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Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2017!! Part 2

"Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?"

Ask most people, & I'm sure that they'll say that 2017 was a pretty crappy year filled with insanity of the worst kind. I won't deny that by any means, though there's always plenty of good to look back on, but isn't that what New Year's is for? Before I close my book on the year 2017 & open a brand new one for the year 2018, though, let me look back on the other "six" of my favorite posts of the year. That being said, however, I am making 2018 the "Year of Unfinished Business", so maybe I just can't help but always look back on what happened in the past... Even if it's not always the best, as indicated by the first entry of this Part.

The Death Crimson Retrospective That Destroys Your Soul! (October 31)
A "kusoge", or "crappy game", is a video game that is so terrible in just about every regard, yet still manages to find an audience because of that lack of quality; it's the "so bad it's good" of gaming. In Japan, the game considered the "Emperor" & "Master" of kusoge is Ecole Software's Death Crimson for the Sega Saturn, a 1996 light gun shooter made by a bunch of CAD developers who had only one other game credit to their names. That game's instant notoriety resulted in it getting not one but two successive games, one that tried to be a much larger, multi-genre experience & another that kept things simple by being an actual rail shooter that saw initial release in arcades. Last year was the 20th Anniversary of Death Crimson, but since I didn't have all three games at that time yet, I was unable to do a proper retrospective for this infamous series... But, considering the reputation Death Crimson has, it did feel much more appropriate to do it on the year the original game would be legally able to get drunk.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Land of Obscusion's Twelve Favorite Posts of 2017!! Part 1

Aside from the very first month of this blog's existence, I've made it a habit to always put something up on December 26, which internationally is known as Boxing Day. That being said, I was born & still currently reside in the United States, which doesn't celebrate Boxing Day in any way; the only reason why our calendars mention it is because of Canada, after all. Therefore, why in the world do I always take the time to have a post ready for Boxing Day? Honestly, even I can't give a definitive answer for that, outside of me having an odd fascination with it ever since I first saw it listed on a calendar as a child. Maybe it's just a natural habit to root for the underdog, but as long as Boxing Day is acknowledged on the calendars that I use in my everyday life, then I shall always be there to wish you all a Happy Boxing Day!

And, as I have done ever since 2012, allow me to reminisce about "twelve" of my favorite posts on this blog from this very year, split up across two lists of "six". This time around, though, let's go backwards & start off with the one that meant the most to me, personally.

Ring ni Kakero's Ruby Anniversary (All of January)
I don't hide my love & fandom for Ring ni Kakero/Put It All in the Ring, the first major work from Saint Seiya's Masami Kuruamda. I won't act like it's some unbeatable masterwork that has never been topped, but there's just a collective "something" about this work, either in its original manga form or the four seasons of TV anime made from 2004-2011, that really appeal to me in a simple, visceral fashion. I, rather hastily, reviewed the hell out of RnK pretty early on via this blog, so I don't really have the ability to continually write about this series, but every now & then I find an opportunity to do so. For this year, that occasion was due to the fact that the original manga turned 40 years old in 2017 (technically the end of 2016, due to Shonen Jump's issue numbering habit, but I won't split hairs here), but since Japan was going to be heavily focused on two major anniversaries, Saint Seiya's 30th (which was technically last year) & Shonen Jump's 50th (which is actually next year), I figured that RnK's 40th was pretty much going to be ignored, which saddened me.

In fact, on October 1, animator & mechanical designer Hiroyuki Taiga had to clarify on Twitter that in the last episode of Senki Zessho Symphogear AXZ, a special attack shown was in fact a reference to Ring ni Kakero's Kaiser Knuckle, because fans were naturally (& mistakenly) assuming that it was a Saint Seiya reference; Taiga even apologized for his "old man concept". Yes, someone actually bothered to pay homage to RnK during its 40th Anniversary, only to not just have most people not realize it, but actually apologized for even going through with it... What the hell.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Corpse Princess: Some Shikabane are Always Trying to Ice-Skate Uphill...

Three years ago, I volunteered to be a part of the Reverse Thieves' yearly Anime Secret Santa, where volunteers are given a fellow participant (or, as I put it, "victim") to recommend three different anime to watch, with the "victim" having to choose at least one to watch & review in time for Christmas Eve; obviously, this is all done under utmost secrecy until Christmas Day, when everyone is revealed. The end result was me watching & reviewing The Legend of Black Heaven, which I absolutely loved. I held off on returning to the project for two years, as I always hate having to actually recommend stuff to people, especially when it's for people I likely don't know. This year, however, I decided to give it another go, & so I received three anime to choose from. There was Angel Links, the spin-off of Outlaw Star, & Descendants of Darkness, which saw a re-release by Discotek back in 2015, but after consideration I decided to go with what was actually the first one in the list, and what better time than the Holiday Season to watch an anime about zombies, am I right?

Kuro's title splash here, but the only difference is the kanji in the lower right.

Shikabane Hime/Corpse Princess debuted in the pages of Monthly Shonen GanGan in 2005 & was the first serialized work from a new mangaka named Yoshiichi Akahito; there were also two one-shot stories that predated the serialization. The manga did very well during its run, lasting 23 volumes until it ended in 2014; Akahito has since only done one other series, Saisei no Phantasma, that actually ended this year. In late 2008, Corpse Princess was adapted into a TV anime that was co-animated by the relatively new studio Feel (Jinki: Extend, Da Capo) & the legendary Gainax, which had been riding off of the success of Gurren Lagann just a year prior. Though it ran straight into early 2009 for 26 episodes, it was technically split up into two seasons, Aka/Red & Kuro/Black. For simplicity's sake, and also since there was no hiatus between seasons, I'll be covering this anime here in its entirety. So was this a good recommendation by Davius from OtakuPuppy, or did this miss the mark with me in some way?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 12: Quadrantid Quarrels

I have said before on the blog that I prefer to not have to rely a source like those bootleg anime DVDs one would find in any major city's Chinatown district, but the fact of the matter is that these products were a part of my early days as an anime fan. Admittedly, I was a bit of a bizarre fan, as I would buy legit products that saw North American release, while also watching fansubs as well as occasionally buying bootlegs whenever me & my friends went to Chinatown in New York City; my last trip there was before I started the blog, however. In the years since, I have thrown out most of those bootlegs, either because I finally bought legit releases or said bootlegs were simply ripped by others & distributed online, making owning those DVDs kind of pointless. That being said, I still own bootleg DVDs for three productions, and that's mainly because they've never been ripped online, and the chances of them being released officially are effectively nil. I actually utilized one back in 2012 for one of my Saiyuki reviews, so I figure I should finally utilize another one of them in a productive manner. Therefore, let's talk about children's toys that shoot marbles.

Because we all know who the REAL main character is...

Takara-Tomy's B-Daman line takes the old game of marbles ("biidama" in Japan) & mixes things up by having players shoot them out of launchers. It started up back in 1993 as a sort of spin-off of Hudson Soft's Bomberman franchise, the union of which would produce two anime series & last until 2000, but in 1995 a standalone line called Super B-Daman was launched, complete with a manga by Shun Imaga to help promote it. An anime adaptation of the manga would air throughout 1999 for 20 episodes, with it actually being the first digital production Studio Xebec ever did. Takara would introduce another new line in 2002 called Battle B-Daman, and a manga by Eiji Inuki would debut alongside it. The start of 2004 would see the debut of B-Legend! Battle B-Daman, an adaptation of Inuki's manga by Nippon Animation & Synergy SP that ran for the entire year, lasting 52 episodes. Only at this point did Takara finally decide to export the toy line internationally, & across both 2005 & 2006 the anime would air on television in areas like Canada, Italy, France, Latin America, & the United States; in fact, it would air in the US twice, first on ABC Family's Jetix block & then on Cartoon Network. In fact, I remember the English dub being surprisingly good & enjoyable, as it featured a lot of all-star talent, like Barbara Goodson, Dave Wittenberg, Mona Marshall, & even Steven Blum.

As for the original Japanese version, the first 26 episodes did in fact see "release" via Chinatown's bootleg DVDs, complete with English subs that are surprisingly good; the names are mangled, sure, but the translation is accurate, if a bit too literal at times. So let me investigate the first half of B-Legend! Battle B-Daman, if only to find out if the English dub was built on a solid foundation.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Manga DVD Sanctuary: Third Time's Not Quite the Charm...

Near the end of the first year of this blog's very existence (in the far off year of 2011...), I watched & reviewed two products released under the hyper-short-lived Manga DVD line. On October 3, 2003, a production company named Shadow Entertainment released three DVDs, with distribution by Sony Pictures Entertainment, that took three classic manga & turned them into what people nowadays would call a "motion comic". In other words, instead of actually creating full-on anime adaptations of these works, the panels from the manga would be shown on screen, alongside some minor visual effects, full voice acting, sound effects, & a musical score. Unfortunately, Shadow only ever produced three of these DVDs, and all those years ago I covered the Manga DVD versions of Kyoufu Shinbun & Ring ni Kakero. Now it is finally time for me cover the third of these products... This is Manga DVD Sanctuary.

Technically, it's done in 4:3 full-screen, but except for the credits
it's all shown letterboxed, so I'm cropping here.

Running from 1990-1995 in the pages of Shogakukan's Big Comic Spirits, Sanctuary was a political thriller written by Sho Fumimura (a.k.a. Yoshiyuki Okamura, but best known as Fist of the North Star's Buronson) & drawn by Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman, Mai, the Psychic Girl); in fact, this would be the first of many collaborations between these two mangaka. The manga ran for 12 volumes, & prompted both a Japanese live-action theatrical adaptation in 1995 & a 50-minute OVA in 1996, both of which actually saw English release by Viz Media (who also released the manga, translated by Matt Thorn). Unfortunately, no version sold amazingly in North America, so the manga has been out-of-print for decades, & neither the movie nor the OVA ever saw a DVD release (VHS only, people). Even in Japan, while both the manga & movie have seen re-releases, the OVA still remains without a DVD release. Therefore, the Manga DVD adaptation is actually the most recent version of this story, which makes it all the more interesting that it's the most obscure & forgotten. Looking back at my reviews, I was generally pleased with what Shadow Entertainment had done with the other two productions, so let's see if this third one follows in their tracks.

Friday, December 1, 2017

No Obscusion for Miss Blandish: Lucky Anniversary Number Slevin

Man, have I been doing this blog for seven years now? At this point, I sometimes start to wonder if what I'm doing is actually resulting in anything substantial, or if I'm just doing this because it's become a regular part of my current life. In fact, a couple of days ago, the author of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, John Sczepaniak, sent an update to the people who helped crowdfund his series of books featuring Japanese developer interviews; it got tweeted by others & made more public. In it, he laments how his work isn't being more celebrated than he feels it should be, calling the entire endeavor a "colossal waste".

Honestly, I kind of relate to that feeling to an extent, as this blog is somewhat similar in basic concept to what Sczepaniak has been doing (i.e. making more know the niche & obscure), but seeing his words makes me realize that I still do enjoy what I do here, and I've been doing this blog for longer than he has been making his books. I don't disparage those who have read my posts, I don't hate on people for not retweeting my new post tweets (which, in turn, limits how many people read them), and I don't feel bitter about starting this in the first place; granted, he got money to make his books, so maybe that's affecting him, too. Still, I understand Sczepaniak's frustration, so I'll make sure to finally buy his first two Volumes sometime this holiday season, and I say you should do so, too, if you're a fan of old-school gaming.

That being said, I can never tell when I'll decide to put an end to this blog & call it quits. After all, life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Therefore, I want to try to remove as many feelings of regret as possible, so for the first time ever I am dedicating an entire year to an overall concept. Yes, the year 2018 shall be "The Year of Unfinished Business"!! While I'll still be doing the usual things like Twelve Anime lists, Theory Musing, & the quarterly Demo Disc, every anime & manga review (plus some B-Sides) will either be related to something I had reviewed previously on the blog, or it will simply be something that I effectively said I'll cover (or at least wanted to cover) at some point in the future on this blog before... Because I had a massive problem with doing that. We'll be seeing the return of Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki, Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya, Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars, & the dread specter of Idea Factory anime, among other titles. In fact, to show how serious I am with this idea, up next will be me finally covering the last of the Manga DVD series, Sanctuary.

Still, I want to do something for this Anniversary post in particular, so here's a mini-review of something based on a Masami Kurumada manga (because of course I couldn't get through an entire year without reviewing a Kurumada-related product) that was released this year (because I haven't covered something truly "recent" in a while), and it's the perfect way to prepare for the Manga DVD.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Twelve Mech Anime That Deserve a (Literal) Second Chance in SRW Part 2

So around the time Part 1 of this list came about, Bandai Namco announced that there will be new information coming out regarding Super Robot Wars via a live stream on December 11. Not just that, but the company's Southeast Asia Twitter account, which posts in English, also promoted the live stream, so it's likely that the Moon Dwellers & V English translation efforts were a success. With that in mind, at least one entry in this list has an (ever so slightly) better chance for re-inclusion than before (...maybe). With that said, let's get straight into Part 2 of this list of "mech anime" (read: not all are anime) that saw a single appearance in SRW, but deserve a second moment in the spotlight.

Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion, though itself homaging mech anime that came before it, became a massively influential anime. Yoshiyuki Tomino couldn't escape the connection with Brain Powerd, though he technically came up with the concept before Eva debuted, Masami Obari's Platinumhugen Ordian was a blatant response to it (even using Norse mythology instead of Christian mythos) and Yutaka Izubuchi's 2002 TV series RahXephon likewise was caught up in being called an "Eva clone". Detailing Ayato Kamina's battle against the Dolems of the ancient Mu civilization, while also finding out the truth of the life he's lived in Tokyo Jupiter all his life, the anime was obviously similar to Anno's tale in various ways, but it was also made to be a heavy homage to 70s mecha icon Brave Raideen, especially since Ayato & the RahXephon shot arrows & had an equivalent of Akira Hibiki & Raideen's God Voice. I remember back when I first started getting into anime fandom in the mid-00s, and RahXephon was definitely a popular series for its time, so I have always wondered why it only appeared in a single SRW... At least going off of my criteria for this list.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Twelve Mech Anime That Deserve a (Literal) Second Chance in SRW Part 1

If one can't tell, this year's Mecha Month is rather low-key; I didn't even officially announce it as such. Part of that is because I feel like I hit an end of an era last year when I covered the Matchless Raijin-Oh OVAs, which put an end to me covering that anime (& it's thematic deconstruction Bokurano) every November for the past four years. Therefore, I think it's only appropriate for me to put an end to another Mecha Month tradition that happened alongside the Raijin-Oh-related reviews.

Not sure if this is official artwork or just fan work, but it encapsulations SRW perfectly.

Bandai Namco's Super Robot Wars franchise celebrated its 25th Anniversary last year, and has remained the ultimate love letter to mech anime & the seemingly infinite potential when you combine together various giant robots from across history. Over these 2+ decades of games, more than 150 different mech anime, manga, & even games have seen inclusion in some way or another, but even then it will never be enough; there will always be content from the past, present, & future to include. Therefore, two years ago I listed twelve series (11 anime & 1 game) that had yet to make their SRW debuts, but I felt were still viable for inclusion one day (or at least I really wanted to see...); even today, only one has since debuted (Idolmaster Xenoglossia), but only for a limited time on a mobile spin-off. Last year, I flipped the script & detailed twelve titles that actually appeared in SRW multiple times, but have not returned in over a decade; again, mobile spin-offs aside, none have since returned. So, to finish this trilogy of SRW lists, let's take a look at twelve "mech anime" (read: not all are exactly anime) that were once (& only once) given the spotlight, but I feel deserve a second chance to show their stuff. I'm using the same restrictions as last year's list (at least 10 years since inclusion, no spin-offs, & nothing that Akira Kamiya voiced a major role in), so here we go!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Robotech/Voltron: ♪1+1+1+1+1... Macross! Macross!! Macross!!!♪ Wait, That's Not Right...

In the 80s, two anime dominated North American TV airwaves when they were localized & adapted in similar ways. Harmony Gold's Robotech from 1985 was an amalgamation of three separate mech anime, 1982's Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, 1984's Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, & 1983's Genesis Climber Mospeada, while World Events Productions' Voltron: Defender of the Universe from 1984-1985 was made up of two series, 1981's Beast King GoLion & 1982's Armored Fleet Dairugger XV, but in both cases only one of the sources would become the de facto face of their own respective franchises. For Robotech it would be Macross (though, due to legal issues, Mospeada would eventually be used as the basis for future productions), while for Voltron it would be GoLion (so much so that an adaptation of Lightspeed Electroid Albegas was scrapped in favor of completely original "Lion Force" episodes). After decades of ups & downs for both franchises, though, we're at an interesting time for both of these icons of the 80s.

There hasn't been anything truly "new" from Robotech since the maligned movie The Shadow Chronicles in 2007 (yes, I know of 2013's Robotech: Love Live Alive, but that was just an adaptation of the 1985 Mospeada OVA of the same name), and after filing an arbitration lawsuit against Tatsunoko that revealed that HG's license to the three shows that comprised the series will expire in 2021, it looks like Robotech is slowly approaching death's door; while money does talk, I highly doubt Tatsunoko will renew HG's license at this point. Meanwhile, Voltron has had a couple of full-length animated series within this very decade alone, 2011's generally maligned kind-of-sort-of-maybe sequel Voltron Force & 2016's highly beloved reboot Voltron: Legendary Defender. In between those two series, though, a company called Dynamite Entertainment had the comic rights to both franchises, so it was decided to have the two cross over, which resulted in 2013's Robotech/Voltron, a five-issue American comic that focuses specifically on the Macross cast meeting with the "Lion Force" GoLion cast.

Amusingly enough, this is literally the only time these two series have ever officially interacted with each other anywhere in the world, as the only Super Robot Wars game to feature GoLion, 2007's W on the DS, did not feature Macross in any way. All this being said, was anyone even asking for this to happen, & is it any good in the first place? Let's find out...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Publishers' Last Stands

The video game industry, like any form of entertainment, can be absolutely cutthroat & ruthless. If products just continue to sell less & less, then the company behind them will eventually just die out. For video games that means the publishers that put games out on store shelves, and there is a theoretical graveyard filled with the corpses of video game publishers that eventually died. For every Nintendo, Sega, Electronic Arts, Activision, & Capcom, there's been a Sage's Creation, Kaneko, Vic Tokai, Treco, Big Fun Games, Acclaim, Seismic, DreamWorks (no relation to the movie studio), Majesco, & Data East that once existed but have since either simply left the game industry to survive or outright died out, never to be seen again. But on rare occasion there were game companies that seemingly died, only to make one last stand & try again years later. Still, they wound up dying for salvation, with dedication. They took no capitulation, but faced annihilation. They looked for gamer commendation & reincarnation, and I want to give them the last rites they were denied. So let's don our sabatons & take a look at six game publishers that made one last stand when it looked as if there was nothing left from them!

First up on this list is a company that, for all intents & purposes, was likely never going to make it past the 90s, no matter what, and it all comes down to the name it operated under. Founded in 1990 & operating out of Salt Lake City, Utah, Electro Brain had a name (& logo) that simply screamed that it was a product of a new decade, but at the same time instantly dated itself for the future. Still, the publisher does have some relevance to an anime & manga-focused blog like this, as they got their start with anime-based games like Fist of the North Star: 10 Big Brawls for the King of the Universe! for the Game Boy & Puss 'N Boots: Pero's Great Adventure for the NES, and it would start off by bringing over games developed in Japan, like Dead Heat Scramble, Trax (both for the Game Boy), & the SNES version of Raiden Trad; they even did a Japanese release or two themselves, like for Super Kick Boxing, a.k.a. Best of the Best: Championship Karate on the SNES. Eventually, Electro Brain would move on to publishing games by Western developers, like Imagineering's Ghoul School & Sculptured Software's Stanley: The Search for Dr. Livingston (both on the NES), before hitting 1994. Late that year saw Electro Brain release Vortex on the SNES, a Super FX chip-powered game developed by Star Fox's Argonaut Software. Following that release, Electro Brain just up & disappeared, with no releases from them for 1995.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: The Death Crimson Retrospective That Destroys Your Soul!

If you haven't noticed, I've been trying to do more Obscusion B-Side pieces in general, and so far this year all but three months have had either a B-Side or a B-List. Aside from trying to create some sort of consistency, there's another big reason for this: I wanted to hit my 20th B-Side this year. While I'm not sure if I'll do this like I do with my reviews, I thought that (since I don't do these quite as often) I should make every 20th piece a milestone for Obscusion B-Side. And since I was able to time this for Halloween, how about we look back at something horrifically terrible?

You have to admit, though...
That cover art is metal as all hell.

"The Emperor of Crappy Games", "The Lowest Emperor", & "Master Death"... They all are used by Japanese video game fans online to describe a single game: Death Crimson. A video game so infamous that even saying just its name can potentially deliver psychological pain to certain people. Housed within a single CD is a game for the Sega Saturn generally considered one of the absolute worst of all time, and I'm not doubting or refuting that consensus. That being said, though, there is more to Death Crimson than just a single game, but very few tend to put any focus towards the rest. Therefore, to celebrate 21st Anniversary of Death Crimson, which happened back on August 9 (the day the first game came out in Japan), I want to go over all three games in this infamous series. Did things improve in any way with time, or are all three worthy of such imperial nicknaming? Also, why the 21st Anniversary? Because I missed the actual 20th last year, though I think drinking age should be the more appropriate time to look back at something like this.

Before we get to Death Crimson, though, let's first quickly go over the man & development studio behind it...

Friday, October 27, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 11: Gaussian Guardians

I started Demo Disc with Volume 1, a focus on mech anime that I otherwise would not normally be able to cover here on The Land of Obscusion, & I did more of that for Volume 5. I had planned on doing the same for this volume, but something very interesting has happened in the past number of years. With simulcasting all but killing the concept of fansubbing anime as they air in Japan, though scumbag rippers & illegal streaming sites have pretty much taken that spot, the few fansubbers still around have quietly moved on to anime of the past, and mecha has seen a lot of movement on that front. For example, every single entry in the Brave Series has an unofficial English translation now, and stuff like that has effectively removed a lot of previously unfinished anime for me to cover via Demo Disc; I can still return to that genre exclusively at least one more time, though. Therefore, for this eleventh volumes, I decided to go with a more overarching motif: Guardians of the People!

Tetsujin had such a light step back then
that the cops couldn't hear it sneaking up on them.

Record of Life
Not counting the bonus at the end, Volume 5 of Demo Disc, Rowdy Robos, finished with a look at the first episode of Tetsujin 28 FX, the early 90s far sequel to the "originator" of giant robots in anime & manga created by Mitsteru Yokoyama. Therefore, let's start off this volume with a look at where the genre all began. Tetsujin/Iron Man 28 debuted back in mid-1956 in the pages of Kobunsha's manga magazine Shonen (not to be confused with Kodansha's Shonen Magazine, which debuted three years later). The manga would run for 10 years, ending in mid-1966 after 24 volumes. It was first adapted to television as a live-action drama that ran for 13 episodes in 1960, but in 1963 it became one of the earliest TV anime ever produced, running until 1966 for 97 episodes & featuring animation by the Television Corporation of Japan/TCJ, now known simply as Eiken. It would start being exported internationally under the name Gigantor the next year, but only 52 episodes wound up getting dubbed. In fact, the first episode just celebrated its 54th anniversary earlier this month (October 20, to be exact), so let's see how the very first giant robot anime got its start!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Theory Musing: The Anime Kickstarter Konundrum

At Otakon this year, one of my favorite panels I attended was the Right Stuf panel, and one of the most interesting announcements made there was that Aria the Animation would receive an English dub if a Kickstarter drive for the new Blu-Ray release was to succeed. I knew that Aria in general had a fervent fanbase, so my immediate feeling upon hearing "Dark Lord" Shawne Kleckner announce this drive was, "Oh, this is going to succeed, easily."

That being said, even I couldn't imagine it earning nearly four times its initial goal, resulting in every season of the Aria anime, including the previously unlicensed Aria the Avvenire OVA from 2015, receiving an English dub. I have nothing but happiness for the fans of this anime series (I'm personally fine with the DVDs I have yet to watch), but at the same time it started to make me think. Are anime crowdfunding successes like Aria an indicator that there is potential for smaller name & niche anime to be given chances that they would normally never be given outside of Japan, or is this just more proof that these can only reliably succeed for titles that already have existing fanbases to support them in the first place? Before all of that, though, let's start at the beginning...

If you somehow aren't familiar with Kickstarter, it's a site where people & companies can start drives that requires the general public to pledge funding to in order to achieve a required goal. While there are other sites like it, such as IndieGoGo or Fig, KS has the most notoriety behind it, and even recently has started allowing drives based in Asia. Eventually, the Japanese anime industry would come to notice the potential of crowdfunding, & on October 1, 2012 Production I.G. teamed with director Masaaki Yuasa to crowdfund an original OVA short titled Kick-Heart. With a goal of $150,000, the OVA would earn over $200,000, which resulted in it being two minutes longer than initially planned & even receiving two English dubs (one professional & with one with backers voicing the cast); I not only supported this drive but also reviewed it back in July of 2013. The success of this drive has since opened up the gates for anime crowdfunding, with successes like Santa Company, Under the Dog, Mecha-Ude, Nekopara, Cannon Busters, & others which were done via Japan-exclusive sites, but I'll only be focusing on Kickstarter campaigns here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Spectral Force (OVA): The Beginning of "The Ed Wood of Anime"

So a few weeks ago I reviewed Spectral vs. Generation, a 2D fighting game that crossed over characters from Idea Factory's IF Neverland brand. While that game in particular never saw release in North America specifically, the franchise itself actually had a curious introduction to the English-speaking market, but first some quick history. Technically, the first game in IF Neverland was Idea Factory's second ever game, 1996's Spectral Tower, a dungeon crawler that took place in the fantasy world of Neverland. That being said, though, the game didn't really define anything in particular about the world it took place in, & would be effectively replaced in the actual canon by 1998's Spectral Tower II, so one can argue that IF Neverland as a franchise & brand actually started 20 years ago. The game in particular was Spectral Force, released on October 9, 1997, which was essentially the spiritual successor to Sega's Dragon Force on the Saturn. You see, developer J-Force was on the verge of bankruptcy during development and, after numerous months of unpaid work, a lot of the Dragon Force staff left & joined Idea Factory to make Spectral Force; Sega's Kansai branch would finish the original game (& then develop the 1998 sequel).

However, Idea Factory's founders, Shingo Kuwana (formerly of Data East) & Yoshiteru Sato, had plans to be more than just a video game studio, & Spectral Force would be the start of IF's multimedia expansion. While the game itself featured a very rudimentary anime opening, when it came to the release of Spectral Force 2 in October of 1998 Idea Factory produced two adaptations of the original game. There was a manga drawn by character designer Shinnosuke Hino, which ran in Shinseisha's Comic Gamest & was compiled into a single volume by Koei, while Idea Factory itself would make a two-episode OVA for release on VHS... Yes, a video game company decided to make an anime on its own; both episodes would then be released on a single DVD in 2001. At Anime Weekend Atlanta 6 in 2000, ADV Films announced plans to work with publisher Studio Ironcat to bring over Spectral Force, with ADV handling the OVA & Ironcat dealing with the manga; according to the news, the game was even planned for release. A year later, at AWA 7, Studio Ironcat revealed that the manga was ready to go & would even be part of a giant package containing the game, OVA, & manga; likewise, ADV's dub & subtitle work was finished (at least, that's what the copyright says). Unfortunately, Ironcat was in a very rough place at that time, so the manga never saw release. In the end, ADV would be the only company to release anything from the deal, though for whatever reason it wouldn't be until mid-2003 via dual-audio DVD, three months after Xicat Interactive had released Black Stone: Magic & Steel on the Xbox, which is technically the first IF Neverland game to be released in North America & Europe (though the Japanese release, titled Ex-Chaser, would come later & actually make it a proper entry for the brand).

Since then, the Spectral Force OVA has gone down as one of the worst anime ever officially released in North America. Still, I want to celebrate what I consider the "proper" 20th Anniversary for IF Neverland, so since I can't really play the game (it's very menu-based, so a good familiarity with Japanese is essential), let me see what happens when a video game studio tries its hands at making an anime for the very first time... If it's anything like most of the other Idea Factory anime I reviewed back in 2013, then I'm not expecting much.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan: The Last Temptations of "Gay Angels"

As mentioned in the last Saint Beast anime review, the Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen OVA came out in between the release of 2005's Yukyuu no Sho drama CD series & the incoming release of 2006's Onshu no Sho. After that latter drama CD series came to an end, Wonderfarm would put its attention back towards the animation side of things with a return to television. Not just that, but Tokyo Kids would also return, making it a true-blue "second season". Of course, this would be yet another prequel to the Seijuu Kourin Hen TV anime, so in Spring of 2007 various UHF stations in Japan debuted Saint Beast: Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan/Angel Tales from the Epic Times (some places also use the more loose "Angel Chronicles"), a 13-episode TV anime that seemingly decided to bring back the style of the first season. Alongside Tokyo Kids doing the animation, Hiroshi Kitadani also returned for the theme song, this time with JAM Project in tow. With this also being available for legal streaming via Viewster, is Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan just more of the same from the first season, or did Wonderfarm learn from Madhouse's OVA excursion for the better? Time to boot up my Xbox 360 once again & find out, I say.

Heaven, though still seeming more or less peaceful, has slowly started showing cracks in the visage. This is only worsened when Zeus, God of Heaven, institutes a ranking system amongst his angels, deeming them of lower, middle, or higher levels. Not just that, but he has chosen Gou, Gai, Shin, Rei, Judas, Luka, Shiva, Kira, & Maya as candidates for the six "Saint Beast" positions, which will be the highest of all angels. Judas, who believes in absolute equality, has many reservations about the ranking system, as it's bringing about feelings of jealousy, superiority, & even outright hatred between angels, & is starting to wonder if Zeus is truly meaning for the well being of Heaven. In the end, though, what is truly "Paradise"? Is it Heaven, where Zeus watches over all & rules supreme, with those who sin eventually being purged into the Forest of Darkness as goblins? Is it on Earth, where angels can live by their own rules, but have to worry about Zeus's wrath for defying his orders? Or is it with the fallen angels Lucifer & Gabriel in Hell, far from the watchful eyes of Zeus?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: Spectral vs. Generation: Blades of Chaos Strike with Force to Claim the Kingdom

I know that Idea Factory doesn't exactly have the most positive reception in the gaming world as a whole, though it's not seemingly anywhere near as harsh as it was a decade ago, but I will always have a soft spot for the company. Sadly, the Idea Factory that exists now doesn't quite endear itself to me like it used to, and that's because it essentially killed off the thing that got me interested in the company in the first place: IF Neverland. This brand existed from 1996-2009 across 35 games, during which it was pretty much the main breadwinner for Idea Factory, and one of the major appeals it had was a heavily interlinked timeline filled with characters that would debut in one game & then return for other games, either going from main to secondary, secondary to main, or simply getting their own spin-off titles. While IF Neverland games tended to be tactical or strategy RPGs, the franchise did venture into other genres, like traditional RPG (Spectral Blade), dungeon crawler (Spectral Tower), monster raising (Monster Complete World), real-time strategy (Field of Chaos), MMO (Kingdom of Chaos), card battler (Cardinal Arc: Konton no Fuusatsu/Neverland Card Battles), & hack-&-slash (Bakuen Kakusei Neverland Senki Zero/Realm of the Dead)... So why not also a 2D fighting game?

Traditionally, Idea Factory developed its own games for IF Neverland, though it did team with Taiwan's XPEC Entertainment for three games (Black Stone: Magic & Steel/Ex-Chaser, Spectral Force Chronicle, & Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage), but I guess making a fighting game was just beyond its staff's skills, so for this genre the company teamed with Taiwan's International Games System. By this time, IGS had found some slight notoriety with the PolyGame Master, a Neo Geo-esque arcade system that earned some fans via the beat-em-up series Knights of Valour & the (now) hyper-cult-classic fighting game Martial Masters. The result of this Idea Factory/IGS team-up is 2005's Spectral vs. Generation for the PGM, making it the only arcade game to come from Idea Factory; it saw distribution by AMI, which also distributed Cave's shooters during the 00s. Unlike most other PGM games, though, SvG did see home ports onto the PlayStation 2 & PSP in 2006, both of which actually saw English release in Europe by Midas Interactive Entertainment in 2007, even though Europe had yet to receive any IF Neverland games at all at that point; first God Bless Dancouga, now this. Considering how iconic the works of Capcom & SNK were by this point, let alone newer companies like Arc System Works making their marks, let's see what IGS was able to do with Idea Factory's cast of fantasy war generals.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen: Can Anybody Find Me Someangel to Love?

Following the (not really a) finale of the Seijuu Kourin Hen anime in June of 2003, the Saint Beast series went into overdrive with the debut of the drama CDs... And there were a ton of them. Up first was (the simply titled) Saint Beast that July, which I would guess told the story that the anime was setting up, and told four overall stories across nine volumes. After that would come 2005's Saint Beast: Yukyuu no Sho -Rakuen Soshitsu-/Eternal Chapter -Lost Paradise-, which told another four stories across three more volumes, & 2006's Saint Beast: Onshu no Sho -Seijuu Fuuin-/Chaplain Chapter -The Holy Beast Sealing-, which was yet another four stories across three volumes. This isn't even counting the Comedy Drama & Another Drama "extra story" drama CD series that debuted in 2004, which added another 12 stories across four more volumes; that's already 19 individual drama CDs! I'm only going to hope that the various seiyuu involved got paid very well for their hard work.

Anyway, in between the 2005 & 2006 drama CD series, Wonderfarm also managed to squeeze in a second anime production. This time around would be Saint Beast: Ikusen no Hiru to Yoru Hen/Thousands of Days & Nights Chapter, a two-episode OVA that saw release in December of 2005 & March of 2006. Unlike the prior TV series, though, this short OVA wouldn't be animated by Tokyo Kids, which was likely busy making the Magikano TV anime at the time. Instead, Wonderfarm would bring in the venerable Madhouse for animation production, which is much more renowned for delivering great visuals than Tokyo Kids. So let's see if Viewster made a mistake by not getting the streaming rights to this short prequel.

One stormy night at the mansion, Gou has a nightmare where he recalls the attempted coup Judas & Luka tried pulling on Zeus, God of Heaven. He wakes up & decides to look out the window, recalling the old days in Heaven, back when Zeus transformed him & his fellow generation of angels into adulthood, when he & Gai met Shin & Rei, & when Heaven was in a seeming age of happiness. Still, even then there were angels who still sinned, & unbeknownst to him & his friends, there were various dirty deeds either about to be done or have already been done, like Judas asking Zeus to punish sinful angels or even the potential that Zeus & his confidant Lucifer may have conspired to kill Cronus, Zeus' father & the prior God, so that Zeus could claim the throne for himself.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Saint Beast: Seijuu Kourin Hen: You Hooked? Now Buy Our Drama CDs, You Fanatics!

Even though he's been with JAM Project longer than Masami Okui & Yoshiki Fukuyama, Hiroshi Kitadani has often felt like a "secondary" member of the supergroup. This is not me ragging on "Dani", though, because his skills as a singer are right up there with his fellow JAM members. His trio of One Piece theme songs are all excellent & have more than given him a legacy on their own. Not just that, but his legacy of anime & game work as lead singer of the rock band Lapis Lauzli may be small, but their themes for Babel II: Beyond Infinity & the Tough OVA are both great songs, & their vocal covers of Guilty Gear X's soundtrack are absolutely amazing. That being said, Kitdani's only had a single "featuring" song with JAM Project (i.e. JAM backs him up while he sings lead) during his entire tenure so far, & his solo theme song catalog post-One Piece is mostly children's anime (Gaist Crusher, Daigunder, Transformers: SuperLink/Energon) or the occasional tokusatsu series (Kamen Rider Ryuki, Madan Senki Ryukendo), a.k.a. not much most anime fans would readily identify. In fact, one could argue that Kitdani's only other "iconic" solo anisong is for a series that's so obscure that more people would know of its source material than the anime itself!

In the Fall of 2001, a 13-episode series aired in Japan titled Fairy Tale Angel's Tail, better known internationally as simply Angel Tales. In that series, there was a quartet of characters named the Saint Beasts, men who were the reincarnations of the Four Symbols. These four men apparently became rather popular with fans, so when sequel series Angel Tales Chu! (which never saw international release) ran for six weeks throughout March & April of 2003, the Saint Beasts were nowhere to be seen, though they were at least referenced. Instead, following the end of that second season, production company Wonderfarm & anime studio Tokyo Kids (which made the prior two shows) debuted a six-episode spin-off anime series, Saint Beast: Seijuu Kourin Hen/The Descending Holy Beasts Chapter, that ran for the remaining six weeks in the time slot that Chu! was running in. While a spin-off, though, the Saint Beast anime took place in an alternate continuity from that of Angel Tales, so it's (theoretically) friendly for newcomers.

In what was truly an unpredictable move, however, streaming website Viewster announced at New York Comic Con 2015 that it would be offering both Saint Beast & its 2007 follow-up anime with English subtitles for streaming; Viewster also announced both seasons of Meine Liebe at the con. Therefore, to close out the Summer of JAM (later than I had planned, naturally), let's see if the first season of Saint Beast, which from here on I'll refer to under its subtitle, has anything to it... At least, it should have enough to it to warrant making me use my old Xbox 360 in order to watch this show legally, because the only console app Viewster ever put out was for that system.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kamen no Maid Guy: Kukuku... Seems the World is Not Yet Ready for Male Maids

Yoshiki Fukuyama has an interesting spot as a member of JAM Project, because he's the only member to have had prior (notable) anime success as part of a larger group. Specifically, his old band Humming Bird was chosen to be the sound behind Macross 7's rock band Fire Bomber, with Fukuyama himself being the singing voice of main character Basara Nekki. Not just that, but following the end of that anime, Humming Bird would continue being used for anime & game themes, from its debuts with 1997's City Hunter: Good Bye My Sweetheart & Next Senki Ehrgeiz to the band's final singles with 1999's Macross VF-X2 & Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon. Since teaming with JAM, Fukuyama hasn't done too much solo work when it comes to anime themes, with his themes to Overman King Gainer & Buso Renkin being possibly his most iconic. In fact, Yoshiki Fukuyama hasn't had a solo anime theme song since 2008!

2004's Kamen no/Masked Maid Guy was the debut manga for Maruboro Akai in the pages of Monthly Dragon Age, home of titles like Triage X, Highschool of the Dead, & many manga adaptations of light novels. It would run until 2012 for 15 volumes, & during serialization saw two adaptations. First was a radio drama series in 2006, & following that was a 12-episode TV anime adaptation by Madhouse during the Spring of 2008; the later home video release added an extra OVA episode. Unfortunately, 2008 was one of the worst times for anime to see initial airing & release from an international perspective (at least for North America), because that was during the time the bubble burst, which meant that it was sandwiched between the old days of stuff being grabbed left & right for home video & the current days of almost everything being simulcasted for streaming. Because of that, it got passed over without much ado.

Combine that with the fact that Geneon Entertainment Japan was handling the home video release, which itself was about to enter a merger with Universal Japan (now NBC Universal Japan), & Kamen no Maid Guy still remains with any sort of official release in English; there are fansubs, but it was definitely a victim of unfortunate timing. I say this because I felt back then, & still do today, that Maid Guy could have been, at the very least, a strong sleeper hit for its time, because it, quite literally, has just about everything that sells housed inside it. Yes, it's as insane as that sounds.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Otakon 2017 in DC: Out with the Old, In with the New

[Quick Note: If you're reading this because you attended my panels & are looking for the content lists, just skip to the end.]

When I did my Otakon report last year, I nicknamed it "Final Otakon" because it was the last time it would emanate from Baltimore, Maryland's Inner Harbor. Therefore, this year's Otakon, which has now moved to Washington D.C.'s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was "New Otakon". Luckily, New Otakon managed to fight against the stigma of being a "New" version of an iconic creation, because this year was outstanding & managed to not only feel like Otakon of old, but also give me hopes for the future.

That being said, my initial & immediate feelings were a little rough. For example, "Day 0" (a.k.a. Thursday) was always known for long lines of people waiting to grab their pre-registration badges, but there was next to none of that this year. In fact, when pick-up opened at 3:00 pm, I was literally able to just walk up to a booth & get my badge; even by 5:30 pm, the line was only a short wait, at best. Luckily, those feelings were crushed come the start of Day 1, & by 6:30 pm on Day 2 (what I call "Peak Otakon"), the con was filled with people & the sheer energy of it all made me feel absolutely comfortable. I think the best praise for a con is that, following the move to a new location, you still get that comfortable & familiar feeling, & New Otakon felt like a true-blue Otakon by the end.

What really blew everyone's mind, though, was the sheer size of the Washington Center, because this place is absolutely gigantic; the con didn't use close to the entire center's space, yet already felt comfortable. The Dealers Room & Artist Alley were just unbelievably massive, though. Not just that, but the layout was so attendee-friendly that, by the end of Day 2, I already knew where everything was, which is amazing to think about. Combined with the locale-filled section of our nation's capital that the center is in, New Otakon feels just right in Washington D.C.

Now I can simply go over the various stories I have about what happened with me at the con, but I'll just direct you to my Twitter page, as I covered more or less all of the awesome moments from this past weekend over there. Instead, let me go over what panels I held, both in the giant AMV Theater, & what I covered in each of them:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: WoW, the Action Max is 30 Years Old...

In 1987, a team lead by James Riley filmed footage for an interactive movie planned for Hasbro's Control-Vision, originally codenamed NEMO, a video game console that would operate using VHS tapes. In 1989, though, Hasbro would cancel the Control-Vision, and the game that was meant to use the footage would eventually be released on the Sega CD in 1992 via Digital Pictures as Night Trap. Seemingly unbeknownst to everyone involved, though, that same year as the filming saw another game system actually released, and it too utilized VHS... Sort of.

That's right, thirty years ago Worlds of Wonder released the Action Max. Yippee?

Founded in 1980 by former Atari employees, toy company Worlds of Wonder only lasted for a decade before eventually closing in 1990. Still, WoW made a notable name for itself with products like Teddy Ruxpin & Lazer Tag, the latter of which actually helped lead to the company's demise after a child was killed by an officer who mistook it for an actual gun. WoW also had some involvement with video games, as it was the initial distributor for the Nintendo Entertainment System for the console's first few years, but in 1987 the company tried a slightly more direct hand with the Action Max, which retailed for ~$100. While Worlds of Wonder is most synonymous with the system, it was actually the product of Sourcing International, Ltd., and was essentially a light gun shooting gallery. Using the system itself in concert with a CRT television & a red sensor that is attached to the TV's lower right corner, people would play specific Action Max-labeled VHS tapes in their VCRs (as the system itself didn't actually play the games), and would shoot at specific targets when they appeared on the screen. Good hits would result in adding points, & bad hits would result in losing points. In turn, one could never "lose" (or really "win", either) while playing the Action Max, and since it relied on VHS tapes (but without the special tech that a game like Night Trap was going to use), each "game video" would be the same exact experience when replayed; no alternate routes, no randomization, nothing different.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tales of Eternia the Animation: Padding, Padding, Paaaadding... Padding, Padding, Paaaadding!

With the departure of Rica Matsumoto back in 2008, Masami Okui is now the sole female member of JAM Project, but in some ways is actually the most prolific of them all. Aside from having been in the anisong industry since 1993, though she wouldn't get an iconic (solo) anime until 1997's Revolutionary Girl Utena, Okui has also worked on theme songs for a bunch of anime that she didn't even sing for. Titles like Grenadier, Solty Rei, Ayakashi (the visual novel adaptation, not the horror anthology series), & Kanokon all feature songs that Okui either composed, wrote the lyrics to, or did both for, not to mention that she's done the same for a good majority of JAM's own songs; she's likely done more than Hironobu Kageyama, in fact. Back during JAM Project March I decided to review Ray the Animation, which was the first & only time Masami Okui has ever composed the entire soundtrack for an anime (an experience that she wouldn't mind doing again one day, she admitted). For the Summer of JAM, my choice for review isn't quite as extensive with Okui's musicianship skills, but it's still an example of Okui (more or less) making her own theme songs.

Tales of Eternia was the third main entry in the Tales Series, & fourth entry overall, debuting in Japan on the PlayStation on November 30, 2000. It eventually saw release in North America the following September, where it was renamed Tales of Destiny II (after the prior console entry), supposedly due to the worry of Mattel potentially suing over the use of the term "Eternia", which is the name of the world in the Masters of the Universe franchise; this wasn't a problem in Europe & Australia when the PSP port would be released in 2006. This SO wouldn't cause confusion when Tales of Destiny 2, the actual sequel to ToD, would see release in Japan in late 2002 on the PS2; note the use of an Arabic numeral, because it's literally that important for differentiation. Anyway, Eternia was a notably successful entry in Japan, because just two months after release saw the debut of a TV anime based on the game, simply titled Tales of Eternia the Animation. Unlike later anime takes on the Tales Series, though, the Eternia anime was a side story that didn't interfere with the game's overall story in any way. Considering how intertwined this RPG series has been with anime, is the first Tales anime a good first step, or is it just as superfluous in the grand scheme of things as its plot?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 10: Odious Oni

It's time to celebrate, because Demo Disc has now hit double digits! Wooooooo!!

Ever since I started alternating between single series & multi-series for Demo Disc, the former category has had a consistent concept behind each entry. Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos was an unwanted anime license, Get Ride! AMDriver was an unreleased anime license, & Geisters - Fractions of the Earth was an unfinished anime license. Therefore, for the fourth single series volume of Demo Disc, I will be covering an unlicensed anime license!
Huh, that didn't sound good on paper, either.

Due to half-length episodes, there is no eyecatch.
Each episode ends with a still shot, though.

Banpresto's 1990 Game Boy game Oppressive Demon Record Oni was originally conceived as a puzzle game before being redesigned as an RPG. It wound up being the start of the Oni Series, which received seven more games, primarily developed by Pandora Box, across the Game Boy & Super Famicom, before finishing up in 2001 on the PlayStation with Oni Zero ~Resurrection~; Compile Heart brought back the series for one entry on the DS in 2007. In between the releases of 1995's Oni V: Successors to Endurance for the Game Boy & 1996's Tale of the Advent of the Bakumatsu Oni for the Super Famicom, Sotsu Agency & J.C. Staff came together & produced an anime based on the Oni Series. At the same time, the mid-90s saw a number of short-form TV anime being produced (Neo Ranga, Sexy Commando, etc.), so the resulting Touma Kijin Den/Legend of the Fierce Fighting God Oni wound up running for 25 episodes, each of which only lasted 10 minutes as part of TV Tokyo's Thursday morning Anime Asaichi block. Since then, the anime more or less became forgotten, so much so that I could only find 15 episodes-worth fansubbed, two-thirds of which isn't in the greatest quality due to age, plus two more episodes (17 & 18) without any sort of translation. So did it have any potential, does it execute the short-episode style well, and is it primarily for fans of the games?

Shuramaru is an young man raised by one of the village elders as his own grandson. Unfortunately, the rest of the villages shun Shuramaru, as his freakish strength has him labeled a "demon". Unbeknownst to all, though, is that Shuramaru is in fact part of the Oni lineage, which derive from ancient Yoma (demonic spirits) & have existed alongside humanity (both publicly & in secret) for ages. Shuramaru has to come to terms with his lineage, though, when a mysterious group from the future, who call themselves "The Seven Gods of Fortune", arrive with plans to kill all those they deem as having "impure genes", as the future has become bleak & filled with naturally sterilized people, whom they blame on those with said flawed genes. Luckily for him, though, there are other people of the Oni out there to help him fight back against their futuristic foes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Legend of Zorro (Movie Edit): Zorro's a Terrible Film Editor, Always Splicing in a "Z" Shape...

In JAM Project March, I failed to actually bring up Masaaki Endoh's early days & how he eventually became famous, instead focusing more on his iconic "Super Endoh Time" ability to keep a single note for insanely long amounts of time. Trust me, I tried to keep up with him during a live show once; he visibly wanted to see me go all the way, but I just couldn't. That's mainly because there isn't much to tell, surprisingly enough. After high school, Endoh debuted in the music industry in 1993 as part of The Hiptones, followed by acoustic duo Short Hopes (later Steeple Jack), but neither run really lasted much more than a year. Following that, producer Shunji Inoue signed him for anisong singing, first working as part of Hironobu Kageyama's chorus before forming the short-lived duo Metal Brothers with the man. By this point it was 1997, & Endoh made his immediate mark by singing the iconic opening theme to King of Braves GaoGaiGar, "Yusha-Oh Tanjou!". That being said, however, the final entry in the Brave Series was NOT Masaaki Endoh's debut anime theme song...

Anime based on the works of non-Japanese literature is nothing surprising, as indicated by things like the World Masterpiece Theater franchise or even most of Studio Ghibli's catalog. This has resulted in works like The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, & The Count of Monte Cristo, among countless others, being made into anime at some point or another from the 70s to today. From 1996-1997, Ashi Productions (now Production Reed) worked with Toho in producing an anime adaptation of pulp writer Johnston McCulley's legendary masked warrior Zorro, 77 years after McCulley wrote The Curse of Capistrano in All-Story Weekly back in 1919. Titled Kaiketsu Zorro/Zorro the Extraordinary, the anime ran on NHK for 52 episodes & would eventually see release in various countries around the world. Today, the license for the anime, or at least its various dubs, is with Mondo TV, an Italian company co-founded by Orlando Corradi, who is most (infamously) known as being the director & producer of 1999's The Legend of the Titanic & its 2004 sequel In Search of the Titanic (a.k.a. Tentacolino)... Both of which are considered two of the most maligned animated films ever for their bizarre & mind-boggling plots (not to mention having the gall to give the story of the Titanic a happy ending).

So let me do something I haven't done in a while & review an edited, English dubbed version of an anime, specifically a movie edit. Yes, Mondo TV not only dubbed all of the TV series into English, renaming it The Legend of Zorro (I don't know which came first, this dub or the Antonio Banderas movie), but it also produced a 105-minute compilation movie version of Kaiketsu Zorro, which you can actually watch legally over at YouTube. Does it work in any way, & does it at least keep Masaaki Endoh's debut anime theme songs?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: Jumping the Gun on Unreleased Video Game Reviews

Though I don't work in the journalism industry, it is what my Bachelor's Degree is about, and I can understand the concept of deadlines & the like. This applies to video game journalism as well, especially back in the days when magazines were still king. Gaming magazines like GamePro, GMR, Game Informer, Electronic Gaming Monthly, GameFan, & many others were (or still are) monthly publications, and the writers & editors for those publications had to make sure that specific articles, previews, reviews, & whatnot were ready to go for each new issue. Unfortunately, the fact that the magazines were only released once a month meant that there was always time for things to change after publication happened. Granted, the magazines were all generally good at keeping things timely & most games did come out as planned, but sometimes games just get cancelled, and sometimes it's at the last possible moment. Therefore, let's take a look at four times when gaming magazines wound up "jumping the gun" & actually reviewed video games that never truly saw release, at least in North America.

Why only four? Because I don't want to simply get everything I've archived out of the way immediately, that's why.

Early on in the North American life of the Sega Genesis there was a publisher named Sage's Creation that released a scant eight titles from 1990-1992. Since then, people have surmised that the company was simply a way for Japanese publisher Hot-B to release Genesis games in North America, as Hot-B USA was already a licensed Nintendo publisher (similar to how Konami had Ultra Games & Atari had Tengen). Overall, Sage's Creation didn't really release anything of real merit (Insector X & Devilish are probably the most notable games), but the company had one (seemingly) final game in the works for release. Originally titled Blue Almanac in Japan, Star Odyssey was a sci-fi JRPG in the style of Sega's Phantasy Star games, complete with a story that spanned multiple planets, each with it's own different environment style. Sage's Creation was seemingly all set to release the 1991 Mega Drive RPG on the Genesis sometime in mid-1992, but the company's dissolution put an end to that, likely due to Hot-B's own eventual bankruptcy in Japan the following year. Interestingly enough, Hot-B USA would wind up surviving over a decade after its parent company's death, with its final release being Graffiti Kingdom for the PS2 in 2005, which itself was already five years after its prior releases (2000's Runabout 2 on PS1 & Black Bass with Hank Parker on PC).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Transformers: The Headmasters: Dare to Believe That I Won't Make a HeadOn Joke!

I already gave Hironobu Kageyama a general overview up to his first iconic theme song (Dragon Ball Z's "Cha-la Head Cha-la") during JAM Project March in 2014, but it is important to stress that it did take a few years for him to really become a notable singer in Japan. His songs for the likes of Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, Dengeki Sentai Changeman, & Uchuusen Sagittarius didn't become real iconic themes, & his songs for the second half of Saint Seiya TV are generally overlooked in place of Make-Up's series-defining songs. Really, the same can be said for his contributions for the subject of this anime review, but let's not hold that against anything; as long as they're good songs, that's really all that matters in the end. Anyway, this review is double-fitting in terms of timing, because Transformers is once again on some people's minds, what with the latest Michael Bay film (The Last Knight) having just come out in theaters & Shout! Factory having re-released the three Japanese-exclusive anime sequels to the original series as another boxset just a couple of weeks ago (for super cheap at that!). Therefore, let's take a look at the first of these sequels...

So when Season 3 of the original Transformers animated series ended on February 25, 1987 in North America, it was decided that the story would end in a three-part finale titled The Rebirth, which aired across three days later that November... And it was terrible. This isn't even going off of nostalgia or anything, as I watched those episodes for curiosity's sake a few years back & was appalled at how badly Generation 1 (as it's now called) ended. In Japan, however, the series still had enough popularity, so when the Japanese dub of Season 3, called Transformers 2010, ended on June 26, 1987, Takara & Toei decided to simply make their own sequel, as The Rebirth had not debuted yet & they wanted a new show to air the following week. So, on July 3, NTV debuted Transformers: The Headmasters, a 35-episode TV anime that continued the story, completely ignoring whatever plans the American writers were going with. It wouldn't be until 2011 that this series (& it's two sequels) would see official release in North America by Shout! Factory on DVD, but was this really worth the effort? How much better is it, really, compared to The Rebirth?

[Please note that, since Shout! Factory's translation maintains the American names & terminology, I will be using those for this review]

It's 2011 (you know, "the future"), one year following the events of The Return of Optimus Prime (where Optimus was revived to help stop the Hate Plague from destroying the galaxy), & the war between the Autobots & Decepticons is still raging on, with the Autobots having bases on Earth, Athenia, & Cybertron, while the Decepticons operate out of Earth & Chaar. Both sides will be gaining the assistance of a new type of Transformers, the Headmasters. Four million years ago, a group of Cybertronians left their home & eventually wound up on the harsh planet of Master, where they eventually evolved & discovered that they could transform into giant heads; they built transforming bodies called Transtectors to utilize, in turn. With forces lead by Cerebros joining Optimus & Rodimus Prime & warriors lead by Scorponok siding with Galvatron, the war might finally find a crescendo after all this time.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Release Date TBD Part 2

Sometimes actually getting all of an anime franchise released here in North America can be a tricky thing, for a variety of reasons. Though FUNimation did manage to release nearly everything related to the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime, I did review FMA: Reflectons, a 2005 Animax-exclusive recap special that featured some original conversations between characters, back in 2012, as it was the sole piece of that original series that never came over legally. Also relating to FUNimation, we've been getting the most recent One Piece movies alongside the TV anime, but FUNi has yet to bring over any of the older movies or even the old TV specials, let alone the 1998 pilot that Production I.G. made for the Jump Super Anime Tour. Therefore, let's start Part 2 of this year's license rescue list with a movie that FUNi has never rescued, even though the company did do just that for another part of one of its most iconic shonen properties.

As much as the anime adaptation of Yoshihiro Togashi's Yu Yu Hakusho is considered one of FUNimation's earliest big hits, that company was not the first to bring it over to North America. Back in 1998, two different companies gave the series its first chance with anime fans, both utilizing the original story movies. The first movie, which is unofficially subtitled The Golden Seal, is a 25-minute short film & came out on July 10, 1993 as part of a triple-bill with Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound & Dr. Slump: From Penguin Village with Love, and saw release by Media Blasters on VHS in mid-1998, followed by a DVD re-release with Ninku the Movie in 2001. The second movie, The Underworld Deathmatch Chapter - Bonds of Fire, was a feature-length film that debuted on April 9, 1994, & eventually saw released here by CPM in early 1998 on VHS under the simple title of Yu Yu Hakusho The Movie: Poltergeist Report. Yes, Central Park Media was the company that actually first brought this series to North America, & in late 2002 was released on DVD, followed by a re-release in 2006.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Release Date TBD Part 1

I do this to myself, honestly, but I like trying to compile a license rescue list every year, especially since it's been getting tougher to compile a list in which I feel that every single entry "deserves" being rescued & given a new re-release. There were a ton of rather forgettable & piss-poor anime that saw release in the history of the English-targeted market, and quite frankly a lot of those don't really need re-releases. Now, sure, I've included some titles that may not be marquee-quality in prior lists (Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals or Dark Warrior, anyone?), but at least when I include a title of lesser quality, it has to have a real sense of recognition behind it. It has to be something that still has some worth to it, whether that's due to it having a big name to it, or something worthy of repeat viewings (like multiple English dubs)... Or it has to be worthy of absolute infamy.

So, to start off this eight installment of the license rescue list series, let's go for one of the most infamous anime ever released.

On the very first license rescue list back in January of 2011 I included Yoshiyuki Tomino's Aura Battler Dunbine, which saw a singles-only release from ADV that sold so poorly that not only was ADV literally making coupons that gave customers free copies of the DVDs, but the last two volumes had such small print-runs that they are still two of the most expensive Region 1 anime DVDs ever produced. Granted, Daisuki did give Dunbine a new lease on life via streaming, which sadly will be going down later this year, but enough of the originator of the tales from Byston Well. Tomino put a lot of attention towards this fantasy world, and every now & then he would head back to Byston Well for another round. Easily the most infamous trip back, however, came in the mid-90s when he wrote, storyboarded, & directed Tales of Byston Well: Garzey's Wing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

éX-Driver "Double Feature": A Burst of Turbo Accompanied by a Dead Engine

JAM Project's debut anime, the six episode OVA éX-Driver, seemed to be a bit of a hit release in Japan, so it only made sense to create more of it. The interviews made to go with the final episode, which are on Media Blasters' DVD releases, announced that the éX-Drivers would soon make their theatrical debuts, and the wait wouldn't be too long. The final episode of the OVA series came out in September of 2001, while the movie, simply titled éX-Driver the Movie, started running in theaters on April 20, 2002, but that's not all! Running alongside the movie was a special OVA prequel, subtitled Nina & Rei Danger Zone, which had its own director. Interestingly enough, Media Blasters did not license & release these two, but rather it was Geneon Entertainment, which released the Movie & Danger Zone on a single DVD. Therefore, rather than make two separate reviews, let's make this a Double Feature, where you get two reviews in one! I haven't done one of these in roughly four years, so let's see how it goes.

Probably one of the most interesting subjects that got brought up in the extras of the éX-Driver OVAs was why the cars were traditionally animated rather than done via CG. Director Jun Kawagoe went into some nice detail about the subject, stating that utilizing CG would be tricky (especially at the time), because either it would make it tougher to properly animate the characters inside the cars, or they would also have to be done via CG, which in turn wouldn't look quite as appealing. In comparison, hand animating everything, though requiring more work to get the detail right, allowed the staff to be in complete control over every single frame & moment. I bring this up because éX-Driver the Movie does what Kawagoe brought up by doing the cars via CG, but with the characters traditionally animated. With Kawagoe only in a supervisory role here, does this change in visual style help or hinder the movie? Hell, is it even a good hour-long story in the first place?

Lisa, Lorna, & Souichi head to Los Angeles to represent Japan in an international race between éX-Drivers from around the world. Upon arrival, though, they stop a runaway car that holds Angela Gambino, the daughter of a pasta magnate who's helping sponsor the éX-Driver race. Angela feels that her father, Rico, is participating in illegal gambling with the race, though, so she's trying to find ways to either stop the race or keep her father from getting involved... But is Rico Gambino really the villain in this supposed gambling ring?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

éX-Driver: All thé "É"s Must Bé Accéntéd!

As anime entered the new millennium, the industry had mostly moved towards using popular music for advertising purposes when it came to opening & ending themes. Ichiro Mizuki, the legendary anime song singer for themes to series like Mazinger Z, Tekkaman, Captain Harlock, Mechander Robo, & too many others to name, wanted to "Leave the 'Soul of Anison' with the 21st Century", and decided to found a anison supergroup. Joining him was Hironobu Kageyama (of Dragon Ball Z & Saint Seiya fame), Masaaki Endoh (of GaoGaiGar fame), singer/seiyuu double-threat Rica Matsumoto (of Pokémon fame), & Eizou Sakamoto (of Animetal & Anthem fame). Together the group would be called Japan Animationsong Makers Project, and the five would debut as a group in 2000. While the supergroup would quickly become associated with giant robots & superheroes, though, JAM Project's debut anime was nothing of the sort. In fact, in place of the style of Go Nagai was the looks of Kosuke Fujishima.

From 2000-2001, the creator of You're Under Arrest!, Oh! My Goddess, & character designer for a good portion of the Tales Series (i.e. whenever Mutsumi Inomata isn't doing them) teamed with Bandai Visual & animation studio Actas (making its solo debut) to produce a six-episode OVA series about sweet cars & the people who drive them. Titled éX-Driver (yes, the "e" must have an accent above it), the OVA would be a mixed-media production, with a manga version done by Fujishima & a light novel side story, subtitled Road to Pride, written by Hiroshi Amon & illustrated by Kenichi Hamasaki & Hiroaki Kobayashi. So let's see what the original OVA series, which saw a North American release by Media Blasters in 2002 on VHS & DVD (plus a two-disc complete collection on DVD in 2003) was like.

It's (you know,) "the future", and people no longer drive cars. Instead, the populace utilize AI-controlled electric vehicles to go from place to place, simply telling the car where to go; it even makes reservations on its own, if needed. Unfortunately, Artificial Intelligence still occasionally glitches out, which can result in vehicles going rogue & essentially holding its passengers hostage. When that happens, a call is made to éX-Driver, a group of people who are trained & capable of driving gasoline-powered "reciprocars" the good old-fashioned way. Lisa Sakakino & Lorna Endo are two high school students who also work as éX-Drivers for the Tokyo region, often having to leave class to tackle runaway car incidents. When a third éX-Driver, a prodigal young teen named Souichi Sugano, is added to the team, though, Lisa takes offense at the thought that she & Lorna aren't good enough on their own. Regardless, AI cars will go rogue, & it's up to the éX-Drivers to save the day.