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Monday, August 13, 2018

Otakon 25 in 2018: Remaining Steadfast Against Great Odds

Back in 2013, Otakon went all out for the 20th iteration of the "Convention of Otaku Generation", but I wonder how many people actually realized that this year was the 25th (read: not the 25th anniversary, which will be next year). To match that, some have argued that the roster of guests this year was a bit lacking, even though icons like voice actor Nobutoshi Canna & Macross creator Shoji Kawamori came over for the weekend; sure, Mr. CreepyPasta was an odd choice, but I won't complain. Still, the panels themselves were mostly outstanding, or at least the ones I went to, the Washington DC area is starting to feel more & more familiar, & the convention center still felt really open & uncrowded, even with this year being the fifth-most attended Otakon ever; don't be surprised if they go past 30,000 once again next year.

Sure, there are still some problems, like the autographs always feeling like a work-in-progress after 25 years of experience to figure out what to do(!), but Otakon has proven that the move to DC is truly for the best, and the fans came to the city in such a large number that a white supremacist rally planned for Sunday wound up being absolutely innocuous, partially because there wasn't enough space in the hotels for them! Anyway, as always, allow me to go over what I personally held at Otakon, because I was more than pleased with the results.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Ages of Jump Redux Part 2: The Iron-Forged Future is in "Our" (read: Japan's) Hands

So in the two(-ish ) years since the original Ages of Jump, a lot of things have happened related to the mangaka & titles I brought up back then. Play Ball received a currently-running sequel, 2017's Play Ball 2 by Yuji Moritaka, & I've heard it's very faithful to the style of the late Akio Chiba. Kochikame surprised everyone by ending in late 2016, after 40 years & 200 volumes, and a new anime TV special was made to celebrate. Captain Tsubasa finally saw a new anime adaptation by David Production, which is still airing right now & about to make its English debut on Primo TV. Speaking of David Pro, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind's anime adaptation will be debuting this October, after having its first episode premiere at Anime Expo. Dragon Ball Super ended not long ago, for the time being, & a new movie is in production. City Hunter is getting a new anime film by Sunrise that's set to debut on February 8, 2019, featuring the original cast & director. Goku!! Otokojuku ended, & has since been followed up with Shin/True!! Otokojuku. Saint Seiya is getting a full-CG remake series that will air on Netflix in 2019, under the Knights of the Zodiac name, and spin-off manga Saintia Sho is getting a Toei-produced TV anime that same year.

Yes, this is nothing but re-purposing already existing artwork... But it still looks awesome.

The Hana no Keiji spin-off manga franchise will be coming to an end later this year. Yu Yu Hakusho is getting its first new anime production, an OVA, in over 20 years. Hoshin Engi finally received a new TV anime adaptation, almost 10 years after Shomei TV's alleged attempt at gauging interest. Hiroyuki Takei left Shueisha & moved to Kodansha, taking all of the Shaman King rights with him... Oops. Bleach finally came to an end in 2017, totaling 74 volumes. Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation finally received an anime adaptation that just debuted last week! Toriko ended in 2016, totaling 43 volumes. To-Love-Ru Darkness ended in early 2017 after 18 volumes, giving that whole franchise a total of 36 volumes. Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan received not one, but two seasons of TV anime; you might know it better now as The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.. World Trigger has been on an unfortunate indefinite hiatus, due to Daisuke Ashihara's health, ever since the end of 2016. Hinomaru Zumo is set to debut a TV anime adaptation this October. Finally, My Hero Academia has truly become Jump's new smash hit, all around the world, both in manga & anime form.

Oh... And Nobuhiro Watsuki was revealed to be in possession of a ton of child pornography, yet was given nothing more than a slap on the wrist & allowed to return to his Rurouni Kenshin: Hokkaido Arc manga after only a few weeks. Compare that to Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, who had his manga Takeshi! outright cancelled, was pretty much exiled from Shonen Jump for six years following his "incident", & needed the good word of Eiichiro Oda just to be given a second chance to prove that he had changed. Hey, they can't all be good news, unfortunately. Anyway, let's see what noteworthy manga I let fall between the cracks from the Silver Age of Jump, shall we?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Ages of Jump Redux Part 1: We Can Be Heroes, Just For One Week

Back in 2016, I did something absurd & ridiculous by giving a giant, two-month overview of the history of Weekly Shonen Jump. I did so by covering the 123 most notable manga to ever run in the history of the magazine as of that moment (plus mentions to a bunch of other, smaller series), covering up through the end of Naruto, which I deemed the end of "The Silver Age of Jump". At the end of that year, when I included the entire "Ages of Jump" in my favorite posts of the year list, I finished up with this quote:
"Still, at least I completed this foolish journey, and that means that I'll never have to do it ever again, so there."

Hi, I'm George J. Horvath... I'm a dumbass.

Hey, Shueisha finally acknowledged a manga that predates Kochikame!

Of course, with this year being the 50th Anniversary of Jump's very existence, how could I NOT come back to what will likely be my most successful series of posts? Seriously, while none of them have entered most-read of all time territory yet, the "Most Read of the Week" sidebar almost always features at least one part of The Ages of Jump in it, and to this very year I still get the occasional response to it. So, to follow this year's theme of "Unfinished Business", let's celebrate Weekly Shonen Jump's Golden Anniversary (yes, I know that the literal 50th Anniversary was on July 11... I was busy that month) by giving credit to the other notable manga that I neglected to properly include in the original 2016 overview... And how about we just split this up across two parts, just to keep things consistent?

So, for Part 1, let's do the time warp again & see what I "forgot" from the Bronze & Golden Ages!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Nekojiru Gekijou - Jirujiru Original: Cats May Have Nine Lives, but They Give Zero ****s...

Back in September of 2012, I watched & reviewed the short 2001 OVA Cat Soup, which was known for its surrealistic visuals & it's bleak worldview. The former was due to the OVA being the first time Masaaki Yuasa would be allowed to go all out, by director Tatsuo Sato, while the latter was due to the fact that the OVA was based on the works of the late Chiyomi Hashiguchi, better known by her pen name, Nekojiru/Cat Soup; in fact, the OVA's Japanese name was Nekojiru-sou/Cat Soup Grass. In that review, though, I had mentioned that the OVA was not the first adaptation of Nekojiru's work. Instead, the tales of her two cat siblings Nyako & Nyatta were first brought to animation back in mid-1999, as part of TV Asahi's Bakushou Mondai Boss Chara Ou/Bakusho Mondai's King Boss Character program. Said anime was Nekojiru Gekijou/Cat Soup Theater - Jirujiru Original, a series of shorts that ran for 27 episodes that were adapted from stories that were compiled in the books Nekojiru Senbei, Dango, & Donburi; Nekojiru always named her collections after snacks & the like. Of course, nearly six years ago, I said that "since that show was fansubbed years ago I might review that at a later date"... Promises like that are why I made this a year of "Unfinished Business".

Nekojiru Gekijou has no overarching story by any means, to no surprise. It's simply a collection of stories that range somewhere between one or two minutes each, though a couple go slightly longer, and every single one of them features a pretty cynical view of everything. Nekojiru became known for her bleak, blunt, & very cruel outlook when it came to her manga, and she admitted that her ideas often came from her dreams. Unfortunately, it's possible that this very extreme cynicism led her to eventually commit suicide on May 10, 1998, and that could potentially affect how you react to the stuff that happens in this anime series. I bring this up, because Nekojiru Gekijou can be dark... Really, shockingly dark, and possibly even vile at times, but all in an amusing way, nonetheless.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Matchless Beat is on the Horizon: An Interview with Anime Midstream's Jimmy Taylor

Back in August of 2016, Anime Midstream announced at that year's AnimeFest that it had license rescued B't X, the 1996 anime adaptation of Masami Kurumada's manga of the same name; previously, Illumitoon Entertainment gave the anime a (poorly done) try back in 2007. For those unfamiliar with Anime Midstream, which is understandable, the company first broke onto the scene back in 2008, when it licensed early-90s mech anime Matchless Raijin-Oh. From 2009 to 2014, the company released the first half across five dual-audio DVD singles, once per year, followed by a sub-only boxset for the second half. Over the next two years, Anime Midstream went silent until about a month before AnimeFest, & almost nothing has came out in terms of information regarding B't X's release since the con, except for a teaser image in March of 2017 saying that "Season 1" would be "Coming Soon...", and what looked to be an indication of dub work being done a month before that.

Huh, now there's a Shueisha credit in the copyright, instead of Kadokawa Shoten...
Haven't seen that happen with an anime before.

Now that we're coming up on two years since the original licensing announcement, I decided to see if I could get some answers from Anime Midstream regarding not just B't X, but also about Raijin-Oh, the change in the anime industry since 2008, and other topics. Thankfully, Midstream's founder Jimmy Taylor was able to find some time during the hectic, final weeks leading up to release, he plans to make an announcement by the end of this month, to answer my questions via e-mail.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Katsuhiro Otomo may not have a large catalog of work, but he remains one of the most iconic & influential names in both anime & manga, and his magnum opus is most definitely Akira. Debuting first as a manga in Young Magazine back in 1982, Otomo would work on it here & there while also working on anime productions like Neo Tokyo & Robot Carnival, before finishing it up in 1990, with a total of 6 volumes. On July 16, 1988, a host of companies decided to bring the manga into anime form as a theatrically released movie, with Otomo only agreeing to such an idea if he was given total creative control, which resulted in him becoming the director of the movie itself, and animation so fluid & mind-blowing (in general, let alone for its time) that the movie came with an absurdly high ¥1.1 billion, or roughly $10 million, budget that it obviously just could not recoup in its home country; only when you account for worldwide that the movie made its money back. Today, however, the Akira movie is looked at as one of the all-time greatest anime ever made, if not simply one of the best movies, in general; to this day, it remains the sole anime that The Criterion Collection ever released (Laserdisc #151).

So pinball sounds like the perfect tie-in for a movie about a mad, newly-powered psychic causing havoc & destruction everywhere he goes... Right?

Obviously, with hype of a scale such as this at the time, there were going to be video games to go with it. Unfortunately, this movie has had nothing but a rough time when it comes to this medium. The first game was 1988's Akira for the Nintendo Famicom, which was a visual novel-esque adventure game by Taito that was notorious for its ridiculous difficulty, with decisions that can kill you instantly, & sometimes requiring the player to pick painfully obtuse & illogical decisions, multiple times at that, in order to advance; even Famitsu gave it a 17 out of 40, or an average of 4.25/10 from each reviewer. For the longest time afterwards, the only other Akira game to see release was a British-developed action game for the Amiga & CD32 by International Computer Entertainment in 1994; it, too, was lambasted for its poor quality. Around the same time, THQ was developing a few Akira games for the Atari Jaguar, SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Game Boy & Game Gear, but all of them were postponed before eventually being canceled; prototypes for some of these unfinished games have since been retrieved & preserved, and now can be found online. After all that, there wouldn't be another Akira game until 2002, when Bandai worked with the video pinball meastros over at KAZe for Akira Psycho Ball for PlayStation 2, which came out to help promote the newly-remastered DVD release of the movie; Europe would receive the game in 2003 by Infogrames, using the 2001 Pioneer dub for audio. Unfortunately, there isn't much in terms of useful information regarding this game, at least in English, as nearly every review you can find online more or less dismisses Psycho Ball, either because the reviewer simply associates it with the piss-poor games that came before (including THQ's unreleased games), or outright downplays its relevance simply because it's a pinball game.

Therefore, to both celebrate Akira's Pearl Anniversary & put an end to my coverage of KAZe's video pinball legacy, let me tell you what Akira Psycho Ball really is all about, because this might very well be the best, if most forgotten, entry in the Digital Pinball franchise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Demo Disc Vol. 13: Feisty Forerunners

After taking a season off for the newly-debuted segment Retrospect in Retrograde (that will return in September), it's the return of Demo Disc! Back in April of last year, for Volume 9, I looked at four pilots that were originally meant to lead into something more, but none of them went anywhere. Whether it was to an attempt to produce an English dub for Space Adventure Cobra back in the 80s or simply trying to get actual series made via Transformers Zone, Genjiku Senki Shiden, & Justeen, they were all examples of pilots not going anywhere. Therefore, for this (maybe unlucky?) Volume of Demo Disc, let's do the opposite & look at the other side of the spectrum: The forerunner (I've also used the term "precursor" before, but I'm trying to eventually use every letter of the alphabet for Demo Disc...). Unlike those prior four, every product I'll be "Demoing" here was simply the first anime product of something that would eventually see more anime made for. In fact, of them all, only one is actually intended to be a "pilot", so let's start with that one. The fact that it helps celebrate the Golden jubilee of an iconic series that I've actually covered on the blog before is a just a sweet bonus... Also, I always do Demo Disc in chronological order, so there's that, too.

Ashita no Joe Pilots
No matter what name you decide to call it by, Ashita no Tomorrow's Champion Rocky Joe will forever be one of the most influential manga ever produced, even 50 years later, and its original anime adaptation directed by Osamu Dezaki is arguably just as important. Still, back in late 1969, it's not like the anime was simply going to be instantly greenlit. Therefore, Mushi Pro's Osamu Dezaki & Masao Maruyama decided to produce a couple of pilots, both around 10 minutes long, in an effort to find a TV station willing to help produce it, all because they were fans of the manga. In fact, they made these pilots without the knowledge of Mushi's founder Osamu Tezuka, because they felt that he wouldn't approve it, since it'd be "competing" against Tezuka's own work. In the end, Dezaki & Maruyama found an interested party in the form of Fuji TV's Koji Bessho, and the rest is all history. So now, with 50th Anniversary anime Megalobox having just ended, let's see the earliest forms of Ashita no Joe in anime form!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball: Wait... Isn't Getting "TILT" a Bad Thing?

So while going over the legacy of game developer KAZe's double duology legacy of Super Pinball & Digital Pinball, I mentioned that Super Pinball II: The Amazing Odyssey was done by a second team, while the first game's team was working on what would become Digital Pinball: Last Gladiators. Lead by Naruaki Sasaki, some of the people on this team would assist on the Digital Pinball games, usually in bug finding, artwork, or more general "Special Thanks" positions, but while Norio Nakagata & Takashi Kobayashi were making the first of two of the best video pinball games of all time, Sasaki was put in charge of another pinball game at KAZe, this time based on a licensed property: Saban's Power Rangers.

Debuting back in 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a franchise that I don't think needs any introduction. At this point, everyone at least knows that Haim Saban & Shuki Levy took a Japanese TV show, in this case Toei's Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger from 1992, removed (more or less) every single bit of footage featuring the original Japanese cast, leaving only the footage of the Rangers in their suits, the monsters, & the giant robot fights, and mixed in original footage featuring an American cast, telling its own story. Needless to say, it was massively successful, but eventually Saban had to move on to actually acknowledging the fact that each new Super Sentai show utilized (at the very least) a new outfit for the team. The first entry to do this was 1996's Power Rangers Zeo, which utilized footage from 1995's Choriki Sentai/Super-Powered Squadron Ohranger, but while the "Mighty Morphin" series received numerous video game adaptations, Zeo only received three, all in 1996. The PC & (intensely forgotten) Bandai Apple Pippin received platformer/beat-em-up Power Rangers Zeo vs. The Machine Empire, the Super Nintendo received racing game Power Rangers Zeo: Battle Racers, & the PlayStation received Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball; in fact, this was the last season to even get video games, until Lightspeed Rescue. While the first two are not considered all that good, I want to focus on the third game, which is the only one to see release outside of North America. Japan received the game around the same time as America, two months before Digital Pinball: Necronomicon's release & under the simpler name of Power Rangers Pinball, while Europe wouldn't receive it until roughly a half year later in mid-1997.

So, does this pinball game manage to keep up with the legacy of KAZe's output, or did Sasaki & crew fail at forming the Zeo Megazord?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: KAZe/Pinball: The Super Digital Legacy

While not technically a "video game", especially since it predates them by decades (if not over a century, if you want to count the earliest predecessors), pinball is probably most associated with them in modern knowledge, due to the two of them cohabiting arcades ever since the 70s. Today, though, while pinball is still around in some form via companies like Stern & Jersey Jack, most people likely experience the classic game in the form of digital experiences, either via 100% original means like Zen Pinball, or through outright recreations of actual tables via The Pinball Arcade. The latter is especially poignant now, as Farsight Studios' product will be suffering a major loss at the end of this month, when its licensing agreement that gave players the ability to purchase & download classic Williams & Bally tables will come to an end. In that regard, it's Zen Studios' original experiences that might win out in the long run, but before that company, there was another company that became a cult legend for its dedication to bringing players the most accurate feeling pinball experience one could find on a video game console.

That company was Tokyo's KAZe.

Founded back on February 2, 1987 as Live Planning, KAZe Net Co., Ltd. made its debut with Abarenbou Tengu, a 1990 Famicom shooter that was heavily modified into the (now expensive) NES game (Samurai) Zombie Nation, with the giant tengu face that you controlled being changed into a giant, decapitated head of a dead samurai... It was really weird, to put it lightly. Following that, KAZe stuck with publisher Meldac & developed Game Boy games like Heiankyo Alien & Tenjin Kaisen (known internationally as Mercenary Force), as well as numerous pachinko video games, but in 1994 Zombie Nation director Norio Nakagata teamed with a new designer named Takashi Kobayashi to do something that had never really been done before on a console: Recreate the pinball experience in as accurate of a form as possible, and on a Super Famicom, no less!

Monday, June 11, 2018

AnimeNEXT 2018: Hitting the Vertical Limit

I first started going to AnimeNEXT back in 2009, when it moved to Somerset, NJ & became a "local con" for me. When it moved to Atlantic City in 2016, I stuck with it, even though it now became much more expensive, due to hotel reservations. Still, the move to the Atlantic City Convention Center was instantly a major improvement. The venue is much larger than what Somerset offered, with more than enough room to grow, and the fact that the ACCC is a four-floor building gives the entire convention a verticality that you just can't find in most other cons, which only tend to feature two floors, at most, which feel more self-contained & seperate than anything. Simply put, it's awesome to be at AnimeNEXT, look above & below you, & always see people moving about. It also helps for special features that utilize the atrium, like Cosplay Pro Wrestling, as the multiple floors create an arena-like experience. Still, if I've been continually going to ANext, why haven't I reported on it?

Well, to be frank, it was because I tend to only report on cons that I do panels at; they double as an info guide for what I showed. In 2016, I only went for a single day, just to get a feel for the new venue. I did apply for panels in 2017, but communication problems meant that I didn't know all of them were denied until the schedule itself came out. This year, though, I finally returned to doing panels at my "local(-ish) con", and I got two approved. Overall, AnimeNEXT has become a rather challenging convention to do panels at, mainly from a content perspective. As AniGamers' Evan Minto said a day ago, it's effectively a mini-Otakon, especially when it comes to panels. ANext has given a lot of priority towards really informational & researched presentations, which in turn make them all the more interesting to check out, so much so that plenty of people I know had put in panel applications that sounded awesome, only for them to get nothing approved.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: Sweet Home: It's About Family... It's Always Been About Family!

Video games based on licensed properties, like movies, are generally known to vary wildly in quality, primarily due to their heavy need to be released alongside the product it's based on. More often than not, the game winds up being either downright terrible or simply underwhelming, but sometimes they wind up being extremely good, if not even considered a classic over time. All that being said, the game still remains noteworthy to some extent due to its connection to the licensed property. It's absurdly rare for a video game based on a licensed property to be so good that it winds up being more synonymous than the product it's technically based on. One of those rare instances is with Sweet Home.

Come 1989, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) was a graduate of Rikkyo University, & student of film critic Shigekiho Hasumi, who had only two pink films to his name as a professional film director. Working with notorious film director & producer Juzo Itami (director of 1985's Tampopo), Kurosawa made his horror debut with Sweet Home, which he both wrote & directed. Debuting in Japanese theaters on January 21, 1989, the movie would then see a home video release on VHS & laserdisc that September, and on December 15 a video game adaptation would see release on the Nintendo Famicom by Capcom. Directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, the game was technically an RPG, but would go on to become a major influence on the creation of what would become the first Resident Evil in 1996; in fact, the earliest plan was to simply remake Sweet Home into 3D.

As the decades have gone on, the Famicom game has become a cult-classic, especially after a fan translation saw release, while the original movie has mostly become forgotten, even as Kiyoshi Kurosawa went on to become a notable name in Japanese cinema, following films like Cure, Seventh Code, & Journey to the Shore. Unfortunately, a major part of this is due to the film's lack of any sort of re-release, which has its own story that I'll get to later in this piece, but in the meantime let's see what the movie itself had to offer.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 2

Normally, whenever I make a "twelve anime" list, I compile the entries based on my own research & whimsy, which means that there's a strong tendency for them to be picked more on personal attachment or interest than neutral logic. On rare occasion I put out a call for outside input, but the end result tends to only give me one or two picks, if even any at all. When I asked for this streaming purgatory list, however, I got the complete opposite. This is obviously something that other people may have thought about in the back of their minds, because I received a bunch of responses, almost all of which giving multiple answers. Because of that, I can easily make a second list another time (likely next year), so let me see which six either seem to be the most wanted or at least catchy my interest to some extent.

Polar Bear Café
I am admittedly more on the side that prefers action-oriented stories, or at least something with a feeling of conflict to it, but I can definitely see the appeal of watching an anime just to relax & feel good. These tend to get categorized under the genre of iyashikei, or "healing", anime due to their soothing & mentally non-straining execution. Admittedly, I'm not 100% sure if Polar Bear Café technically counts as an iyashikei anime, but I do remember watching an episode or two of it years ago, and it was very chill. Anyway, this 50-episode TV anime from 2012-2013 was based on the Aloha Higa manga that ran in josei magazine Flowers from 2006 to 2014, where it then moved to Cocohana magazine, under the name Polar Bear Café: Today's Special, & still runs to this day. It told the everyday lives of the walking & talking animals (& humans) who both work at & frequent the Polar Bear's Café, which is run by a Polar Bear who loves making bad puns.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 1

Back in 2011, I made a pair of lists where I compiled anime that had once seen release in North America via home video & I felt deserved being "rescued", i.e. licensed once again & given a re-release, ideally with improved video, audio, translation, etc. Around the same time, streaming really started making its mark with anime fans, especially with the advent of simulcasts, where brand-new anime productions were being made available legally around the world within hours of them airing in Japan. As anyone can easily tell you, though, there is just a metric ton of anime being produced every season, let alone every year; some will even tell you that there's "too much anime" being made.

Because of that, the dream of having "(almost) everything" is only half way there, because while streaming gives us access to those new shows, not all of them get the opportunity to become a part of a fan's collection. Instead, they become victims of licensing agreements, and once those licenses expire, and a site like CrunchyRoll decides to not renew, that anime becomes lost, officially, and this time around there isn't a home video release for people to rely on to keep things on the up-&-up later on. Now this list isn't about those anime that were once streamed but are now gone, as those are worthy of being "license rescued" & that's not what this list is about. Instead, I'm going to list off twelve anime that are still legally streaming, as of May 2018, but have yet to be given home video releases. Luckily, I asked for some help, and I got a ton of responses, so for the first time I have split this list evenly between my own personal picks, and what others have told me deserve being rescued from "streaming purgatory". Still, this is my blog, so we're starting with my picks first.

Saint Seiya Hades
It's absolutely astounding how seemingly hard it is for the works of Masami Kurumada to receive any sort of complete release here in "North of Mexico", especially when it comes to Saint Seiya; I even once called it a "Kurumada Curse". Luckily, the past few years have been slightly better in that regard, and that's due to the advent of streaming. Still, even there we have some notable blank spots when it comes to the "OG" productions, like the entire second half of Saint Seiya TV, i.e. Episodes 74-114. Instead, we have the first 73 episodes, which cover through the Sanctuary Chapter, and the final 31 OVA episodes from 2003-2008, which cover the Hades Chapter. Still, even those officially-available original series episodes are only partially saved from purgatory, and it all comes down to one company, Cinedigm.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Monkey Turn V: I Wonder if the Kyotei Champion Goes to Tokyo Disneyland...

The year 2004 was an interesting time for anime, especially when it came to late-night. Before this year, the late-night "anime infomercial" was still a niche, though it was expanding ever since the end of 1996. This specific year, though, saw around 60 different anime series air in late-night TV slots, establishing this format as the future. At the same time, though, 2004 was the end of airing a single series over the course of an entire year (if not more) in late-night; longer series have more recently come back slightly, but it's been mostly shorter shows since then. I bring this up because Monkey Turn was one of those "last" year-long, late-night runs. However, unlike Monster or Hajime no Ippo, which both ran as gigantically long single shows, the kyotei racing anime was split up across two 25-episode seasons, though there was no hiatus between episodes. That being said, though, I can fully understand why there was a split between seasons here, because Monkey Turn V offers a concept that's different from Monkey Turn. Where the first season was your standard "rising to the top" story in concept, the second season goes in a direction that's not seen too often in sports anime & manga: What happens after you achieve your dream?

Upon graduating from Yamato Kyotei Academy, Kenji Hatano made a promise to everyone, including his girlfriend Sumi Ubukata, that he would become Japan's #1 kyotei racer within three years. While he got close to doing so when he made it to an SG tournament in his third year, it wouldn't be until after 3.5 years that he finally beat the likes of "Boat King" Yusuke Enoki, "Wolf of Hokuriku" Gunji Inukai, & rival Takehiro Doguchi, becoming SG Champion. Now Kenji has to not only maintain his new spot among the best, but he also has to watch out for new challengers, like female expert Chiaki Kushida or local favorite-turned-SG-competitor Hidetaka Gamou. Before he can do any of that, though, Kenji suffers an injury, as a horrible capsize during a race results in his left wrist & hand getting sliced open by another racer's propeller, potentially ending his racing career right as it finally hit its stride.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Retrospect in Retrograde: Monkey Turn

One thing about the "Year of Unfinished Business" is that I finally plan on getting back to series & franchises that I covered years ago, but never really followed up on. Of course, after all these years, I don't feel 100% comfortable about just jumping into a second season or later productions with only potentially vague recollections about what came before. Not just that, but my first couple years of doing this blog saw me write entire reviews based on nothing more than what I remember an anime being like; not every review was like that, but a fair number of them were, especially in those first few months. Therefore, I feel like enough time has passed that I can go back & re-assess anime that I reviewed way back when, & see if I still feel the same about them now; also, I want to this give them the proper write-ups I should have given them back then. So, in place of this season's Demo Disc (don't worry, it'll be back this Summer), I would like to introduce a new concept to The Land of Obscusion.

Welcome to Retrospect in Retrograde, and for my first revisit, I can't think of anything better: Monkey Turn.

On Februaru 25, 2011, I looked back fondly on my memories of the 2004 TV anime adaptation of Katsutoshi Kawai's 1996-2005 Shonen Sunday manga about kyotei/mini-hydroplane racing, and called it "the best sports anime that you've never seen." Since then, I've learned a bit more about this 25-episode anime, specifically two interesting things. First, this anime (& it's successive season) ran in a late-night slot, which honestly surprises me, both because that means that Monkey Turn ran for a solid year in late-night, which just doesn't happen nowadays, and also because of the pedigree the manga had. Kawai's manga tied with Hikaru no Go for the Shogakukan Manga Award for "Best Shonen Manga" in 1999, so I simply figured for the longest time that the anime had a prime time slot, just like its fellow award winner's anime adaptation had; both even aired on TV Tokyo. Second, back in 2011 I had no idea how much of the 30-volume manga the anime adapts, & I really still don't today, but I now do know that the anime kind of pulls a Ring ni Kakero 1 by skipping over an early portion of the manga, so that it can focus on the primary focus, i.e. the actual professional kyotei racing; some of the early parts are done via flashback at points, though. So enough re-introduction, it's time to see if Monkey Turn still comes out as one of "the best" out there, personally, when it comes to sports anime.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Localizations We Almost Got... But Didn't

Nothing major can happen without a plan being made, first & foremost. At the same time, though, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, sometimes to the point of never coming to fruition in the first place. When it comes to video games, I'd say that any region of the world will receive more or less an equal amount of localized games from another region as it would get those made domestically. Like anything, though, there are a lot of steps to making a localization happen, & those steps have to be laid out in a grand plan. Unfortunately, while most localization plans do indeed come to fruition, there are some that were planned for release, and maybe even officially announced, but wound up being exclusive to the region they were originally released in.

So let's take a look at these transposed translations, these retracted reveals, & these candid cancellations that all had hopes for English localization, only to be stopped for a variety of reasons, with at least one even threatening legal action! But... Yes, I'm totally aping Guru Larry, so I'll stop right here & go straight to the first entry.

Sony Computer Entertainment of America has always been a bit of an infamous division of Sony, especially in regards to the lives of the first two PlayStation consoles. For example, there have been complaints that SCEA was "anti-2D", i.e. being downright dismissive to certain video games & publishers that wanted to release games based around 2D sprite work, simply because SCEA wanted to focus on 3D polygons. Working Designs' Vic Ireland admitted that such a policy existed during the PS1 era back in 2012 during an interview with ANNCast, & even Mega Man 8 was initially rejected for release, until SCEA found out that the Sega Saturn was also getting it, so the decision was reversed with the request for some sort of exclusive content (which wound up being a mini-booklet with artwork). Obviously, there were some games & even companies that were exceptions to this, & the policy did relax over time, but SCEA still maintained some variation of it into the PS2 era, but now this even applied to polygonal graphics. In other words, if SCEA simply felt that a video game that a publisher wanted to release in North America didn't look good enough, 2D or 3D, then that would be enough reason to deny release. While proof of this is scarce, Agetec did submit evidence of this back in 2004 with the game Shadow Tower Abyss.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Truth Behind "The Disaster Anime": Game Lab's Musashi Gundoh Interview Translated!

Happy Easter, All You April Fools!

Way back on December 1, 2011, to celebrate the blog's first anniversary, I wrote a review of the infamous 2006 TV "kuso/crap anime" Gundoh Musashi, or Musashi Gundoh (seriously, either order seems to be official), making it the first milestone review (#50). Even back then, though, I had heard of an interview that had been done after the anime had aired in Japan. As the years went on, I managed to actually find where said interview came from: Volume 140 of Sansai Books' Game Labo Tokubestsu Henshu Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyu/Game Lab Special Edition: Modern Visual Culture Research, released December 2006.

While the main feature in this mook was a 36-page article titled "Kono Anime ga Yabai!/This Anime is Dangerous!", likely a parody of Takarajimasha's "Kono ___ wa Sugoi/This ___ is Great!" series of guide books, it actually had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Instead, in the middle of this Volume was a six-page pair of interviews with Nobuyuki Sugaya & Yuki Kinoshita, the respective producer & director of Gundoh Musashi. In fact, these two interviews were conducted literally days after the anime finished airing on satellite network BS-i on October 29; technically, the final episode aired on October 8, but after that came three "summary" episodes. For years, I was curious about what was said in this mook, and since this is a year about "Unfinished Business", I finally found an Amazon Japan seller that was willing to ship a copy overseas (& for cheap, too), & put my money down. So now, with a translation from Anne Lee of Chic Pixel, I give you the raw & (then) fresh feelings about what exactly went down with what I once called "The Anime Equivalent to The Room", & now nickname "The Disaster Anime", starting with the interview done with ACC Production producer Nobuyuki Sugaya. Specific notes by either myself or Anne will be included via italics for clarification, when needed.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Run=Dim: CG=Too Soon?

While the large majority of anime that Idea Factory self-produced were released in the form of "Original Video Animation", i.e. they went straight to home video, the video game company didn't wait too long to enter broadcast television. Debuting back in 2000, Run=Dim (you don't pronounce the "=") was a short-lived series where you took control of giant robots, with three entries to its name: 2000's turn-based combat game The Mechsmith: Run=Dim for PS2, 2001's strategy RPG Run=Dim as Black Soul for the Dreamcast, & 2002's 2D shoot-em-up Run=Dim: Return to Earth for the WonderSwan Color. Idea Factory wasn't the only company involved with the series, though, as Seoul-based Digital Dream Studios was involved from the very start, and Yuki Enterprise (now known as Examu) handled development for Black Soul.

Both IF & DDS had grand plans for Run=Dim, though, as in between the releases of The Mechsmith & Black Soul was "the first full 3D CG animated TV series in Asia" version of the series, one that IF & DDS co-produced & animated. Running for 13 episodes during the Spring 2001 season on TV Tokyo (yes, this aired on mainstream television on Friday mornings!), the two companies had hopes for this to only be the beginning. As indicated via the Wayback Machine, DDS was advertising a theatrically-released movie later that October, plus a second season the following July. Unfortunately, the anime that, according to DDS, "was praised as one of the finest 3D CG animations by the Japanese and Korean press," never received more than that single season of anime, & the later WonderSwan game didn't even feature Idea Factory's name in it, whatsoever. So only a single questions remains now: How the hell did an all-CG TV anime series produced by a couple of game companies fare back in 2001?

At the end of the last century (you know, the past), global warming resulted in the polar ice caps melting, creating titanic tsunamis that completely flooded various nations of the world, including Japan, completely changing the way humanity operated. It is now the year 2052, & the Japan Established Security Army for Space, JESAS for short, is in the midst of a battle with the UN-supported Green Frontier over who will take command of expansion out into space. This battle is a literal one, too, with JESAS having to rely on young teenagers who possess potential with humanity's 6th sense, which they've called "AI", to pilot giant robots called RBs to take on Green Frontier, which has a yellow RB named Run=Dim as its trump card. One of these teens is a boy named Kazuto Moriguchi, but after being deemed expendable when an experimental weapon named the e4 is fired during a battle, he defects over to Green Frontier, even if it means having to fight those he had started consider to his friends.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Rebirth Moon Divergence: Or, as O~3 Entertainment Would Have Used, Reverse Moon Diva Gents...

From 1998 to 2004, Idea Factory more or less made its own anime productions, both for anime & the occasional game sequence. While there were "actual" animation studios involved, they tended to either only assist or work alongside IF as co-producers. The only exception at this point was 2001 TV anime Mamimume Mogacho, a claymation/CG mix that was based on an Idea Factory game, but was co-animated by Sega & Swimmers Animation Studio, though IF's staff were still directing & producing. Starting in 2005, though, Idea Factory decided to stop making animation in-house & simply hire an animation studio to handle that workload. The studio of choice was Wao World, which was established in 2000 as a subsidiary of educational company Wao Corporation, and at this point had only operated as an assistance studio on anime like Wind -a breath of heart- & Zoids: Fuzors. Wao's sole primary production by 2005 was the historical movie Nitaboh, the Shamisen Master the year prior, but has since been the main studio for series like Showa Monogatari, Time Travel Girl, & Anime-Gataris, as well as other historical films directed by Akio Nishizawa, head of Wao Corporation.

Yeah, those are French fansub credits... They're the best I could work with.

Wao World's involvement with Idea Factory wouldn't last too long, as after 2006 IF moved on to simply using still character portraits for things like intro sequences, with the final game to feature actual animation throughout being Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage on the Xbox 360. Not just that, but Wao World didn't really make all that much for IF, with only four games actually bearing any fruit. Aside from the aforementioned 360 game, there were three PS2 games that saw Wao do both in-game cutscenes & OVA prologues. The most infamous was IFMate dating sim Mars of Destruction, which was the second Wao/IF production, but the other two had a curious subtitle for their respective OVAs. Both early-2005's Spectral Force Chronicle & late-2005's Rebirth Moon were strategy RPGs, and both of their OVAs were given the word "Divergence" in their titles. Anyway, while I've been unable to get a hold of the former's OVA in any way, shape, or form (at least for a decent price), there is a French fansub out there for the latter that I can at least worm my way through. Rebirth Moon was the first (& only) game in the IF Type-0 label, which was meant to be for more experimental forms of gameplay. In the end, though, the only thing that came out of the game was that its radial-based combat system would be carried over to Chaos Wars & IF Neverland spin-off game Spectral Gene. The game would also be given an enhanced HD port on the 360 under the name Diario: Rebirth Moon Legend in 2007. So let's see how Idea Factory ended its foray into anime with Rebirth Moon Divergence, which came out alongside the PS2 game.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven: Do Androids Dream of Digital Love?

Back in that initial run of Idea Factory anime reviews, I covered Mars of Destruction, a mid-2005 OVA meant to act as a prologue to the IFMate brand's sixth dating sim of the same name for PS2. Since its release, it's gathered a bit of notoriety as being one of the "worst anime of all time", with it even being the #1 spot on the ANN Encyclopedia's "Worst Rated Anime" list for years upon years; I don't even know how long it's been there, but it's easily close to (if not more than) a decade at this point. In my review, though, I felt (& still feel this this day) that its status as one of "the all time worst" may be a bit overstated, but that's mainly because I feel that I've seen much worse, and have even covered some on this blog, like Legend of DUO, Twinkle Nora Rock Me!, & Gundoh Musashi, the last of which remains my #1 pick for that title. Now, to be fair, Mars of Destruction is bad, but for essentially just as long on that ANN list has been the #2 spot, which is another Idea Factory anime. Therefore, I think it's finally time to tackle the Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven OVA, and see if the people who use ANN truly know their "worst anime of all time".

The fourth game in the IFMate brand, Tenkuu Danzai/Sky Conviction Skelter+Heaven saw release in Japan on the PS2 on November 25, 2004, with its major hook being that it revolved around young women who piloted robots, with action sequences relying on Quick-Time Event-esque gameplay. A month later, on December 8, Idea Factory released a ~20 minute OVA to help promote the video game. Seeing as 2005 would see the company hire Wao World to do the animation for both games & OVAs, Skelter+Heaven is notable as being the final Idea Factory anime that the game company actually animated (primarily) itself. After a (surprisingly) decent, if annoyingly self-defeating, turn out for Steady x Study, does Idea Factory's final self-produced anime show some true advancements in capabilities... Or is this truly worthy of being called second worst (of all time)?

In the year 2030, Tokyo is invaded by a giant, squid-like creature that comes from space, with the military being helpless against it. Defense corporation Altamira Agency, however, has been working on technology for the pace 15 years, just in case interstellar invaders were to come: Wet Props, artificial beings made to look like women, who pilot giant robots named Skelters. With guidance by male commander Otoya Funagai, the Prop-piloted Skelters go into their first ever battle, and though they wind up succeeding in killing the alien invader, Funagai is deemed a failure as commander by Hiroaki Mishima, CEO of Altamira. Unfortunately, just one year later, an entire squadron of giant squids come down to Tokyo...

Friday, March 9, 2018

Steady x Study: Money for Nothin'... & Chicks for Free?

Back in early 2013, I dedicated some of two months to reviewing a bunch of OVAs that were all produced by video game company Idea Factory, back when it was trying to be more of a multimedia production house. Whether it was any of the three Generation of Chaos OVAs, Gakuen Toshi Vara Noir (the first episode, at least), Mars of Destruction, or Kingdom of Chaos: Born to Kill, nearly all of them were, quite frankly, rather poor & not even all that enjoyable in an ironic, "so bad it's good" fashion. The only exceptions were GOCIII, which was actually more than decent, & Born to Kill, which was honestly pretty damn good (though it still had the same visual "quirks" that all the others had). After those reviews, I had always planned on returning to the Idea Factory anime well, but so far the only time I actually did so was last October, when I reviewed the Spectral Force OVA, IF's first ever anime, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of that series. Therefore, with this year being about finally going back & covering stuff I left behind, let's return to this poorly-rendered CG well that was made by "The Ed Wood of Anime," as I deemed Idea Factory last year.

In 2004, Idea Factory started up a new brand called IFMate, which focused on what people internationally call dating sims; in Japan, they word "ren'ai" is used, which uses the two kanji for love, "koi" & "ai". Unlike visual novels, a.k.a. otome games aimed at women, dating sims are technically made for male players, as the goal is to have one of the female characters fall in love with the male protagonist. The IFMate brand wouldn't last long, dying out post-2007 after moving over to being based on anime properties, but the first entry was Steady x Study for the PS2, released on March 25, 2004. Today, the game is probably most known for its tangential relation to the IF Neverland brand, as "lead" female character Koyuki Saito may very well be the girl that Jadou summoned to the fantasy world of Neverland in the original Spectral Force, who would be known as Little Snow. Though the only game to outright make that connection is crossover RPG Chaos Wars, so the canonicity is purposefully tenuous, there is the fact that Koyuki translates directly to "Little Snow", and the white-haired witch was originally a brown-haired schoolgirl, like Koyuki is in her own game. Anyway, on May 26 that same year, Idea Factory decided to release a ~25 minute OVA for Steady x Study. Today, this is likely the most obscure & forgotten Idea Factory OVA out there, so what better place to start than here?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: The Most Magnificent of the Seven

The late Akira Kurosawa has been nicknamed "The Emperor", due to this iconic & influential career as a filmmaker, & the film often considered his finest is 1954's Seven Samurai. It's influence was recognized almost immediately, too, as it would only take a scant six years for it to be imitated by another country. That film would be 1960's The Magnificent Seven, which was directed by John Sturgens, of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral & The Great Escape fame. The film transposed the basic concept of a town hiring seven men to protect them from a group of bandits from Sengoku Era Japan & samurai to the Wild West & gunslingers. Sturgens' film was successful in its own right (in Europe, as it bombed in the U.S.), which resulted in it receiving three sequels: 1966's Return of the Seven, 1969's Guns of the Magnificent Seven, & 1972's The Magnificent Seven Ride. None of these sequels were anywhere near as successful as the original, & have since become rather obscure & forgotten, only being known most now for being packaged with the original in recent remastered DVD & BD boxsets. In 1980, independent film legend Roger Corman went against his usual low-budget style and spent roughly $2 million to produce Battle Beyond the Stars, a space opera that was intended to be "Seven Samurai in Outer Space"; it wound up earning $7.5 million. Finally, in 2016, Training Day & Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua lead a remake of The Magnificent Seven, which wound up doing what the original couldn't & actually become a box office hit in the United States.

Now, only one question remains: Which of these "Seven" is the "Most Magnificent"?

Just think about it for a moment... We have seven films that are about a group of seven people coming together to save the day & protect the downtrodden, so why hasn't anyone actually tried to rank them & see which of these seven rises to the top? Therefore, I will take that challenge by watching all seven of these films and organize them here, from worst to best. Now, of course, any sort of ranking is going to be inherently subjective & personal, so if you've managed to see all of these films & feel differently about the order I wind up with, then that's perfectly fine; this is MY list, after all. Also, before anyone asks, I am only relying on these seven theatrical-length films, mainly to keep the theme of the number seven intact, so I won't be including longer interpretations of Kurosawa's concept, namely The Magnificent Seven's TV series adaptation from 1998 to 2000, nor PlayStation 2 video game Seven Samurai 20XX or TV anime series Samurai 7, which both came out in 2004 to celebrate the original film's 50th Anniversary; I can vouch that the anime is really damn good, however. So, with all of that out of the way, let's get this started. First, I'll go over each movie chronologically, & then I'll actually rank them, from weakest to "most magnificent".

Friday, February 16, 2018

Otoko Zaka (The Weekly PlayNews Run): Well, I Would Run 700 Miles, & I Would Run 700 More...

Previously on the Otoko Zaka Review:
"Quite honestly, though, this may be one of Kurumada's strongest works when it comes to story. Oddly enough, however, I think Otoko Zaka actually works better now, in 2015, than it did in 1984-1985. The oldest school execution gives it a really cool style nowadays, and even in Japan the audience for it now is nostalgic adults rather than the young boys that Shonen Jump is targeted at."

Back in May of 2015, I reviewed the first three volumes of Masami Kurumada's Otoko Zaka, which was everything that was originally serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump back in the 80s. As I explained in that review, I felt that the manga that Kurumada devised to be his magnum opus, & homage to Hiroshi Motomiya's Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho, wound up being canceled primarily due to the fact that shonen action manga had changed so much, partially because of Kurumada, that an "oldest school" execution just wasn't going to appeal to audiences anymore. In 2014, as part of his 40th Anniversary as a mangaka, Masami Kurumada decided to finally bring back Otoko Zaka, nearly 30 years after he infamously "not-ended" it. The "magazine" of choice for it to come back to was Weekly PlayNews, the digital manga-front for Shueisha's Weekly Playboy magazine, where it appeared from 2014 to 2016 in three separate, volume-length stretches. In 2017, Otoko Zaka moved its online serialization over to Shonen Jump+, effectively returning the manga to its original home after a 32-year absence; all new volumes since 2014 have featured the "Jump Comics" labeling, however. Therefore, let's see what happened in the Weekly PlayNews run (Volumes 4 to 6) of Otoko Zaka, & examine what Masami Kurumada has always wanted to draw while working on Saint Seiya, B't X, & Ring ni Kakero 2.

With the initial fight against Don Foreman's Chicago Corps over & done with, the idea of the Junior World Connection wanting to invade Japan & take command over its young gangs has become a real, looming threat. To get ready for the JWC, Jingi Kikukawa has decided to try to unite all of the remaining gangs in Japan together, with Joshu's Wolf Akagi & Aizu's Ranmaru Azusa having joined his ranks, recently. After he & his friends take out the 13 Heads of Tohoku's Ouu Union after a challenge, Jingi decides to run off to Hokkaido on his own to meet with Ken Kamui, the "King of the North", & get him to join their forces. Even if Jingi manages to convince Kamui to help out, though, that's only the start, with Kanagawa's "Julie of Hama" & Hagi's Kyosuke Takasugi also needing some good convincing. Luckily, Jingi knows how to talk to people like these: With his fists.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Akira Tsuburaya's Retro-Modern Anime Club Band: Admittedly, It's Just as Crazy as The Beatles...

*mentally cues up "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles*

♪It was twenty years ago this year
Tsuburaya wanted fans to cheer
Manga that's been in and out of style
But nostalgia's gonna make them wild
So may I introduce to you
Akira Tsuburaya's own
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band♪

With anime starting to enter the new millennium in the last years of the late-90s, there were now tons of old manga from the 60s & 70s that started having a nostalgic cachet for certain fandoms. This resulted in many companies giving these now retro titles new leases on life, especially during the early-to-mid 00s. One man who seemed to really push this concept heavily was Akira Tsuburaya, the youngest son of tokusatsu legend Eiji Tsuburaya.

You know, Mr. Tsuburaya's head actually fits rather well on the Beatles' shoulders...

♪The Retro-Modern Anime Club Band
Giving old manga a new chance
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band
They might seem passé at first glance
Retro-Modern Ani, Retro-Modern Ani
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band
With Leiji Matsumoto
Go Nagai & Saito
And Mochizuki, Yokoyama
Hirai & Ishinomori
Ken Ishikawa♪

In the early 90s, Akira Tsuburaya founded Tsuburaya Eizo/Pictures (no relation to his father's Tsuburaya Productions), which helped produce J-Dramas like 1991's Kaiki 1,001 Nights, 1997's Eko Eko Azarak, & even a 1998 adaptation of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner. Around the time of that last example, the youngest Tsuburaya decided to enter the anime industry, and while his company did help produce a couple of strictly "recent" works, Tsuburaya Entertainment's focus was definitely focused around giving old, classic manga from iconic creators new adaptations, in an interesting variety of styles at that. Therefore, let's take a general overview of what Akira Tsuburaya helped bring to anime, especially since a surprising amount of them actually saw release outside of Japan, especially here in North America.

♪I don't really want to stop the song
But I gotta let the piece go on
This all started 1998
You could purchase it on good-ol' tape
So let me introduce to you
The mighty Queen Emeraldas
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band♪

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Saiyuki Reload Blast: Guess Who's Back, Back Again... Sanzo's Back, With His Friends...

Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki has had the reputation of being a journey that's taken "forever" to actually get to its destination, whether it's due to the anime adaptations relying on tons of filler to pad out their lengths or Minekura herself putting her manga on hiatus (though, in her case, it was due to harsh illness & injury). In its home country, however, the production of anime adaptations has actually been semi-consistent, at least in terms of how long it takes for a new anime to be made & see release. From 1999 to 2004 there was essentially a yearly supply of productions (the "Premium" OVA, Gensou Maden, the Requiem movie, Kibou no Zaika, Reload, & Reload Gunlock), and afterwards it took three years until the Reload -burial- OVA saw release in 2007 (with one release happening in early 2008). Following that it was another three years-ish for the Saiyuki Gaiden OVA to come out in 2011. After that was the special extra episode of Gaiden in 2013, two years later, & then after yet another four years the series returned to TV. Airing during the Summer 2017 season, Saiyuki Reload Blast takes its name from the currently-running third manga series, which Minekura announced right away as being the final part of the Sanzo Party's mission to stop the revival of Gyumaoh. Obviously, this 12-episode TV series can only cover so much, but was Saiyuki's return to TV worth continuing where everything left off at, or should it have just simply rebooted everything from the start & been more welcoming to newcomers?

It's been two years since Genjo Sanzo, Son Goku, Sha Gojyo, & Cho Hakkai were ordered to head to India in order to stop Gyokumen Koshu from reviving her husband Gyumaoh & unleashing the "Minus Wave" calamity that drove the yokai of Shangri-La crazy. After all this time, the Sanzo Party have finally entered the West, with everything being not just culturally different from what they're familiar with (Sanzo in particular has next to venerability this far out), but also much more ruthless when it comes to yokai attacks; the wave is so powerful here that even half-blooded Gojyo is at risk. Eventually, they come across Sharak Sanzo, the guardian of the defensive Kouten Sutra, but when War Prince Nataku of the Heavenly Realm, who defeated Gyumaoh 500 years ago, decides to come to Earth, does this mean that the Sanzo Party's "employment" has come to an end?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Saiyuki Gaiden: I Want to Get Away to Our Sweet Escape...

When Kazuya Minekura debuted Saiyuki in Enix's Monthly GFantasy back in 1997, it became a fast hit, which allowed her to expand on the lore of the world she created. Two years later, in mid-1999, Minekura debuted Saiyuki Gaiden, a prequel manga that took place 500 years prior in Heaven. At this point, Minekura had given indications that Son Goku had been locked in his mountainside prison for the past half-millennium due to something he did while in Heaven (which is accurate to the original novel), & that Sanzo, Gojyo, & Hakkai were in fact the reincarnations of the people who befriended Goku all those centuries ago. Being a side story manga series that was produced alongside the original manga, Saiyuki Gaiden would see multiple hiatuses, as well as moving over to Ichijinsha's Monthly Comic Zero-Sum in 2003, before finally being completed in mid-2009, totaling nine volumes.

Technically, the first time Saiyuki Gaiden would be adapted into animation was during the Homura Arc, a filler storyline which made up the entire second half of Gensou Maden Saiyuki. Since Homura wanted vengeance for what happened over 500 years ago, it only made sense to adapt a small portion of Gaiden that was made at points during that story arc. After that, the side story would remain manga-exclusive until 2011, when a three-episode OVA adaptation came out, featuring animation by a new studio named Anpro; Studio Pierrot did help produce the OVA, however. A year later, Sentai Filmworks would announce a North American release for the OVA series, complete with ADV's dub cast for the Sanzo Party reuniting for the first time since early 2005, when Saiyuki Requiem came out; Geneon's dubs for Reload & Reload Gunlock used a new cast via Bang Zoom! Entertainment. Sentai's DVD release for Saiyuki Gaiden would come out January 2013, but later that year a special fourth episode came out in Japan, instantly making Sentai's release a little incomplete. Anyway, enough backstory about the backstory, so let's see if this backstory actually adds anything to the main story.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Sutural Sutra of Saiyuki: Can You Just Skip the Filler?

Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki has been running on & off ever since 1997 via three series of manga, Saiyuki, Saiyuki Reload, & Saiyuki Reload Blast, and that's not counting prequel series Saiyuki Gaiden & Saiyuki Ibun, which both ran during the main series' runs. Since it became a rather fast success, it eventually got adapted into a TV anime in 2000, a couple of years before the original series came to an end in 2002. Due to a mix of not wanting to catch up to where Minekura was in the story & the franchise in general being really, really popular, especially with female audiences, the Saiyuki anime adaptations have become one of the most infamous examples of staff creating their own anime-original stories, which are often colloquially referred to as "filler", since they tend to do nothing but pad out overall runtime. In fact, according to the Saiyuki Wiki, out of a total 101 episodes spread out across three TV anime (not counting the Saiyuki Reload Blast anime from 2017), only 36 episodes actually adapt from the first two manga series; yes, just barely over a third of the anime is accurate to the manga. Over the years, I've managed to get all of the DVDs ADV & Geneon released for these original three anime series, and I've always wondered something: Can you actually just skip the filler & watch the manga-accurate episodes as a proper adaptation of Minekura's manga?

You see, filler comes in a variety of ways, but can be categorized into two primary forms that I've given names to. One form is "intrusive filler", which is when the original content mixes into the adapted content, making it effectively impossible to ignore or simply skip over. This can either be beneficial & expand on established story, like how Fullmetal Alchemist [2003] actually showed Basque Gran's death (whereas the manga simply referred to it), or it can be detrimental, like how Saint Seiya's early filler actively changed the way the plot actually happens when compared to the manga. The other form is "passive filler", which is when the original content is self-contained & doesn't really affect the adapted content, outside of maybe said original content being referenced to after the fact. This is usually the more common form of filler, as it allows for things like "filler arcs", which tend to not really interfere with the manga story too much (if at all) & act more like side stories; there are exceptions, though, like the end of Saint Seiya's Asgard Chapter tying into the manga-adapted Poseidon Chapter. Therefore, I decided to experiment & took note of which episodes of 2000's Gensou Maden Saiyuki, 2003's Saiyuki Reload, & 2004's Saiyuki Reload Gunlock are adaptations of the manga, and by only watching those episodes I want to see if Minekura's story is told with little to no interference from the filler.

Are you ready, you hellions?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Saiyuki Requiem - The Motion Picture: "Open Up Your Mind" to a Different Side of Saiyuki

Welcome, reader, to The Land of Obscusion's 2018, which is the "Year of Unfinished Business". Such an endeavor can be compared to a massive journey, one where I look back at what I had written about during the previous seven years, and see what I ignored, missed out on, or simply forgot to cover. In fact, one could call this a "Journey to the Max", so what better way to start out this year of returning to previous series & creators that I had once covered than with Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki?

Over the course of a little over a week at the end of August 2012, I reviewed the three Saiyuki OVAs that had never been officially licensed & released in North America: 1999's Saiyuki "Premium" (which pre-dated the TV anime), 2002's Saiyuki: Kibou no Zaika (an interactive OVA, though I watched a bootleg that removed the interactivity & likely didn't give me the best ending), & 2007's Saiyuki Reload -burial- (which adapted the flashback arc of the same name from Saiyuki Reload). To this day, none of these OVAs have since been licensed, which is sad (especially for the last one) but understandable. That being said, there are two other non-TV Saiyuki productions out there, both of which did see license & release in North America, so let's see if I missed out by not including them in my coverage over five years ago. Up first is Saiyuki Requiem: Requiem for the One Not Chosen (yes, it is that redundant), simply titled Saiyuki Requiem - The Motion Picture by ADV, the franchise's sole theatrically released movie from August 18, 2001, a few months following the end of Gensou Maden Saiyuki, the first TV series.

After taking out a small army of crazed yokai, the Sanzo Party get lost trying to head to the next town, only to wind up running into a young woman being hunted by a giant bird monster. After losing it in the woods, the lady, named Houran, offers to welcome the Sanzo Party at the mansion of the master she works for, including food & board for the night. Soon enough, though, the truth starts to unravel, as Genzo Sanjo, Son Goku, Sha Gojyo, & Cho Hakkai were lead to this mansion so that the master, Go Dougan, can enact his vengeance on the group, for misgivings he feels they did to him three years ago. Meanwhile, the Kougaiji Party comes across the bird monster themselves, and after dispatching it, follow the Sanzo Party's tracks to the mansion, in order to find out who could even summon such a creature.