Monday, August 29, 2022

Kinnikuman II-Sei "Double Feature": A Beef Bowl for All Ages

Meeting for the first time in 4th grade, Takashi Shimada & Yoshinori Nakai became fast friends and after finishing up middle school they started working together on manga, which then led to them submitting one-shots for awards after graduating high school. Eventually, a one-shot named Kinnikuman/Muscle Man (which starred a character Shimada had first thought up way back in 5th grade) won the 9th Akatsuka Award in 1978 & this led to Kinnikuman becoming a serialized manga that debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump in early 1979. By this point, the duo had started using the pen name Yudetamago (literally "Boiled Egg"), which came from either a lunch they were eating while thinking of a pen name or the smell of a fart one of them let out, depending on who you ask; Shimada's the writer, while Nakai draws. Needless to say, Kinnikuman went on to become a smash success for Jump, transitioning from a gag manga that parodied Ultraman to a slapstick superpowered wrestling action manga (after seeing the success their friend Masami Kurumada was having with Ring ni Kakero) & running all the way until 1987, totaling 391 weekly chapters across 36 volumes, second only to Kochikame at the time for longest Jump manga; obviously, it's since been bested by plenty of other series. This success would also lead to an anime adaptation by Toei Animation that aired from 1983 to 1986 for 137 episodes (& 8 theatrical movies), a second (46-episode) anime from 1991 to 1992 that adapted the final story arc, & even a 12-volume spin-off manga (Tatakae!! Ramenman) that ran from 1982 to 1989 in Fresh Jump (essentially the entire magazine's run, minus a year-long gap in the middle) & even had its own TV anime adaptation (plus a movie) in 1988!

After that kind of massive success, it's only understandable that Yudetamago were seemingly never able to follow it up with another hit manga, though not for a lack of trying... until a decade later.

Following the end of Gourmand-kun in Kadokawa Shoten's Weekly Shonen Ace, which ran from 1994 to 1996 for just four volumes, Yudetamago made a 60-page one-shot called Muscle Returns that appeared in Fighting Ace magazine. This was actually a sequel to Kinnikuman, and astonishingly enough Shueisha simply allowed Kadokawa Shoten to publish it, apparently not caring about any potential royalties, as it had published the wideban edition of the original series back in 1994; times were different, people. Kadokawa would publish the one-shot with some new bonus Kinnikuman stories as its own book, & it might actually also be included in Volume 37 of Kinnikuman itself, which was the first new volume released by Shueisha when the manga returned to serialization in 2010/2011; it's currently now at 79 volumes, literally 2.19x the length it originally was in 1987! However, Muscle Returns still had a great response to it, so in 1997 Shueisha allowed Yudetamago to create another sequel one-shot in adult magazine Weekly Playboy (no relation to America's Playboy; that was the now-defunct Monthly Playboy), a solid decade after Kinnikuman had originally ended. This second one-shot, Kinnikuman II-Sei (as in "Nisei/Second Generation"), introduced a new generation of "Chojin/Superhumen" & was the first of a five-part "Legendary Prologue" that would then lead to a proper serialized run in Weekly Playboy from mid-1998 to mid-2004, totaling 29 volumes. The success of Kinnikuman II-Sei also resulted in a "Revival Manga Boom", where old classics were brought back with "next generation" sequels, like Akatsuki!! Otokojuku, Ginga Legend Weed, & Ring ni Kakero 2. Despite being made precisely for adults who more than likely read the original Kinnikuman as children back in the day, there was definitely an appeal to Kinnikuman II-Sei that could be marketed to younger audiences as well, & this included Toei, which obviously would be all for recapturing the success that the original manga's anime had.

So, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the 2002 TV anime adaptation of Kinnikuman II-Sei, better known abroad as Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy, let's start a four-part series of anime reviews with a theatrical "Double Feature"!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Demo Disc Vol. 21: Valiant Varsity

We're coming down to the last stretch of letters remaining for Demo Disc, as my goal has long been to do one for each letter of the English alphabet (& I doubled up on S early on, so this will wind up totaling 27). Not just that, but I have mentioned before that the gimmick with this "column", from a naming standpoint, has become trickier to continue with ever since I started it back in 2014, due to the fact that many of the titles that I had planned to cover in this format have since been given some sort of complete English translation now, making them ineligible. Because of that, I now have to find a way to not only figure out what titles I can cover via Demo Disc, but also figure out a way to match them with the remaining letters I have left.

For example, I have a trio of sports-related (even if only slightly) titles in mind, & the word "varsity" has a sports-related definition to it, so let's get "V" out of the way, even if it only really relates directly to one of them!

I swear, there is some sports-related stuff in this Volume!

A Giant Desperate Turnabout in One Shot!
While something like Gatchaman or Speed Racer may be Tatsunoko's most iconic franchise the world over, over in Japan I imagine that there's a good argument to be made for the Time Bokan Series, which ran on a weekly basis from 1975 to 1983 across seven different entries, plus an celebratory two-episode OVA in 1993/1994, an eighth installment in 2000, & re-imaginings of the first two entries from 2008-2009 & 2015-2018. While I have covered the original Time Bokan & both the original Yatterman & its late-00s reboot way back in 2015, those were not via Demo Disc, so this is actually the first time this iconic franchise appears here. And since Demo Disc always goes in chronological order, that means that we start this Volume with Gyakuten/Turnabout Ippatsuman, the sixth Time Bokan anime (& the penultimate of the original continual run), which originally ran from 1982 to 1983 for 58 episodes, making it the third-longest entry; the titular hero also appeared as a playable character in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom on the Wii in all regions.

What does this series have to do with sports? Honestly, not much beyond Ippatsuman himself having a slight baseball theme to him (his base of operations is literally called "Home Base"), & his real name (Go Sokkyu) being a pun on the Japanese word for a "blazing fastball", but I'll take what I can get, at this point. So let's see how the first episode of this anime, the only one ever fansubbed, fares when it stands up to the plate.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Ragnarök the Animation: Humanity Can be Divided Into Madmen & Cowards... And the Same is True of Fantasy Worlds

During the serialization of Ragnarök in South Korea, manhwaga Lee Myung-Jin was approached by a video game company called Gravity, which itself had only been founded back in April of 2000. Gravity wanted to take Ragnarök & create a massively multiplayer online RPG based on the world of Midgard that Lee had created and, after initial beta testing starting on November 1, 2001, Ragnarök Online saw official release for Windows PCs in South Korea on August 31, 2002. Over the next few years it'd then see release the world over, including Japan in late 2002, China & North America in 2003, other Asian regions between late 2003 & early 2005, & finally European & South American regions in 2006 & 2007. Though there was a major update called "Renewal" in 2010, RO's "2D character sprites on 3D backgrounds" gameplay has stayed the same, and outside of most of Europe's servers shutting down in 2018, followed by the Malaysia, Singapore, & Philippines server shutting down in 2021, the game is still played to this very day, though its userbase has obviously dwindled since its heyday. If you want a full-3D polyognal experience, you can play the sequel, 2012's Ragnarök Online 2: Legend of the Second, which is also still available to play, minus those same specific regions as RO1. That said, while either game is now technically free-to-play, playing on any of the official servers today is apparently a massive "pay-to-win" scheme, so it's generally recommended to join one of the various unofficial fan servers, if you want to see what it's about today.

Needless to say, Ragnarök Online became a smash hit around the world, and due to its simpler visual style it didn't have the same kind of higher technical specification requirements that games like EverQuest or even World of Warcraft had at the time, which in turn made it easier for more people to install & play. It became enough of a hit, then, that it was decided to create an anime adaptation of Ragnarök... the MMORPG. Yes, instead of adapting the original manhwa (which technically is canon to the world of RO, but was at various points either a prequel and/or a sequel), it was decided to create a completely original story that simply utilized the various elements of the game, such as the world (now called Rune-Midgard), character classes, monsters, etc., though the title of the anime itself makes it sound like an adaptation of the manhwa. While not the first anime based on an online game in general (that would be 2003's Tank Knights Fortress), 2004's Ragnarök the Animation is the first ever anime adaptation of an MMORPG, and was be a co-production between Gonzo Digimation & South Korean anime studio G&G Entertainment, with the two studios already having worked together before to create 2003 cult-classic Kaleido Star; that said, there's no shared staff between Ragnarök the Animation & 2009's Arad Senki: Slap-Up Party. It took a few years, but in 2007 FUNimation announced that it had licensed Ragnarök the Animation & would release it across three dual-disc DVD singles, a one-off experiment between the old single DVD releases that were once commonplace & the half-season boxsets that are now mostly standard. Naturally, each release also included ads for RO itself, while the first DVD features a promotional video for Ragnarök Online 2: The Gate of the World, the original attempt at a sequel that only ever existed via closed & open beta testing forms between 2006 & 2010, before getting cancelled; the only thing to carry over to the actual RO2 was Yoko Kanno composing some music.

Personally, this was actually one of the very first anime I ever watched via fansub as it came out when I started entering the fandom itself in 2004. I remember really enjoying it at the time, especially since I felt that it did go down some paths that you wouldn't expect, namely in tone & mood. In the 18 years since it first aired, though, Ragnarök the Animation has essentially become a strong "Love It or Hate It" series, with some finding it absolutely abhorrent, unoriginal, & nothing more than a cheap & lazy promotion for the video game. Guess it's time to see if my memories truly are off, or if me & my friends truly saw elements that others never did.