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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: The Homecoming Part 2

Not a license rescue, per se, but FUNimation announced a few days ago that it licensed Momotaro, Sacred Sailors, a 1944 Japanese propaganda film that is generally considered to be the very first feature-length (~70 minutes, in this case) animated production ever made in Japan; FUNi was actually one of the financial backers of the recent HD remastering it received. The film itself was kind of a sequel to 1942's Momotaro's Sea Eagle, a 37-minute feature that I actually wrote about way back in this blog's first month of existence as part of my short review of Zakka Films' 2008 DVD compilation of Pre-War anime; it was my second review ever, in fact. Anyway, I bring this up mainly to illustrate that, sometimes, one can truly "never say never" when it comes to anime licenses... Even though I just said that word, twice at that.

Let's just get back to the license rescue list, okay?

I'm starting the second half of this list with another case of two adaptations of the same manga, with each take being released by a different company. Megumu Okada's Shadow Skill debuted first as a doujinshi (a.k.a. fan-created work) until 1992, when Takeshobo picked it up as a professional serialization in the pages of Comic Gamma. It ran until the magazine was terminated in 1996 when it was then picked up by Fujimi Shobo & ran in Monthly Dragon Jr. until 1998. Following that, Kodansha picked up the rights & in 2001 Okada continued doing the manga regularly until 2006, when he took a hiatus to focus on Saint Seiya Episode.G, which he debuted in Akita Shoten's Champion Red back in 2002. In 2009, Okada put Episode.G on hiatus & returned to Shadow Skill, releasing a new chapter every other month until finally ending it in 2014 with a total of 15 volumes. Anyway, it's obvious that the martial arts-styled action manga starring Elle Ragu & her surrogate "little brother" Gau Ban had earned itself a loyal fanbase, which resulted in a small variety of anime adaptations.

The first was a four-episode OVA series animated by Zero-G (generally an assistance studio) & directed by Hiroshi Negishi (ep 1) & Yasuhiro Kuroda (eps 2-4), which saw release outside of Japan via Manga Entertainment. At the very least, Manga first released the latter three episodes, edited together as a single feature titled Shadow Skill the Movie. Eventually, the first episode would see release as well under the name Shadow Skill: The Origin, and it looks like the final release was on DVD which housed all four episodes proper. The second adaptation was a 1998 TV series, sometimes redundantly listed online as Shadow Skill - Eigi (because "Eigi" is just the kanji reading of the actual title), which ran for 26 episodes & was eventually licensed & released on DVD by ADV in the mid-00s, with the last boxset re-release coming out in 2009. Finally, there was also a cel-shaded CG OVA in 2004 titled Shadow Skill: Kuruda-ryu Kousatsu-hou no Himitsu/Secret of the Kuruda Style Cross Kill Law, though that one never saw international release & is looked at with general disdain. Interestingly enough, Megumi Hayashibara voiced Elle for every single anime adaptation. Today, the Manga DVD for the original OVAs can be had for relatively cheap, though I'd guess that it could receive better video quality in general with a new release, while ADV's release of the TV series varies in price; singles range from a few bucks to easily over $20-$30, while both boxsets are way more expensive. A rescue here would mainly be for the sake of collecting everything together under one banner & making it easier to get all of at once.

AN Entertainment was the licensing division of the now-defunct anime store AnimeNation that existed during the 00s. The company wound up only licensing three series: 1999-2000's Omishi Magical Theater Risky Safety, 2000's Miami Guns, & 2001's Haré+Guu. Risky Safety wound up finding a small niche but otherwise will likely remain forgotten, while Miami Guns was not well received at all, but Haré+Guu will go down as the best overall product that AN Entertainment ever licensed. Originally titled Jungle wa Itsumo Hare Nochi Guu/The Jungle Was Always Nice, Then Came Guu in Japan, the series was a zany comedy detailing the life of young Haré, a boy who lives in the jungle who winds up getting a sibling-of-sorts when his mother Weda returns from the city with a young girl named Guu. Guu, in turn, was unpredictable, bizarre, & generally would make Haré's everyday life a living hell, if not simply downright weird. The TV anime adaptation of the manga by Renjuro Kindaichi was a perfect example of just the kind of wacky comedy that seemingly only Japan could come up with, and was generally loved by critics when the DVDs came out over here, with the English dub by Bang Zoom being given a lot of credit, too.

AN Entertainment put out the 26-episode TV series across seven DVDs throughout 2006, followed by a 2-DVD release of the 2002-2003 Haré+Guu Deluxe OVA series in 2007, but that wound up being the last thing ever put out by the company. The anime bubble burst not too long after, & AN Entertainment never licensed anything ever again; AnimeNation itself would similarly die out in 2014. What hurts most is that AN Entertainment left Haré+Guu unfinished, technically, as there was another OVA series, 2003-2004's Haré+Guu FINAL, that remained exclusive to Japan. Today, the DVDs put out aren't expensive by any means, though Amazon has multiple listings for the same singles that have wildly varying prices (so buyer beware, just to be safe), but for those who live to save space these aren't ideal releases; AN Entertainment's boxset release of the TV series in 2007 was just all 7 DVDs in the artbox. A license rescue would not just benefit from being a space-saving opportunity, but also give the FINAL OVAs an opportunity to finally see release over here. Sure, it would likely be a sub-only release, but that would still be better than never seeing it in the first place.

This is the last case of me covering multiple titles that were brought over by multiple companies, but at least it's all part of a single series. In 1983, Rei Aran debuted Tatakae!/Fight! Iczer-1 in the pages of hentai magazine Lemon People, which was also the home of Yoshiki Takaya's Hades Project Zeorymer. Before ending in 1987, though, the manga about the eponymous Iczer-1 helping save Earth from the invasion of the alien Cthuwulf by teaming up with a young girl named Nagisa would be the inspiration behind what can now be called the Iczer Trilogy. First up came a 3-episode OVA of the same name as the manga that saw release from 1985-1987 & featured Toshiki/Toshihiro Hirano in most of the main staff roles (director, writer, storyboarder, character designer, etc.), alongside the likes of mech designers Masami Obari & Shinji Aramaki, as well as old-school music composer Michiaki Watanabe. It became a fast fan-favorite in the 90s when it was first released on VHS by U.S. Renditions & L.A. Hero (followed by a re-release from CPM a few years later), mainly due to the mix of giant robots, yuri overtones, & hyper-violence, which helped make Media Blasters give it a DVD release in 2005; sure, the dub was considered crap, but it was the early 90s. The second entry in the trilogy was Bouken!/Adventure! Iczer-3, a six-episode OVA that came out from 1990-1991. While Iczer-1 was still to be found here, the lead here was the younger Iczer-3, who had to help humanity in their continued battle against evil. It originally saw release in North America by CPM on VHS using the original title, but in 2003 the company released the entire series on DVD using the name title of Iczer Reborn. Manga UK also released its own DVD, complete with a dub that was only seen in Europe.

Finally, there's the last entry in the trilogy, 1995's Iczer Girl Iczelion. Compared to the linked giant robot OVAs that came before it, the final series was a two-episode thematic reboot that had Nagisa become a power suit-wearing battle girl who fought alongside the robot Iczel, as well as other multicolored female Iczelion warriors. Obviously, this resulted in the final part of the Iczer Trilogy being an obvious black sheep, with it only receiving a VHS release by ADV in 1998, though there was both a subbed & dubbed release; it was given a small re-release in 2000, too. Today, the prices for the various American releases vary wildly (the Iczer Reborn DVD in particular goes for at least $75 now), while in Japan the entire franchise has been given a DVD release, with Iczer-1 having received a Blu-Ray release just this past April. A license rescue would allow for Iczer-1 being given the best video & audio quality possible now due to the BD release, give Iczer-3 the dual-audio release that only the UK received over a decade ago, & allow Iczelion to be a little more known in general (though it will obviously always remain the black sheep).

It's hard to tell if the ArtsMagic that currently seems to exist is the same company as I'm thinking of, but in the mid-00s a company going by this name entered the anime licensing business in one of the weirdest ways ever. It started off in 2004 by releasing some of the earliest all-CG anime ever produced, specifically A.LI.CE, Blue Remains, & Malice@Doll, before trying out a TV anime in the form of Salaryman Kintaro, a 20-episode adaptation of the Young Jump manga by Hiroshi Motomiya. The anime showcased the rise in the ranks for Yajima Kintaro, a former biker gang leader who decides to become a regular salaryman after the death of his wife left him alone to care for his extremely young son. The series was animated by JCF, which is generally an assistance studio, which meant that it wasn't exactly a visual masterpiece by any means. Still, the show managed to attain some fair bit of acclaim by the sites that actually reviewed the release as it came out; it even received two separate positive reviews from ANN four years apart. Obviously, though, this just wasn't going to sell to American anime fans, even during the bubble era, but at least ArtsMagic made their mark better than the likes of AnimeWho... Yeah, Joe vs. Joe wasn't anything special, was it?

ArtsMagic originally put Salaryman Kintaro out across five DVDs from 2005-2006, followed by an odd series of 2008 re-releases called Young Japan, which packed a volume of the anime with a live-action movie that was controversial & directed by a famous director. Only the first four DVDs were re-released in this bizarre fashion, with Takashi Miike's Young Thugs: Innocent Blood, Shinya Tsukamoto's Bullet Ballet, Toshiaki Toyoda's Blue Spring, & Takashi Miike's Ley Lines being the packed-in movies with each respective Kintaro DVD. ArtsMagic itself would only last as a part of the anime industry until 2009, following a 2008 Blu-Ray re-release of Malice@Doll (maybe, since I can't verify that it actually came out) & a 2009 compilation of all three CG movies on DVD titled Landmarks of CGI Animation. To be quite honest, I feel that the chances of Salaryman Kintaro ever getting license rescued are next to non-existent, even Next Senki Ehrgeiz has better chances (& that's already touching "never gonna happen"), but considering the praise it did manage to receive during its initial release, maybe a new release can help make it more available to those who missed out on it the first time (& even mostly-second time) around. To be fair, ArtsMagic's DVDs aren't exactly expensive by any means right now, but sometimes it's just better to put out a new release & get the word out anew than worry about how cheap the current option is, especially when it's something like a TV series. Yeah, rescuing an OVA that's sill available for less than $5 isn't smart (here's looking at you, Cyber City Oedo 808), but a TV series's length & original, multi-single release can always be improved upon.

Moto Hagio is a part of the Year 24 Group (the unofficial name for shojo manga innovators who were all born in 1949 [Showa 24]) & is generally considered to be the "founding mother" of modern shojo manga & shonen-ai/boys love. Interestingly enough, though, one of Hagio's most well known works internationally is also one of her shortest. They Were Eleven was a three-part short manga that ran in Shojo Comic in the latter half of 1975 that told the tale of ten young space cadets who had only one more test to complete in order to enter the elite Cosmo Academy; said final test is a survival challenge aboard an actual derelict starship. When the cadets arrive on the ship, though, they realize that they now number eleven (no one really knew the entire group enough to realize who the extra person was), & the ship they're on is actually on a decaying orbit around a star, which means they could very well die from the slowly increasing heat. The manga was generally acclaimed as an example that shojo & sci-fi could truly mix together (another good example would be Keiko Takemiya's Toward the Terra, which came later), & was obviously adapted in various ways. First up was a drama that was broadcast on TV in 1977 as part of NHK's Shonen Drama Series, while the latest was a stage play in 2004, but the one most know of was the 1986 theatrical anime movie.

Co-Directed by Satoshi Dezaki & Tsuneo Tominaga, & featuring character designs by the legendary Akio Sugino, the movie adaptation is a beloved piece of 80s anime, & CPM decided to give it a chance in the 90s. At the time it was a sub-only VHS, but eventually the company ponied up the money for an English dub in 1996 that was produced by Animaze & directed by the late Quint Lancaster/Kevin Seymour (Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, Code Geass), though it's not quite one of the better ones out there. In what should be obvious to most anime fans, the movie was never a seller for CPM, though John O'Donnell's company would continue re-releasing it all the way until a dual-audio DVD release in 2005. When Justin Sevakis covered They Were Eleven back in 2008 for his Buried Treasure column at ANN it was still relatively easy to get a hold of, but nowadays that DVD is no longer cheap. Over at Amazon, you have to pay at least $55 for a disc, and it's likely that Japan has since given the movie a much better release from a visual perspective (or, at least, Japan has better masters now). Shojo anime is slowly becoming more of a somewhat viable market here in North America, as something like the recent Skip Beat! Kickstarter campaign has showcased, so maybe They Were Eleven could use a good rescue & re-release over here one day.

Monthly Shonen Jump (now Jump Square) tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting its anime adaptations the credit that they deserve. While it's nowhere near to amount of adaptations that it's Weekly sibling gets, manga like Steam Detectives, Zenki, Beet the Vandel Buster, Gag Manga Biyori, Claymore, Tegami Bachi, & Rosario + Vampire all were adapted into TV anime at some point or another. One that tends to get one of the shortest ends, though, is Dragon Drive. Originally debuting in Monthly Jump back in 2001, the manga by Ken-ichi Sakura told the tale of Reiji Ozora, a boy who never finishes what he starts until he's introduced to the popular game of Dragon Drive, where players train their own dragons in order to see who's the toughest. Reiji winds up getting absorbed with the game, both figuratively as well as literally, as he & his friends wind up being transported to the world of Rikyu, which is an actual world of dragons that the creators of the game, RI-ON, are using in an attempt at gaining ultimate power to rule over both Rikyu & Earth.

Obviously, that sounded like something from a video game... And, yes, Bandai did have enough in the very concept that it's even credited on each volume of the manga. Still, Sakura wound up telling a very enjoyable fantasy story, & even utilized a time skip half-way through to tell a second story arc with a brand new cast of characters, though the original cast would eventually join them before ending in 2006. The TV anime adaptation by Madhouse from 2002-2003, however, only adapted the first story arc (utilizing an original ending, too), but still captured a lot of what made the basic concept so enjoyable in the first place. Bandai Entertainment put out the anime in North America, a few years before Viz brought over the manga, first via 12 dual-audio DVD singles & then two boxsets. Sadly, getting all of Dragon Drive for a good price is next to impossible, & has been almost as soon as the boxsets came out. Most of the singles are still super-cheap now, though there are the two or three that go for $30-$70, at the very least, but the boxsets are another thing entirely. The first set isn't too bad, going for about $25-$40 (which is fair enough), but the second boxset is currently at a minimum price of nearly $300! While I have managed to fill in the missing spots in my backlog of anime DVDs for the most part, Dragon Drive still remains one of the very last ones that still eludes me, & it's all because of that second boxset. Sure, it's a pretty personal reason to include something, but this is a license rescue list that I made, so allow me to have at least one selfish inclusion once in a while.
That brings an end to (lucky?) number seven when it comes to these license rescue lists. I may be slowly running out of worthy material for inclusion, but I think I can keep this going for a fair bit longer; prices will increase & titles will go out of print, after all. Anyway, look forward to another rescue list next year, but until then I have plenty of other stuff to get to... Including going way back to the 60s for my next anime review.

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