Monday, May 22, 2023

The Career of Masashi Ikeda, Anime's Most Successfully Incomplete Director (for TV, At Least)

What exactly constitutes being "successful" in something like anime, especially in being a director? Is it being in charge of an influential TV series or movie (or more) that would continue to inspire others for decades to come, like Mamoru Oshii or Hayao Miyazaki? Is it being a "reliable hand" who may not necessarily have a truly "iconic" work of their own but is known for their sheer consistency & ability to work within various genres, like Toshifumi Kawase or the late Hidehito Ueda? Or is it simply being able to continually be given chance after chance after chance after chance, even if your track record at directing is spotty, at best, if not utterly incapable of finishing what you started, at worst? I bring this last one up because while something like that sounds absolutely ridiculous in defining a "successful" anime director, it actually perfectly describes one specific man, someone who has literally never fully directed a single TV anime in his entire career, his only "completions" come from OVAs & movies, yet was not only allowed to continue directing anime up through the 00s but was also put in charge of (at least for part of them) numerous anime that today are considered classics, thereby making him (technically) a "success" by most metrics.

Let's take a look at the self-paradoxical career of Masashi Ikeda.

This is literally the only photo of Ikeda that seemingly
exists online... The guy just doesn't like publicity, it seems.

Born on February 10, 1961 in Kagawa Prefecture (located on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands), Masashi Ikeda eventually attended & graduated from Tokyo Zokei University with a film major. During his time at Zokei, Ikeda would produce his own amateur animation work on 8 mm film before joining Group Ebisen, an animation production & screening circle formed in 1978 at the Japan Animation Association's first ever animation workshop. Group Ebisen would eventually include the likes of the late Masahiro Katayama (who'd eventually become chairman of the circle in 1981, before eventually joining the JAA itself), Takuya Ishida (who'd become a respected claymation animator, working on almost every single Crayon Shin-chan movie), Koji Yamamura (a very respected independent animator & director of various short films), Sunao Katabuchi (director of Black Lagoon & In This Corner of the World), Hiroyuki Kakudo (Digimon Adventure 01 & 02, Yu-Gi-Oh! "Season 0"), & Tomoo Haraguchi (best known for his work in tokusatsu), among some others. After graduating, Ikeda would be introduced to the late Atsushi Yamatoya (best known for being head writer for Lupin the 3rd Part II's latter 2/3) & would join Animal-ya, an anime planning & production studio that was affiliated with Shin-Ei Animation. With his experience in amateur animation, this eventually led to Masashi Ikeda's first job in anime, which was doing storyboards for 1980's Kaibutsu-kun, something he'd also do for both 1979's Doraemon (the second, & longest, run) & 1982's Fuku-chan, before leaving Animal-ya & joining Nippon Sunrise in 1983.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Demo Disc Vol. 22: Underground & Underexposed?

Debuting on March 12, 1991, Monthly Shonen Gangan marked the start of Enix's foray into publishing, and it's still running to this very day under the ownership of Square Enix, alongside a cavalcade of various offshoot magazines, like Monthly GFantasy, Gangan Joker, Young Gangan, etc. While not on the tip of most anime/manga fans' tongues, Shonen Gangan has its own share of iconic, popular, & remembered manga throughout the magazine's history, including The Violinist of Hameln, Dragon Quest: The Emblem of Roto (alongside many other DQ manga), 666 Satan/O-Parts Hunter, Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning, HarĂ©+Guu, Soul Eater, Magical Circle Guru Guru, Corpse Princess, Blast of Tempest, & the most beloved of them all... two(!) different runs of Papuwa; there was also some forgotten series called Fullmetal Alchemist that ran in there, too, I guess. Anyway, for this volume of Demo Disc I want to focus on a manga that also ran in the pages of Shonen Gangan, one that does admittedly have a bit of nostalgia for me, personally, via its anime adaptation, but at the same time is hard for me to tell whether it would be up there with those other iconic titles or not, despite running alongside many of them for the better part of a decade in Japan.

Do we have ourselves a bit of an "Underdog from the Underground"?

Born in Hyogo Prefecture on September 22, 1977, Akinobu Uraku is a mangaka with a surprisingly short history & resume to his name. He first placed second in the fourth ever Enix 21st Century Manga Awards with his one-shot story Youjo Mahou Shori Han/Surplus Magic Processing Team, even getting it published in the February 1997 issue of Monthly GFantasy. This got him the chance to publish a proper serialized manga, resulting in the debut of Tokyo Underground in Shonen Gangan's very first issue of 1998. The series would continue until March of 2005, totaling 84 chapters across 14 volumes (plus a quartet of novels written by Mirei Tachibana, under her Junko Shimada alias), during which a 26-episode TV anime adaptation by Studio Pierrot would air in prime time on TV Tokyo throughout 2002; Uraku himself even has a one-line cameo in Episode 1 as a random high school student. Interestingly enough, the week after Tokyo Underground's final episode aired, director Hayato Date debuted his next anime adaptation... Naruto. Geneon Entertainment would then license & release the Tokyo Underground anime in North America throughout 2005 & 2006, even getting it aired on TV in 2007 on G4TechTV Canada's Anime Current programming block; the manga has never been licensed for English release. Since then, Discotek Media eventually license rescued the anime & released it on SD-BD in 2018, though it's currently not available via streaming anywhere. Tokyo Underground also received a three-minute anime promo in 2001 as part of the 4-Magazine Combination Special Anime Video by Enix (see my recent piece on Bus Gamer for more details), with most of the voice cast from that promo later reprising their roles for the TV anime. But enough about anime, as we're here for manga; I will reference the anime here & there, though, for comparison.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Obscusion B-Side: Metal Dungeon: Orcs to the Left of Me, Kobolds to the Right, Here I Am Stuck in the Dungeon With You

I've previously brought up Microsoft's rocky time trying to sell the original Xbox in Japan back when I reviewed Maximum Chase in 2021, but it is worth restating that it wasn't without trying & that Microsoft did manage to get a number of Japanese developers on board, including some of the big names, like Capcom, Konami, Namco, Atlus, Koei, & (probably most notably) Sega; that being said, some companies supported Xbox more than others. However, one thing that the Xbox was certainly lacking in its nearly 1,000-game catalog was RPGs, as by including any variation of the genre you can think of (tactical, strategy, action, etc.), & even including a couple that are only barely "RPGs", there look to only be just shy of 40 RPGs on the console, or less than 4% of the entire catalog. Of those, there seems to only be three that one would consider "traditional" RPGs, as in they focus on some sort of traversal (overworld, dungeon, or both), while combat is done via a separate mode that utilizes turn-based combat in some fashion; one could say there's four, depending on how you define Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic's round-based combat. Of those games, one was developed by a Western studio & never saw Japanese release (2004's The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age) while another was a Japan-exclusive (late 2002's Shin Megami Tensei NINE), so that leaves literally just one "traditional RPG" for the OG Xbox that actually saw worldwide release, and (coincidentally enough) it's also the console's very first "traditional" (J)RPG.

Founded in 1987, Panther Software (formerly Studio Panther until 1991) was a Japanese studio known primarily for its games released on PCs of the time, namely the MSX, Sharp X68000, & PC-88/98, before switching over to mostly console development & porting from the mid-90s on. Probably the most "iconic" game for Panther Software would be 1993's Hamlet, a dungeon crawler/action-RPG for the PC-98 best known for both its sci-fi aesthetic & for delivering first-person gameplay within (very basic) polygonal environments on hardware that wasn't really intended to do such things. Hamlet would then later get remade in full 3D on the PS1 as 1995's Space Griffon VF-9, which did actually see English release via Atlus later that same year, before getting remade itself on the Dreamcast in late 1999, which itself would then get ported to Windows in late 2000; these last two versions would remain Japan-exclusive. By this point, the studio had actually changed its name to Interlex (not to be confused with either the social marketing/advertising company or the global law firm network), with Panther Software simply being a brand name for games, though in 2005 Interlex would sell off its gaming division, which would become Panther Software once again. Today, I have no idea if the studio is even still around (it was eventually acquired by eroge company Contents Traffic), as its website hasn't been updated since February 23, 2005 (though it's still up!), so its final game looks to be March 2005's Heroes of the Three Kingdoms 4 for Windows, a Japanese version of the 2003 entry of a Chinese series made by UserJoy that's still going strong today; an Xbox port of PC visual novel Kana: Little Sister was announced by Panther, but was cancelled on May 27, 2005. All that being said, there was a Qix clone called Shinobi no Okite/The three female ninjas released to Steam in early 2020 that claims to be developed by a "Panther Software", but doesn't feature the studio's trademark logo anywhere & doesn't credit its staff, so who knows if it's actually the same studio. In fact, I can't even tell if Interlex is still around, as while its own (extremely basic) website is still up, acknowledges its past as Studio Panther, & even has its copyright updated to this very year, there's really no information about anything it's done since moving to Shibaura, Minato, Tokyo in 2013, two years after re-releasing Panther's old PS1 games to the PSOne Archives for PS3/PSP/Vita in 2011; even its (supposed) Twitter account no longer exists!