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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2014!! Part 2

With only a couple of days left in 2014, let's see the other half of my list of what I loved doing the most on the blog this year! Are they what you think they are? Wait, you actually thought about this beforehand? No? Okay, good... For a second there I thought at least one of you was crazy.

Or maybe I'm the one who's crazy... Oh, wait, that's already confirmed. Anyway, onto the list.

Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro (October 2)
You know what's a silly thing some people like to do nowadays? Call others "hipsters", simply because "B" doesn't like something "A" does. The most common accusations come from someone not caring for something popular among the general fandom, like being a Sword Art Online "hater", or someone liking something that is more underground or different, like loving the ever living hell out of Flowers of Evil. Overall, though, it's pretty silly of an accusation to make, but at the same time those who are accused are so quick to state they they can't be hipsters, because it's such a nebulous term. Therefore, I shall be the first to embrace the term & state with a full heart that I can be defined a "hispter", because I absolutely enjoyed the "Sumo Asshole" hijinks of Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro, an anime from this year that is still hated upon by nearly everyone else. Or wait, considering that the original manga debuted in the 70s, would that make me a "hippie" instead? Eh, I'll accept that moniker, too.

(Yes, I know the hippie movement was in the 60s... Let me make my dumb jokes.)

When I say that nearly everyone else hated Matsutaro from episode 1, I mean it. Look for any writing about the first episode from back in April, whether it's from ANN or nearly anyone else, and you'll see essentially the same thing being said: This show is horrible, the protagonist is one of the worst ever, & it's telling an abhorrent story that's (according to some people) glamorizing being a horrible person. Now, to be fair, it's not like these people were completely off the mark. Matsutaro Sakaguchi debuts as a completely incorrigible asshole who cares for no one other than himself, even literally stealing candy from his baby brother, the animation was obviously low-budget, and it was hard to see the lead become even moderately better as a person. Still, when I saw the first episode I felt that these people were very off on their assumptions. In true Tetsuya Chiba style, Matsutaro is similar to Joe Yabuki in that he's a selfish oaf, but part of the humor is in the fact that he can be so terrible of a person; it's not glamorizing his actions but rather insulting such behavior as childish & petty. The limited animation felt very similar to the era the manga came from (the 70s) and, most importantly, this wasn't an anime made for the modern-day otaku. Instead, this was a family show, one where parents can laugh at how boorish Matsutaro is while letting their children know that this isn't how to act in life. It was a simply hilarious sitcom-style show that was constantly amusing, and those who stayed for the long-haul even found episodes that did actually showcase, in subtle ways, that Matsutaro did in fact start becoming a better human being.

I jokingly call "haters" of Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro "heathens", but it's only because almost all of them base their judgments off of the first episode; most who stuck with it at least ended up enjoying the show, if not loving it. But, hey, maybe I'm just a "contrarian," instead of a "hipster" or "hippie". And, to be frank, I'll accept that title. Hate all you want... I think you're wrong about Matsutaro.

Matchless Raijin-Oh "Season 2" (November 13)
While I'm still on a kick of "proving" how wrong people can be, here's another one: Anime Midstream completed their release of Raijin-Oh. Sure, people can put up hypothetical excuses that they feel negate the relevance of that statement ("It only took them six years!", "They had to drop the English dub!", "They ended up just dumping the entire second half out in a boxset!", "Who cares? It's not like anybody bought their DVDs!", etc.), but the fact remains that one can now buy all of Matchless Raijin-Oh on DVD over here in North America, something that most people never thought would ever come close to fruition back when it was first announced at the end of 2008. Did I think it would happen myself? Honestly, I took this release as it was at the moment. In other words, when a new DVD was given a release date I was happy & excited to see more of the battles between the Earth Defense Class & the Jaku Empire. When there was no release announced I simply put the concept in the back of my mind. If it happened then great, but if it wound up being left incomplete then at least I got to see some portion of the show, which is way more than I ever expected to happen.

Thankfully, the second half came out in the middle of this year and it was just as good as the first. Sure, it was essentially a monster-of-the-week format mech anime until the last DVD, but the best part about Raijin-Oh was that it had so much imagination behind it. Each Jaku Beast was interesting to see in action, whether it was its smaller form or as a giant monster, and it felt like the writers & designers had a blast making up all of them. Also helping lessen the repetition was the fact that each member of the Earth Defense Class got at least one episode focused around them. Combined with great writing & varied character designs, all 18 students became their own individual character; even if you don't exactly remember one by name you won't mistake one for another by face. This was simply a very fun anime to watch & it never felt like a chore, nor was it ever boring to sit through. Sure, to purchase the entire show right now would cost around $150 at the moment, but I honestly feel like it was worth every penny in the end; plus, ~$3/episode isn't that bad. What will Anime Midstream choose as their second show? Who knows, but I'll be waiting should anything be announced.

This screencap is better than any cover art for this show...

AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave- & Compression Re-MIX (August 16 & 21)
I try to stay positive on this blog, partially because there's more than enough causticity from so-called "wise men" on the internet, but sometimes even I just have to watch crap so that I can warn others. Legend of DUO, for example? Beat Shot!!, anyone? (seriously, why do you people keep reading that review?!) The biggest example of me torturing myself, however, is always going to be when I hit a milestone, which I consider to be every 50th review. Review #50 was the infamous Gundoh Musashi, which was so mind-blowingly horrible that I deemed it the anime equivalent to The Room & stated that everyone who wanted to learn animation should watch it as an example of what not to do. Review #100 was Robotech the Movie, a Frankenstein's Monster hackjob that was wrong in so many ways that even its own creator, the late Carl Macek, denounced it; it was truly a "Cannon Film" (at least the voice work & music was good). When it came to Review #150 I needed something that could match those two, if not in "quality" then at least in dubiousness. The end result needed TWO reviews in order to fully explain how dumb an idea this was.

I don't think I'll ever fully recover from watching AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-... No joke.

It still astounds me in how lopsided this show is. I've been alive for 28.5 years at this point, yet I have never seen anything with such a poor first, second, third, & even close to fourth impression as AWOL; that's one for each episode until it finally gets to a point! It's astonishing that the show almost doesn't care about making the viewer give a damn about what's going on for so, so long. Sure, Next Senki Ehrgiez, which was from the same people, also took a few episodes to really get going, but at least those first episodes still established the story & actually did stuff with its characters. Finally, it's brain-meltingly shocking that, upon the start of the second half.... It actually becomes watchable. Seriously, AWOL actually managed to become bearable and, daresay, enjoyable (in very minor doses) once it finally stopped (excuse my language here) f***ing around & actually told a story. It was so bad that Japan never got what was aired on Japanese television released on home video, yet d-rights thought it was a good idea to give it to Entertainment... But they did get something in return.

AWOL Compression Re-MIX was pretty much an apology from Toshifumi Kawase, Atsuhiro Tomioka, Studio DEEN, & everyone else who was involved. Like the title stated, it "compressed" 12 TV-length episodes into four OVAs, that ranged from 43-53 minutes, by outright cutting anything that wasn't important & shaving down anything else that was overwrought. The end result was the removal of four episodes worth of content, which included the entirety of episode 3(!), and overall was a much improved final product that actually managed to make the show go from "unwatchable" to "better than you'd expect". Granted, how much of a change that is depends on the viewer, but it's a notable improvement nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can top this for when I get to Review #200... But maybe that's for the better.

California Crisis: Gun Salvo & Cipher the Video (February 25 & 27)
Now this is a first on this type of list: Two reviews of anime that are completed unrelated to each other sharing a spot. I really, truly, completely tried to pick just one for this spot, but I simply couldn't; both are equally bizarre products of their time. Also, if you want to be picky, these two OVAs are related in that I feel that they are the absolute best representations of the "Golden Age of Anime", a.k.a. the OVA boom. Only during this time in anime history could either of these titles have been made, and I know that such a claim can be taken both as a positive & as a negative. To be blunt, however, that's kind of the point.

California Crisis was 80s America as told by Japanese people who obviously only relied on movies of the era, and that's both its greatest asset as well as its biggest blunder. It was exciting, always moving, & featured a visual style that was never before seen in anime & hasn't ever been seen again since. At the same time, the story was pretty slapdash, the mystery behind the Space Mind never explained, & an entire character's involvement was more or less pointless. Still, it didn't exactly lie when it stated on its cover that a "new wind" was coming to anime; it was only the beginning. Cipher the Video, based on "The Most 80s Manga Ever", was the perfect example of what was promised. Done in an interview style like what MTV did in its earliest days, the OVA didn't actually adapt the manga (outside of a series of voiceless clips... maybe). Instead, it did what it was conceived as & interviewed one of the main characters, as he was a professional actor, and was completely made as if it was made within the world of Cipher. Truly, it defies simple description & just has to be seen to be believed, but with everyone speaking English (there's no Japanese whatsoever to be found) & the OST being made up of covers of songs like "Footloose" & "Let's Hear it for the Boy", as well as using the real deal version of "Kamikaze" by Thompson Twins, there truly wasn't anything like it. Is either OVA "good"? Well that's very debatable, especially the latter, but I will say that neither one should be ignored.

Buso Renkin (March 31)
It's no surprise to anyone who's been reading this blog for a bit, but I'm a big fan of Shonen Jump, especially its action titles. Even as a man who's approaching 30 in a couple of years, there's just a bunch of fun to be had in Jump's brand of action, even if multiple titles may seem similar to each other in execution. Still, when a title is done well it's very much worthy of praise, even if it isn't quite as well known as the iconic classics. Nobuhiro Watsuki's legacy will obviously be Rurouni Kenshin, his debut serialization, but I would still argue that his most loving to the action genre is his third work, Buso Renkin.

Dubbed by Watsuki himself as his "final shonen manga", though his Embalming manga does run in the offshoot magazine Jump Square, Buso Renkin may not be something to look for if you want originality. That being said, it's obviously a giant love letter to what came before it, and that's where the appeal is. The characters are bombastic & memorable, the weapons are over-the-top & exciting, the story knows what to play up & what to smooth over, and the action is Grade-A quality. What's even more impressive is that the love story between leads Kazuki & Tokiko is not just believable but also one of the absolute best to be found in a Shonen Jump action title. Add all of that to what the anime brings to the table (namely excellent voice work [both in Japanese & English], top-notch music, nice animation, & one of the all-time greatest anime OPs ever), and there's no other way to put it: Buso Renkin is one of the finest shonen-styled action titles out there that you may have never seen (or read) before. It's a true cult-classic in every definition of the term.

Yes, it's technically a spoiler... But it's probably the most well known spoiler in all of anime.

Champion Joe [Movie] & Champion Joe 2 (April 10 & May 10)
The last choice of every "favorite posts" list prior to this has always been one that had a personal attachment, but for this list the last choice is nothing more than simply the one that I truly think was the undisputed "best". While at Anime Boston this past March I missed out on the CrunchyRoll panel, but I later found out what one of their announcements was: They were going to offer Ashita no Joe 2 via streaming. Considering that Joe is one of the most iconic & legendary anime & manga of all time, I knew that I couldn't take my time & wait this one out. Once I was done with JAM Project March, which ended up going into April, I had to cover all of Joe (well, after I got to Robot Girls Z). While fansubs for the original Mushi Pro anime series had since gotten past the point where one could continue with Joe 2, and later this year finally got fully fansubbed, I decided to keep this fully legal, if only to showcase that it was now possible to see the entire story in some way here in North America.

In place of watching the first 52 episodes of Mushi's anime, I watched the 1980 compilation movie made from that footage, which Tai Seng had actually released on DVD over here back in 2008. Clocking in at around 2.5 hours, it was the perfect example of a compilation movie that was perfect to get newcomers ready for the second TV series. Unfortunately, Tai Seng's release went out of print a few years back & now commands prices of at least $30 on the second-hand market, though Cinedigm (who handled distribution) still offers the English-dubbed version over at iTunes for only $9.99. Yeah, Tai Seng even dubbed the movie, while still offering the original Japanese with English subtitles on the DVD. While the iTunes availability isn't exactly ideal, the dub actually is okay (if a bit stiff in delivery for some characters), though the name of Wolf Kanagushi is completely mangled into something else. Still, for those who want to see the first, & most iconic, portion of Joe Yabuki's story legally, it's not a horrible option by any means. Maybe one day someone will try giving the movie a license rescue, especially since Japan later received a Blu-Ray release of both movies.

For those who want to watch TMS Entertainment's Ashita no Joe 2 over at CrunchyRoll, re-named Champion Joe 2 to match Tai Seng's rename for their DVD release, I can promise you that needing to see the first half isn't exactly required. This is mainly because Osamu Dezaki & his team of writers expertly utilized flashbacks that recapped the first half of the story in a way that not only felt natural & fitting, but were so concise-yet-expository that by the time complete newcomers reached the last episode of Joe's journey that were essentially just as familiar with what came before as those who had actually experienced it (at least from knowing everything that was important). Even taking that aside, however, Champion Joe 2 is exquisite. The characters are all lovable (or at least highly respectable), the story is intense & engaging, the pacing fits like a glove, the music is great, the animation is 150% Dezaki (& Akio Sugino, too), and even though the finale is generally known to anyone who's a fan of anime you will still shed a tear over it. There's nothing more I can re-explain here without simply repeating my review word-for-word; I do feel that this is probably my finest piece of writing ever (or at least one of them). All I'm left with is repeating what I said at the end of my review:

Champion Joe 2 is a perfect anime.
That's it for 2014, everyone. It was an exciting, fun, & entertaining year for myself, and I hope you all had a good one, too. If not, then there's always next year, right? Therefore, I'll see you all again in 2015, and I'll try to be the crazy hipster/hippie/contrarian that I've always been.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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