Monday, February 27, 2023

3D Anime on VHD "Double Feature": Man, Anime Really Does Come Out on EVERYTHING, Doesn't It?

Being a form of visual media, it's only natural that anime has seen some sort of release on just about any type of medium that you can think of. Film? Naturally. VHS? Obviously. Betamax? It wasn't common, but it definitely happened here & there. Laserdisc? Without a doubt. DVD? Of course. Blu-Ray? That's essentially the standard now. HD-DVD? Bandai Visual certainly tried pushing stuff on it. VCD? It wasn't just for bootleggers. Betacam? That was the standard for airing on TV for the longest time. All manner of digital formats? Absolutely. OK, I need to start thinking more weird.

Let's see... CED? Just barely! Game Boy Advance Video? Yeah, a few made it on there, too!! VideoNow? Shockingly enough... YES!!! One of the most curious video formats anime has ever seen release on, though, would have to also be one of the most obscure, and in particular two specific OVAs that took advantage of a special feature that was actually decades ahead of its time: VHD.

First demonstrated back in 1978 by JVC, after the company first established a video disc lab in 1974, Video High Density/VHD was a capacitance-based video format that was most similar to RCA's Capacitance Electronic Disc/CED in that both housed their respective record-esque discs inside caddies, so that the user would never actually handle the disc itself, but where CED used physical grooves to read the data stored VHD was electronically read. Also much like RCA's format, though, JVC's format suffered numerous delays & wouldn't actually see release until 1983, two years after CED had already launched & bombed, and in the end VHD would only ever really see release in Japan, though it did see some minor usage in the US & UK for things like education, training, demonstration, & (most notably) karaoke, the last of which was more or less the main reason why it even saw continued (but highly limited) support by JVC until 2003. To no surprise, there were various anime that saw release on VHD in Japan, though it was in no way as supported as even LD was over there. However, VHD did have one thing up its sleeve that no other video format had: 3D Support!

In 1985 JVC started releasing VHD players that supported stereoscopic video playback by way of things like shutter glasses that could be plugged into the player, predating modern 3D support by ~20 years; in doing this, though, discs could only store 30 minutes of footage on each side, instead of the usual 60. Somehow, JVC managed to convince two anime studios to actually give this a try, resulting in two OVAs being released on "3D Video Disc", which quite honestly sounds both absolutely amazing ("Hand-Drawn Animation... in 3D!") & absolutely absurd ("Hand-Drawn Animation... in 3D?"). Unfortunately, likely because of just how wild this concept sounds, both of these OVAs didn't actually come out until the latter half of 1987, which by that point was way too late to the party for 3D anime on VHD; I mean, VHD was late to the party in general, but these OVAs were arriving right as everyone was leaving. Because of that, both of these OVAs did later see "normal" 2D release on VHS, and actually watching these in their originally intended style (i.e. on a 3D-compatible VHD player with shutter glasses) is both a bit obtuse & (more than likely) wildly expensive today. Still, was there anything to these OVAs other than a 3D gimmick? I say let's find out, as both have been fansubbed over the years.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XIII: Mr. Aniplex, Tear Down This Wall! Part 2

Not long after Part 1 of this look at 12 Aniplex anime that "deserve" license rescues went live, someone argued that Toward the Terra TV, which was on that first part, could still possibly see re-release by Aniplex of America because of that Blu-Ray boxset scheduled for March of 2023, which I also brought up. Under normal standards I'd agree, but if we look at AoA's history then I think we can see that there's very little chance of that actually happening. You see, just by taking a cursory glance at Aniplex of America's catalog something very obvious becomes clear: It's mainly comprised of "new" shows. While AoA has released some catalog titles on home video, like 2007's Baccano!, Read or Die (both the 2001 OVA & 2003 TV series), 2009's Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, & 2007's Gurren Lagann TV, the company's bread & butter is about what's then brand new, first by streaming & then later on home video. However, the latter only really happens to specific shows, namely the ones that look to have caught some sort of fanbase that AoA feels would be willing to spend $100+ for special edition boxsets; AoA has done "standard" releases as well, but even those are more expensive than normal. Re-releases of catalog titles are extremely rare from AoA and are reserved for only the titles that have truly proven themselves as being iconic, like FMA & Gurren Lagann. In comparison, R.O.D. was an early AoA release (2011), & it more than likely sold poorly (there just weren't enough fans for it that were willing to pay $200), seemingly killing interest in releasing other "secondary" catalog titles like it; I would imagine Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack wasn't a big seller, either. Hell, even Rurouni Kenshin, which is the oldest show Aniplex of America currently has the rights to (but also arguably one of the biggest), has never received a physical re-release by AoA; that alone should tell you enough about how Aniplex of America feels about catalog titles.

While Toward the Terra TV is generally considered a great show... it also doesn't seem like something Aniplex of America would feel is worth re-releasing as a special edition boxset, or even as a more-expensive-than-usual standard release. So, with that addressed, let's move on the second half of this Aniplex-focused license rescue list, shall we?

I figured I should just get one overall franchise included this time around, though I do try to avoid doing that now, so let's start off with a bit of an unlikely one: Blood. In the late 90s, Production I.G.'s president Mitsuhisa Ishikawa wanted to produce an original anime, instead of simply doing more adaptations, but had no ideas to go with. However, he knew of the "Oshii Juku", a series of lectures Mamoru Oshii ran to help teach new filmmakers about how to create their own projects, so Ishikawa simply asked Oshii if his students could contribute ideas, and in the end went with a simple one thought up by Kenji Kamiyama & Junichi Fujisaku: "A girl in a sailor suit wielding a samurai sword". The end result would be 2000's Blood: The Last Vampire, a ~45-minute film about a young girl named Saya who heads to Yokota Base in Japan in 1966 to hunt vampire-like creatures named Chiropterans (a.k.a. "Bat People"), and it'd also be Production I.G.'s very first digitally-animated production; helping provide capital for this movie as a producer was SPE Visual Works, the original name for Aniplex. Blood was also a "media mix" project, as alongside the movie was a light novel written by Mamoru Oshii & a PlayStation 2 video game (Sony Computer Entertainment was also a producer), and afterwards came a short manga sequel & two other light novels, the latter of which were written by Junichi Fujisaku, who would take strong ownership of Blood, while Kenji Kamiyama left after helping write the movie. In North America, Manga Entertainment would license Blood: The Last Vampire in 2001 & release it on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, & even UMD(!) up through 2009, while also releasing Yoshihiro Ike's musical score on CD in 2006.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues XIII: Mr. Aniplex, Tear Down This Wall! Part 1

In March of 1968, the Japanese Sony Corporation & American Columbia Broadcasting System/CBS incorporated a 50/50 joint venture which allowed Sony to distribute CBS' music releases in Japan. It was originally called CBS/Sony Records, but in 1983 had its name changed to CBS/Sony Group. Sony would then buy all of CBS' shares in 1988 & become sole owner of the company, though the "CBS/Sony" name would continue to be used until 1991, when it got renamed to Sony Music Entertainment Japan. During those last few years of the CBS/Sony era, the company had started producing various anime, most often OVAs, and in September of 1995 entered into a joint venture with sister company Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan to create Sony Pictures Entertainment/SPE Visual Works, which continued to produce things like anime. In January of 2001, Sony Music would become sole owner of SPE Visual Works, renaming it Sony Music Entertainment/SME Visual Works, where it would continue to produce new anime (both OVAs & for TV), as well as re-releasing its older CBS/Sony & SPE Visual Works catalog on DVD under the new name, before eventually being renamed in April of 2003 to something that has since stuck to this very day: Aniplex.

Celebrating 20 years under this name in 2023, Aniplex is arguably one of the most well known corporation names when it comes to anime... but for the past decade or so it's also been a bit of a controversial one, especially in English. Up until that point, Aniplex was a Japanese licensor like any other, i.e. if an English anime company wanted to license an anime from Aniplex, they would just need to get into contact & start making a deal. Even when Aniplex of America was founded in March of 2005, it was originally just an easier way for companies to license anime, as now there was an American division to initiate contact with. However, once "AoA" started releasing anime in English on its own in the 2010s, starting with the Gurren Lagann movies... things changed. I am not here to talk about AoA's focus on expensive, Japanese-style releases meant solely for the super-hardcore fans, as it's obviously a methodology that has worked for the company to this very day (they took what Bandai Visual USA tried & actually made it work), but I do want to focus on Aniplex's seeming refusal to license anything out to other companies for the past decade. Going all the way back to the CBS/Sony days in the 80s, there are literally decades-worth of anime that Aniplex owns the rights to, some of which I've reviewed in the past, yet literally nothing from said catalog has ever been licensed for home video release (either for the first time or as a rescue) by anything other than Aniplex of America, starting around 2013 or so. Who knows if things will even change now that "Sony" owns both Crunchyroll & FUNimation as, despite being semi-redundant now, Aniplex of America still continues to release new titles in English, seemingly only because that's 100% Sony Music's baby, so no one can actually stop them; in comparison, both FUNi & Crunchyroll are co-owned by Sony Pictures & Sony Music (though Aniplex). Remember, despite all being a part of the overall Sony conglomerate, these are still individual companies.

So, for the first time ever, I am dedicating an entire license rescue list to a single Japanese licensor, as even by instituting a restriction of "it can't still be available in English via streaming" I wound up with more than 12 entries & had to decide what wouldn't be included this around. Yes, I could literally do an entire SECOND Aniplex-only license rescue list in the future, and this was already excluding the various Aniplex titles that had already appeared in prior lists I've done (like Android KikaiderRoujin Z, Kiba, Nerima Daikon Brothers & Crystal Triangle, etc.)! So let's just get started with my first six picks & see just a snippet of what is seemingly (and/or effectively) barred from re-release in English.