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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Winter Sols-tice Part 3: Missed Opportunties

With the presently running drives covered, & Kindaichi R bombing hard in the end, one might wonder why I am even wanting to cover the titles that Anime Sols has already tried out & failed with. Part of it is to to be as complete & conclusive of a look at what Sols is trying out & what they have offered. Part of it is because I am simply genuinely curious about some of the shows that failed. I want to try to understand why they failed when Dear Brother & Creamy Mami succeeded (& Black Jack TV for two sets, too). Part of it is because I always consider myself as someone who is willing to try things that I normally wouldn't watch, as I hate being pigeonholed as someone who only likes certain titles (Ed Chavez of Vertical once found it confusing to him that I bought all of Twin Spica; assumptions like that annoy me).

Finally, part of it is simply because I want to fill a month with me talking about Anime Sols, so I might as well cover all of it. Removing the exceptions I mentioned in Part 1, that leaves me with seven more titles to watch three episodes of, so let's knock four of them down & see what we missed out on when they were given the opportunity for DVD sets.

Pastel Yumi
One notable thing that's missing from the presently-running drives is anything from Studio Pierrot, which is known most for titles like Naruto, Bleach, Saiyuki, & Yu Yu Hakusho, among many others. One of Pierrot's earliest legacies, however, is its magical girl anime productions. Starting with 1983-1984's Creamy Mami, Pierrot has made five series in this genre, with the most recent being 1998's Fancy Lala, which actually saw release over here by Bandai Entertainment. 1986's Magical Idol Pastel Yumi is the fourth entry, and it was part of Sols' second wave of shows that saw attempted DVD set drives, alongside Dear Brother & Hurricane Polymar. Some felt that trying Yumi out, while Mami was still holding drives for later sets, would end up screwing Yumi over, mainly because it wasn't the most beloved entry (guess which one was). With that in mind, let's see if this show truly had enough magic to give it a chance in the first place.

The first episode, The Town is Abloom with Magic!, introduces Yumi Hanazono, who is given a magic wand & pendant by two fairies from the Land of Flowers because she loves flowers. Yumi now has the power to make whatever she draws with her wand real for a short period of time. While at the town's festival Yumi accidentally knocks over her father's flower dress that he entered for a competition; maybe her newfound magic can help him out. In episode two, A Wonderful Way to Use Magic!, Yumi & her friend Kenta help classmate Tsuyoshi look for his dog, who went missing not long ago. Episode three, Welcome, Adventure Girl!, has Yumi's grandpa visit in another attempt to convince his son (Yumi's father) to stop running the flower shop & become an adventurer, like his ancestors (& father) before him. When that doesn't work Yumi tries to indulge her grandpa & help him recover his own bravery (a recent back injury lowered his spirits), and a wild gorilla that escaped the zoo might be the best (& worst) thing to help.

Yumi don't fear nothin', I tell ya.

The magical girl genre isn't exactly something I'm well versed in, I never even saw any Sailor Moon when it was on TV, so I'll admit that a show like this wouldn't exactly be a "main attraction" for me. Therefore, I must say that I was pleasantly pleased with the first three episodes of Pastel Yumi. Sure, Yumi herself can be a little dense when it comes to using magic, though her fairy friends don't really bother explaining the (surprisingly) numerous rules & restrictions there are, but overall she's an entertaining lead & is able to carry the show on her own merits. In fact, the magic is pretty subdued in these episodes, only making appearances about twice each time; once at the beginning & again at the end. It puts the focus more on the characters, who are all immediately likable & worth getting behind, which is great. Admittedly, some of the finer details are head scratching when you really think about them, like how the explanation as to why Yumi is given the magic wand makes it sound like she's the only child in the world who "cherishes flowers". To worry about such things, though, is a case of the viewer missing the point of the show, which is simply to be a fun, enjoyable production. When the animators toss in a blink-and-you'll-miss single-frame easter egg of Dancougar during a shot, you know that Pierrot wasn't trying to make this show anything more than fun, and I really respect that.

Admittedly, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Pastel Yumi, as I had heard of what Creamy Mami was about & wasn't really interested in that show. Considering that they are technically both part of a larger series of magical girl shows from Studio Pierrot, I simply thought that they might be similar in execution, but maybe I was wrong here. Yes, Yumi's casting was similar to that of Mami's (i.e. use an up & coming singer so that the show doubles as a launching pad for her career), but that seems to be the only immediately notable similarity here, at least that's what it looks like to my plebeian eyes. On that note, however, I should bring up that Yumi's seiyuu, Mariko Shiga, died three years after the show ended in a freak car accident near Flagstaff, Arizona. Sad to find that out, too, because she was a very good singer for this show, and her voice acting wasn't bad, either. In the end, I won't be wishing for another DVD set drive attempt, personally, but considering that there are only another 11 episodes left to sub, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Sols maybe try out a streaming drive for the rest of Pastel Yumi. It won't revolutionize in any way, but it's still a lot of fun to watch.

The rest of this part of The Winter Sols-tice will be focused on Tatsunoko, the sole company involved with Anime Sols to not see any success at all; Tezuka Pro has Dear Brother, Pierrot has Creamy Mami, & YTV has Black Jack TV (which was animated by Tezuka Pro, too). Sadly, most anime fans seem to be against the concept of superheroes, as many people start to watch anime simply because they tire of the heroes that Marvel & DC are known for. The case may have been true for Tekkaman: The Space Knight in Japan, too, because when it originally aired in 1975 it wound up getting canceled after only 26 episodes. Still, that hasn't lessened Tekkaman's importance in the annals of Tatsunoko's history, as he is still heavily utilized in crossovers & the like; he appears much more often than his successor Tekkaman Blade, at least. William Winckler Productions gave the show a try by dubbing it for television in 1984, but while Winckler tried to stay accurate to the original Japanese version it didn't stick & was canceled after 13 episodes; the dub quality itself didn't really help, either. Anyway, was Tekkaman simply too different for fans, or is the show just like Winckler's dub makes it out to be?

It begins with Hero of the Sun, where, with only three years left until Earth's pollution makes the planet unlivable (a secret known only to top officials), Johji Minami decides to take up his father's dream of finding a "Second Earth" to live on after his death. Johji is given a giant robot called Pegas to help, as it can allow Johji to transform into a powered warrior known as a Tekkaman, and he'll need the help as Earth is attacked by the Waldastar, who killed Johji's father & wish to rule over the Solar System. Helping him is Hiromi Amachi, the daughter of the man who made Pegas, & Andro Umeda, a mysterious alien who helps Johji for unknown reasons. We meet the Waldastar properly in the second episode, The Stellar Rogue Cluster, Waldastar, where Lord Doblais & head of forces Rambos declare that peace is not possible. Meanwhile, Johji has to realize that simple revenge for his father's death won't make him the hero the Earth needs. In episode three, The Shadow-Hunting Alien!, Director Amachi creates a Leap Navigator machine, which allows faster-then-light travel, but a Waldastar spy finds out, resulting in Tekkaman having to protect it.

The anime's real name is The Andro Umeda Show featuring Tekkman, alright?

Probably the biggest reason why the William Winckler dub of Tekkaman bombed, aside from the hilariously bad dubbing, was simply because Tekkaman wouldn't shut the hell up, as you can tell from the video I linked to earlier. The reason why that was done was likely because in the original Japanese battles have little to no talking whatsoever during them; aside from war cries, Tekkaman doesn't say a word until episode 3's battle. I bring this up because it's a good example of how different Tekkaman is from hero anime, even that of Tatsunoko's catalog. The first episode is a bit traditional, if a little bleak due to the whole "we killed the Earth & now it will kill us" scenario, but the next two showcase some really cool touches. Johji's focus on revenge in episode two actually makes him a real jerk to Amachi for most of the episode, and even Hiromi dares him to hit her if that's the kind of man he is. Johji really isn't your traditional lead at times, and the show's focus on telling a story & developing characters this early on is great. That being said, one character overtakes them all: Andro Umeda.

There's no argument to be had here. Andro Umeda is the real star of this show, and it's not just because of his gigantically awesome afro. He's sarcastic, mysterious, helpful, conniving, & just awesome in general; he is the character you want to learn the most about. Luckily, episode four's preview promises the reveal of his backstory, as well as properly marking the beginning of the Space Knights that fight the Waldastar. It's sad to know that the show was canceled half-way through, because these first three episodes already paint an excellent picture. Fans of Tekkaman Blade will have even more fun watching this original series, as they'll notice all of the visual, thematic, & naming cues that the reboot relied on in telling its story. I really hope that Anime Sols will give Tekkaman: The Space Knight a second chance for a DVD release, as it already has the hallmarks of being a true classic 70s anime. Also, considering that Sols' subs only go up to episode 13, the same spot the dub ended at, it would be great to finally get that second half legally. I do wonder, though... If Anime Sols didn't grab this show, then would it have been given a release by Sentai Filmworks, who also has a licensing deal with Tatsunoko.

The world may never know.

The second half of this post will be a bit of an "Old vs. New" idea, and it's pretty timely, too. As I mentioned last time, the Time Bokan Series is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year with a brand new series that's airing in late-night called Yatterman Night; you can check out the simulcast over at FUNimation or Hulu right now. Therefore, what better time to talk about Time Bokan's most popular & beloved entry, plus it's own reboot decades later, than right now? Airing throughout all of 1977 & 1978, plus January of 1979, the original Yatterman was the second entry in the franchise, lasting 108 episodes, roughly double the amount of episodes most entries in the series ran for (or quadruple the length of 1983's Itadakiman & 2000's Kaitou Kiramekiman). It's become an icon of 70s anime in Japan, even seeing a live-action movie adaptation in 2009 that was directed by Takashi Miike; this movie is available on DVD from Discotek Media. So get ready to make a "Victory Pose(!)" as we investigate the very first three episodes of this classic comedy series.

Yatterman follows an episodic format, usually focusing on the Doronbo Gang (Doronjo, Tonzler, & Boyacky) committing crimes while searching for pieces of the Skull Stone, which the "God of Thieves" Dokurobei promises will lead to a great treasure; he has promised Doronbo half of the gold. Always in their way, however are Gan-chan & Ai-chan, two toy makers who are actually the heroic duo of Yatterman 1 & 2. Along with their little robot buddy Omotchama & their larger mechs like Yatterwan (a dog mecha), Yatterman won't stop until they put down the Doronbo Gang for good. The first episode, Yatterman's Rolling Out, has Doronbo & Yatterman meet for the first time at the International Bank of New Yack. In episode two, The Pugyptian Water-Selling Girl!, everyone heads to Pugypt to see if a Skull Stone piece is hidden in the nose of the Sphinx. After that is The Great King of Flodari Beach, where the Doronbo Gang go after King Gamegameha, who supposedly has a map that tells where the Skull Stone pieces actually are.

In some ways, Yatterman is very much like Time Bokan. Both are very focused on comedy that see its characters go to places all over the world, though this second entry uses altered names for simple silliness, and both feature two leads (plus a robot sidekick) going up against an evil trio made up of a beautiful woman & her two dumb lackeys. The difference between the two shows, however, are in the execution and reasons behind their actions. The biggest nagging issue I had with Time Bokan, as I mentioned in Part 2, was that there was no real reason why there was a need for the leads & Marjo's group to fight; they just did so for the sake of the show, essentially. Yatterman's concept of Gan-chan & Ai-chan being heroes of justice is a simple but effective reason to constantly have Yatterman & the Doronbo Gang constantly butting heads. Also, the Skull Stone is played up as having actual importance, unlike the dynamonds that came before it. Each of these three episodes feature our heroes go up against Tonzler & Boyacky in battle to some extent before Boyacky's mech-of-the-week goes up against Yatterwan, who always comes up with a new mini-mech to fight with. Aside from being an easy knock against the episodic format (Yatterwan always announces his robots with "And this week's..."), the mini-mechs actually showcase some fun thinking & imagination, and when combined with the fact that every one of Boyacky's mechs aren't just defeated but completely torn apart it's always a fun climax.

There's also a heavy focus on the theme songs for the two groups, as they are not only used as the OP & ED for the show, but are always used for when each group is introduced properly in the episodes. While that would get old really fast, especially when watching multiple episodes at a time, the fact that "Yatterman no Uta" & "Tensai Doronbo" are not just fun songs but also pretty iconic themes makes them always a joy to listen to. In fact, it's easy to see why Doronjo, Tonzler (sometimes spelled Tonzura), & Boyacky are such fan-favorites within just these three episodes. There's just a lot of personality among the three of them, whether it's Doronjo being rough & rude to them, though still caring for them dearly, or Tonzler & Boyacky always willing to get a glance at Doronjo if she's stripped to almost nothing, among other things. In comparison, Gan-chan & Ai-chan are pretty standard & generic in terms of being heroes; they're not bad, but they just don't have the rapport that the Doronbo Gang have. One thing I didn't really notice, however, was the show's notoriety for pushing the envelope when it came to visual humor. Supposedly, Tatsunoko essentially had nothing be sacred when they were doing this show back in the 70s, so much so that even the 2008 reboot remarked at how it would never be able to do some of the stuff the original did, due to changes in standards & practices; these first three episodes don't really showcase that.

Still, though the original Yatterman is enjoyable right from the start, there was no chance in hell of it ever succeeding for DVD sets. It's age is a big turn-off right from the get-go, but the fact that it's over 100 episodes is just the biggest hurdle for it to get that kind of support. I'm all for this show being streamed in full, but much like Space Ace & Time Bokan this is worth watching more from a historical perspective. There is a reason it saw a reboot, after all, and that was to attract younger audiences & update it for modern sensibilities.

New Yatterman
When Anime Sols debuted, both the original Yatterman as well as it's 2008-2009 reboot were being offered, and some people had a valid worry that putting up drives for both series would cannibalize each other & result in double failure. In the end they would be right, because that was the end result (technically, however, the original series was being offered by Tastunoko, while the reboot was actually considered a YTV title... Because licensing). This reboot didn't run quite as long as the original, only 60 episodes, but it also saw its own theatrical movie a month before the finale aired, as well as two double-length TV specials that aired during the show's run. It also used jokes & humor that were more topical of the time, including an infamous episode that featured "Obama-kun" & "Hilary-chan", though the voices of Doronjo, Boyacky, & Tonzler from the original series returned for that bit of nostalgia. While Anime Sols didn't make quite make it to the "Obama-kun" episode (they only made it to 17, while said episode was 24), they did do the first TV special, so instead of covering the first three episodes for "New Yatterman", I'll instead cover episode one along with the first TV special, mainly to lessen any feeling of repetition since I'm covering two Yatterman duos, one after another.

Said episode one, The Birth of Yatterman!, tells a brand new original story by having Dokurobei send the Doronbo Gang on a search for the five Skull Rings, which when gathered can supposedly grant any wish; the first one is apparently in Tokyo Mad Town. The first TV special, One Night Only: Doronbo vs Minomonta!, aired between episodes 12 & 13 and has the Doronbo Gang try to to commit a crime on Golden Week by stealing the ring that belongs to Monta Mino, since it may be a Skull Ring that allows him to be able to be on so much television each week. Unfortunately for them, Yatterman vow to protect Mino, and his personal secret, & Mino himself has connections to people like Go Mifune (a.k.a. Speed Racer) & the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.

I have no idea what the consensus is when it comes to which version of Yatterman is better, the original or the reboot, but I'm going to side with the reboot. It's not because I prefer modern day jokes, pop culture humor, or anything like that, but rather I prefer the episode & TV special of the reboot I saw simply because there's more meat to be found here. Gan-chan & Ai-chan are probably the best difference here, and that's because the reboot gives them actual personalities, whereas the original show had them be fairly bland. The Gan-chan of 2008 is a genius mechanic but extremely lazy & forgetful, not to mention easily distracted by things. The new Ai-chan is very perky, always expressing her levels of emotion & feeling via percentages, and it's blatantly obvious that she's in love with Gan. Having these personalities give the 2008 Yatterman duo the rapport that they were sadly missing back in the 70s. The Doronbo Gang also has a bit more of personality added as well, like Boyacky's love for high school girls or Doronjo always hiding her face with a mask, even when incognito for schemes. Even Yatterwan gets something to work with via his infatuation for Ai-chan. This show just feels more fleshed out from the first episode.

While I mentioned that the original show apparently pushed the envelope in terms of how far it would go for a laugh, the reboot also shows some things that likely wouldn't have been done on TV back in the 70s. Stuff like Boyacky poking at Doronjo's breasts, or simply wanting to touch them in general, as well as Doronjo being showcased in an even more sexy design. There's also a bit of self-referential humor, like Koichi Yamadera constantly saying "Allow me to explain", which the late Kei Tomiyama did as the original narrator, but here it feels both like a jab at the silliness behind it as well as a celebration of the narrator; Yamadera even appears in the special as a midget version of himself called Yama-chan. The special itself was very much a celebration of the series, with the first half having a scene where the Doronbo Gang look at actual pictures little kids sent in & fulfill the request of a fan of the original series by singing "Tensai Doronbo" while making their mech, which is something that they always did in the original show. There's also some nice fourth wall humor, like the Doronbo Gang acknowledging their run 30 years ago, as if they're the same exact people as the ones from that show, with Boyacky getting beaten for saying that Doronjo looked beautiful back then (insinuating that she's aged). There are also many cameos from other Tatsunoko properties, even if only visually. This is really a show that's fun on its own, but the more you know about Tatsunoko the more fun it becomes.

I'm really sad that "New Yatterman" failed when it came to funding DVD sets, because this is another one of Anime Sols' best offerings. Everyone has a personality here, the humor is always on note, and it's simply a great update of a classic property that can appeal to both fans of the old as well as people who never saw it before. This series has even been referenced slightly with the new Yatterman Night, as the seiyuu for Gan-chan & Ai-chan voice counterpart characters who help the new Doronbo Gang in that show. I really hope that this series gets a second chance at DVD, whether it's from Sols or not. While the original is worth watching as a historical piece, the reboot is just worth watching, and I would hope that the newest take on the series may make more people interested in checking out what inspired it; the reboot is a perfect place to go for that.
Part 3 has now come to an end, and quality really is the focus when it comes to Anime Sols. From these four shows I do feel that all four should have seen some success, though I admit that stuff like Pastel Yumi or the original Yatterman would work best via streaming. Tekkaman & "New Yatterman", however, really should be given second chances. This now leaves only three more shows for me to try out, so here's hoping that this crazy binge on Anime Sols ends on a good note.

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