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Friday, August 19, 2016

Don't Call It a Comeback: Anime Midstream License Rescues B't X!

While almost everything about Otakon this past weekend was most excellent, there was one part of the con experience that wasn't quite as happy & wound up not being brought up in my write up. Last year I took the opportunity to ask Selby Johnson, co-founder & head of Discotek Media, if he had any interest to bring over more Masami Kurumada anime after releasing the Saint Seiya movies from the 80s & then the Lost Canvas OVAs from 2009-2011. Selby told me only if Lost Canvas sold well, because the movies bombed, so this year I decided to follow up on that. Sadly, Selby told me that Lost Canvas also bombed hard, so Discotek will no longer take on any more Seiya (or Kurumada) in general; even streaming-only (ala Miss Machiko) got a very weak "maybe". Come the end of the con, I decided to more or less give up on ever hoping to see more Kurumada anime on home video here in North (of Mexico) America.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I'm told by some of my (cool) followers on Twitter that B't X was announced as a license rescue this past Sunday!


While Baltimore, Maryland was holding its final Otakon, that same weekend saw Dallas, Texas holding the 24th ever AnimeFest (which first happened way back in 1992). While nowhere near the size of an Otakon, AnimeFest has found its own niche (it currently sees over 10,000 fans/year), & even managed to snag a cool set of Japanese guests in the form of a Urusei Yatsura cast reunion. Aside from that, though, there were two interesting industry events going on. The first was AnimEigo's live-audience commentary recording for the Kickstarted Riding Bean Blu-Ray (which required two sessions, since Robert Woodhead forgot to actually record the first go around), while the other was a pair of panels by the little company that could, Anime Midstream. The formerly St. Louis, Missouri-based company (now operating out of Dallas) founded by former voice actor Jimmy Taylor was only known for having released early 90s mech anime Matchless Raijin-Oh on DVD from 2010-2014, which you should totally buy all of because its tons of imaginative fun, but the panel descriptions for AnimeFest seemed to indicate that the company had a new license to announce at the con on Sunday. Since it's from a smaller name con & from a company most anime fans continually forget actually exists, if they even know of it in the first place, the news didn't come about until this morning... But now it's known to all, & I couldn't be any happier.

If you're curious about what B't X ("Beat X") is in detail you can read my reviews of the anime, its OVA continuation, or even the original manga, but in short this is the anime adaptation of Masami Kurumada's major manga of the 90s, which he created after finishing up Saint Seiya in 1990 & leaving Shonen Jump following the debut & (quick) cancellation of Silent Knight Sho in 1992. It follows Teppei Takamiya as he traverses The Area, the giant desert home of the mysterious Machine Empire that had kidnapped his brother, the robotics prodigy Kotaro. Helping him is X, the former partner B't (essentially a "living robot") of Karen, Teppei's combat trainer & former "Spirit Knight" of the Machine Empire. While it starts off feeling very much like a sci-fi variant of Saint Seiya, and TMS' anime adaptation does push that feel a little more in the beginning, the series is actually a bit of a deconstruction of Kurumada's general style. Teppei's bullheaded, hot-blooded behavior is shown to be more self-destructive (especially to X) than usual, he never really "befriends" his eventual allies in the form of the other Spirit Knights of the Empire (hell, he doesn't even beat any of them in battle), & Seiya's general style of "Always fight like it's to the death!" is more or less intentionally avoided after a point.

The anime adaptation on the whole is an extremely solid production, with great direction & series composition by Mamoru Hamatsu (Heroic Legend of Arslan OVAs), excellent music by Akira Senju (Fullmetal Alchemsit: Brotherhood), an outstanding OP by Fence of Defence, & superb performances by the voice cast, especially lead actors Nobuyuki Hiyama (Teppei) & Jin Horikawa (X). Even the filler content (two extra bits of story & one expansion of a trio of minor characters) is generally well done, & overall the series is well worth the watch. It was originally given an attempted release by Illumitoon Entertainment back in 2007 on dual-audio DVD, but Illumitoon was a company run by people who had no idea how to properly release anime, so even if the English dub was good it couldn't save poor releases.


Anyway, the news story you can read over at Anime News Network only has so much information, so I e-mailed Anime Midstream this morning to thank them for even giving B't X another try over here, and Jimmy Taylor was kind enough to not only respond but also give me a little extra info about their release, mainly stuff that was covered at the AnimeFest panel itself:

1. Instead of trying to reunite the cast from the (~10 year) old Illumitoon dub & continue on from there, Anime Midstream will be making a brand new dub from scratch. That being said, Taylor did say that two members of the original dub will be on board for the new dub, though he didn't clarify who they were or if they were reprising their old roles; Taylor hopes to reveal the full cast "soon". Also, no word on if the Illumitoon dub would be included, if only for completion's sake. Regardless, this essentially confirms that the dub will be done in Texas, so there's a good chance that the usual people used by FUNimation & Sentai will be featured, & if the cast is almost ready to reveal then work on the dub is likely starting up shortly.

2. While the announcement was technically only confirming the 25-episode TV series from 1996, Anime Midstream did indeed license all of the B't X anime, so 1997-1998's B't X Neo (which finished up the story in its own original fashion) will eventually come over, too. Midstream is simply putting the focus on the TV series at the moment, so Neo will receive its own proper announcement in the future.

3. Anime Midstream has nothing finalized in terms of extras. I have some of the original Japanese LDs, which likely feature better video quality than the DVD set that was released in Japan back in 1997(!), & each of them feature one or two short interviews with the voice cast. Hopefully Midstream can at least get these interviews for the upcoming DVD release (no Blu-Ray, since the show hasn't received a release in Japan since the 90s), but if not Taylor said that dub outtakes, which were included in every dual-audio single release of Raijin-Oh, were very likely.

Essentially, Jimmy Taylor has a soft spot for Masami Kurumada's works, especially since his first gig in voice acting was a bit role in ADV's dub of Saint Seiya. Because of that, he has decided to give B't X the proper dual-audio release it never received in the first place. With Discotek Media now giving up on the man's works, Anime Midstream may very well be the absolute final chance Masami Kurumada's works have at being given a home video release here in "North of Mexico". I personally hope that B't X will be released across three sets (two for the TV series, one for Neo), & it would be great PR if they could work with a site like CrunchyRoll & get it (& Raijin-Oh, too) streaming, but even if Midstream winds up sticking with singles for B't X I will support it, & I hope those of you reading this support it, too; unlike Illumitoon, this is a company that puts out quality products & deserves being supported. I've already explained earlier this year how much B't X means to me personally as a fan of both anime/manga & Masami Kurumada in general, so I can't let this (likely final) chance slip past me. Even though I've already reviewed this anime, I'll gladly make some sort of post in the future so that I could judge this new dub, so look forward to that one day.

Hey, if this could lead to releases of the Fuma no Kojirou OVAs or even the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime, then let me ride this wave of good fortune for as long as I possibly can.

5 comments:

  1. One of the guys from Anime Midstream traded some some stuff with me about four years ago. He told me about a year ago that their new licence was almost good to go. He also told me that the licence Raijin-Oh was kind of hellish in terms of getting materials in a timely manner from Sunrise. Anyway I'm glad they managed to survive all of that and continue on releasing stuff.

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    1. Yeah, Taylor & Co. usually explained on podcasts they were on (like ANNCast) how rough the Raijin-Oh materials were to use, like having 4th generation photocopies of episode scripts to translate from. Here's hoping that TMS has taken better care of the materials for B't X. I'd imagine they did, though, since Illumitoon did manage to put out two DVDs back in 2007.

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  2. I'm looking forward to this release alot. I wonder how long we will have to wait before the first release happens?

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    1. No idea, but I'm willing to wait as long as it's a quality product.

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    2. I'll definitely buy this! I learned this info shortly after Otakon 2016. (I Cosplayed as Teppei Takamiya and I got mistook for Kung Fury a ton of times.)

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