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Thursday, March 23, 2023

"How Much Are You Worth?": The Multiple Continues of Kazuya Minakura's Bus Gamer

Like many successful mangaka, Kazuya Minekura's career & legacy is defined mostly by a single work: Saiyuki, her purposefully loose reinterpretation of iconic Chinese novel Journey to the West as a zany road trip mixed with the occasional character drama & action scene, with our four main characters being turned into a chain-smoking heretic monk, a rambunctious wild child, an egotistical womanizer, & the de facto family dad; also, their horse is now a jeep. However, & obviously so, there is more to Minekura than just Saiyuki (& its various sequels, prequels, & spin-offs), and some of these other manga have received anime adaptations of their own. Two of them (Wild Adapter & Araiso Private High School Student Council Executive Committee) were both adapted into two-episode OVAs so they're both ideal for Oh Me, Oh My, OVA! (or at least a twin-review "Double Feature", as they are sort of related), but there's one other anime adaptation that I've been meaning to cover here pretty much since the beginning, simply because it's a bit of an oddity by its very existence. However, said anime adaptation is really the (current?) end point of a truly interesting life for this series, so let's be lazy & just input "AAA" when asked for our initials before deciding to try again as we go over the life (or maybe that'd actually be lives) of Kazuya Minekura's Bus Gamer.

To be fair, this does look like three guys
who are annoyed because they just missed the bus.

Before we get into the series itself, though, there's some publication & release history to go over, because it's a wee bit confusing & various places online have it wrong. Bus Gamer (pronounced "Biz Gamer", as in "Business") originally debuted sometime in 1999 in the pages of Enix's Monthly Stencil and may have actually been one of the very first manga serialized in the magazine, back when it was originally a quarterly supplement to G-Fantasy magazine (which is where Saiyuki originally ran). However, Bus Gamer actually only appeared on a bimonthly basis once Stencil became its own monthly magazine in 2001, and by the start of 2002 only 11 chapters had come out before it suddenly stopped getting published. While some have guessed that Bus Gamer was a victim of Monthly Stencil being cancelled altogether by Enix, that didn't actually happen until mid-2003. Instead, Bus Gamer's sudden stop was more a circumstance of Kazuya Minekura swapping publishers in early 2002. To keep it simple, Enix was going through a "family squabble" (yes, that's the literal translation for the term used) in 2001, which resulted in various staff establishing the publishers Mag Garden (which Enix actually went to court over, resulting in a settlement) & Ichijinsha (originally Issaisha), but the main focus here is that Kazuya Minekura was one of the managaka who wound up siding with Ichijinsha, more or less ending her association with Enix; this is also why Saiyuki transitioned into Saiyuki Reload. However, prior to all of this, Enix did manage to release a "Volume 1" for Bus Gamer in mid-2001, which included the first eight chapters, as well as produce a promotional anime short for the manga that saw release on VHS sometime in 2001. However, this is only the first half of Bus Gamer's general history!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Obscusion B-Side: Looking Back at Dynamite & Marvel Bringing the Golden Age Into the Modern Age, 15 Years Later

On April 13, 1938, National Comics Publications released Action Comics #1, an anthology which introduced a variety of brand new comic superheroes, including Zatara, Master Magician (the eventual father of modern-day magic superhero Zatanna) & Tex Thompson (a.k.a. Mr. America & Americommando), but the one that became the biggest star of all was Superman. This single comic would later be considered the start of "The Golden Age of Comic Books", coming after the Platinum Age, which would run all throughout World War II & wouldn't end until 1956 with Showcase #4, which introduced the second Flash, Barry Allen, & started the Silver Age. The Golden Age was one of superheroes of any & all kinds, created by many writers & artists who didn't make sure to claim ownership over their creations & published by many publishers that would eventually go out of business, resulting in many of these characters going into the public domain. Others, meanwhile, would remain copyrighted by publishers that continue to exist, or at least were bought by other publishers who have since maintained those copyrights. Over the decades, many characters from the Golden Age would go on to either return in some way in more "modern" times, or they would be represented by legacy characters who take on their names (& sometimes powers), but otherwise are their own characters.

A little OVER 70 years apart, but the sentiment remains.

However, in time for the 70th Anniversary of the Golden Age's start, both Dynamite Entertainment & Marvel published a number of comic series, some of which even being co-published by them, with a specific goal in mind: Bringing Golden Age Heroes Into the Modern Age. Naturally, this was far from the first or only time this kind of concept was done in comics history, but the fact that multiple mini & maxi-series were introduced in 2008, with one receiving a follow-up (or sorts) in 2009, really does give the idea that they were all done to celebrate 70 years since Action Comics #1 started the Golden Age. Now, in 2023, it's both the 85th Anniversary of Superman's debut & the 15th Anniversary of these "Bringing Golden Age Heroes Into the Modern Age" comics, and since I've happened to be reading them recently I figure I can go into each of them & take a look at how each one looked at this shared overall concept.

Monday, February 27, 2023

3D Anime on VHD "Double Feature": Man, Anime Really Does Come Out on EVERYTHING, Doesn't It?

Being a form of visual media, it's only natural that anime has seen some sort of release on just about any type of medium that you can think of. Film? Naturally. VHS? Obviously. Betamax? It wasn't common, but it definitely happened here & there. Laserdisc? Without a doubt. DVD? Of course. Blu-Ray? That's essentially the standard now. HD-DVD? Bandai Visual certainly tried pushing stuff on it. VCD? It wasn't just for bootleggers. Betacam? That was the standard for airing on TV for the longest time. All manner of digital formats? Absolutely. OK, I need to start thinking more weird.

Let's see... CED? Just barely! Game Boy Advance Video? Yeah, a few made it on there, too!! VideoNow? Shockingly enough... YES!!! One of the most curious video formats anime has ever seen release on, though, would have to also be one of the most obscure, and in particular two specific OVAs that took advantage of a special feature that was actually decades ahead of its time: VHD.

First demonstrated back in 1978 by JVC, after the company first established a video disc lab in 1974, Video High Density/VHD was a capacitance-based video format that was most similar to RCA's Capacitance Electronic Disc/CED in that both housed their respective record-esque discs inside caddies, so that the user would never actually handle the disc itself, but where CED used physical grooves to read the data stored VHD was electronically read. Also much like RCA's format, though, JVC's format suffered numerous delays & wouldn't actually see release until 1983, two years after CED had already launched & bombed, and in the end VHD would only ever really see release in Japan, though it did see some minor usage in the US & UK for things like education, training, demonstration, & (most notably) karaoke, the last of which was more or less the main reason why it even saw continued (but highly limited) support by JVC until 2003. To no surprise, there were various anime that saw release on VHD in Japan, though it was in no way as supported as even LD was over there. However, VHD did have one thing up its sleeve that no other video format had: 3D Support!

In 1985 JVC started releasing VHD players that supported stereoscopic video playback by way of things like shutter glasses that could be plugged into the player, predating modern 3D support by ~20 years; in doing this, though, discs could only store 30 minutes of footage on each side, instead of the usual 60. Somehow, JVC managed to convince two anime studios to actually give this a try, resulting in two OVAs being released on "3D Video Disc", which quite honestly sounds both absolutely amazing ("Hand-Drawn Animation... in 3D!") & absolutely absurd ("Hand-Drawn Animation... in 3D?"). Unfortunately, likely because of just how wild this concept sounds, both of these OVAs didn't actually come out until the latter half of 1987, which by that point was way too late to the party for 3D anime on VHD; I mean, VHD was late to the party in general, but these OVAs were arriving right as everyone was leaving. Because of that, both of these OVAs did later see "normal" 2D release on VHS, and actually watching these in their originally intended style (i.e. on a 3D-compatible VHD player with shutter glasses) is both a bit obtuse & (more than likely) wildly expensive today. Still, was there anything to these OVAs other than a 3D gimmick? I say let's find out, as both have been fansubbed over the years.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XIII: Mr. Aniplex, Tear Down This Wall! Part 2

Not long after Part 1 of this look at 12 Aniplex anime that "deserve" license rescues went live, someone argued that Toward the Terra TV, which was on that first part, could still possibly see re-release by Aniplex of America because of that Blu-Ray boxset scheduled for March of 2023, which I also brought up. Under normal standards I'd agree, but if we look at AoA's history then I think we can see that there's very little chance of that actually happening. You see, just by taking a cursory glance at Aniplex of America's catalog something very obvious becomes clear: It's mainly comprised of "new" shows. While AoA has released some catalog titles on home video, like 2007's Baccano!, Read or Die (both the 2001 OVA & 2003 TV series), 2009's Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, & 2007's Gurren Lagann TV, the company's bread & butter is about what's then brand new, first by streaming & then later on home video. However, the latter only really happens to specific shows, namely the ones that look to have caught some sort of fanbase that AoA feels would be willing to spend $100+ for special edition boxsets; AoA has done "standard" releases as well, but even those are more expensive than normal. Re-releases of catalog titles are extremely rare from AoA and are reserved for only the titles that have truly proven themselves as being iconic, like FMA & Gurren Lagann. In comparison, R.O.D. was an early AoA release (2011), & it more than likely sold poorly (there just weren't enough fans for it that were willing to pay $200), seemingly killing interest in releasing other "secondary" catalog titles like it; I would imagine Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack wasn't a big seller, either. Hell, even Rurouni Kenshin, which is the oldest show Aniplex of America currently has the rights to (but also arguably one of the biggest), has never received a physical re-release by AoA; that alone should tell you enough about how Aniplex of America feels about catalog titles.

While Toward the Terra TV is generally considered a great show... it also doesn't seem like something Aniplex of America would feel is worth re-releasing as a special edition boxset, or even as a more-expensive-than-usual standard release. So, with that addressed, let's move on the second half of this Aniplex-focused license rescue list, shall we?

I figured I should just get one overall franchise included this time around, though I do try to avoid doing that now, so let's start off with a bit of an unlikely one: Blood. In the late 90s, Production I.G.'s president Mitsuhisa Ishikawa wanted to produce an original anime, instead of simply doing more adaptations, but had no ideas to go with. However, he knew of the "Oshii Juku", a series of lectures Mamoru Oshii ran to help teach new filmmakers about how to create their own projects, so Ishikawa simply asked Oshii if his students could contribute ideas, and in the end went with a simple one thought up by Kenji Kamiyama & Junichi Fujisaku: "A girl in a sailor suit wielding a samurai sword". The end result would be 2000's Blood: The Last Vampire, a ~45-minute film about a young girl named Saya who heads to Yokota Base in Japan in 1966 to hunt vampire-like creatures named Chiropterans (a.k.a. "Bat People"), and it'd also be Production I.G.'s very first digitally-animated production; helping provide capital for this movie as a producer was SPE Visual Works, the original name for Aniplex. Blood was also a "media mix" project, as alongside the movie was a light novel written by Mamoru Oshii & a PlayStation 2 video game (Sony Computer Entertainment was also a producer), and afterwards came a short manga sequel & two other light novels, the latter of which were written by Junichi Fujisaku, who would take strong ownership of Blood, while Kenji Kamiyama left after helping write the movie. In North America, Manga Entertainment would license Blood: The Last Vampire in 2001 & release it on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, & even UMD(!) up through 2009, while also releasing Yoshihiro Ike's musical score on CD in 2006.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XIII: Mr. Aniplex, Tear Down This Wall! Part 1

In March of 1968, the Japanese Sony Corporation & American Columbia Broadcasting System/CBS incorporated a 50/50 joint venture which allowed Sony to distribute CBS' music releases in Japan. It was originally called CBS/Sony Records, but in 1983 had its name changed to CBS/Sony Group. Sony would then buy all of CBS' shares in 1988 & become sole owner of the company, though the "CBS/Sony" name would continue to be used until 1991, when it got renamed to Sony Music Entertainment Japan. During those last few years of the CBS/Sony era, the company had started producing various anime, most often OVAs, and in September of 1995 entered into a joint venture with sister company Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan to create Sony Pictures Entertainment/SPE Visual Works, which continued to produce things like anime. In January of 2001, Sony Music would become sole owner of SPE Visual Works, renaming it Sony Music Entertainment/SME Visual Works, where it would continue to produce new anime (both OVAs & for TV), as well as re-releasing its older CBS/Sony & SPE Visual Works catalog on DVD under the new name, before eventually being renamed in April of 2003 to something that has since stuck to this very day: Aniplex.

Celebrating 20 years under this name in 2023, Aniplex is arguably one of the most well known corporation names when it comes to anime... but for the past decade or so it's also been a bit of a controversial one, especially in English. Up until that point, Aniplex was a Japanese licensor like any other, i.e. if an English anime company wanted to license an anime from Aniplex, they would just need to get into contact & start making a deal. Even when Aniplex of America was founded in March of 2005, it was originally just an easier way for companies to license anime, as now there was an American division to initiate contact with. However, once "AoA" started releasing anime in English on its own in the 2010s, starting with the Gurren Lagann movies... things changed. I am not here to talk about AoA's focus on expensive, Japanese-style releases meant solely for the super-hardcore fans, as it's obviously a methodology that has worked for the company to this very day (they took what Bandai Visual USA tried & actually made it work), but I do want to focus on Aniplex's seeming refusal to license anything out to other companies for the past decade. Going all the way back to the CBS/Sony days in the 80s, there are literally decades-worth of anime that Aniplex owns the rights to, some of which I've reviewed in the past, yet literally nothing from said catalog has ever been licensed for home video release (either for the first time or as a rescue) by anything other than Aniplex of America, starting around 2013 or so. Who knows if things will even change now that "Sony" owns both Crunchyroll & FUNimation as, despite being semi-redundant now, Aniplex of America still continues to release new titles in English, seemingly only because that's 100% Sony Music's baby, so no one can actually stop them; in comparison, both FUNi & Crunchyroll are co-owned by Sony Pictures & Sony Music (though Aniplex). Remember, despite all being a part of the overall Sony conglomerate, these are still individual companies.

So, for the first time ever, I am dedicating an entire license rescue list to a single Japanese licensor, as even by instituting a restriction of "it can't still be available in English via streaming" I wound up with more than 12 entries & had to decide what wouldn't be included this around. Yes, I could literally do an entire SECOND Aniplex-only license rescue list in the future, and this was already excluding the various Aniplex titles that had already appeared in prior lists I've done (like Android KikaiderRoujin Z, Kiba, Nerima Daikon Brothers & Crystal Triangle, etc.)! So let's just get started with my first six picks & see just a snippet of what is seemingly (and/or effectively) barred from re-release in English.