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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♪