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.