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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Release Date TBD Part 1

I do this to myself, honestly, but I like trying to compile a license rescue list every year, especially since it's been getting tougher to compile a list in which I feel that every single entry "deserves" being rescued & given a new re-release. There were a ton of rather forgettable & piss-poor anime that saw release in the history of the English-targeted market, and quite frankly a lot of those don't really need re-releases. Now, sure, I've included some titles that may not be marquee-quality in prior lists (Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals or Dark Warrior, anyone?), but at least when I include a title of lesser quality, it has to have a real sense of recognition behind it. It has to be something that still has some worth to it, whether that's due to it having a big name to it, or something worthy of repeat viewings (like multiple English dubs)... Or it has to be worthy of absolute infamy.

So, to start off this eight installment of the license rescue list series, let's go for one of the most infamous anime ever released.

On the very first license rescue list back in January of 2011 I included Yoshiyuki Tomino's Aura Battler Dunbine, which saw a singles-only release from ADV that sold so poorly that not only was ADV literally making coupons that gave customers free copies of the DVDs, but the last two volumes had such small print-runs that they are still two of the most expensive Region 1 anime DVDs ever produced. Granted, Daisuki did give Dunbine a new lease on life via streaming, which sadly will be going down later this year, but enough of the originator of the tales from Byston Well. Tomino put a lot of attention towards this fantasy world, and every now & then he would head back to Byston Well for another round. Easily the most infamous trip back, however, came in the mid-90s when he wrote, storyboarded, & directed Tales of Byston Well: Garzey's Wing.

Somewhat similar to the story of Sho Zama, this three-episode OVA from 1996-1997 tells the story of Christopher Chiaki, a young boy who gets spiritually whisked away (by a gigantic duck!) to Byston Well, only to find out that he has a power called Garzey's Wing, which manifests as wings that sprout from his ankles & allow for flight & increased speed. At the same time, though, Chris' body still remains on Earth, & the two forms of our lead can communicate with each other, as well as feel each other's pain. Chris-in-Byston-Well winds up leading a rebellion against the ruthless King Fungun... And I think you can start seeing why Garzey's Wing isn't exactly regarding highly. For a simple story of rebellion & a boy finding greatness in himself, there's already some unneeded convolution & even some silliness with the Wings themselves. Still, what made Garzey's Wing the legendary infamous anime that it is comes from CPM's English dub. To put it bluntly, it's one of the all-time worst English anime dubs in existence, but it's so amazingly terrible that it takes what's already a pretty lackluster anime & turns it into a glorious piece of golden filth. Justin Sevakis, in his Buried Garbage article back in 2007, described it as, "It's like Ed Wood directed an anime dub," & "The Battlefield Earth of anime."

Come on, if that isn't enough proof that Garzey's Wing needs to be given the absolute best release possible nowadays, then I don't know what is. Now, to be fair, neither of CPM's DVD releases are exactly expensive by any means today, but at the same time CPM was never really a paragon of exquisite DVD releases, so it could always be in better quality.

It was definitely a shock, to say the least, when Sentai Filmworks licensed & released 1993-1994's TV anime adaptation of Takashi Shiina's Ghost Sweeper Mikami across four boxsets from 2010-2011. Maybe it was the company's way of getting fans ready for the Zettai Karen Children TV anime, which Sentai would release throughout 2012 under the name Psychic Squad, but it could also simply be because people at the company were already fans of GS Mikami via its initial release. Yes, there was a release of Shiina's first hit series before Sentai took a hold of it, but it was in a much smaller & compact form. You see, after the TV anime aired in Japan, Toei made a 60-minute, theatrically released movie that debuted at the end of 1994, and it was this movie that marked the first appearance of GS Mikami in North America.

Effectively a continuation of the TV series, the GS Mikami movie has professional exorcist Mikami & her oddball crew of helpers take on a revived Oda Nobunaga, who has become the strongest vampire on Earth... And his name is now Nosferatu. I can only speak for myself, but that is absurd in all of the best ways. Anyway, this movie was given a North American release by Manga Entertainment back in 2002, both on dual-audio DVD & dub-only VHS. Today, with the preceding TV anime now fully released on DVD here in North America, it would only make sense to re-release the GS Mikami movie, and a few years back Sentai did indicate that it was under consideration. Obviously that isn't the case anymore, but even in general there's good reason for a re-release. From what I can tell, Manga's DVD actually predated any Japanese DVD release, which didn't happen until 2009 (& was re-released for cheap last year to accompany a BD boxset for the TV series). Therefore, it's likely that the movie has received a remastering, or at least has better audio/video quality than Manga's old release, so it's all the more appropriate for the GS Mikami movie to be given a second chance.

Considering that it seemingly only released whatever it could get its British hands on, usually from Toho at the time, UK company Western Connection nabbed a surprising amount of respectable anime & gave the UK fans some really cool (or at least notable) exclusives, in terms of English releases. I already covered Salamander & Galactic Pirates in prior lists, so this time around I'll be covering two more of WC's old finds. For Part 1, let's look at the only anime based on a Mitsuru Adachi manga to ever receive a home video release in English; sorry Cross Game, but you only received a streaming release. While he's most revered for his various baseball manga, Adachi has made manga covering various other topics & sports, & in 1986-1991's Slow Step's case he tackled boxing... Sort of. The story itself followed Minatsu Nakazato, a high school student who's so popular that she has to fend off the advances of multiple classmates & a teacher, even taking on an assumed identity (Maria Sudo) at points. The inclusion of boxing (& softball) comes from the fact that some of her would-be-wannabe-suitors are members of the boxing & softball clubs.

Shortly after the manga ended, Youmex, Studio Pastel, & director Kunihiko Yuyama (GoShogun: The Time Étranger, Pokémon) adapted the story into a five-episode OVA (each episode was ~45 minutes long) that came out during the rest of 1991. Western Connection at least knew it had something different, as it advertised the OVA as "the UK's first anime soap opera," and released all five episodes across three sub-only VHS tapes in early 1995. Since then, Mitsuru Adachi's works have primarily remained inaccessible in an official manner in English; a couple of short manga did see release, but they notably bombed. Cross Game was really the best chance Adachi had at finally making his mark here in North America, with Viz streaming the entire anime & even releasing the entire manga across eight omnibuses, but even that seemed to fail to attract enough people. Therefore, the chances of Slow Step getting rescued are slim to none, but it would be a nice surprise to see happen.

I'm actually surprised that I haven't included this anime in a license rescue list yet, because it fits the criteria for inclusions superbly. In fact, it's a bit of a shock that Fantastic Children was even given an official North America release in the first place, especially during the 00s anime boom. This 2004-2005 TV anime was the brainchild of Takashi Nakamura, an animator & designer who has worked on titles like Akira (character designs), Robot Carnival (directing the Nightmare segment), A Tree of Palme (direction), & Bobby's Girl (key animation). For this series, Nakamura worked to varying extents on everything from directing to writing to storyboarding to character designs to even individual episode direction, which truly showcases just how personal this entire production was to him. Luckily, the end result was nothing short of not just "fantastic", but downright exquisite; I gave it effusive praise in my own review of it back in 2013. Bandai Entertainment released the show across six single DVDs throughout 2006, followed by a boxset collection in 2008 (which is how I own it).

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the story of the Children of Béfort & their constant cycle of death & rebirth as their search winds up bringing together various other groups that all relate to them in some way just didn't resonate with many people here. Part of that is because none of the covers Bandai used for any of the releases, even the boxset, really give a proper idea of what kind of series & story this is, but the biggest reason is easily because of its visual style. Nakamura's character designs very obviously hearken back to anime of the 60s, and that was just not going to appeal to most anime fans, especially via the old singles that were the standard of the time; giving it an abhorrent English dub by Singapore's Odex didn't help, either. Nowadays, the singles run the gamut from mere dollars to ~$20 or so, while the boxset is being sold on the secondhand marketplace for anywhere from $60-$90! I still feel that Fantastic Children is one the all-time best anime I have ever covered on this blog, it's easily one of my all-time favorites in general, & I'd love to see Nakamura's personal triumph be given another chance, because this is easily one of the most deserving entries I have ever included in the entire history of these license rescue lists.

P.A. Works' Shirobako from 2014-2015 became a strong cult hit when it aired, due to its attention to detail on showing how exactly the modern-day anime industry operated, complete with fictionalized takes on actual people in the industry. Therefore, it's honestly kind of surprising that no company has tried to ride that wave of momentum & license rescue an earlier look at the same subject. Produced by Yumeta Company, prior to its merger with Hal Film Maker to make TYO Animations, Animation Runner Kuromi is a 40-minute OVA from 2001 that shows how Mikiko "Kuromi" Oguro goes from a new employee of Studio Petit to head of production after the prior head suddenly dies. Taking a highly parodic skew to the industry, comedy legend Akitaro Daichi created an anime that both showed how an anime gets made as well as made fun of the process as much as possible. CPM would put out a dual-audio DVD in 2003, with even the dub being praised. In 2004, a sequel, Animation Runner Kuromi 2, was released, which saw Kuromi have to make the choice between getting an anime out fast & on time, or focus on quality at the expense of delays. Much like the original, it both received a DVD release from CPM in 2006 & was similarly praised, both in Japanese & English.

Since then, the anime industry has both changed greatly in some ways, especially in terms of distribution, yet also has remained the same, especially in the crazy & hectic ways their are produced. While Shirobako, & even Seiyu's Life to an extent, might be the the more up-to-date portrayal of the anime industry today, it could probably be argued that Animation Runner Kuromi might still be just as effective & accurate, even after over a decade since the sequel's release. In fact, these two OVAs did technically receive a rescue back in 2010, but it was only via streaming by Anime News Network. Also, CPM's DVDs aren't expensive by any sense of the word, with both still being sold for less than $5 over at Amazon. That being said, ANN's stream did use remastered video in place of the old masters that CPM used, so there is still merit to Kuromi being given a re-release. Being able to have both OVAs in a single package, maybe for $20, wouldn't hurt, either.

Yasuhiro Imagawa will likely forever be one of those directors who stays more or less under the radar when it comes to the general anime fandom. A major part of that is because he has a heavy old-school feel to his works, already limiting the appeal, but another part is because Imagawa tends to make the anime that he wants to make. Essentially, if you're not already a part of the club, then it's not exactly easy to get into & enjoy. Let's face it, as much as I am a giant fan of mecha, I will admit that a series like Mobile Fighter G Gundam or Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact! aren't exactly newbie-friendly (especially the latter). At the same time, though, there are some Imagawa anime out there that even big fans might not have gotten into or even given a chance, and it all comes down to the fact that Imagawa's choices may not always match what the viewer expects. A perfect example of that would easily be his take on the granddaddy of mecha itself, Tetsujin 28.

Mitsuteru Yokoyama's metal golem has had numerous incarnations in the 60s, 80s, & 90s, & Imagawa's interpretation in 2004 was both its own creation as well as an homage back to its roots. Similar to Yokoyama's original manga, Shotaro Kaneda's remote controlled giant was a remnant of World War II, the 28th creation meant to fight in the war, but was ultimately never used. To go with that concept, though, Imagawa gave his Tetsujin 28 a very dark & somber mood, with many stories revolving around people who suffered things like personal sorrow, lost loved ones, experiments gone wrong, & the like. Essentially, Yasuhiro Imagawa made a series that almost didn't have to be a mech anime, but Tetsujin in turn was like those people, a machine made for destruction but was tossed aside, only to be rediscovered by a young boy; still, it's very presence seemingly invites nothing but more sorrow.

Back to the release itself, Geneon was the company that decided to give Tetsujin 28 a try from 2005-2006, resulting in the first time this franchise was released in North America without any Gigantor naming (Geneon also did the live-action movie from 2005), complete with an English dub from Ocean Productions. Sadly, the release essentially came & went with little to no fanfare, there wasn't even a smaller boxset release, with even the ANN Encyclopedia only having 43 ratings for the show, which means that even the first season of Ring ni Kakero 1 had more people rate it (50) over there. With Imagawa having a fervent but niche audience, there might still be some renewed interest in Tetsujin 28 [2004] should it ever be given a new boxset release, and it's not like the singles will remain cheap. Upon checking for this list, Volume 6 is being priced at Amazon for $130, & even the live-action movie is going for $45-$100! Finally, Imagawa did make a theatrically-released Tetsujin 28 movie, 2007's Zangetsu the Midday, and though the man himself apparently disavows the film, it would make for a nice follow-up to a rescue of the TV series.

[8/2018 UPDATE: As (seemingly) always, leave it to Discotek to make me update these lists. Yes, Imagawa's Tetsujin 28 will finally be re-released, this time via a single standard definition Blu-Ray disc. It'll be both cheaper than Geneon's release, and take up less space on your shelf!]
Once again, this brings an end to Part 1 of 2017's license rescue list. Check back later this month for Part 2, where we'll see a surprising lost-in-limbo piece of a popular franchise, a couple of other infamous picks (though not for the same reason as Garzey's Wing), & that other Western Connection title that I hinted at earlier, among others.

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