Monday, March 31, 2014

Buso Renkin: Love, Shonen Style!!

Name: Yoshiki Fukyama
Nicknames: "Fuku-chan", "Basara Nekki"
Date of Birth: September 14, 1963
Debut Year: 1982 (as part of Doolin Dalton/Kougyou), 2000 (solo)
Iconic Song: The Entire Discography of Fire Bomber, "King Gainer Over!"
Catchphrase: "Ore no Uta wo Kike!/Listen to My Song!" (as Basara)

"Saving the Best for Last"... Well, it certainly wasn't on purpose (I was simply following the order of JAM debuts), but if you were to ask me who my favorite member of JAM Project is I would have to say it's Yoshiki Fukuyama. During the 80s he was a part of cover band Doolin Dalton & comedy rock band Kirenjaku, but eventually formed the rock band Maps with his friend Toshiyuki "Rocky" Furuya. In 1988 Maps was renamed Humming Bird and found some success, but in late 1994 the band got a gig that would transform not just HB but Fukuyama forever. As the first sequel to Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Macross 7 would feature an entire rock band, Fire Bomber, as the source of the anime's music, and Humming Bird was chosen to be the sound behind the group, with Fukuyama being the singing voice of main character Basara Nekki (female lead Mylene Jenius was sung by Chie Kajiura, who wasn't part of HB). Though Macross 7 is a love-it-or-hate-it anime, everyone loved Fire Bomber, instantly making Fukuyama an anison legend. Humming Bird would later be used for anime themes starting with Next Senki Ehrgeiz ("Dream Jack") and City Hunter: Good-Bye, My Sweetheart ("Ride on the Night"), followed by Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon ("Hikari Naki Yoru wo Yuke", HB's last single) & the video game Macross VF-X2 ("Get Free") before disbanding in 2000; there was a one-night-only reunion in 2011 to celebrate Fukuyama's 20th Anniversary in the music industry. Now a solo act alongside his work with JAM, Fukuyama has sung themes for anime like Overman King Gainer ("King Gainer Over!"), Kamen no Maid Guy ("Work Guy!!"), & L/R: Licensed by Royalty ("Always"), but to me Fukuyama's greatest solo work is attached to one of the best love letters to shonen action.

Nobuhiro Watsuki was essentially a made man by the end of the 90s due to the success of his debut serialization Rurouni Kenshin; it's sometimes said that Shonen Jump didn't "die" after Slam Dunk & Dragon Ball finished because of Kenshin. Unfortunately, it's notoriously tough to follow up a mega hit like that & Watsuki's wild west action title Gun Blaze West ended after only three volumes in 2001; GBW's production itself is enough of a story to detail in a separate review. Anyway, in mid-2003 Watsuki came back for a third try, fully admitting that this would be his "final shonen manga". From what I remember hearing, Buso Renkin/Armored Alchemy was initially popular with readers in Japan, but after a certain moment in the story readers kind of lost interest, resulting in the manga's cancellation in 2005 (though Watsuki was given a lot of time & pages IN Akamaru Jump to give it an actual ending). Still, it had its fans, which got it included into both Jump Super Stars & Jump Ultimate Stars for the Nintendo DS, and in October 2006 (more than a year after its cancellation) Xebec debuted a 26-episode TV anime adaptation of the entire manga. The main thing to remember, though, is that while Rurouni Kenshin will always be Nobuhiro Watsuki's iconic creation, Buso Renkin might be his most loving.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ray the Animation: What is a Man? A Miserable Little Pile of Organs!

Name: Masami Okui
Nicknames: "Makkun"
Date of Birth: March 13, 1968
Debut Year: 1989 (as a concert backup singer for Yuki Saito), 1993 (solo)
Iconic Song: "Rinbu -Revolution-" (from Revolutionary Girl Utena)
Last Woman Standing?: Yes

Unlike the previous three members of JAM Project, Masami Okui didn't really have an actual non-anime music career. Sure, she did backup singing for singer/actress/poet Yuki Saito's concerts, but when Okui went solo in 1993 her first song was "Dare Yori mo Zutto", which was used in the OVA The Girl from Phantasia. Also unlike her JAM predecessors, Okui didn't get her "iconic song" as fast as Kageyama, Endoh, & Kitadani did once going solo. She would go on to do songs for titles like Compiler ("I Was Born to Fall in Love"), Tekkaman Blade II ("Reincarnation"), & Ghost Sweeper Mikami ("My Jolly Days") before getting a duet with Megumi Hayashibara for "Get Along" & "Kujikenai Kara!", the opening & ending themes to the original Slayers anime in 1995, followed by a duet with Katsumi Matsumura for "MASK", the ending theme to Sorcerer Hunters; great songs, to be sure, but not solo hits. It wouldn't be until 1997 that Okui finally got "that song" with the opening theme to Revolutionary Girl Utena, "Rinbu -Revolution-". She joined JAM in March 2003 along with with Yoshiki Fukuyama, but don't let the sole remaining female member of the supergroup fool you, because she's probably the most active member from a career standpoint. Aside from singing Masami Okui has also done tons of writing & composition for other artists; Kageyama has also done these jobs as well, but nowhere near as much as Okui. In fact, no other member of JAM Project has ever composed the entire soundtrack to an anime!

It's a French cover, but it was the best quality

Akihito Yoshitomi is one of my favorite manga-ka of all time, mainly because of one title: Eat-Man... But that isn't what I'm focusing on right now (that will come a little later this Spring *tease*). While slowly coming to the end of his iconic work in late-2002, Yoshitomi started up a new manga that took inspiration from one of his favorite titles, Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack. Running in Akita Shoten's Champion Red magazine, a spin-off of Weekly Shonen Champion (where Black Jack had originally run), Ray was Yoshitomi's take on a medical drama about a miraculous doctor who can perform seemingly impossible operations, though it wasn't a complete copy of Tezuka's classic. The manga lasted seven volumes until mid-2005, which also included a cross-over with Eat-Man's Bolt Crank, followed by a two-volume spin-off in mid-2006 called Ray -The Other Side- that was published under the name Ray+. In between the two, though, was an anime adaptation of the original manga by Oriental Light & Magic/OLM that lasted for 13 episodes. So, can Ray the Animation hold a candle to an anime & manga classic?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Me Gumi no Daigo: Kajiba no Bakayaro: Based on One of the Best Manga You Never Read!

Name: Hiroshi Kitadani
Nicknames: "Dani"
Date of Birth: August 24, 1968
Debut Year: 1994 (as part of the trio Stagger), 1999 (solo)
Iconic Song: "We Are!" (from One Piece)
Catchphrase: "Cool!"

Similar to Eizou Sakamoto from the original line-up, Hiroshi Kitadani is easily the "underdog" of JAM Project due to the fact that he doesn't have quite as extensive of a catalog of memorable songs to his name (Sakamoto & Kitadani were even both part of JAM for close to a year before Sakamoto's "graduation" in early 2003). Hell, Kitadani wasn't even given his own "featuring" song with JAM until 2007's "Divine love" from Saint Beast ~Kouin Jojishi Tenshitan~! Still, that doesn't mean that you should think less of the first "new" member of JAM Project. "We Are!" is still one of the catchiest anime themes ever & Kitadani even returned to One Piece not long ago with "We Go!", a true-blue "sequel song" to his breakout hit as a solo artist. Also, the man is a true hard rocker, showcasing some of his best work during his time with the group Lapis Lazuli from 1999-2004. In fact, Lapis Lazuli might be a highly underappreciated J-Rock band in general, being the force behind the Tough OVAs rocking ending theme, "Private Emotion", as well as Guilty Gear X: Rising Force Of Gear Image Vocal Tracks, three entire albums (Rock  You!!, Slash!!, & Destroy!!) of absolutely awesome vocalized versions of the soundtrack from Guilty Gear X! Seriously, don't take Hiroshi Kitadani lightly, and the same can be said of the anime that features one of his earliest themes...

Me Gumi no Daigo by Masahito Soda debuted in Weekly Shonen Sunday back in late-1995 & ran until mid-1999, lasting 20 volumes. It told the story of Daigo Asahina, a rookie firefighter who makes it his personal goal to never have anyone die in a fire that he's up against, no matter what rules he breaks along the way. Viz, inspired by the actions of the men who worked their asses off after 9/11, decided to release the manga, & House of 1000 Manga's Jason Thompson (who was working for Viz at the time) got his choice for the title selected: Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M; since then Thompson regretted the name, realizing "Fireman!" would have sounded better. Unfortunately, while the entire series was released in English, this manga absolutely bombed for Viz, so much so that Ed Chavez (of Vertical Publishing) checked the Neilsen BookScan numbers & revealed that the entire run of 20 volumes sold less than 2,000 units; yes, on average it sold less than 100 copies/volume for Neilsen! That's an astounding crime, because Daigo is easily one of the absolute best stories (not just manga, not just comics, but stories) I have ever read; read Jason's article & see what you're missing. Now imagine if Viz had tried releasing the anime...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up: Punnin' with the Devil

Name: Masaaki Endoh
Nicknames: "Young Lion of Anison", "En-chan"
Date of Birth: August 28, 1967
Debut Year: 1993 (as part of The Hiptones, followed by Short Hopes), 1995 (solo)
Iconic Song: "Yuusha-Oh Tanjou!" (from GaoGaiGar: King of Braves)
Superpower: "Super Endoh Time", "SEVENTH EXPLOSION" (with Yoshiki Fukuyama)

The only other founding member to still be a part of the supergroup, Masaaki Endoh may not have the same extensive catalog as Hironobu Kageyama, but he more than makes up for it by having one of the strongest voices of the entire quintet. Endoh is a master of sustained, high-pitch notes, which fans have dubbed "Super Endoh Time", and he's used it to great effect in some of his songs. While "Yuusha-Oh Tanjou!" is Endoh's most identifiable song, he's had a lot of underrated songs in his catalog... And I've actually covered a couple of them with my reviews of B't X Neo ("A Piece of the Sun" & "Towa no Sono Saki ~You're the Best Buddies~") & Cybuster ("Senshi yo, Tachiagare!"), so what title could I review that featured an Endoh song?

Dororon Enma-kun was a three-volume manga that Go Nagai made for Weekly Shonen Sunday during 1973-1974 that introduced Japan to little Enma, the nephew of Enma the Great (ruler of Hell), & his mission to keep runaway demons from creating havoc in the human world. Like many Go Nagai titles of the era the manga came with an anime version by Toei that ran alongside the manga for 25 episodes, and Nagai kept the manga going with short one-shot stories during the rest of the 70s. In 2006 came Kikoushi/Demon Prince Enma, a sequel-of-sorts to Dororon which featured grown-up versions of Enma & gang and was a much more serious & dark take on the series. The 4-episode OVA adaptation was released on DVD by Bandai Visual USA, and I own those DVDs (so I can always review it), but what I'll be reviewing is what came about five years later. During the Spring of 2011 anime studio Brains Base debuted a new anime adaptation of the original Enma story called Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera, and was immediately different from the usual Go Nagai anime of the time simply because it wasn't a mech anime. Against all odds, while this anime never got simulcasted it still got licensed by NIS America, who named it Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up & reminded everyone that Go Nagai can be one of the most insane, perverted, & downright bizarre people in anime history... And this applies to the director of GaoGaiGar, too!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman: The Noblest of Multi-Colored Squads

Name: Hironobu Kageyama
Nicknames: "Prince of the Anime/Tokusatsu Song World", "Mr. DBZ", "Kage-chan"
Date of Birth: February 18, 1961
Debut Year: 1977 (as lead singer of LAZY under the name "Michell"), 1981 (solo)
Iconic Song: "Cha-la Head Cha-la" (from Dragon Ball Z)
Catchphrase: "SPARKING!!"

If JAM Project-founder Ichiro Mizuki is the "Aniki/Big Brother" of anime songs/anison, then right behind him is Kageyama. After his time with the band LAZY during the late-70s, Kageyama found his place in life as the singer of songs for tokusatsu & anime, starting with the eponymous opening theme to 1984-1985's Dengeki Sentai Changeman (under the name "KAGE"), followed a few months later with "Star Dust Memory", which was an insert song used in episode 9 of Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross. After doing theme songs for Uchuusen Sagittarius & Transformers: The Headmasters, Kageyama did the opening theme for a shonen anime called Dragon Ball Z... I think I can leave the history at this point, because everyone can guess what happened to the man afterwards. Anyway, this Kageyama-themed anime I've chosen for JAM Project March is one I remember hearing about often back in my early days as an anime fan, and I want to know if it's still as good as I remembering hearing about it.

Created by Kaim Tachibana (Boys Love, Pieces of a Spiral), Tokumu Sentai/The Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman ran in Gakken's Comic Pocke magazine from 1993-1998, lasting nine volumes. Built specifically as a parody of tokusatsu franchises, especially Super Sentai, Tachibana's manga was successful enough to be made into a two-episode OVA in 1996 by Production I.G. In 2000 Media Blasters licensed & released the OVA on VHS & DVD, featuring an English dub done by Coastal Carolina Sound Studios (Baoh, Blue Submarine No. 6, Virtua Fighter), now known simply as Coastal Studios. When I first became a big anime fan ten years ago I remember more "battle-hardened" fans constantly praising this English dub as being one of the few to actually surpass the original Japanese by & large, ala Cowboy Bebop. As the years went on talk of Shinesman died down, but anytime I saw it mentioned again the dub was still being praised; Justin Sevakis even once called it Coastal Carolina's "crowning achievement". Therefore, I wonder, as someone who has never seen it before: Is Shinesman still worthy of being called a good parody, & is the English dub truly better than the original Japanese?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's JAM Project March at The Land of Obscusion!!!

Though I admittedly try not to make each month "themed" here, I just keep getting ideas that drive me. This month is no different, & that's because of an upcoming con & five guests who will be there...

Meet JAM Project. Created by the legendary Ichiro Mizuki back on July 19, 2000, the Japan Animationsong Makers Project is a supergroup of epic proprotions based around creating music for anime, video game, & tokusatsu productions. Though some of the founding members aren't with the group anymore (Mizuki himself reduced his status to "part-time" in August 2002, Eizou Sakamoto "graduated" in March 2003, & Rica Matsumoto has been on hiatus since April 2008), the five that make up the group are essentially a who's-who of iconic anime songs. JAM made their first North American appearance at Otakon 2008, followed by a live-performance at Baltimore in November 2012, but this month they'll be making their second U.S. con appearance at Anime Boston! Unlike Otakon, though, they won't just be doing a group concert at AB, but rather they'll also be doing a second concert featuring all five members' solo works. Needless to say, I'll be at Anime Boston once again this year... Will you?

With this in mind I feel I just have to celebrate JAM's return to the States by reviewing some obscure anime that were lucky to have the voices of Hironobu Kageyama, Masaaki Endoh, Hiroshi Kitadani, Masami Okui, or Yoshiki Fukuyama behind their theme songs, plus one anime that had a group song. Unlike usual, where I leave list of titles generally unknown, for this month I will reveal all six anime that I'll be reviewing!

Hironobu Kageyama: The Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman
Masaaki Endoh: Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up
Hiroshi Kitadani: Me Gumi no Daigo: Kajiba no Bakayaro
Masami Okui: Ray the Animation
Yoshiki Fukuyama: Buso Renkin
JAM Project: Robonimal Panda-Z: The Robonimation

Not only that, but each day of this month I'll be sharing an obscure anime theme that each present member of JAM Project has sung, plus some from the group as a whole, over at Twitter. As I share each song I'll add it to the list on this post, so keep checking back daily (I'll figure out something for while I'm at AB) if you don't follow me on Twitter (or if you just don't use Twitter in general):