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...