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Monday, June 26, 2017

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Release Date TBD Part 2

Sometimes actually getting all of an anime franchise released here in North America can be a tricky thing, for a variety of reasons. Though FUNimation did manage to release nearly everything related to the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime, I did review FMA: Reflectons, a 2005 Animax-exclusive recap special that featured some original conversations between characters, back in 2012, as it was the sole piece of that original series that never came over legally. Also relating to FUNimation, we've been getting the most recent One Piece movies alongside the TV anime, but FUNi has yet to bring over any of the older movies or even the old TV specials, let alone the 1998 pilot that Production I.G. made for the Jump Super Anime Tour. Therefore, let's start Part 2 of this year's license rescue list with a movie that FUNi has never rescued, even though the company did do just that for another part of one of its most iconic shonen properties.

As much as the anime adaptation of Yoshihiro Togashi's Yu Yu Hakusho is considered one of FUNimation's earliest big hits, that company was not the first to bring it over to North America. Back in 1998, two different companies gave the series its first chance with anime fans, both utilizing the original story movies. The first movie, which is unofficially subtitled The Golden Seal, is a 25-minute short film & came out on July 10, 1993 as part of a triple-bill with Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound & Dr. Slump: From Penguin Village with Love, and saw release by Media Blasters on VHS in mid-1998, followed by a DVD re-release with Ninku the Movie in 2001. The second movie, The Underworld Deathmatch Chapter - Bonds of Fire, was a feature-length film that debuted on April 9, 1994, & eventually saw released here by CPM in early 1998 on VHS under the simple title of Yu Yu Hakusho The Movie: Poltergeist Report. Yes, Central Park Media was the company that actually first brought this series to North America, & in late 2002 was released on DVD, followed by a re-release in 2006.

FUNimation wouldn't touch Yu Yu Hakusho until 2001, and the primary reason why this anime franchise wound up split between three companies was simply due to licensing reasons; the TV series & each individual movie had their own separate licensing deals. Also because of this, each company's release featured a different English dub cast, which is just kind of crazy. Anyway, it wouldn't be until 2011 that FUNi finally decided to remedy some of this, when the company finally rescued the first movie that MB previously released, complete with a brand-new dub using the TV series cast, & released it as part of a multi-feature release with the Eizou Hakusho recap OVAs (which did feature some exclusive animation). Sadly, FUNi did not include the original dub produced by Animaze, so it's still kind of worth keeping the Media Blasters DVD, alongside the fact that Ninku the Movie hasn't been rescued, either. Unfortunately, this still leaves Bonds of Fire as the odd duck of the franchise, & who knows if FUNimation will ever go for that license & re-dub that with their cast. It's already been six years since the rescue of the first movie, so we may never see a rescue of the second movie, at least by FUNimation. Would another company actually try to get it? Who knows, but it would be great to see happen.

It's commonly stated that Go Nagai made his debut in manga with a story titled Black Lion, but it's technically not true; hell, I've made the mistake before on this blog, I think. Still, Nagai did initially make a basic draft for the story back in 1965, but it wouldn't be until 1978 that he actually made a proper manga for Black Lion, which ran in Weekly Shonen Magazine for four volumes. In 1992, Minamimachi Bugyosho & Tokyo Kids made a 45-minute OVA adaptation with the full title of Ancient Sengoku History: Black Lion - Jinnai Chapter, with direction by Takashi Watanabe (Boogiepop Phantom, Slayers). In true Go Nagai fashion, the story followed Shishimaru, an Iga ninja who vows to kill Doma Jinnai, the cybernetic & immortal enforcer of Oda Nobunaga who killed tons of Shishimaru's fellow Iga. Yes, in this story, Nobunaga's forces have super-technological weaponry, & like any good Nagai story it's absurd, over-the-top, & insane in all of the most memorable ways.

ADV, which put out a few other Go Nagai anime during the 90s & early 00s, licensed & released Black Lion onto VHS, both subbed & dubbed, in 1998, before eventually releasing a dual-audio DVD in 2003, where it earned itself a bit of a cult following. There were apparently plans for a re-release of the DVD in 2005, with even cover art (shown above) being produced, but it never came out. Today, Black Lion remains a bit of a semi-forgotten cult classic, with those who saw it generally remembering it for its sheer insanity & violence, but not quite to the level of something like Baoh. Likewise, ADV's DVD still remains rather cheap, easily going for ~$10, and there was never any sort of DVD release at all in Japan. Still, with Nagai being given a second chance by companies like Discotek & Seven Seas in the past few years, maybe a Black Lion re-release could ride that seeming momentum, especially if the OVA could get cleaned up & remastered in some way.

When you really start thinking about it, Shoji Kawamori is probably the closest thing the anime industry has to an old-school, Earth-loving hippie. As indicated by the Macross franchise, he's very much an anti-way kind of guy & is more about music bringing people together. Similarly, the Aquarion franchise is all about reincarnation & interpersonal relationships. Granted, he's also just very big into giant robots & the like, & his mech designs tend to be very awesome. Still, when given seeming free reign to tell whatever story he wants, Kawamori can be known for really pushing his hippie tendencies, and the most infamous example of them all is 2001's Earth Maiden Arjuna, the debut work for anime studio Satelight.

The story follows high-school student Juna Ariyoshi as she comes to find out that she's the "Avatar of Time", a maiden meant to save the planet from destruction at the hands of mysterious worm-like creatures known as Raaja. As a girl who becomes spiritually linked with the Earth & all of its living beings, Kawamori was able to put forth his feelings on how humanity has been hurting the planet it lives on & how we treat other living creatures that co-exist alongside us. It was also a highly political show, demonizing everything from abortions to pharmaceuticals to even fast food. Bandai Entertainment released it across four DVDs from 2002-2003, followed by two separate boxsets in 2004 & 2006. It's infamy has more or less maintained a cult status, even getting its own discussion episode of ANNCast back in 2015. Today, Arjuna's DVDs vary in price wildly, depending on the specific volume or boxset release, so having a new release would help in making it easier (& likely cheaper) to watch nowadays.

Masamune Shirow is most associated with Ghost in the Shell, with Appleseed coming in at a far second, but the man has made tons of other manga that would become anime in one way or another. One of those other works is Dominion, a single-volume work from 1986 about a future society in which bacteria & air pollution have become so bad that people have to wear gas masks when outside. Not just that, but crime has become so dangerous in places that new "Tank Police" squadrons have been formed, in which officers utilize mini-tanks to do their jobs. Shirow would return to the world of Dominion a couple of times in the mid-90s, and the series in general would receive three separate OVA adaptations. There was 1988-1989's Dominion Tank Police, 1993-1994's New Dominion Tank Police (Crusher Police Dominion in Japan), & 2006's single-episode Tank Police Team TANK S.W.A.T. 01. Like any good anime license of the 90s, these OVAs weren't united under a single company here in North America, with the first OVA series released by CPM (the first product to ever come from the company, in fact), the second by Manga Entertainment, & the third having never been released outside of Japan at all (since it came out so comparatively late).

Both CPM & Manga would eventually release their respective OVAs on DVD in 2003, and a decade later Maiden Japan (which is not the same exact company as Sentai Filmworks, as the former is founded by Matt Greenfield & the latter by John Ledford) license rescued the second OVA series & re-released that on DVD. The reason why Maiden Japan only did the sequel & not the original pretty much comes down to licensing issues, likely due to the fact that the original OVA has Toshiba - EMI listed in the copyright, while the sequel has Bandai Visual, making it so that licensing each requires their own individual negotiations. Likewise, MJ's DVD doesn't include Manga's old English dub, likely due to perceived quality issues over in Japan; this also affected MJ's rescue of Black Magic M-66. Back in 2008, Justin Sevakis covered the original Dominion Tank Police in his Buried Treasure column, praising it while downplaying the others, but lamented that CPM's DVD release was one of the company's absolute worst. At the same time, said DVD goes for easily over $150 on the secondhand market, so with the need for a better price, plus the general improvement over the prior release, this becomes yet another obvious pick for a license rescue.

The 00s anime boom was a time where companies were so desperate & willing to release almost anything they could get a hold of, and because of that we did get some really interesting & cool titles that might have otherwise been ignored. Geneon Entertainment, formerly Pioneer Entertainment, was a big pusher for these "different" types of anime, and one of them was The Legend of Black Heaven, known in Japan as Kacho-Oji - HARD ROCK save the SPACE. An early example of a digitally animated series from mid-1999, this 13-episode series from AIC & Studio A.P.P.P showed the (more or less) redemption of Oji Tanaka, a former rock band frontman-turned-salaryman finding a renewed purpose in life when aliens recruit him to help win a war, as his musical sound powers their weapon technology. Coming off a bit like a story of rehab for rock addiction, the anime was one that initially didn't attract me in any way (I knew of it by name, but nothing else), but after taking part in the Reverse Thieves' Anime Secret Santa for 2014, I was challenged by Jack from Beneath the Tangles to watch & review this anime, & I found it super charming & quirky.

Legend of Black Heaven saw release in North America across four DVDs from 2000-2001 by Pioneer, complete with a solid dub featuring the voice cast of Cowboy Bebop, & when Geneon gave it a re-release in 2004 it tried to push the involvement of character designer Kazuto Nakazawa, who had gained some notoriety at the time, due to him directing an animated portion of Kill Bill Vol. 1, as well as the music video for Linkin Park's "Breaking the Habit". Said boxset was simply the four singles housed within a clear plastic box, so having a more condensed released would be a benefit. Also, I found myself extremely lucky when I had to get the DVDs for this show for review, because now these DVDs aren't exactly super cheap, ranging from ~$10-$30 per DVD single, & the boxset itself is easily over $100 on its own. I have no idea if the use of licensed, non-Japanese music might be a possible licensing snag, as it had an OP theme by John Sykes & used "Into the Arena" by Michael Schenker Group later in the story, but it could be a reason why it hasn't been rescued yet by the likes of Sentai or Discotek.

Or it could just be that the show is just too quirky for most people. I want to believe it's the former, but the latter is likely the more reasonable choice.

We finish off this year's license rescue list with the other Western Connection anime I hinted at in Part 1. Going off of Nergal Heavy Industry's write-up of the company from back in 2014, Western Connection was the creation of a Yugoslavian immigrant to the UK named Sasha Cipalko, and quickly made a name for itself by releasing an assortment of eclectic foreign films; pretty much anything he could get his hands on for a quick buck. Eventually, WC started working with Toho, and one of the titles it got a hold of was Koshoku Ichidai Otoko/The Life of an Amorous Man, a 1990 erotic anime film based on the 1682 novel of the same name by Ihara Saisaku about the life of Yonosuke, a sex addict from the Edo Period. Renaming it The Sensualist, WC's subtitled VHS wound up getting free advertisement from British anime magazines of the time, & Cipalko realized a market that he could take advantage of, so he continually licensed & released plenty of anime & gave them minimal-effort releases, even outright stealing synopses from Anime UK instead of making his own. Really, you should give Nergal's piece a good read, because Western Connection was truly a bizarre part of the anime industry. In fact, The Sensualist was the perfect first anime for the company, because even it's current licensing status for the past few decades is downright bizarre.

In Justin Sevakis' Pile of Shame article about the film in 2013, he reveals that CPM's John O'Donnell once tried to license The Sensualist for North American release a few years following WC's release, as he was a big fan of it. Unfortunately, somewhere in the time between Cipalko getting the rights to it & O'Donnell trying for it, two of the producers for the film, likely Ren Usami & Tsunemasa Hatano (as they're the only ones who actually produced other titles), had a following out and decided to never agree to something that would benefit the other in any way. In other words, The Sensualist has been stuck in legal hell because two guys hate each other with every fiber of their respective beings. This hell applies to Japan, too, as the film has never seen anything better than a VHS release, though there was a fan restoration some years back; VHS can only be improved upon so much, though. Unknowingly, & likely uncaring about it to this day, Sasha Cipalko inadvertently gave The Sensualist the only chance it ever had for an English release back in 1993, and unless something drastic happens, like one of the two producers outright dying (because at this point I doubt they'll ever reconcile), this movie will never be given a proper license rescue.

Should that time ever come, though, I do hope that it gets the best possible second chance it can be given. It may not exactly be something for me to hunt down, but it's earned a loving cult following for good reason.
This brings an end to the license rescue list for 2017. While I might be running out of picks as I keep doing more of these, there are still anime out there that more than deserve getting rediscovered, cleaned up, & given a new outfit to make a second impression with. Whether it's part of a larger franchise like Yu Yu Hakusho or Dominion Tank Police, a title that might still be an accurate (if highly exaggerated) portrayal of an industry like Animation Runner Kuromi, currently stuck in licensing hell like The Sensualist, or even a gloriously maligned piece of infamy like Garzey's Wing, there are still plenty of anime out there to dig back up one day. See you again with a new list in 2018!

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