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Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Imagawa Chronicles Final Part: Silent Noise

Previously on The Imagawa Chronicles:
"In the end, Shin Mazinger was both Imagawa's greatest success & Imagawa's greatest failure. Yes, Shin Mazinger is highly acclaimed by those who have seen it, but the fact that so few have in fact seen it is proof positive of how 'forgotten' this decade was for Imagawa."

The 00s ended with Imagawa becoming like that of Icarus, reaching for the sun but only getting burned & falling back to the ground. There would be no "Great-hen" for Shin Mazinger and he was seemingly no longer needed or wanted as a director. Therefore, Yasuhiro Imagawa decided to make the beginning of this new decade, the 10s, about something else...


I've mentioned it before, but one consistency of Imagawa's career has been the fact that a number of his works have become more beloved & respected as time has gone on. By the time 2010 came around just about every single anime he had ever worked on had seen release on DVD or even Blu-Ray; Hareluya II BØY, outside of the first episode, still remains VHS & LD-exclusive to this day. Along with that came things like video games, especially the Super Robot Wars Series, which kept some of his directorial work in the minds of anime fans & reminded them of why they enjoyed his work in the first place, or even introduce them to something they had not seen back in the day. For one show in particular this renewed appreciation & celebration allowed Imagawa to do something he had not done before: Retell a story without limitations like episode length or final episode count.


Kadokawa Shoten's Gundam Ace magazine is literally nothing but a Gundam manga magazine; every title running in it involves a Gundam series in some way. In September 2010 the magazine saw the debut of Choukyuu!/Ultra Class! Mobile Fighter G Gundam, a complete retelling of the original 1994-1995 anime series. Now while there was a G Gundam manga from Koichi Tokita (the go-to Gundam manga artist) that ran alongside the anime's original TV airing, it only lasted three volumes & obviously told a highly-truncated version of the story. In comparison, Choukyuu! was no simple retelling, but instead an honest-to-god redo of the entire story, written by the "chief director" himself! Essentially acting as a "director's cut" version of G Gundam, Imagawa was finally able to do just about whatever he wanted to do with Domon Kasshu's search for his brother Kouji & the battles he fought during the 13th Gundam Fight. Since Imagawa was no artist by trade he needed someone to do the artwork, and with this Choukyuu! became the greatest manga it could ever possibly be: Imagawa chose original character designer Kazuhiko Shimamoto & his crew at Honou Productions. The combination of Imagawa & Shimamoto essentially made Choukyuu! the G Gundam equivalent to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, the manga retelling of the original show by original character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko; one couldn't get any more "definitive version" than this. Sure, the overall story was the same, but housed in between the known portions was brand-new story that helped add to the world & its characters. But if you want good proof that this manga still maintained the spirit of the original anime, look no further than the last few pages of the very first chapter...


No, you are not seeing things. The first chapter literally ends with a manga recreation of the first opening's animation sequence, with the lyrics to "Flying in the Sky" written in bold styling; the video is fan-made, but the images are actually from the manga. Unfortunately, as I also have said in previous parts, Imagawa is a master of cult classics. As such, this astonishing manga version of G Gundam has remained not only unlicensed in North America but also untranslated by the fans. Personally, I hope one that one day this can change.


Though Imagawa no doubt enjoys being able to return to his two most-iconic creations, he still is liable to go against the grain & do something completely unlike himself, and the 10s showcased that quickly in 2011 when he teamed with artist Yasuyuki Nekoi (Soukoku no Garou - Hokuto no Ken Rei Gaiden) to make Kousoku Otome no Seikatai/The Restrained Maiden Choir, a.k.a. Bondage Choir. Telling the story of Hina Kujou, who gains the power to destroy evil spirits through song by way of a choker given to her by two mysterious girls, Bondage Choir definitely gives off a divisive reaction from the cover art (& English title) alone. There's no doubt that Nekoi is a talented artist, but it definitely just looks like even more of a departure for Imagawa than Seven of Seven, or even Virgin Fleet, was. To be fair, though, this manga also remains unlicensed & untranslated, so I won't even try to give any real judgment towards it & come off biased. Also, at only three volumes long it could very well be story focused (the concept has potential, at least) & not just the fanservice focused image the covers indicate. Leave it to Imagawa to do something different, right?


2011 also marked the end of Choukyuu! Mobile Fighter G Gundam (lasting 7 volumes) & Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Burned (9 volumes), but that didn't mean the end of their stories. Rather, the G Gundam reboot simply entered "Stage 2" with Shinjuku・Toho Fuhai!/Shinjuku・Undefeated of the East!, which dealt with the story's shift from globe-trotting to it's developments while Domon stayed around the city of Shinjuku. Naturally, the focus was also on Domon's teacher & the previous winner of the Gundam Fight, Master Asia, a.k.a. Toho Fuhai, or the Undefeated of the East, who remains a fan favorite character to this day. As for Giant Robo, Imagawa got his wish: He finally could tell a new part of the story. Since The Day the Earth Burned was an alternate version of Part 6, for the next manga he would finally advance onto the seventh & final part of the story with Giant Robo: The Siege of Babel. Detailing the final battle between the IPO & the BF Group, the manga obviously added in even more Yokoyama characters, like the ninja Akakage, as well as the eponymous Tower of Babel itself from Babel II. Presently, the manga is still running & at five published volumes, but since The Day the Earth Burned had never gotten a complete translation this sequel remains unavailable to English-speaking audiences... Odd how G Gundam & Giant Robo, the latter especially, are so loved by the people who praise them, yet these new manga versions remain relatively unheard of, right?


It would take until 2013 for Imagawa to return to anime, though in his more used role as series composer & scriptwriter. Interestingly enough, for his return to anime Imagawa became a part of something that could be defined as a mix of his two titles from 2006: Souten no Ken & Bartender. Adapted from the Comic Bunch/Comic Zenon spin-off of Tetsuo Hara & Mio Aso's Shonen Jump manga Hana no Keiji, Gifu Dodo!!/Grand Righteousness!! Kanetsugu & Keiji told the story of how the Sengoku-era figures Keiji Maeda & Kanetsugu Naoe first met and how the two became best friends, all via flashback by way of the two reminiscing years later. Similar to Souten no Ken it has that Tetsuo Hara look to it, no doubt reinforced by that fact that Hara himself acted as "chief director" (Hetalia's Bob Shirohata was the traditional director), and similar to Bartender the anime showcased a slow, soothing style to it from the very first episode. Unlike almost any other Sengoku-themed anime, Gifu Dodo!! wasn't about swordfighting & action, though they obviously were there, but rather was all about the esoteric mood & devil-may-care attitude of its two leads. In fact, that's the perfect word to describe the anime in general: Esoteric, and the anime may very well be the strongest use of that word in Imagawa's entire catalog. Luckily for English-speaking fans, though, this is an age of simulcasting, with companies trying to get as many new anime available in English each & every season as humanly possible. While a show like this would remain ignored & unlicensed in the previous decade, in this new era CrunchyRoll picked up Gifu Dodo!! for a simulcast & is still streaming online now. As proof of how esoteric this show is, though, when ordered by popularity Gifu Dodo!! is presently #393, or 98 rows down out of a total of 109 rows/436 titles (at least it's not 2010's Cobra the Animation, which is #431)... Yeah, that's pretty damn unknown.


Last year also marked the end of "Stage 2" of the new G Gundam manga (lasting 8 volumes), which then lead into the debut of "Stage 3", Bakunetsu・Neo Honkon!/Hot Explosion・Neo Hong Kong!, which would detail the later part of the story that takes place in Neo Hong Kong, the only "thriving" city on the ravaged Future Century/FC Earth. This is the G Gundam manga that is presently running in Gundam Ace magazine & could very well be the final "Stage" of this manga retelling, but only time will tell. That finally brings us to this year, 2014, which will mark the return of Yasuhiro Imagawa as an anime director. For the first time in five years, Imagawa, who will also do scriptwriting, will return to what he is generally celebrated as with an anime adaptation of Wasimo, a picture book by screenwriter Kankuro Kudo (The Legend of Kamui, Zebraman) & illustrator Hajime Anzai. The show will detail the life of little Hiyori & the grandmother-type robot named Wasimo that is meant to act as a replacement for Hiyori's deceased grandmother. Now, while Imagawa is once again directing, it must be pointed out that Wasimo will only last for ten episodes from March 10-21, & each episode will only last ten minutes. If I have to take a wild guess, I'm going to say that Shin Mazinger was such a bomb that Studio DEEN (who Imagawa has worked with many times before) is likely the only studio to really give Imagawa another chance at the moment, and even then it's nowhere near a traditional anime production. Still, it should be interesting to see how Imagawa handles a short production like Wasimo, so I'll be keeping my eyes on this show when it debuts next month. If you're also a fan of Imagawa I would say that you do the same, as this could act as a first step to redemption for the man.
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And we've finally made it to the end of The Imagawa Chronicles. If there's anything to take from all of this it's this: Yasuhiro Imagawa is a man of great imagination, ambition, & love for the industry he works for, even when the fandom & industry itself doesn't always welcome what he brings to the table. In everything he has ever directed he brought with him a giant amount of enthusiasm & love, and in everything he did composition & writing for he showcased a knack for going against the grain & showing that anime can truly be anything it wants to be. Essentially, Yasuhiro Imagawa was able to make what Yasuhiro Imagawa wanted to make, and that's something that not many people can do. Sure, Wasimo might not be something that he "wants" to make, but I'm sure that Imagawa will still deliver the absolute best he can, because he won't settle for anything less.

"Don't Dream It, Be It"... I really like the sound of that.

6 comments:

  1. Front Page!

    Thanks for this great article! (though it would have been funny if part 4 was delayed like Ep.7 of GRobo - but I'm grateful that it wasn't).

    If you're curious - Stumbled across this via google search for GR blu-ray being out of print, weird! Not the answer I was looking for, but great find none the less.

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  2. Oh, the quote at the end is great, but it might need the 'classic' "To be Continued" title card just after it...I mean, Imagawa's career will continue, so we'll need a Part 5 in the future? ;P Still, great job. Thanks for taking the time.

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  3. Thanks so much for a great article. I just read all four parts with interest and it's left me with a big shopping list!

    I'm a huge Giant Robo fan from the mid-90s and spent much of the past two decades trying out different Mitsuteru Yokoyama works as I chase the same thrill. While some of them are okay, I'm now beginning to think that it's Imagawa I should have been more inspired by. DVDs for Getter Robo, Mazinger Z and G Gundam are all on their way to me, and I'm going to check out Gifu Dodo on Crunchyroll. If even one of these proves to be as entertaining as Giant Robo then I'll be ecstatic.

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    1. The thing Mitsuteru Yokoyama is that the stuff he's most well known & regarded for, like Mars, Babel II, Sally the Witch, are such innovators for their time that just about everything they did are now looked at as traditional. In turn, it makes seeing stuff based on his works now come off as a little "been there, done that", which is only compounded by the actual quality of the recent anime themselves.

      Babel II's TV anime from the 00s was nothing more than average, at best, while Shin Seiki Den Mars was enjoyable but overall just there. As for Giant Robo, the OVA was definitely more about Imagawa celebrating Yokoyama's legacy in his own way than outright imitating Yokoyama's style.

      Glad to read that you want to watch more of Imagawa's works, too. Just remember that Getter Robo Armageddon only has Imagawa's touch for the first three episodes, though the rest is also great, & Gifu Dodo was only written by him.

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  4. An informative and entertaining read all the way through. Thankfully you can finally get Shin Mazinger in the west thanks to Discotek. I still can't believe how overlooked it was, but I guess it's a different time now.

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    1. Yasuhiro Imagawa has been, & will always be, an underrated anime director, no matter what region of the world. He's someone who tends to make the kind of show he wants to make, which always means that he'll never attain a massive audience. The closest he had was with Mister Ajikko, but that was his first directorial work so he was still relatively traditional at that point.

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