Friday, February 25, 2011

Monkey Turn: "Where Is the Love" for Water Sports 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.

If you just looked at the title of this anime you would never guess that this was a sports anime. In fact, you'd probably think it was a comedy involving a monkey of some sort. But in reality Monkey Turn is an excellent sports anime that actually is "half-way there" when it comes to licensing.

The original Monkey Turn manga by Katsutoshi Kawai debuted in Weekly Shonen Sunday back in early 1997 and ended in early 2005 after 30 volumes. In fact, in 1999 the manga tied for the fairly prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award in the shonen category; the other manga it tied with was Weekly Shonen Jump's Hikaru no Go, and anyone who has read or watched HnG knows how excellent of a title it is, so co-winning an award like that is no small feat. The anime ran in 2004 from January to June, lasting 24 episodes, and while I don't know how much of the manga the show covers I will say that it is definitely one of the best sports anime that you've never seen.

Kenji Hatano is a baseball player with dreams of being a big star in the sport. Unfortunately, he doesn't like the fact that one person's mistake can make the entire team suffer. After meeting with the Principal of the school Kenji is taken to a kyotei (mini-hydroboat) race and witnesses one of the racers perform the Monkey Turn, a type of turn that only high-level racers can do. Feeling that it's easy to perform, Kenji gives it a try, almost making it but capsizing in the end. The thrill inspires Kenji to take up kyotei racing and after two years he graduates from a kyotei training school. He's so psyched to finally go pro that he promises his childhood friend Sumi Ubukata that he'll become Japan's top kyotei racer within three years, which is generally considered nigh-impossible by the pros. Of course, during his time at the training school Kenji also found a rival in Hiro Doguchi, whose father is a high-ranked kyotei racer. Now having graduated from the school, Kenji & company are ready to try their hands at the professional level.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prefectural Earth Defense Force: It's Not Quite Excel Saga, ADV, But It Works

Prefectural Earth Defense Force is certainly an interesting little OVA. Based on a four-volume manga by Koichiro Yasunaga that ran in Weekly Shonen Sunday back in the 80s, this 1986 OVA is simply a parody of 80s anime and it does so really well. ADV released this OVA on DVD back in 2006 sub-only and is actually slightly infamous because of that release, but we'll get to that later. For now, let's talk about what this title is about.

The evil Telephone Pole Group wants to take over the world, but they know that many other evil organizations have failed by going straight for ruling over a country or a giant city. So the TPG decides to start small by trying to take over a small prefecture in Japan. But little prefectures also have their own small defense forces, so the governor calls upon the Prefectural Earth Defense Force... Which doesn't exist. Quick, just grab three high-school kids who can't even recruit players to make their own baseball team and they'll become the protectors of their home prefecture!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Super Robot Wars Compact 3: Maji? Maji desu.

Yeah, this isn't exactly an anime I'm reviewing, but considering how the Super Robot Taisen/Wars series of videogames pretty much lives off of anime, Original Generation series games aside, I'll let it slide. Anyway, for those who aren't familiar with the series, the very first Super Robot Wars was released on the good-old original Game Boy back in April of 1991, and the major idea of the series is that developer Banpresto takes multiple mech anime series, with the occasional manga and video game being used at times, fixes up the stories so that they can all work in unison and throws them into a very addictive strategy RPG game series. The great thing about the series is that different games can have different game battle systems, some of them use 3D polygons rather than 2D sprites, but the best thing is the sheer amount of mech series are used. If you have a favorite mech series that's at least a couple of years old then you might be able to find it being used in an SRW title. In 2003 there were a number of smaller name series making their debuts across four different games, but there's one game in particular that truly represents this focus on smaller name titles, and its name is Super Robot Wars Compact 3.

The Bandai Wonderswan debuted in Japan in 1999 and was the very last thing that the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, the man behind the Game Boy and many Nintendo series, ever worked on before his untimely death via a car accident. It later received a color upgrade unit, called the Wonderswan Color and later the SwanCrystal, where it was able to maintain a small portion of the handheld market in Japan, mostly due to it being home to the very first ports of Final Fantasy I, II, and IV. But there were also five (technically six) entries in the SRW series on the handheld, called the Compact series. The original game was released twice on the handheld (the second version being a Color-exclusive upgrade), and the Compact 2 series, named so because it was made up of three games that linked together, was later remade on the Playstaion 2 under the more well-known SRW Impact name. But when 2003 came around the handheld was definitely on its deathbed; any Wonderswan game released in 2003 and beyond command high prices now on the second-hand market and this game is no different. I'm going to guess that Banpresto, and SRW producer Takenobu Terada himself, likely knew that the game wouldn't be a big seller in any way so for Compact 3 the development team went for something different and that's heavily obvious just from the line-up:

Friday, February 4, 2011

One Outs: So This is What Baseball is Really Like...

Much like Akagi, Kaiji must have done well enough for Madhouse, so later in 2008 Madhouse gave us a third gambling anime, but this time Nobuyuki Fukumoto is completely absent. In his place is Shinobu Kaitani, who is now known for his Young Jump manga Liar GameOne Outs ran in Business Jump from 1996 to 2006, totaling 19 volumes, and the anime adaptation covers the first half of the manga. Even though this isn't a Fukumoto title and is can be considered more of a sports anime than a gambling anime, One Outs is still an excellent title and fans of Akagi and Kaiji will still definitely feel at home here.

One Outs focuses on the Japanese minor leagues, specifically on a team called the Lycaons. The Lycaons, to put it lightly, is one of the worst teams in the league, with the exception of star-batter Hiromichi Kojima. Before the new season begins Kojima brings fellow players Kinosaki and Nakane with him to Okinawa for some final training. There, Kinosaki and Nakane run into a gambling game based aorund baseball called "One Outs", where the batter has to hit a home run from the pitcher's throw, and the bystanders bet on the chances. The undisputed king of One Outs is Toua Tokuchi, whose pitches aren't especially fast, maxing out at only 83 MPH, but for some reason are impossible to hit. After the Nakane fails to beat Tokuchi the two bring in Kojima, who also loses. Determined to win Kojima risks damaging his arm during training solely so that he can beat Tokuchi, and in their second game make a bet that if Kojima wins, Tokuchi will help the Lycaons out, but if Kojima loses then he has to retire from baseball right away. Kojima wins, injuring his arm due to the training, and brings Tokuchi with him to the Lycaons.

The owner of the Lycaons isn't pleased with the sudden appearance of Tokuchi, who was partially responsible for Kojima's injury, and is ready to kick him out. But Tokuchi decides to play a game with his contract, which could make either side extremely rich. The owner agress and creates the One Outs Contract, which states that Tokuchi will earn 5,000,000 yen for every out he pitches, but will lose 50,000,000 yen for every point he gives up.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gyakkou Burai Kaiji: It's Hip to be a Loser

Madhouse's anime adaptation of Nobuyuki Fukumoto's mahjong manga Tohai Densetsu Akagi was not only a supremely excellent show but it seemed to have done well too, at least in terms of TV ratings. The DVD release of the anime did three singles before going straight to two 13-episode boxsets, so maybe the DVD release was a little substandard. But either way, Madhouse was pleased enough to make their next gambling title the anime adaptation of what could be considered Fukumoto's magnum opus, the Kaiji Series, which aired from October of 2007 to April of 2008.

The Kaiji Series is pretty much Fukumoto giving himself free range at creating whatever gambling games he wants and putting his own main character into them. The manga debuted back in 1996 in Kodansha's Weekly Young Magazine and has been running in the magazine since, though it has taken breaks in between each major part of the story. Right now the series is on it's fourth part, Tobaku Datenroku Kaiji: Kazuya-hen, and this April will be the debut of Gyakkou Burai Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen, which will adapt the second part of the series, Tobaku Hakairoku Kaiji. But let's not get ahead of ourselves and let's take a look at the first season, Gyakkou Burai/The Suffering Pariah Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, which covers the original manga, Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji (Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji).

Kaiji Itou is a bum. He has no job, and when he does have one it isn't for long, he has very little luck when it comes to games of sheer chance, and he releases his anger by stealing the emblems of expensive cars and slashing their tires. One day, a man comes to Kaiji's door saying that he's a debt collector. The man, named Endou, reminds Kaiji of a time when he had co-signed a loan of 30,000 yen for a co-worker named Takeshi Furuhata, and since Furuhata is nowhere to be found it's up to Kaiji to pay back the loan. Unfortunately, Kaiji didn't realize the interest rate on the loan was insanely high, and now he owes Endou 3,850,000 yen! Naturally, Kaiji starts losing his mind until Endou tells him of a cruise liner called the Espoir, which is french for "hope", and how the ship hosts a gambling game where Kaiji can not only earn enough money to pay back the insane loan, but can also walk away with extra money for himself. Kaiji naturally signs on, not knowing that the ship is a trap to capture and eventually torture people in debt and that it's only the start of an eventual battle against Kazutaka Hyoudou, a rich old man whose love of gambling results in many others getting hurt, both physically and financially.