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Friday, December 1, 2017

No Obscusion for Miss Blandish: Lucky Anniversary Number Slevin

Man, have I been doing this blog for seven years now? At this point, I sometimes start to wonder if what I'm doing is actually resulting in anything substantial, or if I'm just doing this because it's become a regular part of my current life. In fact, a couple of days ago, the author of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, John Sczepaniak, sent an update to the people who helped crowdfund his series of books featuring Japanese developer interviews; it got tweeted by others & made more public. In it, he laments how his work isn't being more celebrated than he feels it should be, calling the entire endeavor a "colossal waste".


Honestly, I kind of relate to that feeling to an extent, as this blog is somewhat similar in basic concept to what Sczepaniak has been doing (i.e. making more know the niche & obscure), but seeing his words makes me realize that I still do enjoy what I do here, and I've been doing this blog for longer than he has been making his books. I don't disparage those who have read my posts, I don't hate on people for not retweeting my new post tweets (which, in turn, limits how many people read them), and I don't feel bitter about starting this in the first place; granted, he got money to make his books, so maybe that's affecting him, too. Still, I understand Sczepaniak's frustration, so I'll make sure to finally buy his first two Volumes sometime this holiday season, and I say you should do so, too, if you're a fan of old-school gaming.

That being said, I can never tell when I'll decide to put an end to this blog & call it quits. After all, life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Therefore, I want to try to remove as many feelings of regret as possible, so for the first time ever I am dedicating an entire year to an overall concept. Yes, the year 2018 shall be "The Year of Unfinished Business"!! While I'll still be doing the usual things like Twelve Anime lists, Theory Musing, & the quarterly Demo Disc, every anime & manga review (plus some B-Sides) will either be related to something I had reviewed previously on the blog, or it will simply be something that I effectively said I'll cover (or at least wanted to cover) at some point in the future on this blog before... Because I had a massive problem with doing that. We'll be seeing the return of Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki, Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya, Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars, & the dread specter of Idea Factory anime, among other titles. In fact, to show how serious I am with this idea, up next will be me finally covering the last of the Manga DVD series, Sanctuary.

Still, I want to do something for this Anniversary post in particular, so here's a mini-review of something based on a Masami Kurumada manga (because of course I couldn't get through an entire year without reviewing a Kurumada-related product) that was released this year (because I haven't covered something truly "recent" in a while), and it's the perfect way to prepare for the Manga DVD.


As I've mentioned before when it comes to Masami Kurumada works, the sheer massive notoriety of Saint Seiya essentially makes it next to impossible for any of the man's other creations to see new productions. In other words, as long as Toei keeps producing Seiya anime, none of Kurumada's other stories will ever receive their own new anime productions; pachinko & pachislot are exceptions to this rule. Ring ni Kakero 1 was able to get four seasons from 2004 to 2011 because Toei was either alternating it with producing the Hades OVAs or Toei literally wasn't making anything related to Seiya; the latter situation is also how TMS was able to produce the Lost Canvas OVAs from 2009 to 2011.

Sadly, with Toei producing two upcoming Seiya productions, the Saintia Sho TV anime & the Knights of the Zodiac CG reboot on Netflix, things are a bit rough for a potential anime adaptation of Otoko Zaka/Man's Hill, Kurumada's "legendary" manga from 1984 that was meant to be his magnum opus but suffered an early cancellation after only three volumes, which has been having a yearly resurgence for the past four years; it's currently at 7 volumes now. That being said, there are other ways to give this manga something more to help promote the newer tankouban releases. To celebrate Otoko Zaka moving its online serialization over to Shonen Jump+ this past July, which marks the first time since 1992 that a Kurumada manga is being serialized under that label, Shueisha produced a 12-minute "Special Motion Comic", under the Kiku-Jump label, that you can watch right now over on YouTube; there was even a 15-minute, audio-only round table discussion with the major voice cast. So let's quickly take a look at what a theoretical Otoko Zaka anime would be like... Only without any actual animation.


The Special Motion Comic is a direct adaptation of The Ouu Union, which is the final chapter of the original Shonen Jump run. After gaining the support of Wolf Akagi from Joshu, Gunma (now Kozuke) & earning the trust & friendship of Ranmaru Azusa & his Showa White Tiger Corps from Aizu, Fukushima, Jingi Kikukawa receives a one-on-one challenge from Tokuichi Hiruta, one of the 13 Heads of the Ouu Union from the Northern Tohoku Region. After Ranmaru explains to Jingi that the Ouu Union's ruler, higher than even the 13 Heads, is "King of the North" Ken Kamui, Jingi decides that Hiruta's challenge is the perfect opportunity to try to convince Kamui to join their cause for when the Junior World Connection starts their invasion to claim Japan's gangs for themselves. Jingi, Akagi, & second-in-command Tokichi Kuroda take the fight to the 13 Heads, taking each of them out in succession. Following this, Ken Kamui sends Jingi an invitation for the two to meet, but instead of bringing the army of 4,000 Kuroda gathered for him, Jingi decides to go to Kamui alone, hoping to convince him to join without getting into a fight.

Much like those Manga DVDs I covered years ago, this Motion Comic rips the individual panels straight from Kurumada's manga, utilizes some minor visual effects (like pans & hiding text until needed), & adds in full voice work, sound effects, & some music. Unlike those products, this is a 1:1 complete adaptation of the entire 35-page chapter, but that's to be expected since it's only doing a single chapter of manga. On the one hand, this results in the viewer experiencing this part of the story exactly the way Kurumada originally made it back in 1985, only this time with the added benefit of having voices to listen to, and music & effects to accompany it. On the other hand, this Motion Comic does nothing to introduce the plot to anyone who has no familiarity with Otoko Zaka, making it extremely unfriendly to newcomers who might be curious about it; you're essentially getting the original "non-ending", but with no set up. That probably helps explain why this Motion Comic has only received an embarrassingly low 1,757 views as of this post (& it's accompanying round table discussion hasn't even broken 1,000); hell, the preview for this Motion Comic has over 2.5x as many views on it!


At least the cast all does a good job here, though it's kind of getting a little silly with how much overlap there is between this Otoko Zaka product & the casts of other Kurumada manga-adapted anime. Jingi is voiced by Masakazu Morita, making this the third leading Kurumada character he's the voice of, after Ring ni Kakero 1's Ryuji Takane & (the second voice of) Saint Seiya's Pegasus Seiya; all he needs to do now is voice B't X's Teppei Takamiya & Fuma no Kojirou's Kojirou, & he'll have done it all. Still, Morita still manages to make Jingi sound different enough from his other two roles, giving the "General" a sense of bravado while also sounding like a definite leader; it's not exactly the same as Seiya's steadfast dedication to justice, or Ryuji's innocent sense of respect. Hikaru Midorikawa (Scorpion in RnK1, Pegasus Soma in Saint Seiya Omega) voices Ranmaru, who doesn't get much to say, but delivers a calm & persuasive self-assuredness. Likewise, Jingi's rival Sho Takeshima gets a single, short scene, but Takeshi Kusao (Oz in Fuma no Kojirou, the current Shura in Saint Seiya, Ishimatsu in RnK1) gives him a tough, deep voice that fits his status as being worthy of entering the JWC. Wolf is performed by Kazuya Nakai (El Cid in The Lost Canvas, Theseus in RnK1), who manages to give both a sense of true knowledge when he recognizes Hiruta's status early on, as well as a sense of pride in how tough he is when he starts fighting one of the Heads. Kibou, a prodigal genius who's purpose is only hinted at in the manga so far, is voiced by Nozomu Sasaki (Kotaro Takamiya in B't X), but with so little to hear it's hard to really judge; not a terrible choice, though.

The only exception to the cast's prior experience would be Kodai Sakai (Michio Sumiyoshi in All Out!, Tohiyuki Fujioka in King's Game the Animation), a relative newcomer to the seiyuu world who voices Kuroda. Thankfully, Sakai mixes in with the rest of the major cast very well giving Kuroda a bit of a sarcastic sound that helps give him the most (purposefully) youthful performance. The rest of the cast is rounded out with Hiromu Miyazaki, Yasuhiko Kawazu, & Masaya Takatsuka, who voice Tokuichi Hiruta, Ben Kishibo & Goro Gouda of the 13 Heads; amusingly enough, all three also voice minor or secondary roles in Kurumada-related anime, as well. Overall, the cast here is a solid gathering of experienced seiyuu, plus a newcomer in Sakai for variety, and I could easily see them work as a potential cast for a larger project. The music is kind of standard fare, though I do like how it's all orchestral, but nothing really special; I'm not even sure if the credits properly list who did it. The Motion Comic does use a small portion of the "Otoko Zaka" song that Kurumada himself originally helped create for 2005's Seisei Ruten Kurumada-ism album, but the version used here is Mayumi Gojo's 2014 cover made for Kurumada's 40th Anniversary maxi single, though it's the vocal-less version.

Even though the manga is now over twice as long as when this
infamously iconic moment first happened, it must still be included.

Overall, the Otoko Zaka Special Motion Comic is a neat & fun little product made to celebrate the manga's return to the Shonen Jump label (& during its 50th Anniversary celebration, at that), but it's obviously only for those who are already familiar with it. Obviously, there aren't any English subtitles (& don't try using the auto-translate option, because it doesn't do much of anything at all here), but I guess this is better than nothing when it comes to Otoko Zaka getting anything outside of more manga chapters...

Oh, yeah, & expect the return of another Otoko Zaka manga review next year, too. Here's to another year, & here's to cleaning as many slates as I possibly can!

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