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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2017!! Part 1

Aside from the very first month of this blog's existence, I've made it a habit to always put something up on December 26, which internationally is known as Boxing Day. That being said, I was born & still currently reside in the United States, which doesn't celebrate Boxing Day in any way; the only reason why our calendars mention it is because of Canada, after all. Therefore, why in the world do I always take the time to have a post ready for Boxing Day? Honestly, even I can't give a definitive answer for that, outside of me having an odd fascination with it ever since I first saw it listed on a calendar as a child. Maybe it's just a natural habit to root for the underdog, but as long as Boxing Day is acknowledged on the calendars that I use in my everyday life, then I shall always be there to wish you all a Happy Boxing Day!

And, as I have done ever since 2012, allow me to reminisce about "twelve" of my favorite posts on this blog from this very year, split up across two lists of "six". This time around, though, let's go backwards & start off with the one that meant the most to me, personally.

Ring ni Kakero's Ruby Anniversary (All of January)
I don't hide my love & fandom for Ring ni Kakero/Put It All in the Ring, the first major work from Saint Seiya's Masami Kuruamda. I won't act like it's some unbeatable masterwork that has never been topped, but there's just a collective "something" about this work, either in its original manga form or the four seasons of TV anime made from 2004-2011, that really appeal to me in a simple, visceral fashion. I, rather hastily, reviewed the hell out of RnK pretty early on via this blog, so I don't really have the ability to continually write about this series, but every now & then I find an opportunity to do so. For this year, that occasion was due to the fact that the original manga turned 40 years old in 2017 (technically the end of 2016, due to Shonen Jump's issue numbering habit, but I won't split hairs here), but since Japan was going to be heavily focused on two major anniversaries, Saint Seiya's 30th (which was technically last year) & Shonen Jump's 50th (which is actually next year), I figured that RnK's 40th was pretty much going to be ignored, which saddened me.

In fact, on October 1, animator & mechanical designer Hiroyuki Taiga had to clarify on Twitter that in the last episode of Senki Zessho Symphogear AXZ, a special attack shown was in fact a reference to Ring ni Kakero's Kaiser Knuckle, because fans were naturally (& mistakenly) assuming that it was a Saint Seiya reference; Taiga even apologized for his "old man concept". Yes, someone actually bothered to pay homage to RnK during its 40th Anniversary, only to not just have most people not realize it, but actually apologized for even going through with it... What the hell.

So, yeah, I think I had every reason to dedicate the entire month of January to Ring ni Kakero's Ruby Anniversary, because I figured next to no one else would bother to give this series its due on such a notable anniversary. The end result was a series of pieces about interesting trivia (like how Kurumada paid homage to Bruce Lee, or just how big a fan Yun Kouga is), what I personally felt were the "Best Bouts" from each & every story arc in the manga, and which of the many trendsetting Superblows were the most supreme of them all. I had a ton of fun doing all of this, and it was honestly really tough to reduce those lists down to the sizes they wound up being. In the end, though, this entire celebration concept just reaffirmed me in how much I enjoy Ring ni Kakero, and how it still annoys me (just a bit) that it has never been given a completely fair shot. Even today, that scanlation effort is still six chapters away from finally reaching the point where the anime begins adapting from, and this is after a year-long hiatus, too. I'm not asking for RnK to become some sort of smash hit, or even a notable cult hit, but is it really too impossible to even ask for all 36 episodes of the anime to receive an official English translation & made available via streaming?

I guess it is... Anyway, let's move on to something even more obscure, shall we?

Shinken Legend Tight Road (February 9)
Every once in a while, I need to properly fulfill this blog's basic concept by watching & reviewing something really damn obscure, and this anime was easily the best example of that. While the idea of anime running only 12/13 weeks, termed a "cour" (after the French word for a "course of events"), has been a regular thing ever since late-night anime became a more common thing back in the late-90s & early-00s, it was attempted before then. Back in 1994, Toei & TV Tokyo tried making single-cour anime for an early-morning time slot, but stopped after only two shows. The second production, Shinken Legend Tight Road, was created to help promote an upcoming fighting game that was to be developed by (a then young) Gust Corporation & published by Zamuse. Unfortunately, Zamuse essentially went the way of the dodo before the game could see release, if even started development, so the anime wound up becoming a standalone TV anime. I've known about the show for a few years, but the fact that it only ever saw a VHS release in Japan back in 1996 meant that it was very tricky & difficult to get a hold of to ever watch. Eventually, I decided to bit the bullet & pay the price to import it via Yahoo! Auctions Japan, and thankfully I didn't completely waste my money here.

Admittedly, the story in Shinken Legend was relatively simple, detailing the battles & tribulations that Taito Masaki & his new assortment of friends take on as they make their way to the top of the Spiral Palace owned by a battle-crazed "God of Fighting". What made up for it, though, was a surprising amount of heart & character, taking what would be your standard multinational fighting game roster & making them characters to remember; the fact that the fights were well done & the music was great were just cherries. In fact, the very execution of this entire anime felt very similar to the kind of Story Modes that games like Street Fighter V & Guilty Gear Xrd utilize today, so much so that I feel like this anime was very much ahead of its time in terms of actually telling a story; other (actually released) fighting games wouldn't get this kind of TV anime treatment for years. Is Shinken Legend Tight Road some sort of absolutely forgotten gem that got screwed over? Maybe not, but I was more than pleasantly surprised in just how much I liked this anime.

I think I may have found another Next Senki Ehrgeiz, i.e. something that most people just won't care about, but I can't help but really enjoy it & would love to see a much better re-release for it.

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase (March 19, 25, & 30)
When I did The Imagawa Chronicles back in 2014, I had planned on doing more with the "The_____ Chronicles" concept, but a variety of reasons kept that from happening. At the same time, though, I wanted to be able to put the spotlight on other anime directors that I feel don't get their proper respect, and while Yasuhiro Imagawa at least has a cult fanbase, I definitely can't say the same for Toshifumi Kawase. A man who got his start with Sunrise, working on a number of the same shows as Imagawa, Kawase has had a ton of directorial & head writing credits to his name, alongside numerous storyboarding & episode direction credits, but I'd hesitate to really name a single one as one that truly emblazons what the "Kawase Style" would be. Upon further inspection, though, I noticed something really interesting about his career: For roughly 14 straight years, Toshifumi Kawase had directed at least one anime at some point or another.

Starting back with Matchless Raijin-Oh in 1991, which is probably the closest thing he has to an "iconic" work, Toshifumi Kawase would go on to direct 1992's Energy Bomb Ganbarugar, 1993's Matchless Passion Gozaurer (which put an end to Sunrise & Tomy's Eldoran Series), 1994's Lord of Lords Ryu Knight (which ran into 1995), 1996's Reideen the Superior, 1997's Next Senki Ehrgeiz, 1998's triple threat of AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-Round Vernian Vifam 13, & Eat-Man '98, 1999's Bomberman B-Daman Bakugaiden V (which ended at the very start of 2000), 2001's Explosive Shoot Beyblade, 2002's Pita-Ten (alongside Yuzo Sato) & Dragon Drive (which ended in 2003), & 2004's Tenjho Tenge. Not just that, but Kawase also was the animation director for most of X-Men Evolution's first season in 2000, and one could even stretch his yearly consistency by including his series composition work for 2005's The Law of Ueki, 2006 & 2007's two seasons of Higurashi - When They Cry, & then directing 2007's Shion no Ou. Upon realizing this, I came to the conclusion that, though he may not have a specific style like other, more legendary directors, Toshifumi Kawase certainly established himself as one of the most reliable directors for his time, being able to handle a variety of genres, aesthetics, & even age ranges. Sure, Kawase was also the man behind a number of anime that helped make me the fan that I am today, but there's definitely something to be said for someone being able to direct so much consistently for over a decade.

Kamen no Maid Guy (August 30)
The Summer of JAM was a downright massive endeavor, especially in a time where I (claim to) have generally slowed down compared to the pace I used to do this blog at. Because of that, I have two favorites from that middle part of the year, & here's the first. If I have to choose, Yoshiki Fukuyama would easily be my favorite member of JAM Project. He has a very energetic & fun personality, has no qualms embracing his fans while also playfully poking fun at them for being such nerds, and his singing just has this raw feeling of emotion to it; I'd argue that me being a big fan of rock & blues music is a big reason, too. Fukuyama has been a part of the anime industry ever since his old band Humming Bird were chosen to be the sound behind Macross 7's Fire Bomber, but he's done very little as a solo act with the medium; he's did some with Humming Bird & a bunch with JAM, but barely a handful alone. In fact, we're on the verge of a solid decade since Fukuyama has done an anime theme on his own, so I wanted to finally watch all of the last anime to have such a theme.

Kamen no Maid Guy is what I'd say is the perfect example of an anime being screwed over by the very time it debuted in. The year 2008 was stuck between the bubble burst of the North American anime industry, which happened the year prior, & the slow beginning of CrunchyRoll's rise as the #1 legal streaming service, which started the following year. Because of that, anime that came out during that specific year both missed optimal licensing timing & were too early to be legally simulcasted, and when you add in the fact that the merger between Universal Pictures Japan & Geneon Entertainment (now NBC Universal Japan) made it next to impossible for companies to license anything that the company had rights to, which included Maid Guy, it's easy to see why this series has yet to receive an official release outside of Japan. The saddest part is that Kamen no Maid Guy was a truly great show, mixing together zany comedy, silly fanservice, a wide variety of tropes it poked fun at or embraced, & a real sense of honest-to-god familial heart to it; that Fukuyama ending theme was also appropriately insane. Had it been able to come out back in the day, I guarantee this anime would have been a hit to some extent, but today I'd simply take a sub-only DVD release.

Theory Musing: The Anime Kickstarter Konundrum (October 13)
Crowdfunding, while overall cooling in sheer popularity over the past couple of years, has been responsible for allowing a ton of projects to actually see realization that would otherwise have never happened in the first place. The anime industry has slowly come to realize the potential, & one of the most recent success stories was Right Stuf managing to get over $500,000 for Aria the Animation, which is allowing it to not only see re-release on Blu-Ray, but also give every single anime production an English dub. At the same time, though, was the massive success of Aria proof that crowdfunding can be a viable method for fans to help give anime the best releases possible here in North America (&, in some cases, internationally), or was it just proof that these very crowdfunding efforts are only worth it for titles that already have notable fanbases that can be relied on to get notable money from?

That's what I wanted to bring to light with this entry of Theory Musing, because as someone that would love to see the likes of Kickstarter or IndieGoGo be used to help make the impossible possible, I feel that the opposite is instead being focused on. In fact, it's already been shown that going with any site other than Kickstarter is a fool's errand, as shown with Pied Piper's initial attempt to give Skip Beat! a physical release with an English dub (that was demanded by the Japanese licensor), so right away there's an indication that anime fans are too resistant to trying new & different things out. Similarly, that could indicate that utilizing crowdfunding to finally bring over various anime that never saw international release in the first place is actually the least likely option, as all involved parties (Japanese licensors, international licensees, & the anime fans themselves) would be too hesitant or uninterested in actually taking the monetary risk. Naturally, there will be exceptions to this, but wouldn't it be amazing if those exceptions were instead the first indicators of a new standard? There's so much potential to be found through crowdfunding, but I fear that it will never truly come to light.

Culdcept [Manga] (March 10)
Manga is something I really should cover on the blog more often than I actually do, but I sadly don't, which is all the more sad, as the market has only grown over the past number of years. Every now & then, though, I manage to find the time & urge to do just that, and this series in particular means a lot to me. Every manga fan has that one title that got them into Japan's version of comics, and for me it's this adaptation of Omiya Soft's video game series. The Culdcept games in general are just consistently excellent, tons of fun, & intensely strategic, and since the newest entry on the 3DS was coming out this year, I decided to go back & read Shinya Kaneko's take on the franchise, especially since I finally imported Volume 6, which TokyoPop never actually released in North America. Anime based on video games have a very mixed reception, mainly due to lackluster adaptations that act more as advertisements than actually telling a good story, but manga adaptations are less talked about, so I wanted to see how this one held up.

Thankfully, the Culdcept manga was still just as enjoyable for me to read as it was over a decade ago, and that "final" volume that we never got was actually the absolute best of them all; I'm so annoyed that TokyoPop never put it out, especially since that company technically could have. Not just that, but Omiya Soft's franchise utilizes a multiverse, which allows the manga to exist in its own world, while also giving a quick scene in Volume 5 that acknowledges the existence of every other game, novel, & any spin-off Culdcept has ever had in the past; even the newest game, Revolt, acknowledges this concept. As for the story of the manga itself, it was still a briskly-paced adventure following the ever-lovable Najaran, while also managing to take what is essentially a board game concept & turn it into something that would make sense for the times it needed to be an action manga. It felt very reassuring to give Culdcept another read, because sometimes your first venture into a medium may not actually hold up all that well after time. Luckily for me, the start of my journey into manga has managed to remain a fun read; it's not one of my all-time favorite manga, but it's one that I'm glad to still have on my shelves.
This brings an end to Part 1 of my favorite posts from the year 2017. Check back at the very end of the year for Part 2, where I look back on some great things, some things so bad they're good, & some things that are just so, so bad.

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