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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: The Homecoming Part 1

Once again, after over a year in absence, the license rescue list returns from the dead! I'll be honest right away, though, & admit that I'm starting to have some trouble finding titles that I feel are worthy of being on this list. This is the seventh entry on the whole, and in the previous six I listed close to 90 different anime. A big reason for that is because I had often bundled titles that had a similarity of some sort together (part of one franchise, licensed by the same initial company, etc.), which greatly inflated how many anime I actually included in each list... In other words, I had a bad habit of not following the whole "twelve anime" concept, though I generally did so as a bit of self-deprecation (because I do enjoy poking fun at the stupid stuff I do at times). The bundling bit is something that I kind of wish I didn't do, however, because now I can't milk the rest of Bandai's d-rights licensing deal from the late 90s/early 00s or Right Stuf's VHS-only catalog, for example. Also, I don't want to simply list anime that had been simply licensed before just for the sake of it, even though such license rescues have happened. I would have never listed Pilot Candidate, for example, but Discotek wound up rescuing that, anyway. Finally, I try not to list too many anime that one can point at & say "Yeah, that's going to get rescued one day," which is why I've never listed something like the Berserk TV anime; once in a while is fine, though.

Still, I did manage to find another twelve anime (or at least franchises) that I think deserve license rescues, so let's get this homecoming started... Hey, if Spider-Man can get one, then why not this list?

The last rescue list featured a first in that I listed Salamander, an anime that was licensed & released for English-speaking audiences, but only for the UK. Therefore, let's start this list with another title that was brought over by the infamous Western Connection... And this is probably the one with the most infamy. Generally, Western Connection was known for (poorly) releasing its anime sub-only, but there was one title that was released dub-only. Originally released across 1990 in Japan, the six-episode OVA Teki wa Kaizoku ~Neko-tachi no Kyouen~/The Enemy's the Pirates! ~The Cat's Banquet~ was a Kitty Films-produced series that was animated by three different studios (Madhouse, (Production) I.G. Tatsunoko, & Watanabe Promotion), though there was a chief director (Katsuhisa Yamada; Genesis Climber Mospeada, Overlanders) overseeing everything. It told the story of Apullo (a cat-like space alien) & his partner Latell, two members of the Division of Space Piracy/DSP who are tasked with trying to stop a space pirate named Youmei from using an advanced AI system to create destruction. The OVA definitely had similarities to the better known Dirty Pair franchise, such as Apullo & Latell's habit of causing more destruction than their bounties, and managed to become a bit of a fansub favorite during the 90s & early 00s.

Western Connection's VHS release happened in 1994, featuring an English dub that was likely produced by French company Ucore & commissioned by Kitty Films itself. Said release, renamed Galactic Pirates (because I guess the original title was too silly?), is best known for two things: Being generally poor & having black cat Apullo be performed as a "black cat". In other words, Apullo's voice actor played his character like he was a jive-talking blaxploitation character from the 70s. Though most of Western Connection's catalog was made up of titles that were released elsewhere, it did have some UK-only releases; Salamander & Galactic Pirates are merely two of them, & I may include others in future lists. As it is right now, the original UK VHS tapes don't seem to be all too expensive over at Amazon UK, though the first tape isn't being sold at this moment, but the main reason The Enemy's the Pirates! is on the list is because of the possibility of a dual audio release. There was a DVD release in Japan in 2007, and it would be natural to have the original Japanese version for a new release, not to mention give it its first North American release in general, but if the Galactic Pirates dub isn't impossible to sync up with the native video format (because some UK dubs were produced to match PAL speed, which was slower), then it would be an fun, if horribly misguided upon creation, extra to include.

If you're curious about Western Connection as a company, though, there's an excellent write-up done by the Australia-based blog Nergal Heavy Industries from back in 2014; turns out WC did some pretty sneaky things to save money. It even features reviews for some of WC's actual releases, like Samurai Gold, The Sensualist, & (of course) Galactic Pirates. At the very least, I might check out & review Samurai Gold myself at some point.

Sometimes an anime comes out, does its thing, & then disappears for the most part. Usually, it's because the product is either nothing more than competent, maybe even better than average, but sometimes it is one that is beloved by those who saw it. Grey: Digital Target, the 1987 theatrical movie based on the 1985-1987 manga by Yoshihisa Tagami, is a perfect example of the latter. The story followed the eponymous Grey, a soldier in a futuristic military where surviving the constantly insurmountable odds is considered impossible; Grey's single-minded focus on survival has given him the nickname of "The Grey Death". From what I've could find out, the manga was known for being a constant downward spiral of tragedy & nihilism, while the anime did keep a sense of hope to it, likely a purposeful decision by director Satoshi Dezaki. To be fair, that change has resulted in some people not being able to fully love it, like Justin Sevakis admitted in his Buried Treasure article from 2008, but the movie simply does what it does best (i.e. action & political undercurrents) so well that even those who found it flawed still wound up enjoying it more than they expected.

Viz first started bringing over Grey via the original manga in the 90s, first as single-chapter "issues" & then two "Perfect Collection" trades, & even offered an import of the untranslated VHS via mail order; Viz even got legendary fiction writer Harlan Ellison to write an introduction for the manga. It wasn't until 1997 that Viz would give the movie a proper translated release on VHS, both subbed as well as dubbed by Ocean Studios & directed by Karl Willems (InuYasha, The SoulTaker), though the dub has been agreed to be nothing more than passable, losing most of the non-action undertones. The chances of this being given a DVD re-release are low, though. Even in Japan, the movie never got more than VHS, LD, & even VHD, and the only DVD release is in certain international markets (likely Europe). The VHS tapes that Viz put out run anywhere from $15-$40, depending on the kind of release it is. Still, a nicely cleaned up DVD release that contains both the original Japanese as well as the Ocean dub would be great. If nothing else, Grey: Digital Target deserves one more opportunity to appear, do its thing, & then disappear into the aether.

Don't go thinking that the "Girls with Guns" motif didn't become big when Koichi Mashimo made his trilogy of Noir, Madlax, & El Cazador be la Bruja, because it was a thing for a good long time, going back to at least the 80s. The Gall Force franchise from 1986-1992, which itself was inspired by a line of model kits, was probably one of the more known early examples of that motif, but has since become lost with time. Detailing a war between the Solnoids & Paranoids, the OVAs focus on a group of Solnoids who try to look for a new home world for their kind. Split up across three main arcs (First Story, Earth Chapter & New Era), five multi-episode OVA series were produced, along with a midquel OVA (Rhea Gall Force); these were what CPM released on VHS & DVD, with the final re-release happening in 2003. There was a reboot OVA in 1996, titled Gall Force: The Revolution, that replaced the Kenichi Sonoda character designs with ones by Kyoko Tsuchida, but that was never licensed. I remember hearing of Gall Force here & there when I first really got into anime in 2004, but as time went on it's kind of become forgotten, and it's apparently nontraditional storytelling pushed it into "love it or hate it" territory; either you really got into it, or you absolutely abhorred it.

While CPM was the company most associated with Gall Force here in North America, there was one short OVA that came over by another company. In the early-to-mid 90s, AnimEigo released a VHS tape titled Super-Deformed Double Feature, which housed two short OVAs. The first was 1988's Ten Little Gall Force, an animated mockumentary about the behind-the-scenes production of the first two Gall Force OVA series (Eternal Story & Destruction); it was as silly as the original story was serious. The second was 1992's Scramble Wars: Tsuppashire! Genom Trophy Rally, a Wacky Races-inspired competition between ARTMIC-animated series Gall Force, Bubblegum Crisis, & Genesis Surviver Gaiarth, with a trillion-dollar trophy being the prize. The latter two utilized series were both released by AnimEigo, which explains why that company brought it over, and now that VHS is super-expensive & considered a collectors item, as it was never put out on DVD. As for the main series of OVAs, price points vary; some DVDs are rather affordable, while others go way higher than recommended for those curious about trying it out. Being able to get all of Gall Force in the market once again, most ideally with the Super-Deformed Double Feature OVAs & even the Revolution reboot, would be a great way to truly see which side of the quality coin it belongs to nowadays.

For the past few lists, I've been including at least one choice that fits the "It's not a question of if, but when," and this is obviously one of those picks. While Dallos was the very first OVA ever produced, Megazone 23 (pronounced "Two-Three") was the first one to be a big hit, helping kickstart the OVA boom that ran through the second half of the 80s & lasted to some extent until the advent of modern-day late-night anime. Originally envisioned as a TV series before that was aborted, the original Part I OVA from 1985 followed Shogo Yahagi as he slowly learned, after getting a hold of a mysterious transforming robot, that the city he called home was actually a giant space colony floating in space & that it really wasn't the 1980s. The Part II OVA from 1986 followed off of the non-ending that the original OVA ended on, detailing Shogo's final assault again the army that was hiding the truth, though the visuals were starkly different due to the change in both director & character designer. Finally, there was Part III, which was originally released as two episodes in 1989, which took place centuries later & followed Eiji Takanaka as he got involved in a battle between gaming company Orange & "The System". It's also generally considered the black sheep of the series, being almost nothing like what came before. Considering the pedigree, legacy, & iconicity of Megazone 23, there's no doubt that this will, one day, get rescued & re-released here in North America, especially since it received a Blu-Ray remaster in Japan just last year. The reason it's on this list, really, is more about hoping that its wild English dub legacy will be kept as intact & (for the first time) complete as possible.

Megazone 23 first saw an English dub in 1986 as an attempt to mix it into the Robotech universe. That year saw the release of Robotech the Movie, which had a very troubled production & went from being a (more or less) straight dub that changed some plot elements to make the Part I OVA fit into Robotech's version of the Macross story to a plot that was kind-of-sort-of tied into the second storyline (which used Southern Cross as the basis) & just a terrible finished product on the whole; the best part was the original footage Harmony Gold paid for to give the story an actual end. This dub would be impossible to include in a Megazone re-release mainly because Robotech the Movie both removed entire scenes & reorganized what was kept so that it flowed differently; oh, yeah, & then there's Harmony Gold. The second dub was for Part II & is now called the "International" dub. This was also produced by Harmony Gold, & featured a lot of the same cast (though some roles were switched around), but it was made for Japan to help teach English. The end result was a lot of changed names, but overall a very enjoyable dub that stayed true to the original story; this dub was included in the recent BD release. The third dub was for Part III & was produced by Manga UK in 1995; it's generally considered absolutely terrible, but is still worth including for posterity. The fourth dub was Carl Macek's apology for Robotech the Movie & was an accurate dub for Part I, produced by Streamline Pictures in 1995; this did see a DVD release in 1998 that was distributed by Image Entertainment. Finally, the fifth & final dub was produced by ADV for all three stories, & aimed to deliver a truly "80s" aesthetic; how much that ruins the dub comes down to personal taste (I personally couldn't stand it). Seeing a Blu-Ray release over here that had every single dub ever made, minus the Robotech one (obviously), would be simply amazing; it's technically only two dubs for each Part, after all.

Quite honestly, it was amazing enough that this anime even came over to North America in the first place. The road to seeing Media Blasters release all of the GaoGaiGar TV series is definitely one that's more interesting than you'd initially think. Seeing a mech anime from 1997 that so embraced its old-school mentality be released during the 00s bubble era was surprising enough, but to have it receive an English dub in any way was even more so. In fact, I'm going to guess that the only reason why a dub was even produced was due to the fact that MB was in talks with Disney about getting it aired on one of its networks. Word from head honcho John Sirabella is that the deal was all but done verbally, but Disney backed out at the last second because they suddenly felt that giant robots weren't going to appeal to children anymore. Still, those initial five DVDs from 2006-2007, which covered the first half of the show, were nothing but fun, & the dub by NYAV Post (featuring the likes of Dan Green, Veronica Taylor, & ADR director Mike Sinterniklaas) was not just fitting for the show itself but also one of the all-time greatest anime dubs ever produced, in my opinion. Sadly, low sales, combined with the remastered recreation needed for Voltron (allegedly), resulted in GaoGaiGar's release being put on the back burner for a year.

When it returned, the second half was released in one giant boxset, & only subbed. Granted, the original set was five DVD singles housed in an artbox, like the first half could be, & Media Blasters would admit a year later that GaoGaiGar eventually made its money back (likely due to the dub being dropped), but it was still sad to see the dub unfinished; even Sinterniklaas has admitted that he wished that his team could have finished the dub. Obviously, we never got the sequel, GaoGaiGar FINAL, nor did the apparent plans to release Gear Fighter Dendoh (which was admitted at an Otakon panel one year) come to fruition. Both "Seasons" would be re-released in litebox collections in 2010, but since then MB's license expired, leaving the show open for licensing again. It's sad that such an enjoyable, fun, & endearing anime is not regularly available at the moment, & the various releases are not cheap to get all of now. Some of the original five singles are in the $30-$70 range, while the Season 1 litebox isn't even being sold at Amazon at the moment. This is a series that definitely deserves a second chance over here, even if the dub remains only half done (which is a certainty at this point, barring a miracle).

It's hard to really say that a 30-minute OVA is something that "deserves" a license rescue, but I did admit that I am starting to slowly run out of worthy titles; plus, this one does have a neat idea for licensing again, which I'll get to. Cat Soup was a 2001 OVA inspired by the work of mangaka Nekojiru (literally "Cat Soup"), the pen name of Chiyomi Hashiguchi; in Japan, the OVA was titled Nekojiru-So/Cat Soup Grass. Hashiguchi, sadly, committed suicide on May 10, 1998, making the OVA a posthumous show of respect by director Tatsuo Sato (Nadesico, Shingu, Shigofumi). Starring the brother/sister cat duo of Nyako & Nyatta, like Nekojiru's works, the OVA detailed Nyatta's journey to retrieve half of his older sister's soul after she died in the bathtub; he had managed to rescue the other half, leaving Nyako half-alive. A truly surreal piece of animation, the OVA is one that has to be seen to be believed, & marks one of the first times Masaaki Yuasa, director of some of the most visually stunning anime of the new millennium, was allowed to truly have free reign. There's also almost no voice work to be found, with what little there is done in a type of jibberish speech. Truly, only Central Park Media would feel that this was worth releasing by itself on DVD, and with a separate limited-edition release at that. Luckily, a license rescue for this wouldn't be absolutely unreasonable if one was to license the other piece of Nekojiru anime out there.

Two years before the Cat Soup OVA, and one year after Nekojiru's death, a TV anime titled Nekojiru Gekijou/Cat Soup Theater ran as part of Bakusho Mondai no Boss Kyara Ou/Bakusho Mondai's Boss Character King, a variety show hosted by comedy duo Bakusho Mondai. It was a series of 27 episodes, each of which was only two minutes long, was directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi (Suzuka, Those Who Hunt Elves II), & featured Nekojiru's trademark mix of humor, cruelty, & general zaniness. Nekojiru Gekijou totals to just a little shy of an hour in total, so while rescuing the OVA on its own may not make too much sense, it might be a little more worth a re-release if the licensing company could manage to get the preceding TV series, as well. Now, to be fair, licensing itself may inhibit the potential to bundle the two anime together, since they were produced by completely different companies, directors, & even animation studios, but this is just a best-case scenario I thought up.
That brings an end to Part 1 of this year's license rescue list. Some people say that "You can't go home again," but I'll be doing just that in a few days with Part 2. Housed inside will be some multi-company licenses of old, two companies making their first (& only) appearances on this series of lists, & plenty of stuff that's just too expensive to get all of nowadays.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Disney passed on GaoGaiGar as it was a giant robot show? I guess they clearly knew what they were doing considering the first of five (to date) live-action Transformers films was released in 2007 - and after half of GaiGaiGar had already been dubbed and released on DVD by the time that film was released.

    The Transformers toys even featured engineering from Takara, the very same makers of the original GaoGaiGar toys. Of course, the GaiGaiGar toys not actually being available as a current toyline was probably one of the deciding factors for Disney not to pursue the series for TV broadcast; without such a co-licensed deal in place it would have been a far less lucrative prospect.