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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XI: Vertical Hold Syndrome Part 2

So last time I brought up how anime on VHS came to an end in North America, but how did things work out in Japan? The short answer would be "Anime came out on VHS for a fair bit longer over there", but to explain why requires going into the long answer. To put it simply, Japan's relationship with VHS, & home video in general, was never the same as it was in America, namely because Japan has never been big on actually purchasing a tape for a personal collection. For a variety of reasons, with the fact that the average Japanese home is physically smaller than the average American home being a notable one, Japan's rental market became the way the wide majority of Japanese people experienced VHS. Because of this, VHS tapes were primarily only sold to rental stores, which means that they were more expensive in general (usually ranging from ¥7,000-9,000, depending on when it came out) and that has held strong to this very day, hence why Japanese DVDs & Blu-Ray releases tend to be much more expensive there than anywhere else, especially for anime; hardcore otaku, however, are willing to spend that extra money to physically own their favorite works.

Therefore, VHS still had a use in Japan for anime, since the rental market still gave it value. That being said, it didn't last all that much longer, as the last anime to see complete release on VHS (to my research, at least) was Black Jack 21 in 2006, and that was mainly because it continued the volume numbering that had started back with Black Jack TV in 2004. However, the last TV anime to still see release on VHS looks to have been Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, which saw its final tape (Volume 37) sometime in mid-2007, even though it didn't finish the series; still, this is well beyond when Hollywood stopped releasing on VHS. However, the absolute final anime to see release on VHS, in general, looks to be Studio Ghibli's Ponyo in either 2008/2009, and that's only because Ghibli is obviously the exception to a lot of stuff, as by this point VHS was effectively dead in Japan. So, with that bit of trivial anime history out of the way, let's take a look at another six anime that you can currently only get with an English translation on good old magnetic tape!

This is an advertisement, but the image
is the same as the VHS tape.

We've had the occasional small name English anime company across all of these license rescue lists, like Illumitoon, Western Connection, Synch Point, Super Techno Arts, & ArtsMagic. However, I don't think I've ever included a release from a defunct company quite like Star Anime Enterprises. Mike Toole wrote an excellent history (what little of it there is) back in 2016 over at ANN, but the short story is that SAE was just a single man, David Norell, who had previously worked at CPM and various anime cons, before simply (& incessantly) hassling as many Japanese anime licensors as possible. In the end, SAE managed to license two titles: 1994 OVA Homeroom Affairs from Tokuma Shoten (which SAE did fully release) & 1993 TV series Dragon League from FCI (which SAE did not fully release). If I had to pick between those two titles to include in a license rescue list, then believe me that I'll go with the latter anime. Part of that is because Dragon League only ever saw a single subbed VHS tape released, comprising of two episodes (i.e. "It still got more released than Shonan Bakusozoku did!"), but also because Dragon League is, by far, the way more interesting title. I mean, if one has to pick between a "softcore smut comedy" & a fantasy soccer series... I think most will go for the latter.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XI: Vertical Hold Syndrome Part 1

A large factor in what titles I select for each of these license rescue lists every year is honestly a rather simple one: It could use a release that would allow for better quality, such as with the audiovisual side of things. Easily the biggest jump, in that regard, would be if the only prior way to buy an anime in English was on the Video Home System, better known under the acronym VHS. Developed by JVC & introduced in 1976, VHS would defeat Sony's Betamax in the format war of the late 70s & early 80s, becoming the de facto only way the wide majority of home consumers would watch (&/or record) things at their own leisure, up until the debut of DVD. Even then, though, DVD didn't actually fully surpass VHS until 2008 (i.e. AFTER Blu-Ray had already won the HD format war!), & VCR/DVD combo units were still produced up until 2016, when Funai Electric finally stopped doing so; there were even VCR/BD combo units!! In fact, VHS still exists to this day in some way, as you can still purchase blank VHS tapes for recording purposes, and while VHS hasn't been supported as a standard release format since A History of Violence in March of 2006, it still does see the occasional support as a limited edition novelty, such as with 2010's The House of the Devil, the V/H/S horror anthology series, & even as recently as 2018 with Transformers spin-off Bumblebee.

As for anime in North America (we'll get to Japan next time), VHS looks to have effectively died out after 2005 following dub-only releases for Duel Masters & Yu Yu Hakusho, after subbed tapes stopped coming out around after 2002/2003, with FUNimation actually cancelling the release of the tape that would have finished out all of Yu Yu Hakusho; there's word of Hello Kitty: Stump Village getting a VHS tape in 2006, but I can't proof of it. That being said, people at Discotek Media have admitted to tossing around the idea of putting out a VHS release as a novelty, but don't know what title to do it with. Regardless, let us celebrate the long (& seemingly never ending) life of VHS with a license rescue list of anime that, to this day, you can still only get with an English translation of via VHS!


We're starting things out with an interesting pick, namely because while the series it belongs to was part of the very first license rescue list in early 2011 & was actually rescued, this specific part of the franchise has yet to have been picked up. Also, this is likely the last of Western Connection's UK-exclusive releases that I'll ever do, mainly because I don't know if eventually including stuff like Le Deus, Samurai Gold, or Idol Defense Force Hummingbird might be a case of me getting desperate for picks, as I'll admit that this specific list is already going to be digging deep enough to start with. So, to recap, Dancouga: Super Beast Machine God is a mech anime produced by Ashi Productions in 1985, and though it was originally cancelled early during its TV run, it did remain popular enough to receive three OVA continuations from 1986 to 1990. In the mid-90s, Central Park Media licensed the TV series, & OVA finale Requiem for Victims, & released all of it across eight subbed VHS tapes, under the name Super Bestial Machine God Dancougar; it was through this licensing deal that CPM also "accidentally" licensed Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos. Then, in 2017, Discotek Media would finally give Dancouga a new release via a sub-only DVD boxset for the entire TV series, & in late 2020 would put out a sub-only Blu-Ray boxset that also now included Requiem for Victims & the final OVA, the four-episode Blazing Epilogue, which had never seen official English release before.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Covers, Color, & "The Dreaded ToC": Shonen Jump's 40-Year History of Celebrating Final Chapters

*Due to this subject being very focused on how manga are shown to readers for their final chapters, I have also produced a video essay version as well as the written version, with the video showcasing many, many more visual examples. You can use this link to go to the video if you prefer, or you can simply continue reading for the written version.*

To fans of manga, a long-running series coming to an end should feel like a major moment of celebration; a way to look back at what it did & how it found an audience. To a manga publisher, however, a long-running series coming to an end is nothing more than a sieve; a restriction on just how much money a property it has the current rights to can earn. Therefore, it’s not all that surprising to see a manga’s final chapter not be given a giant focus in the issue of the magazine it appears in, especially like being on the cover. Take Weekly Shonen Jump, for example. Debuting in 1968, it wouldn’t be until 1981 that a manga’s final chapter would be given any sort of major attention, at least on its own, and over time Jump would slowly move from barely giving hit manga ending more than a glance to making it tradition to at least give them some sort of minor fanfare. With 2021 marking the 40th Anniversary of the first two final chapters of Jump manga to be given notable fanfare, let’s go over the history of covers, colors, & “The Dreaded ToC”.


Before we start, though, let’s go over some phrasing we’ll be seeing used often. First, there’s the “ToC”, which is short for Table of Contents. It’s commonly stated that Shonen Jump’s ToC doubles as the de facto popularity ranking for manga currently running in the magazine. While this is isn’t exactly true, as there have been many long-running & notable series that consistently “ranked” in the bottom half of the ToC, or even almost always appeared dead last, the ToC is a way to see what titles the editorial staff at Jump felt have been worth pushing, based on reader reception. For example, Dragon Ball hadn’t ranked any lower than #5 on the ToC for its last five years, while One Piece’s lowest ToC ranking was at #10 all the way back at Chapter 5 in 1997. In comparison, manga that just don’t make it always find themselves in the back half eventually, before having their final chapters appear at the very end of their respective issues. After that, we have “kantou/lead color”, which simply means that a manga’s chapter is not just starting the issue it appears in, but is also given fully colorized opening pages. Finally, we have “all color”, which simply means that every page of a chapter is colorized to some extent, usually utilizing different tones of red alongside the black & white, and in greyscale reprints you can easily tell if a page was done in color originally, because of the shading; this was a common thing to see in Jump up through the 90s, but has since stopped happening. Obviously, these are done for promotional purposes, as a way to advertise specific manga for that issue. There’s one more phrase we’ll be seeing, but we’ll get to it when it becomes relevant, so let’s get started.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Retrospect in Retrograde: Shin Seiki Den Mars

Previously on the Mars 45th Anniversary Retrospective:
"Simply put, the Mars OVA went into production with all of the best intentions, and the director & writer certainly had grand ambitions with it, as you don't claim to surpass Yasuhiro Imagawa's magnum opus without actually intending to do so. However... KSS couldn't even show enough leniency to allow for more than just two episodes of Mars. What we got is extremely solid & shows a lot of potential, but it's all completely unfulfilled."

Following the cancellation of KSS Films' OVA adaptation of Mars after only two episodes, would you believe that there weren't any other direct adaptations of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's works for the better part of an entire decade? Yeah, aside from the remaining three episodes of Yasuhiro Imagawa's Giant Robo OVA series coming out from late 1994 to early 1998 (yes, the last episode took nearly three years to finally come out), there was seemingly no interest whatsoever in Yokoyama's catalog when it came to anime. The drought would end in the early 00s, though, with Yokoyama being chosen to be part of an interesting group of anime that were being produced & aired on AT-X.

Each episode has a different eyecatch,
but the first is the best one, by far

First broadcasting on Christmas Eve of 1997, Anime Theater X/AT-X is an anime-focused offshoot premium channel of TV Tokyo that's available in Japan via satellite, cable, or IPTV, with one of its main appeals being that it can air uncensored versions of anime that TV Tokyo itself can't. From mid-2001 to mid-2003, though, the channel tried something interesting by introducing the "AT-X Chomei Sakka/Famous Author Series", which took seven iconic mangaka & produced ten brand new anime based around various works of theirs, with the majority being based on lesser known titles; the actual quality of these shows ranged wildly, though, from really good to really bad. Specifically, the authors chosen were Leiji Matsumoto (Cosmo Warrior Zero, Gun Frontier, Submarine Super 99), Shotaro Ishinomori (Genma Wars: Age of Mythology), Mikiya Mochizuki (Wild 7 Another), Go Nagai (Demon Lord Dante), Ken Ishikawa (Beast Fighter: The Apocalypse), Takao Saito (Barom 1) &, relevant to our focus, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who received two brand new anime. The first was late 2001's Babel II: Beyond Infinity, which I saw some of long ago & found really bland (though the OP theme by Lapis Lazuli is excellent), while the second was late 2002's Shin Seiki Den/Tale of the Divine Century Mars. What's interesting about this 13-episode anime, though, is the fact that the person hired to write the entire series was Keisuke Fujikawa, the very man who wildly reinterpreted Yokoyama's original 1976 manga into TMS' Rokushin Gattai God Mars in 1981, with promotional posters even advertising this as a sort of crossover between Yokoyama & Fujikawa; I mean, even the new anime's title made sure to include the kanji for "god" in it.

I had originally reviewed Shin Seiki Den Mars back in October of 2011, but it's one where I went solely off of memory, barely said anything of substance about it, & didn't even bring up Fujikawa's involvement; this is perfect for a Retrospect in Retrograde re-review. So with full knowledge of what the original manga is like, & how its previous attempt at a direct adaption come out, let's see how the final adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars truly fares, especially with the writer of God Mars behind the script.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Mars (OVA): All of the Imagawa-Crushing Ambition, But With None of the Corporate Support

Previously on the Mars 45th Anniversary Retrospective:
"In the end, it's really easy to see why Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars wound up being a manga that would see interpretations over the course of three different decades. It's a high-concept idea at its heart, but as the story advances it doles out both frenetic action sequences that mix things up with each encounter as well as new tidbits of plot that introduce new details, revealing just enough of a multi-faceted story that the reader can chew on."

Four years after Mars' shocking final chapter appeared in Weekly Shonen Champion in early 1977, TMS would debut an anime titled Rokushin Gattai God Mars in late 1981. However, rather than simply adapt Mitsuteru Yokoyama's five-volume manga, God Mars only took the basic concept & instead told a completely original story, with Yokoyama himself giving the staff free reign. While new lead Takeru Myojin was similar to Mars in that he was sent to earth to destroy it with Gaia, the main difference is that he was sent down by Emperor Zuul of the planet Gishin as a baby, so he grew up loving humanity & decided to protect it with Gaia. Also, the titular "Six Gods" were changed into being five giant robots built by Takeru's father in order to protect his son, and now they can combine with Gaia to form the God Mars; Uraeus wasn't invited to the party. Finally, Takeru/Mars was given a sibling named Marg, who often fought his brother in battle for the side of Gishin, which in turn would help lead to the show's success, as women just loved shipping Takeru & Marg together in fan fiction; I mean, it's not like the horribly bland-looking giant robots were encouraging toy sales. After 64 episodes finishing at the tail end of 1982, as well as a feature-length recap/alternate telling film, God Mars would remain the sole anime adaptation of Yokoyama's Mars for over a decade, as loosely interpreted as it was, and today remains the most well known take of them all, manga or otherwise, even appearing a handful of times in the Super Robot Wars franchise. There was also a single-episode OVA in 1988 that put the focus on Marg, due to sustained popularity.

Six years after the God Mars OVA came out, though, Yokoyama's short manga would see new life, and this time in its original form... Somewhat.


Originally founded in 1988, Kamakura Super Station started making moves into co-producing anime around 1989, with the 12-episode OVA adaptation of Guyver: The Bio-Boosted Armor. In 1993, though, the now renamed KSS, Inc. started producing OVAs (& even some video games) on its own, starting with Mask of Zeguy, & before eventually going bankrupt in 2004 it was responsible for stuff like Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, Mighty Space Miners, Tattoon Master, Ogre Slayer, Golden Boy, Iczer Girl Iczelion, Maps (1994), Dangazier 3, Dragoon/Ryuki Densho, & Phantom the Animation, as well as numerous hentai under its Pink Pineapple label. Shockingly enough, a good majority of KSS' catalog did see release in North America during the 90s & 00s, especially during the VHS & early DVD days, and today Softgarage owns the rights to KSS' entire catalog. However, KSS apparently had a very strict policy when it came to OVAs, which was that only the first two episodes would be guaranteed to see release from the start, with more episodes only happening should sales warrant them. To be fair, this is understandable, since the OVA boom was over by this point & the market was much smaller & less lucrative. However, this didn't mean that KSS actually designed its OVAs to be only two episodes long, with potential for more, but rather KSS would simply leave stories unfinished if they undersold. For example, Mighty Space Miners was written for six episodes, and even had episode titles for all of them, but poor sales resulted in it being left unfinished after only the first two.

This is what would befall KSS' OVA adaptation of Mars in mid-1994, one of the rare KSS titles to NOT see English release, as only two episodes ever saw release on VHS & LD, despite plans to adapt the entire manga. However, unlike Mighty Space Miners, this take on Mars did see a two-volume novelization, subtitled Silent Crisis & Silent Harmageddon, that came out not long afterwards, and that apparently does tell the entire intended story. In fact, according to a conversation between director Junji Nishimura & writer Masashi Sogo recorded in these novelizations, they were hoping to create something that would even surpass Yasuhiro Imagawa's Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which by that point was four episodes through its (eventual) seven-episode run; talk about aiming high. Softgarage would eventually re-release the Mars OVA across two DVDs in 2002 & still offers it via streaming on its website as a digital rental; you can watch the first episode for free & it's not even region locked! So while I can't really judge this OVA on the merits as a full adaptation, I can at least see if there was potential in it, and if it truly had the possibility of even matching up with Imagawa's magnum opus, let alone come close to surpassing it.