Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2015!! Part 2

Part 1 of this list of my favorite posts from this past year was all about reviews, whether they were part of the main line (i.e. the ones I keep track of numerically so that I know when I'm coming up on a milestone) or Obscusion B-Side (which I haven't kept track of really yet, but maybe I'll try to do something when I come up on something like the 25th one or so, since they aren't done as often). For Part 2, the focus is definitely more split between reviews & my special features. So enough babbling on to use up some space, let's get started with something that I was so sure would never see release here in North America that I reviewed it as soon as possible, only to be shocked about a couple of months ago.

I can't predict the future, okay?!

Doamayger-D (April 28)
I don't say this to sound like I know it all, because I don't, but the one thing I love to have happen when it comes to anime & manga is to be proven wrong. Mainly, I love being proven wrong when it comes to obscure & niche titles actually being brought over to North America. When this short anime first aired this past Winter, I absolutely thought that it would never see any sort of release over here. I mean, come on, a series of two-minute episodes about a giant robot that defeats its foes through the power of making sweets, all done in the veneer of 70s-era limited animation? Who the hell would bring this over if CrunchyRoll wasn't even going to simulcast it? Well, turns out that FUNimation, of all companies, thought it would be worth bringing over. Not only that, but the company decided to "simulcast" it throughout this past Fall, though they oddly replaced the "i" in the name with a "y", which makes it look like it sounds different than it really does; it's similar to how "Bryger" is the apparent proper spelling for what I usually spell out as Ginga Senpuu Braiger.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2015!! Part 1

Another Boxing Day, another first part of my list of my favorite posts from the past year. It may also be the last one, but I'll get to that in a moment. First, however, allow me to bluntly ruminate. I feel that most critics tend to look at the all-time greats as the bar to be matched for something to be worth their time. These may be people who interpret Sturgeon's Law as "90% of everything is crap" as a way to dismiss any & everything they don't care about, even though that interpretation, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation, was originally used by Sturgeon as sarcasm to negate how critics of his time dismissed science fiction as being mostly crap (so he stated that, by that logic, most of everything is crap). But, let's face it, most people will interpret "not everything is the all-time best", which is a better translation of the law, as "90% of everything is crap", so what can you do about it?

I don't follow that concept, so would that mean that I have "lower standards", as I've been told I supposedly have by others? I don't think so, personally, and I think people who use that term are probably trying to put their own tastes & opinions on a special pedestal over others. Seriously, why should you care if people like something that you don't to the point that you're labeling them as having "lower standards"? Couldn't that be interpreted as the other people having standards that are so high that they are so rarely pleased? I understand being snobby & whatnot, because some people are proud about being that, but I just see some of this as being down on others being positive about something you may not be as positive on. If someone enjoys an anime/manga/movie/game/etc that I'm not big on, then so be it. Let that person enjoy it; who am I to judge that person as having "lower standards"? That could just be my own wacky way of seeing it, though. After all, I don't think that 90% of everything is crap... I just think that 90% of everything isn't the greatest ever, which doesn't mean that all of it is crap.

Anyway, to stop feeling down, as for this being the "last" favorite posts list, it's at least the last one in the way it's always been, i.e. a two-part list done every year. Depending on how much I'll be doing next year, I may either reduce the list to only one part or simply make it a biennial (a.k.a. once every two years) thing. With that being said, what did I write this year that I felt was the best, or at least made me happiest the most to write? (It's technically type, but semantics)

Para - The Parabiotic Guy (February 25)
I certainly took my time to get back to writing an actual anime/manga review after covering The Legend of Black Heaven, but I finally returned after two months with a manga that I'm sure 99.999999% of people have never heard of, which made it a perfect thing to review, personally. Still, just because (effectively) no one has ever heard of it doesn't mean that it's automatically a bad product, because Para definitely isn't. It's a pretty silly series with a completely wacko concept, sure, but it is not a bad manga by any means. A perfect example of something that isn't meant to be a "thinking man's manga", Para detailed the journey of Toshihito Hara as he went from "Wandering Yankii" to CIA agent because of his ability to possess nearby women after climaxing that he got after bashing his head against a rock during a random fight.

Yes, that is the actual synopsis of an actual manga that actually exists in this actual world.  I don't think I could make up such a concept if I tried.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Hareluya: *Cue One of the Hundreds of Versions of that Leonard Cohen Song*

"Well I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?"

Luckily, I'm not talking about music here, but Merry Christmas. Love & Peace to all, indeed.

In 1988, a young 22-year old named Haruto Umezawa got his start in the manga industry as an assistant to Tsukasa Hojo during the serialization of City Hunter; Umezawa actually worked alongside fellow assistant Takehiko Inoue during this time. While helping Hojo draw the stories of Ryo Saeba, he did some one-shot manga as well under the pen name Masato Umezawa, even winning the Hop☆Step Award for newcomers with his short Minakata Yuuden/Southern Travel Story (an award later won by the likes of Yasuhiro Kano, Masashi Kishimoto, & Eiichiro Oda). In 1990 he would make his serialized debut with Sakenomi☆Doji, but saw cancellation only 15 weeks later; the manga lasted two volumes.

His eventual success would see its first hints, though, in Weekly Shonen Jump's 1991 Summer Special, which featured a one-shot by Umezawa called Hareluya. The one-shot must have found an audience, because in mid-1992 Umezawa made his re-debut, under his real name, with a serialized version of Hareluya. For a fun fact, one of Umezawa's assistants during this series was a young Nobuhiro Watsuki, a future Hop☆Step Award winner. Unfortunately, though, this series would end after only 10 chapters, receiving a single volume. Still, the seeds had been sown with Hareluya, and less than 10 weeks later Umezawa debuted a retooled version of his canceled manga, Hareluya II BØY, first as a one-shot "Chapter 0" & then shortly after in serialized form. Actually, the manga's proper title is just BØY, with "Hareluya II" being a subtitle (though since it's used before the main title, it isn't technically a subtitle, right?). BØY would end up running in Jump until early 1999, lasting 33 volumes (Umezawa's longest work to date) & becoming one of the last vestiges of the magazine's "Golden Age" (alongside JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Hell Teacher Nube, & Rurouni Kenshin), which had ended in 1996 with the finale of Inoue's Slam Dunk. I have already reviewed BØY to an extent in the past, by way of the 1997 TV anime adaptation, so let's take a look at its immediate precursor. Was there real potential to it that Umezawa simply re-purposed for his reboot, or was it rightfully canceled rather quickly?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Yakitate!! Japan Part 3: What Does Everybody Love? BREAD!!!

ereh ecnerefer gnos emeht wonS lA euC

Previously on the Yakitate!! Japan Review:
"The second boxset for Yakitate!! Japan, covering episodes 28-52, is definitely one that can make or break the show for people... I may be in a minority here, at least when compared to other recent reviews of this set when it came out earlier this year, but I had a ton of fun with the Monaco Cup, and Yakitate!! Japan is still one of my all-time favorite anime comedies."

Hmmm, something feels a bit off... Huh, must be my imagination.

Well, it essentially took me most of the year, but we're finally here: The last 17 episodes of the Yakitate!! Japan anime. At this point the manga was still running, so the anime obviously couldn't finish the same way the manga would one year later. Instead of entering a completely original storyline, however, the staff at Sunrise decided to adapt what they could of the manga's third & final story arc, turning what was called Yakitate!! 25 into the shorter Yakitate!! 9. Considering that the Monaco Cup ended with what was deemed the greatest bread in the history of mankind, where can the story go from there? Not just that, but how well does the anime finish up in these last episodes? It's time to finally see if this anime has survived the ravages of time, or if it's become moldy & stale when all is said and done.

The Monaco Cup has come to an end & St. Pierre's Yuichi Kirisaki was unable to kill off Pantasia. With no option left, he & the vile Yukino Azusagawa decide to more or less merge the companies together, but as a way to determine which bakery is truly the best, & give Pantasia one last chance at survival, Kirisaki offers one last challenge. Instead of a traditional baking competition, Pantasia & St. Pierre will face off in Yakitate!! 9, a TV program where Azuma & his friends will take on various artisans in nine specific towns across Japan, creating competing food that matches with the local environments. While Pantasia is consistently represented by Azuma, Kanmuri, & Kawachi (& is also footing the production bill via the money they won by betting on the Monaco Cup), St. Pierre is bringing in all sorts of outside artisans, whether it's the cooking idol group CMAP/Cooking Meal Assemble People, famous TV celebrities, or even various people that Azuma & Co. have met in the past.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Demo Disc Vol. 4: Accidental Acquisition of Audacious Absurdity

When I conceived of Demo Disc last year, I didn't just want to create it as a way for me to write about anime I couldn't normally cover via a full review by test driving them via an episode or two (or three). I also wanted Demo Disc to be the way I could larger portions of titles that I still wouldn't be able to write proper reviews for. There are plenty of anime series out there that, on the unofficial front, were never fully fansubbed (& are either nigh-impossible to find raws for or aren't worth the effort in my opinion to hunt for), or were never given complete releases here in North America. These would be more in-depth than the single-episode compilations of the usual Demo Disc "volumes", but not complete enough to be full-on reviews. Therefore, I think the best title to introduce this second variant of Demo Disc would have to be one that, for all intents & purposes, we never were meant to even get over here.

Companies outside of Japan that want to release anime obviously have lots of legalese to go through in order to obtain the licenses they want for the shows that they want to release. Sometimes the Japanese licensor will toss in other shows alongside what the company really wants, often called a "package deal", but this here is truly a one-of-a-kind series in the history of the North American anime industry... Because it was licensed by accident. As the story goes, shortly after buying anime software company Software Sculptors in 1995 (which was originally co-founded by John Sirabella, future founder of Media Blasters), Central Park Media was looking for anime to release under its new label. The company looked at what anime studio Ashi Pro (now Production Reed) had in its catalog, and was interested in bringing titles like 1985's Dancougar - Super Bestial Machine God over. What happened next has never truly been explained, & I'm not sure if any one person even knows the complete story, but somehow no one at CPM realized that the contract for licensing Dancougar included another Ashi Pro TV series, 1986-1987's Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos, based on the Machine Robo line of transforming toys that actually saw release over here as GoBots; in fact, this anime was brought to America in the 80s as Revenge of the GoBots.

Yes, CPM had inadvertently licensed an entire TV anime series, or at least the first 15 episodes of it, & didn't even know that it had happened until the materials for Machine Robo arrived at the office from Japan. Even though the company had absolutely no interest at all in the product, CPM founder John O'Donnell decided that, since they had the materials already, they would still put what they received out, which resulted in VHS tapes being released sub-only in 1997. John Sirabella once told me that he had no care for either Machine Robo or Dancougar & wanted to have nothing to do with them, though he did love the former's opening theme; still, you can find Sirabella's name on some VHS tapes for, at least, Dancougar. After such an odd & confounding circumstance, you'd think CPM would never tough the series again, but you'd be dead wrong. No, from 2003-2004 CPM would actually re-release those episodes of Machine Robo on sub-only DVD singles; in fact, episodes 11-15 were given their very first release, as they were never on VHS. While this re-release would receive (sarcastic) praise from Mike Toole's old site AnimeJump, even getting quoted on the third DVD, former CPM drone (& present Answerman for ANN) Justin Sevakis shared a similar view towards the show as Sirabella, minus any love for the OP.

Hell, even I wasn't really positive towards it when I listed it as an anime I'd love to review but couldn't at the time. Since then the subs from the bootleg DVDs have been ripped & released online, but I'm beyond the point where I want to rely on poorly-done bootleg subs, so in place of a proper review I'll instead make this volume of Demo Disc all about the 15 episodes that CPM put out on DVD. I do wonder if I was being too harsh on the show back in the day, especially since I only saw the first DVD. Was Mike Toole right about "loving it" after seeing it, even if it was actually in an ironic sense, or were Sirabella & Sevakis right in their outright dismissal? Or is it actually worth your time, legitimately? It's time to find out, at least in regards to the first third of the show.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Aran Sumishii (5th Anniversary) Post: Burn, Obscusion, Burn

"The Internet" is a massive space, almost a universe upon itself. In some areas the denizens of said universe can communicate with each other, either sharing similar viewpoints or arguing over differing ideologies (and, let's face it, this is putting it very mildly). Still, between those planet-like areas that make up your usual big name sites, forums, message boards, & communities, there's nothing but the void, where many smaller satellites also exist, sending out their signals to anywhere & anyone that may receive them. For many of these places, the proprietors behind them may give up trying to communicate, feeling as though they are doing nothing but broadcasting to nothingness (or maybe they're just yelling at clouds, it's hard to tell at times).

Why do I bring this up on what should normally be a celebratory occasion for me? Because I have some news to share, but first please look at this chart.

I've always been nothing but completely open with my stats, especially my monthly pageviews. If you haven't guessed by now, the chart above is for my monthly pageviews ever since the beginning. The very first month The Land of Obscusion came into existence, December 2010, I had a total of 220 views. Since then my overall view numbers has generally trended upward, and while I truly have never cared for how well, or poorly, my actual numbers were I will admit that the upward trend was always welcome & encouraging to keep on writing. That being said, you may notice something that happened on the far right, something that happened this very year. The blog started its fifth year very strong, with a nice surge of views in December 2014 & the following January. The drop this past February & March was understandable, and I was outright astonished by the sharp increase this April, where I hit 9,826 views. If April 31 was real I may have even hit 10,000 views, which I thought was downright impossible for me to ever hope to reach. Following that, however, I hit a sharp drop which I have yet to even get close to recovering from, with me ranging from 4,700-5,800 monthly views; even at its recent best I can't even hit 6,000 views in a month. Again, the numbers themselves don't matter to me, though they do make me glad that I never tried to monetize this blog. But like how an upward trend helped encourage me to keep pushing & writing, this depreciation & stagnation, not to mention being so close to five digits that I could smell it yet failing, has made me think if it makes any more sense for me to continue operating The Land of Obscusion.

It's not like this year has exactly been encouraging for me when it comes to where I look for inspiration & personal challenge, either. While Justin Sevakis, whose Buried Treasure/Garbage column over at ANN was a big reason for me starting this blog, came back with Pile of Shame in 2013, he put an end to that column in Novermber 2014. Then this past July, Jason Thompson (& Shaenon Garrity) put an end to the House of 1000 Manga column, another big influence, after a five-year run. Following that, Mark Bussler of Classic Game Room, yet another place I looked to often, announced a month or so ago that CGR would be closing down as a full-time/daily product after eight years; Bussler will still do CGR as a hobby, however. I also can't forget Phillip O'Connor's Trap Door column over at Ani-Gamers, which came to an end this year. Paul Chapman still technically does The Vault of Error over at Otaku USA, but it's so irregular now (only three entries this past year!) that it's hard to think of it as ever being a regular column again. For a few years, it looked as if writing about lesser known & forgotten anime/manga (or media in general) had some real appeal & cachet to it, but now it looks to be a mostly dead direction to go in.

So what does this mean for The Land of Obscusion? Is this the end of the blog that's all about the obscure & forgotten? Not quite, but it's a little closer than you think.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bokurano: Wheel of Fatality, Turn Turn Turn, Show Us the Victim Who We Shall Burn

The previous two Mecha Month celebrations began with reviews of the two halves of the early-90s mech anime Matchless Raijin-Oh, the first entry in the Sunrise/Tomy collaboration known as the Eldoran Series. Therefore, it's only proper to end this year's Mecha Month with the anime adaptation of a manga created specifically due to Raijin-Oh's legacy... And it's time we come back to everyone's favorite corrupter of childhood dreams, Mohiro Kitoh.

One month after finishing up the Narutaru manga in 2003, Kitoh debuted his next major work, this time in Shogakukan's Ikki, a now-defunct magazine that specialized in underground or alternative manga. Simply titled Bokurano/Ours, the manga ran until 2009 & was similar to Narutaru in that it took a popular Japanese creation & turned it upside its head. As mentioned earlier, Kitoh used Raijin-Oh's concept of children having to work together to protect the planet via a giant robot, but instead of making it look cool, exciting, & hopeful, he instead showcased it as depressing, threatening, & (most importantly) fatalistic. In 2007, Gonzo (which was on the last legs of its surge of international popularity at the time) adapted the manga into a 24-episode TV anime, yet it wouldn't see an official release in North America until earlier this year, and even then it was released by niche anime company Discotek Media instead of the "usual" companies like FUNimation or Sentai Filmworks; hell, by the time we got the anime, Viz had already released all of the manga. Therefore, to bring this whole matchless circle to a close, let's examine how the anime adaptation of Bokurano is and see just how much of Raijin-Oh's DNA is indeed to be found.

One summer fifteen children take part in a Nature School program on an island off the coast of Japan. While on the beach they come across a cavern that leads to a secret area filled with computers. While checking the area out, a man returns, revealing that he's a game designer & asks that he be called "Kokopelli". He offers the kids to take part in a test of the game he's making, which is about protecting the Earth from 15 monsters by piloting a giant robot, and all of them agree to do so (except for little Kana, whose brother Jun Ushiro demands she not sign up). That night a giant creature appears near the island, along with a 500 meter giant robot that the kids are all teleported into. Kokopelli is piloting the robot, telling them that he'll take care of the first monster, & everyone realizes that this isn't a simple "game", but instead is a real battle with the existence of the planet at stake. Unfortunately, as enemies appear one at a time, & a new child is determined to be the pilot at random, they all realize the danger about piloting the robot they name Zearth ("The Earth"). Essentially, after defeating the enemy, the child pilot will die, as Zearth runs off of life force. If a pilot refuses to fight or loses the battle, though, then Earth is destroyed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: Simple 2000 Series Vol. 31: The Earth Defense Force: Do You Like Death? Then Die!

Technically, this game isn't really "mecha"... But it still features giant robots, and it's very creation came from a game about controlling giant robots, so I'm going to count it. Plus, it's the game that birthed one of the absolute greatest video game franchises in history, so how can I not review it, especially when the timing is pretty good? First, though, let's (once again) look at a bit of history.

Video game developer Sandlot was founded back in March of 2001 by former employees of then-not-long-ago defunct Human Entertainment (creators of the Fire Pro Wrestling & Clock Tower series). Namely, the team had worked on 1999's Remote Control Dandy for the PlayStation, and was hoping to continue that game's concept of controlling a giant robot, limb by limb. The studio's debut game was 2002's Gigantic Drive, released in North America as Robot Alchemic Drive (which was also one of the last games released by Enix of America, months before the Square-Enix merger), which was acclaimed for its novel idea of controlling a human who has to find good viewpoints in order to control a giant robot for battle. Japanese gaming company D3 Publisher, intrigued by the engine powering the game, brought Sandlot on board for its very successful Simple Series of budget-priced video games. Sandlot's response, the 31st entry in the series' main PlayStation 2 line, was 2003's The Chikyuu Boueigun/Earth Defense Force, a game whose franchise is now celebrating 12 years of life & next month will see a simultaneous North American release of updated versions of its second & fourth entries by XSEED on the PlayStation Vita & PlayStation 4, respectively. What about the first game, though? Did it provide a proper basis for what would come later, and does it hold up well after more than a decade? Let's find out.

The year is 2017 & we now know that we aren't alone in the universe. Unfortunately, we only know this because we are being attacked the mysterious "Invaders", who have at their disposal giant ants, flying UFOs, giant walking versions of those UFOs, & even hulking behemoths that can breathe fire. The only possible way of surviving is to rely on the Earth Defense Force, EDF for short, who have at their disposal assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, grenades, flamethrowers, & shotguns, among other weapons. With some skills, & maybe a little luck, the EDF may be able to save the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Twelve Mech Anime Yet to Hit SRW, But Aren't Lost Causes Part 2

Banpresto's Super Robot Wars franchise will likely never truly die out, especially when there are always new mech anime to bring into the fold. In the end, it's that very mix of the old-school with the new generation that makes the franchise so appealing, and even if the original character leads wind up being less than memorable one can always look to the licensed properties for enjoyment. Without a doubt, SRW is a big part of why I've become a fan of mecha & why I have learned so much about various mech anime in general. Making this list is reminding of how little I've played of the franchise for a good while, and one day I'll have to rectify that. In the meantime, however, let's look at another six titles that I think aren't completely hopeless in their chances of making it to mecha Valhalla.

Heroic Age (2007)
Mech anime featuring Hisashi Hirai character designs are no strangers to SRW, what with Gundam Seed being one of the most popular entries of the franchise in Japan, as well as the occasional use of Fafner here & there (with the currently-airing sequel Fafner Exodus obviously making it to the franchise within the next couple of years). Now I could be facetious & list Gin-Iro no Olynssis, as that would fit this specific criteria, but considering how utterly bland & aimless that show was, or at least I didn't like it much, I'm not even sure if Banpresto's staff could make that anime work any better. Therefore, I'm going to go with the only other option, the more well-received & liked mech epic Heroic Age. Detailing the journey the "Iron Tribe" of humanity departs on to find their savior & help bring about peace between the various other Tribes of the universe, Heroic Age was a Greek myth-inspired series that featured a bit of a change to the genre. While still generally considered a "mech anime", the giant beings called Nodos were in fact the transformations of human-sized characters, like the eponymous lead Age. Still, the show (as I've been told) followed a lot of the standards & traditions of mecha, not to mentioned featured actual robots, making it still viable as a choice for SRW.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Twelve Mech Anime Yet to Hit SRW, But Aren't Lost Causes Part 1

Welcome to the fourth annual Mecha Month on The Land of Obscusion! Once again, this month will be nothing but giant robots & the people who pilot them, and for this year I want to bring back a side-focus that was lost the previous year. Therefore, let's talk SRW...

Debuting back in April of 1991 on the Game Boy, the Super Robot Taisen/Wars franchise has become more than simply a crossover of popular mech anime, like Gundam, Mazinger Z, & Getter Robo. Instead, it's also become a bit of a celebration of the genre itself, bringing all sorts of series, both old & new, together in ways that are usually just awesome; in some ways it's even improved on some entries (SRW Z's take on Gundam Seed Destiny, for example). Personally, the coolest thing about this franchise is that it's brought to light so many lesser known mech anime, titles that have generally been forgotten with time. In fact, there have been a few games that specifically relied on lesser-celebrated shows, I've reviewed two/three of them via Compact 3 & GC/XO, & given them their extra 15 minutes of fame. Escaflowne, Betterman, Mechander Robo, God Sigma, the 80s version of Tetsujin 28, Dai Guard, the J9 Series, the Eldoran Series, Acrobunch, Daltanious, & GoLion are just a spatter of the lesser known shows (in Japan) that have been given the Banpresto push, and this year's entries (BX on 3DS & X-Ω on iOS & Android) have seen the SRW debuts of Giant Gorg, Panzer World Galient, Albegas, & freaking Dorvack! It's, quite frankly, amazing at times.

Naturally, though, there is still a metric ton of mech anime that still has not been given such an opportunity, and in some rare cases may never see inclusion. For example, franchise producer Takenobu Terada coyly hinted in a radio interview a few years back that his team couldn't get Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru for SRW Neo on the Wii, as it would have fit the 90s motif perfectly, due to licensing issues (they went with NG Knight Lamune & 40 as a replacement), and it's been stated that Takara Tomy will "never" allow any Brave Series show, outside of GaoGaiGar, from being in SRW for unknown reasons. At the same time, there are plenty of forgotten mech anime, especially from the glut of seemingly random shows that came about during the late-70s & 80s, that will likely never be included because people just don't care about them. I can nigh-guarantee you'll never see the likes of Astroganger, Gowapper 5 Godam, Ginguiser, Baratack, Daikengo, Govarian, or even God Mazinger in an SRW game. Still, there are plenty of series, both forgotten & celebrated, that I think may still see inclusion in this massive franchise one day, & I'm going to list off twelve of them. So enough of me babbling, let's get to the list, where I can continue babbling.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Shadow Star Narutaru: 'Cause I'm One Step Closer to the Edge, and I'm About to Break

Let's see, taking aside the recent B-Side detour, I reviewed two anime that featured music composed by Susumu Ueda, and now it's time for the annual Halloween post... So let's just get another anime Ueda composed for out of the way, especially since I think it fits the general theme of the holiday well enough. First & foremost, though, let me introduce someone who understands how to take something magical, something for little kids, and turn it inside out so that we can see all of the nasty guts housed within.

Mohiro Kitoh technically debuted as a manga artist back in 1987, but didn't see a real professional debut until 1996 with a seinen manga called The Wings of Vendemiaire in Afternoon magazine. It lasted only two volumes & was a series of stories about living puppets called Vendemiaire which try to help people that they encounter, & sometimes it's not pretty; it you're curious, you can probably find it online, but that's up to you. Following that, though, is the manga that truly put Kitoh on the map, Mukuronaru Hoshi, Tamataru Ko/A Decaying Star, A Pearlish Child. Known better under its shortened title, Narutaru (the "Shadow Star" title was created for non-Asian markets), the manga ran from 1998-2003 in Afternoon & featured Kitoh taking a successful concept & giving it a twist. Seeing the success of products like Tamagotchi, Digimon (the original 1997 digital pet toy), Monster Rancher, & Pokemon, Kitoh asked a simple question for Narutaru: What if these creatures existed in the real world, a world where children aren't ideal & perfect, but instead are just as potentially horrible as adults? As the manga was wrapping up in 2003, a late-night TV anime adaptation of the first half of the story ran on Kids Station (which does run non-children programming on late-night, oddly enough) & was animated by Planet (The Galaxy Railways, Moetan). Fitting for a holiday that's based on darker elements, let's examine how the anime does at answering Kitoh's question.

Shiina Tamai is a twelve-year old girl who has a generally cheery demeanor, even though her parents are separated & her mother rarely sees her. During her yearly visit to the island that her grandparents live on, Shiina tries swimming to a ancient gate stranded in the water in an inlet. She makes it there, though completely tired from the current, and goes underwater for a look. She sees a star-shaped creature before passing out from exhaustion & suddenly appearing at the local medical center. That night she visits the beach & comes across the creature, which silently expresses its wish to be with her. Shiina decides to take the creature, which she names Hoshimaru, home with her, not knowing the truth behind her new little buddy. Shiina will now slowly learn about the mysterious "Dragon's Children", the various children that associate with them, & the dark (& deadly) mission of those very kids.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: Az ember tragédiája/The Tragedy of Man: How Does Humanity Suck? Let Lucifer Count the Ways

This past March I did a first for the blog by reviewing a non-Japanese product. To be specific, I wrote about Fehérlófia/Son of the White Mare, the 1981 animated movie from Hungarian auteur Marcell Jankovics, who some have called "The Walt Disney of Hungary". I wrote about that film on that month because that was the month that had the National Day celebrating the 1848 Revolution the Hungarians had against the Habsburg monarchy. In turn, today, October 23, is the second National Day for Hungary, this one commemorating the start of the 1956 Revolution against the Soviet Union, one which prompted Time magazine to name the 1956 Man of the Year the "Hungarian Freedom Fighter". Much like Fehérlófia, the subject of this B-Side review is another Marcell Jankovics animated film that was started during Soviet occupation, but unlike that film, which only took two years to make, this film took much longer to finish & is now looked at as the magnum opus of Jankovics' catalog. Too bad Hungarian film is next to unheard of in America, because this could very well be a true cult classic over here.

Imre Madách's The Tragedy of Man, or Az ember tragédiája (Uhz Em-behr Tra-gay-dee-ai-uh) in Hungarian, was first published in 1861, and is generally considered one of the most epic & lengthy plays ever written. It's commonly compared to John Milton's 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost, as both focus on the biblical Adam, Eve, & the Fall of Man, and in its home country Madách's play is apparently as much required reading in school as something like Shakespeare is over here; at least, my mother recalls reading it back when she was in school in Budapest during the 60s. The play has been staged in countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, & Poland, it's been adapted into two different operas by György Ránki & Clive Strutt. The only known live-action cinematic adaptation came from 1984's The Annunciation, a Hungarian film that was cast with nothing but child actors & done in the style of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Marcell Jankovics decided to make an animated adaptation in 1983 & started animating in 1988, with an expected six year production timeline, but a year later Hungary became a free country, and with that came a completely different production model for how movies were funded; under Soviet rule, movie production was fully funded by the government. Because of that, Jankovics looked to any bit of independent funding, making a new portion of the film whenever he had the money; since the play was slit up across 15 segments, this worked out well enough. In the meantime, Jankovics would showcase completed portions of the film throughout the years at film festivals, and in 2008 received a notable amount of funding by allowing his 1974 short film Sisyphus to be used for a GMC car commercial during the Super Bowl. Finally, in 2011 the production received enough funding from the Ministry of Natural Resources to allow final completion, putting the end to a 23-year development cycle & resulting in a total budget of 600 million forint, or ~$2.5 million. In fact, fitting for such an epic play, the final runtime is 159 minutes, or 2.65 hours, which may make it the third-longest animated film in history, behind 1983's Final Yamato (163 minutes via 70mm) & 2010's The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (164 minutes); oddly enough, no one's apparently ever made a proper list of longest animated films. In fact. the theatrical release in Hungary needed an intermission, which bumped screenings to a solid three hours... And we complain that movies over here are getting too long.

So, was the wait worth it? I've imported the Hungarian DVD (there is also a Blu-Ray, but I can't play Region B BDs), which does include English subtitles (done in archaic English at points, at that!), so I'm going to take the plunge into what may be one of the most ambitious animated films in history. I might need to take an intermission myself, if not two...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru: Secret Sweethearts - Kono Koi wa Himitsu: "I Think We're Alone Now"... Dude, That's Your Sister!

After doing his composing & arrangement work for Usagi-chan de Cue!! & two forgotten hentai (none of which ever saw license here in North America), Susumu Ueda would release an interesting concept album in early 2003. Titled Nadi, it was nothing but instrumentals that were influenced by traditional Indian music. Though it was about a neighboring country, I'm sure creating this album helped Ueda with his work on the Pakistan Arc of Yugo the Negotiator. Anyway, Ueda would come back to anime later that year to do the music for the TV anime adaptation of Mohiro Kitoh's Narutaru, followed by a busy 2004 filled with Yugo, Re: Cutie Honey, & Ring ni Kakero 1. Afterwards, Ueda would move away from anime, with only the rare re-appearance since then for future RnK1 seasons in 2006, 2010, & 2011, arranging the ending theme for 2010's Cobra the Animation, & helping compose the score for 2012's Asura. Between that busy year & his rare appearances, though, is a one-shot OVA that covers a pretty taboo subject matter, and one that I'm admittedly not familiar with at all: Shoujo Incest Romance.

Kotomi Aoki has been doing manga for girls ever since 1998, but she's all but unknown here in North America. While some of her works have been released in countries like France & Germany, she's had no luck with making it across the Pacific (nor Atlantic). I only bring this up because the manga that this OVA is based on eventually lead to an award winner. Running from 2003-2005 in Shoujo Comic magazine, Boku wa Imouto ni Koi wo Suru/I'm in Love with My Sister lasted 10 volumes & received a spin-off series, Boku no Hatsukoi wo Kimi ni Sasagu/I Give My First Love to You, which would win the Shogakukan Manga Award for Shoujo in 2008 & received a live-action movie adaptation in 2009. Luckily for the original manga, it too received a live-action movie in 2007, but I'm going a little further back & will be reviewing the 45-minute OVA adaptation from 2005. It was subtitled Secret Sweethearts - Kono Koi wa Himitsu/This Love is a Secret, and was animated by Vega Entertainment... You know, the studio behind anime like Babel II -Beyond Infinity- & Maetel Legend, neither of which are exactly known for their quality. Then again, Vega did also make Gun Frontier & Cosmo Warrior Zero, and the studio co-produced 90 mech anime Yamato Takeru with Nippon Animation, and all three of those titles are generally looked at more fondly. So, let's see where this story about siblings who really, really like each other falls.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Usagi-chan de Cue!!: Because There's no Shame in Starting with (Not Actually) Porn, Right?

Checking out lesser known & outright unknown anime & the like occasionally makes me interested in some of the people involved with them, and sometimes I become a fan of a person's work, even if only via one real product. A perfect example of that is with music composer Susumu Ueda, who I'm sure most of you have never heard of.

An old pic, but just remove the goatee

Born in 1956 in Osaka, Susumu Ueda graduated from Kyoto City University of Arts & became a full-time composer in 1982. Ueda would find a small bit of world renown in 1998 when he (& Shin Sugimoto) composed the official song of the Nagano Winter Olympics, "Winter Flame". Ueda's main job, since 2005, is acting as conductor & host of various concerts, from his yearly "Memorial Concerts" dedicated to the memory of the Great Hanshin Earthquake to his "Requiem Project", which he launched in 2008 in remembrance of those who have died in various disasters & to promote peace & hope; he also hosts various musical activities in the areas affected by the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. Ueda has also composed music for various commercial products as well, such as J-Dramas like 1 Liter no Namida & Dai San no Miss. This is also applies to anime, though Ueda's catalog there is relatively small.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you're familiar with how much I enjoy the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime. One part of that series that I enjoy the most, however, is in fact the music, which was nearly all composed by Susumu Ueda (minus some tracks in Season 1 done by Marina del ray's Kacky or Psychic Lover's Yoffy). Creating an OST that sounds definitely old-school but without sounding dated, Ueda's tracks for RnK1 are simply outstanding, & I'm sad that the only release of the show's music is for Season 1 in 2004, because there are some excellent songs in later seasons (especially Seasons 3 & 4 from 2010-2011). I've also covered the Yugo the Negotiator anime from 2004, which was another anime with music done by Ueda; it's admittedly not quite as instantly memorable as his work on RnK1, but still solid work. Finally, I've also reviewed the 2012 movie Asura, in which Ueda worked alongside Norihito Sumitomo & Yoshihiro Ike for the soundtrack. Aside from those titles, there are only four other anime that featured Susumu Ueda soundtracks, and while I'll get to Shadow Star Narutaru & Re: Cutie Honey eventually, I want to focus first on what are likely the most obscure titles he has ever worked on. Yes, even more obscure than Ring ni Kakero 1... So let's get ecchi.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yakitate!! Japan Part 2: What Does Everybody Need? Bread!!

lortnoc ni eno eht ma I niaga ecnO

Previously on the Yakitate!! Japan Review:
"The first 27 episodes of Yakitate!! Japan are an outstanding start to the anime adaptation of Takashi Hashiguchi's manga, adapting the first six volumes & somewhat into the seventh. The characters are instantly memorable, the humor is on-point, the puns silly & stupid (what other kind of pun is there?), the competition handled very well, & the various bread made insanely mouth-watering."

It's been a good while since I reviewed the first DVD boxset of Yakitate!! Japan from Right Stuf's Nozomi Entertainment label; nearly a half year, in fact. Since that review, the second & third sets have both been released, fulfilling something that I never thought would seriously ever happen. Viz releasing the original Takashi Hashiguchi manga was surprising enough (& I seriously need to grab the many volumes I'm missing of that release), but for Shawne Kleckner & his team to release the anime just over a decade after it's debut is simply outstanding. Anyway, while the first story arc, the Pantasia Rookie Competition, is generally looked at with a lot of love, it's the second story arc (of three) where Yakitate!! starts entering "love it or hate it" territory; some people love how ridiculous the series becomes, while others miss the way it used to be. Where am I on this matter & where might you be? Well let's investigate, shall we?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Full Motion Anime at the Arcade Part 2: I Guess 80s Gamers Weren't Ready for "Interactive Movies" Yet, But Their Kids Are Gonna Love 'Em

The whole concept of the laserdisc arcade game wasn't something that really hit it big, when all is said & done. Dragon's Lair was a giant hit, but almost everything after that had no hope of even reaching a modicum of that success; even Don Bluth's follow-up Space Ace only did so well. Still, companies tried their hardest, but 1985 was the last year that these "clones" of Bluth & RDI's game saw a real push. Therefore, let's see what Japan tried to get out in this last chance year, and then see what stragglers came out following that. Luckily, I'm starting with an LD game that's generally considered one of the all-time best.

The third LD game from Data East, and the second from its partnership with Toei Animation, Road Blaster came out in arcades in August of 1985; don't confuse it with Atari's RoadBlasters from 1987, though they both involve car-on-car violence. Compared to Thunder Storm before it, this game is a bit simpler as the only prompts given are to turn left or right & to either press the brake or activate the turbo, but to an extent it really doesn't matter. Road Blaster tells the tale of an ex-police officer who swears revenge on a diabolical gang after getting horrifically run off the road during his honeymoon, which resulted in the death of his newlywed wife. Indeed, the entire game takes place from the perspective of being behind the wheel of the lead's sweet ride, and while Thunder Storm features some really nice animation, Road Blaster simply looks to be the more memorable game.

Though Hideki Takayama directed once again, the animators behind the second Toei co-production were completely different from the Studio Z5 staff of Thunder Storm. Leading the crew as "Chief Key Animator" was Yoshinobu Inano (an animation director on Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack), and alongside him were the likes of Naoyuki Onda (character designer for Gantz, To-Y, & the Berserk movie trilogy), Hiroyuki Kitazume (characters for Bastard!!, Gundam ZZ, & Urotsukidoji), Hidetoshi Oomori (director of Dan Doh!! & Zaizen Jotaro), & even Satoshi Urushihara (of Langrisser & Growlanser fame). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Kitazume & Oomori's work on this game helped get them to be part of the group of directors that helmed the different parts of 1987 anthology movie Robot Carnival; Kitazume did Starlight Angel, while Oomori did Deprive. The end product features a lot of great animation & the constant movement keeps the game feeling exciting & energizing.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Full Motion Anime at the Arcade Part 1: The 80s FMV Hype Hits Japan

I won't hide that I have a fondness for the FMV genre of video games, & that interview with American Laser Games' Robert Grebe has gotten me looking more & more into full motion video games again. So, to bring this subject back to the majority of this blog's focus, let's go back to FMV's first mini-era of popularity in the mid-80s, back when they were called laserdisc/LD games, & see how anime got involved in it... Because there's a lot more of it out there than most would think.

While Sega technically did it first with Astron Belt, which itself spawned numerous shooting-based FMV imitators, it was Advanced Microcomputer Systems (later RDI Video Systems) & Cinematronics' Dragon's Lair that really made people look at the laserdisc as a new way to make video games. Even though it wasn't exactly big on overall gameplay, as the reliance on nothing but animated video resulted in the player only being able to react to specific moments in each scene, it was the sheer beauty of Don Bluth's animation, combined with the fact that it was a relatively simple game to play, that made Dragon's Lair a giant hit in arcades when it came out on June 19, 1983; it was more than worth the 50 cent charge (the first to do so & double what games of the time asked for). The success of this title didn't simply stay exclusive to North America, however, as another country was inspired by it, and it was the country where the very Pioneer laserdisc players that the game used came from: Japan. Seeing that gamers were interested in playing interactive animated features, a few Japanese game developers decided to try their hand at making their own Dragon's Lair-esque arcade games, and with the country being home to numerous animation studios of its own there were plenty of companies to choose from. The best way to start off, though, was to keep it simple... Why make brand new animation when you can simply take footage from a movie that's still in the minds of the populace?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: The Full Motion Vita of American Laser Games with Robert Grebe

While the concept of the FMV/Full Motion Video Game technically debuted in 1983 with Sega's Astron Belt, the first laserdisc game, & became popular for a short period due to the success of Dragon's Lair, it kind of died down until the 90s, when it made a resurgence that lasted for, more or less, the entire decade; the surge died down around 1995, but the FMV genre was still used to a notable extent up up through 1999. The company that put the genre back into the spotlight was a small group from Albuquerque, New Mexico called American Laser Games, which made its debut in 1990 with the arcade light-gun shooter Mad Dog McCree.

This is the second logo, which most gamers associate with the company

American Laser Games saw its fair share of success during the early-90s with its variety of FMV rail-shooters, which used completely live-action footage in place of traditional graphics of the time (i.e. sprites). Around the time the FMV genre started to die out, though, so too did ALG, eventually being bought out by spin-off company Her Interactive, which is still in business to this day & makes the Nancy Drew series of adventure games for girls; ALG titles still see the occasional re-release nowadays by way of Digital Leisure, though. With FMV making a slight comeback in the past couple of years, with indie games like Her Story, Contradiction - Spot the Liar!, & Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure, I was curious if there was any sort of retrospective on the company that brought the genre back to the gaming populace for its biggest run, and there was none. I decided on a whim to look for a way to contact the man who founded ALG, and once I did I sent him an e-mail asking for an opportunity to talk about the old days... For some reason, he said "I would be happy to."

I now give you two ways to experience the conversation/interview I had with Robert Grebe:
-Watching it on YouTube, with video of various ALG titles accompanying it, by this link
-Reading a transcription of the entire thing, by simply continuing to read. In this text version, I added in some post-interview clarifications, which will be housed in italicized brackets.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Theory Musing: The Six Mysteries of Anime & Manga That Need Answers

This is a bit of a spontaneous post for the blog, more so than usual, and it's because I've been recognized by another site. Anime/manga blogging duo the Reverse Thieves, who host the annual Anime Secret Santa (which I was a part of last year), were "nominated" by Anime Madhouse for a Free Spirit Award. Though technically not an actual award, it still showcases a sign of respect & appreciation for the work of another, with the added challenge of having to answer a question given by the nominator. After answering the question on his/her/their blog, the nominee(s) then nominate other people/sites for the award, alongside a question of their choosing.

Well, turns out that Kate/Narutaki & Alain/Hisui decided to include me as one of their five nominations at the end of their response post. First off, thank you both for the nomination; it's just nice to be assured that people really do read my blog & enjoy it. Second, I must now respond to the question they had for their nominees, and it's appropriately related to the Thieves' general blogging theme.

“What are five mysteries of anime and manga you need the answers to?”

There are plenty of things that we, as fans of anime & manga, know about when it comes to these mediums, and there is plenty of info that can be found out with some research. That being said, though, there are tons of things that we still don't know the answers to, no matter how much you look; even Japanese Wikipedia & the like are useless in these cases. So, to answer Kate & Alain's question, I will look at five different mysteries in anime & manga, and each will follow a step in the "Kipling Method" of investigation, research, & journalism, a.k.a. the Five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, & Why. (Hey, I have a BA in Journalism & Media Studies, so I better use it in some way, right?) Not just that, but I'll even go another step forward & include a bonus mystery that goes off of the occasionally-included sixth step: How. Finally, to stay true to the "Theory Musing" category that I'm putting this post into, I'll bring up my personal theories as to the answers behind each of them.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Demo Disc Vol. 3: Spurious Sports

It's been a good number of months since the last Demo Disc, and with summer down to it's last month-ish let's focus on something that people tend to associate most with the season: Sports. Anime is definitely no stranger to sports, which is one of the things that makes this medium so different from any other type of animation in the world. Even if the sport isn't exactly popular in Japan, there's likely an anime out there based on it (and if not, then there's definitely a manga for it). What's even cooler is that you don't have to be a fan of a sport in order to enjoy a sports anime, which unfortunately is a reality that most anime fans seem to ignore. This genre has been around almost as long as TV anime as we know it has been around, so let's take a small look at four different sports anime that aired on TV. In fact, this volume of Demo Disc is special, because two of these entries will actually be covering more than one episode worth; both will be covering three episodes, in fact! So, as always, let's start by going back, way back, to the 60s...

Guess who are making some cameos...

The Yellow Devil
When it comes to iconic anime, manga, & "PuroResu" (a.k.a. Japanese professional wrestling) characters, probably the biggest is the masked man who fights for all children, Tiger Mask. Created & written by Ashita no Joe's Ikki Kajiwara & drawn by Naoki Tsuji (creator of early-60s hit Zero-sen Hayato), the Tiger Mask manga was a seemingly instant hit, running from 1968-1971 (totaling 14 volumes) & spawning a TV anime adaptation by Toei just a year after it debuted. Said TV anime would run from 1969-1971 for 105 episodes, plus an anime movie in 1970. The character was so memorable that a sequel series ran from 1981-1982 for 33 episodes about a new Tiger Mask, who donned the persona in honor of the original man.

Not only that, but around the same time New Japan Pro Wrestling got the license to the character, putting Satoru Sayama behind the mask. Sayama's run as Tiger Mask was not just a success but wound up making the character a standard in NJPW, with five men having donned the mask since (though the fourth is still the current one), and variants of the character have appeared all over Japan, from rival Black Tiger (usually portrayed by foreigners, including the legendary Eddie Guerrero at one point) to homages like Super Tiger (played by Sayama himself). Most touching, though, was what happened in 2010 & 2011, where multitudes of anonymous people around Japan donated a lot of money & toys to children's homes & social welfare centers during the two holiday seasons, with notes stating that every one of them came from "Naoto Date", the identity of the original Tiger Mask; if that doesn't melt your very soul, then you are a monster. In fact, those selfless deeds inspired a live-action movie that came out in 2013... Which then sullied the very concept of Tiger Mask by turning him into a tokusatsu-style transforming hero, instead of being a masked wrestler who simply fights for the children. Anyway, going back to 1969, what was the very first episode of Toei's original TV anime like?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Twelve "Nekketsu Manga" That Deserve TV Anime Adaptations (by MAPPA) Part 3

The 90s was a time of change for both anime & manga, especially when it came to "nekketsu manga". Compared to some of the leads of the 80s, the hot-blooded leads of the 90s were visually different. Some would consider this a loosening of the "manly" style that partially defined the 80s, but the spirits & blood inside these characters were just as burning as those that came before them. In fact, Ushio & Tora (which inspired the creation of this list) was a completely 90s production, so let's finish up this list by examining three titles of this decade (plus one from the very start of the new millennium) & see if they have any possibility of ever being given the TV anime treatment... But first I need that ever-so-powerful explosion.

Yeah, I'm lazy about making variations of this image... So sue me. Anyway, starting off this final third is the beginning of a franchise that's still seeing new entries to this very day, and it shows that it doesn't matter what kind of person you were growing up, because there's always the chance you can grow up to become a truly inspirational, & "great", person.

Shonan Junai Gumi!/The Shonan Pure Love Gang! (湘南純愛組!), 1990-1996
Tohru Fujisawa has made a good number of different manga series in his career, but there's one that overshadows the rest, bar none, and that's 1997-2002's Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO for short). Detailing the career of Eikichi Onizuka, a completely non-traditional Japanese school teacher, the manga became a notable hit for TokyoPop, and the 1999-2000 TV anime adaptation is still considered a classic of its time, both subbed & dubbed. It also received two different J-Drama adaptations, one from 1998 that became one of the highest-rated shows in Japanese TV history (in terms of viewership) & spawned a drama special & theatrical movie (the last of which actually came over here via Media Blasters) & one from 2012 that's also considered very good, as well as a Taiwanese/Japanese co-production from last year; the 2012 & 2014 shows are actually over at CrunchyRoll. It also had a midquel manga via 2009-2011's GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, and running right now is sequel manga GTO: Paradise Lost, which began last year. Still, before the man became "great", Onizuka was roughing it up with his best friend Ryuji Danma as a couple of high school yankii/delinquents!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Twelve "Nekketsu Manga" That Deserve TV Anime Adaptations (by MAPPA) Part 2

Welcome back for the second portion of this list of hot-blooded manga of the past that really should be given TV time via anime. Though I'm not big on re-using the same image across multiple parts, I just like how simple but visually effective that "nekketsu" kanji in front of the explosion is, so here it is again.

There, now everything feels better. Anyway, on Part 1 I ended with a Hiroshi Motomiya manga that saw cancellation partially because its old-school style was just not going to work with a generation that was going to grow up on Shonen Jump's "Golden Age". Therefore, let's start Part 2 with another manga that was cancelled for more or less the same reason, and it came from the man who introduced this change in shonen action.

Otoko Zaka/Man's Hill (男坂), 1984-1985
This was going to be Masami Kurumada's grand magnum opus. This was going to be the the manga that showed everyone what Masami Kurumada was all about thematically. This was going to be Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho for a new generation. Unfortunately, after slightly less than a year, Shueisha put the brakes on Otoko Zaka's serialization, because it just wasn't attracting an audience. Kurumada, not content with such a result, defied the order to "finish" the manga, putting "mikan/incomplete" on the final page in place of the usual "kan/complete" like every other cancelled manga gets. In a magazine where over-the-top spectacle & fantastical fighting was becoming more & more popular, partially because Kurumada himself made it popular via Ring ni Kakero, Jump readers were seemingly just not into Jingi Kikukawa's mission to unite the leaders of Japan's boys gang leaders in order to take on the incoming threat of the Junior World Connection. While I did enjoy what was originally published in the 80s, it's very easy to see that Otoko Zaka's oldest school execution was just not going to cut it in an age where Fist of the North Star, & later Dragon Ball, was king.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Twelve "Nekketsu Manga" That Deserve TV Anime Adaptations (by MAPPA) Part 1

While at Otakon a couple of weeks ago, one of the panels I went to was the MAPPA panel, featuring Masao Maruyama & Yasuaki Iwase. MAPPA is an animation studio founded by Maruyama, who's been in the anime industry since the "beginning" with Mushi Pro & co-founded Madhouse with Osamu Dezaki, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, & Rintaro, and Maruyama himself has appeared at so many Otakons as a guest that he's considered honorary staff. In past years, Maruyama's personal panels have usually been barren in terms of attendance, so seeing this year's panel be so packed that I was lucky just to get in is very cool. Anyway, when it got to the Q&A portion I had two questions in mind, both relating to the presently airing TV anime adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita's iconic manga Ushio & Tora (which is an awesomely fun show, so check it out). Since Maruyama had already answered my first question while previously promoting the show (it was about why exactly this manga was chosen for adaptation, and the answer was because Maruyama was a fan of it), my question to him was if MAPPA had any plans of continuing to adapt older manga, or if Ushio & Tora was a special exception.

Maruyama's answer was, to condense it, "I'd like to continue adapting nekketsu manga into TV anime. I love nekketsu manga."

Because you need an explosion whenever you hear or see that word.

The word "nekketsu" is Japanese for words like zeal, fervor, or ardor, i.e. intense or passionate enthusiasm for something. The main translation people tend to give "nekketsu", however, is a much more literal one: Hot-blood. This term is commonly used to describe characters or even a story in general which is prone to feature lots of passionate feelings (usually shared through intense screaming), impactful battles, or an over-the-top nature that permeates the entire being of the work, among other ways to describe it. "Nekketsu" is most often seen in genres like action (especially shonen action), mecha, & even sports, though it is utilized is all sorts of genres to some extent. Some titles, like G Gundam, GaoGaiGar, Kinnikuman, or JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, are partially defined by their sheer hot-bloodedness. Since I'm also fan of "nekketsu" in general, I've come up with a list of twelve manga that have never been adapted into TV anime before that I feel definitely deserve it. Some of them I personally adore, others I'm familiar enough with to feel that they're worth including, & the remainder are ones that I'm don't know much of, but upon investigation feel that they are worthy as well for various reasons. To keep with the concept of why Ushio & Tora was chosen for adapting into a TV anime, I'm sticking with older manga that has never been done as anime on TV; some were given OVAs or anime movies, but not TV. I'll also be playing both sides of the argument by showing reasons why adapting these titles would make sense now as well as what could possibly hold them back. A few of them will also feature some personal wishes of mine, just for the hell of it.

While I'm technically considering all of these title for adaptation by MAPPA specifically, I'd be fine with nearly any anime studio taking them on, should any of them actually come to pass. I'm also going in chronological order, so let's start off with something from the 70s... And something that became oddly topical for me recently.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Reminder of the Dark Side of Streaming: Team Astro is Now Gone

Maybe it's because of my age (29 is absolutely ancient, after all), but I still prefer watching anime via physical media. It's partially because I can be a lazy as hell person, but I like the idea that I can buy something I want to watch & get around to it on my (essentially non-existent) schedule. If I want to recommend something to someone I know, I can do so & (should I trust the person enough) I can even let the person borrow my DVD/BD/VHS/etc. While I've become a fan of streaming since it started becoming ubiquitous, there is a fault with it that rarely gets brought up, usually because, when it comes to anime, everyone's obsessed with simulcasts & being topical. While what I want to focus on isn't anime, it is still from Japan & is a perfect example of the fault I just alluded to...

Team Astro is no longer available via streaming by DramaFever.

A screen of TV Asahi's official promotional PDF file

For those unfamiliar with the name, which I'm sure is nearly anyone reading this, Team Astro (Astro Kyudan/Astro Baseball Team in Japan) was a baseball manga by Shiro Tozaki [a.k.a. Ai Eishi] (Zero: The Man of the Creation; story) & Norihiro Nakajima (art) that ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1972-1976, totaling 20 volumes. This title ran before manga like Kochikame, Ring ni Kakero, Kinnikuman, or Cobra revolutionized the way shonen manga would handle action (let alone the manga of the early "Golden Age"), and therefore it did things that were downright insane. It's the story of nine men who were all born at 9:09.09 on September 9, 1954 (Showa 29), each of which bearing a baseball-shaped mark somewhere on their bodies. Philippines-born baseball manager J. Shuro knew this day would come, because he was told so by Eiji Sawamura, one of the greatest pitchers in Japanese baseball history, during his stay in the country while fighting in World War II; it was Sawamura's dream to face the Americans on the ball field rather than the battlefield. Attempting to gather these nine mean, Shuro dreams of a baseball team filled with "Astro Supermen" who will not only take on Japan's best but also America's.

Yes, that is the honest-to-god basic plot of an actual baseball manga from the 70s. No, it isn't as absurd & ridiculous as it sounds... It's even more absurd & ridiculous than you can ever imagine! It's also a major influence for Masami Kurumada as well as a personal favorite manga of notoriously obtuse anime director Hideaki Anno, even having it be referenced in his wife Moyoco Anno's semi-biographical account of their marriage life, Insufficient Direction. In fact, old-school violent manga creator Shinji Hiramatsu, who would later have Tough & Riki-Oh's Tetsuya Saruwatari as an assistant, was an assistant to Nakajima on this very manga (as Hiramatsu debuted in 1975 with Doberman Deka). Yes, I just tied a hyper-violent title like Riki-Oh to a baseball manga. The crazy thing is that such a comparison isn't really off-base here, because Team Astro is indeed that insane. Anyway, back to the point I'm taking way too long to get to.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ys II: Castle in the Heavens: Who Really Needs a Fire Level, Anyway?

Nihon Falcom's 1987 PC action RPG Ys was a natural success, so it's only natural that the company would go straight into making a sequel. So almost exactly a year later, Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter debuted on the PC-88. It played almost exactly like the original game, but added in a small magic system where Adol could equip different rings that let him do things like shoot fireballs (now essential for fighting bosses), teleport, & even turn into a small, cuddly monster called a roo. There was also a larger focus on storytelling, though the overall game was roughly the same length as the first, if only a couple of hours longer. During the time between Ys III & the Super Famicom version of Ys IV, Mask of the Sun, which would be ever so different from the slightly later PC-Engine CD version, The Dawn of Ys, Falcom teamed with Starchild Records & Tokyo Kids once again for another OVA adaptation, this time for Ys II. Subtitled Tenkuu no Shinden - Adol Christin no Bouken/Castle in the Heavens - Adol Christin's Adventure, this OVA series would last only four episodes compared to the prior series' seven, and Media Blasters would release this only via dual-audio DVD in 2003. Does this OVA manage to follow up on what the original series did for the first game, or is this something different?

Yep, that Ys logo is still as beautiful as ever.

With the help of the people of Esteria, Adol Christin managed to climb to the top of Darm Tower & fight the evil priest Dark Fact. Upon defeating him, Adol gathered all six Books of Ys & was suddenly bathed in a bright light that carried him up into the sky with the twin goddesses, Feena & Rhea. Though Adol managed to save Esteria from darkness, his duty as the legendary hero is only half way done. Found in a field by the young Lilia, Adol now must save the floating land of Ys from the darkness that originally forced the six priests to send the land into the sky in the first place. While having to learn how to handle the power of Ys' magic, Adol will have to take on the forces of the demonic Darm himself, saving Ys from the danger of the mysterious Black Pearl that the goddesses gave humans all those centuries ago.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Otakon 2015: "We" Are Homeless Warriors, "We" Are Endless Warriors... But Are "We" All Alone?

I am back from another Otakon, and once again I had a great time. While I'm not sure if anything could exactly match 2013, which was the 20th iteration (so it was given special treatment), I had fun at the penultimate appearance at Baltimore. Next year will be Otakon's last in the Inner Harbor, as it will be emanating from Washington D.C. starting in 2017, so maybe Otakorp will pull out all the stops next year, but enough about next year... What happened this year?

Well, first off, I brought with me a small stack of business cards, if only for the fun of it. While I still have plenty left over, I think they went over well with those who got them, so if you see me at a con go ahead and ask for a card; I'll bring them with me again when I do panels next year. Anyway, one of Otakon's strongest aspects is the programming, and this year didn't disappoint in any way. Thursday was my very first Otakon Matsuri, an outdoor party event, and while the area was smaller than I expected it was still cool to see happen. What was really cool, however, was the open-air concert by Back-on, a rock band that has done theme songs for anime like Air Gear, Fairy Tail, & Gundam Build Fighters Try. Though I wasn't too familiar with the group's songs, the concert was an awesome time, and I think anime cons in general should try to do open-air concerts more often, because they are a very different experience than the usual arena concerts that are done.

There was also a strong selection of panels, which is what I tend to put my focus towards when I go to cons. There were panel pros, like Mike Toole, the Anime World Order, Charles Dunbar, & the Reverse Thieves, and guest showings, like Masao Maruyama from MAPPA or popular seiyuu Romi Park, but there were plenty of great panels from lesser known individuals or groups. Whether it was about how an anime gets made, being able to converse with industry reps like Ben Applegate (Kodansha Comics) or Robert Woodhead (AnimEigo), hearing Romi Park tell stories about how unique a director Yoshiyuki Tomino is, or even seeing two "Anitwitter" personalities do something as depraved as showing bits of Violence Jack: Evil Town to unprepared anime fans, there was always something to check out. Personal favorite panels include Mike Toole showing people the various ways South Korean animators "bootlegged" various Japanese anime for their own works, the Reverse Thieves promoting sports anime to a happily large crowd, Carl Li (of Ogiue Maniax) & Ed Chavez (of Vertical Comics) showcasing how "ugly manga" doesn't necessarily mean "bad manga", & a first-time panelist do a really good job of introducing the works of Nobuyuki Fukumoto to people first thing Friday morning. Still, as always, what did I do at Otakon & how did it go?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ys (OVA): "Whys"? "Y's"? "Yees"? Damn French...

While Dragon Slayer & Xanadu gave Nihon Falcom notoriety & fame, respectively, there is one series that best encapsulates what the company is best at when it comes to Action RPG: Ys. Pronounced like the word "ease", the original game, fully titled Ancient Ys Vanished: Omen, came out on the PC-88 back in 1987 & was the creation of Masaya Hashimoto (designer) & Tomoyoshi Miyazaki (writer), who would both go on the found developer Quintet (ActRaiser, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma). The series follows the many journeys of red-haired adventurer Adol Christin, and while the series isn't exactly known for gripping narratives, though they generally aren't poor by any means, that's easily made up for by having fast-paced & engaging gameplay. Taking inspiration from T&E Soft's Hydlide series, Ys started off utilizing the game mechanic of bumping into your enemies to deal damage, but improved upon the mechanic & made it addictive to play with due to the speed of the action; later entries would make attacking a button press, but would be just as fun to play with. When the series started off it was a mega-hit for Falcom, being ported to all manner of PCs & even consoles, and eventually it would become the second product of Falcom's to be turned into an anime.

Is that "Ys" logo beautiful as I think it is? Yes, yes it is.

A few months after the original PC-88 release of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, Falcom would team up with Starchild Records & animation studio Tokyo Kids to produce an OVA adaptation of the original Ys. From 1989-1991, seven episodes were made, retelling the story of Adol's very first adventure in a new, non-interactive fashion. In 2002, Media Blasters would release this OVA series in North America, via both dubbed VHS & dual-audio DVD. With Ys now being more popular than it was over a decade ago, let's see how the anime adaptation of the original game worked out.

Adol Christin has always wanted to live a life of adventure. When he hears of a continent called Esteria that is suddenly filled with monsters, Adol ignores the warnings of the locals of port town Promarock & heads out. Turns out Esteria is surrounded by a dark vortex that is nigh-impossible to get through. Little does Adol know that his journey to Esteria is the beginning of his own legend, which will have him try to acquire the six Books of Ys & take on the mysterious priest Dark Fact in order to fulfill the legend of a hero who will save Esteria & the lost land of Ys from the forces of darkness.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Obscusion B-List: B-Tier Fighters with S-Tier Soundtracks

Otakon is approaching next week & I'll be there after missing out last year. While I do have a review planned for before the con, I also want to be topical for what's happening this weekend: Evo. Short for Evolution Championship Series, Evo is an annual esports event where fighting game fanatics meet up & compete against each other to see who's the best. Technically starting back in 1996, it wouldn't be named Evo until 2002, the tournament is always highly anticipated by hardcore fighting game fans, so with it happening this weekend I want to give notice to a part of fighting games that (understandably) tends to get the short end of the stick.

Yeah, Dee Jay knows what I'm talking about!

That isn't to say that fighting game music isn't celebrated. Almost every stage theme from Street Fighter II, for example, is in the mind of every person who's ever played it, and there are all sorts of awesome songs from franchises like Tekken, The King of Fighters, & BlazBlue. Still, there are plenty of lesser known fighting games that have amazing music that either no one's ever really heard of before, for a variety of reasons, or have simply been forgotten because the game or series has gone the way of the dodo. Therefore, I now introduce a variant of Obscusion B-Side called, what else, Obscusion B-List... Because I love dumb puns & self-deprecation. Anyway, unlike my more standard "12 Anime" lists, Obscusion B-List entries will only be a single post & limited to only six entries (though considering how well I adhere to twelve entries in my anime lists, I can't make any promises). So let's take a look at, to borrow terms from the fighting game community, six B-Tier (or less!) fighting games that have S-Tier soundtracks.

[NOTE: I have not & cannot play every single fighter out there, so this list only reflects my own personal experiences & feelings. If you have any other soundtracks out there in mind, by all means share them in the comments.]

Monday, July 13, 2015

Xanadu -Dragon Slayer Densetsu-: A Place Where Nobody Dared to Go... Because it's Deadly!

Having covered Hydlide in the previous post, let's examine the legacy of the game that co-created the Action RPG genre that same year: Dragon Slayer by Nihon Falcom. Though the company debuted in 1982 with Galactic Wars on the PC-88, Falcom wouldn't make a name for itself until the release of Dragon Slayer. Barely over a year later the company released a sequel, Xanadu -Dragon Slayer II- for the PC-88, and this is where Falcom became a force to be reckoned with. In a time where it was impressive enough for a Japanese PC game to sell 10,000-20,000 units, Xanadu set a smashing sales record by selling over 400,000 on its own, and it wasn't even the same kind of game as its predecessor. Similar to what Square would do later on with the Final Fantasy series, Falcom's Dragon Slayer series would switch up the gameplay for every entry; some would be Action RPGs, others would be more traditional, & one was even Real-Time Strategy. Some people might be familiar with later entries, like Romanica (III/Jr.), Sorcerian (V), or Legacy of the Wizard (IV), & the series lives on in spirit with the Legend of Heroes franchise, which is now one of the Falcom's biggest money makers; the first two entries were the sixth & eighth Dragon Slayer games. Xanadu was also the first game to ever receive an expansion pack, 1986's Scenario II: The Resurrection of Dragon, which also marked the debut of a young music prodigy named Yuzo Koshiro. Interestingly enough, Koshiro's music for the game was actually from the demo tape he sent Falcom when he was job hunting. Falcom liked the demo so much that they asked him if they could use it for their game, before outright hiring him.

Naturally, with Xanadu being the first true "big hit" for Falcom, it would receive multimedia productions. In 1987, a short manga adaptation by Kazuhiko Tsuzuki came out alongside the MSX port of the game, followed by a 50-minute OVA featuring animation by Toei & distribution by Kadokawa Video, both of which were called Xanadu -Dragon Slayer Densetsu/Legend of Dragon Slayer-. While Tsuzuki's artwork was used for the cover of the MSX port, mainly because the original game featured artwork taken from Ultima III: Exodus (& lead to Origin Systems ending a potential partnership with Falcom & suing), the manga & OVA are not directly based on the original computer game, but rather tell their own story based on the world of the game. So how is the very first anime based on a video game developed by Nihon Falcom?

Fieg Kamara is a solider for NATO in the year 2035, fighting in a battle over in Europe. Suddenly, the mech he & his two co-pilots are in is teleported to a mysterious world. While searching the area, Fieg's commander is eaten alive by giant insects, while his fellow soldier is cut in two by a beastman named Agora. Escaping in the mech, Fieg falls off a cliff, is rescued by a wizard, & taken to the kingdom of Xanadu to recover. Now an amnesiac who only knows his name, Fieg lives in Xanadu & one day meets Rielle, the princess of the kingdom. After the two accidentally see a vision of how Rielle's father was brutally killed by evil forces, Fieg & Rielle decide to head off in search of the legendary sword Dragon Slayer, which can stop the forces of black magic.