Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gaiking Movie Trilogy: A "Heck" of a Fun Time

It's been often said that when it comes to releasing anime in North America, the older it is the tougher it is to sell to fans. Sure, some have been able to make a living off of older properties, but in those cases the titles selected generally have some sort of established fanbase... But what about the more obscure titles? Well, in late 2009, Toei announced that it would be working with William Winckler Productions, the studio known most for its insanely cheesy dub of the original Tekkaman that aired on TV here in 1984, & produce compilation movies based on eight anime productions: Daiku Maryu/Space Dragon Gaiking, Wakusei/Planet Robo Danguard Ace, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Ashita no Nadja (under the name The Adventures of Nadja), Fist of the North Star, SF Saiyuki Starzinger, Hana no Ko/The Flower Girl Lun Lun, & GeGeGe no Kitaro (under the name Kitaro's Graveyeard Gang [the exact version that was adapted is unknown]). Instead of simply making one movie per series, though, Toei & Winckler Pro decided to split up each series into 2-3 movies each (Fist of the North Star was split into six!), allowing their stories to be told in greater detail. Originally, these movies were only made for viewing in Japan via a broadband rental service, but Shout! Factory, which has been doing more & more Japanese productions lately, decided to give this concept a try, & this year alone has released the Gaiking, Starzinger, & (just last week) Danguard Ace movies as individual collections for only $19.99 MSRP each. So, to go with Mecha Month, let's go over the Gaiking movies & see if there's any merit to this interesting production idea.

The planet Zela is on the verge of destruction, due to a looming black hole that's slowly coming closer & closer. Emperor Darius decides to send his forces to another planet, so that the people of his planet can have a new home. Unfortunately, Darius has chosen Earth, which was once visited by Zelans in the past, and he has no intent on co-existing with Earthlings; his first order is to kill off any & all humans that have potential psychic powers. One of the targeted humans, Sanshiro Tsuwabuki, was attacked during his debut baseball game in the major leagues, leading to his pitching wrist getting permanently injured & ending his career before it could truly start. Luckily, Dr. Daimonji has recruited Sanshiro to his group of humans, who are willing to take on the Zelans with the help of their giant mecha base, the Space Dragon. Sanshiro's job is to be the pilot of Gaiking, a combining robot that uses the Space Dragon's face for its chest/cockpit.

Gaiking originally aired from April 1976 to January 1977, lasting 44 episodes. While Toei credits the creation of the show to Akio Sugino (Toei's equivalent to Sunrise's Hajime Yatate, a.k.a. a pen name for the overall staff), credit actually goes to the legendary Go Nagai. Word is that Toei wanted a mech anime of its own, without sharing credit, so it simply didn't credit Nagai, especially since there is no Nagai manga equivalent for the show. Nagai then hit Toei with a legal battle that lasted 10 years, & resulted in Dynamic Pro being credited with "Collaboration" for the first half. In 1980, Jim Terry Productions licensed Gaiking to be part of the Force Five series, which dubbed about half of the show. Anyway, how do you turn an episodic, mid-70s super robot anime into three compilation movies?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cybuster/Psybuster: I, For One, Welcome Our Alternate Universe Overlords

[2018 NOTE: This review was done back when Geneon's original DVD release was all there was for this anime, which used the "Cybuster" spelling. Since then, Discotek gave it a re-release under the "Psybuster" spelling. Just for simplicity's sake, though, I'm keeping Geneon's spelling for this review.]

It wouldn't be Mecha Month without a review of some sort of title from the Super Robot Wars franchise... So how about we go laterally a little bit & talk about a spin-off, its very first anime to be precise?

Debuting in 1991's Super Robot Wars 2 for the Famicom, Cybuster (Psybuster, in some spellings) & its pilot Masaki Andoh were the very first original mech & character Banpresto ever created for its crossover franchise. The character ended up becoming popular, so Banpresto decided to expand the character & his mech with 1994's Super Robot Wars EX for the Super Famicom, which introduced more units & the Masou Kishin/Elemental Lords/Warrior Robot Gods storyline, which was then given complete focus with 1996's Super Robot Wars Gaiden: Masou Kishin – The Lord Of Elemental on the Super Famicom. The Masou Kishin mechs & characters would then make an appearance in every major SRW title up until 2001's SRW Alpha Gaiden for the Playstation. The reason for their lack of appearances afterwards, outside of Cybuster, Valsione, & Granzon (who have been featured in the Original Generation games since the beginning), was generally attributed to the break-up between Banpresto & WinkySoft, who helped develop the early "Classic" games. This wound up being false, Banpresto simply felt that Masou Kishin was given too much focus instead of developing the new original characters, but it certainly was a strong rumor due to WinkySoft developing 2000's Seirei Hata Rayblade, which was essentially a Masou Kishin remake with all of the names changed, & the fact that no other Masou Kishin mech or pilot appeared in an SRW title until 2010, when The Lord of Elemental was remade on DS. So, where does an anime fit into all of this?

In 1999, Banpresto decided to try new things with the Masou Kishin universe. At the end of the year, they developed a retelling of the Super Famicom game with Shin Masou Kishin PANZER WARFARE, which showcased the Masou Kishin themselves in slightly new designs & gave them brand new pilots; for example, instead of Masaki Andoh, Cybuster was piloted by a boy named Keigo Kurtz Ferdinand. Earlier in the year, though, Ashi Productions made a 25-episode TV series (a 26th episode was made for home video) that introduced another alternate universe take on SRW's fantasy sub-franchise. Simply called Masou Kishin Cybuster, this was the first SRW-related anime ever made, even if the relation is only tangential, & was actually released in North America on DVD by Geneon Entertainment across 2004 & 2005, shortening it to just Cybuster. This wound up being the first official release of any SRW title in North America, a year before we got OG1 on the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately, not only was the anime one of Geneon's worst-selling releases, selling less than 100 units/DVD on average, but it's also abhorrently hated by the hardcore Masou Kishin fanbase... Mostly because it's not the Masou Kishin universe that they love. So, to be fair, I'll leave comparisons to the original precursor to a minimum, because I want to judge this on its own merit; also, the amount of differences is so massive that I don't want to simply end up listing them. Is the Cybuster anime worth the vehement hatred or are crazed fans being just that: Crazy?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Matchless Raijin-Oh "Season 1": Defying Expectations in Every Way Possible

It's November once again, and that means one thing... Outside of Thanksgiving & Election Day, that is: Mecha Month! That's right, it's once again time to to talk about nothing but giant robots, & this year's Mecha Month will be better than before. Admittedly, last year didn't quite come off as well as I had hoped. Super Mobile Legend Dinagiga was pretty sucky, Kikou Sen'nyo Rouran was good but had a horrible tease of an ending, & my mecha-themed Twelve Anime list is one of my sillier ones; Super Robot Wars GC & XO was fun to write up & is now one of the most-read posts on this blog, though. Starting off this year, on the other hand, is the first half of a series that's been beating the odds & getting released here in North America, even if it's slow as hell.

I've already done a post about Anime Midstream last year, so I won't go into any detail about who they are, but they are still doing only one thing: Releasing Matchless Raijin-Oh, also known as Zettai Muteki/Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh. Announcing their license of the series back in December of 2008, & then releasing their first DVD at the tail-end of 2009 (with a wider release via Right Stuf & Amazon in January 2010), Anime Midstream has been churning out single DVDs of the series (each containing five episodes) at a pace of roughly one DVD every year. This past June they released Volume 5, marking the half-way point of the series, and Midstream even stated that this was the, "end of Season 1," & with it would come the end of the English dub that they had been producing; the second half (i.e. "Season 2") will be released sub-only. Considering that I've been wanting to review this series & DVD release ever since I started this blog, I've decided to break my "completely watched" rule & review the first half, with the fact that the dub ends here simply being all the more reason to talk about it now. Would you rather wait another five years (at most) for me to review this show?

The Jaku Empire of the Fifth Dimension has come to Earth with plans to invade & take over the planet. Belzeb, leader of the invading forces, plans to launch a giant missile filled with Akudama, evil creatures that take the form of whatever is found to be a "nuisance", but a giant robot named Raijin-Oh appears & tries stopping the missile. Belzeb is able to stop Raijin-Oh & force it to Earth, but the missile explodes & the Akudama all fall with no control. Raijin-Oh lands on top of a school, Class 5-3 specifically, but the being that was piloting the robot, Eldoran, saves the children of Class 5-3 by entrusting them with Raijin-Oh as he was weakened in the attempt to stop the missile. Calling themselves the Earth Defense Class, these children & their three giant robots, Ken-Oh, Juu-Oh, & Hou-Oh (which can combine to form Raijin-Oh), are the only things that can stop the Jaku Empire.