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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Demo Disc Vol. 2: Shotgun Shonen Night

A lot of people become anime fans by way of titles based on manga that ran in magazines aimed at the shonen market, which is more or less the pre-teen to teenage range, though it appeals to older audiences as well, and what's considered acceptable for teens in Japan differs compared to the rest of the world. It's a demographic that allows for a lot of variation, though the most common genre used tends to be action-oriented titles, whether it's the strictly fighting kind or a more adventurous type. This is a demographic & style that has been honed since the earliest days of manga as we know it, though the true innovators tended to appear during the 60s, when anime on TV started becoming a actual thing. So in this volume of Demo Disc we'll be taking a look at four anime based on shonen manga. Two of them were animated back when they were running, one came to animation decades later, & the last spices things up by being from the new millennium. Also, I have a special treat at the end as a bonus, so keep on reading (or skip to the end, because I can't stop you).


The Scarlet Adventurer of the Wind & Clouds
As a fan of Shonen Jump I looked into seeing what the first "Jump Anime" was. What I wound up finding out is that crowning that title comes down to semantics. You see, when Tatsunoko's anime debuted on April 2, 1969, Tatsuya Yoshida's Kurenai/Scarlet Sanshiro was running in Weekly Shonen Jump... But it didn't debut in that magazine. It actually debuted in Weekly Shonen Sunday before moving to Jump (Wikipedia incorrectly states that it first ran in Jump's predecessor, Shonen Book), and that kind of stuff was actually common back in the day; just look at how many magazines Cyborg 009 jumped around in (including a stint Monthly Jump!). Now, technically, Kurenai Sanshiro (also known internationally as Judo Boy) is considered the first Jump Anime according to Wikipedia Japan, but it is hard to consider it a true Jump manga, especially when Wikipedia Japan doesn't even list the series in it's list of all manga the ever ran in Weekly Jump. Still, it debuted first, & since I do Demo Disc entries chronologically, we'll start with it.

Sanshiro is on a mad search for his father on his motorcycle, only to find him in the midst of a battle to the death against a mysterious foe. Sanshiro's father dies in battle, but not without removing his opponent's glass eye. Though the father warns to not go after the man, Sanshiro swears on his father's grave that he'll find the man & avenge not just his father, but also the Scarlet Style martial art they use. With only the glass eye in hand, Sanshiro is told by another man about the Kayomaru, a supposed "ghost ship" which no one returns from. After being told that the Captain wears an eye patch, Sanshiro heads to the Kayomaru, only to find men hoarding tons of gold powder... And they now must kill Sanshiro to keep their secret.


I have to give full credit where it's due, and in this case it's Tatsunoko's ability to make Kurenai Sanshiro immediately entertaining. Episode 1 begins suddenly with Ikuo Nishikawa (Robert J. Hanner in Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the original Casshan) screaming "Father!" at the top of his lungs, instantly grabbing your attention & making you curious. The rest of the episode does admittedly move by at almost a little too fast of a pace, but it's filled with all sorts of fun bits. Sanshiro at first comes off as a bit of an asshole, especially when it comes to the young boy Kenbo & his sister (& hat-wearing dog Boke), but in this case its understandable as he's filled with rage & confusion over his father's death. It's when Sanshiro, followed by Kenbo & Boke, boards the Kayomaru that the episode is at its best. The action is quick, and though battles with grunts don't show much, the fight with the Captain is awesome. It's all close quarters combat, with a raging fire encasing the entire freighter, making it feel like the climax to an over-the-top action movie. The fire is so extreme, in fact, that Tatsunoko didn't always animate the force of nature. You see, the 60s were such an early time for anime, and that resulted in studios trying out ways to deliver the imagery when simply drawing it wouldn't quite be enough yet. In Sanshiro's case that results in a couple of shots which were nothing more than an actual fire being filmed over footage of an actual boat, or possibly even lighting a model on fire, as well as having the explosion of the Kayomaru showcased by an actual explosion! Even when the Captain falls down in defeat, he's superimposed over actual sparks flying. While it does come off a little cheesy nowadays, the show handles the use of live-action footage well & it just adds to the fun factor. If this show was to ever see a full subtitled release I would gladly watch all of Kurenai Sanshiro. As it is, all that's out there presently is a fansub of this first episode, using the French DVD release from Déclic Images (a company that died out after it was revealed that it released anime it never actually licensed), though I will say that the video quality here is superb; this show looks amazing for something from 1969.


The Village's #1 Bluffer
Now if you ask me what I consider the first "true" Jump Anime, then my answer would be this one. Debuting in the first year of the magazine's existence, Otoko Ippiki Gaki Dasiho/The Ideal Boy's Gang Leader was the very serialization by Hiroshi Motomiya, who would go on to create Tenchi wo Kurau (which was adapted into two beloved beat-em-ups by Capcom in the 90s), Salaryman Kintaro (probably his most known work outside of Japan), & found artist collective Moto Kikaku, who are known most for co-creating the Strider franchise with Capcom. While Go Nagai's debut work Harenchi Gakuen became one of Jump's first hit manga due to its then-racy & taboo-breaking naughtiness, Gaki Daisho (which is essentially the elementary school equivalent of a bancho) is generally considered the manga that gave Jump the proper notoriety it needed in its early days (Harenchi Gakuen mainly gave the magazine infamy). For trivia's sake, the other hit manga alongside these two was baseball manga Chichi no Tamashii.

The manga ran until 1973, lasting 20 volumes, and was a gigantic influence on some of the industry's biggest names. It inspired Masami Kurumada to become a manga-ka & was the basis for what he wanted to be his magnum opus, Otoko Zaka, while Tetsuo Hara admitted that his 1995 manga Takeki Ryusei was essentially a remake of Gaki Daisho. It was such an instant hit that it was made into an anime within a year, with the first episode debuting on September 29, 1969. This is the sole Jump Anime, based on a Jump original, to debut in the 60s, and has a bit of a confusion when it comes to how many episodes there are. Wikipedia Japan says 156, while other sites say 52, but there are only 26 named episodes. Turns out that the show aired across the week, Monday through Saturday, with each day only airing ~10 minute portions, which likely is where the confusion lies. Unfortunately, the anime never saw a home video release & the only footage that I could find is the first episode, combining three portions into a ~30 video (so it might only be half of the first episode). So let's check this out & see the origins of Jump!


After his father died going out to rescue a boat during a fierce storm, Mankichi Togawa swears to be an "otoko ippiki", or ideal man, like his father was in his eyes. In Part 1, Mankichi stands up against a group of rowdy yankii who ruin the fish his mother got during the day. He later meets Gotaro, the bancho of the group, who fakes tearing up a picture of Mankichi's father to rile him up. In Part 2, Mankichi & his friend/follower Rappa (who calls Mankichi "taisho") rescue a boat that wound up stuck near the rocky shore, only for Mankichi to wind up crashing the boat in the process. While on the boat, however, he finds himself smitten with Tomoko Okano, the girl who was on the boat (this is an apparent violation of one Mankichi's own rules of manhood). After hearing what Mankichi did, however, his mother punishes him by slapping him a couple of times & not feeding him dinner. In Part 3, Mankichi, still without food for lunch, has Rappa deliver a large pot & fish to him at school, which he uses to smoke the fish for lunch, creating a fuss. After school, however, Mankichi is challenged by Gotaro & his goons, but due to indigestion from the fish Mankichi can't properly fight back (though he certainly tries). To cheer himself up he comes across Tomoko's home & trespasses onto the territory, knocking on her window to talk to her.

There's an immediate difference between Kurenai Sanshiro & Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho, and it's in the animation. While both feature very limited animation, which was the norm of the time, Tatsunoko managed to keep everything looking great by simply drawing every frame excellently. Gaki Daisho, on the other hand, was done by TV Tokyo Doga (later NTV Doga), which was meant to be cheaper simply because it was essentially done by the network it aired on; the daily airing schedule also likely contributed to the need for cheaper animation. Still, it's not exactly a poor-looking show by the general standards of the era; if it wasn't done by Mushi Pro, Toei, or Tatsunoko it likely looked super-cheap. So how does this episode (or half-episode?) work? Well, it's definitely a product of its time, that's for sure. Now everyone identifies Shonen Jump properties, especially its action series, as being fantastical, over-the-top, & outrageous, but that wasn't a common thing until the 80s; back in the day Jump (& manga in general) was more grounded & plausible. Mankichi isn't some chosen one or super-powered fighter, in fact he loses more here than he wins, but rather he's a boy who has a lot of pride in himself & dreams of being better. He's rough & rowdy, but it's all with great intent. In some ways he's similar to the lead from Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro, but where Matsutaro was selfish in his actions, Mankichi does look out for others; he even offers his smoked fish to his classmates while choking them with the smoke. Sadly, I do feel that this is only half of the first episode, as nothing of note really happens here. I've read that the story really gets going when Mankichi takes out 180 people in a single fight, before moving to Tokyo to take on social problems there, but you get no hints of that here.

That said, it's still a great watch from a historical perspective. This anime had episode direction by Yoshiyuki Tomino, featured key animation by Moriyasu Taniguchi (who still works to this day) & the late Shingo Araki, & had voice work by legends like Masako Nozawa (Rappa) & the late Kei Tomiyama (Mankichi). While Jump saw a larger female audience starting with the late-80s & the entire 90s, which some called "Neo-Shonen", Hiroshi Motomiya's drawing style was already attracting that audience. Supposedly, girls at the time were often flocking to the door of Motomiya's studio because they loved how he drew men. It's also very conversational, though, which means that I'd really only want to watch more of this show, should any more be readily available, if it has an English translation with it, which is next to impossible. Still, I'm very happy to have had to chance to see one of Jump's earliest hits in some way.


Destiny
Barom 1 was a three-volume superhero manga by Takao Saito, the creator of Golgo 13, than ran during 1970 & 1971 in Weekly Bokura Magazine. JManga translated it while that site existed & it can now be found over at CrunchyRoll in a two-volume format. In 1972 it was adapted into a tokusatsu series called Chojin Barom-1, but it wouldn't be until 2002 that an anime adaptation was made by small name studio E&G Film. It was a short, 13-episode adaptation that was not well received & differs greatly from the manga. Now it belongs to Enoki Films, who I covered way back in the second month of this blog, and was actually licensed by Media Blasters at one point as part of a package deal; the release never happened, though. While I try to go into Demo Disc entries with as much neutrality as possible, for Barom 1 I'm going to change it up by investigating if the first episode showcases the horribleness that the show supposedly is made of. I mean, it's generally categorized alongside Babel II -Beyond Infinity-, a show so bland that I can only properly describe it as "meh"... That's not a good start.

Kentaro Shiratori is a studious boy, being able to calculate situations to the second. Takeshi Kido is an impetuous & eager student. One night, however, the two's separate computer sessions are interrupted by a power outage & a mysterious message from Kopuu, who warns them of Goumon, an evil being who is slowly awakening & unleashing his monsters onto the world. Kentaro & Takeshi have been chosen by fate to become Kopuu's "agents" that can combine their forces, literally, to become Barom 1, super-powered warrior of justice. Good thing, too, because a demonic six-headed dog beast is attacking people at night, and now it's after the two boys.


This show already has an uphill battle due to its notoriety, but at least it gives a great first impression with the OP. Using Dasein's "Ki-Mi-Da-Ke", the opening gets you interested right away & makes you interested in seeing what comes next. Unfortunately, that's the best this first episode gets, though it's not like the episode is a complete bomb. I mentioned this when I reviewed Shin Seiki Den Mars, which was made in the same period of the 00s, but sometimes the classics, the titles that blazed a trail back when they originally ran, can come off as very cliché as time goes on. While I can't hold any of this against Barom 1, since it likely was the modern day origin of much of this in Japan, the idea of two leads, who sport polar opposite personalities, having to learn to work together in order to save the day is something that has been done to death by now. Hell, the anime really pushes the idea that Kentaro & Takeshi are fated to be heroes, too, by having them be born in the same hospital on the same day at the same exact time, & have been in the same class since they first went to school! If someone was to create this series now as an original idea it would be almost immediately dismissed on the terms of being completely unoriginal & trite. As for the production itself, it sadly suffers from the same affliction that Babel II TV had, which is that it merely looks okay at best. While this episode was nowhere near as boring as Babel's first four episodes were (that's all I have ever seen of that show), it was only marginally better from a production standpoint, and that's likely due to director Tsuneo Tominaga, who had plenty of experience by the time Barom 1 was made. The character designs by Manabu Nakatake (Sket Dance) are also a high point, as they still look good, and the monster in this episode was appropriately freakish. Still, while this first episode of Barom 1 wasn't bad by any means, it also wasn't exactly making me want to watch more of the anime. At least I can read the manga over at CrunchyRoll, right? I might just do that, in fact.

Itadakinka!! Yeah, I love dumb puns... So sue me.

I'm the Banker, Croket!
At first I hesitated to include this, simply because the original manga ran in Shogakukan's CoroCoro Comic magazine, which is technically for the kodomo/children demographic. However, CoroCoro Comic apparently categorizes itself as for both kodomo & shonen, acting sort of like a transitional demographic, so I'll include it here. Anyway, Manavu Kashimoto's Croket! debuted in April 2001 & ran until November 2006, lasting 15 volumes & winning the Shogakukan Manga Award for children's manga in 2003 (recipients for the other categories that year were Nana, Zatch Bell!, & 20th Century Boys). The same year it became an award winning manga, Croket! also spawned an anime adaptation by OLM (formerly Oriental Light & Magic), running until 2005. Oddly enough, there seems to be a little confusion online about how long the anime ran, with most places saying 52 & Wikipedia saying 78, but in reality the show ran for 104 episodes. It's especially confusing because ShoPro actually offered the first 52 episodes on YouTube worldwide (no subs, though), though now only the first episode is available in two parts. Viz also technically had the license to this show back in 2006, but it was only as a master licensor for broadcasting purposes; the company had no plans to release it. But enough with the introductions, let's see what children were into back in the 00s!

Wandering around the world are people called Bankers. The single goal of any Banker is to fill their respective banks with gold coins called kinka, as doing so will summon down a god which will grant the Banker his or her wish; only one Banker has ever accomplished this goal. One such Banker is a young boy named Croket, the son of Burger, one of the greatest Bankers in history. While visiting a town & saving a girl from a giant & violent Banker, Croket befriends her & her father Toto, a retired Banker, and agrees to have fortune told. Instead, Toto sees the moment that changed Croket's life. One night, while with his father, a tall masked Banker wearing a black cap challenges Burger to a fight for kinka. With Croket hiding in wait, Burger & the man fight all night & reach a stalemate until Croket awakens & comes out. The man tries to kill Croket, only for Burger to take the blow, killing him instantly. Armed with his father's belongings, a giant wooden hammer that weighs as much as 3 mammoths & the living piggy bank Menchi, Croket aims to be the second person in history to fill his bank & make his wish come true: To revive his father.


You really have to give credit where it's due (again), and I must say that something like Croket! could only come from kodomo manga. Now some would take that as a slight just on the basis that it was made for little kids, but what I'm talking about is a concept & world so zany that it could only truly be created for the youngins. This is a world where people fight, & even kill, each other over coins that can supposedly result in wish granting, & it's filled with more than just humans; the episode starts with catman Worcester failing to defeat Croket, for example. Also, every major character is named after food, like how Croket is named after the croquette (specifically the Japanese korokke). It may sound similar to that of Dragon Ball, but this looks to be even zanier than that title could be & has the fighting at more of the forefront right away. The next episode preview mentions the Banker Survival, a tournament for Bankers, so Croket! knows exactly what it wants to do. In that regard, this anime starts off very smart by focusing instead on character development & showcasing Croket's backstory as soon as possible. While the general idea of Croket's backstory isn't original, it's still executed very nicely & you do feel for the little guy. Seriously, the last image in the flashback is Burger's dead body protecting Croket, complete with the energy blade sticking out of his back; that's pretty hardcore for a kids manga. Still, even with that bit of serious backstory, Croket!'s first episode gives a great first impression & it actually makes me want to one day watch more of the anime, if only to see what other zaniness can come from this title. It actually makes me sad that ShoPro doesn't offer those first 52 episode on YouTube anymore.

And now for the special treat: A look at a movie that I said I could never review! Just keep reading & you'll see what I mean.


16 Minutes of M&E-Only JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood
Now those who read the post prior to this, which covered the second half of twelve more anime I want to review but can't, I saved this movie for last... Yet here I am talking about it. Do note, though, that I did end that final portion with this line:

"At least, I'll never get to experience it in the way it was meant to be seen..."

This is not the way to watch the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood movie from a traditional sense, and it's a miracle that it even made its way to the public. Story goes that a university professor in the United States was teaching a film class and wanted to use an example to help out with an assignment. The professor was a friend of Skywalker Sound, who did the sound editing for this movie, and somehow got a hold of the first 16 minutes of this movie, but only with the Music & Effects track, so there's no voice over. Also, the opening credits were not implemented in this clip, which explains the constant use of "Telop", which is used in place of things like credits during production (this is also why creditless anime OPs are called "Non-Telop" versions in Japan), and some shots are not finished, only showing the storyboards. The professor distributed the clip to his students for the assignment, and one of the students uploaded it to YouTube; apparently this was okay, since it's not a finished product. Since this is likely the only portion of the entire movie that will ever be made available to the public I want to take the opportunity to simply talk about how the movie's beginning looks from a purely visual & audial perspective.

Before that, though, let's go over what these 16 minutes entail. There's a pre-credits scene, usually called the avant or cold open, which shows a muscular man talking to a monk outside of a monastery on the top of a mountain while other monks chant inside. Eventually they shake hands & unleash a power that ripples throughout the air, clearing the sky of the clouds. This is obviously Hamon, the breathing-focused martial art JoJo used before Stands were introduced in Stardust Crusaders, & if I have to guess the muscular man may be a young Tonpetti, the man who would train the man who would train Johnathan Joestar, the very first JoJo lead. Following that is the intro credits, which are interspersed with Dario Brando coming across the crashed carriage George Joestar & his wife were in, along with the mysterious Stone Mask that becomes the cause of the entire manga's origin story. Years later Dario dies & send his son Dio to the Joestars so that he can have a better life. Upon arriving, Dio immediately treats Johnathan like an asshole, kicking his dog Danny, getting all of his friends to dump him, thrashing his room & breaking a pendant that held the picture of his deceased mother, & hiding a needle in his pillow so that Johnathan's face would get stabbed when used. Johnathan finding the needle marks the end of this video clip.

It's not great quality, but it's the best we got, everyone.

Like I said, this is not the way to watch A.P.P.P.'s Phantom Blood movie. Even putting aside the lack of voice work, there's actually very little in these 16 minutes to really judge it. The first eight minutes are taken up by the avant & opening sequence, and the rest is actually only partially taken from Hirohiko Araki's original manga. Having just read Viz's release of Volume 1 of the manga, I can actually tell you what was removed & changed around easily. First, the part where Johnathan saves future love interest Erina from a gang of bullies before coming home to meet Dio is removed, obviously due to time constraints, and after Dio is introduced to the house the movie actually has its own take on how Dio acclimates to his new home. In fact, outside of the scene where Johnathan's old friends disown him, everything after Dio's introduction is brand new, as the manga never had the room thrashing, pendant crushing, or needle pillowing scenes. Obviously, this was all put in to reduce the amount of time needed to establish how much of a jerk Dio is, and, to be fair, these scenes actually make Dio a bigger jerk than he was in the manga... And he was already a gigantic jerk to start with! Since it ends before anything of major note happens, I can't see where the movie fails as an adaptation, but I'm sure that it happens after this fairly promising start. Trust me, there's plenty more to adapt, and the movie at this point would only have roughly 1 hour, 15 minutes to do so, which isn't a lot for the Phantom Blood story.

Visually, taking the rough, unfinished, & low quality of the video aside, the movie actually looks really good, with Junichi Hayama's character designs looking just as fitting for JoJo as they did in the Stardust Crusaders OVAs from 1993 & 2000. For those who become familiar with the franchise through David Production's TV series, though, this movie will look much more bland. David Pro, partially to help mask the lower budget of a TV series, relies heavily on Araki's penchant for crazy sound effects & love of bright & vibrant colors, often changing the entire color palette for certain scenes just to maintain that JoJo style. Studio A.P.P.P.'s productions, however, have always been more straightforward & direct, keeping everything looking more realistic & earthy. It's definitely interesting to go back to this look for the franchise after becoming used to David Pro's take since 2012, but in the end which one a person will prefer will come down to preferences. You'll either love David Pro's fittingly bizarre visuals & find A.P.P.P.'s style to be too generic, or you'll appreciate the bizarre happenings more within A.P.P.P.'s contrasting, down to earth style & find David Pro's take too loud & outlandish, even for JoJo. I'll also give props to the music by Marco D'Ambrosio (the JoJo OVAs, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust), which even in this short portion is orchestral & epic; he was always a good fit for the franchise.

Sadly, this is likely the most we'll ever get to see from Studio A.P.P.P.'s JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood. Even if these first 16 minutes end up being a red herring, with the rest of the movie dive-bombing into crap immediately after this, I have to be honest & I feel that the movie gives a nice first impression, even if I don't have any voices for the characters & some parts of the intro are unfinished. It just makes me wish even more to see the entire movie, which is an impossibility. If you're a fan of JoJo, you owe it to yourself to see this portion of the movie, if only to see how different it is from David Pro's version from a sheer visual perspective.
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We've reached the end of this volume of Demo Disc. This time we journeyed back to Jump's first ventures into anime, saw how two older properties were animated decades after their debuts, & looked at how a more recent title dared to be zany. While I don't have any timeframe in mind for the next volume, always be on the look out for the next Demo Disc!

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