Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tohai Densetsu Akagi: Life, Death, and Mahjong

Mahjong is a popular game in Asian countries, so naturally there are going to be manga based around it, or at least have a part of the story be about it. It's also very well known that mahjong is a big gambling game, with movies such as Rush Hour 2 showing how illegal mahjong gambling parlors can very popular. In Japan there's a magazine published by Takeshobo called Kindai Mahjong, and every single manga in it is about mahjong. In 2005 animation studio Madhouse decided to make an anime adaptation of what is probably Kindai Mahjong's most successful title ever. There was nothing like it when it in anime when it debuted, where it immediately became the top-rated late-night anime at the time of its airing, not to mention that it took the place of the anime adaptation of Naoki Urasawa's Monster... And to this day there still isn't anything quite like it. This is the story of Shigeru Akagi, the demon of the illegal mahjong world.

Tohai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai, which can translate to Mahjong Legend Akagi: The Genius who Descended into the Darkness, is the brainchild of Nobuyuki Fukumoto, a mangaka who is legendary for his stories that revolve around gambling. Akagi is far from Fukumoto's only mahjong title either, as he had done this type of title before Akagi and has made it a focus in later stories. But Akagi might just be his best mahjong title, as it truly shows that in order to defeat your opponents you might just have to be even more of a devil than they themselves are.

It's 1958 and Japan is just starting to return to some sort of normalcy after its loss in World War II. But one thing that hasn't changed is the illegal gambling going on in the country. Nangou is just a normal guy who, though some bad luck, has ended up in a game of mahjong with the local yakuza. If Nangou wins he'll get a large sum of money, but if he loses, he's dead. Unfortunately, Nangou's luck is still bad and he's only doing worse. He decides that if he wants to live then he's willing to make a deal with the devil himself. Almost on cue, a teenage boy walks into the parlor, drenched by the pouring rain outside. The yakuza decide to let him stay and dry up, and the boy sits behind Nangou. Not long after, he insults Nangou for his piss-poor playing style that relies too much on luck, even though he himself has never payed mahjong, and offers some advice. Nangou decides to take it and he wins a hand. Seeing that he's got nothing else to lose, he asks the boy his name and offers to trade places with him. The boy calls himself Shigeru Akagi and agrees to do so...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kaiji Season 2 is Finally a GO!

From October of 2007 to April of 2008 NTV aired Kaiji, a gambling anime based on the Nobuyuki Fukumoto manga of the same name. It told the story of Kaiji Itou, a bum-of-sorts who ends up getting continually caught up in insane gambling games, all of which have a relation to a psychotic old man. And these aren't for small change, either; Kaiji starts off with a debt of 3.85 million yen and it just goes crazy from there.

Season 1 was dark, sad, both hopeful and hopeless, but most of all it was awesome. It was the second show in what I call the "Madhouse Gambling Trilogy" and is, by far, one of the greatest anime I have ever seen. A second season was promised shortly after the show ended, but it's taken roughly 3 years for anything to come of it. But it's coming...  Kaiji Season 2 will debut on April 5! You want to know what to expect from this? Well all I'll say is this: Pachinko Machine From Hell.

Honestly, the past few seasons haven't caught my interest like they used to, but this Winter has had some nice shows to watch, and this upcoming Spring is looking to be even better. Kaiji Season 2 being added to it just makes it all the more awesome.

Oh, yes, and this does mean that the next reviews you'll be seeing from me will be of the "Madhouse Gambling Trilogy" of Akagi, Kaiji, and One Outs. Look forward to those, because those will definitely be in-depth reviews much like the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime reviews.

Source: ANN Article

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Platinumhugen Ordian: Eva with Norse Mythos?

Neon Genesis Evangelion was not like anything that came before it, especially when it came to the mech genre of anime. So obviously when something like it became big other anime studios and creators were going to imitate it, but interestingly enough there weren't too many mech anime that went for a similar feel, at least to my knowledge. Now most people will quickly point out titles like RahXephon and Fafner in the Azure, which both do have a similar feel to Eva, but most people don't seem to know about a title that predates both and also was very Eva-ish: Platinumhugen Ordian, which aired back in 2000.

The story starts with main character Yu Kananase lying down on a grass riverbed, apparently having been in a fight with a local gang. His old childhood friend Satoru Tachibana finds him and they talk. Yu and Tachibana had not seen each other in a few years since Tachibana ended up joining the military. Seeing that he has nowhere else to go, and after a little coaxing from Tachibana, Yu joins the International Military Organization, or I.M.O. for short, which is the group Tachibana now works for. The I.M.O. is a type of special forces organzation where people are taught to pilot Rim Hugens (likely meant to be Limb Hugen), the mechs of this show, and fight in actual warfare when the military calls upon them. After joining the I.M.O. Yu reunites with Nanna, another childhood friend who he had not seen since he was little, and he meets Wolf, the prodigy pilot of his class. Yu's hesitation to join the I.M.O., though, mostly came from the fact that his big sister Kaori is a higher-up in the organization, and after a traumatic moment involving their parents Yu and Kaori have grown apart.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Half-Way There": A Look at Enoki Films USA's Catalog Part 3

And it's a three-peat!  What can I say...  Enoki Films USA's site died moths after these posts went up.

Well, here we are. This is the third and last part of my look at the titles in Enoki Films USA's catalog that should really be given a look at. We end off this look with the Sci-fi & Manga category, which I think is actually the smallest category within Enoki's catalog. So let's not waste time and let's go straight in:

8 Man After (4 episodes)
8 Man is an older property, having debuted on TV back in 1963 after the manga already had finished its run in Shonen Magazine. In 1965 it was brought over to North America under the name Tobor the Eighth Man and is, in a sense, the Japanese equivalent to Robocop, though it predates that movie series by a good 20 years or so. But the similarity is there in that they both are about a man who was turned into a cyborg cop. In 1993 a sequel OVA was made called 8 Man After, which is about a brand new 8 Man, but this new hero is a much more willing to be violent than the original was. Streamline licensed the OVA and produced an English dub, and in 2001 Image Entertainment released the OVA on DVD as the "Perfect Collection"... A Perfect Collection that didn't have the original Japanese version in it at all. It's usually interesting to see a new version of an older property, and since the anime adaptation of the recent 8 Man Infinity manga is still in development hell a re-release of 8 Man After that actually has both the English dub and the original Japanese version would be cool to see.

[3/2015 UPDATE: Well, it took about five years since I first did this post (& the dissolution of Enoki USA), but Enoki Films looks to be working with a new anime company of choice, Discotek Media! Later this year, Discotek will be giving 8 Man After a new DVD release, done in the original OVA format instead of Streamline's movie edit, but while also being a dual-audio release, like I had hoped for.]

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Half-Way There": A Look at Enoki Films USA's Catalog Part 2

The first time we took a look at Enoki Films' catalog we took a look at the titles within the company's "Action Adventure" section. In this part we'll be taking a look at the company's "Anime Action" section. Before we take a look at titles within this section that are potentially worth looking at, let's go over that infamous deal between Enoki Films USA and Media Blasters that I alluded to a few times in Part 1.

Yeah, it's a repeat...  So sue me.

Back in the early 2000s Media Blasters licensed four shows from Enoki: Knight Hunters/Weiss Kreuz, Gokudo, Zenki, and Fortune Quest L. Apparently MB said that they would only release all of Zenki if the first collection of 13 episodes, which is what CPM released back on VHS, sold well enough. Well Zenki got fully released and I guess Gokudo did well enough, because in 2002 MB licensed and released a large batch of titles from Enoki: Babel II: Beyond Infinity, Genma Wars, Gun Frontier, and Cosmo Warrior Zero. MB also licensed some shows but never released them: Wild 7 Another, Demon Lord Dante (this would later see release via Geneon), Barom One, and Mars (I'm going to guess this would have been Shin Seiki Den Mars, the most recent anime adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars manga). While that first batch sold well this second batch was infamous for not only selling poorly but also being filled with less-than-stellar licenses, and Babel II and Genma Wars are generally considered straight-up crap. It was such a bad deal that Media Blasters never released all of their licenses, the ones I mentioned before, and Fortune Quest only got one DVD released. John Sirabella himself has recalled that deal as being very sour and not one he would want to go through again. And if you looks at Enoki's catalog, you'll see that the second batch of titles came entirely from the "Anime Action" section... So, yeah, this section of the catalog is pretty infamous, but there's still some titles in here worth taking a look at:

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Half-Way There": A Look at Enoki Films USA's Catalog Part 1

Enoki Films Co., Ltd. is an interesting beast in the North American anime industry. Generally an anime licensor (take your pick: FUNimation, Sentai Filmworks, Anime Midstream, etc.) licenses anime from the company that owns it over in Japan with the intent of making it available here in North America, via DVD, TV airing, online streaming, and the like. Enoki, though, licenses anime with the intent of making it available to other licensors around the world. Even though it's not exactly an appropriate title to give the company, an easy way to describe Enoki would be a "middleman". Since forming in 1986, the US branch of the 1975-founded Japanese company has accumulated its fair share of anime, and some of it has been licensed by anime companies over here for release in North America and are either still being released or will be in the near future: Super GALS!, Lost Universe, Saiyuki, Revolutionary Girl Utena, The Slayers series, El Hazard: The Wanderers, Gakuen Alice, Ikki Tousen's first season, and His and Her Circumstances/Kare Kano, for example.

At the same time, though, most anime fans, and maybe even some in the industry, feel that Enoki's line-up, though potentially filled with quality anime, is generally not the kind of anime that would sell well over here, especially since their line-up only gets older with time. Still, I consider Enoki's line-up to be "Half-Way There": Anime that are technically available in North America but aren't actually released to the public.

Upon finding out that Enoki has recently licensed the soccer anime Giant Killing, which just aired this past summer, I've decided to take a look at Enoki's line-up and bring to attention the titles that I personally feel should be given a chance to shine, even if it's just via something like online streaming. In fact two of Enoki's titles, Izumo and Koi Koi Seven, have never been licensed for DVD release but are actually available with English subtitles via official online streaming, such as at The Anime Network's online player. Enoki categorizes their line-up under these categories: Action Adventure,  Young Audience, Animation Features, Anime Action (which makes no sense as a category as all Enoki license is anime), Sci-fi & Manga, & Drama/Classics. I'm going to focus on Action Adventure, Anime Action, and Sci-fi & Manga, as the other categories either don't feature anything really worth mentioning (Anime Features) or the only thing worth mentioning has already been licensed at one point or another (Young Audiences [Flint the Time Detective] & Drama/Classics [Kare Kano]). Finally, Enoki has a weird habit of giving their anime stupid as hell titles (Utena was called "Ursula's Kiss" and Kare Kano was called "Tales of North Hill High", for example), so while the images might say one name, I'm using the original Japanese titles in these lists. So let's get started with titles in Action Adventure that are worth looking at!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Twelve Older Anime that Deserve License Rescues Part 2

Time for Part 2 of this list of twelve older anime that I personally feel deserve license rescues. Remember that this is my own personal list and I can only go off of titles that I have either watched myself or at least have some info on. To be fair, though, I will make a list of "honorable mentions" at the end that involve anime that I've seen mentioned before as titles that would be great to see license rescued. Anyway, here's another six titles:

Like I mentioned in Part 1, Tatsunoko revived a few of their old superheroes during the 90s and gave them OVAs. In 1993 Casshan/Casshern received a four-episode OVA that Harmony Gold licensed, edited into a movie-length feature, and released through its Streamline Pictures brand. After Streamline died ADV picked up the OVA and did two DVD releases for it: The first in mid-2003 was simply a DVD release of Streamline's "movie edit" and the second in late-2003 was an uncut, unedited "Special Edition" release of the original OVA. The first release has always been fairly accessible while the Special Edition generally was more expensive on the second-hand market, but since Tatsunoko vs. Capcom's release (yet again) both versions have now had their prices rocket up, making them harder to justify a purchase. Harmony Gold's website doesn't list this OVA on the company's catalog, so there's a chance that the license expired. If so, it would be awesome to see this version of Casshan/Casshern see a new release, maybe in a two-disc release that features both the Streamline edit and the original version. Here's hoping that Casshern SINS has done well for FUNimation, though I doubt FUNi would go after a title as old as this one.

[08/2012 ADDENDUM: A little belated, but Discotek picked this up.  They are truly on a roll!]

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Twelve Older Anime that Deserve License Rescues Part 1

The term "license rescue" seemed to first appear a few years back when a number of companies were licensing anime that had previously been given a release in North America. Since then any time a previously-licensed anime is given new life by a different company the term is used and overall it seems to have become part of the vernacular of the industry here. The company whose line-up has seen the most license rescues, by far, is Geneon. A good number of their licenses are now in the hands of companies like FUNimation Entertainment and Sentai Filmworks. But when you consider how long the anime industry that we know it as has been around, since roughly 1991, you realize that there are a lot of anime that could really use a license rescue. Yeah, this results in a lot of them being older than your usual anime licenses, but I've always felt that age should never be used as a negative. Still, I think it's worth bringing up some titles, from a variety of years, that I think deserve one more shot over here.

I've already reviewed B't X on this blog, so it's no surprise that this title is here. Though I would easily recommend Saint Seiya and Ring ni Kakero 1 before I get to this title, B't X is still a very solid mech-esque anime. I had already talked about Illumitoon's license and subsequent botch of a release style, and how The Anime Network gave it somewhat of a second wind by airing whatever Illumitoon had dubbed, but I think it's still worth mentioning here. The only question is whether or not Illumitoon Entertainment is still around; their website still works, but there's absolutely nothing coming out of them. They're worse than Urban Vision, who at least uses Twitter.

[8/2016 UPDATE: In what is easily the most unexpected update I would have ever expected, Anime Midstream (the company that had released all of Matchless Raijin-Oh on DVD) announced at AnimeFest that it will be giving B't X the complete DVD release it never got, complete with a brand new English dub!]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas OVA Coming to Crunchyroll

Well, like I said when I took a look back at Masami Kurumada's time in the North American manga industry ending, while I don't think that any of Kurumada's manga, or even titles related to Kurumada's manga, coming over I still hold out hope for the anime adaptations. And now Crunchyroll has proved me right, as they will be streaming the first 13-episode season of Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas soon and will be streaming the upcoming second season as part of their new winter simulcasts.

Now while I haven't finished watching the first season, what I did see of it I definitely liked. The original manga by Shiori Teshirogi, with Kurumada supervising it, is a really good alternate prequel to the original Saint Seiya. Yeah, it does reuse a number of aspects and storyline elements from the original Saint Seiya, but that doesn't hurt it too much and the OVA is a really good adaptation of the manga. Still, it's great to see a company give another Kurumada-related title a chance, and if you live in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or Ireland you too can watch this OVA. I definitely say to give it a try, as it's very friendly to newcomers and works well as a stand-alone story.

Now one can only hope that this does well enough for CR to consider what should be the reasonable path to take: Streaming the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime and simulcasting Sekai Taikai-hen this upcoming spring! Who's with me?!

Anime © Masami Kurumada・Shiori Teshirogi/Akita Shoten・TMS

Monday, January 3, 2011

Metal Armor Dragonar: Gundam without Gundams

Well, I hope every enjoyed their holiday and New Year's as I enjoyed mine. So it's now time to return to reviewing obscure anime, and what better way to return than with something that isn't Gundam?

Metal Armor Dragonar, Kikou Senki/Record of Armored War Dragonar in Japanese, was an attempt by Sunrise in 1987-1988 at ending Gundam and creating something new in its place. Gundam ZZ was, and still is, an entry in the franchise that gets mixed opinions due to its focus on comedy in the first half and sudden change to seriousness in the second half. Sunrise apparently felt that maybe Gundam may have overstayed its welcome at this point and that there needed to be a brand new real-robot mech series to take its place. This is where Dragonar comes in...

It is the year 2087 and the United Lunar Empire Giganos initiated a war with the Earth Federation Military. Giganos has the upper hand, though, since they have control of a mass driver located on the Moon, and the repeated firings of the mass driver have turned portions of the Earth into a barren wasteland. Ken/Kaine Wakaba, Light Newman, and Tapp Oceano are three young men who live on a Federation colony spaceship called the Alucard, wanting nothing to do with the war, but when Giganos launches a surprise attack on the Alucard the three end up stumbling upon the Dragonars, three top-secret Federation Metal Armors that Giganos was looking for. With the three piloting the Dragonars, the Federation just might have a chance to win the war.