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Friday, May 18, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 2

Normally, whenever I make a "twelve anime" list, I compile the entries based on my own research & whimsy, which means that there's a strong tendency for them to be picked more on personal attachment or interest than neutral logic. On rare occasion I put out a call for outside input, but the end result tends to only give me one or two picks, if even any at all. When I asked for this streaming purgatory list, however, I got the complete opposite. This is obviously something that other people may have thought about in the back of their minds, because I received a bunch of responses, almost all of which giving multiple answers. Because of that, I can easily make a second list another time (likely next year), so let me see which six either seem to be the most wanted or at least catchy my interest to some extent.

Polar Bear Café
I am admittedly more on the side that prefers action-oriented stories, or at least something with a feeling of conflict to it, but I can definitely see the appeal of watching an anime just to relax & feel good. These tend to get categorized under the genre of iyashikei, or "healing", anime due to their soothing & mentally non-straining execution. Admittedly, I'm not 100% sure if Polar Bear Café technically counts as an iyashikei anime, but I do remember watching an episode or two of it years ago, and it was very chill. Anyway, this 50-episode TV anime from 2012-2013 was based on the Aloha Higa manga that ran in josei magazine Flowers from 2006 to 2014, where it then moved to Cocohana magazine, under the name Polar Bear Café: Today's Special, & still runs to this day. It told the everyday lives of the walking & talking animals (& humans) who both work at & frequent the Polar Bear's Café, which is run by a Polar Bear who loves making bad puns.

CrunchyRoll simulcasted the anime as it aired back in the day, where it quickly gained itself a cult fandom, especially by those who just wanted a fun, laid back, & casual experience; for others, though, it was a little TOO laid back & casual. Still, I remember seeing people I know online constantly going gaga over how chill & enjoyable this anime was, and obviously sadness that it came to an end after Episode 50. In fact, every now & then I still come across someone sharing an image of Polar Bear Café, and it always results in happy memories. Unfortunately, the anime's pun-laden humor, combined with its iyashikei-esque style, has always made it less likely to be given a home video release, and its long length likely won't help in any way, either; 50 episodes is always harder to sell, compared to 12, 24, or even two 26-episode seasons. Still, I can fully understand why this got brought up in my request for responses, and one can always hope that the Polar Bear's Café will reopen one more time for a home video release, because a series this inoffensive shouldn't get lost to time (officially) due to expiring streaming licenses.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
I'd argue that this is still relatively "recent" due to it finishing up only a year ago, so it's somewhat more probable that it would get licensed for home video release. That being said, it's also a title with a notably strong following, so it's slightly surprising that it hasn't been licensed for home video already, in the year since it finished airing. Rakugo, formerly known as karakuchi, is a old form of live entertainment that relies on a single performer delivering effectively a "one-man play", only without ever moving from the traditional seiza position, utilizing only a paper fan & a small cloth, & defining characters via changes in pitch, tone, & some slight head movement. In that regard, adapting that kind of storytelling into manga sounds downright impossible, but Haruko Kumota tried doing just that with Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, which ran in josei magazine ITAN from 2010 to 2016, totaling 10 volumes. If you're curious, Kodansha USA is publishing the manga in English, adding the preamble Descending Stories to the title.

In 2015, to go with the releases of Volumes 7 & 8, Studio Deen produced two OVAs based on the manga, and I guess those were successful, because in early 2016 a full-on TV adaptation aired in the Animeism B2 programming block. The 13-episode TV series brought back the same staff, including director Mamoru Hatakeyama, & it wound up attracting a slew of praise abroad during its simulcast, due to its strong characters, dramatic execution that befitted the style of rakugo, & hard-hitting vocal performances, which required the cast to effectively perform their own rakugo plays. A second season of 12 episodes would follow in early 2017, which resulted in simply even more praise & love for those who gave the series a go. In essence, & just going off of concept, Rakugo Shinju sounds just about as esoteric as Gifu Dodo!! from my list of picks, they were both animated by Studio Deen (known for never really pushing the envelope, visually) & I almost wonder if this would have even been fansubbed without simulcasting (or at least done as it was airing), but I'll refrain from going any further with that comparison, so as to not sound "bitter", or anything silly like that. Sometimes, you just truly can't tell where the needle will point when it comes to where people will go, but at least this series about something as Japanese as rakugo found an international audience, and they do deserve the ability to add it to their collections.

Beast Player Erin
CrunchyRoll initially started up back in 2006 as an illegal anime streaming site that hosted fansubs of seemingly any & all anime it could get downloaded & shared. On March 11, 2008, CrunchyRoll announced that it secured capital investment of $4.05 million. In the next year, the site would gradually remove its unofficial content & rely solely on legally-licensed anime, including brand new shows that were being streamed with English subtitles just hours after they aired in Japan. Of course, at first CrunchyRoll only had a small offering of simulcasts, and sometimes the site wouldn't start offering shows until it had already started airing. Case in point would be 2009's Beast Player Erin, the 50-episode TV anime adaptation of the four-volume novel The Beast Player by writer Nahoko Uehashi & artist Itoe Takemoto, which itself ran from 2006 to 2009; there was also a manga adaptation by the same creators that ran from 2008 to 2016 for 11 volumes. The story followed the life of Erin, the daughter of an experienced vet for the Tohda, dragon-like creatures that the world uses for war, as she goes from a 10-year old girl who's only just starting to learn how to communicate with Tohda to a young woman who deals with her own experiences regarding prejudice, due to her own heritage.

Ostensibly an anime for children, Erin also didn't talk down to its audience, which resulted in a story that strongly appealed to adults just as much as children, which in turn resulted in the anime attracting a small but fervent cult fanbase & almost nothing but praise. Obviously, this was only made possible because of CrunchyRoll's semi-simulcast, since the anime aired in Japan throughout all of 2009, but didn't receive its first English-subbed episodes until that September. Still, I think it is worth noting that Beast Player Erin is still streaming on CrunchyRoll to this very day, not long from a decade later; it must still be considered somewhat relevant to that site, after all. Sure, it's year-long length is a bit of a detractor, but maybe giving this anime a home video release on its 10-year anniversary would be very fitting.

The Tatami Galaxy
"When can we get Tatami Galaxy?" "How about Tatami Galaxy?"
"Is it going to be Tatami Galaxy?!" "COME ON, PUT OUT TATAMI GALAXY ALREADY!"

Hmmm, I think some people really want this anime on home video... Just a wild guess.

Anyway, CrunchyRoll may have started the simulcast boom back in 2008 & 2009, but FUNimation wasn't far behind. In 2010, the company started doing its own simulcasts, and that included a long-term deal with Fuji TV, wherein FUNi would have exclusive streaming (or at least simulcasting) rights to each & every new show that aired on the network's noitaminA block; later, Amazon would get those exclusive simulcasting rights. In the Spring of 2010, FUNi announced that it would be simulcasting both House of Five Leaves, which would later see a home video release by NIS America, & some 11-episode TV anime adaptation of a 2004 novel written by Tomihiko Morimi called The Tatami Galaxy... And it was directed by some guy named Masaaki Yuasa.

Hmmm... Name rings a bell.

Anyway, The Tatami Galaxy would go on to find a vocal, but small, cult following that absolutely loved it, primarily because of Yuasa's trademark wild & imaginative visual style. Unfortunately, FUNi wasn't really sure if it that cult following would necessarily result in home video sales, so the company held off on releasing it on DVD & Blu-Ray. That's not to say that interest was not tested, though, as in early 2012 FUNimation did have a survey about titles fans would love to see released on home video, and Tatami Galaxy was on the list, alongside fellow never-releaser Symphogear; one would imagine that the reception on the survey wasn't large enough to prompt a home video release. In fact, it's more than likely that FUNimation doesn't even have the rights to the anime anymore, as CrunchyRoll's page for the currently running streams lists Fuji Creative Corporation as the publisher, not FUNimation. Still, with Yuasa only seeing more & more of his works getting released on home video here in North America, & Devilman Crybaby hit it super big over at Netflix just a couple of months ago, there might be a chance at a company finally deciding to give The Tatami Galaxy a go, like how the UK & Australia have had it for years, already.

*But, seriously, if I didn't include this anime in this list, I'd just get people asking me about it...*

gdgd Fairies
Similar to how some people just want to chill out & relax to a soothing iyashikei anime, some people just want to watch abject randomness in purposefully low budgeted form. That's really part of the appeal in something like gdgd (gudaguda) Fairies, the creation of character designer & planner Sota Sugahara, or just SOTA for short. Debuting back in late 2011, gdgd Fairies is ostensibly about three little fairies, pkpk (pikupiku), shrshr (shirushiru), & krkr (korokoro), who spend their everyday lives lounging about & playing games with each other, but the secret to this series is the absurdist execution. First of all, the all-CG animation is rudimentary, at best, and the show in general relies extensively on super-cheap, pre-made CG models that anyone could simply look online & purchase for use in games & movies. Sugahara, though, relishes the cheapness of everything, effectively producing a one-man series of 15-minute episodes built around the fairies doing all sorts of nonsensical things, with the pre-made models being repeated to ridiculous degrees. The end result of it all is very much a trip to watch, but that in turn obviously makes it a tough sell.

Remember, the main joke of gdgd Fairies is that it's cheaply-made, and in the first season the voices of the three fairies were encouraged to improvise, and those moments of improv wound up becoming the bases of later episodes. In Japan, the short anime managed to find a cult following, which resulted in both a second season in early 2013 & male-led spin-off called gdgd Men's Party that actually aired at the start of this year. Not just that, but in 2014 came gdgd Fairies-tte Iu Eiga wa Dou kana...?, an outright theatrically-released movie. Outside of Japan, the anime reached a much smaller, but still cult-like, fanbase that likened its appeal to something like adult swim's Robot Chicken, which also relies on absurdist humor & has episodes of similar length. Is there enough of an appeal in something like gdgd Fairies to make it worth putting out on home video? Maybe, but I'd actually argue that this is something that would honestly be best released with an English dub that operates on its own internal logic; it's not like SOTA would honestly care if the lip flaps didn't match, anyway.

Witch Craft Works
Debuting back in 2010 for the seinen magazine good! Afternoon, Ryu Mizunagi's Witch Craft Works follows Honoka Takamiya, a high school student who winds up getting involved in the battles between the Tower Witches & Workshop Witches, with his school's "idol" Ayaka Kagari being a part of the latter group who befriends & protects Honoka, as he houses a powerful magic force inside of him. It quickly earned enough a fanbase in Japan to get an anime adaptation, but it took a little bit of time to actually come out; it was announced in late 2012, but didn't debut until early 2014. About a month after the anime debuted & was being simulcasted, though, Vertical announced that it would be releasing the manga in North America, and the publisher is still putting out new volumes to this day, though releases come out slowly now, due to catching up with Japan; Volume 11 just came out this past April.

Unfortunately, one would have to guess that Witch Craft Works' manga release didn't quite hit the sales charts as well as hoped, as the 12-episode TV anime still remains exclusive to streaming; there was also a 2015 OVA that came bundled with Volume 8 in Japan that doesn't have any English release. It made perfect sense for Vertical for try to take advantage of a simulcast to help promote a new manga release, but if anything WCW is a perfect example of how such a concept started out. Remember, Vertical only announced the manga release while the anime was airing; by the time Volume 1 came out that October, the anime was long over. Today, it's more common to see a manga publisher announce a new license that seemingly has no relevance, only for an anime adaptation to get announced somewhat later on. Still, at least one person brought up Witch Craft Works in my request for suggestions, and I think the anime should be given that second chance; if anything, it could maybe help sell the manga again.
Streaming has become a glorious new age for not just anime, but entertainment mediums in general. At the same time, though, it's not a cure-all for every possible situation, as once a licensing deal ends, among other situations, a lot of those productions could very well become lost & forgotten. Sure, home video isn't the major market that it once was, but there is something to be said for making sure that something like a TV series can still be seen sometime in the future, without having to worry about whether or not it's technically available to do so legally. As I said in the first part, I received a bunch more responses than the six I included in this second half, so we'll definitely be seeing the return of the "streaming purgatory list". In the meantime, enjoy streaming a certain anime while you can, but hope that it can still be archived in some physical fashion for the future.

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