Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Winter Sols-tice Part 4: Lost Galaxies

As I mentioned in Part 1, there are some titles I decided not to cover for The Winter Sols-tice. For Dear Brother & Creamy Mami, it's because they have both been completely funded & will see complete DVD releases (I helped fund all three sets of the former). For Black Jack TV, there are two sets already funded, but there's a fair chance that it will likely get fully subbed over at Anime Sols anyway, as there are only five episodes left to stream. As for Hurricane Polymar, the show got fully subbed & streamed due to the attempt of funding a complete series boxset, so at that point I would rather just do a complete review for the show if I wanted to cover it. The same applies to the 24 Hour TV Specials, which were 90-minute movies made by Tezuka Pro for 24 Hour Television, Japan's biggest telethon; any of those specials would warrant its own review. So, after removing those from the list, I am now down to just three titles to try out from Anime Sols. One was announced shortly before the site launched in May of 2013, another was a surprise inclusion alongside the launch, & the third is an oddity that clashes with what Anime Sols is all about. Let's finish this!

Blue Blink
In 1989 the unthinkable happened when Osamu Tezuka, the "God of Manga", passed away. A true workaholic who wanted nothing more than to continue making manga, his last words were essentially "Please, let me work!", the loss of Tezuka was something that simply could not be measured. When he passed away his last anime was finishing pre-production, and that would be the 39-episode Blue Blink. Based on the Russian animated film Konyok Gorbunok/The Humpbacked Horse by Ivan Ivanov-Vano, which itself was based on Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov's fairy tale The Little Humpbacked Horse, 1989-1990's Blue Blink was technically directed by Seitaro Hara (Temple the Balloonist), but Osamu Tezuka was credited as "Chief Director" posthumously. Admittedly, it being the last anime Tezuka ever worked on tends to be the most notoriety this series has, but let's see if the first three episodes feature the charm that the "God" was known for at times.

The story begins with Departing for Far, Far Away, where young Kakeru Haruhiko is visiting his father Shiki, a famous story writer. On the way a giant blue ball crashes in a nearby lake, and when the two take care of it it reveals itself to be a "lightning beast", like those Shiki wrote about. The young foal, named Blink, is soon recovered by his gigantic mother after she misunderstands Kakeru's motives & tries to fight him off. Meanwhile, Shiki is kidnapped by Emperor Gros, the villain of his very own story; turns out that Gros is real & somehow Shiki's stories were in fact revealing all of Gros' secrets. Kakeru & Blink chase after him & wind up in Viridian Town, ruled by Prince Horo, who refuses to let storm clouds pass. After that is The Secret of Grey Ranch, where Kakeru & Blink come across the owner of said ranch, which is where Horo said Shiki was taken to. Kakeru is told to work there for free for three months to get his father back, but the secret behind the ranch, which involves flattened cows, might change all of that. This preview ends with A Prisoner at Rose House, where Kakeru decides to take on the materialistic & vain Princess Kirara's "Seven-Part Quiz" in an attempt to win back Shiki.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Winter Sols-tice Part 3: Missed Opportunties

With the presently running drives covered, & Kindaichi R bombing hard in the end, one might wonder why I am even wanting to cover the titles that Anime Sols has already tried out & failed with. Part of it is to to be as complete & conclusive of a look at what Sols is trying out & what they have offered. Part of it is because I am simply genuinely curious about some of the shows that failed. I want to try to understand why they failed when Dear Brother & Creamy Mami succeeded (& Black Jack TV for two sets, too). Part of it is because I always consider myself as someone who is willing to try things that I normally wouldn't watch, as I hate being pigeonholed as someone who only likes certain titles (Ed Chavez of Vertical once found it confusing to him that I bought all of Twin Spica; assumptions like that annoy me).

Finally, part of it is simply because I want to fill a month with me talking about Anime Sols, so I might as well cover all of it. Removing the exceptions I mentioned in Part 1, that leaves me with seven more titles to watch three episodes of, so let's knock four of them down & see what we missed out on when they were given the opportunity for DVD sets.

Pastel Yumi
One notable thing that's missing from the presently-running drives is anything from Studio Pierrot, which is known most for titles like Naruto, Bleach, Saiyuki, & Yu Yu Hakusho, among many others. One of Pierrot's earliest legacies, however, is its magical girl anime productions. Starting with 1983-1984's Creamy Mami, Pierrot has made five series in this genre, with the most recent being 1998's Fancy Lala, which actually saw release over here by Bandai Entertainment. 1986's Magical Idol Pastel Yumi is the fourth entry, and it was part of Sols' second wave of shows that saw attempted DVD set drives, alongside Dear Brother & Hurricane Polymar. Some felt that trying Yumi out, while Mami was still holding drives for later sets, would end up screwing Yumi over, mainly because it wasn't the most beloved entry (guess which one was). With that in mind, let's see if this show truly had enough magic to give it a chance in the first place.

The first episode, The Town is Abloom with Magic!, introduces Yumi Hanazono, who is given a magic wand & pendant by two fairies from the Land of Flowers because she loves flowers. Yumi now has the power to make whatever she draws with her wand real for a short period of time. While at the town's festival Yumi accidentally knocks over her father's flower dress that he entered for a competition; maybe her newfound magic can help him out. In episode two, A Wonderful Way to Use Magic!, Yumi & her friend Kenta help classmate Tsuyoshi look for his dog, who went missing not long ago. Episode three, Welcome, Adventure Girl!, has Yumi's grandpa visit in another attempt to convince his son (Yumi's father) to stop running the flower shop & become an adventurer, like his ancestors (& father) before him. When that doesn't work Yumi tries to indulge her grandpa & help him recover his own bravery (a recent back injury lowered his spirits), and a wild gorilla that escaped the zoo might be the best (& worst) thing to help.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Winter Sols-tice Part 2: But Wait, There's More!

When it comes to the first half of The Winter Sols-tice (i.e. the presently running drives) I am following the order that Anime Sols uploaded each of these new shows. Considering that, it's possible that Sam Pinansky chose to upload the titles that at least had some notoriety to them, like Dororo & Goku's Grand Adventure, first because some people had heard of them before if they know their anime history. I bring this up simply because the second half of the present drives are essentially all anime that pretty much no one in North America has heard of, outside of three (& even then the nostalgia is very specific for them). Hell, one of them was so unknown that even Sam admitted, in an e-mail to supporters, that he knew nothing about it when announcing that it would be streamed! So let's find out if any of these shows are true-blue diamonds in the rough or if any are merely unknown for a reason.

Time Bokan ($186 of $2,700 Presently Funded for Episodes 1-13 Stream)
If there's one thing Tatsunoko as a studio is known for around the world, it's their hero shows, like Gatchaman, Casshan, or even The SoulTaker. In Japan, however, there is one franchise even more iconic from the studio, and that's Time Bokan. Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, the Time Bokan Series is made up of comedic adventure anime, most of which feature a pair of young leads constantly going up against a trio of villains made up of a vivacious woman & two silly lackeys (who both always feature the same character designs); simply put, Pok√©mon's Team Rocket was an homage to Time Bokan. Here in North America we've seen little smatterings of this franchise, like Ippatsuman being playable in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom or the 90s Royal Revival crossover OVA being released here (first by CPM & now by Sentai [on BD, even!]), but until literally just a few days ago with the simulcast of Yatterman Night we never saw any of this franchise get released here in a timely fashion. Anyway, while I will get to the most successful entry in the franchise in Part 3, let's take a look at the eponymous, original 1975-1976 series first.

The basic plot of Time Bokan has leads Tanpei & Junko, along with wind-up robot Chorobou, utilize the giant beetle-shaped time machine Time Bokan in their attempts to locate Professor Kieta, who went missing in time after testing the machine out. Their only lead is Parrosuke, a talking parrot that came back from Kieta's test who continually lies about what era he came from because he's afraid of seeing his bossy wife again. Always in their way, however, are the trio of Marjo, Glocky (who acted as Kieta's assistant & made his own time machine, Gaikotts), & Walther; they hope to find more precious dynamonds, one of which Parrosuke had on him originally. The first episode, Set Off! It's Time Bokan!, has everyone go to the primeval era, when the Earth was more lush & dinosaurs romaed. Episode two, It's The Greek Pratfallian War!, sees them visit (roughly) 300 B.C. & get involved in a battle between Alexander the Great & King Darius. The last episode presently available, It's a Terrifying Witch Hunt!, involves everyone heading to 17th century Albi, France & getting caught up in the wild witch hunts that were going on at the time.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Winter Sols-tice Part 1: Cold Reception

Happy Belated New Year! 2015 should be an interesting year for The Land of Obscusion, and that's mainly because, for the first time in a good while, I don't have anything planned in the long-term. Last year in particular was one that I tended to have an idea as to what I'll be writing about every month, with only one or two real spur-of-the-moment decisions being made. I hope to have this year be different from that. I have my list of titles that I want to review, and I have some ideas stewing around, but after this month I'll be pretty much going off of what my fancy decides to catch... Yes, I know I said it wrong. Until then, however, allow me to torture myself with a crazy idea. In fact, it's an idea about as crazy as that of Anime Sols.

I actually talked about the launch of Anime Sols back in May of 2013, but for those unfamiliar with the site, which is likely most of you, here's a quick recap. Thought up by Sam "Quarkboy" Pinansky (a former fansubber who now works with anime in Japan), Anime Sols' basic concept can be explained as CrunchyRoll-meets-Kickstarter. Essentially, anime gets streamed on Sols' website & when they first appear there's also a crowdfunding drive to go with each title. Originally, the idea was to have the drives be for 13-episode boxsets for each show streamed; much like Kickstarter there was a time limit, but Sols's drives lasted for much longer. Unfortunately, of the original eight series attempted only two of them (Creamy Mami & Black Jack TV) actually succeeded in funding a set. As time went on Sols added Dear Brother, Pastel Yumi, & Hurricane Polymar (this one being an attempt at doing an actual "complete collection) to the mix, but of those three only Dear Brother had a success. As it is, Anime Sols' list of successes are complete funding for all four sets of Creamy Mami, all three sets of Dear Brother, & two sets of Black Jack TV (of what would be five in total), but the major problem is that nearly all of these sets were only fully funded at almost the last day; Black Jack Set 2 literally only succeeded at the last minute.

As for why Anime Sols has had such trouble, there are some valid issues. Probably the biggest one is that the site is only for people who live in the United States & Canada. This, however, is due to restrictions put down by Tezuka Pro, Pierrot, Tatsunoko, & Yomiuri TV (a.k.a. YTV), the companies that have partnered together to create this very site. Previous international licenses, like those in Europe, may create issues where a show may have to be restricted to certain countries, not to mention the larger trickiness of handling credit card information from all over the world. In short, it's a logistical nightmare that most fans, including myself, may never truly understand. Another "issue" is that the titles the site is offering aren't ones that fans are really clamoring for, leading to an absolute lack of notoriety. As for other issues, ranging from the super-barebones site to the slow delivery of DVD sets to a general lack of promotion & awareness, these come about due to one simple reason: Anime Sols literally is Sam Pinansky (minus the freelancers he hires to help with things like subtitling, timing, & DVD checking). Not just that, but Sam has an actual job outside of Anime Sols, resulting in him having to balance having an actual career alongside managing a site that was only a dream a few years ago.