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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Overkill Part 2

At last you've come... friends. Last time we looked at six (actually six!) anime from various eras of the anime industry here in North America; the early, mid, & late-90s, the early 00s, & even the end of the bubble era. The other six entries in this list are more or less the same in that regard, but that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to look at anime that would be interesting to see be given new releases after years of being out of print. Do I know what I'm doing, though?

I'm fully aware of what I'm doing. Can't you see! Anyway, enough Goldman parodying & onto the rest of this list.

When it comes to iconic anime characters from the 70s, one of the most well beloved & manly is Captain Harlock, the legendary space captain who leads the giant spaceship Arcadia. What some people might not know, however, is that Leiji Matsumoto actually didn't originally conceive Harlock as a space pirate. Indeed, before appearing in his iconic cape & eyepatch in 1977, the character originally debuted back in 1972 as Franklin Harlock, Jr. in the manga Gun Frontier, a two-volume wild west manga which actually starred Tochiro Oyama, who would also be re-imagined & made iconic in space years later. Instead of space, it instead took place in a land called Gun Frontier, with Harlock being a former sea captain who now travels with Tochiro, taking out all sorts of outlaws & baddies with a mysterious woman. This original manga wouldn't see a sequel until 1999, in the form of a novel, but in 2002 (the 30th Anniversary), a 13-episode TV anime adaptation was made by Vega Entertainment, a small studio that now works in assistance to other studios.

(NOTE: None of this should be confused with the 1990 Taito shoot-em-up of the same name.)

Though done by a pretty much no-name staff, the anime was more or less well-received when Media Blasters brought it over on DVD in 2003 (with a complete collection in 2004). Being another Enoki Films title, however, it went out of print after that MB/Enoki deal ended. Sad, too, because while I haven't seen this show yet (I have the DVDs, though) the dub was done by Bang Zoom! & features the likes of Derek Stephen Prince (Tochiro), Steve Blum (Harlock), & Barbara Goodson, among others. Looking up the prices the DVDs go for now, I almost didn't include this show on the list, but then I noticed that Volume 3 (of 4) now goes for ~$40 at the very least; those who want the complete collection are looking at a solid $100, too. To be fair, though, I do feel that this show has better chances at getting rescued when compared to the likes of Zenki & Gokudo, however, if only because it has since seen the occasional stream on sites like The Anime Network, Anime News Network, Gong, & Hulu (not sure if any of them still exist now, though). At the very least, it shows that Gun Frontier is still being given chances & a DVD re-release might be in the cards one day.

[9/2016 UPDATE: Proving that it still has a working relationship with Enoki Films, Discotek Media will be releasing Gun Frontier in North America for the first time in 12 years later this year.]

Staying on the Leiji Matsumoto space train, let's take a glance at the Queen Emeraldas OVA series. When it comes to this whole space-focused universe of Matsumoto's, there are three main adult characters that always come to mind (four if you want to include Tochiro, who comes & goes): Captain Harlock, Maetel, & Queen Emeraldas. The last is effectively the female equivalent to Harlock, a fellow space pirate who even features a similar facial scar as her male counterpart, and in at least one OVA (Maetel Legend) she's Maetel's sister (I'm not very familiar with the Leijiverse, so I don't know what's canon & what's not). Throughout 1998 & 1999, Emeraldas received an OVA series all about her by Oriental Light & Magic that lasted four episodes. In 1999 ADV released the OVA on DVD (the company's second ever DVD, in fact), but there was one problem: It was only the first two episodes.

Why was only the first half released? Well, that's easy to explain. ADV's DVD came out in November of 1999, and at that point the final episode had not even come out in Japan. In fact, when ADV announced the license in November of 1998, only the first two episodes were out in Japan. Maybe if this DVD sold well, & reviews of the time were very positive if an old ANN review was anything to go off of, then we would have likely gotten the second half. ADV even promised the rest back in 2003, but that never happened, likely due to low sales & maybe even other licensing issues. Since then those last two episodes have been fansubbed, but it would be really cool to just see the entire OVA series released on DVD over here. Yeah, there would only be a dub for the first half, but it would still be better than having nothing more than fansubs in order to watch the entire thing.

Here's another title I heard talk about on occasion during my early days as an anime fan. A Young Jump manga by Makoto Ogino, Kujaku-Oh/Peacock King told the battles of Kujaku, a young monk in training who wielded powerful supernatural abilities, & was known for featuring monsters, demons, & even Nazis in some shape or form. In the late-80s it was adapted into a three episode OVA series, each running ~50-60 minutes, with animation done by AIC & Studio 88, and direction by Katsuhito Akiyama & Ishiro Itano. The anime was brought back in the mid-90s as Shin/True Kujaku-Oh, a two-episode OVA series, each 45 minutes long, with animation from Madhouse & direction by Rintaro. Video game fans who are familiar with Sega's first two notable systems may also be familiar with two games based on the manga, which removed all direct references when brought over & were renamed Spellcaster (for the Master System) & Mystic Defender (for the Genesis).

Central Park Media brought these OVAs over to North America in the late-90s under the name Spirit Warrior, followed by a one episode/DVD re-release, but oddly enough started with the 90s series first; similar, most talk of this series in that past few years only brings up Rintaro's episodes. Since all five episodes were brought over as one series, though, the English dub by Maitlin Recording has the same cast for the entire thing, whereas the two OVA series feature different casts in the original Japanese language. Looking up the prices on the secondhand market shows that the DVDs aren't exactly super-expensive yet, though it's oddly tricky finding all of the DVDs on a site like Amazon (searching under just "Spirit Warrior" doesn't quite work), though the complete collection from mid-04 easily goes for over $100. With the likes of the Vampire Hunter D anime productions being rescued recently, plus some other more mature fare from the older days, Kujaku-Oh may be something that will one day return to DVD production over here.

Since the first two on this half had some sort of relation, might as well make the middle two have a relation as well. Out of all of the legendary characters that Osamu Tezuka has ever created, one of the most iconic is Black Jack, the unlicensed doctor who can perform nearly any operation you need of him (as long as you have the money, that is). While the character was featured in the occasional anime production from Tezuka Productions, such as Bremen 4, there wasn't an actual Black Jack anime made until 1993, when the first episode of the Osamu Dezaki-directed OVA series came out. To many people, this series is the great doctor at his finest, with no other BJ production ever being able to match it due to its dark themes, Akio Sugino character designs, & visual splendor that only Osamu Dezaki could deliver on. A total of 10 episodes were released up through 2000, & CPM put it out on dual-audio DVD throughout 2004 & 2005 with a well-regarded English dub done by Animaze; CPM also released the 1996 theatrical movie, but I'm leaving this at just the OVA series.

To this day the Black Jack OVAs are considered some of Dezaki's finest work & are the de facto bar that every other Black Jack anime is put up against, even when others (like the 2004-2006 TV series) were obviously meant to utilize an alternate method of operation, no pun intended. After Dezaki's passing in 2011, though, something cool happened. To honor the man behind this series, the staff who worked on & produced these OVAs came back together to release the final two episodes that were planned but never produced, and late that year episodes 11 & 12 were released in Japan. Satoshi Kuwabara (chief director of the TV series) directed episode 11, while Masayoshi Nishida (director of the 1996 Capital Transfer to Heian short movie) handled the (truly) final episode. Anime Sols had promised to put up a funding drive for the OVA series should the first DVD set of the BJ TV series succeed, which it did in the end, but those plans never came to fruition. I'm going to guess that any company that wants to rescue the OVA series will want to include the two "FINAL" episodes, and may even want to try dubbing them with as much of a recurring cast as needed & possible; I know Kirk Thornton (Black Jack) still does anime voice work, but I'm not sure about the rest of the major cast. With Vampire Hunter D having come to pass, the Black Jack OVAs are now my case of not "if" they'll get rescued, but rather they're a case of "when".

Back in the day, Kia Asamiya (real name Michitaka Kikuchi) seemed like a rockstar manga-ka in North America. Silent Möbius was apparently a notable name with the movies, the TV anime, & the manga released by Viz, the Steam Detectives anime was a seeming sleeper hit (though Viz put the manga on hiatus), & Martian Successor Nadesico (which he helped create) was an anime standard; sure, Corrector Yui stalled out, but that was his only real bomb over here at the time. He even got the do his own Batman manga & drew a manga adaptation of Star Wars Episode I! After the mid-00s, however, Asamiya's cachet seemed to die out, with Nadesico being the only work of his that's still in print today (& that title is mainly tangentially), DrMaster's release of Junk: Record of the Last Hero came & went with next to no fanfare, and Udon's re-release of the Silent Möbius manga went on indefinite hiatus after only four volumes. As time went on, Asamiya went from a con favorite to a beacon of the past of anime fandom, but that doesn't mean that his titles should be forgotten & ignored. I'm sure that, eventually, the Silent Möbius anime (at least the TV series) will see a re-release, so I want to put focus on a short OVA that was loved by those who saw it, but more or less came & went.

Based on a three volume manga that debuted in 1991, Compiler was adapted into two separate OVA productions in the mid-90s; the first was two-episodes in 1994, while the second (Compiler Festa) was a single episode in 1995. The story focused on two computer programs, Compiler & Assembler, who are given human female bodies by their digital bosses & told to reformat the planet; the two end up forsaking their mission to live with Nachi & Toshi, a pair of brothers they fall in love with. Apparently a comedy of absurd proportions, the complete OVA series was brought over in 1999/2000 by ADV on both dubbed & subbed VHS. The dub by ADV co-founder Matt Greenfield, featuring the likes of Jessica Calvello (Assembler) & Spike Spencer (Toshi), is usually brought up as one of Greenfield's absolute best, adapting much of the Japanese humor into a way that works very well in English. ADV did plan a dual-audio DVD release in 2003, even getting as far as having a page made over at Right Stuf, but the release ended up never happening. While it may not be one of Asamiya's most iconic works, there is likely still enough nostalgia within the older crowd for a rescue of the Compiler OVAs to be worth trying out, at least if Justin Sevakis' Buried Treasure article from 2008 is any proof.

Why Geneon only used the cat's face for their cover astounds me...

For the final entry I'm going to go with something interesting, because most people are only truly familiar with one third of this show. 2006's Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~ was one of the earliest shows to air on Fuji TV's noitaminA late-night TV block, and it's concept was very novel. Instead of telling just a single story with a static staff, it instead told three stories, each of which has different directors, writers, character designers, etc. The first two, Yotsuya Ghost Story & Goddess of the Dark Tower, were based on actual Japanese plays & folk tales, while the third, Goblin Cat, was an original story about a mysterious medicine seller who hunts demons. I reviewed each of these stories individually, and you can find the links to them in the previous sentence. While the first two stories weren't poor productions by any means & are well worth watching, it was Goblin Cat that outright stole the spotlight, showcasing a visual style that couldn't be beat & marked the directorial debut of Kenji Nakamura, who has since gone on to become one of anime's newest auteurs. This last story would return a year later with Mononoke, which detailed even more stories involving the Medicine Seller & the demons he hunts down. This later series is now considered a modern-day classic, which I completely agreed with in my review.

Ayakashi was licensed & released by Geneon Entertainment in 2007, becoming one of the last anime series the company ever fully released before being shut down by then-owner Dentsu. Oddly enough, in the time since the first two stories' DVDs now go for over $35 on average, while Goblin Cat's DVD doesn't quite go for quite as much. Also since these DVDs, Mononoke was given a DVD release over here by Cinedigm, as well as being made available for streaming over at CrunchyRoll & Hulu. With the offspring of such an experimental series now being made available to the public over here, it would be a great time to give Ayakashi a new release. New fans of Mononoke would finally be able to check out what its direct predecessor was like, and while checking out Goblin Cat they can also watch Yotsuya Ghost Story & Goddess of the Dark Tower, both of which are quite good in their own rights. Also, Ayakashi has since received a Blu-Ray re-release in Japan, or at least Goblin Cat has been... Wow, those other two stories really did seem to get the short end of the stick, didn't they?
With that we now reach the end of yet another license rescue list brought to you by The Land of Obscusion. While I didn't exactly come into this with any sort of theme in mind, a lot of what I included in these two parts were once critically praised back in their day, showcasing that there are still plenty of excellent anime that are woefully still out of print to this very day. Hopefully one day that will change for most of these, though I would definitely love to have at least one of these lists be fully fulfilled one day; the closest so far is the second list, which has half of it rescued since it was originally posted. Always remember one thing, though.

Friends, it is not over yet. In time... a successor a will come. Farewell friends.

1 comment:

  1. Funny you mention Kujakuoh. The first three volumes are apparently available in English over at Renta: