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Friday, October 27, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 11: Gaussian Guardians

I started Demo Disc with Volume 1, a focus on mech anime that I otherwise would not normally be able to cover here on The Land of Obscusion, & I did more of that for Volume 5. I had planned on doing the same for this volume, but something very interesting has happened in the past number of years. With simulcasting all but killing the concept of fansubbing anime as they air in Japan, though scumbag rippers & illegal streaming sites have pretty much taken that spot, the few fansubbers still around have quietly moved on to anime of the past, and mecha has seen a lot of movement on that front. For example, every single entry in the Brave Series has an unofficial English translation now, and stuff like that has effectively removed a lot of previously unfinished anime for me to cover via Demo Disc; I can still return to that genre exclusively at least one more time, though. Therefore, for this eleventh volumes, I decided to go with a more overarching motif: Guardians of the People!

Tetsujin had such a light step back then
that the cops couldn't hear it sneaking up on them.

Record of Life
Not counting the bonus at the end, Volume 5 of Demo Disc, Rowdy Robos, finished with a look at the first episode of Tetsujin 28 FX, the early 90s far sequel to the "originator" of giant robots in anime & manga created by Mitsteru Yokoyama. Therefore, let's start off this volume with a look at where the genre all began. Tetsujin/Iron Man 28 debuted back in mid-1956 in the pages of Kobunsha's manga magazine Shonen (not to be confused with Kodansha's Shonen Magazine, which debuted three years later). The manga would run for 10 years, ending in mid-1966 after 24 volumes. It was first adapted to television as a live-action drama that ran for 13 episodes in 1960, but in 1963 it became one of the earliest TV anime ever produced, running until 1966 for 97 episodes & featuring animation by the Television Corporation of Japan/TCJ, now known simply as Eiken. It would start being exported internationally under the name Gigantor the next year, but only 52 episodes wound up getting dubbed. In fact, the first episode just celebrated its 54th anniversary earlier this month (October 20, to be exact), so let's see how the very first giant robot anime got its start!

After being as his father's side during his last moments of life, little Shotaro Kaneda & Inspector Ootsuka of the police are taken to a secret lab by Prof. Shikishima that he & Shotaro's father worked at during World War II. There, they were commanded by the government to create giant "Tetsujin" robot warriors, only for them to have to stop working just as they perfected everything with #28; these robots are remote controlled, but one was never made for #28. Unfortunately, both Kuronuma, a former associate of Shikishima & Kaneda who was "evil", & the PX Group, an international crime ring, secretly followed the trio to the lab, both of them wanting #28. Kuronuma decides to activate #27, as he's the only one who can control it, while the PX Group has no choice but to activate #28, which goes on a rampage without anyone to control it. #28 handily defeats #27 before escaping the lab & heading towards the city, with even the SDF being incapable of taking it down. With the city evacuated, a trio of thieves known as the Murasame Brothers decide to rob an empty bank, but when #28 happens across the building, the eldest Murasame dies in the destructon. It all comes to a head when Kuronuma & the PX Group, now working together, steal a newly-constructed controller for #28 that Shikishima made, & after a fight with the police, Kenji Murasame, the middle brother, manages to sneak in & hit #28 with a bunch of dynamite as revenge for his brother's death, making the robot fall into the ocean.

Father? That looks more like Shotaro's grandfather!
War truly is hell...

The very beginning of TV anime was a wild & crazy time due to the need to establish essentially everything. For Tetsujin 28, that results in the first episode being a 26-minute roller coaster ride with enough story housed within that would take three episodes to tell nowadays. Seriously, that entire synopsis I just gave all happens in just this first episode, and while it keeps the introduction from being a bore, it also makes for a lot to take in right away. Today, the first episode would cover up through #28 defeating #27 & getting free from the lab, the second would be #28's rampage through the city, the police & SDF's attempts to stop it, & the attempted robbery by the Murasame Brothers, & the third would be Shikishima finishing up a controller, having it be robbed, & the resulting battle at the end. Regardless, this first episode does an enjoyable job at establishing the iconic Tetsujin 28 as a creation meant for destruction that's suddenly unleashed into a world not meant for it. Even though the remote control is an iconic aspect of the robot, the fact that it can operate independently & create havoc in its wake is felt well here, & TCJ obviously put more focus on the animation here than Osamu Tezuka did with Tetsuwan Atom; granted, it's mostly superfluous animation just for the sake of it, but still worth mentioning. Oddly enough, though, the guns sound surprisingly realistic when fired, & Tetsujin itself has such light-sounding footsteps for a giant robot. While this first episode doesn't showcase it, Tetsujin would become an iconic guardian of peace, at least whenever Shotaro was behind the remote control, and in 2010 a full-scale statue of the robot would be constructed in Kobe (Yokoyama's hometown) to honor the 15th Anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Still, I'm happy to have seen the episode that (arguably) introduced giant robots to the Japanese populace, and for that it does deserve respect, at the very least.

The Raging Bio Armor Liger Appears!
Go Nagai has never been a stranger to creating multimedia productions, where he would come up with a concept & make his own manga version, while the cooperating anime studio would create its own take. In 1989, Nagai teamed up with Sunrise to create Jushin/Beast God Liger, which took the place of Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers & ran throughout the year before ending in early 1990 after 43 episodes, before itself being replaced by Brave Exkaiser. Nagai, in turn, made a two-volume manga that ran in Kodansha's Comic Bom Bom magazine for children; yes, a Go Nagai manga for little kids. While the anime went on to become a success & remains one of Nagai's better known creations, its biggest legacy is in the wrestling ring. Liger was such an instant smash that New Japan Pro Wrestling wanted a piece of the pie. Similar to how NJPW took Satoru Sayama & made him the real life Tiger Mask in 1981, the promotion made Keiichi Yamada into the real life Jushin Liger one month after the anime debuted. The real life Liger became a true sensation, "powering up" into Jushin Thunder Liger in 1990 (which has remained his name ever since), & has since gone on to become one of the greatest & most beloved wrestlers in history. Anyway, enough about the squared circle, how exactly did the anime attract an audience from Episode 1?

Hokkaido denizen Ken Taiga is having a nightmare where he's being attacked by monsters, only to be awoken for the morning by his grandfather; Grandpa quickly sees a liger-shaped mark on Ken's palm before it disappears. Later that day at school, Ken's class is suddenly interrupted by an earthquake that's actually the appearance of a monstrous aerial ship from the Drago Empire, which crashes down & unleashes a few of its giant Dragonite warriors to cause destruction; the SDF tries to fight back, but the most it does is make one Dragonite split into two. While Ken & his stout friend Dangoro manage to escape the school, though, Ken's crush Yuki dies after an SDF helicopter crashes on top of them. Grandpa arrives (on horseback) in time to tell Ken to shout out for "Liger", because it's his "duty" to protect everyone. After Grandpa goes knocked out by the dangerous environment, Ken decides to try it out, summoning the giant Bio-Armor Liger to take on the Drago Empire.

By the time 1989 had hit, Go Nagai had been a known name for just over 20 years, so it would be understandable that he'd be allowed some carte blanche when it came to creating something for anime, regardless of which age it was aimed at. That being said, the first episode of Jushin Liger is downright shocking in what it has the balls to do for a kids anime! First & foremost is the death of Yuki, which goes against everything you know about this genre. When it was indicated that she & her own stout friend may have been killed, I kept thinking, "She'll be revealed to be just fine by the end,"... And then the end credits played after Ken said that he avenged her. Surprising, sure, but I figured that Yuki would just be brought back in the next episode, maybe a little hurt at most. So I do some extra research very quickly, only to see that Yuki isn't credited as part of the supporting cast. So, uh, yeah... Go Nagai conceived an anime for little kids where the main character's obvious love interest is killed off before the eyecatch appears for the first time ever; Go Nagai is hardcore. Second, there's a surprising amount of bloodshed when Liger starts killing the Dragonites at the end. Granted, it's nothing absurd, and it's all green-colored, but it was admittedly a bit of a shock to see green blood pour a little from the enemies before they were eradicated into nothingness. Combine those bits with some appropriately monstrous Dragonite designs, obviously homaging Nagai's earlier Devilman & Great Mazinger, & a sudden shift from establishing characters to downright destruction, anger, & child murder, and it's easy to see how Jushin Liger got the immediate attention of the Japanese populace back when it debuted. It really makes me want to one day get the chance to see the rest of the anime, though I'm sure this is more a case of hitting hard & fast before maintaining a status quo; I have been told that it "never lets up", though, so I could be wrong. Remember, Nagai conceived of this series, but he didn't write the entire anime himself.

First Battle
Keeping the focus on Sunrise, let's leave the mecha focus & move on to another form of "guardian", armored warriors. From 1988-1989, Toho produced a Super Sentai-esque tokusatsu series called Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop (it's pointless the translate the Japanese, since it's basically redundant), and plans were started about making a sequel. Those didn't pan out, though, so the concepts were instead altered into a TV anime that would become Kikou Keistatsu/Armored Police Metal Jack, which debuted in Spring of 1991. Unfortunately, poor ratings resulted in the anime being cut short & ending after 37 episodes, though head writer Hiroyuki Kawasaki would supposedly reuse some situations for 1994's Brave Police J-Decker. Since the anime wasn't planned to end so early, the two video game adaptations for Game Boy & Super Famicom actually came out after the anime had ended! In fact, Atlus had plans to release the Super Famicom beat-em-up in North America for the SNES under the same name, though with new character names & moving the plot from Tokyo to Los Angeles, but said release was cancelled at the last moment; box art was even made & it was even covered over at ANN back in 2008. So while Metal Jack may not have become as beloved as the likes of Samurai Troopers or Sonic Soldier Borgman, maybe the first episode still had some potential to it...

It's the year 2015 (you know, the future), and the robots that humanity perfected to help out with life have since revolted & become a seemingly invincible army to fight against. Meanwhile, young prodigy Jun Zaizen, the successor to the prolific Zaizen Concern, is celebrating his birthday, and the police are secretly keeping watch for any assassins. After hotshot detective Ken Kanzaki befriends the lonely Zaizen, a giant robot invades the party & attacks. In the end, Jun's father is killed, while Ken & Jun go missing after an explosion, along with grand prix champion Ryo Aguri & pro wrestling champion Gou Goda, who risked their lives in an attempt to save Ken & Jun. Not too long later, the same robot returns to cause more havoc in the city, this time accompanied by other robots & a human who commands them. When it looks like all hope is lost for the police, three colored armored warriors appear & easily destroy all of the robots & make the human flee to fight again; Chief Jogasaki says that their the rumored "Metal Jack". While Jun is revealed to be in critical condition at the hospital, Ken surprises his partner Eriko Yoshizawa & Chief Jogasaki by revealing that he's in fact alive, and he pledges to himself to fight to protect Jun as part of Metal Jack. Still, Ken has to keep his identify as Red Jack a secret to his friends & family.

First impressions are an important thing to do well, but Metal Jack's beginning doesn't truly excel in that regard, though it's not bad by any means. It does a good job establishing the world it takes place in, gives Ken a solid introduction & quickly makes him likable, and the Metal Jack trio have a fine first showing, but overall it feels like your standard first episode for a series like this. By being a mostly Ken-focused episode, plus Jun's development in the first half, we get essentially nothing from Ryo & Go, except for that one quick bit where they rescue Ken & Jun from the first robot's missile assault at the party. The most we get about Metal Jack itself is that it's a top secret project, though somehow Jogasaki heard rumors of it, and even villains get next to no introduction. I had to look up online to see that they're called Ido & that the human who lead the assault in the second half is named Toroidal, but at least the first episode establishes that the evil leader is named Megadeath... Can't go wrong with that name, am I right? Sadly, though, there's not much else to say about Metal Jack by going off of just the first episode. There are little details that are amusing, like how all dogs have seemingly been replaced by robot dogs, the giant robot that attacks the party & Metal Jack later fights looks a bit like a VOTOMS, the Armored Police badge looks like a spiritual precursor to the Brave Police badge, and the heroes' call to combine with their robot partners is "Jack On!" (it's also shouted a bunch in the OP theme), but they're all just minor things; they don't manage to raise this first episode's status. I'm not writing off Armored Police Metal Jack as a whole based on this first episode, because it is still enjoyable enough & has promise, but I do think it could have had a much better first impression.

The Legendary B-Da Warriors!
The Legendary Warriors, Forever!
Fly, White Gale!
As I mentioned earlier this year during my look at Toshifumi Kawase's 14-year directing streak, when Takara debuted the toy line B-Daman in Japan back in 1993, one of the first ways it was promoted was alongside Hudson Soft's Bomberman franchise. While first starting off as just toy & video game tie-ins, eventually a manga combining the two would debut in 1997 with Koichi Mikata's Bomberman B-Daman Bakugaiden/Explosive Side Story. In 1998, an anime take on Bakugaiden would debut, featuring animation by Madhouse & running for 48 episodes before receiving a second series that told its own story the following year. In fact, just a few episodes before the first Bakugaiden anime finished, Xebec's Super B-Daman anime started airing; yes, for 20 weeks there were two B-Daman anime airing in Japan concurrently. So with the first three episodes of the original Bakugaiden anime having been fansubbed, for whatever reason, let's see how the first B-Daman (& Bomberman) anime began.

The Blue Soarer solar system is under the peaceful reign of King Gold Bomber's B-Da Kingdom on Earth, and for the past year Prince White Bomber has been training on the desert planet Saturn with Master Orange Bomber to become stronger. When Black Bomber, Captain of the Guard, arrives to bring White back home, the prince finds out that the kingdom has become corrupt through an alliance with the NolArc Empire, with his father having become the evil Emperor Dark Bomber by being possessed by an evil force. When White refuses to join his father's evil plans he's thrown in jail, only to get sprung out by Red Bomber & Dr. Gray Bomber, who are working with the resistance group Nereid. Red & White manage to escape to ocean planet Neptune, where Nereid's base is, with the help of a "lone wolf" express merchant named Yellow Bomber, while Dr. Gray stays behind to gather information of a Planet Energy Circuit gathering project Emperor Dark wishes to use to truly rule over all of Blue Soarer, & sends it to Nereid before getting captured. Unfortunately, Nereid's system couldn't handle the sheer amount & force of information being sent to them, so the information was split up into seven "Planet Emblems", four of which embedded themselves into White, Red, & Yellow's B-Da belts, along with Blue Bomber, an old friend of White's who works with Nereid. Now the chase is on, with Nereid having to locate the remaining three pieces of info before Emperor Dark & his cohort Dr. Crusher can fully extract all of the needed info from Dr. Gray's mind.

Afterwards, White, Red, & Yellow head to the forest planet Jupiter to start the search, where they meet up with Green Bomber, Captain of Nereid's guerrilla forces, who has a Planet Emblem as well. With that out of the way, Green joins the three to Mercury, as the radar Blue made for them is pointing there for the next Emblem. There they see that the Emblem has embedded itself onto Aqua Bomber, a spoiled rich kid who only joins them because he wants to shed extra weight that hey may have gotten by just lounging around. While they can't locate the final Emblem, they return to Nereid to find out Emperor Dark's plan, now that the plans were extracted from Dr. Gray's mind. Using the newly built Dark Fortress, the NolArc Empire plans to destroy the entire solar system using the energy gathered from of all of the planets & the Sun once they've all aligned. The Bombers head out to stop the plan, with even Black siding with them, only to find out that he's the seventh Emblem-bearer. Together, the Bombers fuse their vehicles together into a giant robot & reverse the gathered energy back at the Dark Fortress, driving the evil force named Dark Mother out of King Gold in the process.

These were all just an old story being told by Old Bomber, however, with the B-Da Kingdom having become the giant B-Da City over time. Here, White Bomber is a young boy who wishes to use his B-Daron friend, a phoenix named Kazemaru, to visit B-Da Canyon, but a wild flight results in them forcing Dr. Gray Bomber, his grandson Blue Bomber, & their B-Daron friend Louie Louie to crash their blimp; luckily, the deck on the blimp could transform into a house to land with. After landing, Louie Louie gets accidentally kidnapped by two school girls who took a shining to him, so White & Blue search the city for him, especially since he was carrying info Dr. Gray needs. While White manages to find Louie Louie, Blue comes across Yellow Bomber, who's infamous in the city for forcing people to listen to his terrible pun-based humor, and Red Bomber, a girl who wishes to become a B-Daron vet when she grows up; together, White, Red, & Yellow all befriend Blue as the new kid in town. Upon returning Louie Louie, Dr. Gray decides to show the kids what he's building: White Gale, a giant robot meant to fight the supposedly incoming attack of the Dark B-Da.

This volume of Demo Disc started with a first episode jam packed with so much information that it felt like two or three, and we end with another that essentially does the same, only this time it's by a multiple of three! Seriously, all three episodes of BB-Daman Bakugaiden, as it's shortened to, are exactly like the first episode of Tetsujin 28 by being filled to the brim with stuff happening, so much so that I literally needed a paragraph for each episode. In fact, the anime surprised me with the sharp change in style between Episodes 2 & 3, because it made me realize that it actually executed some very subtle but amusing parody. Essentially, it did in only two episodes what would have normally been expanded into an entire 13-episode season's worth of content, all the while acting exactly like it would have always been like, which a silly kids show that gets just serious enough to give its dramatic moments enough gravitas to work. The matter of fact execution made me unsure exactly how to take the show, & this applies to an extent with Episode 3, as well. That being said, the start of the new standard, which even includes eyecatches, has a lot of introduction, but without any real pay off. Yellow & Red are introduced mainly for the sake of it, & the Dark B-Da are only mentioned, with a slight hint that it's likely the return of Dark Mother from the initial episodes; the episode simply ends with White taking the White Gale for a test flight.

In the end, I feel like I got two things for the "price" of one with Bomberman B-Daman Bakugaiden's first three episodes, and I'm glad that I watched this far in. If I had only seen Episode 1, I would have had a very wrong interpretation of this anime. Instead, I got a silly & straight-to-the-point story in the first two episodes, resulting in me realizing that it actually was doing some subtle parody, while Episode 3 was the real "first episode" for the series itself. In fact, the Charabom's from Bomberman were only shown slightly in the first two episodes, while they're outright supporting cast in the "real" story as B-Darons. As for the use of the B-Daman name, every single character has a B-Dama in their lower torso areas, and they can shoot them out if needed like the toy, while the robots themselves are the basis for the actual B-Daman launchers the kids could buy; it's an amusing way to mix the two franchises together, actually. Still, while these episodes were enjoyable enough, I don't exactly have any real urge to see more of this original Bomberman/B-Daman anime... And that's mainly because I think my brain broke from trying to concisely describe everything of import that happened in just three episodes.
That brings an end to the first volume of the next ten Demo Discs. Of the four anime I tested here, Jushin Liger easily takes the spot as the show I wouldn't mind seeing more of, but I was more than happy to finally check out the likes of the original Tetsujin 28 & the first Bomberman/B-Daman anime; Metal Jack was neat, too. Since I finished this volume off with the first anime based on the famous Japanese line of marble shooters, check back in a couple of months for this Winter's single series Demo Disc, where I look at the first half of the original Japanese version of a B-Daman anime that the rest of the world is much more familiar with.

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