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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The d-low on d-rights Part 1: You're Lookin' at the Real Deal Now!

"Way back when" in January 2011 I did a three-part inspection at some of Enoki Films USA's catalog of anime & what titles would seem interesting to bring over. Not long later, Enoki USA shuttered down & everything reverted back to the Japanese office, but the concept of looking at what titles are with a company has always lingered in the back of my mind. With the news of Discotek licensing a many, many anime within the past couple of months (as they tend to awesomely do) coming out, specifically the news of IRIA: Zeiram the Animation, Earl & Fairy & Shining Tears X Wind, I've been reminded of an old series of posts I did on my old proto-blog on the Mania (formerly forums. With said proto-blog now seemingly gone, I think it's time to give it another go, so let me introduce you all to a Japanese company you just might have heard of.

d-rights is a fully-owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation that deals with licensing entertainment properties. Though it does work with some live-action productions, the company's forté is animation, and even if you already know of the company you might not understand the extent to which the company is involved in North America. When it comes to children's anime, d-rights is the licensing force behind the myriad of productions in both the Beyblade & B-Daman franchises; not the biggest names out there, but certainly not small fry. It's also involved with other titles like Scan2Go & Beast Saga. Then there's the catalog of other anime the company licenses out, and that's where d-rights' presence on anime fans' shelves may surprise some. Checking out the company's catalog shows that a number of known, presently in print, or still streaming, titles come from d-rights. Nabari, El Cazador de la Bruja, Gun X Sword, Disgaea, Maria Watches Over Us, Bamboo Blade, X TV, Shingu, Boogiepop Phantom, Virus Buster Serge... And that's only what's listed on the company's redone site! Looking back at the company's old site, via the Internet Wayback Machine, shows that d-rights is also why we can buy titles like Princess Nine & The Irresponsible Captain Tylor or watch Reborn! online. Also, alongside the titles Discotek recently picked up, Right Stuf will be releasing the first boxset of Yakitate!! Japan next month, which also comes from d-rights. Now that I've listed every single title that's presently licensed from them, in one way or another, let's look at every other title the company has the rights to license & whether or not they have any chance at getting license rescued (or for the first time, though that's amazingly the minority here). How am I going to calculate those odds? Why via APBL, of course!

What's APBL? It stands for Arbitrary Percentage of Being Licensed, and I just made it up. The APBL is calculated via this formula: (((X1-2) + (X2-2) + (X3-2))/3)*10. What does that mean? Well, I'm going to roll a pair of dice three times, subtract two from each roll so that the result is within 0 to 10, & then average the three results. After that I'll multiply by 10 to make it within 0 to 100. Yes, it's truly arbitrary, and I'm only doing it for the hell of it.  Since I mentioned that non-rescues are actually the exception rather than the rule for d-rights, which is pretty surprising for a licensing company, let's start with those.

Monochrome Factor
Out of the small list of d-rights anime that has never been licensed, the most surprising one is definitely 2008's Monochrome Factor, a 24-episode series based on the 2004-2011 shonen/shojo manga by Kaili Sorano. It's technically both genres because the magazine it ran in, Comic Blade Masamune, ended in 2007 & was rebooted in the latter genre as Comic Blade Avarus. I say that it's the most surprising one because it's the only one that's aired within the past decade that hasn't been licensed yet after the recent announcements regarding Earl & Fairy (also from 2008) & Shining Tears X Wind (from 2007). This is the story of Akira Nikaido, a slacker student who meets a man named Shirogane & gets involved in a war between the human world & the shadow world, becoming a "shin", those of the shadow world, in the process.

TokyoPop did start releasing the original manga at one point, but only got four volumes in before stopping, but I can see where the appeal might be. Girls love pretty boys, and they especially like pretty boys who might have to take a walk on the dark side to do good. The anime, however, came out in the time between the bursting of the anime bubble here in North America & the beginning of CrunchyRoll going legit with simulcasting. Simply put, a bunch of anime that could have used the attention & promotion simply got lost in the shuffle, and I think that's what happened with Monochrome Factor. Having never seen it I can't judge it on content, but just from the promotional image above I think this likely would have found some sort of noteworthy fanbase had it come out just another year or so later, which likely would have gotten it a simulcast.

APBL: 56.67%
The roll is random & the percentage is arbitrary, but the result is honestly a fair one. This seems like a title that would normally have received some love & attention, but its Japanese airing happening during a rough spot in the English industry likely screwed it over. I do think that Monochrome Factor will likely get picked up one day by a company like Discotek or Right Stuf, but if that's the best chance it has then it definitely can go either way.

The Quest of Three Kingdoms
The Sangokushi/Three Kingdoms Era of Chinese history is probably the second most used inspiration in anime, after Japan's own Sengoku/Warring States Era, but very few actually bother to tell the actual story; instead, they tend to simply use its characters for other purposes. In fact, I can only think of three anime that actually focus on telling the story of the actual war. There's 2007's Koutetsu Sangokushi, which focuses on Rikuson Hakugen/Lu Xun & mixes in some fantastical elements as well as a bit of shonen-ai undertones. It's actually streaming over at Viki with full English subs & is a potential review for me. Then there's 2010-2011's Saikyo Bushoden Sangoku Engi, which is a Chinese/Japanese co-production that essentially came & went with no one noticing; it never even got fansubbed. Finally, the most well known of them is 1991-1992's Yokoyama Mitsuteru Sangokushi, which in 47 episodes adapts the first half of manga legend Mitsuteru Yokoyama's epic, 60-volume adaptation of Eiji Yoshikawa's retelling of the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In fact, Yokoyama's adaptation is so devoted that the manga actually goes beyond Yoshikawa's novels & adapts to the proper end of the era itself!

In a time where it's now common for the likes of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Cao Cao, Lu Bu, & many others to either be made into women or bishonen-styled warriors who can take out entire armies on their own, it's actually quaint to think of an anime that simply decided to tell the actual story of what happened... Or at least as actual as an adaptation of a novel series that adapted from a piece of classic literature based on actual historical events could be. Still, the manga is generally considered Yokoyama's magnum opus, and in a catalog that includes historical innovators like Tetsujin 28, Babel II, Giant Robo, Akakage, & Sally the Witch, that really says something. I actually saw the first third or so of "The Quest of Three Kingdoms" years back via fansub, and I found it both entertaining as well as highly informative. Focusing mostly on Liu Bei's story, though switching over to Cao Cao, Sun Jian, & Lu Bu when important, the anime was an interesting mix of traditional storytelling & historical teaching. You simply learned the way the war began & advanced while finding plenty to like in the characters themselves. To this day it's still looked upon by some anime fans as an extremely solid & (mostly) realistic take on a story that's since been, admittedly, stripped bare by how often it's used & abused, with each new take almost topping the previous in absurdity. Let's face it, when you know that there's an anime out there that takes Lu Bu, turns him into a little girl, & then teleports him into modern day Japan, knowing that there's an adaptation out there that wants to tell an honest story is in itself cool.

APBL: 53.33%
I must admit, I didn't expect my calculations to be this high for Three Kingdoms. It's definitely a niche product that would be tricky to market, but there might be just enough of a fanbase out there for it to work for a more boutique publisher. At least it's not like asking for Legend of the Galactic Heroes, right?

B.B-Daman Bakugaiden, B.B-Daman Bakugaiden V, & Bomberman Jetters
When asked to name an iconic video game character, one that has stayed popular for decades, you'll get the obvious answers of Pac-Man, Mario, Sonic, etc, but one that has always stayed just below those characters' notoriety is Hudson's Bomberman; technically his name is White Bomber, but everyone calls him Bomberman. Debuting back in 1983, Bomberman turned into the perennial favorite for gamers who want to blow the ever living crap out of their friends, but without all of the icky, bloody gibs of real life. Sadly, when Konami bought Hudson in 2012 the franchise went dormant until this past November with a new iOS/Android game, but during the 90s & 00s this franchise always carried on strong. So strong, in fact, that it saw anime adaptations, but the path White Bomber took for his anime has always been an odd one, though not without merit in many ways.

It all started in 1998 with the 48-episode Bomberman B-Daman Bakugaiden, or B.B-Daman for short, which was made to promote Takara's new B-Daman line of marble-shooting toys. Why use Bomberman? Well, turns out that B-Daman was introduced as a spin-off of Bomberman, having the multicolored bombers trade in their bombs for marbles that they can fire off from their belt buckles or even via mechs they can pilot. This first anime had White Bomber & his allies take on the evil Dark B-Da to save the world. The next year was the 50-episode sequel, B.B-Daman Bakugaiden Victory, where the bombers became B-Dacops & protected the mysterious Crysmond from space pirates called the Devil Veders. I haven't seen either of these shows, though three episodes were fansubbed a couple of years back, but it's obvious that they were made for little kids & meant to sell B-Daman toys, while being a silly, fun romp. Still, with animation by Madhouse & direction by Nobuaki Nakanishi (who handled other silly shows like Koihime Muso, Mangirl!, & Mahoujin Guru Guru), I would imagine it's better than first impressions may give, as long as they're tempered properly.

In October 2002, about two years after the B-Daman promotion ended, the game franchise would receive its own adaptation, featuring characters from the various games, in Bomberman Jetters, a 52-episode series that took the place of Shaman King. Gone were the multicolored characters, leaving only White Bomber, who was now the little brother of Mighty, the expert leader of the Jetters, an intergalactic protection service. When Mighty goes missing & the Jetters need a new bomber to help fight off the evil forces of Bagura, Mujoe, & Dr. Mechadoc, they hesitatingly welcome an egotistical but inexperienced White Bomber into their ranks. Now I saw about 2/3 of this show years ago, and I'll fully admit that it's also a children's production, but this is actually a surprisingly well done & even poignant at times series. While comedy is the main attraction, along with plenty of wordplay jokes, there's an undercurrent of seriousness whenever the story brings up Mighty's last mission & how it relates to the mysterious Max, with the show pulling no punches when it needs to. Interestingly enough, Jetters was directed by Katsuyuki Kodera, the man behind the intensely creepy & introspective Sci-Fi HARRY. I've actually been meaning to give the show a true, complete watch one day, and when I've done so I'll definitely be reviewing it here. I remember wondering back then why this never came over back when series like Sonic X & Kirby: Right Back at Ya! were airing on television, and I've always held hope (ever slight hope) that an anime company here might notice it & give it a try.

APBL: 70% (B.B-Daman), 36.67% (B.B-Daman V), 46.67% (Jetters)
This is pretty surprising, but my arbitrary calculations actually give the first B.B-Daman series a fair chance at coming over. Considering that B-Daman is still known over here, having seen a more recent series get some airtime on Saturday mornings for a time, there might be hope for that one... Naturally, the sequel series has a smaller chance of coming over, but I am disappointed that Jetters is at less than half-chance. Like I said, ever slight hope there...

Speaking of posts I made back in January 2011, here's another one. In fact, right after I did the Enoki Films USA posts, I did a review for 2000 mecha anime Platinumhugen Ordian, which was directed by Masami Obari & questioned by me as "Eva with Norse Mythos". To this day, I look back at Ordian with both a sense of enjoyment as well as a sense of confusion, because there's a lot to the show thematically, especially in the second half. Part of that confusion is likely due to the said heavy use of Norse mythology, as well as the themes of rebirth & personal identity, but a larger part of that is the eventual realization that the fansubs that exist for this show weren't all that good. An effort to properly sub it was attempted a few years back, though it only got four episodes in, but the second effort showcased a translation that made much more sense. Had it been fully re-subbed I would have gladly re-watched Ordian, and maybe my enjoyment of the show could have become stronger.

I should probably back up, however, & explain what the show was about. Ordian focused on Yuu Kananase, an aimless youth who ends up joining the International Military Organization, which trains people to pilot giant robots called Rimhugens and participate in war as a for-hire group. Yuu winds up in a group that includes a childhood friend (Nanna), a skilled recruit (Wolf), & a quiet girl (Nell), & together they wind up getting involved in a past conspiracy that involves the mysterious process known as "Remake". The first half of the show showcased the trials & tribulations of training & team-building before tossing everyone into an actual war front. The second half was where the Norse mythology themes became even heavier & is also when the story gets more & more complex. The show's best chance at ever coming over was during the early-to-mid 00s, when Masami Obari's name still had strong clout & Evangelion was still widely available. Could it still come over, though?

APBL: 66.67%
According to my calculations, the answer to that question is "Maybe... Just maybe." Obari's name now brings with it some sense of nostalgia, and the contributions he still makes to the industry now (usually OP animation or episode direction) are appreciated for the dynamic look & feel that Obari was always known for. While the mid-to-late 00s were a no-go time for Platinumhugen Ordian to come over, it might actually have a better chance now.

And, as a bonus for this part, let's take a look at a title that was once licensed by Central Park Media. In fact, it's the sole d-rights title that CPM once licensed that has never been rescued by another company!

Night Walker
I had written about this series once before in July 2012, back when I looked at the early days of "modern-day" late-night anime. Night Walker: The Midnight Detective was a 12-episode TV series based on a PC game of the same name that came out on the NEC PC-9801 back in 1993; after the anime aired, the game was remade in 2001. In the post I linked to I stated that the first four episodes were actually OVAs, but I was mistaken. In reality, the anime itself was originally planned to be a 4-episode OVA series, but was later changed into a late-night TV series. Since these four episodes were already through most of the process, though, a new director & character designer was brought in to do the successive eight episodes to turn it into a TV series. Said series was about Shido Tatsuhiko, a private investigator who doubles at night as a demon hunter who protects humans from all sorts of supernatural beings. The twist, however, is that Shido himself is a vampire.

Conceptually, it's a neat idea, potentially mixing together the mystery genre with the monster/horror genre. I haven't heard any talk of it in recent years, since it's been out-of-print for at least a decade, but I do remember the general reaction that I read years ago being very positive, which is always good for keeping your interest in potentially checking it out one day. Sadly, CPM's two DVDs have become a fair bit more expensive, with the cheapest I can find being a little over $30 for just one DVD. It's hard to say if there's something to this anime that has kept it from being rescue-worthy, both because of I haven't seen it myself & because the only other anime CPM got from d-rights was IRIA: Zeiram the Animation, which got rescued twice. CPM was always a company that veered off-center, so it's hard to really say whether Night Walker has simply been forgotten with time or if it really wasn't all that good in the first place.

APBL: 50%
I'll admit, I did some re-rolling for this one... But that's only because I kept getting either 46.67% or 56.67%, and I had hoped that I wouldn't be repeating arbitrary percentages within the first part. When I ended up getting a straight 50% I took it, and I think it actually fits this show well. This really does seem like a show that could go either way in terms of its chances of being licensed. It's fully dubbed, but it's been forgotten with time. It's a neat idea that's different from the norm of its type, but that may just be a double-edged sword at the same time.

[4/2018 UPDATE: Forgot to update this piece in time, but Discotek has since rescued Night Walker, & given it a new DVD release.]
It really is amazing that so much of d-rights' catalog of anime licenses has already seen release here in North America; I can't think of another company quite like that. That said, there are some outliers remaining, and while the APBL gives the edge to B.B-Daman Bakugaiden & Ordian, I'm personally going to say that Monochrome Factor has the best chances of still coming over. That said, there is something to like about all of these shows (which kind of makes me want them all to come over), and there may even be a chance for Night Walker, too. Check back later for Part 2, where I calculate the APBL for the titles that once saw release here from Media Blasters & ADV!

1 comment:

  1. Feel like pestering Enoki again! I'm certain I can pick up "Honey Honey" easy!