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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.