And this time I made sure to specifically choose titles that are either next-to-impossible to actually see at all, or would be way too expensive (or difficult) for me to actually want to import from Japan. If I end up reviewing even one of these titles then I'll be amazed beyond all belief. So let's get started & look at the first six picks.
Sports anime is something that I do think is slowly (very slowly) gaining a fanbase here in North America. People might come in for the pretty boys & girls, but I do think they stay for the actual shows. Still, the genre is mainly focused on adapting actual sports & games, with the most variation being the amount of over-the-top style it may or may not use. Anime based on made up sports are generally rare, though there are some notable ones from the past decade, like IGPX & Basquash!. One that has caught my interest upon hearing of it, though, is a 1986 show called Gou-Q-Chouji Ikkiman, a TV series from Toei that ran for 32 episodes about a team that competes in a fake sport called Battleball. Said spurious sport is more or less baseball but with a futuristic twist, since aliens also play, plus the ability to tackle runners as if some football was mixed in; the "Gou-Q" in the title is a pun meant to represent "goukyu", which is a fastball. The main character is Ikki, a talented Battleball pitcher who's also prone to the occasional slip-up, though his cheerful personality keeps him going strong. Alongside the anime was a 2-volume manga that was drawn by a young Kazuki Takahashi. Yes, the eventual creator of Yu-Gi-Oh! drew this manga, though he used the pen name Kasuo Takahashi at the time.
I've only really been able to see the OP for Ikkiman, which I linked to above, and it's seriously more than enough to make me wish I could see the entire show. The reason is simply because there's so much personality in that OP, especially when it comes to Ikki (who's appropriately voiced by another "Ikki", Hideyuki Hori); the song itself is intensely catchy, too. Obviously, this was aimed at children, but that doesn't mean that it can't possibly be a fun, possibly silly series about a more action-packed & rough version of baseball. I'll admit that I find actual baseball boring, but anime baseball has always been entertaining to me, so I'd love to see an old-school variant of it.
What's Blocking Me?: Complete Unavailability
Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any home video release of Gou-Q-Chouji Ikkiman, not even as a rental VHS from the 80s. Trust me, I've looked at both Amazon Japan as well as Yahoo! Auctions Japan, which tends to have harder to find products, and neither show anything more than the manga or (interestingly enough) actual episode scripts. If there is an online option it's likely exclusive to Japan, and though there was actually an English dub made, it seems like it was only the Phillipines area & I can't find more than a clip; I wouldn't accept that as a replacement, anyway. Barring some sort of first-time home video release happening (maybe next year for the 30th Anniversary?), I don't think I'll ever be able to check out this show.
Shinken Densetsu Tight Road
I once mentioned this show back at my list of Toei anime that Daisuki could potentially offer via streaming, but it's become obvious that the people at Daisuki don't exactly know what to do when it comes to offering actual anime. Anyway, Shinken Densetsu/True Fist Legend Tight Road was a late-1994 TV series from Toei that, oddly, only ran for 13 episodes, which was extremely rare before late-night became the home for anime TV series that short. Supposedly, it was meant to promote a fighting game from Zamuse, who would die out the following year, with development being done by a new studio called Gust (if you're a JRPG fan then you've likely heard that name by now), but when the game never happened the anime was all by itself. Info about what the show is about is non-existent in English, but from what I can sparse out of Japanese the show is about martial artist Taito Masaki getting involved in a battle with the "Living War God" Klaus Daggats, who resides at the top of his gigantic tower called the Spiral Palace. Taito is joined in battle by a trio of warriors, while Daggats has his own fighting masters to challenge them. It admittedly sounds pretty simple, since it was meant to be the line-up for a fighting game, but much like Ikkiman my interest is piqued simply by the encouraging & memorable OP sequence, linked right below the image (also, that shot of Daggats at 1:25 is freakish as all hell).
This is one of those rare older anime that actually doesn't have a listing in the ANN Encyclopedia, and that alone makes me want to check it out, but the staff behind Shinken Densetsu sounds pretty good, too. Direction by Yukio Kaizawa (Ring ni Kakero 1: Nichibei Kessen-hen), series composition by Kenichi Kanemaki (Natsume's Book of Friends), & character designs by then-newcomer Michio Fukuda (director of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan - Demon Capital), with Fukuda calling this show his favorite in terms of designs. I'm sure it's been so utterly forgotten with the times because it doesn't scream anything original or immediately memorable, but I can always appreciate a good action series, and I can only hope that this is a solid one.
What's Blocking Me?: Too Expensive to Import
Unlike the previous entry, Shinken Densetsu Tight Road did see a home video release during the 90s, but it was only on VHS. It must have also been rental-only too, because the only place I could find the tapes for sale was Yahoo! Auctions Japan. Unfortunately, the only options I would have via that site, as of this post, would run me either 6,500¥ or 9,000¥, or $55-$75. Alone that wouldn't be too horrible, but then add in shipping costs, which would likely be as much as the subtotal, and I would likely have to spend close to, if not over, $100 for theses VHS tapes. While I have imported VHS tapes, LDs, & DVDs from Japan, it's usually been for stuff I've already enjoyed; either that or it's super-cheap before shipping costs are included. Paying anywhere near that much for a show that I know next to nothing about is out of the question for me, especially since I don't do this blog for any sort of monetary reason. Since this show is technically available in some way it's more likely that I'll eventually watch & review Shinken Densetsu over Ikkiman, but unless those tapes become super-cheap, or the episodes become available in another fashion, don't count on it happening anytime soon.
[2/2017 ADDENDUM: While the reason for why blocked me still remained somewhat true, I did manage to get the VHS tapes for Shinken Legend Tight Road for as cheap as I think I'll ever find, and I have finally watched & reviewed this anime.]
Last year Toei made a 23-episode TV series called Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro, an anime which was trashed & hated by most people upon the debut of episode one. Naturally, I was of the opposite opinion & when I reviewed it last October I deemed it "possibly the most underrated [anime] of the year." Based on the manga Notari Matsutaro by Ashita no Joe's Tetsuya Chiba that ran from 1973-2000, Toei's series was actually the second anime adaptation. The first one, which used the same name as the manga, was a 10-episode OVA from 1990-1991 that was made by Mushi Production, and from what I can tell it was the last anime that Mushi Pro ever made themselves (they've since only done assistance work). Going solely off of the episode titles, the OVA likely covers the same overall content as the TV series up through episode 6, with the last four being content that goes beyond where the TV series left off at.
For those unfamiliar with this series, and those who don't want to bother reading my review, Notari Matsutaro is the story of the eponymous lead character, a boorish, simpleminded & egotistical giant of an oaf who winds up becoming a sumo solely so that he can potentially spend time, & gain the affection of, a woman who taught at the middle school he went to (Matsutaro was held back many years, making both of them of proper age). Due to his strength he's actually a natural at sumo, but his coarse & asshole-ish demeanor makes him extremely hard to get along with, and it's that very demeanor that turned people off of Toei's show from the first episode (if the highly limited animation didn't do that first). I'm sure some people would think they're funny & assume that Mushi's OVA has better animation than Toei's TV series, but I'm going to hold judgement until I actually manage to see the former... If I ever actually get the chance to do so.
What's Blocking Me?: Restricted Avenues of Acquisition
Sorry for the loquacious verbosity of my reasoning, but the simple fact is that the Notari Matsutaro OVA isn't exactly readily available. Mushi Pro apparently made the entire thing for the rental market, so the only place I've been able to find the five VHS tapes is Yahoo! Auctions Japan. On the one hand, none of the tapes are expensive by any means, 300¥-500¥ at cheapest, but the killer would easily be shipping costs combined with the fact that I would have to be buying from multiple sellers, which just adds to the costs (and, yes, there are bootleg Chinese DVDs listed as well, oddly enough). Finally, I've actually never bought anything from YafuOku! (as it's shortened to), so I'm not quite sure how easy or difficult it is. I do see that it has an English option via Buyee, but it's the fact that I have no choice but to go with an unfamiliar route that's mainly keeping me from getting these VHS tapes. Also, I have limited shelf space as it is, & adding more VHS tapes to my collection would not be ideal. It's a shame that Mushi Pro never took advantage of Toei's TV series & gave their OVA series a DVD release last year, because I would have gladly ponied up some money for that.
|This is the OST vinyl cover.|
Lupin tai Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes & Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin aren't strangers when it comes to inspiring anime & manga. Sherlock is the namesake of series like Tantei Opera Milky Holmes & Detective Conan, while every anime fan knows Lupin the 3rd (the supposed grandson of the man himself), not to mention that Hayao Miyazaki has worked on anime inspired by both, but it's hard to actually name anime that uses the real deals themselves. Meanwhile, outside of anime, the idea of having the master detective go up against the master of disguise & thievery has been done a few times before, even by Leblanc himself, with a 2008 PC game possibly being the most recent example of that. Still, there is one anime out there that does in fact feature this crossover, and it looks to be next to impossible to find publicly. During the first half of the 80s, Toei Animation made a bunch of TV specials based on international works, like Run! Melos, & some of which did find their way over here, such as one based on Frankenstein & the ever infamous Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned. On May 5, 1981, Lupin tai Holmes, a 68-minute special, aired on Japanese television, and may have been based on Leblanc's own crossover, which is also known as The Blonde Lady.
Sadly, there's little info on this TV special, and a commonly-used image that's attached to it may actually be incorrect, as it's in fact the cover to a children's novel based on the story that features manga imagery. Outside of Toei's screenshot on their website, the only other image I could find was of the vinyl release of the OST I'm showing above. Luckily, there is info on who worked on the special, which I can share. There's direction by Masayuki Akihi/Akehi (Koutetsu Jeeg, Saint Seiya Movie 4), script by Ryuzo Nakanishi (Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy), character designs by Yoshiyuki Kishi (Magical Fairy Persia, Magical Emi), & voice work by Shingo Yamashiro (Holmes; generally a live-action actor) & Taichirou Hirokawa (who actually voiced both Lupin & Holmes via the second Lupin the 3rd pilot & Sherlock Hound!). Sure, this TV special may likely be a bit on the dry side compared to the zany antics of Lupin's grandson or the various mysteries that Holmes' inspirations have solved, but the simple fact that this is likely the only time anime has had the real McCoys appear next to each other is intriguing enough.
What's Blocking Me?: Complete Unavailability
Sadly, Lupin tai Holmes shares the same situation as Ikkiman in that, since it's initial airing, it has never seen a home video release. Now, to be fair, I don't think most of Toei's TV specials from the 80s have likely seen home video release, minus the ones based on popular manga like Dr. Slump or Kinnikuman. It is odd, though, that when Harmony Gold was bringing over the Dracula & Frankenstein specials, they never bothered to bring over this special as well, as I'm sure it would have attracted fans of either character. That being said, however, Dracula is now known as being completely ridiculous & cheesy, while Frankenstein is more or less forgotten now, so maybe Lupin tai Holmes sharing notoriety with those would have been a bad idea. Still, it would be a neat way to spend an hour, but it looks next-to-impossible to ever happen now.
|Obviously, this was made for the later TV series.|
The 1985 Kochikame Pilot
I enjoy finding pilots of anime & seeing how much they can differ from their later, larger successors. On the blog I've covered the pilots for Ring ni Kakero 1, Hunter X Hunter, One Piece, & Seikimatsu Leader Den Takeshi! (the last last of which ended up only being a pilot), plus some stuff that aren't technically "pilots", and there are some others that I can potentially cover in the future. Obviously, Shonen Jump properties tend to have a lot of pilots made, simply because Shueisha likes to showcase them at Jump Festa or any of it's variations & predecessors, but there's one that has eluded me ever since I first knew about it, and may elude me forever. When it comes to Jump's manga institution, Kochikame, I would say that I'm somewhat familiar with it, having reviewed both movies as well as the five DVDs for the TV series that are available via retail (it apparently did receive a complete release for the rental market, but I can't verify that). There hasn't been any Kochikame anime since 2004, but there is one that predates 1996, which is when the TV series began.
Shueisha's fascination with Shonen Jump anime pilots began back in 1985, when the company held the Jump Special Anime Daikoshin/Big Parade, which toured 22 cities & showcased pilot productions based on two Jump manga, Kimagure Orange Road (which would be made into a TV anime in 1987) & Kochikame. These pilots would be given a second showing in 1988 for the Jump Anime Carnival, a 30-city tour which celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Jump. Alongside the pilots was also Kosuke-sama Rikimaru-sama -Konpeitou no Ryuu-, a 45-minute movie conceived by Akira Toriyama. To go with this tour, Jump offered all three productions on VHS as prizes for a contest; the pilots would never see a retail release. The Kimagure pilot & Toriyama's movie have since been recovered & even fansubbed, but the Kochikame pilot hasn't been seen since a TV Tokyo airing shortly after the second tour ended. It was done by Tatsunoko, directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa, written by Takao Koyama (DBZ, Saint Seiya), & featured in its cast people like Akira Kamiya as Nakagawa, Mika Doi as Reiko, & the late Kenji Utsumi as Ryo-san. I would seriously love to hear Utsumi's take on the character, as LaSalle Ishii's Ryo-san is absolutely iconic & it's impossible to remove the voice from the character.
What's Blocking Me?: Absolute, Unbelievable Rarity
Ever since Jump Super Anime Tour '98, and the successive Jump Festa tours, it's not difficult to find the VHS tapes or DVDs for the various pilots & OVAs that Shueisha commissioned for these celebrations. Before that it gets tricky, but time has made even those possible; even the 1994 Ninku pilot has since been found & fansubbed. This isn't the case for the Kochikame pilot, however. I have seriously looked everywhere I can possibly check (Amazon Japan, Yahoo! Auctions Japan, Rakuten, any random Japanese online store possible), and have found absolutely nothing regarding this pilot being for sale on the secondhand market. At this point I'd be perfectly fine with simple proof that it was indeed available on VHS via the contest. I don't doubt that it happened, as the Kimagure pilot being found proves, but I can't possibly fathom how Kochikame's pilot has seemingly left the face of the Earth. Hell, I'll gladly take a screenshot of the pilot at this point, if only to prove that it even existed in the first place. Speaking of which....
|This is a cover for the first Drama CD.|
The Butsu Zone Pilot
Hiroyuki Takei is now known most as the creator of Shaman King, possibly the most infamous example of a manga that was forced the end before it could properly finish, only to later receive an actual ending via the kanzenban (or kang zeng bang, if you prefer) release. He also draws the various spin-offs & sequels to that manga as well as non-related works like Ultimo & Jumbor. Before all of that, however, Takei was a simple assistant artist who had worked with Koji Kiriyama (Ninku) & Nobuhiro Watsuki (Rurouni Kenshin), before going pro in 1997 with his debut work, Butsu Zone. The manga was about Senju, the Thousand-Hand Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, who's mission is the protect Sachi, the reincarnation of the Buddha Miroku, & help her achieve enlightenment so to dharma can be re-taught to the world. Meanwhile, they fight against the forces of Mara, who encourage Earthly desires, & the many Buddha who don't believe Senju can help Sachi.
Okay, did I lose anyone with that description? Yes? Honestly, I think I lost myself at one point.
So, yeah, Butsu Zone wasn't apparently your traditional shonen action series, and that's likely why it only lasted 19 chapters/three volumes before being canceled. That's not to say that it's likely a bad series, though, as I've heard a lot of praise for something that ran for such a short amount of time. After the success of Shaman King was apparent during the early 00s, it was only natural for Takei's prior work to see some love, so from 2003-2004 there wer a trio of Drama CDs made for Butsu Zone, and I would guess that they covered the entire story. Going off of that, an anime pilot at a Jump Festa tour would only sound natural, right? It's not like canceled Jump manga have never received anime adaptations before (Level E, Buso Renkin, Fuma no Kojirou [still don't know if this one was actually canceled, though])...
What's Blocking Me?: It May Not Actually Exist
Here's the thing with the Butsu Zone anime pilot: I have yet to find definitive proof that it was ever made. At the same time, however, I have yet to find definitive proof that it never existed in the first place, either. There are plenty of places that indicate that it was indeed made, for example. Wikipedia Japan, which tends to be somewhat more reliable than the American counterpart, says that it was indeed screened at a Jump Festa. However, the Wikipedia Japan page for Jump Festa, which I linked to in the previous entry, doesn't list it as being a part of any of the anime featured at any of these galas. The ANN Encyclopedia has an actual listing for the OVA/pilot, complete with a full cast list including the likes of Romi Park, Akira Ishida, & Megumi Hayashibara, but doesn't have anything else like who animated it or when it was released; the cast could likely just be from the Drama CD. Unfortunately, however, I can't find any proof that the project was terminated & canceled, either. That being said, though, there is some Butsu Zone out there animated.
In the Shaman King special edition DVD, Kanashimi no Katachi, there's a section called Funbari no Uta Jizo Night. The section features Yoh daydreaming about a battle involving the Butsu Zone cast, and if the anime pilot does indeed not exist, which is very likely, then this is the sole bit of anime footage for Takei's original manga. If the pilot doesn't exist, though, then wouldn't this be cheating for this list I've compiled?
Would you accept "Just when you think you've got all the answers, I change the questions!" as an appropriate response?
This brings an end to Part 1 of this list of anime I'd love to review but can't right now & likely won't be able to in any discernible timeframe, if ever. Come back later for Part 2, which will be half TV series, half movies!