Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rokudenashi BLUES 1993: Kansai Calling to the Faraway Sons...

Masanori Morita is probably the biggest-name Shonen Jump manga-ka you likely never heard of. The man started as an assistant to Tetsuo Hara (of Fist of the North Star fame), and in early 1988 he debuted as a mangaka with the title Rokudenashi/Good-for-Nothing BLUES, which is essentially Jump's iconic yankii/delinquent manga. Rokudenashi is the story of Taison Maeda, a delinquent with a heart of gold who wants to become a pro boxer. Unfortunately, Taison is not always the smartest guy, so he makes stupid mistakes like not knowing that there's an age limit to becoming a pro boxer or that he can't get into fights, which are normally attracted to him, or else his license can get revoked. Ultimately, Rokudenashi BLUES is not so much a sports manga but rather a delinquent manga with some bits & hints of boxing added in at times. Still, Rokudenashi debuted in the early days of Jump's "Golden Age", where the readership eventually surpassed that of 6 million due to the success of titles like Fist of the North Star, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Yu Yu Hakusho, & Slam Dunk, and the manga lasted throughout the entire era, ending in 1997 with a total of 42 volumes.

Since then, Morita continued on with the 24-volume manga Rookies, which followed a high school baseball team made up of delinquents whose dream was the reach Koshien, and now he's working of Beshari Gurashi, which is about up-and-coming comedians. Even though Rokudenashi BLUES was very popular, it never received a TV anime adaptation, and with JoJo getting a TV anime this October, Rokudenashi now becomes the longest Jump manga to never receive a TV anime; I can't say for sure if it's the longest manga in general to never receive a TV anime, though. That said, it did get two anime movies. The first one was a 30-minute feature in 1992 that adapted the beginning of the manga & was first shown during a Toei anime festival before getting a VHS release. This movie is pretty hard to find for someone who doesn't live in Japan & it never received a DVD release, but maybe one day I'll be able to see it. The second movie came out the next year, is likewise called Rokudenashi BLUES 1993, and is a feature-length movie that also later received a VHS release, but likewise never received a DVD release. It is unavailable in English, but is it worth hunting down? Hell, is it even good for newcomers to the franchise? Well, if you're the adventurous type then this is worth checking out.

Taison & his older brother Fujio left their home in the Kansai region a couple of years ago to live in Tokyo, partially for their own dreams but also due to the family business. One day the two see a newspaper ad that is addressed to them, saying that their father is ill and it's signed by their little brother Youkou. The two highly doubt that their father is sick but decide to take the trip, especially since Taison's school is already taking a field trip down to the Kansai region. This trip, though, will force Taison to put some closure down regarding his family, his old friend Naoto Watanabe, and his ex-girlfriend Haruka, as well as make him put more faith in his relationship with his "kind-of-maybe" present girlfriend Chiaki.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tough (a.k.a. Shootfighter Tekken): Just Living Truly is a Battle

Tetsuya Saruwatari is a mangaka known for his crazy action manga. In North America Riki-Oh is known for its crazy violence & cult-classic live-action movie & Dog Soldier is known to be one of those titles that's so crazy-violent & insane that you'll either hate it or love it. But the manga Saruwatari is most known for in Japan is Tough, which chronicles the battles that Kiichi Miyazawa ("Kiibo" for short) goes through in his goal to become the proper successor of Nadashin Shadow Style, a secret assassination art. Recently it was announced that Tough will be ending soon, but I'm not going to be talking about that title, per se. Rather, I'm focusing on the original title that Tough is a sequel to: Koukou Tekken-den Tough/High School Exciting Story Tough (even though it technically translates as "High School Iron Fist Legend Tough"), where Kiibo is a high-school student and training with his father, the previous successor of Nadashin Shadow Style. In 2002, while the original Tough manga was finishing up, AIC & Spike (now a game company) teamed up and made a three-episode OVA based on the first major storyline in Tough. How is this OVA and does it hold up roughly ten years later? It's great and, yes, it definitely holds up.

Kiibo & his father Seiko (Kiichi calls him "Oton" for short) are training, with Kiibo repeatedly not being able to quite take on his father evenly. What Kiibo doesn't know, though, is that Oton once fought the the legendary pro-wrestler Iron Kiba in a death match, as Kiba had been taking on all sorts of fighters, from all ranges of styles, in order to prove the superiority of professional wrestling. During the match Oton took out Kiba's left eye, and ever since then Kiba has been waiting for the right moment to get his revenge. After getting into a scuffle with one of Kiba's wrestlers, Kiichi sees how tough and dangerous a pro wrestler can be, and Kiba puts a "target" on Kiichi by telling all fighters that if they can defeat someone who uses Nadashin Shadow Style then they can take on Kiba himself.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Early Days of Late-Night Anime Part 2: Good, Bad, Popular, Obscure... It's All Here!

In Part 1 we looked at Those Who Hunt Elves & Eat-Man, the original two "modern day" late-night animes, and then looked at how TV Tokyo expanded on this concept by looking at what the Monday & Wednesday equivalents offered up through 1998. Now in Part 2 we finish this look, and to start let's go back to the original Thursday 25:15 slot quickly...

While Hareluya II BØY & Maze TV were airing on Mondays & Wednesdays, respectively, the show that immediately followed Eat-Man was Hyper Police, which ran from April to September of 1997. Really, Hyper Police is simply a forgotten title whose only real gem is likely the fact that Kenji Kawai did the music for it. Image Entertainment did license and release the entire show on DVD from 2002-2003, back when Image actually did anime somewhat regularly. Okay, maybe if you're a big fan of half-human/half-animal people then you might be interested in this title, as the entire cast is done like that; the general fan ratings I can find seem to be above-average, too. Following Hyper Police was Virus Buster Serge, which ran from October to December of 1997. Being a Masami Obari title, Virus Buster Serge is generally known as something you'll likely either hate or at least enjoy somewhat for its "Obari-ness", though I don't think anyone really "loves" it, but if you are interested in checking it out it's still a big catalog title for Manga Entertainment. The DVD collection still seems to be in print, it's available digitally on PCs and consoles, and it even got TV airtime on SyFy's now-defunct late-night "AniMonday" block. Whether being so readily available is a good thing comes down to personal taste...

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Early Days of Late-Night Anime Part 1: TV Tokyo's Innovators & Experiments

Nowadays, seemingly most of the anime that airs in Japan is via late-night airplay, i.e. from 23:00/11:00 PM-4:00 AM. Sure there are shows that air in the morning, prime time, & probably even some in the afternoon, but late-night is where anime has found a very consistent home. But there's one main reason why late-night has been the home of anime for nearly 15 years: Home video sales. Though there was anime that aired in late-night time slots before, like Sennin Buraku in 1963-1964, Lemon Angel in 1987, and Super Zugan in 1992, they were all titles aimed squarely at adult audiences who were likely to be up at those late hours in the first place. Late-night anime as we now know it came about in the mid-90s with the end of the OVA boom that started up back in the mid-80s with Dallos; as less people bought anime that was specifically made for VHS & LD, anime studios had to think of a new way to get the attention of potential buyers.

Well, to make a complex story short & easy, otaku were watching late-night televised radio programs done by seiyuu (commonly called "aniraji", a combination of anime & radio), so TV producers & anime studios thought that maybe that audience would be interested in watching anime made specifically for those late time slots, and therefore they would likely be interested in buying the home video release that would come out shortly after the show was fully aired. Essentially, the short OVA was expanded into a late-night anime "infomercial", and it's been like that since 1997. But I'm not here to talk about the history of late-night anime, especially since that requires going into anime that airs on UHF channels, subscription channels like WOWOW, and Pay-Per-View. Instead, just for the hell, of it I'm going to take a rough look at what aired in those first two years (i.e. 1997 & 1998), and I'm going to focus specifically on TV Tokyo's offerings, since they were the first to do late-night anime as we know it. But in order to get started, we have to go back to late 1996, which is when the very first "modern-day" late-night anime aired, and that title was...

Those Who Hunt Elves, which took the place of live-action variety show MEN-Ki, which starred comedian Unlucky Gotou. Yu Yagami's story of three humans & one Type 47 tank that get transported to a world filled with elves whom they must strip in order to find the five fragments of the spell that can take them back home was the first late-night anime of its kind, airing every Thursday from 25:15 - 25:45/1:15-1:45 AM... And with such a ridiculous premise there's no way it could have ever aired on any other time slot, even if the stripping is more comical & not risqué at all. TWHE aired from October to December of 1996, and after that ended in its place came a show that was nothing like it at all: Eat-Man, which aired from January to March of 1997. I've brought up the original Eat-Man anime a couple of times on the blog, and it really seems more like, instead of wanting to adapt from a popular manga, director Koichi Mashimo had these short stories he wanted to tell, and Eat-Man's Bolt Crank was just the perfect figure that he could tell these stories through; an artistic & esoteric title like this wouldn't have ever been picked up for a normal time slot. Now, while the show is excellent in its own way, this didn't really please fans of the original Eat-Man manga who wanted an actual adaptation, but it was still a reaction that meant that people were watching these brand-new shows, so naturally TV Tokyo decided to expand this whole late-night anime idea by not only having something air after this time slot, but to also use this original time slot every Monday & Wednesday; from what I could find, late-night Tuesday & Friday weren't used for anime yet. Because of this we now get four slots to talk about, so let's start with what looked to be the shortest-lived slot, Wednesday.