Saturday, February 29, 2020

Bastard!! (The Dark Rebel Armies): You Know Where You Are? You in the Jungle, Baby... You Gonna Die!

Kazushi Hagiwara has been a reckless, devil-may-care sort of person his entire life. Born in 1963, he repeated the first year of high school three times before running away from home at the age of 17, taking a solo trip around Hokkaido on a 50cc motorcycle & eventually just dropping out of school; he was inspired to enter manga after reading Go Nagai's Devilman & Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan. Eventually, he'd return home & attend Tokyo Designer University to become an illustrator, where he'd become friends with another student named Hirohisa Tsuruta, who'd later become the creator of 90s manga Natsuki Crisis. While at school, Hagiwara managed to get himself hired as an assistant to "Dirty" Matsumoto, a renowned hentai artist, for two years while also attending classes, during which Hagiwara, Tsuruta, & another student named Yumi Morio (not to be confused with the Japanese actress of similar age) teamed up to create a one-shot named Made Genius, the first manga any of the three ever made. After graduating from Tokyo Designer University at the age of 22 in 1985, Hagiwara saw that Weekly Shonen Jump was recruiting for assistants & leaped at the opportunity, finding himself under the wing of Izumi Matsumoto (absolutely no relation to Dirty) during the serialization of Kimagure Orange Road.

While working for Matsumoto, Hagiwara found the time to draw an original romantic comedy one-shot of his own, Binetsu/Slight Fever Rouge, which appeared in the 1987 Shonen Jump Summer Special & shot straight to the #1 spot with readers. This resulted in Hagiwara being asked to produce a second one-shot, which would result in him having to leave Matsumoto's employment before KOR's final chapter, which was coming soon. Said second one-shot, a swords-&-sorcery fantasy story titled Wizard!!: Lord of the Fiery Explosion, appeared in Issue #47 of Weekly Shonen Jump in 1987, and was another hit with readers. After one last rom-com one-shot, Virgin Tyrant, in the Winter Special at the start of 1988, Hagiwara was asked to make a serialization & he decided to expand upon Wizard!!. It was edited by the late Toshimasa Takahashi, who Hagiwara met while assisting on KOR & would go on to become Jump's seventh editor-in-chief, before suddenly passing away in 2003 at the age of 44, due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage. So, in Issue #14 of 1988, Bastard!!: The Destructive God of Darkness made its debut, where it remains the only serialized manga that Kazushi Hagiwara has ever done. The story of Bastard!!'s serialization is honestly interesting in & of itself, and it (mostly) lines up with each new story arc, so for this review let's look at the first part of Hagiwara's epic post-apocalyptic fantasy: The Dark Rebel Armies.

"It was an Age of Lawlessness... Of Disorder & Chaos... Blood & Steel, Flesh & Bone... An Age of Magic". Fifteen years ago, an evil wizard named Dark Schneider, alongside his his "Four Divine Kings", lead demonic forces in an effort to rule the land, only to be stopped when the legendary Dragon Knight managed to defeat Dark Schneider, while Geo Noto Soto, High Priest of the Kingdom of Meta-Rikana, sealed him away; this would be known as the Golem War. Now, the Four Divine Kings are renewing their attempt to create a utopian "Sorcerer's Kingdom" with forces called the Dark Rebel Armies, and have already taken down the Kingdom of Judas, making it their base of operations. When Castle Meta-Rikana is suddenly attacked while the King, his best forces, & the High Priest are out, Geo's daughter, Cleric-in-training Tia Noto Yoko, remembers that she was told by her father that a powerful force resides in Lucien Renlen, Yoko's surrogate little brother who Geo adopted as a baby after the Golem War, one that can only be released by the kiss of a virgin... Like Yoko! Under duress, because she values her purity, Yoko kisses Lucien, releasing the seal on Dark Schneider. Unfortunately, "D.S" is still the same 400-year old, self-centered, careless, greedy, vain, reckless, short-tempered, unreasonable, crafty, pompous, horny, & violent wizard that he always was... But there's still just enough of the kind & trusting Lucien inside of him to make him willing to fight back against his old friends, even making some wonder why D.S. has become slightly friendlier & even altruistic. The Four Divine Kings ultimate goal, however, is in the form of Anthrasax, the "God of Destruction" that destroyed the world centuries ago before getting sealed away, with the four kingdoms (Meta-Rikana, Judas, Aian-Meide, & Waitos-Neiki) housing the seals themselves, as they feel that Anthrasax can help create their utopia.

Friday, February 14, 2020

One Last Ride into the Winds of Saṃsāra: A Look at Fuma no Kojirou: Ultimate Final Edition

Masami Kurumada's Fuma no Kojirou/Kojirou of the Wind, the manga he did after finishing up Ring ni Kakero, has never really had the benefit of being given a proper farewell. The original 1982-1983 run looked to have been ended early by Kurumada himself, as his father passed away during that time, which in turn killed his enthusiasm for continuing the manga; the death also made him quit smoking, too. While I do still feel to some small extent that Kurumada also finally just felt ready to start making Otoko Zaka (life is only so long, after all), his father's death would also certainly explain why the last story arc of FnK, the Fuma Rebellion Chapter, was so fatalistic, nearly becoming a Yoshiyuki Tomino-esque "kill-em-all". Regardless, the original manga's ending was rather sudden, with Kojirou defeating the villain of the arc, followed by literally just a handful of pages that end with Kojirou running into the distance with the flag of the Fuma Clan; it didn't feel like much of a resolution. Twenty years later, Kurumada had a second chance with 2003's Fuma no Kojirou: Yagyu Ansatsucho/The Yagyu Assasination Pledge, a full-on sequel, drawn by former assistant Satoshi Yuri, that was meant to show how Kojirou would become the leader of a new generation of Fuma ninja. Unfortunately, that went into indefinite hiatus in 2006, and today it still remains unfinished after only 16 chapters across three volumes, & a 17th chapter that was serialized but never got collected.

It would take another 13 years for Fuma no Kojirou to be given one last chance at a proper finale.

Look, I don't make the rules here...
"The Greatest Comic Writer" is Kurumada.

In July of 2019, Akita Shoten announced that Kurumada would be drawing a brand new Fuma no Kojirou short story, subtitled Jou no Maki/Prelude Chapter, in Champion RED magazine the following month that took place before the original manga's first arc, the Yasha Chapter. When the manga, which would run for three issues & total 75 pages, debuted that August, it was also announced that there would be a brand new re-release of Fuma no Kojirou starting the following November. Titled the "Kyukyoku Saishuban/Ultimate Final Edition" (& released by Shogakukan, of all publishers; there's even an official Twitter page!), it would collect the entire 10-volume manga across three giant tomes, each over 700 pages long, & would include all of the original color pages, title splashes, & end-of-chapter text, 100% reproduced from the original Shonen Jump run, as well as bonus content. November's Volume 1 contained the entirety of Prelude Chapter, followed by all of the Yasha Chapter. December's Volume 2 housed most of the Sacred Sword War Chapter, which was literally half of the entire series, plus a 15-page "rare illustration" gallery, with some images that had never been seen by readers before. Finally, January 2020's Volume 3 was home to the rest of the Sacred Sword War Chapter, all of the Fuma Rebellion Chapter... And a brand new, never before seen, 14-page Tsui no Maki/Final Chapter epilogue; after almost 40 years later, Kurumada was able to give this series a proper sendoff. Naturally, I pre-ordered all three books as soon as I could, and now they've all arrived together, so instead of a traditional "review", I'll just go over what the Ultimate Final Edition brings to the table, as well as what these two new "Chapters" do for the overall story of Fuma no Kojirou.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Kiss Dum R - Engage Planet: Gentlemen, We can Rebuild it Better than it was Before... Better, Stronger, Faster

Previously on Volume 16 of Demo Disc:
"...You can tell that I decided to focus this Demo Disc more on Kiss Dum's apparent production hell, and how that seemed to radically alter the direction the story took, alongside the sometimes rough visuals, rather than have it be a direct assessment of things like storytelling, the characters, or the people behind the animation, visual style, designs, music, or voice work.

That's because Engage Planet Kiss Dum did eventually see a home video release, one that actually did see the series officially make it outside of Japan."

Satelight's sixth original anime production didn't work out quite like how it was intended, either as the sci-fi novel adaptation it was originally intended to be, or as the original story that Yasuchika Nagaoka conceived before having to effectively bow out due to whatever problems he was having; the staff apparently did had a rough scenario to work off of, but that's all. A DVD release was planned to start in June of 2007, & had even been licensed for English release by Bandai Visual USA, before getting delayed to that July & then being "indefinitely postponed". You see, even with the problems that came about, the staff for Kiss Dum were driven to deliver the best product that they could muster, and what aired on TV Tokyo in late-night was simply not good enough for them. They wanted another go at it, and this time they'd do it "right".

So, on April 27, 2008, Kiss Dum R - Engage Planet (again, the halves are essentially interchangeable) re-debuted on TV, this time airing midday on AT-X, TV Tokyo's anime-focused satellite service. It would start airing a few days later on fellow satellite channel BS-11, with each episode there being followed by a short, minute-long segment called Road to Kiss Dum R, where the staff & cast openly discussed the production of the original version. As for Yasuchika Nagaoka, he was apparently not a part of this "retake" of Kiss Dum, though he was re-credited for "Original Concept", replacing the "World Business Enterprise" that had replaced him on the original TV airing; he was also still credited as "Chief Director". In turn, director Hidekazu "Eiichi" Sato, who went on to direct Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline as a Japan/France co-production following Kiss Dum's original airing, took full control of this new version. Once this airing ended, though, a home video release was still nowhere to be found. However, an online survey done by the Blu-Ray Disc Association in July of 2009 saw Kiss Dum ranked at the third-most-wanted anime to see a BD release, at least within the small sample that took the survey, beating out the likes of Clannad, Toradora!, Gurren Lagann, & The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Three years later, when this new version got re-aired on BS-11, the Road to Kiss Dum R segments for Episodes 1 to 18 got replaced with Kiss Dum R Information, and along with that came a new website titled "Road to Kiss Dum R BD", which featured documentary-esque footage starring Sato as he revealed plans to finally give Kiss Dum R a home video release, complete with brand new OVA episode; later that June, it was announced that enough pre-orders had been made to put the release into production. Finally, in September of 2017, it was announced that Maiden Japan would give Kiss Dum R an official English release on BD, a decade after Bandai Visual USA's original announcement; within a year the entire show was streaming on Hidive, with the addition of the OVA to its catalog. So, after everything this series had gone through, how did it end up, is it truly any better than the original TV version, & did the staff manage to stick the landing & deliver a proper ending?

[NOTE: If you would like a proper introduction & initial synopsis of Kiss Dum's plot, please read the first few paragraphs of the Demo Disc article linked at the top.]