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.