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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Winter Sols-tice Part 2: But Wait, There's More!

When it comes to the first half of The Winter Sols-tice (i.e. the presently running drives) I am following the order that Anime Sols uploaded each of these new shows. Considering that, it's possible that Sam Pinansky chose to upload the titles that at least had some notoriety to them, like Dororo & Goku's Grand Adventure, first because some people had heard of them before if they know their anime history. I bring this up simply because the second half of the present drives are essentially all anime that pretty much no one in North America has heard of, outside of three (& even then the nostalgia is very specific for them). Hell, one of them was so unknown that even Sam admitted, in an e-mail to supporters, that he knew nothing about it when announcing that it would be streamed! So let's find out if any of these shows are true-blue diamonds in the rough or if any are merely unknown for a reason.

Time Bokan ($186 of $2,700 Presently Funded for Episodes 1-13 Stream)
If there's one thing Tatsunoko as a studio is known for around the world, it's their hero shows, like Gatchaman, Casshan, or even The SoulTaker. In Japan, however, there is one franchise even more iconic from the studio, and that's Time Bokan. Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, the Time Bokan Series is made up of comedic adventure anime, most of which feature a pair of young leads constantly going up against a trio of villains made up of a vivacious woman & two silly lackeys (who both always feature the same character designs); simply put, Pok√©mon's Team Rocket was an homage to Time Bokan. Here in North America we've seen little smatterings of this franchise, like Ippatsuman being playable in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom or the 90s Royal Revival crossover OVA being released here (first by CPM & now by Sentai [on BD, even!]), but until literally just a few days ago with the simulcast of Yatterman Night we never saw any of this franchise get released here in a timely fashion. Anyway, while I will get to the most successful entry in the franchise in Part 3, let's take a look at the eponymous, original 1975-1976 series first.

The basic plot of Time Bokan has leads Tanpei & Junko, along with wind-up robot Chorobou, utilize the giant beetle-shaped time machine Time Bokan in their attempts to locate Professor Kieta, who went missing in time after testing the machine out. Their only lead is Parrosuke, a talking parrot that came back from Kieta's test who continually lies about what era he came from because he's afraid of seeing his bossy wife again. Always in their way, however, are the trio of Marjo, Glocky (who acted as Kieta's assistant & made his own time machine, Gaikotts), & Walther; they hope to find more precious dynamonds, one of which Parrosuke had on him originally. The first episode, Set Off! It's Time Bokan!, has everyone go to the primeval era, when the Earth was more lush & dinosaurs romaed. Episode two, It's The Greek Pratfallian War!, sees them visit (roughly) 300 B.C. & get involved in a battle between Alexander the Great & King Darius. The last episode presently available, It's a Terrifying Witch Hunt!, involves everyone heading to 17th century Albi, France & getting caught up in the wild witch hunts that were going on at the time.

If the likes of Hurricane Polymar, Generator Gawl, & Tekkaman make Tatsunoko the Japanese equivalent to Marvel & DC, then Time Bokan is Japanese Hanna-Barbera. That's really the simplest way describe this show, and the entire franchise itself, in a nutshell. From the look, the music, & just the general vibe it's easy to see this being the Japanese equivalent to series like Johnny Quest, Space Ghost (not Coast to Coast), or even Josie & the Pussycats. It's a fun mix of fantastical adventuring, situational comedy, & general silliness. For example, historical accuracy is out of the picture the moment Tanpei comes across Alexander the Great's flying blimps filled with soldiers, not to mention how quickly the French of Albi are willing stop burning witches after being told that it's wrong. At the same time, though, it's not like the characters really care about potentially messing with history, like Junko & Marjo helping Alexander & Darius, respectively, by using their respective giant vehicles. Marjo, Glocky, & Walther, though nowhere near as memorable as their immediate successors, are still likely the original "terrible trio" that have been seen in too many anime to name. Sadly, though, the biggest issue I have with these episodes is that there isn't really any reason for the leads & Marjo's gang to constantly butt heads. Tanpei & Junko are looking for Prof. Kieta, which has next to nothing to do with Marjo's hunt for dynamonds. The only reason the two groups interact are simply due to Parrosuke, and I really doubt Marjo actually needs Parrosuke to find these gems, anyway. Also, on a comical note, what's with Tanpei, Junko, & Marjo (& Chorobou, techincally) all wearing headgear with boobs on them? Was that a fashionable thing to do in 1975?

The original Time Bokan's first three episodes are a fun watch, if accomplishing next to nothing for its story. The "Japanese Hanna-Barbera" feel is really the appeal here, and that's where the show will either find fans or not care for it; some people just aren't fans of Hanna-Barbera's style (Time Bokan is better animated, though). Nowadays this franchise is a part of Japanese pop culture, still occasionally seeing new entries every now & then, so it's neat to see it be available with English subtitles. Unfortunately, though, this specific series is worth watching more as a piece of history, like how I felt with Space Ace. This simply isn't a show I can ever see be given enough money behind it by anime fans to make it a success on Anime Sols. If it was fully-subbed & given ad-supported streams, however, then I'd say that it would be worth checking out. With Yatterman Night airing to celebrate 40 years of Time Bokan, now is really the best time to check out the other entries in the franchise, if only to see how it all lead up to what just debuted.

Temple the Balloonist ($198 of $2,700 Presently Funded for Episodes 1-13 Stream)
Remember when I mentioned that Sam Pinansky knew nothing about one of the shows he announced would be streaming on Anime Sols? Well, this is the very title he was talking about, and Sam's lack of familiarity is mainly due it never coming to North America in the past, though Harmony Gold did apparently try at least twice; it did see success across Latin America & Europe, however. Anyway, Temple the Balloonist is a 26-episode series that aired from 1977-1978 & is notable as being the last anime to credit Tatsuo Yoshida, co-founder of Tatsunoko Pro; he died from liver cancer less than a month before this show debuted. With a lead character supposedly inspired by Shirley Temple, let's see if we truly missed out on a show that European fans & those south of the continental border were able to watch during the 80s.

The story begins with Little Lost Balloon, where Temple is introduced & her band leader/majorette outfit is bought for her by her father because she loves it... And then it gets weird. That night her room is invaded by a "cloud child" named Fluffy who came down in his hot air balloon to see the human world. Fluffy brings Temple aboard for a short ride when storm clouds send them far, far away from Temple's home; her father goes out in search of her. They then come across Tomtom, a drum player for a street group who ran away with a talking cat (Meowser), duck (Quacker), & mouse (Cheepers) because they felt they were treated badly by their boss. The second episode, Friendship in the Rain, is about Temple having to put aside her tendencies from sheltered life (naiveté, materialism, etc.) in order to fully befriend & understand where Tomtom & the animals come from. We end this preview with Saffron's Song, where Tomtom & the others take an ill Temple to an old hermit for help, but the only thing that can save her, saffron, is located in a dangerous valley & the old man isn't in any condition to get it.

Temple the Balloonist is a bizarre show. The first episode started off innocent enough, almost making me think something horrific was going to happen, but then in comes Fluff. I made it sound really innocent in the description above, & it's meant to be taken that way, but the whole incident that leads to Temple getting lost from home really just comes off like Fluff outright kidnapped her. The second half of episode 1 also features a really awkward acceleration of pacing, simply tossing Tomtom & the others into the balloon and introducing them really suddenly; it's a surprising & odd first impression, to be sure. Luckily, the other two episodes are done much better, with Tomtom's street smarts making him a neat character, though his constant insistence that they need to get rid of Temple so that she can focus on getting back home is odd, but he gratefully loses that at the end of episode 3. Overall, it's a well made show & has some nice potential to it, but what's going to make people want to support it or not comes down to the general mood of the show, which is odd in multiple ways. The biggest oddity is that it wants to mix together serious & dramatic storytelling with whimsical & upbeat moments. It's a story about a girl who wants to head back home, but ends up getting into all sorts of adventures, and that's fine. Some people might be turned off by the abundance of musical moments, which seem to always be upbeat, & the sheer fact that there's a talking cloud, cat, duck, & mouse in it, with no one reacting shocked to them at all. Plus, is it just me or does it look like Fluff has a giant nose & no eyes?

Seriously, I was ready to call this Tatsunoko's take on the World Masterpiece Theater classic Nobody's Boy Remi, they even both take place in France, but upon double-checking air dates I saw that Temple & Remi debuted literally a day apart from each other. Since they ran concurrently for all of the former's run, as Remi ran a whole year, I can't call this show a copy of that Dezaki classic; it's simply a case of sheer coincidence. Still, Temple the Balloonist is a really well done show, & if given the opportunity I might be willing to see the rest (if only to see what else the show throws at the viewer), but it's a big uphill battle. Remi is the only show that ImaginAsian TV released on burn-on-demand DVD that hasn't since been license rescued, though it did see a stream over at ANN for a year or two, and if a show as celebrated as that may never be given another chance then Temple, with it's more whimsical & upbeat style, has even less of a chance. But, hey, that's what Anime Sols wants to prove wrong, right?

Wonder 3 ($1,284 of $2,700 Presently Funded for Episodes 1-13 Stream)
Known internationally as The Amazing 3, Wonder 3 (or W3 for short) isn't one of Osamu Tezuka's most recognizable works, but it's still a noteworthy one. This 52-episode title may be pretty nostalgic for older anime fans who remember seeing it on American TV way back when, as it saw a similar notoriety as Kimba the White Lion or Princess Knight did at the time. In fact, Shawne Kleckner (co-founder of Right Stuf International) has publicly stated that he wants to release a DVD set of the English dub, much like he did for the other two titles mentioned, but is still on a (seemingly) never-ending hunt for the best quality video & audio to make such a release possible. Until such a release is made a reality, however, Mushi Pro's original Japanese version from 1965-1966 is being given an attempt by Anime Sols. So far it's the only drive, after Dororo's first success, to actually make a notable amount of money, showing that there is some interest in the title. Some state this as being Mushi's first original production, but Tezuka in fact debuted the manga a week prior to the show's debut, so it's at least arguable. This is the last B&W series Sols is offering, so let's see if it's as fun as Space Ace or as expertly done as Dororo.

It begins with Three Animals from Space, where the Galactic Patrol sends its three best agents, Bokko, Nokko, & Pukko, to Earth to determine if humanity is peaceful enough to join them or if it's too dangerous a planet to continue existing. The three disguise themselves as a rabbit, horse, & duck, respectively, and end up befriending young Shinichi Hoshi & help him save his older brother Koichi, who reveals himself to be a secret agent, when he's captured by a weapon-trafficking villain. In the next episode, Escape in 24 Hours, Shinichi & the gang secretly help Koichi when he's given a mission to rescue a scientist from his oppressive homeland, which wants to use his research for weapons. The third episode, The Mystery of Shangri-La, has Koichi heading to Singapore to find out the secret of the temple of Shangri-La & the supposed killer plant life that could maybe take over Earth if not stopped; naturally, Shinichi & company follow him.

Whenever I heard about Wonder 3 previously, it was usually focused on the thematic elements of the story, as it does cover things like racism, poverty, ecological issues, & other ideas that normally aren't showcased in titles made for children. Considering that Tezuka is also known for his hard-hitting serious works that utilize themes like what I listed, I was expecting this show to be a look at humanity's best & worst aspects, with some good Tezuka humor to keep the kiddies interested.

What I got was James Bond by way of Inspector Gadget... Plus that Tezuka humor I mentioned. Never forget that Tezuka could also be really, really quirky. That doesn't mean that W3 is a bad show, though.

The themes I mentioned earlier do come up in some ways, which is cool. For example, Pukko is extremely racist against humanity & wants nothing more than to leave the planet & not be a duck anymore, though his reliance on his friends keeps him from actually doing so. He even showcases the hypocritical nature of some racists when he mentions that government can never be relied upon, yet he works for what's essentially an intergalactic governing body. The second episode covers having love for your home country, even when it's next to impossible because of the actions of its people. Among all of the silliness, and Tezuka's love of breaking the fourth wall here & there, some really good lessons & ideas are shared just within these first three episodes. Still, this is a really silly show, and that mainly is because of how it's actually focused on Koichi's missions more than Shinichi.

Truly, it's not like Inspector Gadget where the Gadget is more or less helpless; Koichi is a fine special agent. He's smart, debonair, & can get the job done, but the show has him doing at least one kind of dumb thing that makes it so that Shinichi & his friends can help him out. It actually makes me wonder if Tezuka wanted to do a secret agent manga but decided to add in the animals to make it appeal to kids, or if he wanted to tell a more serious tale about humanity but decided to add in a secret agent angle to make it more exciting for children. All in all it actually works, and there's a fun cheesiness to the action, making it lots of fun to watch. Oddly enough, however, the show's pacing was a bit too fast, and I don't simply mean the on-screen action. You know how people poke fun at Speed Racer's original dub by having people talk really fast so that there's next to no downtime? (Ha-hoo-haw!) The first episode is literally just like that, and it's really shocking; thankfully, this gets toned down greatly across the next two episodes. The animation is a nice middle ground between Space Ace's first effort delivery from Tatsunoko (it debuted a month earlier) & Dororo showcasing how good B&W of the era could truly look; it's not as smooth as the latter, but it's nowhere near as simple as the former.

It's no surprise why Wonder 3 is the only drive to actually make some money, aside from Dororo. It's a fun ride of a show that also has some cool underlying themes, and it's easy to see why Shawne Kleckner wants to have the English dub released on DVD in the best quality possible. I do feel that Wonder 3 can get past it's first drive, letting people see the first 13 episodes subbed, but I do wonder (no pun intended) if it could succeed enough to last four drives, as that's what would be needed to get the entire show out there.

Kerokko Demetan ($202 of $2,700 Presently Funded for Episodes 1-13 Stream)
I would say that this anime is probably the most obscure of the entire lot (or at least tied with Temple the Balloonist), but upon some research I found out that this series actually did see airtime here in North America. While it originally aired throughout 1973 in Japan, followed by a re-airing in 1982 after Osamu Tezuka's Don Dracula ended after only four episodes, it didn't come over to America until the 80s... The first time. Yeah, this show saw two separate dubbings, both done by Harmony Gold. The first was in 1985 as a pair of compilation movies, The Brave FrogThe Brave Frog's Greatest Adventure, with the first movie seeing both a VHS release as well as a (highly out-of-print & now expensive) DVD. Then in 1990 Harmony Gold apparently dubbed all 39 episodes under the title Adventures on Rainbow Pond. Let's see if Kerokko Demetan is a bit of forgotten nostalgia by trying out these first three episodes.

Episode one, Hop Out, Demetan, introduces the trials & tribulations of tree frog Demetan & his parents as they move to Rainbow Pond for a peaceful life, only to be harassed by Gyata, the pond frog who rules the pond with an iron fist. With their home destroyed by Gyata's goons, Demetan's parents consider leaving, tearing Demetan from female frog friend Ranatan (Gyata's daughter). The next episode, Have Courage, Pop!, sees Demetan meet Bikisuke, a bullfrog who can hold his own against Gyata's lobster goon Zari the Slasher & teaches Demetan to be brave. When Bikisuke is left for dead after a sneak attack, however, Demetan & his parents decide to honor Bikisuke's bravery & stay. In the third episode, Don't Lose! Triple Jump, Ranatan encourages Demetan to participate in the sports competition during the pond's festival, but he gets publicly ridiculed for being unable to properly swim nor do a triple jump. When Ranatan checks on Demetan while he practices to be better, though, a giant salamander chases after them for a meal.

This series is apparently infamous for being shockingly depressing & serious, not flinching at all at showcasing the harsher aspects of life while also featuring more comical & child-friendly scenes. Well, that's definitely showcased in these early episodes, especially the first two. The first thing we see is the OP sequence, which always starts with Demetan crying, no doubt because of how crappy life at Rainbow Pond can be. The first episode begins with his parents escaping with their tadpoles from marine life that are hungy, with Demetan being the sole survivor; two other other tadpoles survive, but only Demetan is shown to become an actual frog. Then, when they think they finally find peace at the pond, they realize that Gyata is a Grade-A asshole (who has no problems beating his daughter) who enforces classism by demanding half of everyone's profits, and any that disobey suffer. Seriously, Zari the Slasher is maniacally ready & willing to kill at any moment, and the only reason why Demetan's family is spared is because Gyata feels it's "too easy". The death of Bikisuke in episode two was actually surprising as hell, because you wouldn't think the show would actually go that far. Hell, the episode four preview says that it's about Demetan & Ranatan having to protect a turtle's eggs after Zari outright kills said turtle! The citizens of Rainbow Pond aren't much better, with nearly all of them joining in the public humiliation of Demetan in episode three; even the resident cop is afraid of Gyata. This show seriously doesn't play around, with even the light-hearted moments feeling more like a necessity solely to keep the show from being too depressing.

While the tone may not be too surprising for those who stick to more adult & serious fare, Kerokko Demetan is pretty downbeat & rough for a kids show. I am really curious if Harmony Gold's complete dub of the show actually saw TV time over here, if it actually was done (I can't find proof that it exists), because I wonder how kids & their parents reacted to such harshness in children's programming; I highly doubt HG could have toned down the harshness much. As for the two compilation movies, the fact that only one of them saw a home video release makes it unlikely that I'll check them out. Now for what Anime Sols is trying to do, I do think it should see a complete streaming run, but it's very childish look (come on, it's a show about a bunch of little frogs) really does hide it's rough interior to those unfamiliar to the show, which makes it a really hard sell. The fact that it would require three streaming drive successes also hurts it's chances, too.

Belfy & Lillabit ($281 of $2,700 Presently Funded for Episodes 1-13 Stream)
If you were a small child during the early 90s, then that girl above might look somewhat familiar, especially if you watched Nick Jr programming. That would be because this 26-episode Tatsunoko series from 1980 was brought over to North America by Saban under the name The Littl' Bits, and it was actually one part of a larger group of anime that actually got aired on Nickelodeon's children's programming block from 1987-1995; other titles during this time included Maya the Bee, Noozles, & Mysterious Cities of Gold. Personally, I don't recall any of these shows from when I was a child at that time, but I'm sure I had to have seen at least one of them; if I really think hard, Belfy & Lillabit might look familiar to me. Anime Sols knows that there's a nostalgia for this kind of stuff, however, and are pointing out this factoid when it comes to this show. Therefore, let's tackle some nostalgia & see if this show holds up, and if the Japanese version is worth a care.

Showing the lives of the forest folk known as Fanits, the show begins with The Forest Children's Festival, where little Napo, jealous that Lillabit was elected instead of him to lead the festival with Belfy, decides to make trouble by messing with Lillabit's family when they help the crepe maker gather grapes along the stream, only to need rescuing when he becomes helpless on the raging stream heading towards a waterfall. Episode two, The Doctor at Belfy's House, is about young Mokkin wanting to be the assistant to Dr. Dokkorin, who Belfy lives with, but when the doctor is out gathering herbs an emergency patient comes in, and the medicine Mokkin gives might have made things worse. The third episode, Lillabit, Turn the Waterwheel, has Belfy, Lillabit, & Napo go up the river to see why it dried up, as it's what the local breadmaker uses to power his mill. The three find a beaver dam blocking the river... As well as a very hungry lynx.

Whereas Kerokko Demetan was harsher than it's childish visuals indicate, Belfy & Lillabit is exactly what it looks like: A harmless children's show. Yes, each episode has some danger to it (Napo raging down the stream, the sick child, & having to take on a lynx), but you can easily tell that none of the danger actually feels dangerous. When someone thinks of a children's show where characters go on an adventure without any of the danger of the unknown, this is a prime example of that. Still, that's not exactly a knock against it. There's something to be said for a title that knows exactly what it is & what it sets out to do, and Belfy & Lillabit doesn't go around treating its viewers as idiots. Sure, our leads might be a wee bit too perfect to be completely believable but they are still entertaining to watch, and any life lessons that the episodes teach aren't outright stated in any way that makes it seem like the writers felt that children couldn't learn for themselves. In fact, the entire production has a very international style to it, making it likely that Tatsunoko purposefully made this show to be shopped around for other countries to pick up & air. Outside of one or two names, there is next to no blatantly Japanese influence in this show. It's not groundbreaking in any way, but still a really good children's anime nonetheless.

As for my own personal nostalgia for the show, I think two things about these episodes did jog my memory slightly. First, I'm pretty sure Lillabit's father Rock looked familiar. Second, I'm almost positive that I did indeed see the English dubbed version of episode three, as the story of the beaver dam did sound familiar the moment I heard it explained in the episode preview. At the very least, I'm sure I saw that episode as a child, but I can't recall anything else. So, removing any nostalgia I may have had (& since forgotten), Belfy & Lillabit is a very solid children's anime that may be simple in concept & execution, but sticks to its guns & delivers what it has to. In terms of what Anime Sols is offering, however, I do wonder if it can succeed. Essentially, for the two streaming drives to earn enough money there has to be not just enough people who are nostalgic for The Littl' Bits. but enough who are nostalgic for the show enough to want to watch the original Japanese version. Anime Sols isn't offering any drive for the Saban dub that some people might remember, so this show has to rely on what one could consider sideways-nostalgia to be a success. I'm curious if this can work, honestly.
That brings an end to what Anime Sols is offering with drives at the moment. As of this post, Kindaichi R has ~12 hours remaining & looks to be an abject failure, but that doesn't have to be the case for all of the other drives. I still feel that Dororo has a chance to be fully streamed, while Wonder 3 could possibly see at least its first 13 episodes be funded. As for everything else, I've said my peace about if they have any chance at seeing more happen or not, but having gone through these shows I can at least say that it isn't because they're bad. In fact, all of these shows have something cool about them, whether it's via concept, execution, or simply just history. The biggest problem Anime Sols has is with promotion & getting the attention of anime fans, really, because they have titles that are worth supporting... It's just that most people either don't know or they just don't care.

That being said, the second half of The Winter Sols-tice will be me looking at the anime that Anime Sols have already tried & failed with. Sam Pinansky has mentioned a couple of times that failed shows could be given a second chance, so I'm going to see which ones deserve such.

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