, how successful the manga was (it [supposedly] single-handedly payed for Shueisha's HQ renovation!), the respect Shueisha showed back (the first ever full-color final chapter, a feat that only Dragon Ball & Slam Dunk have since repeated!), and how influential it has been to the manga industry. Like I said at the end of the review, I truly think I said everything I could about this series with this review.

I do feel that maybe some people think I overestimate Ring ni Kakero's importance in Japan, but generally I have seen nothing but proof of its importance. The references to the series that have been made in more internationally-successful properties (G Gundam, Bastard!!, GaoGaiGarThe King of Fighters, Street Fighter, etc.), the almost-strict adherence to tropes/traditions/ideals that RnK showed the "modern-day" execution of, the influence it had over real-life athletes in Japan (Kazushi Sakuraba named one of his moves the Hurricane Bolt; when asked on Twitter what his favorite anime is, Yuji Nagata answered "RinKake"), and the fact that its multiple pachinko & pachislot machines have been so successful that Toei went back to the anime adapation of RnK after a four-year hiatus... And then went on to do animation for a pachislot machine based on the next story arc that the anime would have to adapt! Hell, just last month Shueisha added Ring ni Kakero 1 to their "JC Digital" line of digital manga for sale (they did change the cover to Volume 10, though), and in their description of Volume 1,Shueisha named the manga this: 熱血格闘マンガのバイブル. That says "Nekketsu Kakuto Manga no Bible", or "The Hot-Blooded Fighting Manga Bible".

That's right, Shueisha themselves called Ring ni Kakero is the "Bible" that every single "fighting manga" has since followed. I'm not trying to rub this into people's faces, but it has sometimes just outright pissed me off that the anime adaptation, which has generally improved which each new season, has just kept getting ignored by the anime fandom at large. They simply write it off because "Ippo's better", or because it's a shonen action series, or because it's a sports anime, or because it's not Saint Seiya, and when each new season debuted it either was on the verge of having its "raws" not be ripped anymore due to a lack of seeders (Nichibei Kessen-hen), didn't get raws ripped at all (Shadow), or had lower-quality raws that required going above & beyond to even locate (Sekai Taikai-hen). On the fansub scene, it took nearly two years for Season 1 to get fully subbed; in fact, Season 2 got fully subbed before the last episode of Season 1 got subbed! Season 3 didn't get fansubbed until right before Season 4 debuted, and even then only got half way; now no one seems to want to sub the rest.

Because of this lack of attention from the subbers & anime fans, it seems like the people in the "legal sector" haven't even heard of the show, and even CrunchyRoll doesn't seem too interested in picking it up for their catalog (though, admittedly, they only started working with Toei about a year or so ago). When Daisuki did their polling of what shows they should offer for streaming, I was happy to see Ring ni Kakero on one of the polls, but considering how unknown it is among anime fans, & I know this blog doesn't get to too many people, I highly doubt it will even be offered over there due to a lack of interest. If it seems like I talk about this anime too much & over-inflate it's importance, it's only because of how unknown it is compared to how enjoyable of a title it is. Seasons 3 & 4 are still in the "Top 10 Most Underrated" list on ANN's anime encyclopedia, after all; others have come & gone, but those two have been on that list for nearly two years!). Like I always say, I would love to proven wrong, though.
Anyway, this is getting too depressing and this is supposed to be a post of celebration. Regardless, this is the end of Part 1 of my favorite posts of this year. Check back in a couple of days for Part 2, where I look back at an amazing movie, one of the worst anime of all time, and some more personal recommendation!

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