Friday, March 29, 2019

Retrospect in Retrograde: Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War

Before co-founding anime studio Bones in 1998, the late Hiroshi Osaka worked on a bunch of mech anime, like Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Panzer World Galient, Blue Comet SPT Layzner, Jushin Liger, both Victory Gundam & G Gundam, & The Vision of Escalfowne. During the last nine years of his life with Bones, he continued to work with mech anime, like RahXephon & The Mars Daybreak. Therefore, it's not all that surprising that the first anime Bones would lead production on was a mech anime... Kind of.

"Wah, wa wa wau"... "Degaregeda, degaregadou!"... "Jam Jam!!"

Working with Noboru "Sho" Aikawa, who would become a reliable & stalwart companion to the studio to this very day, Karakuri Kiden Hiwou Senki debuted in late 2000, running until mid-2001 after 26 episodes, & was actually only the second original concept Aikawa ever put to animation, following 1998's Neo Ranga. Not just that, but it's also the only anime Bones ever did using hand-drawn cels, i.e. the "traditional" way. Apparently, Aikawa originally envisioned the story for older audiences, & a manga version drawn by Hajime Jinguji did run in Magazine Z, a seinen magazine, from mid-1999 to 2001 for four volumes, eventually going in its own direction. Instead, the anime wound up being reformatted as a family program, airing in the same "Satellite Anime Theater" time slot on NHK that would later air anime like Gakuen Senki Muryou/Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars & Kakutou Ryouri Densetsu Bistro Recipe/Fighting Foodons (one of these things is not like the others). After the anime finished airing, Bones would slowly earn more recognition via shows like Angelic Layer & RahXephon, before truly hitting it big with Fullmetal Alchemist in 2003. Meanwhile, Bones' first series would stay in the shadows, until Bandai Entertainment finally picked it up for English release in the mid-00s, using the name Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War, which honestly was for the better, as the actual translation is more like Fantastical Clockwork Tale: Record of Hiwou's War. While Bandai did hope to get the entire series out across three double-disc DVD singles throughout the second half of 2006, production & replication problems resulted in it taking close to two years to finish the release, ending in early 2008; former Bandai rep Robert Napton even called the release "cursed". Because of this, & the sheer obscurity of the series, it kind of became slightly infamous for a time, as FYE was selling brand new, sealed copies of Volume 1 for literally just $1.99! Even today, you can get all three volumes for super cheap, & there's next to nothing regarding the anime online, aside from the few reviews of the Bandai release, which tended to not like the show.

I originally reviewed this anime back in August of 2011, going completely off of memory, and I've always had the urge to rewatch it, seeing as it's now been a little over a decade since I last saw it. Is Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War still "proof that kids' anime can be good for everyone", or will all these years of new learning, like now knowing that Sho Aikawa was not the "creator" of Angel Cop (he only co-wrote the first episode), make me see this series with new eyes, & will it be for better or worse?

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Land of Obscusion's 10 Most-Wanted Anime Licenses from the Past 100 Months Part 2

Welcome back to my list of the 10 anime licenses I'd love to see happen the most, with the only restriction being that I had to have reviewed it at some point across the past 100 consecutive months. Still, I guess before I detail the final five, I should mention the titles that I had considered, before whittling things down to only ten. These "honorable mentions" include Arion, the Fuma no Kojirou OVAs, Kamen no Maid Guy, GaoGaiGar Final (Grand Glorious Gathering), One Outs, Ozanari Dungeon, & (yes) even Gundoh Musashi. Also, if you're curious, the manga & "others" that I'd also count would be Devil King (man, would I love to have a physical release of that manga), Otoko ZakaPara - The Parabiotic Guy, the Fuma no Kojirou J-Drama/tokusatsu, & Team Astro. So, with those out of the way, let's move on to the second half, which coincidentally features the more truly obscure anime that I've reviewed.

Hmmm, I could have organized these better, right?

Hareluya II BØY
I will fully admit that I am not someone who puts that much stock in the actual quality of the animation when I watch anime. Sure, I definitely appreciate & love seeing absolutely stunning & beautiful animation when I see it, and even I have my limits, but I generally treat the visual side of anime like I treat the graphical fidelity of video games, i.e. I focus more on the actual content of what's being offered than how good it looks; a sakuga nut I am not. I say this because the 1997 anime adaptation of Haruto Umezawa's 1992-1999 manga Hareluya II BØY can definitely be on the rougher side of animation, to the point where I would definitely see people poke fun at some its more awkward drawings, had this anime actually been more well known; instead, all there is online are three episodes fansubbed into English, & a crappy Chinese TV rip. Really, this is all likely because this was an early example of modern-day late-night "infomercial" anime, it was also the first time a Shonen Jump property aired in late-night, and a lot of anime from that time aimed to be as cheap as possible, resulting in some really shoddy work. What made me forgive BØY's sometimes really chintzy animation when I reviewed it, though, was pretty much everything else about it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Land of Obscusion's 10 Most-Wanted Anime Licenses from the Past 100 Months Part 1

Over the course of these past 100 months (yes, seriously, it's been that long), I've written 204 anime reviews (remember, I count my manga, game, & "other" reviews for the total #) covering a variety of series, movies, & one-offs. Of those, a fair amount of them either have seen an official English release in the past, or are currently available somewhere legally at this very moment. There are some I even reviewed back when they weren't licensed (Kaiji, Akagi, Doamygar-D, the Legend of the Galactic Heroes movies, the 1980s Saint Seiya movies, etc.), but have since received official English releases, either physically or at least via streaming. Still, I'd hazard a guess that the majority of my anime reviews are of titles that have never been given an official English release before, if even an English translation of any sort, official or fansub, whatsoever. Therefore, as I prepare to take a month-long break & move into fewer articles per month starting May, allow me to list off my the 10 anime I've reviewed from these past 100 months that I'd love to see licensed for English release the most.

Why not 12, like usual? Because that'd require me to wait until 120 consecutive months, and I'm not doing that. Still, for anyone that knows me, you can guess what one of these titles is, so let's just get the obvious one out of the way first.

Ring ni Kakero 1
If it seems like I try to make any excuse to harp on this subject, to the point where it might seem like I'm beating a dead horse, it's only because it literally feels like I'm the only one who actually cares about this series that speaks English. Seriously, to say that was shocked to have found Honey's Anime & Bounding into Comics bringing up this series within the past year would be an understatement. Also, I can almost guarantee that, had this anime simply been licensed back during the 00s, or simulcasted at the start of this decade, I'd probably only bring it up on absolutely rare occasion, simply because I would have been happy enough to have seen this anime be given even a basic attempt in North America. Instead, though, it's essentially lavished in obscurity, being given an inadvertent mass ignorance by people to the point where not even those who make it their duties to finish up fansubs that were dropped by others seem to care about giving even that much of a glance to this anime. Seriously, the second half of Season 3 & all of Season 4, a total of just 9 episodes, have yet to see any sort of English translation in general, almost a decade later; hell, most people don't even know that these last two seasons even exist at all. But I think I've gotten way ahead of myself, so let me explain what Ring ni Kakero 1 even is, in the first place.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Obscusion B-Side: Big in Japan, 25 Years Ago? The 3DO's Secret Japanese Life

In September of 1991, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins founded The 3DO Company with an interesting concept: Developing a video game console that would be produced by partner companies. Yes, instead of manufacturing a console by itself, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer was only designed by The 3DO Company, with the likes of Panasonic, GoldStar, Sanyo & even Creative Labs being the ones that produced the actual console itself (or a PC-compatible ISA card, in the case of the last company); Toshiba & AT&T even had units in the works, but never saw release. When the first model of the 3DO, Panasonic's FZ-1 R·E·A·L, finally saw release in October of 1993 in North America, it was hailed as Time magazine's "Product of the Year", but was also frowned upon by the general public for being sold at an MSRP of $699.99; that's nearly $1,220 in 2019! Now to be fair, the machine was conceived of as being more than simply a video game console (hence the word "multiplayer"), and even the company's name was meant to represent the next form of media (video, audio, 3DO... get it?), but after a year the price was cut down to $399.99, or ~$700 in 2019. In the end, the 3DO console wound up being discontinued in late 1996, selling somewhere over 2 million units (though this could just be across Panasonic's products, which were the best-sellers), and today has become nothing more than a cult-favorite amongst some retro gaming fans. Still, all talk you can find about the 3DO revolves around its North American presence, but what about its time in Japan?

Hmmm, this isn't the 3DO most people think of, now is it?

Releasing in March of 1994 at an MSRP of 79,800 yen, though most places actually sold it for 54,800, the 3DO actually had a moderately successful launch, shipping about 70,000 units to 10,000 stores, & it was promoted alongside the image of Alfred Einstein, interestingly enough; the fact that it was a Western system did give it a slight stigma, though. While the console didn't last long in the country, with the last game being Capcom's Ide Yusuke Meijin no Shin Jissen Mahjong in mid-1996, would you believe that there may have been more potential interest in the 3DO in Japan than anywhere else in the world? For example, over the three years of life the console had, about 286 games saw release, but only 162 of those, or roughly 57%, were released in North America, with only 65 of those being exclusive to the region. In comparison, the Japanese 3DO saw 214 games released, and 139 of those were only ever released in Japan. Yes, nearly 50% of the 3DO's entire lineup of games was Japan-exclusive; in fact, ~75% of the entire library saw a Japanese release, in general. It wasn't just games that Japan had more of, either, as the country also saw two region-exclusive machines: Panasonic's "ROBO" CD Changer, a modified FZ-1 that had a five-CD tray, & Sanyo's TRY, which saw release in March of 1995 (see above). South Korea even had its own exclusive unit, GoldStar's Alive II, which looked like a round-edged PlayStation; the Alive I is the model most people associate with GoldStar's 3DO.

There was also a Japan-exclusive Memory Expansion Unit that added another 256 KB of save space to utilize; like (most of) the games, though, it is region-free. Another Japan-exclusive accessory was one that plugged into the console's (otherwise never utilized) expansion port that allowed the console to play Video CDs, similar to how the Sega Saturn could be given that capability through plug-in cards. Finally, in the past year or so people have found out that a later, Japan-only revision of the FZ-1 included a "Mode A-B" switch on the back, replacing the RF output, which allows the user to have the console display at the original 240p video resolution, instead of the 480i upscale that the 3DO usually does. This results in games looking much crisper than usual, and there can even be some improved performance, since the console now has extra power to use, as it's no longer up-converting the signal; some games, like Another World or Escape from Monster Manor, do run too fast by using Mode B, however.

Sure, a number of the more notable Japanese-developed 3DO games did see release around the word, like Guardian War/Powers Kingdom, both Iron Angel of the Apocalypse/Tetsujin games, Burning Soldier, Lucienne's Quest/Sword & Sorcery, Starblade, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble, & Strahl. Still, what about those other 139 Japan-exclusive games that comprise nearly half of the console's entire library? Therefore, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the 3DO's launch in Japan, here are 14 of the most notable Japan-exclusive releases (plus one special bonus) that I feel you should know about.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Grappler Baki: Maximum Tournament: "All Alone" with Yet More "Child Prey"

The "tournament arc" is possibly one of the most iconic & representative pieces of an action manga, and it makes perfect sense. It's an arc that represents the most basic of desires in this kind of story, the urge to become stronger to combat tougher foes, and the reasons behind the fighting don't need anything more than "being the best", though one can always add in something extra to give it a little more "oomph". Similarly, people love tournaments in pretty much any form of combat sport, so it was only the natural way of things for Keisuke Itagaki to eventually tell his own take on the tournament arc in Grappler Baki. In fact, out of a total 42 volumes, this tournament covers roughly 22 volumes, or just slightly over half of the entire manga! So, after Baki's early days as a 13-year old boy & his days as the champion of the Underground Arena, what kinds of insanity can be found within Grappler Baki: Maximum Tournament, the second season of Free-Will & Group TAC's adaptation of the original manga?

Baki Hanma has proven himself to be the undefeated champion of Mitsunari Tokugawa's underground arena for a few years now, and even the likes of the Shinogi Brothers & Mt. Toba have proven to be incapable of besting him. Therefore, Tokugawa decides to try something different to help keep things fresh & give his champion a true test of his abilities: The Maximum Tournament. A 32-man tournament, split up into four blocks of 8 (plus four reserves, just in case), featuring the absolute toughest in the world, spanning various fighting styles. From known faces like Doppo Orochi, Kaoru Hanayama, the Shinogi Brothers, Mt. Toba (as a reserve), & Baki himself, to top professional fighters like boxinc champion Ian McGregor & wrestling legend Kanji "Antonio" Igari, to infamous names like biker gang leader Chiharu Shiba, Doppo's foster son Katsumi Orochi, legendary jujutsu fighter Goki Shibukawa, & Chinese kempo master Retsu Kaio, plus unheard of warriors like Yujiro Hanma's personal pick Yu Amanai or Canadian pit fighter Jack Hammer, this will be a tournament unlike any other.