Friday, December 24, 2010

Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow: Toei Finally Takes This Series Seriously

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner, alongside the other seasons, via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.

Now I wasn't quite sure of what review to do today, especially since I didn't really have anything Christmas-y on my list of shows to review. Luckily, my CDJapan order of Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow Volume 3 arrived much faster than I had planned on it arriving, so I decided to re-watch those first two DVDs I bought back in the late-summer/early-fall as well as watch this last DVD. And with that comes my holiday gift to all of you: A review of an anime that no one seemed to give a damn about this year!

Now when I say that no one gave a damn about this show this year, I mean ABSOLUTELY NO ONE! The idea of a third season of the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime was hinted at back in early 2009 when Masami Kurumada posted an image on his blog that showed a new song he was writing for something called "Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai-hen". Nothing else would come from this until that December when Toei announced Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow at Jump Festa 2010. The big change from that announcement would be that the anime would air on Animax's PPV service rather than TV Asahi, where the past two seasons originally aired. It would also debut in April 2010, about 4 years after Season 2 aired, and have two episodes made available for a limited time in April, May, and June, totaling 6 episodes, half the length of the previous seasons.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

B't X: Kurumada's Take on Mechs

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.

When it comes to anime adaptations of Masami Kurumada mangas there are usually at least one of these links: Either Toei animated it or Shingo Araki & Michi Himeno did the character designs. Saint Seiya and Ring ni Kakero 1 have both links and Fuma no Kojiro at least has Araki & Himeno as the link. B't X (pronounced "Beat X"), on the other hand, is the outlier to this, as it has no real links to the other adaptations. Putting that aside, though, B't X is actually really good manga, and the 25-episode TV anime adaptation of it from 1996 is pretty good.

Kotaro Takamiya is a child prodigy from a Kamui Island, a small island off the coast of Japan, when it comes to robotics. At a young age he leaves home to go to Berlin so that he can learn more, leaving behind his little brother Teppei. Five years later he invites Teppei to Beijing for Mechatopia, where Kotaro will reveal his findings on how humans can create robots with actual intelligence. Shortly after meeting up again a mysterious group called the Machine Empire kidnaps Kotaro and brings him to The Area, their home base hidden within the Gobi Desert. Luckily, Teppei had been trained during those five years by Karen, one of the Empire's strongest warriors called the "Spirit Generals" who became a traitor and escaped, and was able to follow Kotaro to The Area. If Teppei has any chance at rescung Kotaro he'll have to find B't X, Karen's old robotic partner.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ring ni Kakero 1 Pilot Film: Five Minutes of Yamauchi

Now that we've taken a look at the first two seasons of Ring ni Kakero 1, let's go back to early 2004, before the first season aired. Again, to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 30th Anniversary as a manga-ka, Toei decided to return to their anime adaptation of Kurumada's international hit, Saint Seiya. Not only was Toei going  to adapt the Hades Chapter of the manga, which they started doing early work on back during the TV series' airing but stopped doing after the show was canceled, but they were also going to team up with Kurumada himself to create Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen Jousou ~Overture~, a theatrically-released movie that was going to continue the Seiya story from where the manga left off at by. 

Both the first Hades OVA, Hades Sanctuary, and Tenkai-hen movie were directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi, who had previously and since directed the two Dr. Slump TV series, some of the Dragon Ball Z movies, the Street Fighter Alpha movie, Xenosaga the Animation, and Casshern SINS. Also, the Tenkai-hen movie was going to lead into a future TV series that would continue the Heaven Chapter that the movie started, hence the "Overture" part of the title. Unfortunately, while the Hades Sanctuary OVA is highly regarded as possibly the best part of the Saint Seiya anime in its entirety the Tenkai-hen movie, while still an interesting movie, ended up being a very different story than what Kurumada had wanted, and his disappointment with it resulted in him pulling Yamauchi off of all future Hades OVA productions and the proposed Heaven Chapter TV series was canceled before production could really start. But we're not here to talk about Seiya, we're here to talk about Ring ni Kakero 1...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ring ni Kakero 1: Nichibei Kessen-hen: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner, alongside the other seasons, via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.

OK, what with the reveal of Season 4 of Ring ni Kakero 1 happening just today I still can't forget that I was in the middle of reviewing the other seasons that had been made already. So with that let's get into Season 2...

I had not mentioned it in Season 1's review, but "Ring ni Kakero" translates roughly as "Put it All in the Ring", which is completely fitting for this story, as every main character is always willing to put everything they have into their matches... Well, except for Kenzaki, but that's because he's just that good. I feel that the translation was appropriate to mention now mainly because this season adds a subtitle, Nichibei Kessen-hen, which is even more Japanese to take in. Anyway, the subtitle is a very tough thing to translate, as it can be taken literally as "The Pacific War Chapter" or you can be loose with it and call  it the "Japan vs. USA Chapter" (Sentai translated an episode of Eyeshield 21 that has the same name as this season as the latter, so I'd go with that).

Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen Officially Announced at Jump Festa 2011!

Oh hell yeah! Season 4 of Ring ni Kakero 1!  I was hoping that this would be announced this weekened, and it was. As for the "Masami Kurumada Project", this might be a part of it, but Kurumada himself put on his blog a picture of a Pegasus Saint from the back. More than likely it's Seiya, indicating something related to the original series' canon. But for now let's talk about Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen!

First off, the subtitle translates to "World Tournament Chapter", which is the main story arc that the previous seasons were all leading up to, so there's obviously going to be a lot to live up to. As for the cast, it seems like every major character from the last three seasons are back, so the new names on the cast list are for the members of Team Greece, and so far the only name I can confirm is that member Theseus is voiced by Kazuya Nakai (a.k.a. Zoro from One Piece and Hijikata from Gintama, among other roles). This is actually great news, as Nakai already voiced Theseus, albeit it very shortly, in the 2003 Pilot Film, so it's great to see that Toei is keeping with continuity from that film. 

Also, the director for this season is yet another person, which seems to be a pattern with this anime. Seasons 1 and 3 were directed by Toshiaki Komura while Season 2 was directed by Yukio Kaizawa, but Season 4 is done by someone else and I can't tell who right now. Finally, this season is co-produced by Sammy, who makes the very-popular pachislot machines based on Ring ni Kakero 1. While Sammy had sponsored the airings of Seasons 1 & 2, Toei produced Season 3 solo, so it's interesting to see Sammy putting their money directly into the production this time.

This should be good...

Anime © Masami Kurumada/Shueisha・Toei Animation・Sammy

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ring ni Kakero 1: "The Giant Robo of Boxing Anime"

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner, alongside the other seasons, via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.

The quotes are in the title for one simple reason: I didn't create that tagline. All the credit for that line goes to Andrew Cunningham, a translator who has worked on titles like Parasyte, the Boogiepop Phantom novels, and the Kino's Journey novel. He runs the Eastern Standard blog with two friends, which I do recommend taking a look at. And, yes, the line is an appropriate way to describe this show.

Oh boy, this is an anime that I really wanted to do a piece on, but I wanted to wait a little so that I could get used to this whole blog-posting thing... That is, until Toei dropped the whole "Masami Kurumada Project" thing that will be revealed at Jump Festa. And since Ring ni Kakero 1 seems to be a large focus for Toei in regards to this "project" I can't just wait anymore. It's time to talk about the one anime that I would love to see licensed for North American distribution more than any other title!

As I said in my Fuma no Kojirou: Yasha-hen review, Ring ni Kakero was the first manga to be considered a giant hit for Shueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump magazine (or at least a hit that wasn't due to infamy or had an even more popular anime going alongside it). Creator Masami Kurumada made the title as an homage to the legendary boxing manga Ashita no Joe, and since its debut in 1977 it's hard to downplay the manga's influence, especially on what one can call "shonen action/fighting manga". Yes, Dragon Ball wasn't the originator of the many traditions, cliches, and tropes that shonen fighting manga have nowadays; it definitely popularized them and, one can argue, refined them, though. Anyway, as popular as the manga was, Ring ni Kakero wasn't given an anime TV series until 2004 (the "1" was added to the title in the 2001 reprint due to the sequel, Ring ni Kakero 2, being serialized in Super Jump at the time) as part of a celebration of Masami Kurumada's 25th Anniversary as a manga-ka (and before people ask "If it was so popular then why wasn't it animated back then?", consider the fact that Kochikame & Golgo 13 weren't given anime TV series until decades later, either). The TV series itself seems to have been produced due to positive fan reaction towards a "Manga DVD" that was pretty much an audio re-enactment of a scene from the manga with panels of the manga used for the video. Then in 2003 there was a 5-minute pilot film that was made alongside the production of the Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen ~Overture~ movie. I'll talk about the pilot film at a later time, but let's focus on the 12-episode 2004 TV series.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The "Burning Blood" Has Burned Out: A Final Look at Kurumada Manga North of Mexico

TokyoPop's release of B't X Volume 16, the last volume of the series, a couple of weeks ago give me mixed feelings; I am so glad to see it be fully released in North America, but at the same time it makes me have to accept something...  This will probably be the last time that a Masami Kurumada manga is released in the United States and Canada.

Masami Kurumada started his career as a manga artist/manga-ka back in 1974 with this first short story, Otoko Raku (made while in high school but went unpublished), but none of his works ever came to the United States and Canada until January 21, 2004, when Viz released the first volume of Kurumada's international hit, Saint Seiya. Oh wait, "Saint Seiya" was only the subtitle at that point; Viz released the manga under the name Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya. I had talked to Mari Morimoto, the translator for Viz's release of Saint Seiya, during MangaNEXT this past October and she admitted that she had recommended Seiya to Viz for many years, but Viz kept telling her that the manga was "too old" to release over here... That is, until DiC licensed the first 60 episodes of the anime adaptation of Saint Seiya. All of a sudden Viz was all over licensing the original manga, and at the very least they contacted Morimoto about having her translate it. But it was obvious that Viz was hoping that DiC's adaptation of Saint Seiya, which would be called Knights of the Zodiac, would be a big hit in the United States and Canada and that it would translate into manga sales, even though the title was already 18 years old at that point.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fuma no Kojirou: Yasha-hen: Masami Kurumada's Take on Ninjas

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner, alongside the other OVAs in this series, via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.

With the reveal of a "Masami Kurumada Project" from Toei Animation looming over at Jump Festa 2011 this upcoming weekend I've decided to start taking a look at some of the anime adaptations of Masami Kurumada's mangas earlier than I had planned on doing. Let me say this right away, though: I most likely will not cover Saint Seiya. Seiya is Kurumada's most well-known creation, and even in North America that title has had penetration, though it admittedly has been very rocky; ADV's release of the anime only covered the first 60 episodes due to DiC only licensing that many episodes of the show, not to mention DiC's shame of an adaptation called Knights of the Zodiac giving Kurumada's works a horrible first impression in North America, and Viz's release of the manga, though completed early this year and a fine-enough release, is only going to get tougher to buy all of due to low sales. Still, Saint Seiya is a little too well-known to really cover in detail on this blog, not to mention that the anime is really long. Maybe in the future I'll give a look over at how hard of a time his works have had in North America, and that would mostly cover Saint Seiya, but that's for another time. For now, let's take a look at ninjas...

Fuma no Kojirou, or Kojirou of the Fuma when translated, is easily best described as "Masami Kurumada's fourth-most-well-known title". It doesn't have anywhere near the same popularity as Saint Seiya, Ring ni Kakero, or B't X, but at the same time it isn't one of his one-shots or canceled titles. In fact, the manga's original run in Weekly Shonen Jump from early 1982 to late 1983 gave the title a total of ten volumes. Back in 1982 this title was highly anticipated, as Ring ni Kakero was a giant hit for Weekly Shonen Jump, and Shueisha in general. Before that title Weekly Shonen Jump didn't exactly have a "mega-hit". Also, before 1977 Jump's biggest name was Go Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen, and that was only because the title was so "dirty" that the PTA was trying to kill it off! Finally, though Jump legend Kochikame debuted in 1976 and is still running in the magazine to this day, the title didn't seem to become the legend it would be right away. Anyway, after creating such a popular manga, Kurumada's next work was definitely going to be looked at with high regard.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What is Toei Animation's "Masami Kurumada Project"?

What's Ring ni Kakero 1, you say? Well, I'll get to reviewing the anime soon (and going off of this news much sooner than I had originally planned), but it's the anime adaptation of Saint Seiya creator Masami Kurumada's first hit manga. Professional manga translator Andrew Cunningham lovingly calls it "The Giant Robo of Boxing Anime", and I can't argue with that description.

Anyway, when you go to this webpage there's a bunch of Japanese, obviously, but here's what I can get from it:
1. There will be something Ring ni Kakero 1-related at the upcoming Jump Festa 2010.
2. Toei Animation will be revealing the "Masami Kurumada Project" on December 18 from 12:00-12:30.
3. There will also be a Ring ni Kakero 1 talk session at that time with Masakazu Morita and Takeshi Kusao, the voices of main characters Ryuji Takane and Ishimatsu Katori, respectively.
4. There will also be "surprise news" regarding "that title".

Now consider that Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow, the 6-episode third season of the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime, was officially announced at Jump Festa last year after Kurumada himself hinted on his blog of a new season at the beginning of 2009. I've also heard rumors that Toei is planning on animating Saint Seiya Next Dimension, the officially canon sequel/prequel to Saint Seiya (it's a little complicated to explain how it's both a prequel and a sequel), for 2011. This idea that Toei has big plans for Kurumada's works next year, with Ring ni Kakero 1 seemingly a part of it, definitely leads one to believe that not only might we actually get a Next Dimension anime... But we'll be getting a Season 4 of Ring ni Kakero 1!

For those who don't know why a Season 4 of Ring ni Kakero 1 is making me so excited, it's mainly because it would be the anime adaptation of the big plot point that all of the previous seasons were heavily hyping: The World Jr. Boxing Tournament! I'll do my best to explain why I really love this anime, and why it is, by far, my most wanted North American anime license in my reviews, but I'm just going to say right now that if you enjoy straight-up shonen action, if you enjoy Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball Z, or any other shonen fighting title, and if you can accept a good dose of over-the-top in your sports anime then you have to check out Ring ni Kakero 1!

Next Senki Ehrgeiz: The First Late-Night Mech Anime?

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.

Today I'm going to talk about Ehrgeiz... No, not that Ehrgeiz!  I really can't talk too much about this show using the name Entertainment used. Yes, it is part of the full title, but when said alone most people are going to think about Square's collaboration with Namco that led to the title infamously known as "that fighting game that has Final Fantasy VII characters in it". And to make it all the more confusing, both this anime and that game came out in the very same year!

Next Senki/Record of Next War Ehrgeiz, translated as Ehrgeiz: The Next War in its North American release, is one of the early examples of late-night anime, which got their big start in 1997. The animation budget is low, as were most of them at that time, it's mostly obscure now, as a fair number of them also are, and the story isn't anything amazingly special... But I can't help but really enjoy this title.

In the future the people of Earth start expanding into space by creating the "Next" colonies. Years later Next would rebel, forming the Next Government and starting a war with the Earth Government. This prompted both sides into modifying their MVs/Metal Vehicles, the giant mechs of this title, for battle use. In the meantime, a third force appeared in the form of Terra, who rebelled against Earth and wanted peace to return. Throughout all of this, Next started experimenting and created S.A.C (System of Absolutely Conscience [ah, Engrish]), or "S" for short, an MV-like being that broke free and escaped from Next. All the meanwhile, a small batch of unknown outlaws make their living pilfering weapons & rations from any nearby ships that come by their home of Next 7, a colony which was ravaged during the war.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Roots of Japanese Anime: Man, Anime Was Weird Before Astro Boy...

Tetsuwan Atom, a.k.a. Astro Boy, is generally considered the first "modern-day" anime. Before it, anime wasn't really made for television and there really wasn't anything done in a similar style before it. It's easy to argue that if Astro Boy wasn't made we might not have gotten titles like Tetsujin 28, Dororo, the original Cyborg 009 anime, and, if you want to push it somewhat, any other anime made for television, regardless of whether it was adapted from a manga or was an original creation. In fact, most of what you could call "anime" before then was mainly made for advertising or propaganda purposes. Zakka Films, who seem to have died out already, gave North America a small piece of that vague era of anime back in 2008 with their only DVD release "The Roots of Japanese Anime Until the End of WII with 8 Ground-Breaking Films". Well, I certainly can't say that the title doesn't tell you what you get from this.

Zakka Films treats this release not as a piece of entertainment, which is how anime is generally treated nowadays, but rather as a piece of researched history. Along with the DVD itself you get an eleven-page booklet that not only talks about each feature with some nice historic detail but also a prologue that explains the origins of Japanese animation. It's really an interesting read and makes an excellent compliment to the DVD. The features themselves are shown in chronological order and are dated from 1930 to 1942. Also, with exception to the last feature, none of them go beyond 15 minutes in length. But the most interesting thing about these features is that some of them are, without a shadow of a doubt, some of the downright weirdest anime you can buy in North America.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Haja Taisei Dangaioh: The Forgotten "Start-of-it-All"

This anime has since been re-reviewed in a more comprehensive & detailed manner, literally 10 years after this original review, via Retrospect in Retrograde, which you can read at this link.
You know, a little part of me is still amazed that Dangaioh still isn't regularly available in the North American anime market. This title is not only a part of the history of the North American anime industry, but it’s arguably one of the biggest parts of its history. Before 1990 all anime that was made available in North America was dubbed into English, usually edited for time or content, and was either aired on TV or shown in theaters or it was released straight to video. U.S. Renditions, the then new anime label of Books Nippan (which itself was the U.S. branch of book wholesale company Nippon Shuppan Hanbai), was the first company whose focus was on releasing anime in its original Japanese-language version, with English subtitles so that people could understand what was being said. Their first releases were Gunbuster, i.e. the OVA that originally put GAINAX on the map before Evangelion made them legends, and Haja Taisei Dangaioh, simply called “Dangaio” by U.S. Renditions. These two OVAs were, to my knowledge, the very first anime to be made available in North America uncut, unedited, and subtitled. Gunbuster has since gotten a very nice DVD release by Bandai Visual USA, though it was never cheap to buy and is now Out-of-Print, but Dangaioh has gotten the short end of the stick since its original release across three VHS tapes.

This OVA is the creation of Toshihiro Hirano, now working under the name Toshiki Hirano. Anime fans might recognize the man as the director of titles like the Iczer Trilogy, the Hades Project Zeorymer OVA, Magic Knight Rayearth TV, The Devil Lady, and most recently Angel Heart and two of the movies within the Fist of the North Star: New Savior Legend series. Hirano was definitely a name back in the 80s and still was fairly known in the 90s, but with the new decade his output has definitely lessened. The basic story is that four teenagers, Mia Alice, Roll Kran, Lamba Nom, and Pai Thunder, are abducted by the scientist Professor Tarsan and erased of their memories. They also have differing psychic powers, but it’s never really indicated if Tarsan gave them the powers or if they already had them. Either way, the four are meant to become elite soldiers for The Bunker, an evil group of “space pirates” who love destruction and power, but decide to escape from Tarsan so that they can hope to regain their memories. They do end up teaming up with Tarsan, though, so that they can fight The Bunker and stop them for good.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ashita no Joe Movie Can Now be Had for Mere Dollars!

Back in April of 2008 Tai Seng, who mainly licenses and releases Chinese live-action movies, released their first 100% Japanese anime in the form of Champion Joe, which was the first compilation movie for the legendary boxing tite Ashita no Joe/Tomorrow's Joe. While Tai Seng did release Legend of Condor Hero in the past, it was a China/Japan co-production and their release only had Chinese and English audio, whereas the Joe movie had Japanese and English audio.

Well if you look around online now (Right Stuf, Best Buy, etc.) you'll find out that the MSRP for the movie has now changed to $7.95, less than half of its original $19.98 MSRP! At this point there is no excuse not to buy the release, as it's an excellent truncated adaptation of Ashita no Joe's first half. Also, at 152 minutes/2.5 hours it's certainly not skipping all too much, though some extra details are skipped over in the beginning portions. Still, this is more than likely the only way we'll ever get any form of this legendary title, and though the English dub is mostly lackluster the original Japanese audio still holds up rather well and it's definitely a title worth owning. It's been called the Japanese equivalent of the Rocky movies, and that comparison is somewhat appropriate.

I fully recommend this for fans of sports anime as well as fans of really good drama. Now if only we could get the second compilation movie that covers the second half of the story...

Source: Right Stuf listing

Anime © Tetsuya Chiba/Asao Takamori

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Media Blasters Announces Mazinkaiser SKL license and "Vocal Collections"

After having some bad hiccups in terms of releases being delayed, some indefinitely at the time, due to their warehouse moving to The Right Stuf International, and a new distribution deal with Allegro Media Group, Media Blasters is certainly coming back with some renewed vigor. Not only are their delayed shows being worked on, and that includes Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, but they are slowly getting back to releasing their continually-delayed releases, like their Remaster of Magic Knight Rayearth 2. But arguably the biggest news just came within these past two days.

First of is their announcement that they licensed the 3-episode Mazinkaiser SKL OVA, which hasn't even been released in Japan yet, and are planning to release that on one DVD in May of next year, with a BD release depending on Japan's release! Just by looking at the 3-minute promo that they're showing off, this OVA looks to be great destructive fun in the way that only Go Nagai can do. Here's hoping that this can lead to Media Blasters trying out mech anime more often again. There are just so many titles that could be brought over: Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, Koutetsushin Jeeg, the Mazinkaiser movie (how ADV released, and year later re-released only the OVA is just astounding), among other titles... And hopefully, finally, GaoGaiGar FINAL.

The second piece of news just came in, and it's the announcement that Media Blasters will be returning to some of their sub-only releases and giving them brand-new dual audio releases under the "Vocal Collection" name. The first two announced are BL title Loveless and yuri title Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl. Now Loveless was a given, as Media Blasters head John Sirabella already said that Loveless sold so well as a sub-only release that a dubbed release was going to happen once sales slow down, but Kashimashi is a nice surprise to go with it.

Now there's a slight renewed hope for what I'd love to see: King of Braves GaoGaiGar Season Two Vocal Collection! I'm sure Mike Sinterniklaas would gladly come back to New York solely so that he could voice Gai Shishioh once again... And Dan Green as Kotaro Taiga was just godly, and Taiga becomes all the more badass in the second half of the show.

Source: Mania 1, Mania 2

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This is The Land of Obscusion!

Welcome to my first blog post! This is "The Land of Obscusion: The Home of Obscure Anime". While I do enjoy the more well-known titles that I have seen, one of my favorite things is to watch the anime that probably slipped under the radar of most people, and the same goes for manga. When a title becomes obscure but still worth checking out it could potentially end up here: A land where they can get the focus that they might otherwise not ever get.

I have done close to 100 videos on YouTube throughout the past year or so, which you can view over here, but sometimes typing out what you want to say works better. As one can see I only did so many involving anime and I'll eventually make typed posts about those shows sooner or later, but there's so many titles that I could talk about here. Also, when there's news about something that interests me, I'll post my thoughts here. So hopefully this blog will grow and you'll eventually enjoy your time here... Because this is The Land of Obscusion!

*yes, the name of the blog is a silly alteration of the Genesis song "Land of Confusion"... deal with it*