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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues R (Returns) Part 2

Meet the new part... Same as the old part. Regardless, it's Part 2 of the "License Rescue R" list, and since we ended Part 1 with a CPM title let's start off this second half with something else from the company's old VHS days.

This is an interesting choice, mainly in that it not only acts as a license rescue but also works as the continuation of an already done license rescue. I've mentioned Yuki Hijiri's long-running manga Locke the Superman (Chojin Locke in Japan) a couple of times on this blog, but here's a quick recap: It chronicles the intergalactic adventures of the mysterious "Super ESPer" Locke & originally debuted in 1967 as a doujin that soon ran for 38 volumes in an actual official manga magazine & still runs to this day in the form of multiple single arc manga series. In 1984 Nippon Animation made a two-hour movie based on the character which saw a release in North America by Celebrity Home Video & BEST Home & Video, going under altered names like Locke the Superpower. In early 2012 this movie was rescued by Discotek, who released it on a DVD that surpassed the original Japanese release (true anamorphic widescreen & improved colors!) later that year. Thing is, though, that this movie wasn't the only piece of Locke that we had seen in North America before!

In 1989 Nippon came back to this title & made Locke the Superman: Lord Leon, a 3-episode OVA series about Locke's meeting with a ESPer space pirate who wants to take out a corrupt baron. It would take a while before getting licensed, but in 1996 CPM (under their U.S. Manga Corps label) released Lord Leon on a dub-only VHS under the name Space Warriors, which shouldn't be confused with Space Warriors: Battle for Earth Station S/1, Celebrity's "Just for Kids" VHS release of the Space Warrior Baldios movie (which itself shouldn't be confused with Battle for Moon Station Dallos, Celebrity's "Just for Kids" VHS release of the Dallos Speical movie...). Why wasn't there a subbed VHS release? Well, Amazon's listing for CPM's release lists it as running for 75 minutes, while Lord Leon was originally three 30-minute episodes; in other words, content was cut. Essentially, this OVA series getting rescued, most likely by Discotek, would result in a sub-only release while still technically counting as a license rescue, ala the Dallos OVA release Discotek did recently.

Hands up!: Who went with the Sega Master System back during the late-80s instead of getting a NES? I can't see the response but I'm sure it's extremely small, since Nintendo absolutely dominated the video game market post-crash (personally, I didn't have either at the time). Regardless, those SMS owners of the day likely remembered Akai Kodon/Red Photon Zillion, Tatsunoko's 1987 series about a trio of kids who battled against the Norsa/Noza Empire, which saw two games released on the console; the first was an Impossible Mission/Metroid clone while the second (Tri-Formation) was a platformer/shoot-em-up mix. It's interesting that the Zillion games came over at that point, because those games were mainly made because Sega was a big sponsor of the anime's run in Japan. The guns J.J., Champ, & Apple used, the Zillions, were even designed after the Sega Mark III's Phaser Gun; when Sega stopped sponsoring the anime half-way through Tatsunoko redesigned the Zillions, calling it an upgrade. Interestingly enough, though, those two Master System games might have helped some early anime fans in ID-ing some VHS tapes come the early 90s.

After doing some theatrical releases like Lensman, as mentioned in Part 1 of this list, Streamline Pictures wanted to try out some TV anime on home video, so they licensed two series for their new "Video Comics" line: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water & Zillion. The Nadia dub is slightly notorious for being pretty bad now, & unfortunately doesn't look to have been included, alongside ADV's dub, in Sentai's recent DVD & BD release of the TV series, but Zillion's release is pretty damn forgotten. Featuring talent like Barbara Goodson, Michael Reynolds, Kerrigan Mahan, & an early performance from Wendee Lee, Zillion's dub is likely an interesting product, at least as much as Streamline's release of the show. First were the Video Comics tapes, which were individual episodes that only lasted five releases & the Burning Night spinoff OVA; then, in 1993, came help from BEST Home & Video, who released a few episodes compiled into one 65-minute tape as Zillion: The Beginning & re-released Burning Night. Of what I usually hear from old-school anime fans, though, Zillion is a pretty damn good show & it would be interesting to see this anime get a second chance, & maybe try including the Streamline dub for posterity's sake. Hey, at the very least, the late, great Michael Jackson liked Zillion... He even included clips of J.J. screaming in his music video for 1995's "Scream".

[8/2018 UPDATE: While FUNimation is no stranger to license rescues, this marks the first time the company has ever prompted me to update a license rescue list on this blog! Yes, the (arguably) biggest company in the North American anime industry will be releasing all of Zillion, both the TV series & the OVA, via a BD/DVD combo boxset. Unfortunately, similar to Sentai's rescue of Nadia, the short-lived Streamline dub will not be included here, but it's cool to see Zillion be given the opportunity, nonetheless.]

Way back in the second month of this blog's existence (January 2011) I looked at the catalog of Enoki Films USA & brought up titles that I, personally, felt were interesting enough to want to see given a chance here in North America. I've also brought up how Media Blasters once had a licensing deal with Enoki in 2002, especially when it resulted in "notable" titles like Genma Wars & Babel II -Beyond Infinity-, but the initial deal from 2001 was a little more useful. The titles licensed here were Gokudo, Fortune Quest L (which ended up being the last Enoki title MB released, and only one DVD worth at that), & Kishin Douji/Demon Prince Zenki, and it's the latter that I'll be focusing on. I'll probably return to Gokudo in a later license list, though, as that is also a worthy title to bring up. Anyway, based on the manga by Kikuhide Tani (story) & Yoshihiro Kuroiwa (art) that ran during the mid-90s in Monthly Shonen Jump, which is now known as Jump Square, the 1995 Zenki TV anime was about Chiaki Enno, the descendant of the man who once sealed away the power of the demonic being Zenki so that he can be commanded by the Enno family; when not in his powerful adult form, though, Zenki takes the appearance of a young boy.

Having not seen the show myself, though I own the DVDs, this anime catches my interest in the simplest of ways: By having a sleek look to it (Kuroiwa was once an assistant to Masakazu Katsura, after all) & an awesome opening theme by Hironobu Kageyama (come on, the monk with the giant hat wears shades... I like him already!). Software Sculptors (were they a separate company or just a label of CPM?) originally released the anime on VHS back in 1995-1996 (literally, the first two tapes came out while the show was still airing in Japan, an extreme rarity at the time!), but they only got six tapes/13 episodes in before stopping. I'm guessing Enoki USA got the title afterwards, which then leads us to Media Blasters' DVD release... Which were four 13-episode, dual-audio box sets, years before everyone else thought this was viable (granted, other companies gave this a try in the early DVD days, too)! MB released the show slowly across 2001-2003, even saying that they would only fully release it if sales of the initial sets were good; I guess they were. Unfortunately, as time has gone on these sets have been getting more & more expensive on the second-hand market; for a while only "Saga 4" was high on price, but now the third set is the same & set 2 is slowly going up.

Outside of the price mark-up, though, there's another good reason for a Zenki re-release: Lost content. While I'm not positive about the ending themes, the anime actually has a second opening theme (that's even better than the original!) that was excised from MB's release; the same could be possible for the latter endings, too. Also, after the TV series ended, a 45-minute "Gaiden/Side Story" OVA subtitled Anki/Demon Ghost Kitan came out in 1997, after the manga ended; this OVA never got brought over & it's likely Enoki never picked it up (it's since been fansubbed, though). Interestingly enough, from what I can tell, the Anki Kitan OVA tells a much more serious story than the TV series & even features a completely different character designer (Basilisk & Afro Samurai's Fuminori Kizaki instead of B't X & Fushigi Yugi's Hideyuki Motohashi). Considering that a re-release would also result in "brand new content", therefore making "double-dipping" more likely, Zenki would certainly be a neat rescue to perform, even if Enoki might make things more difficult in the end.

Zenki surprisingly had a lot to talk about, so let's go with something a little more "cult favorite", huh? Really, if one was to think of an anime that brought together the minds of Hisashi Eguchi (Perfect Blue & Uninhabited Planet Survive) for character designs, Katsushiro Otomo (Akira & Steamboy) for script, Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Black Magic M-66 & the first JoJo's Bizarre Adventure OVAs) for direction, & featured early work from a young Satoshi Kon (art design & key animation) & Kenji Kamiyama (assistant art direction)... Would you imagine the final product being about an old man who is volunteered to be strapped into a high-tech bed that ends up going on a rampage? If you're answering "Oh hell no!" then I present the only proof you need that this indeed happened: 1991's Roujin Z, which literally translates to Old Man Z.

Made as a parody of how Japanese society looked at the elderly at the time, as well as poking fun as mecha in general, Roujin Z is essentially the furthest away one can get from what can be called "traditional anime"; when Guilty Gear Xrd debuted new character Bedman the first thing I though was "Hey, it's Roujin Z in fighting game form!". It's so "out there" of a concept that it's really no surprise that it became a cult hit, especially after Manga UK dubbed it & CPM gave it a minor theatrical release in both the US & UK; hell, Siskel & Ebert even named it "Video Pick of the Week" once! I've personally never seen this movie before, but it's always stayed in my "Must Watch One Day" list ever since I first heard the praise for it. Sure, there are the few DVD releases CPM gave it, but every one of those releases are going up in price nowadays. Then there's the fact that it's been given the Blu-Ray treatment in Japan & is slowly making its way around the world in that form; there is a UK release out there for those who can play Region B BDs. Who knows, maybe one day an intrepid company over here will be willing to say "Yeah, let's license that bonkers movie about the old man in a giant robot bed!" & give this movie a new DVD & BD release... But, until then, just know that so many notable names in anime once worked together on such a project; it certainly makes me smile just thinking about it. (Obligatory Buried Treasure link goes here)

On the opposite end of the "cult favorite" spectrum is another CPM title, but this one is only weird because of all of the cat people. Based on the novel by Kenji Kiyazawa (written around 1927 & first published in 1934), Night on the Galacitc Railroad is a relatively simple story in concept: Giovanni & his friend Campanella take a ride on a space-fairing train that tavels the Milky Way, and the story is all about the people & places they see. It was the biggest inspiration for Leiji Matsumoto's Galaxy Express 999 in the 70s & in 1985 was finally made into an anime movie by the now-defunct Group TAC & directed by anime veteran Gisaburo Sugii. Considered a classic in its home country, the movie is similarly well beloved & the decision to turn most of the cast into cat people was not just a production decision but also a perfectly fitting match for the surreal journey. While I haven't seen this movie myself one can easily read Justin Sevakis' Buried Treasure article to get a great idea of why it's so loved.

Supposedly, there was a short-lived theatrical run for this movie in North America, with a dub, during the late-80s, but the movie's more well known release by CPM started back in 1995 with a subbed VHS. This was followed by a DVD in 2001, complete with a new(?) dub directed by Arlen Tarlofsky & featuring Veronica Taylor & Crispin Freeman as the two leads. The DVD release seemed to go out-of-print fairly quickly, too, as CPM never got to renew their license & the movie's cult status has only kept the prices high on the second-hand market; it can easily go from $50-$100 now. A re-release would definitely be greatly appreciated, especially since Japan had since given the movie a better DVD release (true anamorphic video & a 5.1 audio mix for the original audio). Plus, if there truly is an 80s dub for this movie it would be a perfect time for people to find it & include it alongside the CPM dub. Again, much like Roujin Z, this movie is far from your "traditional anime", but that doesn't mean that it can't be given a second (third?) chance.

[4/2015 UPDATE: Discotek announced a few months back that this movie would be given a new release, both on DVD & Blu-Ray.]

It may sound kind of odd, but during the mid-to-late-90s it seemed like the biggest anime companies in North America all wanted to have a slice of a pie called "Children Affected by World War II Tragedy Stories". CPM had Grave of the Fireflies (which has since been re-released on BD by Sentai), Streamline Pictures had Barefoot Gen (which was released on DVD by Geneon & included in the last rescue list), and ADV had Rail of the Star, all three of which were based on true stories. While Grave focused on the bombing Japan suffered before the end of the war & Gen showcased the effects of the atomic bomb, Rail told the story of the Japanese who lived in Korea during the war, showcasing how the Koreans took back control & how they had to escape the country when the Soviets invaded. While it likely didn't have the visual splendor that Studio Ghibli could deliver, Rail was actually done by Madhouse (who marked their debut with Gen) & directed by Toshio Hirata, who also worked direction on both Gen movies.

Originally debuting in Japanese theaters in 1993, ADV released Rail of the Star on VHS, both subbed & dubbed, in 1998. In 2000 ADV rep David Williams (who now works for Sentai) asked fans online what VHS titles they wanted to see released on DVD, and while some of the titles listed did make the jump to DVD, this movie didn't & essentially flowed into the aether, becoming mostly forgotten. That fact is mostly supported by the movie's cost on the second-hand market, where the subbed VHS can be had for ~$10-$15 & the dubbed VHS for slightly less (a bit more if you want a new copy, though). It's no surprise, really, as this movie was more than likely the bronze medal to Grave's critical acclaim & Gen's no-holds-barred depiction of destruction of the "A-Bomb". Still, that may not necessarily mean that Rail of the Star was a bad movie, from what I've seen the general reception was positive, and it's interesting story focus (Japan-occupied Korea during WWII) might just be enough to make it worth giving a dual-audio DVD release. Actually, even in Japan the movie has remained VHS-only, so a DVD release in general could be worth it.
We've hit the end of the return of the license rescue list. For this fifth list I wanted to bring some attention to some of the more "cult-ish" & forgotten releases of the past, and I think I delivered on that focus fairly well. We've had the possible "absolute worst" with Makyu Senjo, a needed "double miracle" with Champion Joe, a possible chance of public domain with Lensman, an early attempt at offering anime on video with Zillion, & a some of CPM's cult classics with VOTOMS, Roujin Z, & Night on the Galactic Railroad, among other titles. Just remember this: The further into the future we go, the more of the past there will be that might need rescuing. It may sound like a never-ending cycle, but it just shows that the past is sometimes just as important as the present

1 comment:

  1. Discotek licensed an anime with cats in it. Could be Night on the Galacitc Railroad, but they haven't reveal what it is yet.