Sunday, December 26, 2021

Theory Musing: An Alternate Take on Anime Licensing... And Why It'd Never Actually Work

On December 11, 2021, Pluto TV started streaming The Gutsy Frog, TMS' 1972-1974 anime adaptation of Yasumi Yoshizawa's comedy manga classic (& one of Shonen Jump's earliest hit manga), an anime which had never seen official English release before, or at least in a fashion that was widely available like this. For example, it had previously had an English subbed broadcast in Hawaii back in the day, which did happen for some anime over the decades, due to Hawaii's notable Japanese population. Unfortunately, it was quickly found out that the subtitle translation for Pluto TV's streams were of "dubious" quality, leaving some to wonder if TMS had actually gone with a literal machine translation, while others wonder if TMS simply just used the same translation as that old Hawaiian broadcast; either way, the translation was absolute crap & made the show hard to enjoy properly. Unfortunately, this is something that has honestly started becoming slightly more common as more companies start offering Japanese media when they traditionally aren't experienced in it beforehand; just look at the translations for Mill Creek's releases of shows like The Ultraman or Gridman: The Hyper Agent. To be honest, I can't exactly fault these companies, as they are simply looking for content to put out, and if there's already an existing translation (no matter how unknown it was publicly in the past) then they'll use it.

However, incidents like these remind me of a concept I've continually had in my head for a number of years, one that would technically reduce the likelihood of subpar translations being used for titles (especially anime) that would otherwise almost never get traditionally licensed. Unfortunately, every time I think about this concept I come to same conclusion... IT'D NEVER WORK OUT. So allow me some time to ruminate my thoughts & feelings regarding this concept.

While the absolute ins & outs of anime licensing will forever remain a trade secret (& for good reason), there have been articles in the past decade that have helped explain the general idea of how it works. Things like how long a license generally lasts (5-7 years has been the usual standard ever since the mid-00s or so), what a "minimum guarantee/MG" is, certain terms of agreements when it comes to stuff like regions & restrictions, & even a rough idea of who to talk to to get things going are now general knowledge, or at least can be found out relatively easily. However, this also means that, for the most part, anime licensing follows a relatively rigid format, one that doesn't really allow for much experimentation to be done. Aside from finer details involving the differences between streaming & home video, licensing an anime usually comes down to the same path, which would be "Get the license for a set amount of time, upon which the licensee has to produce a release with hopes that it will do well enough to not just recoup the total costs of the MG & production of said release, but also continue selling so as to make a profit for the licensee, upon which the original licensor starts getting regular royalty payments for said license". This has been the standard for decades, and doesn't look to change in any way, for good reason.

So what exactly is the point of my concept?

Monday, December 20, 2021

Ninja Bugeicho (Band of Ninja): A Manga Adaptation In Its "Purest" Form?

On October 8, 2021, Noboru Okamoto passed away at age 89, due to aspiration pneumonia; four days later, his brother Tatsuji passed away of interstitial pneumonia. However, Noboru Okamoto was better known by his pen name, Sanpei Shirato, one synonymous with things like the rise of gekiga during the 60s & 70s, the foundation of gekiga magazine Garo, and his penchant for social criticism by way of stories involving ninja, while Tatsuji was an occasional collaborator with his brother. However, what's even more interesting is that Shirato's apparent left-leaning stories were influenced in part by his father, Toki Okamoto (1903-1986), who himself had a notable life. Toki was a well known proletariat painter & good friend of Takiji Kobayashi, author of the 1929 short story Crab Cannery Ship who was summarily tortured & killed in 1933 by the infamous Tokko (a.k.a. the "Thought Police") because of his socialist ideals; Toki was one of the people photographed with Kobayashi's corpse shortly afterwards. Also, in 1929, Toki taught some 19-year old nobody called Akira Kurosawa how to paint... I guess that name rings a bell, right?

Anyway, Noboru Okamoto's dream was to become an equal to his father as an artist, and initially started off drawing images for kamishibai shows. In 1957, he was encouraged by Kazuma Maki (a female mangaka who was also in the same theater troupe as him) to enter manga, so after working under Maki as an assistant for a short bit "Sanpei Shirato" made his professional debut with the short story The Kogarashi Swordsman later that August. After two years of producing rental manga, Shirato made his non-rental debut in 1959 with Ninja Bugeicho/The Ninja Martial Arts Book, later getting the subtitle Kagemaru-den/The Tale of Kagemaru, which was published by Sanyosha (now known as Seirindo), a publisher founded by Katsuichi Nagai, who would later become the first editor-in-chief of Garo magazine. Ninja Bugeicho would run until 1962 for 17 volumes, its length being a rarity at the time (it rivaled the likes of Astro Boy & Tetsujin 28!), and today is not only considered one of the earliest gekiga stories, but it quickly found itself a fervent fanbase among left-leaning students & intellectuals, who felt that its themes mirrored that of the Anpo protests that were happening at the same time; Shirato denied that this was intentional, however. Though a pilot was made for a potential TV anime in 1969 by TCJ (now Eiken), which Shirato apparently denied, Ninja Bugeicho did find itself adapted into film in 1967 by Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas, Mr. LawrenceIn the Realm of the Senses), which over the years has also been referred to as both Band of Ninja & Tales of the Ninja. For the sake of clarity, I'll use Ninja Bugeicho when referring to the manga, but Band of Ninja when referring to the movie.

However, Band of Ninja today is infamous because of the way it was produced, making it possibly the most unique film in Nagisa Oshima's entire catalog... Which, from what I can tell as a complete Oshima neophyte, is definitely saying something.

Monday, December 13, 2021

There's a Whole "Sesang" Out There: North America's History with Korea's Long-Running Manhwa Part 2

While the world of traditional printed Korean manhwa is still around, it's definitely nowhere near the size it was back in the heyday of the medium, i.e. from the 90s to the late-00s. Part of that was due to a double-blow in 1997, which saw both a financial crisis in Eastern Asia (though not Japan or China, interestingly enough) & exclusive to South Korea was the passing of a "Youth Protection Law" that seemingly went a little too far, in some regards. Because of this, & likely other factors, many manhwa magazines eventually went out of business by the late 90s or during the 00s, while even the most successful magazines either consolidated with sibling magazines, slowed down publication pace, or did both. For example, Seoul Cultural's IQ Jump went from weekly to biweekly in mid-2005, followed by Daewon C.I.'s Comic Champ (which had been Boys Champ until 2002) doing the same at the start of 2006, while Haksan Publishing's Chance & Booking magazines both went from biweekly to monthly in 2009, before simply getting fused together into its current form, Chance Plus, in 2012.

What has helped keep these old printed magazines still relevant in today's webtoon-obsessed market? Namely, they've always had some help from their Easterly neighbor...

Wait, in South Korea, Dragon Ball & One Piece are in...
rival magazines?! Whaaaaaaaaaaaa........?????!!!!

Yes, you are not seeing things. Shueisha does not have a singular publishing partner in South Korea, so ever since the 90s it's worked with Seoul Cultural, Daewon C.I, & Haksan. Because of that, while Dragon Ball has been associated with a magazine called "Jump" over there ever since 1989, & it even shares a home with Shogakukan's Detective Conan ("Dogs & cats living together; mass hysteria!"), titles like One Piece, Naruto, Boruto, & even Slam Dunk are associated with Champ, while something like Spy x Family currently runs in Chance Plus. However, also residing in those same magazines are homegrown Korean manhwa, some of which would thrive alongside their Japanese cohorts, so let's return to those long-running manhwa that actually did see English release, and see how much (or little) we actually received of some of the longest manhwa of all time. A couple of them are so long, in fact, that they even rival the likes of Naruto, Bleach, & Gintama; one not only surpasses them all, but is still running to this very day!

TokyoPop was responsible for a literal 2/3 of the titles in this second half, and it just so happens that the first five we'll be covering all come from that publisher.

Monday, December 6, 2021

There's a Whole "Sesang" Out There: North America's History with Korea's Long-Running Manhwa Part 1

On November 18, 2021 it was announced by Wattpad Webtoon Studios that it would launch the "Webtoon Unscrolled" imprint, which would release popular & successful webtoons, a type of manhwa (South Korea's equivalent to Japan's manga) in physical & digital graphic novels, rather than only have them be available in the scrollable "infinite canvas" online format that they have become popular with. Today, whenever anyone thinks of manhwa they instantly think of webtoons, but that concept is actually relatively recent, having only been introduced in 2003 (& not leaving South Korea officially until 2014), while the concept of South Korean comics has been around for much longer than that. The term "manhwa" first came about in the 1920s, while the first manhwa magazine, Manhwa Haengjin ("Comic Parade"), didn't happen until 1948 (though it was quickly shut down), & South Korea's first "boy's manhwa" magazine wasn't until 1988 with Seoul Cultural Publisher's IQ Jump; it's never been confirmed to be named after Shonen Jump, but we all know the truth. From IQ Jump's debut to the time when webtoons started to really overtake printed manhwa (which looks to be around 2010 or so), South Korea had its own competitive printed comic industry that went by mostly unnoticed by the rest of the world... Until the turn of the millennium, that is.

While in Japan it's Sunday, Magazine, & Jump,
in South Korea it's Chance, Champ, &... Jump.
Some things are universal, I guess.

Starting in the early 00s, during the original North American manga boom, numerous manga publishers started licensing various manhwa, in an attempt to expand out into other countries' take on comics; a handful also tried out Chinese manhua. While some series did see great success in English during this time, like Ragnarök by Lee Myung-Jin & Priest by Hyung Min-Woo, most manhwa were seemingly looked at by North American manga fans at the time as nothing more than second-rate, or even seen as "bootleg manga" because of its country of origin, which is unfortunate; luckily, manhwa has continued to see occasional release in English to this day. However, while many shorter manhwa did manage to see complete release (or eat least mostly-complete release) during the 00s, & today most manhwa released in English are shorter series, it should be remembered that manhwa is indeed an entire industry in South Korea, and while webtoons are now the primary way people read them there are still print manhwa magazines to this day, with the big three being Daewon C.I.'s Comic Champ (which debuted in 1991), Haksan Publishing's Chance Plus (its legacy reaching back to 1995), & the aforementioned IQ Jump. In fact, Daewon, Haksan, & Seoul Cultural were where the majority of manhwa were licensed from during the 00s. Because of that history, there are obviously various manhwa that wound up running for long periods of time, & some are even are still running to this day.

Unbeknownst to most, a good number of those long-running manhwa did see English release at one point or another, but unfortunately pretty much all of them wound up being unfinished over here; some got a decent amount released, while others barely went anywhere. So let's take a general look at all the ones I could identify, with a minimum length of 20 volumes, and see how each one of them fared.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Acrobunch: The Quest for Treasure: Goblins... Why Did It Have to be Goblins?

I've written about the unique history of mech anime that came during the 80s from the duo of anime studio Kokusai Eigasha/Movie International Co., Ltd. & anime writer Masaru "Yu" Yamamoto a couple of times in the past on this blog. Back in 2012 I did a general overview of MIC's giant robots to see if they were "innovators" or just mere "oddities", while in 2018 I did something similar for Yu Yamamoto's overall history of mech anime, due to him passing away about a week prior. However, I have never actually had the opportunity to watch any of MIC & Yamamoto's conceptually interesting mech anime, outside of an episode or two, primarily because they were not easily available to English-speaking anime fandom; there were some fansubs here & there, but the actual quality of the translations varied wildly. The most I had previously covered here was the first episode of Galaxy Whirlwind Sasuraiger back on Volume 5 of Demo Disc in 2016.

However, in just the year 2021 alone, things have changed in all the best ways.

On February 23 of this year, Discotek Media released Makyo Densetsu/Legend of the Mysterious Places Acrobunch on SD-BD, under the wonderfully localized title of Acrobunch: The Quest for Treasure (though the Japanese-conceived English name of "Acrobunch in Devil-Land" is a close second). This is MIC & Yamamoto's second collaborative mecha effort, which debuted back in mid-1982 as freshman effort Galaxy Cyclone Braiger was entering its last few episodes; Discotek would later release Braiger on SD-BD on September 28. Acrobunch would run for 24 episodes while the second entry in Yamamoto's iconic J9 Series, Galaxy Gale Baxinger, was also in production; they aired on completely different days on completely different networks, though. Also of note is that halfway into Acrobunch's run, alongside a change in air date & time, MIC outsourced the animation to Toei, which was helping MIC out with some other shows during that time, including both Braiger & Baxinger; because of this, each half has some unique staff, namely directors.

So, after nearly 40 years, let's see if Acrobunch: The Quest for Treasure is a journey filled with fortune & glory, and if it belongs in a museum.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Eighteen(?!) Older Manga That Deserve License Rescues Part 3

So when I put out Part 2 of this of manga license rescues, it was brought up that I kind of made the latter days of the 00s manga boom era sound like it was a "Fall of Rome" situation, and the fact of the matter is that it kind of was. Easily the biggest blow to that era was the downfall of Borders, which was one of the strongest supporters of the manga industry at that time, essentially the equivalent that Suncoast was for the anime industry. The death of that retailer across 2010 & 2011, combined with the Great Recession that happened in 2008, made it tough for publishers to continue like they had before, though the likes of Viz Media, Yen Press, Seven Seas, & Kodansha USA managed to survive & continue going. However, the bigger indication is in just the sheer amount of publishers that simply didn't even make it to the death of Borders, showing just how bloated the manga market had become by the end of the decade, and this was before the modern days of simulpublishing & a much more prevalent digital footprint. To most people who got into manga within the past ten years, they won't know anything about the likes of CMX (DC's manga label), Go! Comi (co-founded by the late David Wise), ADV Manga, ComicsOne, DrMaster, Broccoli Books, Infinity Studios (which picked up ComicsOne's various Korean manhwa & was also an early proponent of digital releases), Del Ray Manga (the precursor to Kodansha USA, essentially), or even that Media Blasters once had its own manga division, & that TokyoPop went into hibernation for the better part of a decade before coming back.

I guess, if anything, that's where a list like this truly has value, as it shows just how long manga has been coming out in English, and what plenty of readers missed out on & should be given the chance to read today. So, with all of that out of the way, let's go over six more manga that were picked by others over on Twitter, and put an end to this supersized list.

One of the most common comparisons that's usually made in regards to "Manga vs. Comics" is that manga isn't primarily identified by way of costumed superheroes, though it is somewhat ironic that one of the biggest modern-day hits (My Hero Academia) is exactly that. However, Japan certainly has its own fair share of costumed/armored heroes, and Viz Media gave one of the most iconic a go back during the 90s. Debuting back in 1985 in the very first issue of Tokuma Shoten's Monthly Shonen Captain magazine, Bio-Booster Armor Guyver is easily the most iconic work from mangaka Yoshiki Takaya, also known for his adult manga (& mecha series Hades Project Zeorymer) under the pseudonym Moriwo Chimi. It tells the epic battle between Sho Fukamachi, a high school student who accidentally comes across Guyver Unit I, a biomechanical & symbiotic armor developed by the mysterious Cronos Corporation, and the monstrous Zoanoids that secretly wishes to rule the world. Yes, it sounds very similar to Kamen Rider, and that was the intention of Takaya's editor at the time, but it wound up becoming its own thing very quickly.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Eighteen(?!) Older Manga That Deserve License Rescues Part 2

In Part 1, I mentioned how the concept for a license rescue for manga is much rarer than it is for anime because of the sheer amount of manga that gets produced, resulting in publishers putting more focus towards licensing new works over rescuing older titles. However, that's only part of it, as there's another big reason to consider, and it's arguably even more important. You see, part of the appeal in an anime license rescue is that it can not only be released in better quality than before (an HD remaster, improved audio quality, a better translation, etc.), but it can also take up less shelf space than before, because of improvements in physical media storage, from the VHS to the DVD to the Blu-Ray (&, in certain instances, the SD-BD). It's just harder to do that for manga, as a page is a page is a page, with the best you can do being re-releasing an older manga via omnibuses, but even that can only help with shelf space so much. Sure, there is more merit to buying manga digitally, and there are tons of series today that are only available in that fashion, but physical will always be something to consider for a manga license rescue, and in that circumstance there's really not much else that can be done, in that regard, outside of small little changes, at least when compared to anime.

OK, that looks to be a good length for an intro, so let's move into Part 2 of this list of eighteen manga that I & others have felt deserve a new release in English. For this part we'll be looking at six manga that I've personally chosen, prior to going to Twitter for picks. Amusingly enough, none of my picks actually were brought up by others, so is that a bad thing... or a good thing? I'll let you decide!

We're starting things off with a series that I don't believe I've ever really brought up on the blog before, and by a creator I've never actually covered before: Kaori Ozaki. Making her debut back in 1993 & seeing her first serialization with 1995's Piano no Ue no Tenshi, Ozaki would see her biggest success with her second serilization, 1999's Meteor Methuselah, which ran in Shinshokan's shojo magazine Wings until 2011, lasting 11 volumes; Wings is a bi-monthly magazine, as in "every two months", hence why it took so long. The manga tells the story of Machika, the granddaughter of Zol the Grim Reaper, a bounty hunter with a nigh-perfect success rate... except for one man, Rain, who's nicknamed "Methuselah" for his seeming immortality. After Zol's passing, Machika takes up her grandfather's weapon & hunts after Rain, only for the two to eventually fall in love with each other, made all the more difficult due to Rain being repeatedly hunted after by Yuca, an old acquaintance who has the opposite power, i.e. Yuca can never stay dead, instead reincarnating into a new form every time. Simply put, Ozaki created a perfect fusion of shonen & shojo sensibilities, giving readers well done action sequences, a fittingly dramatic plot, characters you care about (even for the villains, to an extent!), & an absolutely perfect love story between Machika & Rain; plus, Ozaki's artwork is just outstanding. It is, without a doubt, one of the best manga I have ever come across by complete & total accident.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Eighteen(?!) Older Manga That Deserve License Rescues Part 1

Over the past decade+, this blog has played home to eleven different lists ("listicles", if you prefer) that gather together a wide variety of "older anime that deserve license rescues", some of which have since indeed been given that new lease on life, while others will likely never be given such a luxury. However, The Land of Obscusion is not a blog aimed exclusively at anime, though it is the main focus, so what about manga? Why have I never done a list of this type for manga? Simply put, it's because manga license rescues, let alone manga re-releases in general (i.e. not simply a reprint), are a rare breed in North America. While there is indeed an incalculable amount of anime out there over the course of history, it still pales in comparison to sheer inconceivable amount of manga that has been produced; quite simply, it's like comparing the size of the Moon to the Sun. There's just always so much new manga being produced that publishers will give priority to license towards, so whenever we do get a manga rescue by a different publisher or even a new release by the same publisher, it is both extremely rare & usually reserved for only the most notable of properties. Unlike when I make an anime license rescue list, I can't make such a list for manga with the idea that any of them could realistically happen, even if only hypothetically.

Still, I figure I should give sequential art from Japan previously licensed a spotlight, even if only once, and in doing so I asked people on Twitter to give me their own picks, to go alongside a selection of my own. However, what wound up happening was that I received so many picks that I decided to make this (possibly one-&-only) manga license rescue list super-sized, so instead of the standard two-part list of twelve this will be a three-part list of eighteen! Starting things off is the first half of what was chosen by others over on Twitter, and we begin with a series that, quite honestly, I am amazed is not still readily available, even if only digitally.

Ask any manga fan who's been around since the late 90s & early-to-mid 00s, and pretty much every single one of them will admit that they have "complicated" feelings when it comes to TokyoPop. I mean, this was the publisher that literally helped bring manga to the masses, shifting things over from comic book-style "floppies" to trade paperback "volumes" that were modeled off of the original Japanese tankouban (only larger), right down to requiring people to read from right to left, & changed the place to buy them from comic stores to bookstores like Barnes & Noble and (the long defunct) Borders. However, TokyoPop was also infamous for straight up licensing way too much crap, flooding bookstore shelves with numerous manga that just wasn't going to sell (not helped by all the other publishers putting titles out, many of which didn't last long), delivering translations that wildly varied in quality, books that often felt the cheapest, quality-wise, and I won't even bother to get into the OEL manga stuff, because otherwise this will never end. Regardless, TokyoPop was a big name during this time, and part of that was due to its extremely fruitful relationship with Kodansha, similar to how Viz Media was the home for just about any manga by Shueisha & Shogakukan. This finally brings us to GetBackers.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Oh Me, Oh My, OVA! β: We'll Have a Horrorshow Old Time!

It's that time of the year again, when a day that technically means "All Hallows' Eve", as in "the day before we celebrate the lives of all saints, known & unknown", is twisted into a celebration of the dark, mysterious, macabre, & scary; it truly is "Thriller Night". As is tradition on this blog, there must be a piece for All Saints' Eve, and preferably one that focuses on something scary, horrifying, spooky, or at the very least supernatural. With that in mind, let us return to a segment that I introduced earlier this year: Oh Me, Oh My, OVA!. For those who haven't read the pilot entry back in May, OM, OM, OVA! takes a look at the immense well that is the short-form Original Video Animation, i.e. anime released straight to home video that's no more than two episodes long, four productions at a time, with the pilot focusing on the earliest OVAs that came out between Dallos (the first ever OVA) & Megazone 23 (the first OVA hit). Therefore, let's celebrate Pervigilium Omnium Sanctorum, as they say in Latin, with a quartet of OVAs that aren't afraid to show monsters that shed some blood, raise some hell, & let loose some souls from within their mortal shells.

Are they the ones that you wanted? Are they your superbeasts?

Here's the rarely-seen Japanese title card!

As we always go in chronological order, we start with 1987's Lily C.A.T., which is based on an original script by the late Hisayuki Toriumi, who also directs. This OVA is notable in that it features two icons of character design on staff, with Yasuomi Umetsu handling the human characters & Yoshitaka Amano handling the monster. Streamline Pictures would license & released a dubbed VHS tape only in 1995, featuring many of the standard actors that the late Carl Macek relied on for his dubs at the time, and it even saw some TV time in North America back in the day via the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). Discotek Media would then license rescue it in 2014, releasing it on dual-audio DVD, making the original Japanese audio available for the time over here. So let's start things off with this cult-classic & see what Hisayuki Toriumi brought to the (dissection) table.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Ring ni Kakero 2: Let the Past Die; Kill It, If You Have To

The idea of a "next-generation" sequel, one that stars the children of the characters that starred in the original, is a tale as old as time, but what I want to focus on is the next-gen sequel that gets made for the same audience as the original, and in particular for manga. Specifically, there's the trend of iconic Shonen Jump manga getting next-gen sequels roughly a decade after the original ended, if not longer. No, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure doesn't count, since Parts 1-5 were originally serialized as a single overall series, with each successive one starting right after the previous one ended. Instead, the first "next-gen" sequel to a Shonen Jump manga looks to have been Kinnikuman II-Sei (a.k.a. Ultimate Muscle), the 1998 sequel to Yudetamago's iconic series, which debuted 11 years after the original ended in 1987. With the success of this series, we'd see next-gen sequels to the likes of Sakigake!! Otokojuku (10 years after the original), Midori no Makibao (10 years), Ginga ~Nagareboshi Gin~ (12 years), & Shaman King (8 years), to name a few. While not always a guarantee, a common trait shared in many of these next-gen sequels was in giving the original generation a sort of reverence that could sometimes border on pure, unbridled veneration, no doubt to help give readers a sense of wide-eyed nostalgia of when they read the originals all those years before, and maybe even get any newcomers interested in reading the originals.

However, one of the earliest next-gen Jump sequels went in a slightly different direction.

I've mentioned before how Masami Kurumada left Weekly Shonen Jump in 1992, and in late 1994 would debut B't X for Kadokawa Shoten's brand new Monthly Shonen Ace. After ending B't X, Kurumada would then return to Shueisha and, possibly influenced by what his friends Yudetamago were doing with Kinnikuman II-Sei (which would be amusingly ironic), decided that his next manga would be Ring ni Kakero 2, the next-gen sequel to the manga that originally put Kurumada on the map in Japan. Debuting in (the now defunct) biweekly seinen magazine Super Jump in early 2000 (just over 18 years after the original ended in late 1981), Kurumada would run RnK2 up until the end of 2008, ending it after 26 volumes, one more than the original, making it his second longest individual series, after Saint Seiya's 28. In fact, during those last two(-ish) years, Kurumada also debuted Saint Seiya: Next Dimension, the official continuation to Saint Seiya, in 2006 over at Akita Shoten's Weekly Shonen Champion, which is still running irregularly to this day. However, Ring ni Kakero remains the longer overall franchise at 51 total volumes, at least in terms of manga that Kurumada drew himself, 10 more than Saint Seiya's 41, as of this review.

It's interesting to compare both of Kurumada's sequels, because where Saint Seiya: Next Dimension has become notorious for sometimes feeling like a retread of what came before, as though relying on fans' nostalgia for the original, Ring ni Kakero 2 tends to play around with expectations more often than not, as though Kurumada is showing the "truth" hidden beneath the nostalgia. Does that make Ring ni Kakero 2 pretty much "The Last Jedi of Next-Gen Jump Sequels"? Let's find out.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Retrospect in Retrograde: Ring ni Kakero 1 (Anime)

OK, this whole thing has greatly exceeded even my own expectations, i.e. this is gonna be long, so strap yourselves in. Therefore, I'll just cut to the chase: Ring ni Kakero 1 is one of my favorite anime of all time, yet has gone so under the radar of English-speaking fandom for the past 17 years that it might as well have never existed in the first place. To say that this anime means something to me would be putting it lightly (it IS what truly made me a fan of Masami Kurumada, after all), and I even promised myself to never watch it again with an English translation until it gets licensed, because I wanted that translated re-watch to mean something. However, I think over a entire decade since the fourth season finished airing in mid-2011 is long enough time for me to break that completely arbitrary restriction and give the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime the Retrospect in Retrograde treatment, not to mention with today being the 40th Anniversary of the manga's final chapter.

It's rare to find an anime composed of individual seasons
that were made far enough apart to be done in two different aspect ratios!

When Masami Kurumada debuted Ring ni Kakero/Put It All in the Ring in Weekly Shonen Jump at the start of 1977, I'm sure absolutely no one had an inkling of how influential it would be on manga, specifically the kind of "shonen action" that would often be the most popular. I mean, Shueisha literally advertised it as "The Hot-Blooded Fighting Manga Bible" for its digital re-release in 2014. So when the final chapter came out at the tail end of 1981, it's no surprise that Jump gave it special, first-time-ever treatment by giving the first four pages "lead color" status (i.e. they were fully painted in color & started the entire issue of Jump), and giving the remaining pages "all color" status (i.e. they were all painted in tones of red), something that would only be replicated later on in the 90s with Dragon Ball & Slam Dunk; Naruto would then offer fully-painted (digital) color for the entirety of its final chapter in 2014. To this day, you can still trace almost any popular action series' style & execution, especially those in Jump, to Ring ni Kakero in some way, because they are still following the "bible" that Kurumada wound up writing.

"So why didn't RnK receive an anime back in the day, if it was so successful?", you might be asking...

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Ring ni Kakero vs. Ring ni Kakero 1: When a Measly "1" Makes All the Difference

October 12, 2021 (or somewhere thereabout) will mark the 40th Anniversary of the final chapter of Masami Kurumada's first hit manga, Ring ni Kakero. Aside from being one of my personal favorite manga of all time, this specific anniversary is important, historically, in the annals of Weekly Shonen Jump, as RnK was the first time Jump ever had given a final chapter the top position for an issue, i.e. it was the first thing readers saw when they opened up Issue #44 of 1981. Not just that, but it had both full-color opening pages, i.e. "lead color", & red-toned "all-color" pages for the rest, something that would only be exactly duplicated with Dragon Ball & Slam Dunk's respective finales in the mid-90s; if you want more info on that stuff, I covered it earlier this year. Following a falling out in the early 90s, Kurumada would leave Jump (& Shueisha) for the rest of the decade, before returning in 2000 with next-gen sequel Ring ni Kakero 2. With this new manga in the works, it was decided to reprint Ring ni Kakero, but this time things would be different.

Even the logo was changed to reflect what
the sequel's logo looks like.

Prior to Kurumada's return to Shueisha in 2000, Ring ni Kakero had received three releases: The original 25-volume tankouban release from 1978-1983, the 15-volume wideban release from 1992-1993, & the 15-volume bunkoban release from 1998-1999. Aside from the latter two containing more pages/volume than the first, they're pretty much exactly the same, & this is perfectly normal for most manga re-releases. However, this fourth release wound up being especially different from the others. Released two volumes/month from September 4, 2001 to May 1, 2002 under the "Jump Comics Deluxe" label, which is what all Super Jump manga (like RnK 2) were published under, Ring ni Kakero 1 was an 18-volume "Deluxe Edition" release of the original series, now given a "1" in the title to differentiate it not just from the sequel, but also all of the prior releases of the manga. Yes, despite everything you read online, including the manga's own English Wikipedia page, the "Ring ni Kakero 1" manga PREDATES the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime, by about 2-3 years, and in fact the anime technically lists this specific release (right down to the "1" & JCDX label) in the "Original Work" part of the opening credits of every single episode. Not just that, but if you visit Masami Kurumada's own website, he lists Ring ni Kakero & Ring ni Kakero 1 as completely separate works in his catalog.

So what's so special about this "Deluxe Edition"? Isn't it just yet another reprint of the first series, only now with a number in the title, for whatever reason? Oh, if only it were just that simple...

Monday, September 27, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1994 (Part 1)

"Overall, the Atari Jaguar's starting line-up isn't spectacular, but at the same time it is just a test launch. I'm sure better games will be available by the time the nationwide launch happens the next year."

As Atari's "final" home console enters a new calendar year, the test market launch is still in effect, and will remain so for the next five months. Because of that, there really isn't much available for the console outside of those original four games, and do remember that one of them is a pack-in. Meanwhile, at the Winter CES show that January, SN Systems (which had experience creating development hardware for game consoles) secretly showed Sony a prototype dev kit, which helped push Sony forward with the eventual production of the PlayStation, which had been publicly announced the past October. Also at this same CES, Sega internally decided to create a piece of hardware in response to the Atari Jaguar... We'll get back to that later. Later, on March 20, the 3DO saw release in Japan, where it'd shockingly receive not only the largest overall number of game releases (close to 3/4 of the entire catalog), & even two exclusive console variants, but nearly half of the 3DO's entire catalog was Japan-exclusive!

However, on April 13, just a few weeks shy of the console's nationwide release in North America, the Atari Jaguar would see its first new game for the year, and thankfully it wound up becoming one of the console's most beloved.

Released in arcades back in 1981 & programmed by Dave Theurer, Tempest was the first game ever released for Atari's Color-Quadrascan vector display tech, and quickly became a big hit with its hectic shooting action & sense of actual progression from one stage to another, since each one was different from what came before. When came time for Atari's return to the console market with the Jaguar, the company held a gathering at a gaming convention with various developers, in which a list of old Atari games was shown & the developers could choose which one they each wanted to reinterpret for the Jaguar. Jeff Minter, an English designer who had his own studio called Llamasoft, volunteered to take Tempest, since it was one of his favorite games. When he attended the console's launch party in late 1993, the creator of the Jaguar told Minter that he felt that Minter's game was a poor demonstration of the console's capabilities, and while Minter was dismayed at the response, he still pushed through & finished the game. The end result is Tempest 2000, a game that's perfect proof that, in the end, gameplay is key, because this game is absolutely outstanding.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: The Surprisingly (If Fitting) Perpetual Life of Chakan: The Forever Man in Print

In the early 1980's, aspiring comic book artist Robert A. Kraus founded his own studio, RAK Graphics. His first published comic would be Thundermace No. 1, which he co-created with his friend Rick Sellers, the latter of which would go on to become a voice actor, best known for still voicing "The General" from those "1-800-General" commercials for The General Insurance Company; I am not kidding. Found in that comic was a back-up story starring someone named "Chakan: The Forever Man", a mysterious swordsman that "looked like a cross of a zombie & Clint Eastwood" (Kraus' own words) who took on all manner of supernatural creatures with a dark tone, a stark difference from Thundermace's more hopeful swords & sorcery motif. Chakan (technically pronounced "Shay-khan") would continue as back-up stories over the years, slowly finding itself a small fanbase, and Kraus himself started to get an itch to give the character his own comic. So in July of 1990, Chakan: The Forever Man No. 1 came out, a black-&-white comic telling of how Chakan became the undying warrior he is, as well as what he thought would be his final battle.

What came next, though, was pure serendipity.

This actually isn't RAK's artwork, though based on an image he drew,
but the game's cover is easily the most iconic art for Chakan out there.

While attending Gen Con in Milwaulkee sometime in the late 80s, Sega of America producer Ed Annunziata (Ecco the Dolphin, Tiny Tank, Mort the Chicken) came across Kraus' booth & saw artwork for Chakan: The Forever Man, catching his interest & sparking conversation between the two. Due to the comic's darker tone, Annunziata felt that it fit well with Sega's older audience direction that it was going with for its new console, the Genesis (Mega Drive, around the world), and eventually an agreement was made for a Chakan video game to be produced for the system, as well as a similar-but-separate game for the handheld Game Gear, making this one of the earliest independently-owned comics to ever receive a video game adaptation, if not the first. The game, released at the end of 1992, has since become notorious for its unforgiving difficulty & infamous "ending", but has since received a cult following due to its unique & dark visual aesthetic, appropriately harsh music, & unforgiving difficulty; beyond two aborted attempts on both the Dreamcast & iOS, no other games were made. To most, that's the long & short of Chakan: The Forever Man... But like the "The Gray Slayer" himself, the truth goes on for far, far longer than you'd expect.

This is a general overview of Chakan: The Forever Man in its original printed form, that of the original comics & later the graphic novellas that have long since told his tales.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Salaryman Kintaro: Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangst... I Mean "Real Man"

*This review is in memory of the legendary Masami Suda, who was character designer for this anime, as he passed away earlier this same month.*

In the annals of manga history, Hiroshi Motomiya is definitely a perfect example of an understated legend. Born in 1947, his debut serialization, 1968's Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho, would become the first true "hit manga" in Shonen Jump (without needing to be infamous, ala Go Nagai's Harenchi Gakuen), inspiring the likes of Masami Kurumada & Tetsuo Hara to become mangaka themselves, & each would create their own direct homages to Gaki Daisho, at some point in their respective careers. Meanwhile, the likes of Buronson (Fist of the North Star), Yoshihiro Takahashi (Ginga -Nagareboshi Gin-), Tetsuya Saruwatari (Tough), Tatsuya Egawa (Golden Boy), & Akira Miyashita (Sakigake!! Otokojuku) all worked as assistants for Motomiya at one point or another, giving all of them early starts to their own respective iconic careers. As for video game fans, Motomiya also has some relevancy there, as his studio Moto Kikaku is best known as the co-creator & co-owner of Capcom's Strider franchise, while Motomiya's Tenchi wo Kurau manga is the basis for numerous games Capcom made, most notably 1992 arcade beat-em-up Warriors of Fate. Finally, even at the age of 74, Motomiya is still making new manga to this very day, usually focused around the ideal of being a "real man", i.e. being an inspiration to others by being a respectable, honest, & earnest person who doesn't allow being taken advantage of.

In short, while he may no longer be your favorite mangaka's favorite mangaka, he still might just be your favorite mangaka's favorite mangaka's favorite mangaka!

"Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'office power politics'!" -

After leaving Shonen Jump in 1987, following a ~19-year run with the magazine, Motomiya moved 100% into making manga for adults, and would strike gold when he debuted Salaryman Kintaro in the pages of Young Jump in 1994, becoming one of Motomiya's "masterpieces", alongside Gaki Daisho & the multi-part Ore no Sora series. While the series ended in 2002 after 30 volumes (his longest single series), Motomiya would occasionally return with new stories in Young Jump, namely 2005's Salaryman Kintaro: Money Wars Chapter (4 volumes), 2009's New Salaryman Kintaro (7 volumes), & 2015's Salaryman Kintaro at 50 (4 volumes). If you are curious about reading the manga, it is actually currently available in English officially via Manga Planet, which is putting out three new chapters every week; as of this review, it's just shy of halfway through the first series. Salaryman Kintaro would receive two different J-Drama adaptations, one in 1999 starring Katsunori Takahashi (who would later also portray legendary office worker manga character Kosaku Shima) & the other in 2008 starring Masaru Nagai, as well as a 1999 live-action movie based on the first J-Drama directed by Takashi Miike, which amazingly enough actually saw official English release in 2004 by Pathfinder Home Entertainment under the name "White-Collar Worker Kintaro"! However, this blog is primarily focused on anime, and luckily Salaryman Kintaro did indeed receive one of those, as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Obscusion B-List: Games Ported Over to the Same System... Multiple Times... By Different People

Game development & publishing has, more or less, long become a rather standardized thing over the decades. If you see a game released on a piece of hardware, especially a home console (i.e. "Not a PC"), then you know that it was likely developed by a single team of people, likely for multiple consoles. Prior to the new millennium, however, that wasn't quite as standardized, so you'd see the same game being released on different hardware, and there was a chance that each version was developed by a different team, ideally due to one team knowing one piece of hardware, while another was better with different hardware; this still exists today (see: Panic Button's Switch ports), but is nowhere near as common as before. On very rare occasions, though, one console would see multiple versions of the same game. Usually this was because of major updates that the developer & publisher felt were needed to be done, and usually would be done if the first version sold well; remember, this was before the days of downloading patches. The Lost World: Jurassic Park for PS1 is a perfect example, as the "Greatest Hits" version is actually an updated release & pretty much considered superior to the original version; Saturn owners got screwed over, though. However, even rarer are the cases where one game got ported over to the same hardware more than once... and by completely different developers. This was pretty much exclusively due to differing regions, namely Japan vs. North America/Europe, so let's take a look at six(-ish) such examples.

Myst on PS1
Alfa System vs. Visual Sciences
Generally considered the game that made the CD-ROM drive an essential part of any home computer setup, and was literally the best-selling PC game of all time until The Sims in 2002, Cyan Studios' Myst from 1993 is an all-time adventure classic. Therefore, when CD-based consoles started becoming a thing, you'd better believe that almost all of them had a port of Myst in the works. The Saturn, 3DO, CD-i, & even Jaguar CD all saw ports, with even a Sega CD port being in the works but never released, but the console we'll be focusing on here is the PlayStation. While the Saturn port by Sunsoft was a 1994 launch title in Japan, Soft Bank made sure that a PS1 port wouldn't be far behind, coming out January of 1995. This PS1 port was handled by Alfa System, which at the time was still just known as a for-hire studio & porting house, and it's a solid enough port of the game, complete with fully dubbed over Japanese dialogue in place of the original English voice work by the Miller Brothers, who co-founded Cyan. However, for whatever reason, Myst wouldn't see international release on the PS1 for a long time, September of 1996 to be exact (November 1996, for Europe!). When it finally did, by way of Psygnosis, what came out wasn't even the same exact port!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Showa Monogatari: Anime for Literal "Boomers"? Next You're Going to Tell Me that Anime is for Everyone!

Hey, the Olympics (& Paralypics, too) are taking place in Tokyo! After being delayed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the quadrennial games are finally happening... Despite the pandemic still essentially looming over Japan as a whole, and competitors are being prevented from playing for smoking marijuana, and there won't be any spectators in the stands because of said pandemic still looming, which has resulted in some players pulling out of the games entirely... And this is arguably the lesser of the problems with the entire thing. "Citius, Altius, Fortius", indeed.

Huh, I was hoping for something a little more upbeat for an intro, so let's just move on to the point I wanted to make: Tokyo in 1964!

The last time Tokyo was home to the Olympics was back in the Summer of 1964 for the Games of the XVIII Olympiad, and those games were an important one for not just Japan, but the world as a whole. Internationally, this was the first time the Olympics were truly broadcast live, by way of satellite feeds, and were also the first time the games were aired in color, at least partially; it's also the first time South Africa was excluded due to apartheid, which stuck until 1992. For Japan, this was the country's chance to show how much it had changed since the end of World War II, with the only real remnant of that era being Emperor Hirohito (a.k.a "Emperor Showa") opening the games themselves. This was a peaceful Japan, & its various technological advancements, like the Tokaido Shinkansen & various tech that the Olympics would continue to use to this very day, helped give the country the feeling that it was ahead of the curve, in some regards. The 1964 Summer Olympics also received a documentary in the form of Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad, often cited as one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made.

That leaves only one question: So how was life in Tokyo leading up to all of this?

Turns out anime studio WaoWorld & media production company Think Corporation wanted to answer that question, so the two came together (along with numerous other companies) to do so in an interesting fashion: Through anime. After an apparent 4.5-year production process, Showa Monogatari (literally "Showa Story") wound up being the final product, allegedly becoming the first anime ever aimed primarily at senior citizens & baby boomers, i.e. people who actually were alive back at that time; it was even called a "TV Manga", just like early anime at the time was. The first four episodes initially had an advance airing on Mie TV from December 30, 2010 to January 2, 2011, followed by a handful of other regional stations airing those episodes throughout January, & a compilation movie would debut in theaters later on January 29. After that, the full 13-episode TV series would receive a proper broadcast during the Spring 2011 season, where it received either a late morning, early afternoon, or prime time evening time slot, depending on the station. Showa Monogatari came out just before anime simulcasting had started to become fully standardized via Crunchyroll, so it unfortunately missed out on that boat, though it was given a full fansub (TV & movie), & its first episode did see some coverage on sites like ANN when it started airing in full. So let's see if this anime truly does give the viewer an idea of what life in Tokyo was like the last time the Olympics were held there, and if an anime aimed at "old people" can even appeal to younger audiences.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Demo Disc Vol. 19: Leaping Lead-Ins

It's been a long while since the last volume of Demo Disc; three months shy of a full year, in fact! Not just that, but it's also been two years since we last looked at any Shonen Jump anime pilots, something which I'm honestly running out of. In fact, excluding the Kochikame pilot that Tatsunoko made back in 1985, which looks to have essentially become a lost anime, there are only eight Jump pilots left for me to cover, and they all come from 2002 & later. Therefore, let's get half of those out of the way with this 19th volume of Demo Disc, and see what 2002 to 2005 offered in terms of first-time-ever looks of hot Jump manga properties!

The fifth touring event that Shonen Jump ever had was Jump Super Anime Tour 2002, four years after the previous one in 1998. Whereas the previous tour was nothing but pilots, JSAT 2002 only had one, which ran alongside new specials for Hikaru no Go & The Prince of Tennis. However, this pilot would be notable in that it was first one to be made for a manga that ran in Monthly Shonen Jump, instead of the more synonymous Weekly Jump. Debuting at the start of 2000, Kousuke Masuda's Gag Manga Biyori/A Perfect Day for Gag Manga was a series of comical manga shorts that would appear in Monthly Jump right up until its final issue in June of 2007, before being one of the handful of manga that would carry over into the magazine's successor, Jump Square, that November; it also made a special one-time appearance in Weekly Jump during the interim between magazines. It'd eventually end in 2015, after 15 volumes, before starting a second series, Gag Manga Biyori GB, in Jump Square, which is currently at five volumes. The manga's success would eventually result in four seasons of short anime from 2005 to 2010 done by Artland (Seasons 1 & 2) & Studio Deen (Seasons 3 & 4), as well as even some stage plays from 2015 to 2018, but it really all starts here with this late 2002 anime pilot, animated by Tokyo Kids & Kishousha, so let's see what acted as the creamy filling to this JSAT anime sandwich.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Speak Softly & Carry a Gravitational Beam Emitter: Blame! & Its Long Anime Journey

Tsutomu Nihei is probably one of the most unique mangaka out there, and a lot of has to do with what he was originally doing prior to entering manga. Namely, Nihei originally had planned to work in construction, & even attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, but it's that very experience that eventually allowed his debut work to become one of the most striking manga ever, visually. That manga is Blame! (technically pronounced "Blam!", but screw it), which ran from 1997 to 2003 in Kodansha's Monthly Afternoon magazine for 10 volumes. The manga follows Killy (or "Kyrii", depending on the translation), a silent man who wanders throughout "The City", an immense & ever-growing technological structure that has existed for so long that it has encased not just the Earth & the Moon, but is also indicated later on to have reached as far out as Jupiter's own planetary orbit. Specifically, Killy is looking for a human (amongst the few that still exist), on order from a group called the Authority, who has "Net Terminal Genes", which would allow humans access the Netsphere, which in turn would allow humans to finally put a stop to The City's never-ending expansion, as it's allowed to continue because of a group called the Safeguard, which utilizes killer cyborgs knows as Silicon Creatures.

However, to say that Blame! features traditional storytelling would be a bit of a lie.

Seriously, how exactly does one adapt something like this to anime?

Minus the occasional part where story actually gets the focus, reading Blame! is mostly a visual experience, one where Killy (& sometimes his occasional partner, Cibo), without saying a word, simply traverses various sections of The City, almost all of which are empty & lifeless... yet also absolutely beautiful in their scope, scale, & design. As Jason Thompson stated in his write-up of the manga for ANN back in 2013, it kind of feels like a procedurally-generated dungeon you'd find in a Roguelike, with even the back of every Japanese tankouban describing Blame! as being about "Adventure Seeker Killy in the Cyber Dungeon Quest", and considering how The City is designed to expand it makes perfect sense. However, while this extremely visual style of sequential art storytelling might work well for manga, and even then it's something that just won't work for some, it does result in a bit of a conundrum for animation. That being said, Blame! has seen a handful of anime adaptations ever since the 00s, and true to Nihei's most non-standard debut work, there's a long & interesting journey towards its final destination. So let's go over these anime in the order they were made, and see if any of them manage to capture the desolate & (generally) isolating nature of Blame!.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Guilty Gear X ("Vanilla", Plus, & Ver. 1.5): Are You Ready? It's Cool! Let's Enjoy a Great Show Time!! good luck

Back in early 2015, to celebrate the release of Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- a few months prior, I reviewed the original Guilty Gear from 1998 for the PlayStation. Six years later, we now have the release of Guilty Gear -Strive-, the fourth main entry in Arc System Works & Daisuke Ishiwatari's iconic fighting game franchise. So I feel that there's no better way to celebrate this new game's release on this blog than to do a review of the second game ever released in the Guilty Gear franchise... Though, contrary to common belief for a long time, it isn't actually the sequel to the first game, despite taking place afterwards, chronologically. Also, this game would mark the franchise's penchant for iterating upon itself over & over again, though in this case said later iterations are not as well known.

So let's take a look at Guilty Gear X, the game that truly started the franchise's rise into stardom, & its two updates.

Prior to the release of Guilty Gear in 1998, Arc System Works was known as nothing more than a for-hire development studio, either for porting one game to other hardware or for developing games based on licensed properties. That changed in 1995 when the studio started developing & releasing its own games, like Exector or Wizard's Harmony, but in the end Daisuke Ishiwatari's 2D fighting game was the one with the most potential. Therefore, Ishiwatari & his "Team Neo Blood" staff were told to make a follow-up, but this time around there were loftier ambitions. With gaming company Sammy Corporation handling the publishing duties, this second game would be developed for Sega's NAOMI arcade board, which allowed for much more 2D graphical power than what the PlayStation could ever possibly handle. So in July of 2000, Guilty Gear X (technically pronounced "Zecks", and sporting the subtitle [By Your Side "G.Gear"]) started appearing in Japanese arcades, while an arcade-perfect port to the Sega Dreamcast (due to similar hardware as the NAOMI) come out later that December. At the time, there were hopes that GGX would see release on the Dreamcast internationally, as Sammy had planned to support the console until the end. Unfortunately, all Sammy would ever release for Sega's final console outside of Japan was light-gun rail shooter Death Crimson OX in August of 2001; combined with Capcom USA not releasing Capcom vs. SNK 2, this really annoyed Dreamcast supporters.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog: 1993

The Atari Jaguar, the final console produced by (anything that even remotely resembles) the company that had produced the Atari 2600 way back in 1977, is undeniably one of the most infamous failures in video game history. Originally part of a two-console project lead by Flare Technology, the Jaguar was Atari's attempt to rise back up from the "it'll do" performances of the 7800 & Lynx, but a variety of reasons (unfinished & overly complicated hardware, Atari's lack of real support for it, blatantly false advertising, becoming outdated within a year, Atari's death, etc.) resulted in it becoming one of the least-selling game consoles of all time. From its test market release at the end of 1993 to the bulk of its inventory being liquidated at the end of 1996, no more than 225,000 consoles were ever actually produced (100,000 of which were unsold by the end of 1995), and up until Hasbro (which had purchased Atari & all of its properties in 1998) declared the console an open platform in 1999 only 50 games ever saw officially licensed release. Even a CD-drive add-on released in late 1995 did nothing to help things, with only a paltry 20,000 units apparently only ever being produced.

Without a doubt, the Atari Jaguar was an unmitigated mess. Still, the console has managed to have a surprising post-Atari life.

The box art for the console was seriously awesome, though.

After being declared an open platform, the console has seen a shockingly healthy continued life via releases from the likes of AtariAge, Songbird Productions, & Piko Interactive, which have released a mix of unreleased games originally planned & developed back in the 90s as well as ports of games from other consoles, while a variety of homebrew developers have made a wide variety of original titles. However, what I have been interested in for a while is taking a look at what came out on the Jaguar officially, specifically those 50 cartridge releases. Unfortunately, almost anything Jaguar-related has since become absurdly expensive, but now that RetroHQ's Jaguar GameDrive flash cart has come out in a more readily-available fashion, I can now get started on this endeavor; trust me, ~$180 to play the entire Jaguar library (& more) is an amazing deal. So welcome to Prowling the Official Atari Jaguar Catalog, an 11-part series that will cover the 50 official games released for (the original) Atari's final console in the (more or less) order they came out in back in the day, as this was still before the time where exact release dates were guaranteed; the best you can find for some is just the month & year. I'll be covering 4 or 5 games at a time, and I'll also be bringing up notable events in gaming that happened throughout, namely other console releases, so as to point out how "The Jag" would quickly become more & more outdated over time. Also, due to the GameDrive's lack of easy Jaguar CD support (it does support them, but only by way of converting them to a proprietary format, which I can't get working), I won't be covering the 13 CD games; maybe by the time I finish this series things will have changed, though. I'll also bring up some idea of sales figures for some games, which goes off of this document that tracked sales up through April 1, 1995, but only for games released in 1993 & 1994, i.e. it's not definitive by any means, but it's the best we've got.

Finally, don't expect any sort of consistent schedule to this series, though I will try to make sure that this doesn't wind up becoming an unfinished concept. With all that out of the way, let's see what the Atari Jaguar had to offer in 1993, i.e. the barely-over-a-month it was on the (test) market.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Oh Me, Oh My, OVA! α: The Forefathers of the Short-Form OVA

On December 26, 1983, Bandai (though its newly-launched Emotion label) released Episode 2 of Dallos in Japan, becoming the first anime ever released straight to home video; yes, Episode 2 came out before Episode 1, so as to promote sales though a more action-packed offering. This would come to be known in Japan as the "Original Video Animation", or OVA for short; "Original Animation Video/OAV" is also often used. While Dallos was a success, though, it wouldn't be until the smash hit release of Megazone 23 (Part 1) on March 9, 1985 that the OVA would truly be considered a viable way to produce & release anime. Ever since then, the OVA has continued to exist in some form to this very day, though now they may be known more as an "OAD" (for disc-based media) or even an "ONA" (for online-first distribution). However, the OVA's greatest heyday was most definitely from 1986 to 1991, when the Japanese "Bubble Economy" allowed seemingly anyone with an idea & money to make their own anime. Even after the bubble burst, though, the OVA continued to see use as a means to release anime, which has resulted in just too many anime to count that saw release straight to home video. I've wanted to explore the depths of the OVA for a long time now, and have finally decided to start dipping my toes into these waters by relying on a format very similar to that of multi-series Demo Disc volumes.

Welcome to Oh Me, Oh My, OVA!

Just like those types of Demo Discs, every OM, OM, OVA! article will feature four anime that were released straight to home video, but with one major restriction: They can't be any longer than two episodes. Once you get to something that has three episodes or more, you start entering the potential for it to be worth giving a proper review of, since you have much more content to work with & write about; also, trust me when I say that there's already way too much anime I can rely on with this restriction. A little over a month ago I did a poll over on Twitter asking how I should tackle this series, and the winner wound up being "Theme Each Set of Four", so that's how I'll be handling OM, OM, OVA! from here on out. However, a decently close second place was to just handle this chronologically, so I think there's no better way to start OM, OM, OVA! off than to take a look at the some of the earliest OVAs ever released. Let's see what happened in between Dallos & Megazone 23!

Friday, May 21, 2021

Megazone 23 Part III (Manga UK Dub): *sigh*... Hard On. Done Laughing Yet? OK, Let's Move On...

Back in April of 2013, I reached my second milestone review with Review #100, in which I watched & reviewed Robotech the Movie, an infamous Frankenstein's Monster of a movie produced by Harmony Gold meant to tie into its loose amalgamation of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, & Genesis Climber Mospeada. Originally, Robotech creator Carl Macek wanted to simply dub Macross: Do You Remember Love?, but due to "political reasons" wasn't able to do so, so he went with licensing Megazone 23 (pronounced "two three"), specifically the Part I OVA, but movie distributor Cannon Films didn't like the end result (too many girls & not enough action), forcing Macek to jam in Southern Cross footage so that more action would be included. Also, Harmony Gold paid AIC & Artmic to produce a new, happier ending for Megazone 23 Part I, which became Robotech the Movie's ending; said new ending makes no sense in the context of Megazone 23 itself. However, it was likely through all of this licensing & production that resulted in Victor Entertainment hiring Harmony Gold to produce an English dub for Megazone 23 Part II, which today is now known as the "International" dub, which I also reviewed.

So, after eight years, I think it's time to finally end this trilogy of "infamous English dubs of Megazone 23" by looking at the most maligned dub of all, which itself goes with the most maligned Part of the entire franchise.

I just realized that if you add an "x" in the middle of
"Megazone 23 III", yet get "Megazone 6IX". Nice.

While 1983's Dallos is the first anime released straight to home video, & did make a profit, 1985's Megazone 23 was the first "Original Video Animation" to become a big hit, which lead to Part II coming out a little over a year later, despite there being no plans for a sequel originally. However, continued support for the two OVAs resulted in a third production, Megazone 23 Part III, being produced & released in 1989. Unlike what came before, though, Part III was actually a two-episode OVA, so you might see some mention of a "Part IV" online, but that's really just Episode 2 of Part III. To say that Part III didn't receive as much love from fans would be an understatement, with AIC even stating that their (long) planned reboot Megazone 23 SIN would only cover Part I & II. However, that certainly didn't stop Manga Entertainment UK from licensing Megazone 23 Part III (and ONLY Part III), produce an English dub for it, & release it on a single VHS tape in 1995 (simply titling the release "Megazone 23"), the same year Carl Macek finally got his wish & produced an uncut English dub for Part I via Streamline Pictures. Manga UK's Part III dub has since become extremely rare & elusive, having never been re-issued in any later release of Megazone 23. Even AnimEigo's most recent Kickstarter-backed Blu-Ray boxset doesn't have it, and that has literally every other English dub produced for Megazone 23, minus Robotech the Movie (for obvious reasons). However, it's actually been available over on YouTube ever since 2008, though split up across 15 parts (due to length restrictions of the time), while Mike Toole (of ANN & Discotek Media fame) uploaded a rip of the Manga UK dub to just last month (& matched the audio to ADV's DVD release, at that!), so it's time to for me to finally watch Megazone 23 Part III, see how bad it truly is, & then see if Manga UK's dub deserves to have never been given an invite to the English dub reunion party that AnimEigo held.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Obscusion B-Side: Resident Evil's (& Dino Crisis') Original First-Person Exploits: A Gun Survivor Retrospective

A lot of talk happened when Capcom announced Resident Evil 7: Biohazard back in 2016, and aside from a return to the "survival horror" style of the older games (following the more action-heavy style of the previous main entries) much of the conversation came from the fact that the game would be played completely from a first-person perspective. Now, in the year 2021, Capcom has returned to that same gameplay style with Resident Evil: Village, a direct sequel to RE 7. However, like the old saying goes, for RE 7 & "VIII" to walk in those first-person shoes, Capcom first had to crawl, and that's where the Gun Survivor sub-series comes in. From 2000 to 2003, Capcom released four games under the Gun Survivor name, three of which were related to Resident Evil & one was related to Dino Crisis, with their primary gimmick being that they all focused around first-person gameplay, ideally through the use of Namco's GunCon (or G-Con 45, in Europe) light-gun peripheral. However, these weren't rail-shooters in the vein of Time Crisis or The House of the Dead, but rather allowed for traditional movement in between the shooting, making them possibly the first games to combine light-gun shooting with "off-rail" gameplay; Sega's Gunvalkyrie did originally plan to do the same on Dreamcast, but dropped it when moved to the Xbox. Also, yes, I do know of Umbrella Chronicles & Darkside Chronicles, but those are literal rail shooters (really cool ones, too), so they don't count here.

While the games have generally received a mixed reception, namely due to the first game, Gun Survivor is notable for a variety of reasons. It marks the first time an original Resident Evil game was developed outside of Capcom's offices, the first time an entry didn't use pre-rendered static backgrounds, the first time the franchise would hit arcades, the first "side story" that didn't involve any of the primary RE cast, and events found within some of these games not only remain canon to this very day, but also have some notable impact on the storylines of both Resident Evil AND Dino Crisis! With 2021 marking the 21st Anniversary of Gun Survivor (i.e. it's now legally able to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer in the United States!), & Resident Evil: Village having come out this same year, I think now's the perfect time to look back at these four games, and see if they might just be the missing link to Resident Evil's current mainline direction.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XI: Vertical Hold Syndrome Part 2

So last time I brought up how anime on VHS came to an end in North America, but how did things work out in Japan? The short answer would be "Anime came out on VHS for a fair bit longer over there", but to explain why requires going into the long answer. To put it simply, Japan's relationship with VHS, & home video in general, was never the same as it was in America, namely because Japan has never been big on actually purchasing a tape for a personal collection. For a variety of reasons, with the fact that the average Japanese home is physically smaller than the average American home being a notable one, Japan's rental market became the way the wide majority of Japanese people experienced VHS. Because of this, VHS tapes were primarily only sold to rental stores, which means that they were more expensive in general (usually ranging from ¥7,000-9,000, depending on when it came out) and that has held strong to this very day, hence why Japanese DVDs & Blu-Ray releases tend to be much more expensive there than anywhere else, especially for anime; hardcore otaku, however, are willing to spend that extra money to physically own their favorite works.

Therefore, VHS still had a use in Japan for anime, since the rental market still gave it value. That being said, it didn't last all that much longer, as the last anime to see complete release on VHS (to my research, at least) was Black Jack 21 in 2006, and that was mainly because it continued the volume numbering that had started back with Black Jack TV in 2004. However, the last TV anime to still see release on VHS looks to have been Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, which saw its final tape (Volume 37) sometime in mid-2007, even though it didn't finish the series; still, this is well beyond when Hollywood stopped releasing on VHS. However, the absolute final anime to see release on VHS, in general, looks to be Studio Ghibli's Ponyo in either 2008/2009, and that's only because Ghibli is obviously the exception to a lot of stuff, as by this point VHS was effectively dead in Japan. So, with that bit of trivial anime history out of the way, let's take a look at another six anime that you can currently only get with an English translation on good old magnetic tape!

This is an advertisement, but the image
is the same as the VHS tape.

We've had the occasional small name English anime company across all of these license rescue lists, like Illumitoon, Western Connection, Synch Point, Super Techno Arts, & ArtsMagic. However, I don't think I've ever included a release from a defunct company quite like Star Anime Enterprises. Mike Toole wrote an excellent history (what little of it there is) back in 2016 over at ANN, but the short story is that SAE was just a single man, David Norell, who had previously worked at CPM and various anime cons, before simply (& incessantly) hassling as many Japanese anime licensors as possible. In the end, SAE managed to license two titles: 1994 OVA Homeroom Affairs from Tokuma Shoten (which SAE did fully release) & 1993 TV series Dragon League from FCI (which SAE did not fully release). If I had to pick between those two titles to include in a license rescue list, then believe me that I'll go with the latter anime. Part of that is because Dragon League only ever saw a single subbed VHS tape released, comprising of two episodes (i.e. "It still got more released than Shonan Bakusozoku did!"), but also because Dragon League is, by far, the way more interesting title. I mean, if one has to pick between a "softcore smut comedy" & a fantasy soccer series... I think most will go for the latter.