Monday, June 25, 2012

Kinniku Banzuke: Kongou-kun no Daibouken!: Makoto Nagano Ain't Got Nuthin' on These Guys

It's anime like this one that really defines what this blog is about. In fact, this anime is so obscure that there isn't even a listing for it on the ANN Encyclopedia, nor is there is a request for it to be added to the encyclopedia. Anyway, Kinniku Banzuke was a Japanese sports entertainment show that aired from 1995 to 2002 where people could enter seemingly unbeatable challenges, simply with the goal of attaining completion & victory over the challenge. The show eventually became a big hit and has since created spin-offs, the most well-known of which is the obstacle course show SASUKE, which was aired in North America on G4 under the name Ninja WarriorNorth American audiences later received Banzuke under the title Unbeatable Banzuke. Unfortunately, on May 5, 2002 two participants suffered cervical vertebrae injuries during two different events, and the show went on immediate hiatus, which then turned into outright cancellation. But shortly before this unfortunate couple of accidents a 3-episode OVA was made that starred Kongou-kun, the show's mascot (there was also a Game Boy Advance game to go with it), and, man, is this OVA just a sheer amount of pure sugar.

Kongou is a simple-minded boy who lives for two things: Athletic competition & playing fair. Along with his friends Yuka, Sasuke, & Habato, he dedicates every day to training with the hopes to eventually compete at Muscle Stadium, where the greatest athletes are crowned. One day, though, a group of kids appear outside of the the dojo that Kongou and the others train at. Made up of Randall, Jyogi, Pencil, & Tajiki, the four follow Dark Muscle, the mysterious man behind the games at Muscle Stadium, and offer an invitation to Kongou's group to compete at the legendary athletic competition. Though the games have gained an uncomfortable air to them since Dark Muscle took control, Taisou, Yuka's father & the head of the dojo, allows Kongou & the others to compete. What awaits them, though, are potentially dangerous "death matches" that might have some unfair elements to them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Captain Power Skill Level Training VHS Series: More Entertaining than an Action Max!

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was an American/Canadian live-action TV series that aired from 1987-1988 that was innovative in a number of ways: It helped introduce the idea of "straight-to-syndication" to television broadcasters, it was one of the first TV series to use computer-generated images, was arguably the first "American-made" tokusatsu show, was seemingly made for kids yet featured writing that was definitely more adult-oriented, and was actually interactive to an extent. Unfortunately, its "aimed at kids, but written for adults" execution resulted in some confusion over who the targeted viewership was (not to mention parents didn't like how dark it was for their children), putting it straight to syndication gave it some horrible time slots like 5-6 AM every Sunday, and even the interactive elements didn't quite work as planned...  

This ended with the show being canceled after it's initial 22-episode Season 1, though Season 2 was mostly written already. Still, the show had gained a cult fanbase and this past December it finally received a DVD boxset release, complete with a new "Making-of" documentary, commentary by the cast & crew, & even a detailed look at what Season 2 would have been like. But what does this all have to do with anime? Well, there is one bit of Captain Power that is not included with this DVD boxset: A trio of animated "Skill Level" training VHS tapes, done by Japanese anime studio ARTMIC (of Megazone 23, Gall Force, & Bubblegum Crisis fame), complete with three fairly well-known names hidden in the credits. Power On!

Before we start, let me state that I have never seen the actual Captain Power TV series. When I was growing up I only had the first Skill Level VHS tape, likely brought at a garage sale, and watching it repeatedly was the only time I had experience with this series; only recently did I find the other two tapes for uber-cheap, allowing me to see this in it's entirety. I state this only so that people can understand that I could be wrong or vague when it comes to certain details regarding the show. Anyway, remember how I mentioned that the TV series was interactive to an extent? Well that's because the show had scenes where there would be red flashing lights appearing on the screen; these lights could be "shot at" with certain Captain Power toys, made by Mattel. These toys likely worked the same way the NES Zapper worked with games like Duck Hunt: When the trigger is squeezed the gun activates, and if the gun is pointed at the light then it registers as a "hit". In Captain Power's case the toy would count up how many "hits" the viewer got, and at the end of each episode Power himself would tell the viewers how many "Power Points" corresponded to each rank; the toy could "receive" hits, though, & taking too many hits would result in the ship "blowing up". But since the show was only airing at certain times, kids would only be able to use the toys to their full extent on occasion... And that's where these VHS tapes come in. These tapes were essentially the same thing as the show, but were animated instead of live-action (though there are live-action segments at the beginning & end of each tape), and were only 14-17 minutes long rather than the 22 minutes each episode was. Naturally, HDTVs have made the interactivity useless now, but how are these tapes from a simple animation perspective? Are they even any better than what was available for the Action Max?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fukkatsu! The Renaissance of Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues Part 2

First off, a great big thanks to everyone who read Part 1 of this license rescue list. Within 24 hours of it being posted it became the fourth-most-read post on this entire blog, easily beating the record previously held by the Violence Jack: Evil Town review. Coming off of a fun AnimeNEXT it was definitely a cool thing to see happen. Anyway, let's get right into Part 2 of this renaissance!

The things Carl Macek & Harmony Gold did with anime back in the late-80s & early-90s can never be understated, but at the same time Macross isn't the only title that they have made tricky to get uncut. Windaria is generally considered one of the true classics of the 80s, though it is a little under-appreciated for one main reason: Harmony Gold's release of the movie was so altered that we never got the actual movie the way it was meant to be seen. You see, Windaria is apparently a depressing movie... Not in a bad way, but rather the movie is meant to bring you down due to the story it tells, which involves two kingdoms battling each other in a highly-destructive war with a love story also being added in.

Harmony Gold, though, felt that Windaria was too sad, so they removed roughly seven minutes of violence & nudity and tried altering to plot as much as they could so that the story would be happier. From what I can tell, most fans feel that HG just couldn't make a sad story that much happier, and a sub-par dub certainly didn't help. But that's all we got over here, even in 2004 when ADV released the movie under the title Once Upon a Time. Windaria, in its original form, just might remain a fansub-exclusive thing, and even trying to do a dual-audio release would be tricky, simply because of the edits made for the dub. ADV's DVD release isn't exactly too expensive to buy, but its just not an ideal release, especially if you want the movie the way its meant to be seen.
[Buried Treasure article here... What, you think I wouldn't have at least one BT title in a license rescue list?]

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fukkatsu! The Renaissance of Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues Part 1

AnimeNEXT 2012 was great fun, & though my Masami Kurumada panel started off with barely anyone attending, around the time I was at Fuma no Kojirou & B't X I had a fair crowd in the room. So thank you to everyone who attended my panel (competing against Cosplay Chess & a Miyazaki panel isn't easy), since I had a fun time running it and I'll definitely be doing this panel again next time... Hopefully with a time slot that allows for a larger crowd, too.

Anyway, throughout the past twelve months I've expanded upon the "Twelve Animes" list format, first with titles I want to review but can't (of which one has been reviewed, with another one being possible for the future), followed by two lists of anime I would license if I had my own licensing company, and even a list of anime that were once licensed but never released (if you want, you can also count the JManga 13). But, to be honest, the list that is the most fun to make and write about is the original... The license rescue list! So, with the last license rescue list having been done a year ago I think it's about time we head back into this territory, especially since during this past year two titles from my previous two lists have been license rescued, the 90s Casshern OVA & the Space Adventure Cobra movie, both by Discotek, and there's a fair chance that another one might have been rescued by Discotek! It's time for a renaissance, so let's get started!

(P.S. The "Fukkatsu!" in the title is meant to be spoken in the way Dark Schneider says it in Episode 1 of the Bastard!! OVA)

If there's one innovator of the entire anime & manga industry that gets a bit of a cold shoulder in North America, it's Shotaro Ishinomori. Starting his career as an assistant to the "God of Manga" himself, Osamu Tezuka, Ishinomori wound up becoming a legend all his own, even becoming a posthumous inductee into the Guinness World Records as having drawn the most pages of manga ever. But no matter what titles get brought over to North America, Ishinomori doesn't get the same type of respect that Tezuka does. Whether it's Cyborg 009, The Skull Man, or Gilgamesh, Ishinomori anime tends to do less then stellar over here. A big case in point would be Android Kikaider, Ishinomori's dark take on Astro Boy's idea of whether a robot can be "human", complete with replacing Astro Boy's Pinocchio influence with a Frankenstein influence. After a semi-successful manga & tokusatsu run in the 70s the title would go into hibernation until 2000, when a 13-episode anime adaptation was made by Radix. Amazingly enough, in 2003 Bandai Entertainment licensed the anime, as well as its 2001-2002 4-episode OVA sequel, Kikaider 01, and even got it TV airtime on [adult swim], where it understandably bombed and was promptly forgotten by fans of that programming block; I'm not even sure if 01 aired on TV.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Anime Midstream Surprises with Big News! Raijin-Oh to go Sub-Only!

Ever since its debut in late 2008, Anime Midstream has been an anomaly in the North American anime licensing industry. While most companies handle recent anime, Midstream handles older anime; while most companies do 12/13-episode box sets, Midstream does singles; finally, while most companies handle multiple titles at once, Midstream is only handling one: 1991-1992's Matchless Raijin-Oh (Zettai Muteki/Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh in Japan). That's right, a company is releasing an obscure mech anime from the early-90s via singles, and they even are making a dub for it! For all intents & purposes the company should not have made it past their first year, but here we are in 2012 with "big news" from the company. But, first, a question: What the hell is Matchless Raijin-Oh?

When's the last time you saw an anime licensor that had a mascot?

Raijin-Oh is the first entry in the Eldoran Series, which was the super-robot anime franchise that Sunrise animated & Tomy made toys for. The Eldoran Series debuted as a response to the runaway success of the Brave Series, the Takara/Sunrise super-robot franchise (the most popular title of which was GaoGaiGar). The Eldoran Series was aimed at an even younger audience than the Brave Series, but Raijin-Oh had an interesting take on super robots. The basic story is that an evil group called the Jaku Empire starts to invade Earth with their dark orbs called Akudama, which take monstrous forms based on things that humans find to be nuisances, but Eldoran, the guardian of the Earth, tries to stop them... Only to end up crashing on top of a school room filled with kids. But Eldoran uses his powers to save the kids, which also forces him to entrust his giant robot, Raijin-Oh, to the class. Eldoran also turns their classroom into a secret headquarters, so even though there are only three pilots, every member of the class has to be involved in the operation of Raijin-Oh. Together the kids, calling themselves the Earth Defense Class & being known to the public, have to take on the Jaku Empire & protect the Earth.