|Guess who are making some cameos...|
The Yellow Devil
When it comes to iconic anime, manga, & "PuroResu" (a.k.a. Japanese professional wrestling) characters, probably the biggest is the masked man who fights for all children, Tiger Mask. Created & written by Ashita no Joe's Ikki Kajiwara & drawn by Naoki Tsuji (creator of early-60s hit Zero-sen Hayato), the Tiger Mask manga was a seemingly instant hit, running from 1968-1971 (totaling 14 volumes) & spawning a TV anime adaptation by Toei just a year after it debuted. Said TV anime would run from 1969-1971 for 105 episodes, plus an anime movie in 1970. The character was so memorable that a sequel series ran from 1981-1982 for 33 episodes about a new Tiger Mask, who donned the persona in honor of the original man.
Not only that, but around the same time New Japan Pro Wrestling got the license to the character, putting Satoru Sayama behind the mask. Sayama's run as Tiger Mask was not just a success but wound up making the character a standard in NJPW, with five men having donned the mask since (though the fourth is still the current one), and variants of the character have appeared all over Japan, from rival Black Tiger (usually portrayed by foreigners, including the legendary Eddie Guerrero at one point) to homages like Super Tiger (played by Sayama himself). Most touching, though, was what happened in 2010 & 2011, where multitudes of anonymous people around Japan donated a lot of money & toys to children's homes & social welfare centers during the two holiday seasons, with notes stating that every one of them came from "Naoto Date", the identity of the original Tiger Mask; if that doesn't melt your very soul, then you are a monster. In fact, those selfless deeds inspired a live-action movie that came out in 2013... Which then sullied the very concept of Tiger Mask by turning him into a tokusatsu-style transforming hero, instead of being a masked wrestler who simply fights for the children. Anyway, going back to 1969, what was the very first episode of Toei's original TV anime like?
Tiger Mask is an infamous wrestling heel (i.e. bad guy) who became infamous in his time in North America for being absolutely ruthless against his opponents, having no remorse in breaking their bones for the fun of it. Rumor has it he's part of the Tiger's Cave, an illegal organization that trains orphans into becoming nigh-deadly warriors. Coming over to Japan, Tiger's invited by Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, & Michiaki Yoshimura to join their promotion. Tiger agrees after seeing three wrestlers follow him to Japan, hoping to get revenge for their friend, who Tiger put on the injured list. Though his actions lead to the Japanese audience cheering for the American wrestlers, who themselves are technically heels, Tiger unknowingly gains a fan in the form of Kenta, a young boy who lives in an orphanage run by Mr. Wakatsuki & Ruriko, who themselves were once orphans. In fact, Tiger Mask's true identity is that of Naoto Date, who lived as an orphan alongside the two, and even though he wears a mask & she detests violence, Ruriko can tell that Naoto is the man behind the devilish wrestler; he truly became a man who's as strong as a tiger.
While Tiger Mask himself is known as one of the most honorable & beloved wrestling icons today, both fictional & real, Naoto Date only became a good guy (a.k.a. "babyface" or simply "face") after realizing that Kenta wanted to grow up to be a villain just like his favorite wrestler. While the first episode of Tiger Mask doesn't go that far, the second episode preview shows Date going up against Antonio Inoki & even going hardcore, you see a small sign of the heroic future the lead heads toward in this debut. While I have said that characters like Joe Yabuki & Matsutaro Sakaguchi are very much "Tetsuya Chiba characters", Joe in particular was still co-created by Ikki Kajiwara, & there are some similarities between Joe & Date. The biggest one is that, much like Joe, Date just loves to fight, and will go to any length to beat down his opposition; he doesn't even care if he gets disqualified in the process, because he's already done the damage. The cameos by Baba, Inoki, & Yoshimura are cool, seeing Date kick ass as a little boy is surprisingly amazing, & overall the first episode of Tiger Mask is cool. While it definitely doesn't fully complete the masked man's origin story & ends up with him as a hero, and the animation is really limited at times (though still within the usual limitations of the era), it still grabs your interest. I'm not sure if I would be willing to one day sit through 105 episodes of Naoto Date's journey, but I'm glad to at least see how he was introduced to Japan via anime.
On a quick & final note, though, the moments of animation that are fluid & very well done, mainly during the actual wrestling matches, shocked me in not just how nice they looked, but also in how much they looked like Masaaki Yuasa's crowdfunded anime short Kick-Heart. I knew that Tiger Mask was a major influence, but it's cool to see just how much of an influence it was.
The Dream is F1! I'm the World's Fastest!! There's Nobody Who Can Pass Me
With the Determination of the Worst Kind of Man, I'm Off to Tokyo!
Dear Tamotsu! Tokyo's Filled with Beauties...
When most people think of racing anime, they either think of something like Initial D, which showcased illegal drift racing, or Speed Racer, which went more for the fantastical. In fact, realistic (& legal) racing isn't done too often in anime, though there have been relatively recent shows like Capeta (kart racing & F3) or Monkey Turn (kyotei/hydroplane racing). There was a much older racing anime, however, which dealt with a variant that is known around the world, Formula 1/F1, but it is admittedly kind of hard to look up; it joins X & K in the super-exclusive "Anime with Single-Letter Titles Club". After having a notable success with 1979-1982's Shonen Sunday basketball manga Dash Kappei, Noboru Rokuda continued with the sports focus with his racing manga F in Big Comic Spirits. It ran from 1985-1992, totaling 28 volumes, and eventually received an anime adaptation by Studio DEEN in 1988, which ran for 31 episodes & was one of the earliest directorial works for the later-renowned Koichi Mashimo (who was coming off of Gold Lightan & Urashiman for Tatsunoko). Rokuda would eventually return to this series with two sequels, 2003-2006's F Regeneration Ruri & 2009-2011's F Final, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Since I managed to locate the first three episodes of the F anime, fansubbed as a one-shot (three-shot?), I'm curious what this story is like. Maybe I can even see some bit of Mashimo in these episodes, too, or maybe it's still too early before he got his style down.
Gunma Akagi is the black sheep of his family, as he's the rowdy son of a up-and-coming politician & sibling to both an older brother (Shoma) who will take over their father's (Souichiro) business & a younger brother (Yuma) who goes to school in America. Gunma's attitude comes from his hatred of his father, as he feels that Souichiro abandoned his mother to go to another woman; Souichiro isn't fond of Gunma, either. In fact, the only thing Gunma wants is to be the fastest; he won't accept anyone who passes him in a vehicle. Though he has no driver's license, Gunma learned how to drive with his friend Tamotsu's souped-up tractor (which has a Porsche engine fitted into it, making it faster than even a Camaro). After being forced off the road by a mysterious man with real driving skills, and then being told by him later that there are 50,000 people on the racing circuit faster than him, Gunma takes up his father's offer to essentially be a non-person in the Akagi family & decides to head to Tokyo & become a racer.
Before leaving, though, he sneaks onto the local track & races against a racer-in-training after being told he has no idea what he's doing, and even offers Tamotsu the opportunity to join him as his mechanic. Upon reaching Tokyo, Gunma tries to take a driving course, only to wind up being trained by Junko Komori, the girl who works with the racer Gunma forced into racing against on the circuit; he winds up instigating a race between him, Junko, & her aunt Sayuri (who had enough of Gunma calling her slow behind the wheel). After being both thrown out of the school due to the race destroying property & cars, Sayuri invites Gunma to be a resident at the dormitory she runs, as she takes a liking to him... The same dorm that Junko & her teammates also live in. Finally, after reading a letter Gunma sent to her son, Tamotsu's mother tells him to move in with Gunma & live his dream of being a mechanic, something his father talked of doing but never actually did.
While many "unlicensed classics" are slowly getting brought over here to North America, there are plenty of others ready to take their places in terms of being truly quality products that just don't get the appreciation that they deserve. I say this because I really do believe that F should be in this category, because even after only three episodes I feel that this show is amazing. Gunma Akagi is an outright speed freak, wanting nothing more than to go fast & put everyone else in his dust. This gives him a bit of an attitude, but it's also what makes him interesting to watch, especially when you realize that this attitude partially comes from his family troubles. The OP footage makes it seem like the strained family relation between him & his father (& Shoma) will stay around. I hope this is the case, because it really helps makes you cheer for Gunma & make you forgive his more rude tendencies. He's pissed off because he feels uncared for & tossed aside simply because he doesn't follow his father's forced-upon goals & expectations. These episodes also do hint at other developments, like how live-in helper Yuki has feelings for Gunma, yet has to stay home when he leaves, while Gunma may wind up making a new relationship with Junko (because obviously), not to mention the side-development for Tamotsu by living his dream & leaving his mother alone to work the farm. While Gunma doesn't get anywhere near being a Formula racer in these episodes, he has to get a license first, they still set up everything excellently & give you characters you can care about, a story that you want to see develop, & some cool potential for interesting races eventually.
As for seeing "a bit of Mashimo" in these episodes, I certainly saw more than just a bit here. Even early on, Mashimo was showcasing his fancy for visual flair, as each episode had more than enough notable moments. Split screens, multi-paneled shots, speed lines, flipping the camera for a sense of fast motion, & completely changing the color palette for effect on some shots are showcased to some extent in nearly every episode I saw, making F look very stark & identifiable, even for its time. In fact, every episode ends with a still image (as shown above) that's similar to an Osamu Dezaki "Postcard Memory", but the use of various colors & multi-paneled framing makes each look different from Dezaki's trademark, almost like a stained-glass image; I do hope this is continued for the entire show. I would love to get to the rest of this show, possibly even without English subs, but I don't know how possible that would be for me. F did see a DVD release in Japan back in 2006, but it was only in boxset form & now runs for hundreds of dollars-worth on the secondhand market in Japan. There are rips out there online, taken from a satellite airing, but they're from a number of years ago & are now nigh-impossible to find. If you're curious, those rips are apparently on YouTube, but if there's one thing I won't do it's watch anime raw via YouTube. Still, if I ever get the chance to see all of the F anime one day, preferably with an English translation, I'll be sure to do so & maybe even review it. This is definitely a show that deserves some love & appreciation.
Birth of the Burning Dodgeball Player!
The Terrifying 1000 Ball Dodge
Fierce Special Training at Mt. Enjou
One of my favorite movies of the 00s was the irreverent comedy DodgeBall from 2004, and I still remember random lines from it to this very day. Since it came out right when I was starting to really get into anime, the moment I left the movie theater after watching the movie I though, "I wonder if there's an anime about dodgeball..." I looked online & quickly saw that, yes, there is an anime about the semi-sort-of-maybe-but-not-quite-possibly-sport; only one. Based on the 1989-1995 CoroCoro Comics manga by Tetsuhiro Koshita (Bakusou Kyodai Let's & Go!!, Inazuma Eleven manga), Honou no Tokyuuji/Burning Dodgeball Player Dodge Danpei ("tokyuu" technically translates as "battle ball", so I'm being liberal here) ran from 1991-1992 for 47 episodes & was made by Animation 21, the short-lived studio founded by Hiroshi Sasagawa (director of too many classic Tatsunoko anime to name, as well as this very show). Sadly, Dodge Danpei has never seen any sort of recent home video release, VHS only here, so I've only managed to find the first three episodes & only the first is subbed; I can guarantee that this would be a full review if I could watch the whole show. So, with the urge to make random DodgeBall references burning inside of me, I shall attempt to hold that in & simply explain what these first episodes of Dodge Danpei are like & if they adhere strongly to the "5 D's of Dodgeball"... Okay, I swear that's the only reference I'll be making!
Danpei Ichigeki's father died when he was just a toddler, but his love of dodgeball has been inherited by his son. By playing with his friend Chinnen & throwing his ball against his father's grave, Danpei has also grown surprisingly strong when it comes to throwing a ball, even though he's only entering first grade. When the local school's dodgeball team visits Chinnen's grandfather's temple while doing their roadwork, Captain Mikasa winds up having to work with Danpei to chase off a wild dog & the ruffians that own it by hitting them with dodgeballs. Mikasa sees great potential in Danpei, and after hearing that he & Chinnen will be going to their school, he invites Danpei to try out for their team. Following that, after failing to pull a prank on his new teacher, Danpei is challenged by the team's "Four Heavenly Kings" (Vice-Captain Hiura, "Razor Ball" Kazami, "Computer" Hayami, & Hijikata), resulting in them putting Danpei through the ringer with the "1000 Ball Dodge", where everyone throws balls at the victim in the middle of the play field. Danpei tries his hardest to tank it all, but Chinnen saves him & then the two try to run away from the team; Danpei winds up being tied & hanging from a tree for his efforts. Finally, realizing that he needs to become stronger, Danpei, Chinnen, & Misato (a female classmate they befriended quickly) decide to head of to Mt. Enjou, as Danpei's father supposedly had a secret training area there. After rescuing a small dog from an eagle, the gang follow the pup, who just happens to know where the training area is. After taking on hit after hit after hit, Danpei learns how to time his ability to catch an oncoming ball, ready to properly challenge the team again.
Without a doubt, Dodge Danpei is a kids anime through & through. It's main character is a first grader who, alongside his friend, eventually join a team made up of (roughly) fourth-to-sixth graders, and had I been born in Japan & seen this show when it originally aired I probably would have fallen in love with it; in 1991-1992 I'd have been in roughly the same exact age range as Danpei (i.e. 5-6 years old). Looking at it now, as an adult, I still think there is some nice potential to be found here as a kids anime, and I've read that apparently the show doesn't really hit its stride until episode five, which (going off of episode titles) seems like the point where the anime truly starts doing actual dodgeball matches. To it's credit, though, these first three episodes aren't bad at all. If anything, the first episode is a little too generic, but following that are two episodes that open up more with the characters & help give the show a bit more of an identity. True to it being for little children, Danpei is full of unstable energy & can be all over the place, usually accompanied with various visual jokes, & though Chinnen tends to be the more level-headed one of the duo, he certainly is prone to joining Danpei during his more wild moments. There's a lot of silliness to be had in Dodge Danpei, there's no denying that.
Still, there is an honest feeling of enthusiasm in these three episodes. Any time dodgeball is brought up, it's done so with a lot of passion in it, even when its something like the school team testing Danpei. Once you get through most of his silliness, Danpei is your usual sports anime lead character, one who has nothing but unbridled love (or at least respect) for the game he is going to compete in. And, really, there really is nothing else quite like it out there. There seriously is no other anime (or possibly even manga) out there about dodgeball, let alone one that follows "Super Dodgeball" rules. Yeah, the type of dodgeball that retro gaming fans know of via stuff like the Kunio-kun spin-offs, where instead of simply being eliminated by getting hit you play until you can't get back up? That's apparently an actual variation of dodgeball that's played in Japan, and that's the kind of game Dodge Danpei uses. Naturally, the various video games based on the anime play just like the Kunio-kun games. I'm not expecting this show to be much more than the kids anime it likely is, but I'm still curious about just how exactly Dodge Danpei handles its use of "Super Dodgeball"; maybe one day I'll actually get that opportunity to see it all.
It's Name is Mach 5!
At Otakon a month back, the people at FUNimation shocked everyone by announcing that they will be giving the original Speed Racer a new release, not just on Blu-Ray but with the original Japanese Mach Go Go Go in tow as well with English subtitles for the first time ever. With Tatsunoko now having the full rights to this classic series once again, which is obviously how FUNi got a hold of the original show, I have no doubt that a rebooted Mach Go Go Go will happen sooner or later, but what about the first reboot? During the 90s, Tatsunoko revived many of its old classics, mostly via OVAs, but there were a couple of long-form TV series. The one anime fans remember generally is 1992-1993's Tekkaman Blade, but in 1997 there was a reboot of the racing icon itself, in time for the 30th Anniversary; it was also the last TV series ever directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa. Sadly, it was cut short from its originally-planned 52 episodes, only lasting 34, and when DiC tried to bring it over here to North America in the early-00s as a new Speed Racer, leading some fans to call it "Speed Racer X", the company was hit with a lawsuit from Speed Racer Enterprises, ending it at only 13 episodes. Nowadays, the second Mach Go Go Go series is looked at more as a footnote, but did it at least have potential? Was the first episode interesting enough to make it more than a simple reboot?
It's the year 1999 (you know, the future), and one of the biggest sporting events is the World Battle Grand Prix, where taking out your competition is almost as important as finishing in first place. Go Hibiki is the younger brother of Kenichi Hibiki, who passed away before being able to become a name in World Battle; Go now takes the mantle of driver in his honor. Unfortunately, Go's taking his dear sweet time to arrive to the track for his first race, angering his father Daisuke (owner of Hibiki Motors) & disappointing Mai Kazami, a photographer who wants to get the scoop on Go & his race car. Luckily, Go makes it in time, but can he even survive the race, which includes the dangerous drivers of Team Exelion, let alone win it? Well, with the Mach 5 & its "Safety Seven" system, he might surprise everyone.
I'll admit that this version of Speed Racer has some slight nostalgia for me, as I do remember seeing a few episodes of the dub back when DiC was making it as was part of Nickelodeon's short-lived SLAM! time block in 2002, alongside cult-hit Invader Zim. Since then, I have read the original 1966-1968 manga by Tatsuo Yoshida, which is tons of fun, & I will definitely be buying FUNi's release of the original anime, but I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the 90s reboot, even if I only knew so much of it. I'm always one to root for the underdog, and this series tends to be ignored in place of its original series, but if it is indeed a markedly worse show then the first episode hides that very well.
Overall, Mach Go Go Go's 1997 reboot has a very good start here, mixing together elements of the original '67 show with updated ideas from the 90s. There are also a good number of changes from the original formula, from minor ones, like changing Go's family name from Mifune to Hibiki, all the way to bigger ones, like the Kazama siblings in general. Here, Wataru (a.k.a. "Spritle") goes from being Go's little brother to being Mai's little brother & helper, while the show turns the "Trixie" equivalent from established girlfriend (Michi Shimura) to someone who's meeting Go for the very first time (Mai); also, there's no monkey accompanying Wataru here. Go also is given a new friend in the form of Takumi (Sparky in the dub), who acts as the mechanics expert for the team. The Mach 5 itself looks almost exactly like the original car, but its special accessories have been updated, like replacing actual saws with laser saws, or allowing the car to fly/glide with the Aero-Jacks (which replace the old Auto-Jacks). It's a cool way of making the show feel familiar right away, yet keeping it different enough to be its own product & not simply rely on the nostalgia of older fans.
Still, there is more than enough of that old-school style to keep it feeling like the Speed Racer that people know & love. The races are a mix of futuristic stock car racing, rally racing (as tracks go off-road), & demolition derby, and while everything has been given a more modern veneer, including new & sleek character designs by Masami Suda, Hiroshi Sasagawa still makes it feel like this was originally a series from the 60s at times... Like whenever you see what Team Exelion looks like.
Yep, those guys don't look evil and/or villainous in any way, whatsoever. In the end, after FUNimation gets the original Speed Racer (with subbed Mach Go Go Go in tow, this time), I do hope the company does the 1997 reboot as well in some way or another (I'd be all for a brand-new dub with the usual Texas voice talent). This first episode really does show a lot of potential from the very first second (by having an outstanding OP, and a cover of the original theme is used later on), and I'd love to see the entire 37-episode run. I think the DiC dub is out there online to some extent, but the rips I've seen have all been of extremely poor quality (both in video & audio). If I can find a good recording of those 13 episodes that were dubbed, I'd probably be willing to review that product on its own, like how I reviewed the Dragon Warrior dub of Dragon Quest: Yuusha Abel Densetsu.
That's another Demo Disc down, everyone. Sorry that I didn't have a special surprise for this volume, like I did for the previous two, but I did cover more overall episodes this time around via F & Dodge Danpei, so I think it evens out. Look out for the next Demo Disc, whenever I decide to do one. Double-checking really quickly, I seem to have accidentally done a "volume" of this column once every season, so maybe it'll come back this fall... And I just thought of a perfect time to do so.
See you again during Mecha Month...