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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Newcomer's Guide to Saint Seiya: 30 Years Later, Where Does One Start?

At the beginning of 1986, Masami Kurumada debuted Saint Seiya in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, a manga that would change his entire life. While he had seen notable success from 1977-1981 with Ring ni Kakero (through which the modern shonen fighting manga would be introduced) & respectable non-failure with 1982-1983's Fuma no Kojirou, Kurumada bombed hard with 1984-1985's Otoko Zaka, which he had conceived of as his magnum opus. He directly addressed this in the author's note section in the first volume of Saint Seiya:

"I started creating my current title, Saint Seiya, to target a mainstream audience from the start, totally unlike my previous work... Although there are pros & cons to this, going mainstream will most definitely light up fireworks for my manga."

Thirty years later, I'm sure Masami Kurumada would call that an understatement.

At this point, Kurumada was only a domestic success, with his work having never been released outside of Japan. With Saint Seiya, though, his old-school, action-focused, romanticized style would be seen around the world, where it would become one of the biggest & most iconic manga & anime around the world, where it would be renamed Knights of the Zodiac (in various languages). At the same time, however, Saint Seiya essentially became the anime & manga equivalent of soccer (ignoring Captain Tsubasa, of course), i.e. it's a giant mega hit around the world (or at least Asia, Europe, South & Central America, & Mexico), but in North America (i.e. the United States & Canada) it's only a cult favorite, at absolute best (& even that's pushing it). While it started off extremely rocky & slow back in 2003, when DiC botched their attempt at KotZ on TV, at this moment there's a bunch of Saint Seiya out there for American anime & manga fans to check out... So where does one start?

Therefore, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Saint Seiya, allow me to give a guiding hand to those who are Seiya-curious but have no idea where to start or even what to try out. While I'm certainly no absolute expert on the franchise, I have experienced more than enough to at least give newcomers a better start than having them simply dive in deep & blind; I'll also focus on what's legally available right now, because this is going to be long enough as it is. Therefore, let's not waste any more time & start with where it all began.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Super Robot Wars (HD): Peer Pressure Can Be a Powerful Tool

On April 20, 1991 a Japanese game developer & publisher named Banpresto released Super Robot Taisen/Wars on Nintendo's handheld system, the Game Boy. Originally founded in 1977 as Hoei Sangyo, the developer would then be renamed Coreland in 1982 & existed mainly to assist Sega's arcade division. When Bandai bought the company in 1989 it was given the now iconic company name (& eye mask logo) & put straight to work at making games based on licensed properties. While crossover games were a part of Banpresto's DNA ever since the Bandai purchase, Super Robot Wars wound up being something different. It became the main series that defined the company, so much so that Banpresto is still essentially identified as the developer, even though that technically hasn't been the case since about SRW Neo on the Wii (which was the last physical SRW game to sport the logo on the cover). Therefore, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of SRW, let's see how the original game fares after it finally received a complete remake.

Remakes of older Super Robot Wars games are in no way a recent concept, with the first one being Super Robot Wars 2G, the 1995 Game Boy version of the late-1991 Famicom original; it updated the game by being based on SRW4's interface & systems. Since then we've seen remakes of 2, 3, & EX on the PS1 via 1999's Complete Box, Masou Kishin - The Lord of Elemental on the DS & PSP, the Compact 2 trilogy on the PS2 via Impact, Alpha 1 using polygons on the Dreamcast, A on the PSP (rather lazily, though), the first two Original Generation games on the PS2 via OGs, & one can even count F & F Final as a two-part remake of 4 (though those are more outright re-imaginings than simply remakes). The latest remake in the franchise, though, came about on April 24, 2014 (just four days after the 23rd Anniversary), when first printings of SRW Z3: Time Prison Chapter on the PS3 & Vita included download codes for a complete remake of the very first SRW as a digital-only release; shortly later it saw a general release on the Japanese PS Store. Considering how much the franchise has grown & evolved in the years since the original game, was remaking the first SRW an example of making a good game only better & easier to play in modern times, or is it nothing more than an outdated game given a fresh coat of paint?

A blue planet is home to a variety of super-deformed robots of varying types, looks, & style (super or real), and though they may not see eye to eye, they all generally seem to co-exist. All that changes one day, though, when an alien creature known as Gilgilgan comes to the planet & lets out a force that instantly makes many of the robots pledge allegiance to the creature. Only one group of robots manage to avoid being turned & decide to fight back, hoping they can also convince those they once called friends to rejoin them in the battle against Gilgilgan & his ally Picdoron. But even if they manage to save the planet from these two monsters, can they do it a second time when the God of Battle God Noah challenges them, along with a revived (& later mechanized) Gilgilgan & Picdoron?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Twelve Mech Anime That Have Been AWOL From SRW For Far Too Long Part 2

Welcome back to this list of mech anime that were, at various points in time (mainly the 00s), featured in the rosters of various entries in Banpresto's (now B.B.Studio) Super Robot Wars video game franchise, but have not been seen in at least a decade. In Part 1 we mainly looked at games that were last seen in the Alpha Series, D, or MX, so here in Part 2 we'll be looking at six mech anime that were last seen from SRW from three specific entries that all (mostly) came out after Alpha 3, i.e after Bandai (which owned Banpresto) merged with Namco.

Brain Powerd
Yoshiyuki Tomino's ouvre of work has generally been best categorized in two categories: "Kill-Em-All Tomino" & "Happy Tomino". While not every single work he's done fits into these two categories perfectly, you can split his work up fairly well like this. "Happy Tomino", in particular, is where his most bizarre & (fitting every possible inflection of the term) interesting titles tend to wind up, though. Stuff like Blue Gale Xabungle, Overman King Gainer, Turn-A Gundam, & even Gundam: Reconguista in G are all anime he made when he was generally in a much happier time in his life, but one of his most curious in this category would easily be 1998's Brain Powerd (the missing "e" was added back in for Bandai Entertainment's English release). Though initially conceived of & planned before Hideaki Anno & Gainax made Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tomino "resigned" himself to having to accept that people were going to (understandably) see Brain Powerd as his take on what Eva did. Today, this anime is best known for telling a completely unrestrained Tomino story (i.e. it's weird & kind of hard to follow), featuring a completely beautiful soundtrack by Yoko Kanno (which she apparently had to make without ever seeing a single second of animation), having an OP where all of the lead females are butt naked (look it up yourself, perverts), & being a part of only two games in the SRW franchise.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Twelve Mech Anime That Have Been AWOL From SRW For Far Too Long Part 1

Last year I started Mecha Month with a list about mech anime that have yet to been included in any games in the Super Robot Wars franchise, but I felt were not "lost causes", i.e. they could still believably happen. While iDOLM@STER Xenoglossia did technically appear in the mobile game spin-off SRW X-Ω ("Cross-Omega"), it was only for a month as a way to help promote the franchise in general, so I didn't update the list to reflect that as it was such a "blink & you'll miss it" inclusion. Anyway, while I do anticipate what series will be making their debuts with each new SRW game that's announced, I'm also just as excited about what series will be returning, all the more so if it's something that hasn't been seen in a while. It was cool to see Aura Battler Dunbine be included in SRW BX, the first time in over a decade since Compact 3, for example. That being said, there are plenty of mech anime that had made appearances in SRW in past, but haven't been seen in a good long while. Therefore, let me list off twelve series that have been AWOL from the franchise & more than deserve a new appearance.

That being said, I do have four criteria for inclusion:
-It's last appearance was at least 10 years ago, because there are enough with that restriction.
-It has to have already been in at least two SRW games. There are enough single-appearance examples to make another list, to be honest.
-I'm not counting appearances in spin-off games, like Scramble Commander, Super Robot Gakuen, or X-Ω. Sorry, but I'm being picky about this & only counting the traditional, turn-based strategy games. This means no RahXephon, since that only was only in MX, & SC 2nd is a spin-off.
-Finally, I have some stuff I'm excluding, even though they meet the above criteria. These are, specifically, Tosho Daimos, Daiku Maryu Gaiking, & Brave Raideen, and I'm excluding them outright because they all starred Akira Kamiya, who is not only very expensive to hire but also only getting older; let the man retire in peace & with a working voice. Also, Gaiking & Raideen at least have more recent re-imaginings to utilize, the former of which has already been used in K & L. This restriction really applies to most 70s mech anime in general, quite honestly.

Giant Robo - The Day the Earth Stood Still
We're doing this in reverse order, which means the longest hiatus comes first, and it's one that's dear to many mecha fans. The late Mitsuteru Yokoyama is generally considered the man who created the giant robot genre in general with Tetsujin 28, yet his work has rarely been included in the SRW franchise. In fact, none of the man's giants would appear until 1999's Super Robot Wars 64 on the Nintendo 64, which featured the debuts of both 1981-1982's Rokushin Gattai God Mars & 1992-1998's Giant Robo - The Day the Earth Stood Still. While God Mars would make a few more appearances via 2003's SRW D & the Z Series starting with 2011's SRW Z2: Hakai-hen, with the 80s version of Tetsujin 28 debuting in 2012's Z2: Saisei-hen, Giant Robo only had a single other appearance after its debut. That would be 2000's Super Robot Wars Alpha on the PlayStation, which was the first part of the franchise's second main series, following the "Classic Series", & the first game to feature fully animated attack scenes. With a hiatus that's going on 17 years, why hasn't this beloved cult classic of an OVA series been brought back to SRW?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Matchless Raijin-Oh OVAs: Time to Get Kids to Make Their Parents Buy Them Anime on Home Video!

It's November on The Land of Obscusion, so for the fifth time we are celebrating Mecha Month! I've got the first Super Robot Wars game review from me in four years in the pipeline, but before I bring back something for the first time in years, I feel I should put an end to something that's kind of become an accidental tradition for Mecha Month. It's time to cover the last bit of Matchless Raijin-Oh ever made.

While the first Mecha Month in 2012 was admittedly kind of lackluster (though it did feature my last SRW review until "soon"), for the second I decided to start things off by reviewing the first half of the first entry in the Eldoran Series, Sunrise's co-production with Tomy after the success of the Brave Series with Takara. I mainly did so because Anime Midstream, the small-time company that was bringing it over one DVD per year since 2009, had finally gotten to Volume 5 & decided that the English dub it was producing would stop there; since I had no idea when the rest would come out (if at all, even) I decided to play it safe & review "Season 1" right then & there, and it was a fun & always enjoyable ride of a show. To my surprise, Anime Midstream would release all of the second half in a single sub-only boxset the next year, so Mecha Month 3 started off with my review of "Season 2", which I found just at great & even felt was worthy of deeming the show an "Honorary Brave". With that out of the way, I decided to bring everything full circle & close out Mecha Month 4 with a review of the anime adaptation of Mohiro Kitoh's manga Bokurano, which was essentially the complete & utter deconstruction of everything that Matchless Raijin-Oh was. There was one last bit of Raijin-Oh I could potentially cover, but figured to not worry myself over; I'll get to them when I get to them, essentially. Well, at Otakon this year I found a complete laserdisc set of these last products, so what better way to put an end to my Raijin-Oh reviews (& close a chapter of Mecha Month) than to finally watch & review the OVAs that were produced after the show finished airing in Japan?

The week following the final episode of Matchless Raijin-Oh saw the debut of the second Eldoran anime, the comedy-focused Genki Bakuhatsu/Energy Bomb Ganbarugar, but the original series had been a great success for Sunrise & Tomy, so while producing the new series they decided to make some OVAs for the first series, with help from Youmex for distribution. This is pretty surprising, to be honest, because the OVA market was not really meant for children, and no Brave anime would see any sort of OVA continuation until late-1997's Brave Command Dagwon: The Boy with Crystal Eyes; this is proof positive of how popular & influential Raijin-Oh was in Japan. From mid-1992 to early 1993 a trio of Raijin-Oh OVA episodes were released, all taking place after the end of the original TV series & actually running concurrently with Ganbarugar; in fact, these OVAs had "official" episode #s to them. What Sunrise did was make believe that another 53 episodes were in fact produced, even listing the names of every single one of them across all three OVA releases, & even naming the various Jaku Beasts that were created in most of them. These fake episodes included "Earth is an Akudama?" (Episode 52, Earthdama), "Jin Hyuga Becomes a Woman?" (Episode 55, Okaman), "Aim for the Idol!" (Episode 77, Hell Beauty), "Bakuryu-Oh Defeated" (Episode 80, Jaku Bakuryu-Oh), "The Great Christmas Battle!" (Episode 90, Jaku Santa), & "Save Belzeb!" (Episode 99, Dark Falzeb), with some of them actually being told via audio dramas & one of them was even shown partially during a cameo appearance the EDC makes in Episode 17 of Ganbarugar. The OVAs themselves take place during the latter half of this hypothetical sequel, so let's simply cover each of them individually.