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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Theory Musing: The Six Mysteries of Anime & Manga That Need Answers

This is a bit of a spontaneous post for the blog, more so than usual, and it's because I've been recognized by another site. Anime/manga blogging duo the Reverse Thieves, who host the annual Anime Secret Santa (which I was a part of last year), were "nominated" by Anime Madhouse for a Free Spirit Award. Though technically not an actual award, it still showcases a sign of respect & appreciation for the work of another, with the added challenge of having to answer a question given by the nominator. After answering the question on his/her/their blog, the nominee(s) then nominate other people/sites for the award, alongside a question of their choosing.

Well, turns out that Kate/Narutaki & Alain/Hisui decided to include me as one of their five nominations at the end of their response post. First off, thank you both for the nomination; it's just nice to be assured that people really do read my blog & enjoy it. Second, I must now respond to the question they had for their nominees, and it's appropriately related to the Thieves' general blogging theme.

“What are five mysteries of anime and manga you need the answers to?”

There are plenty of things that we, as fans of anime & manga, know about when it comes to these mediums, and there is plenty of info that can be found out with some research. That being said, though, there are tons of things that we still don't know the answers to, no matter how much you look; even Japanese Wikipedia & the like are useless in these cases. So, to answer Kate & Alain's question, I will look at five different mysteries in anime & manga, and each will follow a step in the "Kipling Method" of investigation, research, & journalism, a.k.a. the Five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, & Why. (Hey, I have a BA in Journalism & Media Studies, so I better use it in some way, right?) Not just that, but I'll even go another step forward & include a bonus mystery that goes off of the occasionally-included sixth step: How. Finally, to stay true to the "Theory Musing" category that I'm putting this post into, I'll bring up my personal theories as to the answers behind each of them.

Who Shot J.R.?
Who is et?
Every anime's basic plot, or simply "gensaku/original concept", has to come from somewhere, someone, something, etc. Sometimes it comes from an existing manga, light novel, or what have you, but other times it's an original story made by the studio itself. Sometimes the actual person or people are credited properly, like Gen Urobuchi or Noboru/Shou Aikawa, while other times a pseudonym is used to reference the studio as a whole, like Hajime Yatate for Sunrise or Izumi Todo or Saburo Yatsude/Hatte for Toei. But then you get something like this, a seeming pseudonym so short & unsearchable, not to mention easily confused with a Steven Spielberg movie, that I can't possibly find out anything about it. What makes looking for any information regarding "et" so difficult is the fact that it was only seen on two anime, and neither of them are all too well known or celebrated today... And one of them doesn't deserve any praise whatsoever.

The first anime to feature the "gensaku et" credit is 1997's Next Senki Ehrgeiz, which at least has the obscure notoriety of being the first ever mech anime to air in a late-night TV slot. This is a series that is so forgotten in Japan that it hasn't even seen a DVD release (VHS & LD only), though it is available by streaming via Bandai Channel, and the chances of it ever being used in a Super Robot Wars game are zero-to-none. Still, I enjoy the series & try to speak up for it if the opportunity presents itself, or at least try to make sure people don't confuse it with a 3D fighting game of an all-too-similar name. The other title to have et grace its opening credits is 1998's AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-, an anime variant on The Dirty Dozen that has such "pitch"-perfect pacing (in all the wrong ways) that it's nigh-unwatchable (the first half, at least; the second half is only somewhat better at that). It's so bad that I deemed it worthy of a milestone review (#150 [& #151], in fact!), which I only save the absolute worst of the worst for. As you can see, et isn't exactly a name that's going to go down in history as being attached to all-time greatest anime (though I do feel that Ehrgeiz deserves some love), but the sheer fact that I can't find any answer as to who (or what) et is just annoys me to no end.

I do have one theory as to who et is, though it's not a strong one. You see, aside from Studio DEEN being the animation studio, both shows have a unique link between them. Both shows were directed by Toshifumi Kawase (Eldoran Series, Higurashi - When They Cry) & featured Atsuhiro Tomioka (Tribe Cool Crew, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds) for series composition (i.e. he was the head writer). The only other anime that features both of them is Eat-Man '98, which Kawase directed & Tomioka was a writer on (as part of a group of writers), but that show is based on a manga while Ehrgeiz & AWOL are original creations. Since this is essentially the only original work that had those two as director & head writer, respectively, my theory is that et is a pseudonym for Kawase & Tomioka as a duo, possibly even Isamu Imakake as well, as he did the original character & mech designs for Ehrgeiz & was the direct character designer for AWOL (Tetsuya Yanagisawa adapted Imakake's designs for the former). This theory is backed up somewhat by the inserts that are included with each LD for Ehrgeiz, each of which feature "comments" by Kawase & the last has a short interview with him about the show & its (non-existent) future, and each LD has a video extra at the end called My Favorite Battle of MV, which are compilations of Kawase's favorite scenes from the show. Sadly, the only way I could ever get an answer at to who et truly was would be to ask Toshifumi Kawase or Atsuhiro Tomioka themselves, but barring them appearing at an anime con that I can go to, which is highly unlikely, I'll probably never get that chance.

What Is Love?
What Happened to Koji Inada?
Manga artists having to put their works on hiatus is nothing new, & the Japanese tend to be very private about exact reasons for these things happening. If the hiatus is for a short time then the excuse given is a generic, "The author is looking to do research," and if it's a longer hiatus then the excuse is usually "The author is sick." Sometimes fans do find out what "illness" certain mangaka "suffer" from, like Yoshihiro Togashi having constant "I have to play the new Dragon Quest!" spells or Kentaro Miura being unable to find a rehab that can end his iDOLM@STER addiction, but other times a creator just drops off the radar, never to be heard from again but not actually having died. One of the most infamous cases of this is with Koji Inada, the artist behind Monthly Shonen Jump manga Beet the Vandel Buster.

Working with writer Riku Sanjo, the two found great success in the 90s with Weekly Jump manga Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken, which was based loosely on the RPG franchise. Following that, they teamed up again to create an original work that would run in the monthly variant of manga's most famous shonen magazine. Admittedly, Beet the Vandel Buster wasn't anything really original, and it had no qualms about being as video game-like as possible (even having its eponymous Vandel Busters talk about gaining experience so that they can level up & gain access to better equipment & the like), but it was still a fun action manga to read. It was simply a cool throwback to a simpler time for shonen action in an era where the genre was trying to become more & more complex; the anime adaptation wasn't too bad, either. After debuting in 2002, the manga ran for four years before coming to a grinding halt in September of 2006. After 12 volumes worth of content, plus one more chapter that was only serialized but not included in a bound volume, Monthly Jump reported that Beet was going on hiatus due to Koji Inada becoming ill.

Yeah, Beet the Vandel Buster has technically been on hiatus for nine entire years (to the exact month, more or less)! In fact, during its hiatus, Monthly Shonen Jump ceased publication in June of 2007 before being replaced by Jump Square that December, which is still being published to this day. You'd think that this insane hiatus would be effecting Riku Sanjo, but that's not the case. In fact, Sanjo has been involved in the anime business for a little longer than with manga, having co-written the original M.D. Geist with Koichi Ohata & helping write for shows like Gaiking; Legend of Daiku-Maryu, Digimon Xros Wars/Fusion, & Kamen Rider W, Fourze, & Drive. Really, this hiatus is only affecting Koji Inada, and I truly cannot even theorize what has happened with him. He's not the only person in manga to suffer a giant hiatus like this due to illness, as there are Kotaro Makaritoru!'s Tatsuya Hiruta (11 years) & Nana's Ai Yazawa (6 years), but the complete lack of info on just what happened to people like Koji Inada makes this a mystery that we'll likely never know the answer to.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Where Did the Lost/Stolen Groove Corporation Movies Go?
The concept of any sort of visual entertainment becoming "lost" is nothing new. Many silent films are lost for various reasons, mostly related to either a lack of foresight for the future or the nitrate film they were made on, and even now movies, episodes, & shorts can become lost to time & memory. This also applies to anime as well, but the movies I'm focusing on for this question have a really odd story behind them, if the story is even true in the first place.

Groove Corporation was a production company that helped bring about numerous anime, like Demon Lord Dante, the Lament of the Lamb OVA, Scrapped Princess, & Geisters - Fractions of the Earth. Admittedly, the company didn't really have the greatest batting average, but Groove managed to stick around for a few years in the early 00s. In the summer of 2002, Groove held a roadshow to showcase & promote four movies: Six Angels (a movie edit of an early ONA), Xevious (a CG movie based on Namco's 80s shooter) & two compilations movies for Geisters (Hikari no Shou & Inochi no Shou). The Six Angels movie saw a home video release that July, but afterwards something weird happened: Xevious & the Geisters movies were nowhere to be found. Now, just to clarify, I don't simply mean that these three movies never received a home video release, I mean that Groove Corporation physically did not have the films in its possession anymore. Needless to say, this wasn't anything that was planned; Xevious was already scheduled for a September release on VHS & DVD that same year. Even though Six Angels isn't looked at with any real positivity nowadays, & Xevious' scant number of Japanese reviews (via the roadshow screenings) weren't much better, it's obvious that Groove Corporation was hoping to make some sort of money off of these releases, and in the end only one of them actually happened. In fact, because of this loss, Groove had to cancel production on the second, & final, episode of the Nakoruru OVA (based on the Samurai Shodown character), which had already been cut down from the original plan of 13 episodes.

In the end, Groove Corporation wound up having to declare bankruptcy in mid-2003, after accumulating a 5 billion yen debt. While it can be argued that the company wouldn't have lasted long in the first place, considering that it had very few titles of real worth (especially ones that it had major control over), I don't think it's unreasonable to say that the loss of Xevious & the Geisters movies royally screwed the company over. So, what happened to those films? Rumor has it that someone high up in Groove, possibly even the head of the company, simply took the masters for those films, & most of the company's money, & ran off somewhere. If that's the case, then I really wonder where the hell those movies are now, or if the masters even exist in any working fashion at this point. Sure, Xevious is apparently really bad (not just because of the poor CG), & Geisters isn't looked at fondly either, but it saddens me that these films were made, shown to a super-limited audience, & then lost (possibly forever) because a corporate bigwig decided to screw over his company.

If you want a little more detail on the Xevious movie itself, I did a "non-review" back in 2011 that covered as much about it & Groove Corporation as I could find at the time.

When is Cheryl's Birthday?
When Exactly Did the Hareluya II BØY Super (Hi) Video Come Out?
This is a simple one, quite honestly. Haruto Umezawa's Hareluya II BØY was a notable hit for Shonen Jump during the 90s, lasting 33 volumes, and in 1997 it was given a TV anime adaptation by Triangle Staff; it was the first Jump manga to be given a late-night TV anime, in fact. Still, that's not the only time Hareluya ever saw some sort of animation for it. One day, back when I used to use Rakuten Japan to import some really hard to find stuff, I came across a VHS tape that was being sold for super cheap, so I bought it. It was the Hareluya II BØY Super (Hi/Secret) Video, a 9-minute piece of promotion for the manga that I wound up giving a mini-review alongside my 3rd Anniversary post.

If you look at my "Master List", via the tab at the top of the site, you'll notice that I put down the year that every single anime, manga, & game I ever reviewed came out in. Among all of those titles, though, there is a single entry that has "????" in place of a year, and that's for this very VHS tape. While I'm not one to toot my own horn normally, I do take some pride in doing as much research as I can about whatever I'm reviewing, and that includes finding out the exact year(s) something came out in. This is really nothing more than a bit of hyper-picky silliness, but it annoys me a little that this VHS tape that you can find absolutely no info on, even in Japanese, doesn't include a year of production anywhere on it. The cover doesn't list anything, the physical tape itself doesn't have one mentioned, and even the video itself never brings up a year, even when bringing up the Shueisha copyright at the end! I know it shouldn't bug me, but it just does. Everyone has those little details that annoy them to no end because they don't know what they are, and this VHS tape's year of production is one of mine.

My only guess/theory as to when this VHS tape was made is based simply off of the serialization run of the original manga. Hareluya II BØY debuted in 1992, received its TV anime in 1997, & ended in 1999. Going off of the style of animation that's seen in the "Just Break Out ~Yami wo Koete~" music video & Jump promo on the tape, I'm going to imagine that this was made before the TV anime, as everything looks completely hand-drawn & just, visually, looks like it was made in the first half of the 90s, at the very least. Therefore, my guess is that this VHS tape came out somewhere between 1993, once the manga started gaining real traction with the readers, & 1996, just before the TV anime seemed to be a reasonable proposition. Yes, I've put that much thought into such a pointless subject... I am a sad, pathetic man at times.

Why so Serious?
Why Did Shaman King Originally End so Suddenly?
Speaking about Weekly Shonen Jump, here's a story that likely does have way more to it than what's known. Hiroyuki Takei's Shaman King debuted back in 1998, becoming one of Jump's notable hits following the end of its "Golden Age". It received a 64-episode TV anime adaptation from 2001-2002 & is still looked at as one of the best shonen action stories ever told. With all of this success, it's sudden cancellation in mid-2004 is a little surprising at first glance, but deeper examination, even while avoiding major spoilers, reveals something even more shocking.

Regardless of whether it was because Takei felt he had no more story to tell or if it was because it was losing popularity, Shaman King was winding down to its finale in 2004. Once it hit late-summer, everything was apparently set up & ready to go for the final battle to go down. With a manga that was running for slightly over 30 volumes, you'd think Shueisha would let the mangaka finish the story the way he/she wanted to, even if the manga wasn't exactly popular anymore. For example, Bleach has been low on popularity for a good while, yet Kubo Tite is being allowed to tell his entire final story arc right now because the manga has run for over 60 volumes. Here's where things get weird withHiroyuki Takei's most iconic work. The final serialized chapter of Shaman King ends with co-main character Manta (Morty in the 4Kids anime dub) having a dream about everyone rescuing a gender bent, princess version of the main villain Hao, before waking up & joining his friends as they head off for the final battle with Hao for real. Yes, this manga literally ended right before the final battle.

While the "Princess Hao ending", as it's now called, is weird enough on its own, this whole story gets even more bizarre, and not in a JoJo kind of way. Once it came time for Shueisha to release Volume 32, the final compiled tankouban for the series, the company essentially held it hostage, saying that it would only release this final volume if they had evidence that 50,000 people wanted it. That right there makes me feel that Shaman King wasn't simply canceled because of lowering popularity, but rather Takei was forced to put an immediate halt to it. My theory is that Takei must have pissed off someone high up on the ladder in Jump, or even Shueisha itself, and this person wanted revenge. Shaman King's original ending wasn't simply a cancellation, this was done with malicious intent. You don't force an author to stop telling a story when he/she is at the very end unless you really, truly hate that person. Luckily, Takei was able to go back to this story & give it a proper ending when the 2008-2009 kanzenban/perfect edition release happened, and most fans feel that it's an outstanding finish. Still, I'd love to hear Takei's side of what exactly happened back in 2004, and there could have been an opportunity for that story to be told at Otakon this year, but Takei had to drop out due to last-minute scheduling conflicts. Honestly, though, since he still works with Shueisha he probably wouldn't have been able to tell the real story, because if it's as bad as I think it is it could potentially hurt him from a business perspective to tell all. Maybe one day...

How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Tootsie Roll Center of a Tootsie Pop?
How Truly Bad is JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood?
With Hirohiko Araki's iconic franchise now seeing a great surge in popularity in the past few years, mainly due to the recent TV anime adaptations of the first three story arcs, it is odd to remember that there is a JoJo anime out there that only a small amount of people actually had to opportunity to watch. Produced by A.P.P.P., the same studio that made the original Part 3/Stardust Crusaders OVAs from 1993-1994 & 2000-2002, the 2007 movie adaptation of Part 1/Phantom Blood was only given a short theatrical run before being hidden away into the vault, never to see the light of day ever again. The usual explanation given by fans, especially by those who actually saw it in theaters, is that the Phantom Blood film was so astonishingly terrible that not only did fans hate it, but Araki himself was so disgusted with the final product that he outright barred A.P.P.P. & distributor The Klockworx Co., Ltd. from ever releasing it onto home video. Essentially, the entire movie ended up being a complete waste of time & money, and it would take another five years before David Production was given permission by Araki to give JoJo another go, this time via late-night TV anime; the rest I already mentioned at the beginning.

Still, I do wonder just how bad this movie is. From a production standpoint, it sounds to be very solid, with some returning staff from the OVAs. Character designer & animation director Junichi Hayama not only returned to adapt Araki's original visual style but also directed the film itself (making it the only product Hayama has ever directed). Marco D'Ambrosio was brought back to create the soundtrack, with sound design/engineering again being done by Tom Myers of Skywalker Sound. Even art director (i.e. the man in charge of backdrops & the like) Satoru Kuwabara came back for the movie. SOUL'd OUT was tapped to perform an ending theme for the movie, and "VOODOO KINGDOM" is an excellent fit for the story. The cast even sounds promising, featuring Hikaru Midorikawa (Dio Brando), Katsuyuki Konishi (Jonathan Joestar), Rikiya Koyama (Will A. Zeppeli), & Nana Mizuki (Erina Pendleton). Luckily, you can hear these voices in the PlayStation 2 game that was made alongside the movie, which itself looked okay. The most that has seeped from the vault was the first 16 minutes of the movie, but only via an unfinished, music & effects-only video that was supposedly given to a college professor who knew someone at Skywalker Sound & got the footage for a class assignment; one of his students apparently leaked the footage online. I covered that footage as a bonus on the second volume of Demo Disc, and it looked promising from what I could tell via such an non-ideal form. So, why is this movie considered so bad that the original manga creator forbade it from ever being made available to fans?

My guess would have to go to one man: Mitsuhiro Yamada. A screen writer who worked on titles like El Hazard: The Alternative World & Kurogane Communication, Yamada was the man who wrote this film adaptation of the first JoJo story arc. Why would I blame Yamada? Mainly because the complaints about the film that I've heard about are all about how the movie adapts the story itself. Taking aside the fact that a ~90-minute film would obviously result in parts of the story being removed, that's a necessary evil, the movie still ended up having popular or simply important elements being taken out, apparently. The biggest one seems to be regarding Robert E.O. Speedwagon, who goes from street urchin/wannabe mugger to Johnathan's loyal confidant. I've heard conflicting reports about his inclusion in the movie, some say the initial skirmish he leads to rob Johnathan is kept & others say he's removed completely, but there's no doubt that Speedwagon is nowhere to be seen in the later part of the story where he's obviously meant to be there; he may be not useful in battle, but Speedwagon has his charm & is important. Sadly, this is the only real example I can find, but if such an important character was apparently removed, then who knows what other important details were left out of the movie. Still, I just want to see this entire film for myself one day; as a fan of JoJo I can't accept that there's a take on it that I am forbidden from seeing. Sorry, Araki-sensei.
There is an unimaginable number of mysteries in the world, and I'm sure that there are more than enough of them in just the world of anime & manga; these are simply six that I can think of. Now, to follow the tradition of this Free Spirit Award project, let me challenge some other anime/manga blogs/sites to answer a question of my choosing. Here's the question:
"What is it that keeps you going, whether it's watching anime, reading manga, writing about it, or simply being a fan of it?"

And here are my nominees:
-Geoff Tebbets of AniMaybe & the Golden Ani-Versary
-AJ Adejare (a.k.a. Kirielson) of ProjectPioneer
-Matthew of Vintagecoats
-Lauren Orsini of Otaku Journalist


  1. This was a lot of fun to read. The great unknowns of various mediums have always fascinated me, and it was cool to see some (4) that I wasn't familiar with. Regarding the "who is et?" mystery, your take on it seems pretty plausible. The first thing I think of when I think of "et" is "et al" which would give some evidence to the idea of it being a collaboration between various people on the staff. Just my two cents.

    It's always a pleasure to read this blog

  2. Very interesting article that you made. While on the note of Groove Corporation (and I don't know if you'll allow this link here) but I surprisingly found a certain title from them that managed to get legally streamable...

    1. Yeah, Six Angels' movie edit did manage to see release, and not all of Groove Corp's titles got lost to time. Only Xevious & the Geisters movies are gone, like I mentioned.