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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The d-low on d-rights Part 3: Bring it On!

It's the finale of this overview of what d-rights has in its metaphorical vault of (as of this post) unlicensed anime titles, and to end it off we'll be investigating the last six (actually seven, but you'll see) shows left to look at. The cool thing is that, unlike the previous two parts, there isn't any "bonus" entries that vary from the theme of each prior post, ala Night Walker being a CPM title among the unlicensed or the ADV titles mixed in with Media Blasters. Instead, this final part will be all about one company... Both versions of it (kind of).



Bandai Entertainment debuted back in 1998, but wouldn't start using its actual name on its releases until 1999, specifically for its DVD & dubbed VHS releases. For the subbed VHS releases the company instead used the name of its online store, AnimeVillage.com. (yes, as you can see, the ".com" was part of the actual name) By 2000 the store was gone, though it would return in 2006 as Bandai's store once again. Only two years later, though, Bandai Ent. merged with Bandai Visual USA, and AnimeVillage.com fused with BV USA's dot-anime.us store, keeping the latter's web address. Sadly, in 2012 Bandai Ent. was forced to close down by owner Bandai Namco, leaving behind a legacy that first gave anime fans classics like Cowboy Bebop, Vision of Escaflowne, & the Gundam franchise, among many, many other titles. The ones I'll be bringing up in this part, with the exception of one, were some of the earliest anime Bandai ever licensed & released here in North America, & Media Blasters' John Sirabella once told me that these early releases were all part of a giant package deal that might, one day, "find a good home". Unfortunately, none of them have yet found such a home, so let's see why & calculate if they even have any chance of being adopted.


AWOL
Well this is a great title to start with, now isn't it? The subject of milestone Review #150 (& #151), 1998's AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave- was definitely an oddity that could only have been made in the earliest days of "modern" late-night anime. The OVA boom saw potential TV series that didn't happen be given a second chance, like with Megazone 23, yet after watching all of this 12-episode TV series I am positive that AWOL was the reverse of that idea. The slow-as-pitch pacing the first half had, including requiring an entire third of the series before the heroes are fully introduced & not having the heroes & villains even interact with each other in any fashion until late into episode 6, really makes me feel that this production was initially conceived as a short OVA series but ended up being stretched out at a TV series. Note that that I said "stretched out" instead of "expanded upon", because the only expansion in this show is an entire episode that wound up being absolutely pointless & unneeded.

The sad thing is that even the production staff knew that the TV series was bad, so what was shown on TV never saw release on home video. Instead, the home video release, named AWOL Compression Re-MIX, did what it's name stated & "compressed" the entire show into four 50-minute(-ish) OVAs, even removing the previously mentioned pointless episode in its entirety. The end result was a much more watchable product, and likely closer to what the original conception was, though since it featured no new footage it was still hampered by some problems that simply couldn't have been compressed away. Oddly enough, however, when Bandai Ent. got this show back in 1999 d-rights licensed to them the original TV version, making Bandai's VHS release the only home video release of the original version of this anime. These North American tapes now go for high prices over at Amazon Japan's marketplace, while the Compression Re-MIX VHS tapes go for peanuts (the LDs are naturally hard to find). Considering that d-rights' website has, & still does, list AWOL as being "30min × 12episodes", I'm going to guess that it only has the original TV series, so therefore I will only calculate the chances for that original version.

APBL: 53.33%
Damn it... Yes, it's an arbitrary number, but who am I to argue with it, right? Still, it's only barely over half-chance, & I do highly doubt that AWOL will ever see release here in North America again. There's no DVD release in Japan, there's not even a streaming option over there, and quite frankly no one should ever have to endure the pain that is the original TV version of this anime. Sure, it gets better in the second half... But that still requires one to go through six entire episodes of pitch-paced tedium.


Eatman '98 [& '97 (maybe?)]
This is an interesting pair of titles in d-rights catalog of anime licenses, because the old site had these two listed together as a single entry, but the present site only has the later show listed on its own. It's possible that Bandai Visual has the licensing rights for the original show now, while d-rights only has rights to the second show now, but I'll play it safe & include both. Also, this logic could apply to any anime that isn't on the present site but was on the original, but I already included them in previous parts, so why change now? Anyway, I've talked about the two Eat-Man anime series on this blog numerous times before, & even finally reviewed them last year. So, to recap, there are two shows based on the same Akihito Yoshitomi manga, one made in 1997 that was directed by Koichi Mashimo & was almost nothing like the manga & another made in 1998 that was directed by Toshifumi Kawase & was specifically made to be accurate to its source material.

They are such a disparate pair of productions that I honestly think that no other differing adaptations of the same material could surpass them. Mashimo's show came so fast off of the debut of the original manga (some places indicate that it was less than month between the two!) that it simply used the basic idea of Bolt Crank being a wandering explorer who can eat metal & reform it and used him as the catalyst for all sorts of stories. Each episode was a completely different tale that hit all sorts of themes & sub-themes within the themes; there truly is little like it out there. Kawase's show, on the other hand, was made for fans of the manga, adapting four stories straight from the pages of Dengeki GAO! magazine alongside two original stories that Yoshitomi himself seemed to help create. While the overall production wasn't quite as quirky & personal as Mashimo's, Kawase's production was still very well done & in the end both anime are well worth the watch.

APBL: 66.67% (Eat-Man), 60% (Eat-Man '98)
I've always held out hope that both of these anime productions will one day see license rescues, and thankfully my arbitrary calculations back my hopes up. There have even been DVD releases of both shows in Japan, which would likely mean that re-releases would result in overall better products; Bandai's DVD release for '98 likely went off of the original VHS release. In a fandom that has since seen other shows that focused on a traveling protagonist (Kino's Journey, Mushi-shi) or utilized an episodic format based around a single, enigmatic lead (Death Parade), I do think that there is something to the two Eat-Man shows that can appeal to people now. Some company just has to be willing to hire Bolt; he is the best in the business, after all.

[10/2016 ADDENDUM: Looks like d-rights did still have both Eat-Man anime series, since Discotek Media will be giving both the '97 & '98 shows new DVD releases in late-2016/early-2017.]

And now for a show whose Steven Blum-narrated trailer I've only seen on the Eat-Man '98 DVD set!


Ehrgeiz
If you can't tell already, I'm kind of well-versed in these d-rights titles that Bandai Ent. once released, since I've reviewed all but the last two. In fact, 1997's Next Senki/Record of Next War Ehrgeiz was the third review I ever did here, and for a time was actually one of the most-viewed, though I'm positive that was only because the anime (essentially) had the same name as that of a 3D fighting game that featured Final Fantasy VII characters; my "Vs. Battle" between the two has since become my #5 most-viewed post. This is a series that, as Mike Toole once stated, confused anime fans for about a year & then was promptly forgotten about, but when I first saw it in my early days as an anime fan I found it very enjoyable. In fact, when I a re-watched it in a single day years later, while recording my VHS tapes onto DVD, I enjoyed it even more than before. To be fair, though, I'm an extreme outlier here, as most other people either haven't heard of this show before or they're more or less uncaring about it.

Though it was the first mech anime to air in a late-night timeslot, Ehrgeiz was actually more about people than giant robots doing battle. During a war between the Earth Federation & the rebellious Next Colonies, an experimental robot named "S" runs loose & creates destruction in its wake. S's existence winds up forcing Next officers Akane Aoi & Arnold, third party resistance group Terra, & a group of outlaws on the abandoned Next 7 colony to interact, causing cracks in the facades of all three groups & challenging all of their own personal ambitions to come into conflict. In the end, Ehrgeiz was more about how S affected the lives of all of the main characters instead how the actual war itself played out, and that's where it really appealed to me. The characters were memorable & varied, the personal interactions were what the real focus was on, & the overall story was engaging and always kept my interest. It's by no means a forgotten classic of its time, but this 12-episode TV series is one that I think deserves a little more love & attention than the next-to-nothing it gets.

Or I could just be a weirdo who really likes an anime that no one else cares about. That's always a possibility, after all.

APBL: 46.67%
Much like the two Eat-Man anime, I've always wished for a license rescue of Next Senki Ehrgeiz; I always put it down as a "never gonna happen" wish, but still. I don't hold it against any company, either, because let's face facts here... This is a no-name mech anime whose biggest claim is to have confused people due to it sharing a general name with a video game that was much more notable. Even in Japan the show is still stuck as a VHS & LD-only release, though at least there is a (Japan-only) digital streaming option out there. Still, there are some neat extras on the LDs that would make cool extras for a DVD release, like production images, interviews with the staff, posters, & even a series of "My Favorite Battle of MV" videos that act as a best-of compilation.

Still, the fact that AWOL has the higher chance at getting rescued annoys me. Yeah, they were conceived by the same entity, the mysterious "et", but Ehrgeiz is just so much better.


Hiwou War Chronicles
As mentioned in the beginning, only one of these titles was not one of Bandai's earliest licences, & this is said title. Instead of being released way back in 1999 (which would have been amazing, since it didn't debut in Japan until 2000!), this saw a slow, experimental release from 2006-2008 by way of double-disc volumes which reduced the amount of releases to only three singles; production delays resulted in the slow releases. Renamed Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War, the 26-episode series was BONES' very first show (after previously doing only assistance work) & was created by infamous anime writer Noboru/Shou Aikawa, who also wrote titles ranging from the original Fullmetal Alchemist to Oh! Edo Rocket to Angel Cop (depending on how his frame of mind was at various points in his life). Hiwou's War tells the journey of Hiwou & his siblings & friends as they search Japan for his father after the dangerous Wind Gang destroy their village with their karakuri/clockwork contraptions. Luckily for the kids, though, they have Homura, a giant carriage that can transform into a clockwork warrior operated by Hiwou & one of his friends.

While BONES would go on to make iconic series like Angelic Layer, both Fullmetal Alchemist TV series, & Eureka Seven, the studio's debut series would be nothing more than a footnote until Anime Expo 2006, when Bandai Ent. announced their license of it. Still, the previously stated production delays, as well as the general children's series nature of the show (plus a poor English dub from Odex), pretty much relegated Hiwou's War as unimportant & easily forgettable. 2006-2007's Ghost Slayers Ayashi, also from Aikawa, did include Hiwou's father for a two-episode story, however, and purposefully left itself vague if both shows took place in the same world. The first volume quickly became infamous as something you could literally buy at FYE, brand new, for only $1.99, and reviews from ANN & AnimeOnDVD weren't positive. In true hipster/hippie/contrarian fashion, however, I enjoyed this series from episode 1 & in my review praised it for being both fun & educational for children as well as not relying on that status as a crutch, instead actually focusing on telling a great story of growing up & promoting peace; the amazing music (by Hiroshi Yamaguchi of rock band Heatwave) also helped.

APBL: 70%
My calculations don't consider how cheap or expensive a title is to buy on DVD now in these rescue cases, so there is a large difference between the calculated chances of Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War being rescued & how expensive it is now. That's because, though Right Stuf's $24.99 bundle is no longer available, the show is still really cheap to buy; in fact, it's possibly cheaper than TRSI's old bundle! Quite honestly, this was a real oddity for Bandai Ent. to pick up in 2006, and though I'm very glad that they did just that I will completely argue with my calculations & state that Hiwou's War will likely never see a license rescue, barring it being forced upon another company as part of a package deal. (Which may have been the case for Bandai, but there wasn't any other d-rights title announced at that time...) I'd certainly welcome a re-release that would save a little space, but I wouldn't put any money down on it happening.

You can just continue to the next entry while I stay here for a moment & jam out to the show's awesome OP, however.


Haunted Junction
Those early days of late-night had a heavy focus on adapting manga that would likely have never seen the greenlight before then. For example, Those Who Hunt Elves, the one that started it all, was about stripping elves down to their undergarments, which obviously would never work in either a morning slot or prime-time. Similarly, the 12-episode adaptation of Nemu Mukudori's Haunted Junction from 1997 had some similar taboo themes to it. It told the daily school lives of the members of Satio High School's Holy Student Council who protect the school, which is constantly haunted by the occult. Having never seen this series before I can only go off of research, but the series utilized concepts like possession, shamanism, yurei, yokai, & even the ever-favorite toilet ghost. While some of these concepts likely would have made it tough to get this show aired on regular timeslots, one character's fetish likely was what kept it late-night only. Mutsuki Asahina, one of the three main characters, was a girl who continually & aggressively went after Nino, a young boy spirit. Yes, Mutsuki was a full-on shotacon, i.e. she's attracted to little boys, about a good decade before Boku no Pico made such a fetish notable.

Bandai Ent. released this series across six VHS tapes, even making an artbox to house them in (yes, there are VHS artboxes for anime), followed by a sub-only DVD boxset in 2000. The interesting thing is that this show never received a DVD release in Japan (LD was the best option), and that was a common thing back in the early days of DVD production for anime over here. Interestingly enough, about a year ago I had checked on the prices of this DVD set & it wasn't too much (about $20-$30, at most), but since then Haunted Junction's price has skyrocketed & now costs, at the very least, $75! The most annoying thing is that this wasn't exactly a show that had no love, like Ehrgeiz sadly got. No, this series had very positive reviews for its time, like over at ANN's early days, with the only complaint being the highly limited animation, which was essentially a given due to its status as an early late-night production. This series could very well use a rescue now.

APBL: 50%
Well, it's looking like Haunted Junction is stuck right in the middle. Those who remember the show back during its VHS release (& whatever new fans it gained with its DVD set) may be there for a potential rescue, but are there enough of them? I remember talking with Chris Beveridge (AnimeonDVD founder & now of The Fandom Post) some time ago on Twitter about Bandai's old licenses, and he looked back on this exact show with fondness & some yearning to give it a re-watch. Considering that the supernatural is a good bit more common in anime now when compared to the 80s & 90s, there might be a potential new audience for Haunted Junction... But someone who works for a company will have to remember it.


Don't Leave Me Alone Daisy
I always find it cool when a new anime is announced that's based on a long-finished manga. Usually there's some sort of reasoning behind adapting an older property, like an anniversary (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the upcoming Ushio & Tora) or as part of a multimedia celebration (Ring ni Kakero 1 [Masami Kurumada's 30th Anniversary] or the presently-running Parasyte [alongside two live-action movies]). Sometimes, though, there doesn't seem to be any real reasoning behind it, which seems to be the case for Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy, a 12-episode adaptation of the 1986-1989 Noriko Nagano manga. Upon researching there was a 2-volume reprint done by ASCII in 1996, but that happened a little over a year before the anime debuted, so kind of I doubt the anime was made to help promote that. Daisy is all about Techno, a technology prodigy who has lived his entire life in a bomb shelter due to this grandfather. Upon looking through the cameras that show his family's yard one day, though, he spots a girl, Hitomi Matsuzawa. Techno instantly falls in love with the girl, naming her "Daisy" & decides to enter the surface world & make her his... Regardless of what she or anyone else, including teacher Ms. Rarako or tough kid Yamakawa X, thinks.

So, uh, yeah... Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy is essentially a story about a crazed stalker who wishes to make a girl his via as many bad ideas & schemes as possible in 12 episodes. It's a concept for a story that likely could only have been made in Japan, and there's no doubt that such a cultural difference in how the reasons for Techno's actions come off resulted in how it was likely received here. For example, in Japan Techno's dedication to getting Hitomi to fall in love with him was likely looked at as touching & funny due to how naive & well-meaning he meant, but in North America people may likely see Techno as a maniac stalker who doesn't understand that Hitomi doesn't really want anything to do with him (though she's too nice a girl to outright dismiss Techno). It's a very awkward story, likely purposefully so, and while I saw a couple of episodes years ago I really don't remember much of them. Sadly, this show saw a similar release to that of Haunted Junction, VHS followed by North America-only DVD boxset, and now the DVD set goes for higher prices, though not quite as high as the former (only ~$45 at the least here).

APBL: 40%
While Haunted Junction has its supernatural stylings & zaniness to sell itself to new audiences now, Don't Leave Me Alone, Daisy might still be a tough sell now. Actually, upon immediate second thought, Daisy might have a slightly better chance, as we've since seen all sorts of anime featuring wacko & uncomfortable love stories, like Bunny Drop, OreImo, or Dog & Scissors. Compared to some of those, a naive stalker who means well sounds simple. Still, it's definitely a hard sell.
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And that's the low down on d-rights. Why focus on this company's catalog of anime licenses? Honestly, there's just something about what d-rights has to offer that appeals to me, personally. It's a varied line-up that covers lots of fan favorites, cult-classics, hidden gems, & forgotten titles. While the chances for what's left to license aren't exactly high, there's still enough here that can likely surprise people. Sure, most of what's left aren't going to be all-time classics or even cult favorites, but I'm always up for something different, and what d-rights has up for grabs looks pretty appealing from that perspective.

Now hopefully someone with the money & cojones to take a risk will think the same.

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