Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2014!! Part 2

With only a couple of days left in 2014, let's see the other half of my list of what I loved doing the most on the blog this year! Are they what you think they are? Wait, you actually thought about this beforehand? No? Okay, good... For a second there I thought at least one of you was crazy.

Or maybe I'm the one who's crazy... Oh, wait, that's already confirmed. Anyway, onto the list.

Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro (October 2)
You know what's a silly thing some people like to do nowadays? Call others "hipsters", simply because "B" doesn't like something "A" does. The most common accusations come from someone not caring for something popular among the general fandom, like being a Sword Art Online "hater", or someone liking something that is more underground or different, like loving the ever living hell out of Flowers of Evil. Overall, though, it's pretty silly of an accusation to make, but at the same time those who are accused are so quick to state they they can't be hipsters, because it's such a nebulous term. Therefore, I shall be the first to embrace the term & state with a full heart that I can be defined a "hispter", because I absolutely enjoyed the "Sumo Asshole" hijinks of Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro, an anime from this year that is still hated upon by nearly everyone else. Or wait, considering that the original manga debuted in the 70s, would that make me a "hippie" instead? Eh, I'll accept that moniker, too.

(Yes, I know the hippie movement was in the 60s... Let me make my dumb jokes.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2014!! Part 1

It's Boxing Day once again, so it's time for look back at everything I wrote about in the past year & compile the best of the best... Or at least the ones I liked the most. This year in general was pretty special for me, as I ended up talking about some really excellent titles, as well as iconic franchises. I started off with a giant month of Kochikame (21 episodes worth!), dedicated another month to the glory of JAM Project while also getting autographs from them at Anime Boston (Yoshiki Fukuyama had a rush of nostalgia seeing the Ehrgeiz LD I had him sign), & I even dedicated three months worth of posts solely to Masami Kurumada (who was celebrating his 40th Anniversary this year). I hit Review #150 this year as well, & earlier this month introduced Demo Disc & Obscusion B-Side, but I do feel like I may have left the idea of "obscurity", however. Now, yes, there were some unknown titles covered this year, but looking back while compiling this list, I realized that a number of titles were either infamous or known to some extent. While I'm fine with covering titles like those every now & then, like I did with Karneval, I do feel like next year should mark a return to me covering crap you've barely heard of (if you knew of it at all); "back to basics", in a sense.

Until then, though, let's see what I really loved doing the most from 2014, because that's what this is supposed to be about. N'est-ce pa?

Man, do I love this Japanese DVD cover.

Eat-Man & Eat-Man '98 (May 21 & 26)
Sadly, though Akihito Yoshitomi has returned to his most successful work with Eat-Man : The Main Dish this year, there has been nothing in regards to it on the English front; no simul-publish, no licensing, & not even any scanlating. This is actually a very common thing to happen to continuations/sequels of older works, or even reboots of classic titles, which is a shame. Anyway, to celebrate the return of Bolt Crank I decided to finally sit down & re-watch both of Studio DEEN's anime productions from the late-90s, the first time in about 8-9 years. During that time between viewings I've since read the entire manga, which is one of my all-time favorites, & there was a momentary reminder of my love for this series when Justin Sevakis covered the '97 series in his old Buried Treasure column back in 2008. So how did I feel about both shows the second time around?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Legend of Black Heaven: God Gave Rock & Roll to You, To Defeat Aliens, Put it in the Soul of Everyone

This is a special occasion here on The Land of Obscuion, & not just because it's Christmas Eve. No, this is a special review because this wasn't entirely my idea; in fact, I've been (kind of) requested to cover this anime. See, for the first time ever I a part of a giant Anime Secret Santa that's headed up by blogging duo the Reverse Thieves, with this being the sixth time they've ever done it. The concept is that anyone who writes about anime can send in their name, site, & some sort of list of watched anime (MyAnimeList being the most common), and the Thieves randomly assign each writer to recommend three titles to another writer; obviously, this is all under supreme secrecy. The titles have to be something that the "victim" has never watched in full, is at most 26 episodes long (movies & OVAs are also fair game), & has to seem like something the "victim" will most likely enjoy in some fashion. Each writer has to choose one title from the list each of them receive, watch it, & then review it in time for Christmas Eve; some do choose to cover all three. After all the reviews come out the Thieves then reveal who everyone's Secret Santa was. I've thought about being a part of this fun idea, but never did so until this year, so what titles were on my Secret Santa's request list?

Well, it was certainly a list that involved titles that I had some interest in, or at least became interested in. The first choice was C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control (known only as [C] - Control over here), a 2011 noitaminA series directed by Kenji Nakamura, whose work I covered only a couple of months ago via Ayakashi: Goblin Cat & Mononoke. I saw the first episode back when it aired & was interested, but I decided to not make it my choice for this review; I might cover it at a later date, though. The second choice was Heat Guy J, the 2002-2003 series that gained infamy here in North America for how much Geneon hoped that it would be the next big hit. It did see airtime on MTV2, of all places, but it was only the first half & in a seemingly-random order. That is how I saw the show years back, however, so I decided to not choose that, either; maybe one day I'll watch all of it, as I hear it's even better in the second half. So that leaves the final choice I was given, and it was the perfect one for this blog. I had never seen it before, it was pretty obscure (even though it did see a release over here by Geneon), & I knew very little about it beforehand.

Ladies & Gentlemen... Black Heaven!

Kacho-Oji - HARD ROCK save the SPACE was a 13-episode TV series than ran from July to October of 1999 & was the brainchild of Hiroki Hayashi, the man who created Battle Athletes, El-Hazard, & the original Tenchi Muyo!. Pioneer Entertainment released it in North America during 2000-2001 under the name The Legend of Black Heaven, but when Geneon re-released it as a complete collection in 2005 they put the advertising towards one particular person, character designer Kazuto Nakazawa. By then Nakazawa had directed two short animations that were given tons of critical acclaim outside of Japan: The Origin of O-Ren, "Chapter Three" of Quentin Tarantino's stylish 2003 action movie Kill Bill, & the music video for Linkin Park's 2004 song "Breaking the Habit". With that bit of promotional trivia out of the way, let's see if Jack from Beneath the Tangles did the right thing by recommending this show to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Obscusion B-Side: Segata Sanshiro vs. Pepsiman: I'm Holding Out for a Hero 'til the End of the Night!

Advertising is likely much more complicated than I think most people expect it to be. Still, the fruits of all that labor to showcase how awesome someone's product is has given us some truly memorable commercials. Some people might want to forget them, while others love to indulge in the nostalgia. In Japan it's very much the same, but due to cultural differences Japanese commercials can seem different from what we get in North America. Okay, they can be downright bizarre & confusing, but sometimes it's because of that oddness that we end up loving them as well. During the mid-90s two companies had mascots to help advertise their products, and both were not only highly successful but simply downright weird. They were so weird, in fact, that both have loving fanbases to this very day. Therefore, in the vein of what I did last December with Ehrgeiz vs. Ehrgeiz & Colorful vs. Colorful, I will be doing what has never been done before & pitting two of the most iconic Japanese commercial series mascots against each other.

This is Segata Sanshiro vs. Pepsiman!

During the mid-90s Sega of Japan needed something to help promote their 32-bit video game console, the Sega Saturn. Taking inspiration from the 1943 movie Sugata Sanshiro, the debut film of legendary director Akira Kurosawa, SOJ created Segata Sanshiro, a Judo master who actively hunted down anyone who wasn't playing Sega Saturn. In true Japanese commercial fashion, however, instead of simply explaining how awesome games on the Saturn were Segata Sanshiro preferred to simply beat down anybody in view, before commanding them "Sega Saturn, Shiro!/Play Sega Saturn!"; the line was a pun, as it sounded similar to his name (just swap the "ta" & "Sa" around). Seemingly defying all logic, these commercials were an instant hit & helped make the Saturn a massive success in Japan. It also helped that Segata Sanshiro was played by Hiroshi Fujioka, the original Kamen Rider himself & Japanese cultural icon. These commercials ran throughout 1997 & 1998, finishing up when the Dreamcast launched in Japan in November of '98.

Not too long before Sega created their Saturn-loving Judo master, though, PepsiCo did something similar in Japan. To help promote Pepsi in that country, PepsiCo Japan created a mascot of their own: Pepsiman. Designed by Canadian comic artist Travis Charest (Darkstars, Ultimates SagaWildC.A.T.s/X-Men), Pepsiman debuted around 1995/1996 on Japanese television. Much like Segata Sanshiro, Pepsiman's commercials were simple in concept, featuring people who were thirsty & in need of a drink; Pepsiman would arrive just in time to quench their thirst. Unlike Segata Sanshiro, though, Pepsiman was a giant klutz, consistently getting himself in trouble or badly injured shortly after helping those in need. Pepsiman would end up lasting a little longer, however, with his last real appearances in Japanese media happening around 2000 or so; he's supposedly still the official mascot for PepsiCo Japan, but I can't verify that.

Now that the introductions are out of the way, let's finally get this Vs. battle started! The categories we'll be looking at are as follows: Concept & Commercials, Design, Theme Music, Video Games, & Memorability. A nice odd number to make sure that there aren't any ties, right? Well, let's get straight into things, shall we?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Demo Disc Vol. 1: Mecha Magnanimity

Welcome to the pilot post of Demo Disc! For those too young to remember them (at least, I hope I have younger readers...), demo discs were the ways people played demos of video games before the days of digital distribution. Generally, each disc contained a wide selection of demos that covered a multitude a genres, but sometimes a demo disc would be more focused. Similarly, the titles that I'll be covering in each Demo Disc post are ones that I am unable to see in full & properly review, yet still wanted to write about in some way. Taking inspiration from last month's theme, for this pilot I'll be looking at the first episode of four different mech anime, one for each decade from the 70s-00s, plus an extra title that is technically complete but is essentially impossible for me to give an actual review for. With all of this out of the way, let's start this off by going psychedelic & into the 70s!

Don't be shy... Mechander only wants a hug.

The Congistar Corps Invade Japan!
Gasshin Sentai/Combining Machine Squadron Mechander Robo is a fairly obscure mech anime from 1977, but it's not like it was made by a bunch of nobodies. Sure, Wako Pro never really made a name for themselves, Mechander is the closest thing to an "iconic work" for them, but some of the staff was either an established name or would go on to greatness. It had opening & ending themes by Ichiro Mizuki (who was already an iconic singer), mech designs by Kunio Okawara (months before Zambot 3 debuted), music by Michiaki Watanabe (Mazinger franchise, Dangaioh, Godannar), animation direction by Takeshi Honda (Millennium Actress, Dennou Coil), & the lead character was voiced by hot-blood legend Akira Kamiya! So what happened? Well, Bullmark, who were making the toys, went out of business while the show was airing, resulting in the production having barely any money behind it. In the end, Mechander Robo infamously relied on reusing stock footage to such an insane extent that the final episode was literally a recap of the entire show! Still, how was the first episode, before Bullmark's demise screwed it over?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Anniversary# 4: World of Obscusion! Meet Demo Disc & Obscusion B-Side!

In many Asian cultures, the number 4 is equivalent to death. Luckily, The Land of Obscusion has survived its fourth year & today is celebrating it's 4th Anniversary! Woohoo!! This day isn't just special for me, but this entire year had a sense of nostalgic happiness for me. Early this year, February 23 to be exact, was the 10th Anniversary of the very first piece of writing I ever did that was released to the public: A short article I wrote about the Sega Genesis 32X for GameSpot as part of their shortly-lived GameSpotting blog feature; they encouraged fans to send in their own articles as a GuestSpotting entry alongside the editors' pieces. Looking back on it, the piece I wrote, 32X: Short Name, Short Life, Big Fun, is pretty rough & not my best work by any means. But as a 17-year-old senior in high school, seeing my name, & something I made on a literal whim, on a high-profile gaming site like GameSpot, during what I would call the site's "Golden Age", was just surreal & amazing. It truly was the catalyst for where I am now, ten years later.

As always, a gigantic "Thank You!" to every who reads & everyone new who comes across this blog, as the number of visits & page views are still trending upwards. At the end of last year I was surprised to see this blog hit just below 4,000 views in one month, but that ceiling was burst through with the coming of the new year; in fact, I'm now starting to scratch the 7,000 views ceiling! As for the blog itself, this year was the first to feature screenshots for every single review along with the use of italics & quotation marks to look more "professional". I also introduced the "30 Days of Popularity" sidebar, which showcases the most-viewed posts from the past 30 days. Unfortunately, that sidebar has resulted in a very skewed alteration to my most-viewed posts; B't X Neo has never left it since it's introduction, for example. I am thinking of maybe reducing it to "7 Days of Popularity", though I worry it will simply skew things in favor of the newest posts mainly. What do you all think? Should I change it to 7 days, or is 30 days doing just fine?

Anyway, one thing I've thought on occasion was how easy it was to see everything that I've written. Sure, you can look at every post by way of year & month it was "published" on the blog, but what if you want to look for something specific? What if you want to simply see a comprehensive catalog of what's been reviewed here? Well, it's not quite 100% finished as of this post, but I am introducing a new tab that will appear next to the "About" tab that I also introduced earlier this year: The Master List. An alphabetically-organized collection of every review, "12 Anime" list, Theory Musing, & "other" posts that I have ever put on this blog will now be easy to locate & link to in a single page. Like I said, it's technically not finished yet, I still need to link about half of the list, but I'm making it open to the public right now & will finish adding in the links within the next couple of days.

With the blog entering its fifth year, though, I am going to introduce some changes. Nothing that will change the focus or execution of the blog, mind you, but rather changes that I hope will benefit the blog from both a writing perspective & from a personal perspective. Just last week Justin Sevakis wrote his final Pile of Shame article, admitting that he needed "to stop writing about specific anime for a while, because it's a really good way to get burned out." Now I don't feel "burned out" by any means, but I will admit that sometimes I do feel like I need a break from watching anime partially for the sake of reviewing them; I don't want this to feel like a job (especially since I don't get paid to do this). At the same time, though, I do want to keep writing. Therefore, I am introducing two new series of posts to The Land of Obscusion: Demo Disc & Obscusion B-Side!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Twelve Mecha Songs That Deserve More Love Part 2

Part 1 of this list of underappreciated songs from mech anime was pretty strong, but I think Part 2 can match up to it pretty well. I even found a trio of choices that weren't OPs, just to be fair to the other sides of the equation. So let's not dilly-dally... Here we go!

"DIVER #2100" by R.A.M. (Dennou Boukenki Webdiver OP1)
Boy, I am starting this half with an obscure-as-hell song from an even more obscure mech anime, aren't I? From what I can find out, Dennou Boukenki/Electric Brain Adventure Record Webdiver was a 2001-2002 series produced by Takara with animation by Radix & Nippon Animation. Supposedly it was created in a similar fashion to that of the Brave Series, i.e. it had a toy line to go with it, and just by looking at the OP you do get a slightly similar feel. Oddly enough, even though the show seems to have a water theme to it, it's actually about entering a futuristic computer network to battle a dangerous computer virus that has infected all of the "Web Knights" that protect the network; the water theme just seems to be how the robots are cockpit-ed. The only one to escape infection is Gladion, who teams with fourth grader "Web Diver" Kento Yuuki. So why do I include this song in the list?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Twelve Mecha Songs That Deserve More Love Part 1

On this Thanksgiving weekend, let us give thanks for everything that we have in life... And pray that no one gets (horrifically) trampled on Black Friday. As a fan of mech anime, and on a relatively silly matter, I am thankful that I was finally able to finally see all the way through Matchless Raijin-Oh. At the same time, I am thankful that I can wash away the stink of Gin-Iro no Olynssis with a multitude of better mech anime. Still, the thing that latter show did best was the music (Raijin-Oh's music was awesome, too). With that in mind, let us end this third (& fairly low-key) Mecha Month with a look at some awesome music from mech anime that you may not have known of, but (if nothing else) featured an OP, ED, IN, or BGM that shouldn't be forgotten with time. Plus, in true fashion for the blog, I'll toss in a couple of of bonus selections at the end of each part. Let's jam!

"Starlight Serenade" by Mami Yamase (Metal Armor Dragonar OP2)
Some anime have such an excellent first opening that what comes afterwards is generally forgotten & ignored. This is certainly the case for Dragonar, Sunrise's attempt at replacing Gundam that has never really gotten proper respect for simply being a great 80s mech anime; it didn't get that respect in Japan until barely a decade ago. Still, regardless of what anyone think of the show itself, one part of Dragonar that everyone essentially agrees is awesome is the first OP, "Yume Iro Chaser" by Mami Ayukawa. With an intensely addictive beat, instantly memorable melody, and animation handled by a young Masami Obari (all on his own!), Ayukawa's song is the de facto anthem of this series & deserves that spot, but it's not like its follow up was a poor effort by any means. In fact, it's just about as good in some ways.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gin-Iro no Olynssis: Our Frothing Demand for this Show Increases(?)

The other review for the third Mecha Month takes us not quite as far back as Matchless Raijin-Oh did; this time we're only going back to 2006. In this year Toei Animation was celebrating their 50th Anniversary, and one of their products during this celebratory year was a relative rarity from them nowadays, a mech anime. Yeah, they had a notable hit with Gaiking: Legend of Daiku-Maryu shortly before, and I guess you could include 2005's video game adaptation Xenosaga the Animation, but prior to those Toei's last mech anime was the generally ignored Getter Robo Go from 1991 (& before that you'd have to go back to the early-80s for titles like GoLion, DaiRugger XV, Albegas, & Lazerion). Not only that, but the topic of this review was the last mech anime Toei has ever done until literally just a few days ago with the theatrical debut of their sci-fi movie Expelled from Paradise. What am I trying to get at, though? Hisashi Hirai.

This is literally the only image I could find of Hirai

It's honestly pretty astonishing that a man like Hisashi Hirai has become such a highly notable name in anime without ever having directed anything; the highest he's done is animation direction for OPs, EDs, & the occasional episode. Instead, Hirai is known primarily as a character designer, with his first notable work being 1995's Wild Knights Gulkeeva. He would then go on to do designs for Infinite Ryvius & s-CRY-ed, but he didn't became a big name until he was brought on for 2002's Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. His style was very sleek & for SEED he featured a bit more of a bishonen look, which helped attract female fans. What happened, though, was that his next two works, 2004's Fafner & Gundam SEED Destiny, looked a little too similar. How similar, exactly? Well, SEED Destiny's lead, Shinn Asuka, looked almost 100% exactly like Fafner's Kazuki Makabe; the only notable difference was eye color! Not only that, Hirai didn't seem to feature much variety in general when it came to making larger casts of characters, leading to anime fans (especially in North America) nicknaming him "Same-Face" Hirai. Naturally, when Toei debuted their 50th Anniversary mech anime, which featured Hirai character designs, fans immediately began mocking it. Then once the show debuted it was deemed one of the worst mech anime of recent memory & promptly buried under the sands of time. How bad, you ask? Well, joke anime news site AnimeMaru deemed it special enough to warrant a bogus license announcement from Sentai Filmworks this past May, complete with not just a DVD & Blu-Ray release but also VHS. So let's take a look at the most obscure Hisaishi Hirai mech anime out there, Gin-Iro no Olynssis (Olynssis, The Silver Color).

You can ignore the "Tokito" at the end... Everyone else does.

It is the year 3567 & the Earth is a post-apocalyptic mess. A being known only as the Consul operates from the Moon & sends down organic robots called Gardeners in an attempt to eradicate humanity. At the same time, the Earth itself is surrounded by the Olynssis Phenomenon, a space-time distortion that has sent people both to the past & the future. Tokito Aizawa is a young man who works with some others as Hunters, who take out Gardeners for a living using their Crawlers, which are created from salvaged Gardener parts. While stopping in Meteotown, Tokito comes across a mysterious girl named Téa, who can't remember anything past 6 months ago & insists that he's a man named Koichi. She shows him a secret part of the town that leads to the lake right before the town is attacked. Téa lead Tokito there specifically to release a giant robot named Silber from its slumber & have him pilot it. Tokito agrees to pilot it alongside Téa, while she travels with Tokito's firends in an effort to find out her hidden past, and if she's from the present, past, or even the future.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Matchless Raijin-Oh "Season 2": Truly an "Honorable Brave"

Previously in the Matchless Raijin-Oh Review:
"Matchless Raijin-Oh is simply a joy of a mech anime to watch, and it's nothing short of astonishing that Anime Midstream has been able to keep releasing DVDs of it... Here's hoping that the change to sub-only will only result in an accelerated release rate for "Season 2" once Volume 6 comes out, and hopefully this company won't simply disappear into the aether afterwards."
Well, this was faster than expected. Last November I held the second ever Mecha Month on the blog, and I started with a review of the first half of Anime Midstream's release of Raijin-Oh, partially because the do-it-yourself English dub was ending with Volume 5 & partially because I had no idea when the entire thing would finally get released. Now, just barely over a year later, I am holding the third Mecha Month here & I'm starting once again with the Earth Defense Class. Yeah, that's right, this past September Anime Midstream finished their release of this anime by putting the second half, all 26 episodes, into a 5-disc complete collection.

I hope no one put actual money down against this show ever being fully released over here.

The title splash doesn't change, so here's an eyecatch featuring the EDC.

It's definitely been a long wait for this moment to finally happen. Hell, I remember reading the initial announcement of Matchless Raijin-Oh's licensing back in December of 2008, six years ago(!), on my relative's computer when I was visiting family in Budapest; yeah, only when I'm in another continent can stuff like this be announced. Anyway, I was familiar with Raijin-Oh only slightly when this news came out, by way of the series being used in Super Robot Wars GC, but due to it's relative obscurity I had never seen any of it before. Naturally, I was excited about this show getting released here in North America, and I pre-ordered every single release as soon as it was scheduled. So, all these years later, there's only one question left to (finally) answer: Did this show meet my expectations & curiosity?

Does "Season 2" start with a giant vacuum monster sucking up all of the animals in the African Sahara? (... The answer is "Yes")

The battle between the Eldoran-powered Earth Defense Class & the Jaku Empire has reached the point where one mech vs. one Jaku Beast isn't enough anymore. Class 5-3 now have access to Bakuryu-Oh, a dragon robot that Maria & the command center control, and when combined with Ken-Oh, Juu-Oh, & Hou-Oh can create the almighty God Raijin-Oh. Belzeb, Felzeb, & Taida, however, now have access to Jaku Satan, a crystal mech that can not only fight alongside the Jaku Beasts that form from the strewn about Akudama but also combine with them to create Super Jaku Beasts. Unfortunately for the Jaku Empire's generals, however, their constant failure to defeat the EDC & conquer Earth is slowly angering Jaku Emperor Warusa. With the threat of being considered expendable imminent, Belzeb, Felzeb, & Taida decide to make finally identifying their opposition & locating their base a priority.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hakaba Kitaro: Trick or Treat, Smell Nezumi Otoko's Feet...

Greetings & salutations, denizens of the dark! It's Halloween, and what better way to finish off a month of horror anime than to take a look at a show based on the work of the living cultural icon himself, Shigeru Mizuki.

At 92 years old this year, Mizuki may very well be the oldest person ever to still draw comics. And with him being as old as he is, it's impossible to detail the important parts of his life, but here's a (very) basic primer: He was the hopeless black sheep of his family, was drafted into World War II, continually survived when he should have died in battle, lost his arm while sick in the war, came back to Japan when he was marked as dead, & went on to reteach Japan the yokai stories that the government tried suppressing before the war. Really, if you want more info on his life then simply read some of his manga; Drawn & Quarterly has brought over a good amount of them already. What I want to focus on his most iconic work: a young boy named Kitaro. In Japan there are few manga as iconic as GeGeGe no Kitaro, the tales of a young yokai boy who tries to help humanity coexist with his kind. It's so celebrated that, ever since the 60s, Toei Animation has made a new Kitaro anime every decade, and I'm positive that a new one will be made by the end of this decade. But Mizuki didn't start with GeGeGe, actually. Instead, Kitaro's tales were originally a little darker & not as kid friendly, and in early 2008 Toei celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the original GeGeGe anime, while the newest version of that was still airing, by making a slightly more accurate adaptation of the original manga. Bringing in some influence from Mononoke, noitaminA's 10th series was a call back to the early days of Mizuki's beloved boy, the days of Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro).

A man named Mizuki is brought in by the hospital he works with to see a medically impossible sight: A dead man who is still moving around in his bed, just as if he never died. Mizuki is told to investigate how this happened & his only lead ends up being the abandoned house next to where he lives. Sneaking into the house he's welcomed by a disfigured woman & a giant mummy, who greet Mizuki. They explain that they're the last living members of the Ghost Tribe, who existed before humanity but were forced to live underground once humans became the dominant species. The woman is pregnant & she and her husband came to the surface for help; she saw a man in pain & gave him some of her power, resulting in the hospital issue. The next day the dead man turns to dust, and when Mizuki checks on the couple they're both dead as well. Mizuki buries the wife, but out from the grave comes a newborn child. Mizuki is understandably freaked out, but eventually takes in the baby named Kitaro & raises him into a young boy. Meanwhile, though, Kitaro is taught about his origins on the side by Medama Oyaji, an eyeball (& sole remaining part of his father). Kitaro is now a yokai who lives with humans, continually getting involved in one weird situation after another.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mononoke: Arrive. Raze Hell. Leave.

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~ was definitely an interesting series, an anthology of three horror stories produced by three fairly different staffs, with help from Toei Animation. While it was definitely different from the previous two shows that started off Fuji TV's noitaminA, which were both josei manga adaptations, Ayakashi still fulfilled the block's theme of being different from your usual anime. It was also a fruitful change of pace, with the Goblin Cat episodes apparently being the highest-rated production Fuji TV had on that time block at the time. Obviously, Fuji TV & Toei weren't going to let a successful production like that be forgotten, so in mid-2007, after Jyu-Oh-Sei, Honey & Clover II, Hataraki Man, & Nodame Cantabile had their noitaminA runs, the Medicine Seller came back to Japanese television with a series all his own, Mononoke (not to be confused with Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke). Was the glory of Goblin Cat simply a once-in-a-lifetime case of the stars aligning, or did lightning strike a second time here?

Mononoke tells five stories about the Medicine Seller's travels, each one utilizing a different monster from Japanee myth. Zashiki Warashi (episode 1 & 2) is about a pregnant woman named Shino who is on the run & begs a full inn the Seller is at to let her stay the night. The innkeeper allows her in & has her stay in the storeroom located in the attic, which is haunted by baby-like beings that come from daruma dolls. Sea Bishop (eps 3-5) has the Medicine Seller traveling to Edo on a boat along with Kayo (the servant from Goblin Cat), Genyosai Yanagi (an ascetic exorcist), Hyoue Sasaki (an unrepentant swordsman), & some others. The boat, however, winds up in the Dragon's Triangle, a literal "Sea of Ayakashi", where all of those on the boat will be tested against their greatest fears. In The Faceless Monster (eps 6 & 7), the Seller winds up in jail with Ocho, a woman who is accused of killing her husband & his family while they were home. The truth behind Ocho's actions, however, is clouded in mystery, made all the tougher for the Seller to crack when a fox masked mononoke tries to save Ocho.

For Nue - The Japanese Chimera (eps 8 & 9), the Medicine Seller visits the home of Princess Ruri, who had invited four potential suitors for a game of Kumiko, a.k.a. incense smelling. The reason why the suitors are actually there, though, are more selfish than altruistic. Finally, the Seller's journey bookends itself by ending with what it started with back in Ayakashi in The Goblin Cat (episodes 10-12). Taking place on a train in what seems like the 1920s, a sharp contrast from Edo-era Japan, the Seller is in a car with people that look similar to the cast of the original Goblin Cat, having to take on another bakenenko, this time brought about by the apparent suicide of a young woman.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~: Goblin Cat: Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That... Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Cat?

Two-thirds of Ayakashi out of the way, and only three episodes to go. Even though this final story in the anthology horror series is the shortest, it's also become the most well known & beloved part of the entire series, so much so that I'm sure most anime fans who know of this last story don't even know the names of the other two stories. Part of the reason for this notoriety is because of the extremely distinct visual style these three episodes utilize, and the other part is because this story is the major directorial debut of a man who has quickly come to be known as one of the most visually entrancing anime directors of the present day. Finishing up Ayakashi is the sole original creation of the series: Bakeneko/Goblin Cat.

It's the arranged marriage day for Mao Sakai, whose marriage will help with her family's financial troubles. While the last bits of preparations are finishing up, a nameless Medicine Seller comes to the house & tries to sell some medicines that will help with Mao's (gocha gocha gocha). He's denied, but shortly afterwards Mao falls dead upon exiting the house, in front of her family. It looks as if she was stabbed by something, and while everyone panics the Medicine Seller senses supernatural danger. He's tied up for being suspicious, but when a servant who was sent out to get a doctor for Mao crashes through the ceiling in a bloody mess, the Seller removes the ropes & sets up barrier seals. He tells the family that a mononoke, a bakeneko specifically, has invaded their home & that he'll help remove it, but first must find out the shape, truth, & reason for its existence. Finding out these three things will require digging into the Sakai family's dark & shameful past.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~: Goddess of the Dark Tower: A Love Story for the Ages, Yet Not Even a Century Old

Above is the title splash that every episode of Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~ features during the opening sequence. I include it now for two main reasons: First, I like to showcase title splashes with my reviews, but each story in this show features it's own title splash after the opening plays; second, Geneon started their DVD release of this anime with the second story, so it's only fitting to show the general title splash now. While I have no idea why Geneon's releases started with the middle story instead of the beginning, I can say that this second tale is one that I saw with a friend years ago, not long after the DVDs had all come out. Unfortunately, I don't recall much of it nowadays, so is this story a flub in the grand scheme of Ayakashi, or am I fool for forgetting what it was about? This is Goddess of the Dark Tower, based on the 1917 play Tenshu Monogatari/The Castle Tower Story by Kyoka Izumi.

Himekawa Zushonosuke is the falconer for Lord Takeda Harima-no-Kami, but when his falcon Kojiro flies away, after being shot at, Zushunosuke is commanded to retrieve the bird or commit seppuku. While searching he comes across a naked woman swimming & feels as if he was dreaming. He ends up going to Shirasagi Castle, an abandoned tower that houses supposed mononoke/evil spirits. Inside he finds Kojiro as well as the woman he saw earlier. Her name is Tomihime & is in fact a forgotten god, one who came to Earth & feeds on human souls for energy. Instead of killing Zushonosuke, though, Tomihime instead falls in love with him. Unfortunately, the leader of her cadre of handmaidens, Uba, strongly opposes this love & when the human Oshizu, who is in love with Zushonosuke, finds out about this relationship she encourages Harima-no-Kami to storm the castle & kill everyone there to retrieve his falcon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ayakashi ~Japanese Classic Horror~: Yotsuya Ghost Story: It's Always Sunny in Edo-Era Japan

The Halloween post on this blog has been a constant thing every year, but this time I want to celebrate the holiday even more. Therefore, this entire month will be all about horror anime! (Don't worry, I'm sure some people consider Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro "horrific", right? Heathens.) Specifically, this month I'll be taking a look at a series of productions by Toei Animation from 2006-2008 that all had a horror theme to them, but first let's talk noitaminA.

I mentioned it briefly in my overview of early late-night anime back in July of 2012 (Part 2, specifically), but Fuji TV originally wasn't exactly kind to the concept when it started becoming big. They joined the movement relatively early in 1998, but they apparently never kept any real sense of consistency, resulting in some shows having multiple new episodes aired in one day because of delays. In 2004 the network took a break from this & in Spring 2005 they debuted noitaminA ("Animation" spelled backwards), a half-hour time slot every Thursday night from 24:45-25:15 (a.k.a. 12:45-1:15 A.M. Friday morning). The concept of noitaminA was to expand the audience of anime by airing titles that were purposefully not the usual fare, and the first two titles to air, Honey & Clover and Paradise Kiss (both based on josei manga), definitely fit that concept.

The third show to air was yet another interesting idea: Across 11 episodes in early 2006, Toei would animate three different stories, two based on classic Japanese horror tales & one original creation. The result was Ayakashi ~ Japanese Classic Horror~, not to be confused with the 2007 anime also named Ayakashi or 2006-2007's Ayakashi Ayashi (known as Ghost Slayers Ayashi outside of Japan). In 2007 Geneon Entertainment released the show under the slightly altered name Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales, which admittedly doesn't sound quite as cool, across three DVDs, one for each story, though they oddly started with the second tale. Due to the fact that each story features its own director, writer, musician, & cast, only Toei doing the animation & the man behind the music is shared, not to mention the fact that they're three completely different stories with their own animation styles, I'm going to copy what I did with Yugo the Negotiator last year & split this show up across multiple reviews. So let's get the introductions out of the way & start with Yostsuya Ghost Story, based on the 1825 Japanese ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan (which is completely redundant for me to point out, as "kaidan" translates as "ghost story").

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro: Whatever, I Do What I Want!

Sometimes a product is made to not follow the crowd. Sometimes a product is made precisely to be different from what's around it. And when that product is released into the wild it gets ravaged & hated because it's so different from the norm. Oddly enough, I've enjoyed some of these products that are generally considered "horrible" or even "one of the worst". One of my favorite RPGs is UNLIMTED SaGa on the PlayStation 2, a game that has collectively been ravaged horribly & has even been called one of "the worst RPGs ever". Granted, I can understand why people hate that game, but at the same time some of the complaints (like the Reel System being completely "random") are downright incorrect. The subject of this review is much like that game, because to most people it's one of the worst anime of recent memory... Yet I've enjoyed it from episode 1. Not in an ironic, "so bad it's good", way, mind you; I honestly really enjoyed Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro & feel it's been unfairly ridiculed.

Notari Matsutaro debuted back in mid-1973 in Big Comic Magazine & was created by Tetsuya Chiba, the artist behind the iconic Ashita no Joe. Though it told a similar story in some ways, it wound up running longer than it's boxing cousin, lasting 36 volumes & running until 2000 (there were two multi-year breaks, though). In 1991 the manga was adapted into a 10-episode OVA series by Mushi Production, or at least the company that came to be after the death of Osamu Tezuka's original studio in the early 70s. In fact, I think Notari was the last anime Mushi ever made on their own; they now only do assistance work & rights licensing. This OVA series was apparently only available via rental, which meant that it was VHS only, & has never seen a re-release since, so it's really damn rare. This past Spring, with Saint Seiya Omega coming to an end, Toei decided to fill in their 6:30 A.M. Sunday morning slot with a new adaptation of Chiba's manga, renaming it Abarenbou Rikiishi!! Matsutaro. CrunchyRoll got the simulcasting rights to the show, with their translated title being accurate to the new name, and when it debuted it got torn apart by just about anyone who saw the first episode; it notably was one of the two lowest-rated shows on ANN's Spring 2014 Preview Guide by both writers & viewers (the other was Kenzen Robo Daimidaler). Yet why did I enjoy it? Did this early hatred have any merit? Let's find out...

It's the Showa Era & life is generally simple for most Japanese citizens. This is especially true for Matsutaro Sakaguchi: He lives with his mother & younger siblings, is built like a tank, & gets to do whatever he wants. Unfortunately, this means that he's in his late-teens yet hasn't passed Middle School, is absolutely self-centered & egotistical, and there's really no one that can stop him due to his sheer strength. Unfortunately for him, one night he gets drunk, commandeers a truck, & steals away Reiko Minami, a teacher he has a crush on, only to crash into a public bath & gets arrested. He's given a special "graduation" from school (i.e. he gets kicked out) & is forced to find a job, but even with his homeroom teacher helping him out no job matches his impossible requirements. After a rough encounter with a sumo wrestler ends up with him taking out the sumo in an actual ring in front of tons of people, though, every stable in the region wants to have Matsutaro join them. After some thought Matsutaro decides on Raijin Stable... Simply because it's literally around the block from where Reiko now lives with her parents. Matsutaro's dream is to marry Reiko & become a made man by becoming yokozuna, and with his freakish strength it's going to be hard to find many who can stop him.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Violinist of Hameln: Slideshow, Slideshow #9, on the Imagawa Line...

Generally when a manga is made into an anime it's meant to be as accurate to the original source material as possible; on rare occasion it's a radical departure. On even rarer occasions, though, the anime is accurate yet a radical departure at the same time. The TV series adaptation of Violinist of Hameln is one of these super-rare cases, as it's nothing like the movie that came a few months before it. From a production standpoint 99.9% is different, from director to animation studio to even the entire voice cast, only Kouhei Tanaka returns for the music, but even from a storytelling perspective the TV series is radically altered from Michiaki Watanabe's original manga. Whereas the manga was a comical fantasy gag adventure, the TV series is a generally darker & dead serious tale, though it apparently is still accurate to the general plot of the manga; the anime adapts roughly the first 10 volumes. With something so radically altered yet still accurate does that mean it's bad or good? Well, when you have an iconic director making his debut as series composer with this show the end result should be worth watching regardless, right?

Fifteen years ago, Queen Horn of the Duchy of Sforzando was able to end the war between humans & demons by creating a magical barrier that turned all demons within it to stone, forcing them to retreat to the Northern Capital. Hell King Bass, one of the demon's Warlords, even beheaded himself when his body started petrifying, though he still lives by possessing a young boy. As a precaution, though, Horn had her baby daughter sent away so that she could live a normal life should anything go wrong. Unfortunately, Horn's barrier has finally weakened & Bass decides to go after her daughter, who has grown up to be the young girl Flute in the village of Staccato. To protect Flute, though, is her friend Hamel, who can use musical magic by way of his giant violin. The two decide to journey to Sforzando, Flute to reunite with her estranged mother & Hamel to learn more about his past, as he suffers from amnesia & has started growing a horn on his head.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Violinist of Hameln The Movie: Can an Anime Give an Encore?

Last year I celebrated Classical Music Month, every September by order of President Bill Clinton, by talking about a ton of anime OPs, EDs, INs, & BGM that doesn't get the appreciation that they deserve; it was kind of crazy to do. This year, though, I'll be celebrating this month of musicality by reviewing a series that is partially defined by it. Like I mentioned last year, however, I will not be covering any part of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes franchise; I reviewed the two movies & the Golden Wings OVA back in May of 2012. Luckily, there are other anime out there that utilize classical music, with probably the most beloved one (that got released in North America, at least) being Princess Tutu; maybe I'll do that one next year. For this year, however, I'm going to into the world of fantasy, a favorite genre of mine, and look at a certain group of instrument-toting warriors.

(The) Violinist of Hameln by Michiaki Watanabe (not to be confused with the anime music composer of the same romanized name [the sole difference in their names is literally a single kanji!]) was one of the first titles to appear in Enix's then-debuting Monthly Shonen GanGan magazine back in 1991, and it seemed to be an iconic title for the magazine's first decade as it ended in early 2001, lasting 37 volumes. The manga was a bit of an odd duck in that it was modeled as a fantasy adventure to save the world from destruction but the actual execution, at least early on, was almost a gag manga featuring a jerk of a hero & fourth-wall-breaking jokes. In 1996 the manga was adapted into a TV anime series that is notorious for changing the entire mood & feel of the story... But that's not what I'm starting with. A few months prior to the TV series debut there was a 30-minute theatrical movie that was part of the "GW Anime Festival '96" triple-billing with Mahoujin Guru Guru & Dragon Quest: The Emblem of Roto. This movie is more in line with the style of the original manga & generally gets ignored in place of the more-infamous weekly production. Let's see how it turned out.

The land is in turmoil due to monsters under the command of Hell King Bass. The kingdom of Antiphonal in particular is under attack by a squadron of skeletons & all looks lost. Luckily, the arrival of the legendary troupe of warriors lead by Hamel the Brave, who fights evil with the music of his gigantic violin, manage to drive away the monsters. The King & Queen ask Hamel & his friends Flute, Raiel, Sizer, & guide bird Oboe to rescue their daughter, who was transformed into a kitten & taken to the giant Medusa, the monster in charge of the area's demonic forces.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Karneval: Who's Kafka?! Tell Me!!

The subject of this review kind of breaks the basic idea of The Land of Obscusion in that I'm going off of a recent BD/DVD combo release of a show that originally aired last year & was brought over by the biggest name in the anime business here in North America, FUNimation. In fact, this is the first time I've ever reviewed an anime that "FUNi" released over here; the closest I ever got before was Fullmetal Alchemist Reflections, which they didn't bring over. Still, this was a show that didn't really get too much talk back when it aired, and didn't seem to have any real anticipation when the home video release was coming up. Now, since release, it's been reviewed by others, especially over at ANN (twice, even), but this anime was one that had my interest when it was announced, mainly because I had heard of the manga before & was interested in checking it out. So allow me to break away from my norm, in a sense, and let's take a look at Manglobe's 2013 anime adaptation of Touya Mikanagi's Karneval.

Gareki is a thief who robs from the rich, but during an attempt at stealing from Lady Miné's mansion he comes across an odd boy named Nai, who is handcuffed. Feeling bad for him, Gareki decides to help free Nai, but Miné herself transforms into a monster that hunts after the two, though they manage to escape with help from Gareki's bombs. Stowing away onto a train to escape, the two wind up getting involved in helping rescue an old businessman & his granddaughter from some hostage takers. On the train as well are Tsukumo & Hirato, two members of the government's Central Defense Agency, Circus. Finding an interest in Nai's super-hearing ability, Circus takes in the two boys & agrees to help Nai look for Karoku, who had lived with Nai until recently. Unknown to Gareki & Nai at the moment, though, is that they & Circus have more in common than they thought, as all of them have a connection to the mysterious organization Kafka, who claim to be following the path of evolution with their beings called Varuga.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

AWOL Compression Re-MIX: Not Quite The Anime Expendables, But I'll Take It

The image you see below is a short prequel manga for AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave- titled Lady Steady Go! (get it?) that was drawn by character designer Isamu Imakake. It tells the story of how main character Jim Hyatt met future team member Rachel Hurst, as she was already with Hyatt when she debuted in the anime. According to production assistance studio Ehrgeiz (who in fact helped out with AWOL and, yes, Next Senki Ehrgeiz), this manga released on April 30, 1999 was only available as a bonus to people who bought all of the anime on home video when it was released in Japan; naturally, it's now intensely rare (I've never seen it for sale online, at least). 

Why do I bring it up? No real reason, honestly, other than to say that I've now covered everything AWOL with this review. Speaking of which, let's recap a little with the subject of Review #150... You know, the anime that's a son of a pitch.

The AWOL that ran on TV Tokyo in late-night from January 7 to April 1 of 1998 can be described in many different ways. Justin Sevakis called it "unwatchable", I called it "lopsided", and its sheer difference in quality between the non-existent pace of the the first half & the more focused second half was a true blue instance of an anime pulling a Dr. Jekly & Mr. Hyde, only in reverse. The end result felt more like a short OVA series that was forced to be turned into a weekly TV series, which is kind of the opposite of what usually happened during the OVA boom (i.e. aborted TV series got turned into OVAs). This TV series really felt like the equivalent of a professional runner doing a false start yet still kept running, simply because that's all this specific runner is good at. Eventually, everyone just lets this runner finish the race that never even got started simply because they feel sorry for him/her; they might even play "Chatiots of Fire" by Vangelis just to make the runner feel special. Japan's only interaction with the original TV version of AWOL would be via the airwaves, because the staff involved knew that no one would buy this show on home video in the form it originally aired in; that didn't stop d-rights from licensing the TV version to AnimeVillage.com, though. What Japan got instead was something called AWOL Compression Re-MIX, which truncated the entire production from twelve 24-minute episodes into four OVAs which were released on VHS & LD from August to December the same year; episodes 1-3 are around 53 minutes long, while episode 4 is around 43 minutes. Taking into consideration the fact that the OP & ED are only used four times instead of twelve, roughly four episodes worth of content was removed to compress everything! Does that make AWOL actually watchable now? Hell, is it as "speedy & powerful" as it's claimed to have been made into?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-: You Inglorious Bastards, You Read No Book!

It's finally time for Review #150! When I did Gundoh Musashi for #50 I knew it was bad (oh so bad), but I wanted to give it the full, complete review that it never had, and when I did Robotech the Movie for #100 I had heard of how bad it was but I didn't actually know, first hand, how poor the final product ended up. For #150 I'm tackling a series that I have had some minor experience with prior, but I never wanted to spend money to see all of. Due to some circumstances though, specifically its odd release history in both Japan & North America, I broke down & bought all of the VHS tapes needed to see the show in full. I worry I have outright wasted money that could have gone to much better things in life...

"原作/Gensaku (Original Work/Concept): et" is such an enigma to me when it comes to anime, & not just because I have no idea how to actually pronounce it ("ette"? "ee-tee"? Why do I even care?). Who or what is et, exactly? It's nigh impossible to research because of how short & simple a name it is, not to mention you have to ignore all of the results that talk about a certain Steven Spielberg classic. One thing I can confirm about et, though, is this: Only two anime have ever had this credit, and they were made one after another. The first was Next Senki/Record of Next War Ehrgeiz, which was the third review I ever wrote for this blog & is an anime that I still am completely willing to defend and admit that I really enjoy. It's also still one of my ten most viewed posts, with my absurd "battle" between it & the video game of the same name recently making it into the Top 10 as well. The other production to be conceived by et, on the other hand, is just about as super-obscure as Ehrgeiz but has no one to defend it; aside from me, Ehrgeiz at least has a Japanese fansite. Hell, those who live in Japan can at least watch Ehrgeiz online via the Bandai Channel, since it doesn't have a DVD release (VHS & LD only); can't say that about this other et anime. At the same time, though, there aren't any reviews online that actually talk about this anime in detail and explain why it's so bad; most out there either only cover a couple of episodes or are little more than a blurb. Therefore, I will bite the bullet & review the entirety of this series, even if it may rob me of my sanity. I have seen the first two episodes before, so I have some vague idea what I'm going into, but I wonder if even that will be enough to prepare me...

This is AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-, and may God have mercy on my soul.

The Allied Nations watches over a small system of planets, each of which is involved in the Planet Link Project, or PLP for short, a series of satellites outfitted with lasers to defend the planets from enemies. When the PLP system for the peaceful Cyress shuts down for four seconds, though, a mysterious ship sneaks into the planet & causes mayhem. They steal seven PDB missile carriers for their own use, each one capable of destroying a planet. This terrorist group, calling themselves Solomon, is lead by Duran Gash and has one more surprise for the Allied Nations: Peat Culten, the only man who can control the PLP, has gone AWOL & joined the terrorists. This now means that Solomon not only has the power to destroy multiple planets, but they also can use the AN's PLP against them at any time! Major Jim Hyatt is chosen to lead a small group to bring back Culten, & stop Solomon if possible, and with no options left he is given the go to recruit whoever he chooses for his team, which includes relying on a couple of AAA-grade criminals who are presently incarcerated. Unfortunately, Solomon's defenses seem impenetrable & the government itself has its own ideas for stopping these terrorists, leaving Hyatt & his team in a much trickier conundrum.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 Years of Marina del ray: The Top Songs

The reviews are written & released, but I still want to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary one last time by giving focus & appreciation to a group that has been involved in nearly every single anime based on Kurumada's work for the past 10 years.

Marina del ray isn't a well known Japanese music group by any means, but if you're a fan of Kurumada's works then you've heard at least one of their songs. Supposedly forming back in 1986, the duo of composer/vocalist Hirofumi Kakigawa (a.k.a. Kacky) & guitarist Tatsuo Namikoshi (a.k.a. Tatsuology) didn't make any sort of "major debut" until 2004. Since then the duo has been the de facto songwriters & performers for any Kurumada anime that has been made, the only exception being Saint Seiya Omega. The duo has never released an album, though last year's Dojo Raiden Kurumada-ism #2 album featured almost every MDR song at that time, they have performed alongside other anison legends at the Anime Japan Festival concerts in December 2007 (as a duo) & January 2014 (Kacky on his own). Also, Kacky presently runs MDR SoundProduction (guess what it's named after), a studio that helps produce music for various video games, pachinko & pachislot machines, & albums, most recently Disney Yume no Dream Duet, which has multiple seiyuu perform iconic Disney duets in Japanese. What I want to do, though, is give attention to some of Marina del ray's best songs in the 10 years they've been doing themes for Masami Kurumada's works. Like always, this isn't numbered, but I will save the best for last... But first, an "Honorable Mention".

Friday, August 1, 2014

Saint Seiya Hades Elysion: Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

It would take 19 years after the last episode of the original Saint Seiya TV series aired for the actual ending of the original manga to finally be seen in anime form. The path to this point started off with the beloved Hades Sanctuary from 2003, followed by the mixed reception of Hades Inferno that took from 2005-2007 to finish up. In comparison, Saint Seiya Hades Elysion (Japan goes off of the Greek pronunciation of what is spelled "Elysium" in English) was not just half as long, totaling only six episodes, but also given nowhere near as much hatred by the hardcore fans; maybe they just simply gave up on complaining at that point. Anyway, how does the original manga wrap-up & is this anime adaptation a good take on this finale?

Time is running out for the Bronze Saints. After clashing at Judecca, Hades has retreated to Elysium, a "Utopia" that only the gods can access. He also took Athena with him, trapping her inside a giant amphora that's slowly draining her blood. Aside from the few Specters still alive, the only thing standing in the way of Seiya & the others from reaching Elysium is the Wailing Wall, which required the strength of all 12 Gold Saints just to damage. Even if they can reach Elysium, though, Hades still has the protection of the "Twin Gods": Thanatos, God of Death, & Hypnos, God of Sleep. Truly, the Bronze Saints will have to rely on a miracle if they want to defeat the God of the Underworld & stop the Greatest Eclipse, which will forever block the Sun from the Earth & create a frozen world of death that Hades can rule over.

[NOTE: Obviously, I'll be talking about the last parts of the original Saint Seiya at this point. Abandon All Hope of No Spoilers, Ye Who Enter Here.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saint Seiya Hades Inferno: The Same Nostalgia Won't Work Twice on a Saint!

Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary was both an extremely well done production & a giant blast of nostalgia for the pre-existing fanbase. The success of the OVA series lead to Toei making a new Seiya movie, the first in 15 years, that would finally continue off of the manga's ending. The final product, 2004's Tenkai-hen Jousou ~Overture~, was a fine movie in itself but director Shigeyasu Yamauchi may have overstepped his boundaries in focusing on making the movie he wanted instead of telling the story Masami Kurumada wrote. Kurumada was so displeased with the amount of changes the movie made from his planned story that he removed Yamauchi from all future Seiya Hades OVAs. Combined with the recasting of the five main characters, this resulted in (supposedly) massive hatred from the Seiya fans. The Hades Chapter anime adaptation would return to Animax in late 2005 with Saint Seiya Hades Inferno, a production that was noticeably different from the previous. Not just from a staff & main cast side of things, mind you, but also from a release perspective: All 12 episodes were split up into two parts, literally called Zenshou & Koushou/Former Part & Latter Part, with the first part debuting from December 2005 to February 2006 & the second part from the same months in 2006-2007. The obvious reason for the split was because Toei was alternating between doing a Ring ni Kakero 1 anime season & then a Seiya Hades production, but all of this added up to the hardcore fanbase absolutely hating this second part of the Hades Chapter OVAs. But, honestly, was all of the hate warranted?

The Inferno: The domain of Hades, God of the Underworld. In order to put an end to the newly started Holy War that began with the invasion of Sanctuary, Athena has decided to go to Hades' territory while still alive by relying on the Arayashiki, the "Eight Sense" of Buddhism. Meanwhile, Seiya & his friends also make their way into the Inferno to deliver Athena her Cloth, because otherwise she won't be able to fight Hades if need be. Alongside Gemini Kanon & later Phoenix Ikki, Seiya and the others have to make it past the eight prisons of the Inferno, each guarded by numerous Specters, in order to reach Judecca, the final palace in Cocytus where Hades sits atop his throne.

[NOTE: I'll try to keep spoilers to the middle of a story arc to a minimum, but advance at your own risk.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary: Legitimately Great... Or Just a Giant Nostalgia Bomb?

Ask any hardcore Saint Seiya fan and just about every one of them will likely say the same thing: 2003's Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary is the absolute best of the anime productions. It has the (major) original cast returning to reprise their roles, is directed by the man who is given absolute love by the fanbase (though maybe too much at times), & adapts the most beloved part of the manga story. So, the question must be asked: Is Hades Sanctuary truly as perfect as the Seiya fanbase seems to tout it, or are they simply relying on those ubiquitous, rose-colored nostalgia glasses?

Not too long after the fight with Poseidon Gold Saint Libra Dohko, the Old Master at the Five Peaks, has a dream of Athena being killed by a demonic figure, which worries him greatly. His worries are true, though, as Athena's seal on Hades, the God of the Underworld, has finally worn off after being placed 243 years ago at the end of the last Holy War. Meanwhile, Aries Mu, guardian of the first temple of Sanctuary, is visited by a cloaked figure who emanates a familiar Cosmo. The figure is that of his dead master Shion, the previous Aries Saint & the Grand Pope who Saga killed 13 years ago. Shion has joined forces with Hades, being granted the body that he had during the prior Holy War & a dark-colored Aries Surplice (the armor of Hades' 108 Specters), and he's not the only one... All of the Gold Saints who died during the Bronze Saints' battle to save Saori Kido/Athena have done the same as Shion & joined Hades's side; they have 12 hours to kill Athena or else they return to the Land of the Dead. Doubting the true intentions of these revived Saints, though, is Wyvern Rhadamanthys, a Specter of Hades & one of the three Judges of Hell, who goes against the orders of Hades' representative Pandora and sends a small group of Specters to Sanctuary to make sure the job is done.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Saint Seiya Soushu-hen: Burning Your Cosmo, the Cliff Notes Way

Naturally, it would be impossible to celebrate Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary without talking about Saint Seiya, so I've decided to save it for last by reviewing the entire OVA adaptation of the Hades Chapter. But first, let's talk about what came before these OVAs...

Boy, they're so happy to be fighting evil, aren't they?

Masami Kurumada debuted Saint Seiya in the very first (combined #1 & 2) issue of Shonen Jump for 1986 with the very intention of creating a mainstream hit after bombing hard with Otoko Zaka right before it. It was so immediately popular that Toei Animation wanted a be a part of the success & got the TV rights as soon as possible, debuting their anime on October 11, not even a year after the manga debuted. The anime, likewise, was a big hit, creating iconic roles for seiyuu like Tohru Furuya (Seiya), Hirotaka Suzuoki (Shiryu), & Hideyuki Hori (Ikki), making character design duo Shingo Araki & Michi Himeno veritable superstars in their field, giving music composer Seiji Yokoyama some real recognition, and has maintained popularity to this very day. Like many things, though, popularity waned over time and on April 1, 1989 the 114th, & last, episode of the anime aired, ending the Poseidon Chapter. The cancellation was obviously not planned, though, as Toei had started doing pre-production for the anime adaptation of the last story arc of the original manga, the Hades Chapter. Yokoyama even made an entire soundtrack for the adaptation, which would later be released as "OST IX", and an audio drama based on this work would be made in the early 90s.

What fans really wanted, though, was an actual anime adaptation of the Hades Chapter. Well, during the 90s Kurumada was all about B't X, which saw its own anime adaptation by TMS Entertainment, but their wishes would finally be granted with the coming of the new millennium. Allegedly inspired by a high-quality fan-produced adaptation by Jérôme Alquié, in 2002 Toei decided to dust off their pre-production work & finally do that Hades Chapter adaptation. After a preview showing late that year, Toei debuted the first two episodes of Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary, Saint Seiya The Hades Chapter-Sanctuary if you prefer the Japanese styling, in early 2003 on Animax. Obviously, though, with a time span of about 13 years between episode 114 & the first OVA (considered episode 115), some fans might need a refresher. To assist with that, Toei included on the first DVD release a 25-minute special called Saint Seiya Soushu-hen/Omnibus, which recapped what had occurred previously in the story. So, before I get to reviewing those Hades OVAs, let's take a look at Soushu-hen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

B't X (Manga): Infinitely Ignored, But Deserving of Much Better

At this point I've essentially wrung out everything I can possibly review from Ring ni Kakero, outside of Ring ni Kakero 2 (which I don't own all of... at the moment), & Fuma no Kojirou, outside of the original manga (which I can review but would mostly be repeating stuff from the OVA reviews, so I'll wait on that). With two of Masami Kurumada's major works essentially covered in full on this blog I might as well do the same with a third, right? Luckily, there's only one more thing to cover for the tale of a boy & his robotic qilin (or kirin, if you prefer).

Masami Kurumada started his manga career with Sueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump magazine in 1974 and gave the publisher two highly-influential & successful series in Ring ni Kakero & Saint Seiya, as well as a minor hit with Fuma no Kojirou. At the same time, though, Kurumada knew how it felt to fail. The title he had planned for years as his magnum opus, Otoko Zaka, was forced into cancellation after only three volumes worth of content due to a lack of interest from readers; ironically, Kurumada made a manga that was everything that he helped shonen action move away from. And even though Saint Seiya was a hit, Kurumada was forced to end it early in late 1990 due to decreasing readership. Shueisha pushed for him to make a similar manga to Seiya, hoping it would be another giant hit, but the resulting manga, Silent Knight Sho, failed to attract readers & was cancelled after only two volumes. Kurumada's response was to emblazon the final image of Sho with a two-page splash that said "NEVER END" in front of the Earth, and in the second volume he thanked his readers & said "Good Bye", ending a 18-year run with Shonen Jump in 1992. Kurumada left Shueisha at that point, determined to work with a publisher that would allow him more free-reign; he did return shortly in 1995 for a one-volume story, Akane-Iro no Kaze, in Super Jump, though.

In 1994 Kadokawa Shoten wanted to launch a new shonen manga magazine and they wanted something big to help promote it. The end result was that Masami Kurumada would debut a brand-new manga, his first non-Shueisha work, in the very first issue of Kadokawa's Monthly Shonen Ace magazine. B't X (pronounced "Beat X"), which debuted alongside the likes of Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam, Macross 7 Trash, & the shonen-styled Vision of Escaflowne manga, would become Kurumada's definitive manga series of the 90s, and though there are some similarities between it & his other work, B't X is still a title that needs to be more well known & definitely deserved more than what it got here in North America.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fuma no Kojirou (Live-Action): The Definitive Yasha Chapter Experience

As a blog that focuses on anime & manga, it's natural to see live-action products be a non-factor here. I did challenge that fact once, though, three years ago when I reviewed Team Astro, the live-action TV adaptation of the 70s manga Astro Kyudan; it's still over at DramaFever (subs are still rough, though) & has since joined Viki's line-up (though only one episode is crowdsubbed). Before that review, though, I did reference another live-action adaptation of a manga. I'm specifically talking about the 2007 J-Drama/tokusatsu adaptation of Fuma no Kojirou.

Excuse me for a moment while I laugh my Cosmo off to beyond its limit...

While this is the only made-for-TV live-action production based on a Masami Kurumada work, it's neither the first one nor the only one. First, in August of 1991, Bandai sponsored a musical adaptation of Saint Seiya's Sanctuary & Poseidon Chapters, with the Bronze Saints & Poseidon being played by the members of iconic boy band SMAP, while members of the band Tokio played Aries Mu, Leo Aiolia, & Scorpio Milo. From what I've been able to find out, no one dares to ever talk about it & is apparently an infamously bad musical. The third production, done in late-2011 & called the Saint Seiya Super Musical, was an adaptation of the first Seiya movie, Evil Goddess Eris (the original anime of which you can now buy on DVD from Discotek!). From what I can tell, this was a better-received production & even saw a home video release in Japan. Now, on the off chance anyone thinks this, I will NEVER review those musicals, but I can certainly review this second live-action production, which ran in late-07 on Tokyo Metropolitan Television, or Tokyo MX for short. In fact, I should have reviewed this series back when I finished up reviewing the Fuma no Kojirou OVAs back in March of 2012, because this is the perfect example of how to improve on "Masami Kurumada's Fourth-Most-Well-Known-Title".

Seishikan High School has been "stealing" the best & brightest students from all of the other schools in the Kanto area, resulting in many of them closing down. The only remaining school is small little Hakuo Academy, and to keep from closing Himeko Hojo, a schoolgirl who has inherited the position of Principal from her deceased grandfather, has asked her friend Ranko Yagyu to find someone who can help them. Ranko's solution is to climb the Japanese Alps in search of the Fuma, a ninja clan who has helped the Hojo Family since before the Sengoku Era. Feeling that there's some bigger force behind Seishikan's dominance, the Fuma agree to help & give Hakuo a young ninja named Kojirou, who immediately falls in love with Himeko. Soon Kojirou finds out that Seishikan is being helped by the Yasha Clan, the eternal rival of the Fuma Clan. When Seishikan's Musashi Asuka, himself a "for hire" warrior, is given the Eight Yasha Generals to fend off Kojirou, the Fuma send their young ninja assistance, turning a simple fight for school survival into an all-out battle to the death between ninja clans.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Theory Musing: Is Introducing "NBS Anime" via Licensing a Dead Concept Now?

Today, Discotek Media announced that they would be releasing the 2007 TV anime adaptation of Zombie-Loan, based on the Peach-Pit manga of the same name (which was released by Yen Press), & 2009's Shin Mazinger Z Impact on sub-only DVD this September & 2015, respectively. Personally, I'm pretty neutral about Zombie-Loan as I never saw this anime via the fansubs that came out back when the show was airing, though I do like the opening theme, and I am ecstatic about Shin Mazinger but it has made me think about something: Is the concept of introducing "Never Before Seen" (I'll be using "NBS" for short here) anime via licensing dead here in North America?

Think about it for a moment... We live in "the future". Nowadays the combined efforts of sites like CrunchyRoll & FUNimation are offering close to every new anime that gets made each season, though some do slip through the cracks, and adding on sites like Hulu, AnimeSols, Daisuki, & Viki showcases that even a number of "catalog" titles are now getting their first official & legal English-subbed offerings. The sheer idea of such a thing existing even just ten years ago was considered ridiculous, absurd, & impossible to ever happen. Back then, anime fans either went for fansubs to get their immediate fix or prayed for an official home video release via licensing; streaming has lead to a much weaker fansubbing presence now & lessened a "need" for home video. When one thinks about it, though, what does that mean for anime on home video? What exactly are we getting?

For most companies, like FUNimation, Sentai Filmworks, Aniplex of America, & Viz Media, the focus is on bringing out the newest titles that have gotten an audience via streaming, alongside the occasional license rescue of an older title that has since become known as a "classic" (or was simply part of a larger package deal). Meanwhile, companies like Discotek, Right Stuf (via their Nozomi & Lucky Penny labels), Media Blasters, & Maiden Japan (let's ignore the whole Section 23 talk for now) focus now more on license resuces of what could be considered "cult classics" & bringing over titles that were skipped over the last time. Now I wonder if any readers are thinking, "Well, if these companies are bringing over stuff that was never licensed before but has some age to them, then isn't that introducing "NBS Anime" via licensing?" My answer would be both "Yes" & "No".