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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tobira wo Akete vs. Tobira wo Akete: Along Comes a Woman from a Fantastical Dream

Back in December of 2013 I wrote two pieces where I had two pairs of Japanese productions do battle with each other simply because they shared (essentially) the same name. I had the 1997 late-night mech anime Next Senki Ehrgeiz go up against the 1997 3D fighting game Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring, and the 1997 late-night ecchi anime Colorful lock up with the 2010 dramatic anime movie Colorful. It was meant to be a partially absurd concept that was only slightly done with any real sense of seriousness, but since then I've thought about bringing back this "Vs. Battle" concept between same-named products... So here we are now.

In 1981 author Motoko Arai wrote the fantasy novel Tobira wo Akete/Open the Door. In 1986, the novel saw two adaptations made, a single-volume manga by Junko Atou that ran in Hana to Yume magazine & a ~80-minute OVA made by Magic Bus & Kitty Film; it was directed by Keizo Shimizu. That same year saw the foundation of Studio 4°C by Eiko Tanaka & Koji Morimoto, an animation studio that would go on to become one of the most beloved & experimental. The studio wouldn't really make its name known until 1995, however, when it produced two-thirds of the anthology movie Memories, but in that same year Morimoto wrote & directed a 10-minute short that has essentially become forgotten with time, Tobira wo Akete/Open the Door.

Interestingly enough, both anime productions have become hard to get a hold of physically now. Shimizu's OVA originally saw a VHS & LD release, followed by a DVD re-release in 2002, but as of now it's nigh impossible to find any of those for sale; even Yahoo Auctions Japan brings up nothing. Similarly, Morimoto's short has seemingly disappeared as soon as it first came out. It's supposedly included as an extra on the DVD release of Morimoto's 1997 short Noiseman Sound Insect, but I can't verify that, as that DVD itself is pretty rare. Still, both are out there via "other means", including YouTube, with English subtitles. While it may not exactly be fair to have an anime short go up against something around eight times its length, at the same time it's not exactly genius to compare two products simply because they share the same name, with only the way the word "tobira" is written being the sole difference (the kanji 扉 versus the katakana トビラ).

Up above is the good-ol' Tale of the Tape, and the lack of character designer & music producer in the Morimoro short is because none are actually credited. As with the Ehrgeiz & Colorful battles, these two anime will be compared in these categories: Story, Characters, Visuals, Music, Voice Work, & Execution. Unlike the previous battles there is no extraneous category like comparing logos or taglines, as the logos for both productions are purposefully simple & neither have taglines.

Let's get it on!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Otoko Zaka (The Original Run): All Guts, No Glory

Weekly Shonen Jump is no stranger to controversial & infamous endings to some of its manga. Go Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen dared to kill off most of its schoolkid cast in a literal war against the PTA due to actual controversy with the organization (though this was obviously retconned years later). Yasuhari Kita's Makuhari revealed that the "main character" was actually Hiroshi Gamou, creator of Tottemo! Luckyman & likely the true identity of Tsugumi Ohba, due to the increasing hostility the two had for each other once they were paired together during the manga's serialization. This is only a small portion of a list of infamously known Jump endings, but it just showcases the various reasons why manga can come to a sudden end, whether it's forced upon by outside forces, the result of vile hatred between authors, or some other reason that can be listed.

The most common reason why manga ends, however, is simply because it didn't maintain the readers' interest. Jump is notorious for putting the ax to many new manga after only a couple volumes-worth of content, and sometimes it just happens to manga that weren't actually bad at all. For Masami Kurumada he had an early end with his debut manga Sukeban Arashi, back in 1975, before becoming one of the biggest names in the magazine with Ring ni Kakero. As I mentioned in the previous review, his follow-up, Fuma no Kojirou, seemed to end rather suddenly at the tail end of 1983. I think that was because he finally felt he was ready to do the story he had always wanted to tell. Kurumada admitted that he, in his own words, "became a manga creator to draw this manga," even admitting that he considered himself a "mangaya/manga drawer" up to this point instead of a "mangaka/manga creator". In 1984, ten years after his debut, Masami Kurumada finally drew the manga he had always wanted to do. Much like the "Man's Hill" it was named after, however, Otoko Zaka had a steep climb to traverse, and with Shonen Jump in the early days of its "Golden Age" at this point, the manga had no chance to succeed; it was canceled after only three volumes. Kurumada, however, refused to admit defeat & acknowledge the story as being over before its time, which made it's final page one of the most infamous in not just Jump history, but likely manga in general. Now, 30 years later, Otoko Zaka has returned, so I want to see what the original 84-85 run was like. I have a theory as to why it was canceled so early on to test, so let's look at "Masami Kurumada's Most Infamous Manga".

Jingi Kikukawa lives in Kujukuri, Chiba & has never lost a fight in his entire life. He'll take on any & all challengers, including the legendary Kenka Oni/Fighting Demon that lives in the Kizan/Demon Mountain area. One day, however, Kujukuri Beach is visited by Sho Takeshima, the "Don" of Western Japan who has learned to take on & defeat any fighting style he comes up against in order to become Don of the entire country. When Sho's men take out some local delinquents that got in their way, Jingi comes in to save the day... Only to be completely outclassed by Sho. Unwilling to accept defeat, unless it's with his death, Jingi chases Sho to Narita Airport, where a party is being held before Sho flies off to America. The fight makes Sho acknowledge Jingi as his last true rival when it comes to ruling Japan's young gangs, but this is more than just a domestic issue. Sho is heading to American to join the Junior World Connection, or JWC for short, a group made up of the strongest Dons in the world. The JWC have decided to soon invade Eastern Japan & make it their collective territory, without Sho's knowledge, leaving Jingi no choice but to try to get all of Japan's remaining gang leaders to help him take on the upcoming threat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fuma no Kojirou: Before Naruto... Before Ninku... There Was...

The year is 1981. Masami Kurumada is a superstar mangaka in Weekly Shonen Jump because of the massive success of Ring ni Kakero, his second series. It helped bring the readership to over 3 million (which is where it hovers around nowadays), helped revolutionize the way sports manga (& later action manga in general) operated, and publisher Shueisha gave the manga the very first full-color final chapter (something that has only been duplicated in Jump three times since, most recently last year with Naruto). Naturally, hopes & anticipations were high for what Kurumada was going to debut next in the magazine, and what would come was something completely different than what came before. Instead of another sports manga, it was a tale of ninja. From what info I could find, this follow-up manga was in fact popular with readers as soon as it debuted in the beginning of 1982, but the title was not to last nearly as long of RnK. Though it seemed to remain popular throughout its run, Kurumada would end his third serialized manga at the end of 1983, after only two straight years, leaving it at a total of 10 volumes. Since then the series would become Kurumada's least known major work; I've even deemed it "Masami Kurumada's Fourth-Most-Well-Known Manga." Why did it end so (comparatively) early? Was it any good in the first place? I'm going to try to give an answer to both of those questions.

This is Fuma no Kojirou/Kojirou of the Fuma.

The story focuses on the titular Kojirou, a young ninja from the Fuma Clan, and is split up into three arcs: The Yasha Chapter, where Kojirou & his Fuma brethren are called in to save Hakuo Academy by Himeko Hojo, a descendant of the clan they protected back in the Sengoku Era. Her school is on the verge of closing due to rival school Seishikan, which has recruited rival clan the Yasha to help steal students & make Seishikan the only school in the area. Following that is the Sacred Sword War Chapter, where Kojirou, fellow Fuma ninja Ryoma, & for-hire warrior Musashi Asuka (who previously fought for Seishikan) become involved in the revived battle between the forces of Cosmo & Chaos after two of the ten legendary Sacred Swords (Kojirou's Fuurin Kazan & Musashi's Ougonken) are uncovered during the Fuma/Yasha conflict. Finally, there's the Fuma Rebellion Chapter, where the remaining Fuma from the battle with the Yusha must now fight a civil war within what remains of the Fuma Clan, while trying to figure out who leads the "New Fuma Clan" & for what purpose.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Pachislo Kizoku Gin: Much Like the Reels, My Finger Will Stop Time

When people think about gambling, especially casino games, one of the first thoughts will be about slot machines, those games of chance where one inserts some coins, pulls a level, & hopes to hit a jackpot. In Japan, however, traditional slot machines are illegal due to the country making gambling illegal, not to mention the more or less random nature of the game. In place of that is Japanese slots, also known as pashislo (a.k.a. pachisuro, a.k.a. pachislot, a.k.a. pachinko slot), where tokens are used in place of actual currency, winnings are traded in for prizes & snacks (though there's always a shady booth outside of a parlor or game center to cash those in for actual money), and a trio of buttons are used by the player to stop each of the three reels. Combine all of this with some stringent rules & regulations and pachislo gives the allure of actually relying on skills (even if mostly illusory) & is big business in its home country. Part of the continued appeal in pachislo (& its pinball-influenced cousin, pachinko) is the fact that, since the start of the new millenium, it has become the secondary home of many licensed properties, including anime & manga.

If you can name a popular anime or manga, even if it hasn't seen anything recent via film or print, then there's a big chance that there's some sort of "pachi" machine based on it. Rokudenashi BLUES, Aquarion, Code Geass, Saint Seiya, Ashita no Joe... Hell, it doesn't even need to be anime or manga, as there are literally pachi-machines based on people & stuff like Elvis, Koda Kumi, or even Knight Rider! In fact, some machines with original concepts have even been adapted into anime, like Battle Girls - Time Paradox, Yoshimune, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman, or Rio Rainbow Gate!. So, to modify the gambler's fallacy slightly, shouldn't that mean that there's anime & manga about playing these things? Well the answer is yes, and I'm not talking about something like the second half of Kaiji: Against All Odds, where the lead character goes up against the pachinko machine from Hell, or the amusingly large number of pachislo & pachinko manga that's out there. Rather, I'm talking about an utterly forgotten anime called Pachislo Kizoku Gin, or Slot Noble Gin, as the official English title translation says. While there was a short manga that ran alongside it, as pictured above, the main attraction was a 23-episode, late-night TV anime that ran throughout 2001 on Fuji TV. To my knowledge, this is the sole anime about playing pachislo that has ever been made, & I didn't even know it existed until last June, when Lynzee Lamb included it in her list of "6 Obscure Anime Series Lost in Time" over at ANN. Since then I managed to actually buy the Japanese R2 DVD boxset from Amazon Japan for a shockingly cheap price, ~$40 (including shipping!), so let's see if I gambled my money well on this show about pachislo & the "slotters" that play them.

Ginya Otonashi dreams of one day becoming a novelist, but for the time being works part-time as a journalist for a pachislo magazine, even though Ginya isn't exactly too interested in the game. He's told by his editor Hino to find the best slotter in Japan so that he can do an exposé, but not knowing where to start Ginya winds up at the local bar he frequents, where his on-again/off-again girlfriend Yuri works part-time. Bar owner Dai Shibaura, a former pachislo maker, decides to let Ginya in on a big secret & takes him to an underground parking lot, the elevator in which leads to the Slosseum, a secret organization where people can compete against each other in pachislo. The goal of any Slosseum slotter is to advance up the ranks, from rankless to Knight to General to King, in order to earn the right to go up against the Ultimate King, Ryo Daiba. Shibaura brought Ginya along because he sees potential in Ginya's visual acuity, as he can even stop a pinwheel on the exact color he wants. By giving it a try, Ginya not only becomes more interested in playing pachislo but gains the attention of Daiba. With the goal of fighting Daiba in mind, Ginya will move his way up the ranks in the Slosseum, but by becoming more involved in pachislo he'll also dig up, & have to put closure to, his old childhood memories of his real father, Kojirou Shinbashi, a pachislo maker who left his family behind & was never seen again.