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Friday, May 11, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 1

Back in 2011, I made a pair of lists where I compiled anime that had once seen release in North America via home video & I felt deserved being "rescued", i.e. licensed once again & given a re-release, ideally with improved video, audio, translation, etc. Around the same time, streaming really started making its mark with anime fans, especially with the advent of simulcasts, where brand-new anime productions were being made available legally around the world within hours of them airing in Japan. As anyone can easily tell you, though, there is just a metric ton of anime being produced every season, let alone every year; some will even tell you that there's "too much anime" being made.

Because of that, the dream of having "(almost) everything" is only half way there, because while streaming gives us access to those new shows, not all of them get the opportunity to become a part of a fan's collection. Instead, they become victims of licensing agreements, and once those licenses expire, and a site like CrunchyRoll decides to not renew, that anime becomes lost, officially, and this time around there isn't a home video release for people to rely on to keep things on the up-&-up later on. Now this list isn't about those anime that were once streamed but are now gone, as those are worthy of being "license rescued" & that's not what this list is about. Instead, I'm going to list off twelve anime that are still legally streaming, as of May 2018, but have yet to be given home video releases. Luckily, I asked for some help, and I got a ton of responses, so for the first time I have split this list evenly between my own personal picks, and what others have told me deserve being rescued from "streaming purgatory". Still, this is my blog, so we're starting with my picks first.

Saint Seiya Hades
It's absolutely astounding how seemingly hard it is for the works of Masami Kurumada to receive any sort of complete release here in "North of Mexico", especially when it comes to Saint Seiya; I even once called it a "Kurumada Curse". Luckily, the past few years have been slightly better in that regard, and that's due to the advent of streaming. Still, even there we have some notable blank spots when it comes to the "OG" productions, like the entire second half of Saint Seiya TV, i.e. Episodes 74-114. Instead, we have the first 73 episodes, which cover through the Sanctuary Chapter, and the final 31 OVA episodes from 2003-2008, which cover the Hades Chapter. Still, even those officially-available original series episodes are only partially saved from purgatory, and it all comes down to one company, Cinedigm.

Through its Flatiron Film Company label, Cinedigm first released those 73 episodes of Saint Seiya via a single DVD boxset; streaming over at Hulu & CrunchyRoll would come shortly later, & would even gets fixed subs. If one had to guess, that DVD boxset likely didn't sell well, for a variety of reasons (rough subs, ADV's uncut dub was missing, etc.), but apparently Cinedigm did still license more this anime. If you go to CrunchyRoll's "(EN)" page for the Saint Seiya Hades OVAs, you'll see that Cinedigm is listed as the publisher, and that's why the English translation has a different page on the site than the Spanish & Portuguese translations; those languages are offered by way of Toei Animation directly. It's unknown whether Cinedigm only has the digital license to this trilogy of OVAs, but it is saddening that they can't join those episodes of the TV series on DVD.

Remember, Cinedigm only seemingly released what was given to them by Toei when it came to the TV series, as the DVDs themselves worked just fine. As long as the Hades OVAs feature better subs, a DVD release from that company would work out just as well; after all, Cinedigm's Mononoke release was excellent, since that mimicked Siren Visual's Australian DVDs.

Fafner Exodus
This pick is an interesting case, as it's a sequel to an anime that does have a home video release; multiple ones, in fact. The original Fafner (in the Azure: Dead Aggressor) aired back in 2004, & from 2005 to 2006 it would receive a complete release across seven dual-audio DVDs by Geneon Entertainment. In late 2005, there was a 50-minute TV special prequel titled Fafner -Right of Left-, which did eventually see a legal streaming option by Daisuki, but that site went defunct late last year, so that's not eligible for this list anymore. In 2010, a theatrically-released movie sequel titled Fafner: Heaven & Earth saw release in Japan, & in 2012 FUNimation would release the movie via BD/DVD combo pack; to go with that, FUNi also rescued Fafner TV & released a combo pack boxset. Not a series to simply stop at that point, a brand new TV anime sequel titled Fafner Exodus debuted in 2015, where it aired in Japan at the start & end of the year via "split cours". CrunchyRoll would simulcast both halves of this 26-episode continuation, with Viewster handling some specific regions, and one would think that FUNi would continue where it left off for a home video release... Right?

Well, it's apparently not that simple, because Fafner Exodus still remains without any sort of home video release in North America, even three years later. If one had to guess why FUNimation has declined to release Exodus on home video, the easy answer would be due to the first season & the movie likely selling less than hoped, but it is disheartening that no other company has seemingly decided to keep the series alive on home video. What's even sadder is that, due to its status as a sequel to a lesser known work, it received very little coverage as it aired, so few know of Exodus' extreme quality; I had only seen the first six episodes, but each one was absolutely stellar. Not just that, but a new production, Fafner The Beyond, is on the way at some point, which just seems to make this all the sadder. Fafner is an extremely good mech anime, but it looks like it's hit a roadblock that may not be detoured around.

Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro
Sometimes, I feel that there is a bit of a double standard utilized by a lot of people when it comes to expectations & going against the grain. In essence, people tend to claim to want new productions to do something different & not utilize the usual tropes & standards, yet when something comes out & does just that, you get complaints about the very things that it does differently. Now, sure, there is a bit of "there will always be someone complaining" going on here, but it sometimes feels self-defeating in the end. A perfect example of that was the 2014 anime by Toei that took the early-morning timeslot that Saint Seiya Omega had, one adapting from a manga done by the artist of the iconic Ashita no Joe, Tetsuya Chiba.

Debuting back in 1973, Notari Matsutaro told the story of a selfish & childish oaf who winds up becoming a sumo wrestler, partially because the woman he has a massive crush on lives near the stable that he's joining. While it did receive a 10-episode OVA adaptation by Mushi Pro back in the early 90s, it would receive a 23-episode TV adaptation titled Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro, 41 years after the manga debuted; that's the all-time record in terms of "time between manga debut & TV anime debut", I think. Anyway, once the first episode debuted, it was summarily trashed by people, primarily because Matsutaro himself was an unrepentant asshole who literally stole candy from his own baby sibling at one point. Oddly enough, people actually tried arguing that the anime was actively promoting such behavior, even though that was absolutely false; Tetusya Chiba just likes having jerks as main characters (see: Joe Yabuki). Now, to be fair, the limited animation & the fact that this anime was essentially more of a sitcom than your traditional sports anime also make it more niche than you'd think, but those who did stick with the show, like myself, did really enjoy it in the long run. Unfortunately, I highly doubt we'll ever see a home video release for Matsutaro, but this is my half of the list, and I've love to own this series on DVD (because, seriously, that's the best it got, even in Japan).

Gifu Dodo!! Kanetsugu & Keiji
Often, creators only gets one work that everyone will recognize them for, no matter how many other notable titles they create. For Tetsuo Hara, everyone only truly recognizes him (at least outside of Japan) for Fist of the North Star, even though he did have one other notably successful Shonen Jump manga, Keiji of the Flowers. Running from 1990 to 1993 for 18 volumes, the manga adapted a Keiichiro Ryu novel about the life of Sengoku Era samurai Keiji Maeda, with plenty of fictionalization done to help sell Keiji as a truly eccentric warrior. After the manga ended, Hara would continue to make historical manga, & you could technically include Fist of the Blue Sky in that. In 2008, Hara would team with artist Yuji Takemura to return to the "world" of Keiji with Gifu Dodo!! Naoe Kanetsugu - Maeda Keiji Tsuki Gatari, which added the focus to fellow Sengoku Era samurai Kanetsugu Naoe, who was a real life friend of Keiji. Across three series, the Gifu Dodo!! manga is still running to this day, and in 2013 spawned a late-night TV anime adaptation.

Featuring direction by Hetalia's Bob Shirohata (though Hara himself was credited as "Chief Director") & writing lead by cult-favorite Yasuhiro Imagawa, Gifu Dido!! Kanetsugu & Keiji effectively came & went in the minds of most anime fans. To those few who actually stuck with this show, though, they found an extremely entertaining series about two old friends who looked back at their earlier days with fondness, while in the present they were literally enjoying a good drink, all with a strong tinge of old-school manliness behind it. It was a very esoteric anime, which makes complete sense why it got ignored by the gross majority, & even today it places pretty low on CrunchyRoll's catalog when filtered through popularity; in fact, I'd argue that if simulcasting wasn't a thing, this likely wouldn't have even been fansubbed. Still, there was a point when Cobra the Animation was literally one of the least-watched anime on CrunchyRoll (maybe not "Top 10", but really close), yet Sentai Filmworks still decided to release that on DVD & Blu-Ray, so there could always be an outside chance of Gifu Dodo!! being given a chance on home video, for the people who actually decided to give it the attention it didn't get back in 2013.

Nobuyuki Fukumoto may have started his career in manga back in the 80s, but it wasn't until the 00s that his name truly started becoming known beyond Japanese borders. That's because, in 2005, Madhouse & NTV debuted a TV anime adaptation of his mahjong manga epic Tohai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai/Mahjong Legend Akagi: The Genius Who Descended Into Darkness. Telling the story of the life of Shigeru Akagi, a devil-may-care young man who winds up getting into wild mahjong matches in the dirty underworld of Post-War Japan, where giant stacks of money (& even human lives) are constantly on the line, the manga was actually a prequel to Fukumoto's first big hit, Ten, where Akagi was introduced as an old legend; Akagi, though, became so uber-popular with readers that he effectively became a de facto main character. In the end, Akagi wound up running so long, primarily because Fukumoto balanced working on it with making other manga, that it only just recently came to an end this past February, even though the manga debuted back in 1991; it totals 36 volumes. There were two live-action movies made during the 90s (& one even prompted a video game adaptation for the PS1 & 3DO), but neither is really all that well-regarded.

The anime, in turn, adapted about the first third of the manga, because mahjong allows for really fast adaptation rate. The end result was an absolutely spectacular series, oozing with ambiance & delivering mahjong "action" in a way that worked like a charm, regardless of how experienced you were with Japanese "riichi mahjong". Unfortunately, this was followed up with an anime adaptation of Fukumoto's Kaiji, a much more "mainstream" title that was less intimidating to get into. In turn, Kaiji got a second season in 2011 & is generally more talked about, while Akagi never received a continuation, though producer Masao Maruyama had always wanted to do so; Akagi did receive a live-action drama series, though. Because of the strong fervor for Fukumoto's works, CrunchyRoll would eventually add both Kaiji & Akagi to its streaming back catalog in 2013 (though fellow Madhouse gambling, but not Fukumoto-based, anime One Outs got the shaft), but I'm going with Akagi for this list. I absolutely love Kaiji, but that series has always felt like the more likely of the two to eventually get a home video release, so I want to give attention to & champion for the original Fukumoto anime to be given the spotlight.

Leave it to Hidive to ruin this list's image consistency...

Considering that CrunchyRoll will obviously dominate this list, let's end Part 1 with a look at fellow streaming site Hidive, which focuses on the catalogs of the whole Section23 umbrella of Sentai Filmworks, Maiden Japan, & Kraken Releasing. Because those companies are primarily focused on releasing products on home video, there really aren't many streaming-only options to be found here, and its likely that titles like Blue Gale Xabungle & Space Runaway Ideon will eventually see physical releases. That being said, there is one notable anime on Hidive that's been streaming-only for a few years already, so it gets a spot here. Anyway....

Back in mid-2013, Sentai Filmworks announced that it had entered into a licensing deal with with Tatsunoko Productions, which would result in "eleven of the most influential and beloved anime series" seeing North American release. Nearly five years later, we may have not seen all of the fruits of this planned labor, but what have we gotten from this deal so far? Well, we got the original Gatchaman (license rescued from ADV), Gatchaman II, Gatchaman Fighter, Gatchaman: The Movie, the 90s Gatchaman OVA (rescued from Urban Vision), the Time Bokan: Royal Revival OVA (rescued from CPM), & the original Casshan, all of which saw both home video releases on DVD & Blu-Ray as well as streaming, but there's an eight anime that's obviously part of this Tatsunoko deal, yet has remained streaming-only for over three years: 1983's Future Police Urashiman.

The second anime to be directed by the legendary Koichi Mashimo (the first being fellow Tatsunoko series Gold Lightan the year before), Urashiman followed Ryo Urashima, a perfectly normal guy form the 80s who accidentally time slips into the year 2050, where he becomes a futuristic police officer... Because that's what you do. While not necessarily one of Tatsunoko's most iconic creations, the series also wasn't one of the more utterly forgotten products from the iconic anime studio; a perfect cult-classic. In late 2014, Sentai started offering the anime via streaming on The Anime Network, with a translation done by the experienced Neil Nadelman, but even with a move over to Hidive, Urashiman remains without a home video release. What's all the more odd is that the subtitles are done in a fashion which look tailor made & ready for DVD. With Sentai now looking to stop releasing DVDs eventually, maybe the company is simply waiting to receive new HD masters from Japan (a BD boxset did only just come out late last year), but it's odd that this series has yet to join its fellow old-school Tatsunoko brethren on home video.

In fact, while promoting this anime at cons in 2015, Nadelman even admitted that he had translated another Tatsunoko anime, but that one has yet to even be officially announced. But that would only make nine anime from the 11-title deal, so where are those last two? How about some Red Photon Zillion Tenku Senki Shurato, Sentai?!
This brings an end to six anime that I, personally, would love to see rescued from streaming purgatory & be added to my physical anime collection, so that I can legally watch (or go back to) at any point (more or less), without having to worry about a streaming license expiring. Check back next week for Part 2, where I choose six titles that people who responded to me on Twitter felt need physical releases.

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