Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Covers, Color, & "The Dreaded ToC": Shonen Jump's 40-Year History of Celebrating Final Chapters

*Due to this subject being very focused on how manga are shown to readers for their final chapters, I have also produced a video essay version as well as the written version, with the video showcasing many, many more visual examples. You can use this link to go to the video if you prefer, or you can simply continue reading for the written version.*

To fans of manga, a long-running series coming to an end should feel like a major moment of celebration; a way to look back at what it did & how it found an audience. To a manga publisher, however, a long-running series coming to an end is nothing more than a sieve; a restriction on just how much money a property it has the current rights to can earn. Therefore, it’s not all that surprising to see a manga’s final chapter not be given a giant focus in the issue of the magazine it appears in, especially like being on the cover. Take Weekly Shonen Jump, for example. Debuting in 1968, it wouldn’t be until 1981 that a manga’s final chapter would be given any sort of major attention, at least on its own, and over time Jump would slowly move from barely giving hit manga ending more than a glance to making it tradition to at least give them some sort of minor fanfare. With 2021 marking the 40th Anniversary of the first two final chapters of Jump manga to be given notable fanfare, let’s go over the history of covers, colors, & “The Dreaded ToC”.

Before we start, though, let’s go over some phrasing we’ll be seeing used often. First, there’s the “ToC”, which is short for Table of Contents. It’s commonly stated that Shonen Jump’s ToC doubles as the de facto popularity ranking for manga currently running in the magazine. While this is isn’t exactly true, as there have been many long-running & notable series that consistently “ranked” in the bottom half of the ToC, or even almost always appeared dead last, the ToC is a way to see what titles the editorial staff at Jump felt have been worth pushing, based on reader reception. For example, Dragon Ball hadn’t ranked any lower than #5 on the ToC for its last five years, while One Piece’s lowest ToC ranking was at #10 all the way back at Chapter 5 in 1997. In comparison, manga that just don’t make it always find themselves in the back half eventually, before having their final chapters appear at the very end of their respective issues. After that, we have “kantou/lead color”, which simply means that a manga’s chapter is not just starting the issue it appears in, but is also given fully colorized opening pages. Finally, we have “all color”, which simply means that every page of a chapter is colorized to some extent, usually utilizing different tones of red alongside the black & white, and in greyscale reprints you can easily tell if a page was done in color originally, because of the shading; this was a common thing to see in Jump up through the 90s, but has since stopped happening. Obviously, these are done for promotional purposes, as a way to advertise specific manga for that issue. There’s one more phrase we’ll be seeing, but we’ll get to it when it becomes relevant, so let’s get started.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Retrospect in Retrograde: Shin Seiki Den Mars

Previously on the Mars 45th Anniversary Retrospective:
"Simply put, the Mars OVA went into production with all of the best intentions, and the director & writer certainly had grand ambitions with it, as you don't claim to surpass Yasuhiro Imagawa's magnum opus without actually intending to do so. However... KSS couldn't even show enough leniency to allow for more than just two episodes of Mars. What we got is extremely solid & shows a lot of potential, but it's all completely unfulfilled."

Following the cancellation of KSS Films' OVA adaptation of Mars after only two episodes, would you believe that there weren't any other direct adaptations of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's works for the better part of an entire decade? Yeah, aside from the remaining three episodes of Yasuhiro Imagawa's Giant Robo OVA series coming out from late 1994 to early 1998 (yes, the last episode took nearly three years to finally come out), there was seemingly no interest whatsoever in Yokoyama's catalog when it came to anime. The drought would end in the early 00s, though, with Yokoyama being chosen to be part of an interesting group of anime that were being produced & aired on AT-X.

Each episode has a different eyecatch,
but the first is the best one, by far

First broadcasting on Christmas Eve of 1997, Anime Theater X/AT-X is an anime-focused offshoot premium channel of TV Tokyo that's available in Japan via satellite, cable, or IPTV, with one of its main appeals being that it can air uncensored versions of anime that TV Tokyo itself can't. From mid-2001 to mid-2003, though, the channel tried something interesting by introducing the "AT-X Chomei Sakka/Famous Author Series", which took seven iconic mangaka & produced ten brand new anime based around various works of theirs, with the majority being based on lesser known titles; the actual quality of these shows ranged wildly, though, from really good to really bad. Specifically, the authors chosen were Leiji Matsumoto (Cosmo Warrior Zero, Gun Frontier, Submarine Super 99), Shotaro Ishinomori (Genma Wars: Age of Mythology), Mikiya Mochizuki (Wild 7 Another), Go Nagai (Demon Lord Dante), Ken Ishikawa (Beast Fighter: The Apocalypse), Takao Saito (Barom 1) &, relevant to our focus, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who received two brand new anime. The first was late 2001's Babel II: Beyond Infinity, which I saw some of long ago & found really bland (though the OP theme by Lapis Lazuli is excellent), while the second was late 2002's Shin Seiki Den/Tale of the Divine Century Mars. What's interesting about this 13-episode anime, though, is the fact that the person hired to write the entire series was Keisuke Fujikawa, the very man who wildly reinterpreted Yokoyama's original 1976 manga into TMS' Rokushin Gattai God Mars in 1981, with promotional posters even advertising this as a sort of crossover between Yokoyama & Fujikawa; I mean, even the new anime's title made sure to include the kanji for "god" in it.

I had originally reviewed Shin Seiki Den Mars back in October of 2011, but it's one where I went solely off of memory, barely said anything of substance about it, & didn't even bring up Fujikawa's involvement; this is perfect for a Retrospect in Retrograde re-review. So with full knowledge of what the original manga is like, & how its previous attempt at a direct adaption come out, let's see how the final adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars truly fares, especially with the writer of God Mars behind the script.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Mars (OVA): All of the Imagawa-Crushing Ambition, But With None of the Corporate Support

Previously on the Mars 45th Anniversary Retrospective:
"In the end, it's really easy to see why Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars wound up being a manga that would see interpretations over the course of three different decades. It's a high-concept idea at its heart, but as the story advances it doles out both frenetic action sequences that mix things up with each encounter as well as new tidbits of plot that introduce new details, revealing just enough of a multi-faceted story that the reader can chew on."

Four years after Mars' shocking final chapter appeared in Weekly Shonen Champion in early 1977, TMS would debut an anime titled Rokushin Gattai God Mars in late 1981. However, rather than simply adapt Mitsuteru Yokoyama's five-volume manga, God Mars only took the basic concept & instead told a completely original story, with Yokoyama himself giving the staff free reign. While new lead Takeru Myojin was similar to Mars in that he was sent to earth to destroy it with Gaia, the main difference is that he was sent down by Emperor Zuul of the planet Gishin as a baby, so he grew up loving humanity & decided to protect it with Gaia. Also, the titular "Six Gods" were changed into being five giant robots built by Takeru's father in order to protect his son, and now they can combine with Gaia to form the God Mars; Uraeus wasn't invited to the party. Finally, Takeru/Mars was given a sibling named Marg, who often fought his brother in battle for the side of Gishin, which in turn would help lead to the show's success, as women just loved shipping Takeru & Marg together in fan fiction; I mean, it's not like the horribly bland-looking giant robots were encouraging toy sales. After 64 episodes finishing at the tail end of 1982, as well as a feature-length recap/alternate telling film, God Mars would remain the sole anime adaptation of Yokoyama's Mars for over a decade, as loosely interpreted as it was, and today remains the most well known take of them all, manga or otherwise, even appearing a handful of times in the Super Robot Wars franchise. There was also a single-episode OVA in 1988 that put the focus on Marg, due to sustained popularity.

Six years after the God Mars OVA came out, though, Yokoyama's short manga would see new life, and this time in its original form... Somewhat.

Originally founded in 1988, Kamakura Super Station started making moves into co-producing anime around 1989, with the 12-episode OVA adaptation of Guyver: The Bio-Boosted Armor. In 1993, though, the now renamed KSS, Inc. started producing OVAs (& even some video games) on its own, starting with Mask of Zeguy, & before eventually going bankrupt in 2004 it was responsible for stuff like Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, Mighty Space Miners, Tattoon Master, Ogre Slayer, Golden Boy, Iczer Girl Iczelion, Maps (1994), Dangazier 3, Dragoon/Ryuki Densho, & Phantom the Animation, as well as numerous hentai under its Pink Pineapple label. Shockingly enough, a good majority of KSS' catalog did see release in North America during the 90s & 00s, especially during the VHS & early DVD days, and today Softgarage owns the rights to KSS' entire catalog. However, KSS apparently had a very strict policy when it came to OVAs, which was that only the first two episodes would be guaranteed to see release from the start, with more episodes only happening should sales warrant them. To be fair, this is understandable, since the OVA boom was over by this point & the market was much smaller & less lucrative. However, this didn't mean that KSS actually designed its OVAs to be only two episodes long, with potential for more, but rather KSS would simply leave stories unfinished if they undersold. For example, Mighty Space Miners was written for six episodes, and even had episode titles for all of them, but poor sales resulted in it being left unfinished after only the first two.

This is what would befall KSS' OVA adaptation of Mars in mid-1994, one of the rare KSS titles to NOT see English release, as only two episodes ever saw release on VHS & LD, despite plans to adapt the entire manga. However, unlike Mighty Space Miners, this take on Mars did see a two-volume novelization, subtitled Silent Crisis & Silent Harmageddon, that came out not long afterwards, and that apparently does tell the entire intended story. In fact, according to a conversation between director Junji Nishimura & writer Masashi Sogo recorded in these novelizations, they were hoping to create something that would even surpass Yasuhiro Imagawa's Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which by that point was four episodes through its (eventual) seven-episode run; talk about aiming high. Softgarage would eventually re-release the Mars OVA across two DVDs in 2002 & still offers it via streaming on its website as a digital rental; you can watch the first episode for free & it's not even region locked! So while I can't really judge this OVA on the merits as a full adaptation, I can at least see if there was potential in it, and if it truly had the possibility of even matching up with Imagawa's magnum opus, let alone come close to surpassing it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Mars (Mitsuteru Yokoyama Manga): This Giant Robot Will Self-Destruct in Five Volumes

Born on June 18, 1934, Mitsuteru Yokoyama would be inspired to become a mangaka after reading Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis & would make his debut sometime in the mid-50s with Otonashi no Ken/The Soundless Sword, while also working in publicity for a movie studio in his home town of Kobe. He'd hit it big in 1956 with Tetsujin 28, the series generally attributed as the originator of the entire mecha genre; obviously, Yokoyama quit the movie company not long later. From that point on, Yokoyama would go on to become probably the most important mangaka in history that unfortunately gets little to no real attention in English-speaking fandom. In 1966, his manga Sally the Witch would be adapted into animation, becoming the first magical girl anime; Himitsu no Akko-chan predates Sally in terms of manga. In 1967 he debuted Giant Robo, which was made alongside a tokusatsu series he conceived, becoming an influential part of that medium. In 1969 & 1970 he debuted Iga no Kagemaru & Kamen no Ninja Akakage, which would help influence the general pop culture identity of ninja, alongside the earlier Kamui-den by Sanpei Shirato. In 1971 he debuted Babel II, an action series based around ESPers that not only helped innovate in terms of action spectacle, but also helped standardize having young teens take the starring role (as well as make the gakuran a commonly-seen outfit in such series). Finally, 1971 also saw the debut of Yokoyama's adaptation of iconic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which wound up running for 60 volumes & even went further into the timeline than "Luo Guanzhong" did with the novel! Unfortunately, Yokoyama's life would be cut short on April 15, 2004 after a fire broke out in his home, passing away at age 69. Ironically enough, Yasuhiro Imagawa's anime based on Tetsujin 28 had debuted just a week prior to his death, so his life ended with the same title that his career skyrocketed with.

However, 2021 marks the 45th Anniversary of one of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's lesser-known works, though one that has had its own surprisingly lengthy legacy to it. So this March we take a look at Yokoyama's Mars, and the two direct anime adaptations it received.

Debuting in early 1976 in the pages of Weekly Shonen Champion magazine, which had previously serialized Babel II, Mars (not to be confused with the 1996-2000 shojo manga of the same name by Fuyumi Soryo, which even used ever-so-slightly different katakana) is a sci-fi series that would only run for a single year, totaling five volumes; Yokoyama even joked about how often he went back to the genre over & over in the author's notes. However, it wound up having a remarkable post-manga life to it, arguably more so than some of Yokoyama's more iconic works. First, anime studio TMS would ask Yokoyama for permission to make an anime based on Mars, with Yokoyama not only allowing it, but even going so far as to say "Do whatever you like with it". The end result was late 1981's Rokushin Gattai/Six Gods Combining God Mars, a TV mech anime simply based on Mars' general concept, but wound up becoming so massively successful (partially due to female fans falling in love with main character Takeru Myojin & his enemy/brother Marg, all despite the mech designs generally being absolutely terrible) that it was extended beyond its original planned length, ending in late 1982 after 64 episodes (making it one of the longer single-run mech anime in history), plus a recap movie & a Marg-focused OVA. To this day, God Mars is easily the most well known version of Mars, but since it's so wildly different in execution (not to mention its sheer length) I'll only make the occasional reference to it during this month. Then, in 1994, KSS Films would take a more direct approach & produce an OVA adaptation more directly based on Yokoyama's original manga, but poor sales resulted in only two episodes ever being made; we'll get into more detail regarding this OVA next time. Finally, in 2002, Mars was given a third anime adaptation, the 13-episode TV series Shin Seiki Den Mars, as part of AT-X's "Famous Author Series" of anime productions, which we'll get to last via Retrospect in Retrograde; this is generally considered the most accurate of the adaptations. From the 70s to the 00s, Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Mars saw life once every single decade it existed, only for the streak to end this past decade with the 2010s.

So to celebrate the manga's 45th Anniversary, let's first take a look at Yokoyama's original manga, which was fully fan translated some years ago, & see what made it so appealing that it kept coming back over & over & over almost every decade.