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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sci-Fi HARRY: Do You Really Want to Be Special?

Happy Halloween, Obscure Anime Thrill Seekers!

Two years ago, I reviewed the Manga DVD based on Jirou Tsunoda's horror manga Kyoufu Shinbun, but last year I didn't talk about any sort of horror title. Instead, I did my very first Theory Musing post about the "Three Pillars of Sports (Boxing) Anime & Manga"... But, to be fair, Superstorm Sandy was more than enough of a horror story for some people here on the East Coast. Well, for this year, I'm going back to fictional horror & reviewing an anime from a man who knows a thing or two about Japanese horror: George Iida.

Iida got into the film industry in the 80s mainly writing for pink films & the like, but in 1987 was able to direct his first film, Cyclops. The next year he had his feature-length debut with the movie Battle Heater, which is about a man-eating kotatsu, and would later go on to direct movies such as 1998's Rasen/Spiral (based on the novel sequel to J-Horror classic Ringu) & the live-action movie adaptations of manga like Tokyo Babylon (1993), Akagi (the first movie in 1995), & Dragon Head (2003). His most iconic work, though, was the 1992-1993 sci-fi/horror TV series Night Head, which wound up getting a made-for-TV movie sequel in 1994, a manga adaptation in 1997 with art by Makoto Tateno (CUTE x GUY, Yellow), and in 2006 was retold in anime form under the title Night Head Genesis, which Media Blasters released here on DVD. What I'll be talking about is a spin-off of Night Head that actually was planned for a North American release by a company that brought over the horror-inspired JoJo's Bizarre Adventure... Fitting.

Sci-Fi HARRY originally debuted as a 2-volume manga back in 1995, which was written by Iida & drawn by the late Asami Tojo (X - Kai, Renai Junkie), but in October 2000 an anime adaptation debuted on TV Asahi that ran for 20 episodes; there was also a redo of the manga in 2001 drawn by Shinobu Abe. According to Iida, HARRY is actually a prequel to Night Head, showcasing one of the first cases of humans with psychic powers... And the psychological mess that it can bring to the user & the people he knows & meets.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Money Wars -Nerawareta Waterfront Keikaku-: New Hong Kong is About to E・X・P・L・O・D・E... With Money!

Let's face facts here: Beat Shot!! & Circuit no Ohkami II: Modena no Ken were projects Gainax did simply because they needed work. After Wings of Honneamise & Gunbuster, the studio needed work to do. In fact, before Gunbuster, they did the 1988 Appleseed OVA, based on the Masamune Shirow manga, for likely the same reason; this, too, isn't acknowledged by Gainax's "WORKS" page, but this OVA at least got licensed. Then, on April 13, 1990, something big happened for Gainax: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water debuted on Japanese television. Needless to say, it became a giant hit for the studio, it's still the longest work they have ever done, & it gave them more mainstream attention. So, hoping to go off of that attention, Gainax & Pony Canyon teamed up to create a two-episode anime based on Kazuhiko Shimamoto's popular manga, Honou no Tenkousei/Blazing Transfer Student... As the "World's First Original Laser Animation!!", with Gainax getting special attention on the packaging. That's right, an anime released exclusively on laserdisc, with no VHS release in sight, & on May 21, 1991, just a little over two months after Nadia ended, the OLA reached Japanese shelves. Unfortunately, laserdisc was never going to be a mainstream way to watch anime, & the release bombed; at least, the LD-exclusive anime getting a VHS release on January 1, 1992 seems to indicate that. Still, Gainax needed to stay in work, so on September 21, 1991, the studio released one more 45-minute OVA based on an existing property, only for the studio to ignore its existence afterwards.

Though why one would ignore an anime based around the stock market is beyond me!

There isn't much info to find about Souichiro Miyakawa, because in terms of manga he didn't do much. He debuted in 1980 & stopped doing manga in 1989, with his biggest (and, from what I can tell, only multi-volume) work being Money Wars, a manga based on battles in the stock market, which ran in Business Jump magazine from 1985-1989, lasting nine volumes. This is not to be confused with the 2000 Lupin the 3rd TV special 1$ Money Wars, known as Missed by a Dollar outside Japan, or the Money Wars Chapter spin-off of Salaryman Kintaro. What happened to Miyakawa afterwards? Well, interestingly enough, he founded Family Soft, a video game company that dealt in games based on various anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam, Area 88, Crusher Joe, Aura Battler Dunbine, & Armored Trooper VOTOMS, in 1987, but their most well known work was the Asuka 120% series of 2D fighting games before they died out in 1999. Anyway, when Gainax made this OVA, subtitled Nerawareta Waterfront Keikaku/The Targeted Waterfront Project, the manga had already ended two years prior, so instead of adapting any part of the manga it instead told an original story. As the last of Gainax's ignored works, does it follow off of the excellent momentum of quality that Blazing Transfer Student had, or does it follow the former two "forgotten" OVAs & decide to be lackluster?

Tsuyoshi Aiba is a stockbroker who buys & sells stocks for his clients alongside his fellow workers Hitomi Yamazaki (who works the front counter) & Haruhiko Emoto. One morning, he awakes to news of a big shake-up with the stocks of a company that's in charge of a new waterfront area that's being made in Tokyo. After receiving a phone call from his friend Kurihara, about how he was fooled into selling other people's stocks to Chinese mafia member Lin Haifeng, followed by Kurihara's immediate suicide, Aiba vows to avenge his friend's death. He hopes to do this by stopping Lin's plan to take control of the waterfront by becoming majority stock holder, & turn it into a gateway for the Chinese mafia, essentially turning Tokyo into "New Hong Kong".

Monday, October 21, 2013

Circuit no Ohkami II: Modena no Ken: When the Breast Hits Your Eye, Like a Big Panty-Pie... That's Amore

Number 2 in Gainax's ignored OVAs comes from the same place as Beat Shot!!, i.e. the pages of mangaka Satoshi Ikezawa. Though he debuted back in 1970, Ikezawa wouldn't have a real hit until 1975, when he debuted Circuit no Ohkami/The Circuit Wolf in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump; it was the story of Yuuya Fubuki, who dreamed of becoming F1 Champion. Ending in 1979, & lasting 27 volumes, the racing manga was one of Jump's earlier "big hits" (i.e. before the likes of Kochikame, Ring ni Kakero, & Kinnikuman debuted), and even saw a live-action movie adaptation in 1977 directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who previously directed the Sister Street Fighter movie series & Karate Bearfighter. Ten years later, Ikezawa returned to his iconic manga with a sequel, subtitled Modena no Ken/Ken of Modena, which starred a new main character & ran in Weekly Playboy magazine (because all sequels to older Jump manga either ran in Weekly Playboy or Super Jump... No exceptions) until 1995, lasting 25 volumes; in fact, this might be the first sequel ever made to a Shonen Jump classic. In late 1990, a 45-minute OVA based on this sequel was animated by Gainax & released on VHS & LD. So, after the intensely dull & (oddly) erotic Beat Shot!!, can Circuit no Ohkami pick up the slack?

I'm only using "Ohkami" instead of "Okami"
because the OVA uses the former on the title splash.

Ken Ferrari is a Japanese/Italian F1 racer-in-training from Modena, Italy, who lives in Tokyo. After helping a photographer named Aiko Yoshinaga out with a car problem, & escaping a group of bikers that they rushed past, the two become "close friends". At the same time, Ken meets a high school student named Eri Hayami, who he also becomes smitten with, but after saving her from some rough bullies he becomes the target of said bullies' leader, Hebijima. They kidnap Eri while Ken races against her brother, Tohru (a skilled street racer nicknamed "The White Wolf"), so it's up to the two racers to team up & save Eri.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beat Shot!!: (Gainax + Golf)/Sex = ???

This past August a special anniversary happened: The DAICON IV Film turned 30 years old. What's DAICON, you ask? Every year in Japan since 1962, the Nihon SF Taikai/Japan SF Convention, a celebration of science fiction from around the world, is held, and each convention has a special name based on where it happens; Tokyo has TOKON (except the very first time, which was MEG-CON), Nagoya has MEICON, & Osaka has DAICON. In 1981 a trio of aspiring animators created a short opening animation for DAICON III all on their own. It's still an impressive feat to this day, and it got them all jobs in the anime industry, but two years later was DAICON IV, and these three men decided to come back, better than ever & with some help. Who were these three men? Hiroyuki Yamaga, Takami Akai, & Hideaki Anno... I think I've heard of them, especially that third one.

With the help of Ichiro Itano, Toshihiro Hirano, Narumi Kakinouchi, Sadami Morikawa, & Kazutaka Miyatake, the DAICON IV Film from 1983 is generally considered the beginning of what would become the animation studio known as Gainax. The studio would make its official debut with the classic movie Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, which will be getting a new release by Maiden Japan at the end of this month. Anyway, Gainax is now known as one of the most influential studios in anime, but even that studio has its super-obscure titles that they seemingly refuse to even list on their own "Works" page. In April 2011, I reviewed the most infamous of Gainax's ignored works, the excellent anime adaptation of Kazuhiko Shimamoto's Blazing Transfer Student. It proudly called itself an OLA/Original Laser Animation (only available on laserdisc!), but bombed to the point where it was quickly released on VHS & then never heard from again. Well, that's not the only anime that Gainax doesn't acknowledge, so let's take a look at what else they offered from 1989-1991, only to never speak of again (& never even get fansubbed), starting with 1989's Beat Shot!!.

Kyoichi Sasuga is an up-and-coming golf player who enters the local tournament in order to show off his skills on the links... And hopefully show off his "skills" with some women in the process. His biggest opposition on the links, though, is Akihiko Hanamatsuri, who might just be his toughest rival.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Asura: Even Frankenstein's Monster Had a Heart, You Know

Niji-Iro Hotaru was definitely an interesting movie from last year, but now that I've seen the other "ignored Toei movie from 2012", I realize that this first one was simply a warm-up. Originally running from 1970-1971 & lasting three volumes, Asura by George Akiyama (the creator of Haguregumo, one of the longest-running manga of all time) ended up becoming banned in Japan for a time, due to some very controversial subject matter. On September 29, 2012, Toei debuted a 75-minute GC-animated movie adaptation of the manga that wound up tying for the Audience Award for Best Animated Feature at the 16th Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal... Yet wound up being completely ignored by the anime fandom at large, even with it being directed by Keiichi Sato, the man behind Tiger & Bunny & the upcoming CG movie based on Saint Seiya. In fact, this title didn't seem to get any real recognition online until Daryl Surat (of the Anime World Order podcast & Otaku USA) showed clips of this movie at his "Anime's Craziest Deaths" panel at Otakon, and even then no one's really saying much about it. Well, I'm going to do something about that, because you must see Asura. It's easily the "Best Anime Movie of 2012 You Didn't See".

There is a regular title screen, but this just looks cooler.

In the mid-15th century, Kyoto was hit with intense drought & famine, creating a desolate environment of death. It is in this world that a woman gives birth to a son, but due to a lack of food she tries cooking her son in a fire; while the child is in the fire she becomes frightened & runs off. Eight years have since passed, & the boy has become a feral beast of a child, wielding an ax & killing people whenever he gets hungry. After encountering a wandering Buddhist monk, who teaches him to say the sutra "Namu Amida Butsu" & gives him the name Asura, the boy winds up in a small village lead by Lord Jitou. In the end, Asura's encounter with the villagers, especially a girl named Wakasa that teaches him to talk, combined with the famine, could very well be the worst thing to happen.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Niji-Iro Hotaru ~Eien no Natsu Yasumi~: I Don't Want to Grow Up, I'm a Firefly Kid...

Sometimes you just have really strong years for movies, and 2012 certainly was a really good example of that in terms of anime movies. There were Tibetan Dog, the first two Berserk: The Golden Age Arc movies, the Strike Witches movie, the first three Space Battleship Yamato 2199 compilation movies, Blood-C: The Last Dark, 009 Re:Cyborg, the first two Madoka Magica movies, the first Tiger & Bunny movie... Oh, and a couple of movies titled Wolf Children & Evangelion 3.0: You Can [Not] Redo.  Therefore, it's only natural that a couple of Toei movies were completely ignored. Hell, Toei themselves were guilty of this lack of promotion, what with 2012 also being the year of the excellent One Piece Film Z, which was hyped & promoted like crazy. Still, I'm curious about these two ignored movies: Niji-Iro Hotaru ~Eien no Natsu Yasumi~/Rainbow Fireflies ~The Eternal Summer Vacation~ & Asura. Based on a 2007 novel by Masayuki Kawaguchi, no realtion to the anime director of photography of the same name (once again, a single kanji makes the difference), Niji-Iro Hotaru was a theatrical anime adaptation that debuted on May 19, 2012. From first look, the movie might seem more like a Ghibli production than from Toei, but is that, & an interesting animation style, enough to make this a forgotten gem from last year, or was it rightfully ignored?

Yuuta visits the Hotarugaoka Dam during his summer vacation, because he once visited the area with his father when he was a kid to catch beetles. His father had visited the area back in the 70s, when a village resided where the dam is presently located ,& loved the "ocean of fireflies" he saw; unfortunately, Yuuta's father died in a motorcycle accident in the same area not long ago. After getting stuck during a flash flood, when no rain was predicted, Yuuta ends up slipping & falling down a cliff. Luckily, he's saved by a mysterious old man, who he had given some water to earlier in the day, who magically transports Yuuta to safety. After meeting a girl named Saeko Yuuta, he notices something odd about the area: The dam is gone & there's a village in its place. Indeed, Yuuta has been transported to the year 1977, one month before the village is abandoned due to the construction of the dam. In this one month, Yuuta will learn about how life was in the village, what Saeko's mysterious past is, and how it relates to him.