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Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 3

As I mentioned at the end of Part 2, I'm kind of cheating when I say that Toshifumi Kawase had a 14-year streak of directing anime. This is mainly because Kawase didn't direct an anime that debuted in the year 2000. The most there was were the final four episodes of B.B-Daman Bakugaiden V, which aired in January of that year. Kawase wouldn't be the real head honcho of another TV anime until the start of 2001, instead working throughout 2000 as a storyboarder for Boogiepop Phantom, Hajime no Ippo, InuYasha, & the final episode of Turn-A Gundam. Still, Kawase did so some directing at the same time, but it was for international use instead.


The third animated adaptation of Marvel's X-Men comic series, following the 1989 Pryde of the X-Men pilot & the 1992-1997 TV series that defined the franchise to many people (like myself), X-Men Evolution was a different type of story. This time it re-imagining Charles Xavier's team of mutants as teenagers who have to mix in with their "normal" high school peers (Nightcrawler notably had a watch that projected white skin over his traditional blue hue), and was quite honestly a rather good & interesting Marvel animated series; it's also the third-longest of all (behind only the X-Men & Spider-Man shows of the 90s). Similar to how Toei helped do animation for the 1989 pilot, though, X-Men Evolution also had its animation done partially overseas, this time by Japan's Madhouse & Korea's Dr Movie. As indicated in the image above, Toshifumi Kawase was one of the animation directors for the show, specifically for the first season. In fact, Kawase was the most prolific animation director for those first 13 episodes, as he directed seven of them. Unfortunately, only three of the four seasons of X-Men Evolution actually saw home video release (& not exactly consistently, either), but at least one can get a hold of all of the episodes that Kawase directed the animation for, & it is fully available legally via streaming through some outlets, like Amazon.

Still, this isn't what we're here for. We're here to look over Kawase's directorial streak for made-for-Japan animation. Therefore, let's move on to another piece of children's anime meant to promote a toy line, but at least this one would be aired internationally... And become a rather notable hit for its time.


While B.Bomberman Bakugaiden V was airing on television, Takara was debuting another toy line called Beyblade, which adapted the old Japanese beigoma toy into something more modern & appealing for present day children; it, in turn, made kids interested in beigoma again, to an extent. In September of 1999 a manga based on Beyblade by Takao Aoki debuted in CoroCoro Comic magazine, but it was obvious that an anime would eventually come about. The end result saw Takara team with Madhouse & Kawase once again to create Explosive Shoot Beyblade, which aired throughout the entirety of 2001 in Japan. The anime followed Takao Kinomiya as he teams with Rei Kon, Max Mizuhara, & Kai Hiwatari to form Team Japan & travels the world, taking on various Beyblade teams from around the world, precisely in China, America, Europe, & finally Russia. A relatively simple story that allowed for a neat international flair with the different characters & types of beys, and each location Team Japan went to usually related to one of the characters, helping add to the character development.

Explosive Shoot Beyblade was the only anime in the franchise to be animated by Madhouse & directed by Kawase, with Nippon Animation, SynergySP, Tatsunoko, & OLM taking the reigns at various point until the present. The anime started seeing international TV airing in 2002, where it became a worldwide hit. What's even more interesting is that Nelvana, the Canadian company that produced the edited dub, kept a modest amount of the original "Japanese-ness" the show had, especially when compared to how 4Kids' infamously changed things; lessons were learned after Cardcaptors. Still, to some old-school fans of the series, the first season is generally considered the best of them all, which I might chalk up to a mixture of simple nostalgia & the story sticking to a relatively simple concept & execution focused around the tournament structure & the like; some also just preferred the 2D-animated beys over the CG ones used afterwards. Personally, I do like how Beyblade 2002/V-Force focused on character development & storytelling, to the point where the only tournament was in the last two episodes or so, & how G-Revolution tried to be a little bit of both, but there is an appeal in the original Beyblade's simplicity, and Kawase made sure it worked.

Today, while the original Explosive Shoot version remains exclusive to Japan, the Nelvana dub of Beyblade can be had via DVD boxset from Cinedigm, though it no longer looks to be available via streaming sites like CrunchyRoll.


Kawase's overall directing streak would end with a min-streak of Madhouse productions, starting back with B.B-Daman, but for his third time leading a Madhouse anime he actually shared the credit, hypothetically acting as a tutor for a younger talent. Said talent would be Yuzo Sato, though calling him "younger" would be close to outright lying, as Sato & Kawase are only two years apart in age. Regardless, by 2002 Sato had already been in the anime industry for 21 years, but primarily as an animator, storyboarder, & animation/episode director. In fact, his only major directorial work up to this point was the ultra-violent 1995 OVA BioHunter. Therefore, Sato would make his television directorial debut with Pita-Ten, a Sunday morning anime based on the manga by Koge-Donbo that was wedged between two seasons of Galaxy Angel. The story followed Kotarou Higuchi, a teenage boy who could see angels & demons after losing his mother as a child, and how his life changes when he meets, Misha, a young angel-in-training that just happens to live next door, & Shia, a demon apprentice.

To be fair, Pita-Ten is not an anime that appeals to me, so I can't really give a proper judgment towards it. Koge-Donbo's art style, which is also seen in Di Gi Charat, Kamichama Karin, & A Little Snow Fairy Sugar, just doesn't attract me, but from what I can tell the original Pita-Ten manga is beloved by its fans, especially in how it transitioned into a more serious & apparently touching tale of family & loss by the end. The anime, in comparison, supposedly focused more on the weird & amusing, and while the manga saw an English release by TokyoPop in the 00s, the anime wouldn't see such luck until early 2016, when Right Stuf surprisingly put it out via sub-only DVD boxset through its Lucky Penny label. No, I can only speak as to why Toshifumi Kawase was chosen to co-direct this anime series, & I do feel that it was primarily to act as someone Yuzo Sato could collaborate with. Even though they were similar ages, by this point Kawase had been directing anime for over a decade, making him the perfect person for the less experienced (in directing) Sato to work with & gain his footing. This feeling is backed up by the fact that Kawase's only direct involvement with any individual episode of Pita-Ten was by storyboarding episode 2; Sato, by comparison, was much more hands-on with the show.

Granted, Yuzo Sato hasn't done much directing since Pita-Ten, but with a directing resumé that includes the likes of The Gokusen, Akagi, Kaiji, & One Outs, I'd say that he knows his way around directing, when need be. While I wouldn't call Yuzo Sato a true "protegé" of Toshifumi Kawase, he's probably the closest thing to it.


Instead of being more hands-on with Pita-Ten, Kawase put his direct focus towards another anime series once his tag-team with Sato was half-way through. Monthly Shonen Jump (now Jump Square) may have never received the same amount of attention as its weekly counterpart, but it too had its fair share of notable titles, like Steam Detectives, Futaba-kun Change!, Captain, Kishin Douji Zenki, & Claymore, among many others. The serialized debut of Ken-Ichi Sakura, Dragon Drive debuted in Monthly Jump back in Spring 2001, & would run until early 2006, lasting 14 volumes. During that time, though, Bandai & Madhouse produced a TV anime adaptation that ran from mid-2002 to early 2003 for 38 episodes. While the manga wound up being a tale of two stories that related to each other, that obviously wasn't the case when the anime debuted, so it told an (eventually altered) adaptation of the first story arc. In it, Reiji Ozora winds up becoming a fan of Dragon Drive, a VR game where players battle each other using dragons. It isn't long until Reiji & his friends realize that the game actually relied on beings from another Earth named Rikyu, & everyone winds up teleported to Rikyu to stop the mysterious RI-ON organization from obtaining ultimate power.

Admittedly, the story's basic concept sounded a fair bit cliché, especially nowadays due to the popularity of light novels where characters are transported into fantasy worlds, but what made Dragon Drive work was in how it focused on showing the gradual evolution of Reiji from a habitual quitter to someone who could be relied on to help others, and the world of Rikyu was an intriguing one. To no surprise, the anime did eventually diverge from the manga, though the basic major villain, the world-loathing Kohei Toki, remained relatively true. Dragon Drive also featured a relatively strong use of CG for the dragons, which utilized an almost cel-shaded look that helped make it look more palatable than the horrors that Reideen the Superior's transformation sequences induced into viewer's eyes. In the end, Dragon Drive would be the last anime directed by Toshifumi Kawase that would run for over half a year, and is a bit of a forgotten gem. Granted, this is mainly going off of what I remember, as I haven't seen this anime in over a decade.

Bandai Entertainment did release Dragon Drive across 12 single DVDs in the 00s, followed by two boxsets (both of which have since become very expensive), while Viz Media would later release the entire original manga in English.


Finally, we hit the end of Toshifumi Kawase's 14-year streak of directing anime, & it's his return to late-night anime. Ultra Jump debuted back in 1995 as a series of special issues of Weekly Young Jump, & by the time it became its own monthly magazine it had assembled its own line-up of notable titles & up-&-comers. One of those was Tenjho Tenge/Heaven & Earth (taken from a phrase generally attributed to Gautama Buddha shortly after his birth), the first notable work from Ito Ogure, who goes by the psuedonym of Oh! Great due to how his names sounds similar to the phrase when spoken in Eastern order (i.e. last name first). Though debuting in 1998, Tenjho Tenge wouldn't see any sort of anime adaptation until Spring of 2004, when a 24-episode series aired in late-night, followed by two OVA episodes in 2005. With a sleek & addictive theme song in the form of "Bomb-A-Head! V" by m.c.A.T., itself a self-cover of his hit dance number from the 1993 breakdancing movie Heartbreaker ~ From Bullets with Love, Kawase ended his directing streak with Madhouse.

The series followed high-school students at Toudou Academy, specifically those in the Juken Club, the last remaining club to stand against the school's Executive Council. As the story progressed, it would be revealed that the battle between the Juken Club & Executive Council was the final stage of an ancient conflict started back in Japan's Feudal Era by the ancestors of the students. Essentially, Tenjho Tenge was a school-themed battle series at some of its most crazy & sexual, as Oh! Great was already somewhat known for his penchant for sexuality; he's even done porn on the side. Obviously, Madhouse's anime adaptation would tone down the sexuality to fit television standards, even for late-night (times did change, after all), and though the second half is generally considered a bit rough, due to constant flashbacks to the origins of the feudal conflict, the anime has tended to remain on the positive side of fans' minds, especially due to the well done combat sequences. While a rather stark departure from where he got his start in directing TV anime, Toshifumi Kawase ended his streak on a rather positive note.

Geneon Entertainment released Tenjho Tenge via single DVD during the 00s, & it actually received a TV airing in North America via Fuse TV. After the collapse of Geneon, though Discotek Media would eventually give the series a DVD boxset release in 2013, & today it can also be watched over at CrunchyRoll, both in subbed & dubbed form.


On a strictly directorial level, this marks the end of Toshifumi Kawase's decade-plus streak of being in charge of anime production. After the end of Tenjho Tenge, however, Kawase would move onto a new role, mainly that of series composition, a.k.a. being the head writer of anime. While he did also have this role in Matchless Passion Gozaurer, it wouldn't be until 2005 when he would take it up again, starting with the anime adaptation of Tsubasa Fukuchi's The Law of Ueki. He would follow that up by doing series composition for the two TV anime adaptations of 07th Expansion's dojin sound novel mystery series Higurashi - When They Cry in 2006 & 2007. The year 2007 would also see Kawase's return to directing after a three year break, leading the anime adaptation of the shogi/murder mystery manga series Shion no Ou/Shion's King. Unlike all of the prior entries in this Part, Shion no Ou remains without an official English release in North America, & with its focus on playing competitive shogi there's a fair chance it may never.

If you want to include those series composition credits, since they are nearly as important as that of the director, that would give Toshifumi Kawase a 17-year streak, but that would be the definitive end of that streak. For 2008 Kawase would only do some storyboarding for Vampire Knight & scriptwriting for Onegai My Melody Kirara & Mission-E, giving him an entire year without some sort of leading position. Following that would be 2009, where Kawase would direct the Higurashi - When They Cry Rei OVA, as well as do series composition for spiritual spin-off TV anime Umineko - When They Cry. Kawase would stick with the Higurashi - When They Cry franchise as it continued on, head writing the Kira OVA in 2011 & directing the Kaku ~Outbreak~ OVA in 2013. Kawase's last notable lead position was doing series composition for 2010 soccer anime Giant Killing, & he would return to mech anime in 2013 with Transformers Go!, a Japan-exclusive spin-off of Transformers Prime that was animated by Tatsunoko. Finally, Kawase's last anime credit brings things back to Yasuhiro Imagawa, just like how I started all of this.
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When I decided to do The Imagawa Chronicles in 2014, it was because Yasuhiro Imagawa was making his return to directing anime, though it was to essentially no fanfare. This was because he was directing Wasimo, a series of anime shorts based on a picture book by Kankuro Kudo which followed the daily "life" of a robot meant to imitate being a grandmother, a far cry from the over-the-top excess that anime fans tend to associate Imagawa with. Well, turns out that Imagawa only directed the first season of Wasimo, which had two more seasons in 2015 & 2016. Who directed those later seasons? Why it was Toshifumi Kawase, obviously! Funny how things work out, right?

Anyway, I have always felt that Toshifumi Kawase was the director behind a number of anime that I wound up enjoying very much, especially the likes of Ehrgeiz, Eat-Man '98, Dragon Drive (the three of which helped establish me as an anime fan), & Raijin-Oh; I can even count Beyblade, as I saw it when I was younger. At the same time, though, Kawase wasn't exactly someone that seemingly established a distinctive style or had what one could call an iconic work, unlike the likes of Yasuhiro Imagawa, Masaaki Yuasa, or Yoshiyuki Tomino. Once I noticed this decade-plus streak of directing anime, however, I realized that Toshifumi Kawase's legacy was in his ability to handle it all. He's essentially a jack-of-all-trades type of director, which in turn made him very reliable to leave in charge of a production. While I acknowledge that he won't go down in the annals of anime history as one of the all-time greats, I am confident in saying that Toshifumi Kawase is definitely an bit of an under-the-radar director, & while I doubt he'll return to directing notable works like he used to, it's nice to know that he's still around, seemingly ready to take charge when the time calls.

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