Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 3

As I mentioned at the end of Part 2, I'm kind of cheating when I say that Toshifumi Kawase had a 14-year streak of directing anime. This is mainly because Kawase didn't direct an anime that debuted in the year 2000. The most there was were the final four episodes of B.B-Daman Bakugaiden V, which aired in January of that year. Kawase wouldn't be the real head honcho of another TV anime until the start of 2001, instead working throughout 2000 as a storyboarder for Boogiepop Phantom, Hajime no Ippo, InuYasha, & the final episode of Turn-A Gundam. Still, Kawase did so some directing at the same time, but it was for international use instead.

The third animated adaptation of Marvel's X-Men comic series, following the 1989 Pryde of the X-Men pilot & the 1992-1997 TV series that defined the franchise to many people (like myself), X-Men Evolution was a different type of story. This time it re-imagining Charles Xavier's team of mutants as teenagers who have to mix in with their "normal" high school peers (Nightcrawler notably had a watch that projected white skin over his traditional blue hue), and was quite honestly a rather good & interesting Marvel animated series; it's also the third-longest of all (behind only the X-Men & Spider-Man shows of the 90s). Similar to how Toei helped do animation for the 1989 pilot, though, X-Men Evolution also had its animation done partially overseas, this time by Japan's Madhouse & Korea's Dr Movie. As indicated in the image above, Toshifumi Kawase was one of the animation directors for the show, specifically for the first season. In fact, Kawase was the most prolific animation director for those first 13 episodes, as he directed seven of them. Unfortunately, only three of the four seasons of X-Men Evolution actually saw home video release (& not exactly consistently, either), but at least one can get a hold of all of the episodes that Kawase directed the animation for, & it is fully available legally via streaming through some outlets, like Amazon.

Still, this isn't what we're here for. We're here to look over Kawase's directorial streak for made-for-Japan animation. Therefore, let's move on to another piece of children's anime meant to promote a toy line, but at least this one would be aired internationally... And become a rather notable hit for its time.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 2

Last we left Toshifumi Kawase's decade-plus streak of directing anime, he had helped reinterpret iconic 70s anime Brave Raideen into the Gundam Wing-influenced bishonen romp Reideen the Superior, a series that seemingly did better than expected & wound up running for 38 episodes. While still working with Sunrise every now & then from here on out, though, Kawase would also start working as a bit of a freelancer following Reideen, often finding consistent work with Studio Deen (which itself was formed in the 70s by former Sunrise employees). Before we head into the next wave of Kawase-directed anime, though, we first have to bring up an experiment with how anime was brought to viewers that would become the very standard anime is made within.

In 1992 Japan's giant economical bubble popped, and with it came a notable crash. For the anime industry, the end of the bubble economy effectively killed the OVA boom that allowed seemingly anyone with an idea & money to make anime, with the 90s OVA market focusing mainly on pre-existing franchises or continuing off of recently successful TV series. In late 1996, though, a new idea was tested out on TV Tokyo, which was airing short-run TV series (i.e. 12/13 episodes) in late-night/post-midnight time slots, with said TV airings acting like long-form infomercials for the eventual home video releases. The first show to try this out, Those Who Hunt Elves, actually debuted a day after Reideen the Superior did, and when the latter anime ended, Toshifumi Kawase got himself ready to try his hand at working on late-night anime, with his first one debuting roughly three months later.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 1

Anime, much like any form of visual storytelling, is a collaborative effort, but most people tend to look at a single name when giving credit to its creation & final product: The director. It makes perfect sense to do so, as a directorial role is that of someone who leads others, so the director is the person who generally takes command & claim over how the final product is. Some directors wind up having a strong style to them, which makes it easy to see which ones are done by specific people. For example, no one's going to confuse an Osamu Dezaki work with a Yasuhiro Imagawa joint. There is something to be said, however, for a director being a reliable hand, i.e. someone who can deliver quality work consistently. For me, one of the most reliable directors I can think of is Toshifumi Kawase.

Back in 2014 I did a series of posts called The (Yasuhiro) Imagawa Chronicles, where I gave a general overview of the entire catalog (at the time) of Yasuhiro Imagawa, who started with Tatsunoko before quickly making a name for himself with Sunrise. Toshifumi Kawase's career starts off very similarly, as he also made his name with Sunrise. He started back in 1980 as a production assistant for Invincible Robo Trider G7 before doing more or less the same from 1982-1984 with Combat Mecha Xabungle & Aura Battler Dunbine. It was during Dunbine that Kawase would see his first taste at directing, as he was episode director for Episodes 17 & 22, and even got a character named after him in the form of Captain Kawasse. Following that, Kawase worked as a storyboarder & episode director from 1984-1990, working on Heavy Metal L-Gaim, Zeta Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Metal Armor Dragonar, Mister Ajikko (the last time he & Imagawa would work on the same production), Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers, Jushin Liger, Kiteretsu Daihyakka, & Brave Exkaiser. In 1987 he made his debut as director when he headed up the OVA Dead Heat, which is most known for being the very first 3D anime & one of the few initially made for the obscure VHD videodisc format; I might check this out & review it, one day, though I can never see it the way it was intended.

Following all of that, however, Toshifumi Kawase would start working as the director of entire TV anime series, and his reliability is easily shown here, since every year from 1991 to 2004 saw at least one anime series directed by him. A 14-year streak of directing anime (if you include his work with series composition, it becomes 17 years) is nothing to sneeze at, so what I want to do is give a general overview of what exactly Kawase directed during his decade-plus streak. This isn't going to be quite as extensive as what I did for Yasuhiro Imagawa, but that's mainly because, during this very streak, Kawase still worked on other anime as a storyboarder &/or scriptwriter, & adding those titles would literally double the amount of shows to cover! I'll be splitting this up across three parts, and for Part 1 we'll be sticking to the early-to-mid 90s, from his most "iconic" work to how he helped reinvent a highly influential mech anime of the 70s.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Culdcept (Manga): Naja, You Can Go to the Buffet After You Save the Forest!

If you were to ask a reader of manga what his or her "first manga" was, they'd likely answer something along the lines of Naruto, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, etc.; you know, something that had some relation to an anime that has some sort of "mainstream" popularity. Now, my "first manga" was technically a chapter of a Pokémon manga that Viz released in the old flipped-artwork floppy fashion, but I didn't actually realize that until just a few years ago; I forgot I had even bought it as a kid. No, if you were to ask me what my "first manga" really was, as in reading it because it was manga, I'd answer with a series I doubt many would know of. Much like how I started getting into anime, though, it all has to do with video games...

Created by Omiya Soft (Front Mission: Gun Hazard, Kikou Sohei Armodyne) in 1997, Culdcept has become the franchise that's defined the company. Debuting on the Sega Saturn, followed by updates, sequels, & ports on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox 360, DS, & (most recently) 3DS, the game series is best described as a mix between Magic the Gathering & Monopoly. Like the former players utilize decks of cards filled with monsters, spells, items, & more to compete against each other, but like the latter it's all played on a board game-like field & winning requires you to achieve a certain amount of magic & reach a goal, capturing spaces on the board & taxing unlucky visitors in order to do so; you can also fight to take over land, too. It's an intensely addictive & outstanding series that North America has only seen two entries from, Culdcept II/Second Expansion on the PS2 (simply renamed Culdcept) from NEC Interchannel (from the company's hyper-short-lived revival outside of Japan) in 2003 & Culdcept Saga on the 360 from Bandai Namco in 2008; Europe has never seen an entry. Well, with the newest entry, Culdcept Revolt on the 3DS, actually being released abroad by NIS America later this summer (complete with a European release, for those across the pond!), I think now is the best time for me to give my "first manga" a re-read, plus finally check out that final volume we never got.

That's right, Culdcept was adapted into manga, debuting in the second ever issue of Kodansha's Monthly Magazine Z in 1999. With editorial supervision by Omiya Soft, illustrator Shinya Kaneko was hired to create his own take on the world of the game, and it first ran until about early 2004 or so, being canceled after four volumes. It would be brought back, however, within a year & last another two volumes before either going on hiatus or being canceled a second time; regardless, Magazine Z went defunct in 2009, so it would have been canceled eventually. The ever ambitious & reckless TokyoPop, obviously wanting any sort of tie-in it could get a hold of, licensed the manga & got the first volume out roughly half a year after NEC brought the PS2 game over, and would eventually release all but the sixth & final volume. Why that last book never came out is a mystery, since it came out long enough before Kodansha took back all of the licenses it had with TokyoPop in 2009, but I recently decided to finally import that last volume for completion's sake. Therefore, let's see if Shinya Kaneko's Culdcept manga holds up now, nearly 13 years after I first started reading manga seriously.