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Friday, September 9, 2016

B・B Burning Blood: An Indecisive KO

"Forgotten Works of Legends"... This is a phrase I've thought to myself not long ago. Like it says, there are some people who are veritable icons, or at least notable in their own rights, who have numerous works to their names, and when that happens there are bound to be a small amount of titles that have simply gone by the wayside. With this in mind, let this month be a reminder to both you, my readers, & myself of a couple of OVAs directed by two legendary men in the anime industry, both of which were produced in the early 90s. First up is the late Osamu Dezaki, a man who I've covered to a small extent on the blog before. Coincidentally enough, the titles that I did review that were directed by him, One-Pound Gospel (under his Makura Saki pen name) & Champion Joe 1 & 2, were all boxing anime, so I think it's only right to bookend that by looking at Dezaki's final boxing anime, B・B Burning Blood.

This is actually a composite of two title splashes the OVA uses, one after another.

Osamu Ishiwata made his debut in the manga industry back in around 1981, but wouldn't hit it big until 1985 when he debuted a boxing manga in the pages of Shonen Sunday. Running until 1991 & lasting 31 volumes, B.B Burning Blood (I'll avoid using the proper dot simply for typesetting purposes) occupies a bit of an odd spot when it comes to notoriety in that it wound up running for a good length of time, & even won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shonen in 1989, yet doesn't seem to be championed as one of Sunday's most iconic works... At least, I can't find any real indication that it is, even in Japan. Hell, it even spawned a 30-volume sequel, LOVe, than ran from 1993-1999, & followed the daughter of B.B's main character as she took up tennis, yet you'd be hard pressed to find much info about it outside of Japan.

In fact, even this very three-episode OVA hasn't seen any sort of new release ever since the initial VHS & LD release back from 1990-1991; even Wikipedia Japan has barely any info on the anime, simply listing a staff & cast list. Considering that this was directed by the late, legendary Osamu Dezaki, was animated & produced by his older brother Satoshi's studio Magic Bus, & had Akio Sugino doing the character designs & animation direction, it simply astounds the mind that the B.B Burning Blood OVA has become as unknown & forgotten as it has. Consider that Dezaki's 1973 TV series Jungle Kurobe, a very early & obscure directorial work, has seen a DVD release in Japan. Hell, even Sword for Truth, often considered one of Dezaki's worst titles, has DVD releases around the world! Therefore, let's see where B.B falls in the annals of Osamu Dezaki: Is it a sort of lost gem in his catalog, or is it anywhere near as bad as Sword for Truth, which came out during B.B's release in Japan?

This is, simply put, a perfect screenshot of sheer emotion.

Ryo Takagi, "B.B" to his friends, is a trumpet-playing prodigy living in Dobuita, Yokosuka, on the cusp of being a true-blue legend as part of the jazz/blues band Moss Green & B.B. At the same time, though, Ryo is also a natural fighter, being able to dodge all oncoming offense like he was dodging enemy players on the basketball court while also being to deliver one-hit KOs with seemingly no effort. When pushed to fight seriously, though, Ryo becomes a seemingly unstoppable beast whose blood burns with rage, hence his nickname B.B ("Burning Blood"). When Ryo decides to throw away his chances at a potential music career to save his friend Minoru "Sorry" Satou's girlfriend Suu from the biker gang that she ran away from, though, he finally finds his match at the hands of Jin Moriyama. Though he tries his hardest, & manages to get in a solid punch (plus some cutting scrapes), Moriyama outright destroys Ryo with little trouble, who was even in full-on B.B mode. Filled with nothing but a burning desire to get vengeance on the man who beat him, & after finding out that Moriyama is part of his school's boxing club, Ryo decides to trade in his trumpet for a pair of boxing gloves in order to have the rematch he wants.

To be honest, bringing in Osamu Dezaki to direct the B.B OVA made sense, because the story told here is very much inspired by Ashita no Joe, though with its own overall execution. Ryo & Moriyama's relationship is the obvious Joe Yabuki/Tohru Rikiishi callback, right down to Ryo being the natural brawler & Moriyama being the already experienced boxer. Ryo, however, has at least one living parent that's there for him & is more kind-hearted from the start, compared to how Joe was a conniving, selfish orphan at his start. Moriyama, however, is slightly more similar to Rikiishi, even having the whole "He couldn't continue boxing due to a violent incident" backstory, though Rikiishi was merely sent to juvenile prison because he almost beat a fan to death, while Moriyama outright beat a yakuza to death after his girlfriend was almost sexually assaulted by said yakuza! Still, their relationship is a pretty obvious homage, with even a touch of a Ring ni Kakero homage, since Ryo is from a more downtrodden family & his name sounds slightly similar to RnK main character Ryuji Takane (the "Taka" kanji is exactly the same, too), while Moriyama's first name of Jin is very similar to Ryuji's rival Jun Kenzaki, not to mention Moriyama comes from a comparatively well-to-do family, just like Kenzaki.

Still, it's the way B.B differentiates from its inspirations that helps set it apart. Ryo isn't some person who's angry with the world around him like Joe Yabuki was, and he even has a fairly healthy relationship with his girlfriend Koyuki Matsubara, someone who's not one to shy away from whacking Ryo for his dumber actions (like whipping her skirt up by passing by her quickly with his motorcycle). Likewise, while Moriyama is similar to Rikiishi in how both become re-inspired by their newfound rivals when it comes to boxing, Rikiishi was simply biding his time until he left juvi so that could return to the sport, while Moriyama outright left boxing after his rage resulted in him killing someone when he was younger; if anything, Ryo accidentally put Moriyama back on the straight & narrow. At the same time, Moriyama's the one who tells Ryo to take up boxing, saying that he'll gladly give Ryo his all if it's in a boxing ring. While Joe & Rikiishi was a relationship based mainly on the rivalry, Ryo & Moriyama's relationship is more symbiotic, where each one betters the other on the whole. Essentially, Ryo makes Moriyama want to take up boxing again &, in turn, Moriyama wants Ryo to better himself by taking up boxing as well. Both characters, but Ryo more so, have very obvious anger problems that can result in them potentially turning into out of control, fighting maniacs, and boxing is the way both can harness their respective burning blood into something productive instead of simply destructive.

Ryo also has back up in the form of Koyuki, Sorry, & Suu, who encourage his decision to take up boxing, knowing that it can only help him in the end. In fact, it's Sorry who finds Ryo the perfect coach in the form of Makoto Otobe, the gym teacher at school who was actually a former national boxing champion earlier in his life. Otobe is first introduced as a strict teacher who disapproves of Ryo's carefree style & fears his inner rage, but when given the chance to train the young man winds up challenging Ryo to change his B.B from "Burning Blood" to "Best Boxer"; Otobe's training regimen is also interestingly untraditional. The only one against all of this is Moss Green band leader Koichi Wakabayashi, who outright throws Ryo out of his life when he's told the "B.B" in Moss Green & B.B is leaving his trumpet for good. Instead of being happy that Ryo found a new drive in life, Wakabayashi thinks of it as his own dream of hitting it big in music being obliterated; his descent into despair in episode 3 is crazy, too. We don't see too much from Moriyama's perspective, outside of him having a girlfriend named Sayoko & a loving family, with his mother worrying slightly at him taking up boxing again due to his past. Overall, B.B feels a little like a mix of Ashita no Joe's character drama & Ring ni Kakero's hot-blooded temperament, but winds up finding its own identity as well in the end.

Remember, if you punch a girl in the chest...

Interestingly enough, while The Brothers Dezaki both worked in anime, they rarely worked on the same production. At most, both would either do some storyboards for the same show (different episodes, of course) or (on super rare occasion) one would direct a series while the other would write or storyboard some episodes; the amount of times this happened, though, could be counted on one hand. In fact, B.B Burning Blood is only the second & last time Osamu directed an anime that Satoshi was producer/planner on, with the first being the (similarly super-obscure) 1988 OVA series Kasei Yakyoku, which was also animated by Magic Bus; looking back now, it's sad that the two rarely worked together on anime. Osamu Dezaki was a man who will be best remembered for utilizing limited animation at its very best with concepts like Postcard Memories (detailed versions of specific frames used to illustrate especially dramatic moments) or doing a three-peat of a quick scene to heighten tension or excitement. Dezaki just knew how to hide an anime's negatives while accentuating its positives, and that skill results in B.B being probably one of Magic Bus' best looking anime of the OVA boom. Satoshi Dezaki's studio has never been known for being one of the more visually inspiring ones in the industry, but his younger brother was able to work his magic here well.

Combined with Akio Sugino's excellent character designs & animation direction, this OVA looks really good, with a lot of the usual Dezaki/Sugino traits being utilized excellently. Even little details, like Ryo's eyes burning red when enraged or Moriyama's turning cold blue, are executed perfectly, simply adding to the sheer amount of emotion that the characters (especially Ryo) give off on a regular basis. They also utilize a bunch of split images, where the screen is literally split down the middle to show two characters at once who aren't right next to each other; normally this would feel cheap, but it actually works well here. These two worked best with high drama, & B.B is a perfect fit to their style. Easily the best sequence in the entire OVA is in episode 2, when Ryo crashes into Moriyama's boxing club, metal bat in hand, to get his revenge. From Ryo literally bursting through the window to his wild & impassioned attempts at taking Moriyama's head off with the bat to his realization that Moriyama truly wants nothing more than a fair fight in the end, this single sequence illustrates what B.B is all about in just a couple of minutes; its placement at the (nearly) literal midpoint of the entire total OVA's runtime just seals the deal.

Sadly though, & most disappointingly, B.B Burning Blood has no real finale to it. The third episode, which deals with Ryo's training on an island & Wakabayashi's emotional descent, ends without Ryo & Moriyama ever having a rematch. There are hints of what would come next, like Moriyama feeling firsthand the power of Ryo's newly strengthened punch, but in terms of telling a complete story this OVA doesn't do that. If anything, with Wakabayashi's storyline finished up in episode 3, this OVA feels like it only told the prologue. I can't say whether this OVA was produced solely to promote Osamu Ishiwata's manga, which had just finished up when the last episode came out, or if it was simply a victim of poor sales & wound up being incomplete, but the sudden & indecisive ending to this OVA is something that could potentially kill it in some people's minds. Of course, it was never going to tell the entire manga's story, so I can't vouch in any way if the anime was anywhere near close to Ryo & Moriyama's rematch, so take that into consideration, as well.

...You get memorialized via Postcard Memory.

The music by Yuuki Nakajima (the Riki-Oh OVAs, Shinsaku Sanada Juyushi), leader of 80s metal band Heavy Metal Army (later prog rock band Eastern Orbit), is another positive thing to note, with some really cool compositions that fit the story well from a dramatic standpoint; it's also only used sparingly, giving each use of music more heft. The highlight of it all is easily the trumpet solo that plays whenever Ryo is shown playing his "pet". B.B also features opening & ending themes, both performed by Risa Yuki, that honestly show how, even though the 90s just started at this point, the 80s were still holding on as long as it could. Opener "Burning Blood" is a very upbeat song that at first sounds a little off-putting for something with a title like Burning Blood, but in reality fits the decade that the manga mostly ran in perfectly. Likewise, closer "Believe In" is an even more J-Pop-styled song that acts like a fine way to cool one off after the wild range of emotions showcased in each episode.

B.B's voice cast is small but very powerful. Leading the charge are Kazuhiko Inoue (Reiji Arisu in Project X Zone, Kakashi in Naruto) & Sho Hayami (Aizen in Bleach, Vanilla Ice in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders), who voice rival leads Ryo & Moriyama, respectively. The two actors play perfect opposites in performance, with Inoue being blistering in his hot-bloodedness & Hayami very cool in his reservedness, though both do well with the rare times their characters have to be their opposites (i.e. calm & reserved Ryo & rage-induced Moriyama). Being essentially an 80s OVA, even though it came out in the very beginning of the 90s, it only seems natural that Koyuki is voiced by Noriko Hidaka (Noriko in Gunbuster, Akane in Ranma 1/2), the seeming queen of female leads during the OVA boom. In general, Hidaka nails Koyuki down perfectly, being both completely caring & loving to Ryo, while also being a natural spitfire when annoyed enough (see the two images above for an example). Sorry & Suu are voiced by Toshihiko Seki & Yuko Mizutani, and the two also deliver really good performances, and help carry the two as a believable couple, even though their relationship more or less just happens right away in episode 1. Rounding out the rest of the secondary cast are Hideyuki Hori (Wakabayashi), Tessho Genda (Otobe), & Masaru Ikeda (Ryo's former-yakuza father Gentarou), who all match the quality of the rest of the cast with no problems. Overall, it's just a real knockout of a cast.

I first heard of B.B Burning Blood when I bought a laserdisc player years ago & I was looking for anime that you can't find on DVD at all; you can't deny that the title is an instant hook. I was able to buy the first two LDs for super cheap, and I quickly learned that it was directed by Osamu Dezaki, which just made me all the more interested. While I saw those first two episodes all those years ago, it was the lack of the third & final LD that kept me from being able to talk about it once I started up this blog. While I still do search for anime LDs that catch my interest here & there, I still haven't seen able to find that last LD for B.B, but not too long ago some anime fans did put out a complete VHS rip for the OVA series; it's not the best quality, even for VHS, but it's better than nothing, I guess. So, after rewatching my two LDs & then finally finishing everything off via the VHS rip, where does B.B Burning Blood stand when it comes to being one of the most obscure anime ever directed by Osamu Dezaki?

Well, if you couldn't tell from the entire review (or if you just skipped to this part [shame on you!]), I think B.B Burning Blood may be one of the best hidden gems in Osamu Dezaki's entire oeuvre. Even though the sudden & no way near fulfilling end to it all really hurts hard, like taking a surprise punch to the gut when you think you've won a fight (right, Moriyama?), the simple fact is that everything that came before the credits to episode 3 popped up was downright excellent, fantastic, & filled with sheer emotion. Osamu Dezaki & Akio Sugino's iconic high-drama execution fits the story of Ryo Takagi like a (boxing) glove, and every single second commands your attention; the sparing use of Nakajima's music & the excellent voice cast are just icing on the cake. There's just too much good here for the lack of any decisive ending to make me feel sour on this OVA, and I am shocked that it has never received any sort of re-release in Japan in the 16 years since it first came out. Osamu Dezaki passed away five years ago as of this review, yet B.B Burning Blood still remains exclusive to VHS & LD, and the same is probably true of Kasei Yakyoku, too. I understand that Satoshi Dezaki probably has little to no real say in a remastered release, but Bandai, Emotion, & Shogakukan need to rectify this & give B.B the HD remastered release it really deserves. There is no reason why something this outstanding on the whole remains such an unknown in the catalog of a legend.


  1. Also very big fan of this OVA. Kasei Yakyou is also very good looking. If only they would get subbed. And a LD rip would be nice too.

  2. Will probably add this site to the list of my personal favorite Anime/Manga sites, on my blog soon.

    Totally agree that Burning Blood is one of those rare forgotten gems that is just fantastic and needs/deserves proper fansub + the best raws. I've managed to get some obscure Animes/Ova's fansubbed in some joint projects over the last couple of years. Look it up if you like rare and forgotten gems, both when it comes to animes & anime soundtracks.

    Best Regards/GNK