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Friday, December 26, 2014

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2014!! Part 1

It's Boxing Day once again, so it's time for look back at everything I wrote about in the past year & compile the best of the best... Or at least the ones I liked the most. This year in general was pretty special for me, as I ended up talking about some really excellent titles, as well as iconic franchises. I started off with a giant month of Kochikame (21 episodes worth!), dedicated another month to the glory of JAM Project while also getting autographs from them at Anime Boston (Yoshiki Fukuyama had a rush of nostalgia seeing the Ehrgeiz LD I had him sign), & I even dedicated three months worth of posts solely to Masami Kurumada (who was celebrating his 40th Anniversary this year). I hit Review #150 this year as well, & earlier this month introduced Demo Disc & Obscusion B-Side, but I do feel like I may have left the idea of "obscurity", however. Now, yes, there were some unknown titles covered this year, but looking back while compiling this list, I realized that a number of titles were either infamous or known to some extent. While I'm fine with covering titles like those every now & then, like I did with Karneval, I do feel like next year should mark a return to me covering crap you've barely heard of (if you knew of it at all); "back to basics", in a sense.

Until then, though, let's see what I really loved doing the most from 2014, because that's what this is supposed to be about. N'est-ce pa?

Man, do I love this Japanese DVD cover.

Eat-Man & Eat-Man '98 (May 21 & 26)
Sadly, though Akihito Yoshitomi has returned to his most successful work with Eat-Man : The Main Dish this year, there has been nothing in regards to it on the English front; no simul-publish, no licensing, & not even any scanlating. This is actually a very common thing to happen to continuations/sequels of older works, or even reboots of classic titles, which is a shame. Anyway, to celebrate the return of Bolt Crank I decided to finally sit down & re-watch both of Studio DEEN's anime productions from the late-90s, the first time in about 8-9 years. During that time between viewings I've since read the entire manga, which is one of my all-time favorites, & there was a momentary reminder of my love for this series when Justin Sevakis covered the '97 series in his old Buried Treasure column back in 2008. So how did I feel about both shows the second time around?

The '97 production is still one of the most enigmatic anime TV series out there, no doubt. Debuting literally months after the manga started, Koichi Mashimo seemingly only got the rights to make an Eat-Man anime so that he could use the Bolt Crank character as the driving force behind a series of short stories that he had wanted to tell. Bolt was very unlike his manga counterpart, the stories were slow, foreboding, & completely original, & it was absolutely unlike Yoshitomi's creation. Still, it was filled with subtext, was completely engrossing in every story it told, & is historically important as the second ever "modern-day" late-night anime. Eat-Man '98, on the other hand, still held up well by being accurate to the manga & improving upon the previous series on a technical level; even the two original stories matched up well with the adapted ones. Re-watching these two shows for these two reviews only solidified Eat-Man as one of my absolute favorite anime & manga of all time.

B't X [Manga] (July 4)
While Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary technically didn't happen until this past September, which is when the first chapter of Sukeban Arashi appeared in the pages Weekly Shonen Jump back in 1974, I didn't want to wait until then; I wanted to celebrate as soon as I had an opening. So from late-May to mid-August I reviewed a whole bunch of Kurumada anime & manga (plus a J-Drama/tokusatsu mix). I covered all four of Kurumada's iconic works, even bringing Ring ni Kakero out of retirement to talk about the 1982 Image Album a young Joe Hisaishi produced, but my favorite out of all of them was my review of Kurumada's third-longest manga, and the one that defined him during the 90s. Having already reviewed the entire anime adaptation years back, I finally covered the original B't X manga.

While I always try to champion Ring ni Kakero 1 whenever possible (I even gave it to my Anime Secret Santa "victim", Vintagecoats), & Saint Seiya is always going to be given the limelight (I am intrigued with next year's Soul of Gold anime), B't X is like the middle child of Kurumada's catalog. It was the shining jewel of Monthly Shonen Ace magazine's debut in 1994, ran for a very respectable 16 volumes throughout the rest of the decade, & was even the recipient of a recent pachinko/pachislot combo machine, but it forever will be stuck between the worldwide popularity of Saint Seiya & the immeasurable influence & inspiration of Ring ni Kakero; for those curious, Fuma no Kojirou is the red-headed stepchild of the group (though it, too, will be getting a pachinko machine next year). Even in North America, where it was picked up by TokyoPop, the manga was pretty much a non-starter that never had a chance after DiC's Knights of the Zodiac destroyed Kurumada's cred before it could even get created over here. The company just barely got the last volume released in 2010 before it downsized heavily to the form it has now, and now most people probably don't even remember B't X having gotten a complete manga release over here (let's not even bring up Illumitoon's sham of a release of the anime, alright?). It's a shame, too, because while it may not have the epic nature of Saint Seiya nor the straightforward fun of Ring ni Kakero 1, B't X is still an excellent series that may surprise people in how good it really is & in how much Masami Kurumada circumvents his usual storytelling techniques.

Theory Musing: Is Introducing "NBS Anime" via Licensing a Dead Concept Now? (June 16)
Streaming video that is officially brought to us by way of sites like CrunchyRoll, Hulu, & the like have really changed the way we as fans now watch anime, hasn't it? Not just that, but companies like Sentai Filmworks, Maiden Japan, & (especially) Discotek have tried their hardest to fill in the gaps that the wall of licensing has by bringing out titles that were missed the first time around. Titles like Himawari, Ghost Sweeper Mikami, School Days, Zombie-Loan, & Shin Mazinger are either out now or are being given their first ever North American releases, and that's awesome. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean anything for plenty of other titles, and I'm specifically talking about "Never Before Seen Anime". You know, the stuff that was never fansubbed or are even all that known... Or maybe you didn't know, and that's what I was getting at with this entry in the attempt to sound intellectual that I call the Theory Musing series of posts.

No matter how many gaps that get filled in, the wall of licensing will always remain filled with holes, and I'm not even talking about titles from the earlier days of anime (i.e. the 60s, 70s, & even the 80s). Going back 20, even only 10, years we have plenty of anime that were never given any sort of English release or even saw any real fansubbing efforts. Now many can argue that the stuff we didn't get wasn't any good in the first place & that we have since received all of the good stuff that's worth knowing & talking about, but that's a highly subjective thing & no one can ever truly claim that they know how good or bad "everything" is. People were confused & left dumbfounded when Sentai licensed GS Mikami TV, but it's not like the show is bad (because it isn't); it just isn't known (outside of the movie Manga Entertainment released a little over a decade ago). When Anime Midstream announced their debut with Matchless Raijin-Oh, the cynical & egotistical immediately dismissed the company as a whole simply because of what they picked up. It's kind of sad that companies are afraid to reach into the unknown, even when the market has since leveled out. Just look at Anime Sols, who sadly struggle to get even more episodes of their "retrocast" line-up supported & paid for. On a personal level, it annoys me in the sense that I have to rely on watching some titles without subtitles, which definitely lessens the enjoyment to an extent & sometimes makes watching something I'm curious about a chore. There won't be anyone out there who's willing to take on a title like Hareluya II BØY, a company to give the Rokudenashi BLUES movies a chance, a site daring enough to show people Yasuhiro Imagawa's return to directing (Wasimo), an entity bold enough to take a risk on something like Ring ni Kakero 1.

And, really, who can blame them? Catch-22's are meant to suck, after all.

Ayakashi: Goblin Cat & Mononoke (October 21 & 28)
These two are an example of what I mentioned in the prologue when I said that I kind of left the idea of "obscurity" this year. Technically, neither of these two productions are "obscure", and the latter in particular is known to be a grand cult classic that finally saw release in North America this year (in time for the review). Still, they aren't on the tongues of most anime fans, so I guess they still fit the theme of this blog (if only fleetingly). They certainly fit the horror theme I gave the entire month of November this year, though. Finally, it's completely fair to say that the quality of one's writing is partially dependent on what he/she is working with. If that's true, then I hope people feel that these two reviews are some of my best work.

Goblin Cat was technically only a portion of a larger series called Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~ (or ~Samurai Horror Tales~ if you go off of Geneon's naming), but I chose only this part for this selection because Mononoke was a spin-off/continuation of only that portion; the other portions of Ayakashi weren't bad, but they couldn't match Goblin Cat. These two were the first titles that Kenji Nakamura ever was the "series" director of, if you want to call the former its own "series", and he has since gone on to become a fan-favorite anime auteur. It's easy to see why, though, just from these two shows. Similar to Eat-Man they are merely an overall collection of stories about a travelling Medicine Seller who makes it his mission to remove evil spirits called mononoke from the environment he finds himself in. The stories were dark, discomforting, bizarre, and absolutely amazing; on this aspect alone both productions would be excellent. What takes both of these above & beyond, however, is the visual styling, giving everything a ukiyo-e look, complete with rice paper filtering, that makes the limited animation perfectly fitting & simply adding to the eerie vibe all of the stories have. Thankfully, this kind of exquisite quality isn't all too expensive to own, as the Goblin Cat DVD single can be found for between $10-$30, while Mononoke's DVD set is still available for as low as $11 (and is likely on the shelves of your local Best Buy!).

Violinist of Hameln [Movie & TV] (September 20 & 30)
I'm positive everyone has them: Titles that they swear they'll get to watching one day, but continually put off for later, only to finally watch them & wonder why they held off for so long. That's what Violinist of Hameln was for me, one of those. Based on the manga by Michiaki Watanabe (no, not the anime music composer), there were two anime productions made in 1996: A half-hour movie done by Nippon Animation & a 26-episode TV series done by Studio DEEN later that year. Interestingly enough, the two productions are as different as different can be, with completely different stories, styles, moods, casts, & even staff (outside of music composer Kouhei Tanaka, that is). What's even more interesting is that both productions are well worth the watch.

The movie was a short adventure headed up by Takashi Imanishi that was accurate to the manga's comical execution, with a lead whose ego is probably one of the biggest in anime & manga history. It was funny, fast, & utterly entertaining all the way through, though the fact that even the DVD release is letterboxed is depressing. The TV series, however, was headed up by Junji Nishimura & marked the series composer debut of cult-favorite director Yasuhiro Imagawa, who wrote every single episode on his own. Their take on the story was everything that the manga & movie was not: Dark, serious, depressing, & operatic. Still, the TV series, even with its over-reliance on stills that gave it the nickname "The Slideshow of Hameln", was completely engrossing, emotional, & made for one of the very best fantasy stories I have ever experienced. If there's only one thing that the movie & TV series shared, it was the manga's love for classical music, as both featured excellent arrangements of iconic songs that were originally composed by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, & von Suppé, among many others; Kouhei Tanaka & a brand-new Shiroh Hamaguchi (in his first ever anime involvement) made magic when it came to the music. Tragically, even with both the move & TV series fully fansubbed, neither has ever seen a North American release, putting it tragically close to "NBS Anime" territory... And we all what that means, right?

The Imagawa Chronicles (February 2, 9, 18, & 20)
Ending the first half of this list is an ambitious idea that I wanted to try out, and that was to completely cover the career of someone in the anime industry by means of the titles in his/her catalog. I decided to have Yasuhiro Imagawa be the focus of this pilot program because he is such a celebrated director, yet is not a financially successful one; also, his resume was long enough to not be considered "small", yet short enough to not be too much for me to handle. Now when I say that I utilized his resume, I really mean it; I covered every single anime Imagawa has ever worked on, from his lowly production assistant position on Bremen 4 to his run with Sunrise as a storyboarder to his first time in the director's chair with Mister Ajikko to his iconic work in the 90s & beyond. I even purposefully gave each part a title that sounded like an actual episode from each decade that was covered!

To be fair, I did rely mostly on Wikipedia, but mainly from a "compiling his complete resume" perspective (also, Wikipedia Japan had way more information to it). I did double check actual credits just to be sure, however, like to prove that he did indeed do some key animation for the final episode of Detatoko Princess (check it... his name is there). I also wanted to put the hammer down on his involvement with the Berserk TV anime, where he was only "Series Concept Adviser" (a role that only he has ever had) & not series composer & scriptwriter, as he is commonly mistaken as. Most of all, though, I simply wanted to make sure that people not only remembered that Imagawa was the director of excellent series like G Gundam, the Giant Robo OVA series, & Shin Mazinger, but was also a big part of lesser known shows like Pet Shop of Horrors, Bartender, Gifu Dodo!! Kanetsugu & Keiji, & the previously mentioned Violinist of HamelnHareluya II BØY (both of which are astounding shows, & Imagwa was a big part of that). Hell, I didn't even know that Imagawa was involved in the production of the Korean anime Michel; it certainly makes me all the more interested in finally watching it.

I also mentioned that he did finally return to the director's chair this year with Wasimo, but sadly the (extremely) short show was never simulcasted, nor has it even been fansubbed; I didn't even watch it yet, myself. I'll have to rectify that, but for now I will say that doing The Imagawa Chronicles was easily one the most interesting, intensive, & exciting things I did with this blog, not just this year but ever. I know that Mr. Imagawa himself will likely never see these posts, but I did this entire thing in honor of what he has already done with his career, and I hope he will one day be able to do what everyone loves him for again.

And, yes, I do plan on doing more "The _____ Chronicles". I actually have two more people in mind; one sadly passed away before he could be fully appreciated, while the other is a video game designer who has almost never been given his fair recognition. I hope to do at least one of them next year, though when is a giant question mark.
That's it for Part 1! Check back later this holiday for Part 2, where I cover another six(-ish) posts that I loved writing.

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