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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Release Date TBD Part 1

I do this to myself, honestly, but I like trying to compile a license rescue list every year, especially since it's been getting tougher to compile a list in which I feel that every single entry "deserves" being rescued & given a new re-release. There were a ton of rather forgettable & piss-poor anime that saw release in the history of the English-targeted market, and quite frankly a lot of those don't really need re-releases. Now, sure, I've included some titles that may not be marquee-quality in prior lists (Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals or Dark Warrior, anyone?), but at least when I include a title of lesser quality, it has to have a real sense of recognition behind it. It has to be something that still has some worth to it, whether that's due to it having a big name to it, or something worthy of repeat viewings (like multiple English dubs)... Or it has to be worthy of absolute infamy.

So, to start off this eight installment of the license rescue list series, let's go for one of the most infamous anime ever released.


On the very first license rescue list back in January of 2011 I included Yoshiyuki Tomino's Aura Battler Dunbine, which saw a singles-only release from ADV that sold so poorly that not only was ADV literally making coupons that gave customers free copies of the DVDs, but the last two volumes had such small print-runs that they are still two of the most expensive Region 1 anime DVDs ever produced. Granted, Daisuki did give Dunbine a new lease on life via streaming, which sadly will be going down later this year, but enough of the originator of the tales from Byston Well. Tomino put a lot of attention towards this fantasy world, and every now & then he would head back to Byston Well for another round. Easily the most infamous trip back, however, came in the mid-90s when he wrote, storyboarded, & directed Tales of Byston Well: Garzey's Wing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

éX-Driver Double Feature: A Burst of Turbo Accompanied by a Dead Engine

JAM Project's debut anime, the six episode OVA éX-Driver, seemed to be a bit of a hit release in Japan, so it only made sense to create more of it. The interviews made to go with the final episode, which are on Media Blasters' DVD releases, announced that the éX-Drivers would soon make their theatrical debuts, and the wait wouldn't be too long. The final episode of the OVA series came out in September of 2001, while the movie, simply titled éX-Driver the Movie, started running in theaters on April 20, 2002, but that's not all! Running alongside the movie was a special OVA prequel, subtitled Nina & Rei Danger Zone, which had its own director. Interestingly enough, Media Blasters did not license & release these two, but rather it was Geneon Entertainment, which released the Movie & Danger Zone on a single DVD. Therefore, rather than make two separate reviews, let's make this a Double Feature, where you get two reviews in one! I haven't done one of these in roughly four years, so let's see how it goes.


Probably one of the most interesting subjects that got brought up in the extras of the éX-Driver OVAs was why the cars were traditionally animated rather than done via CG. Director Jun Kawagoe went into some nice detail about the subject, stating that utilizing CG would be tricky (especially at the time), because either it would make it tougher to properly animate the characters inside the cars, or they would also have to be done via CG, which in turn wouldn't look quite as appealing. In comparison, hand animating everything, though requiring more work to get the detail right, allowed the staff to be in complete control over every single frame & moment. I bring this up because éX-Driver the Movie does what Kawagoe brought up by doing the cars via CG, but with the characters traditionally animated. With Kawagoe only in a supervisory role here, does this change in visual style help or hinder the movie? Hell, is it even a good hour-long story in the first place?

Lisa, Lorna, & Souichi head to Los Angeles to represent Japan in an international race between éX-Drivers from around the world. Upon arrival, though, they stop a runaway car that holds Angela Gambino, the daughter of a pasta magnate who's helping sponsor the éX-Driver race. Angela feels that her father, Rico, is participating in illegal gambling with the race, though, so she's trying to find ways to either stop the race or keep her father from getting involved... But is Rico Gambino really the villain in this supposed gambling ring?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

éX-Driver: All thé "É"s Must Bé Accéntéd!

As anime entered the new millennium, the industry had mostly moved towards using popular music for advertising purposes when it came to opening & ending themes. Ichiro Mizuki, the legendary anime song singer for themes to series like Mazinger Z, Tekkaman, Captain Harlock, Mechander Robo, & too many others to name, wanted to "Leave the 'Soul of Anison' with the 21st Century", and decided to found a anison supergroup. Joining him was Hironobu Kageyama (of Dragon Ball Z & Saint Seiya fame), Masaaki Endoh (of GaoGaiGar fame), singer/seiyuu double-threat Rica Matsumoto (of Pokémon fame), & Eizou Sakamoto (of Animetal & Anthem fame). Together the group would be called Japan Animationsong Makers Project, and the five would debut as a group in 2000. While the supergroup would quickly become associated with giant robots & superheroes, though, JAM Project's debut anime was nothing of the sort. In fact, in place of the style of Go Nagai was the looks of Kosuke Fujishima.


From 2000-2001, the creator of You're Under Arrest!, Oh! My Goddess, & character designer for a good portion of the Tales Series (i.e. whenever Mutsumi Inomata isn't doing them) teamed with Bandai Visual & animation studio Actas (making its solo debut) to produce a six-episode OVA series about sweet cars & the people who drive them. Titled éX-Driver (yes, the "e" must have an accent above it), the OVA would be a mixed-media production, with a manga version done by Fujishima & a light novel side story, subtitled Road to Pride, written by Hiroshi Amon & illustrated by Kenichi Hamasaki & Hiroaki Kobayashi. So let's see what the original OVA series, which saw a North American release by Media Blasters in 2002 on VHS & DVD (plus a two-disc complete collection on DVD in 2003) was like.

It's (you know,) "the future", and people no longer drive cars. Instead, the populace utilize AI-controlled electric vehicles to go from place to place, simply telling the car where to go; it even makes reservations on its own, if needed. Unfortunately, Artificial Intelligence still occasionally glitches out, which can result in vehicles going rogue & essentially holding its passengers hostage. When that happens, a call is made to éX-Driver, a group of people who are trained & capable of driving gasoline-powered "reciprocars" the good old-fashioned way. Lisa Sakakino & Lorna Endo are two high school students who also work as éX-Drivers for the Tokyo region, often having to leave class to tackle runaway car incidents. When a third éX-Driver, a prodigal young teen named Souichi Sugano, is added to the team, though, Lisa takes offense at the thought that she & Lorna aren't good enough on their own. Regardless, AI cars will go rogue, & it's up to the éX-Drivers to save the day.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

It's the Summer of JAM... In Living Colour, at That!

Look in my eyes, what do you see? Nothing, actually, since this is all text & that was a trick question!

video

Back in 2014, I did something crazy called JAM Project March. At that time, I was planning to attend Anime Boston, which was hosting JAM Project as one of its guests, so I decided to review six anime to celebrate the occasion during that month, with each anime featuring a theme song done by JAM itself; one for each of the current regular members & one for the group as a whole. I also shared an anime theme involving each member (& the group at large) each day of the month over at Twitter, and when I think back at it I wonder how the hell I managed to do such a thing. Actually, I technically didn't manage to do it all as planned, as the final review (Robonimal Panda-Z: The Robonimation) didn't get made until April. So, what does that have to do with this post?

Well, as part of Otakon's first ever convention emanating from Washington D.C., Otakorp has teamed with the Anison World Matsuri for the latter's first ever east coast performance, and one of the acts coming to D.C. for Otakon will be JAM Project (alongside T.M. Revolution, FLOW, & Yousei Teikoku). Therefore, I want to do something similar to JAM Project March... Only in a much more realistic & understandable format.

Therefore, I have come up with the Summer of JAM.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Samurai Spirits 2: Asura Zanmaden: Fair and Square... En Garde... VICTOLY!

When anime started becoming a notable niche in the late-90s & early 00s, it was popular for companies to license & release TV series, OVAs & movies based on video games; admittedly, it allowed for crossing over to more than just anime fans. Unfortunately, for every individual Street Fighter II Movie, Virtua Fighter, & Fatal Fury we got, we seemingly received at least two lackluster (if not simply outright terrible) adaptations alongside them. Stuff like Tekken, Panzer Dragoon, Battle Arena Toshinden, Art of Fighting, Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer, & Samurai Shodown almost became the faces of video game anime, with the end result being that we actually missed out on some really good examples that had just about as much cachet to them from a simple name recognition perspective. We never received Ninja Ryukenden, Far East of Eden: Ziria Oboro Hen, Salamander (okay, the UK got that one), or even Shinken Legend Tight Road (the game never got made, but it was based on one), and that also applies to successive entries to what we did get, especially if the later product was the better one. A very good example of that is Samurai Spirits 2: Asura Zanmaden/The Demon Slaying Asura Tale, a two-episode OVA from 1999.


SNK's Neo Geo arcade hardware was utilized from 1990 to 2004, making it the longest-running arcade hardware ever made, but it's not like SNK never tried to move away from it. In September of 1997, the Hyper Neo Geo 64 came out, and it was meant to be the successor to the Neo Geo, with 3D rendering capabilities & even a planned home version (similar to the MVS & AES). Unfortunately, the Hyper 64 just didn't succeed to even a fraction of what its predecessor achieved, and in 1999 was discontinued. Only seven games came out for the Hyper 64, four of which related to a major SNK franchise. The last two games, 1999's Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition & Buriki One, related to the shared Fatal Fury/Art of Fighting timeline, and before those were two Samurai Shodown games, which finally advanced the storyline past the second game. First was Samurai Shodown 64 in 1997, which introduced Shiki to the franchise, while the other was 1998's Samurai Shodown 64: Warrior's Rage, known as Samurai Spirits 2: Asura Zanmaden in Japan. Not to be confused with the similarly named Samurai Shodown: Warrior's Rage for the PS1 from the following year, this game would receive a prequel anime one year later, taking place across a couple of days before the events of the game. It's honestly not hard to surpass the 1994 TV special, so let's see how screwed over we were by not getting this OVA instead.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture: Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa... Shiro Tokisada Amakusa!

After pitting live-action adaptations of Capcom & SNK fighting games against each other & covering an obscure OVA based on Capcom's side of the equation, why not look at a couple of SNK anime adaptations? In fact, the former Shin Nihon Kikaku/New Japan Project was ahead of Capcom in the fighting anime game by a good few years. Instead of going theatrical, though, SNK instead went a different route by helping produce anime TV specials with Fuji TV. The first was Battle Fighters Garou Densetsu/Fatal Fury: Legend of the Hungry Wolf, which aired on December 23, 1992 & adapted the first Fatal Fury game on the Neo Geo from 1991. The following year saw two follow ups, July 31's Battle Fighters Garou Densetsu 2/Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle, which adapted 1992's Fatal Fury 2, & December 23's Battle Spirits Ryuko no Ken/Art of Fighting, which did the same for 1992's Art of Fighting. Though they were of varying quality (the Fatal Fury specials are generally liked, while AoF is considered absolute trash), the TV specials did well enough for SNK to go ahead & produce a fourth anime, this time a theatrical movie for Fatal Fury that told an original story & debuted on July 16, 1994. A few months later, SNK would produce one final TV special with Fuji TV, this time bringing another fighting game into the fold.


On July 7, 1993, SNK released Samurai Spirits into the arcade through the Neo Geo MVS. A fighting game that focused on methodical, weapons-based combat, it became an instant hit around the world under the name Samurai Shodown, so it was a no-brainer to have that be the next series to be made into an anime. So, on September 9, 1994, the anime TV special Samurai Spirits ~Haten Gouma no Sho/The Descending Demon that Split Heaven Chapter~ aired, & like its predecessors it would see release in North America. Whereas Viz (& later Discotek) released the three Fatal Fury anime & CPM would handle Art of Fighting, both with dual-audio DVD releases, it was ADV that brought over this final special, but only as a dub-only release under the misnomer Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture; even the later DVD release was without the original Japanese audio, likely being a simple VHS transfer. This final special went on to achieve it's own bit of terrible notoriety, so let's see how SNK's TV special undertaking finished up.

In February of 1638 (Kan'ei 15) was the Shimabara Rebellion, in which the Christian followers of Japan rebelled against the Tokugawa shogunate over tax differences. Leading them was Amakusa Shiro Tokisada, one of the Holy Swordsmen of the benevolent god Anislazer. After being betrayed by some of his own men, though, Amakusa decided to welcome the Dark God Ambrosia into his soul, crushing the rebellion (& the repelling shogunate army) as well as killing his six fellow Holy Swordsmen who tried to stop him; Anisalzer saved the six from being taken by Ambrosia, though. For the next 100 years, Amakusa would control the Tokugawa shogunate in secret, but in 1738 (Genbun 3) the Holy Swordsmen gather in Edo to finally put an end to their former ally's rule, with the only missing piece being Haohmaru, who has no recollection of his past life at the moment & just lost his village & surrogate mother to Amakusa's Evil Army.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Ports That Shouldn't Have Been Possible... But Actually Happened

For some people, the biggest appeal to be found in technology is in trying to make a product do something that it really isn't intended to do in the first place; some just want to put square blocks into circular holes & prove that it can be done. When it comes to video games, there are general limitations each & every console & handheld have when it comes to technical specifications, & this is especially true for older hardware of the 70s, 80s, & 90s. While one can certainly push a system's limits with original software, it's usually more impressive when someone (or some company) tries to port over a game from one piece of hardware to another, much weaker system. While one can find plenty of homebrew examples of such instances, as it's an excellent test of a programmer's skills, I want to celebrate six(-ish) examples where a system received an offical port that, honestly, shouldn't have been doable. Granted, I'm not guaranteeing high quality in this list, but the fact that these ports even happened & were released as official products deserves all the credit in the world.

The only real restriction is that I am not counting ports that relied on additional, external support, like the Sega Saturn games that required the RAM Cartridge; I want stuff made with just the core hardware. With that in mind, let's start things off with an example of what happens when a console stays viable for way, WAAAAAAAAY longer than it should have.


Atari released the Video Computer System back in 1977, with the name obviously meant to purposefully trick consumers into buying Atari's console instead of Fairchild's Video Entertainment System (later the Channel F). Eventually, though, the VCS would become known as the Atari 2600, and today it's considered one of the greatest consoles of all time. One of the coolest aspects of the 2600 is that Atari never really meant for it to house complicated games, yet many a designer & programmer found ways to push the system's capabilities, resulting in much more expansive games that what was initially intended. Games like Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns, Raiders of the Lost Ark, & the Swordquest series, among others, were far beyond the scope of what the designers of the 2600 had in mind. Still, those were all original titles... How about when you port over a game like Double Dragon to the Atari 2600?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Street Fighter II: Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo - Toki wo Kaketa Fighter-tachi: Learning & History & Imitating Character Designs

A few months back I saw 1994's Street Fighter II Movie for the first time in years with some friends (via Discotek's outstanding Blu-Ray release), and I think it still holds up outstandingly well; definitely one of my all-time favorite movies (anime or otherwise). Obviously, said movie was a massive success around the world, but especially in Japan, so a follow-up was put into production. Said follow-up was 1995's Street Fighter II V, a 29-episode TV series that essentially told its own take on the SFII story, but still featured a ton of staff overlap with the movie. The venerable Gisaburo Sugii returned to direct, Group TAC did the animation once again, various producers & animators came back, & even two seiyuu (Kenji Haga [Ken] & Yoko Sasaki [Cammy]) reprised their roles. It even received two different English dubs, one by Animaze for the North American release, & another by ADV Films for the UK release; there is no release containing both dubs as of yet. Still, II V wasn't actually the first anime to follow the SFII Movie. Just shy of two weeks prior to II V's debut on Japanese television, another SFII anime saw release...


While Tokyo (formerly Edo) is the current capital of Japan, & before that was Kyoto, not as much is known about what is considered Japan's first "real" capital, Fujiwara-kyo (which is now Kashihara in Nara Prefecutre). Acting as capital of Imperial Japan from 694-710 (where it was actually recorded as Aramashi-kyo), it was decided to hold an exhibition in Japan from March 29 to May 21, 1995 to help celebrate the former capital & let the people understand more of what life was like back then. The festival was called Romantopia Fujiwara-kyo '95. To help out, Capcom (which was one of the partners for the event) teamed with Studio Pierrot to produce a 23-minute OVA that would be sold on VHS exclusively during Romantopia, and with the SFII Movie being such a hit at the time, said OVA would feature SFII characters. Since then it's only had a single other release, easily making it the most obscure anime entry in Capcom's biggest franchise. So let's see what Street Fighter II: Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo - Toki wo Kaketa Fighter-tachi/A Revived Fujiwara-kyo - The Fighters Who Ran Through Time is all about.

Ryu, Ken, & Chun-Li are meeting up with E. Honda so that he can show them his new sumo moves. Before any of them meet up, however, Honda comes across a giant, turtle-shaped rock that magically sends all four of them 1,300 years into the past. Ryu & Ken meet up first, realizing that they're in Imperial Japan's capital of Fujiwara-kyo, and while searching for Chun-Li & Honda they learn about what life was like back then.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 9: Precocious Pilot Programs

Pilots have been around pretty much since the concept of television as entertainment, for the most part. Only so many programs are given the green light right away, with the rest having to go through some sort of testing period, usually resulting in the production of pilots to act as proof-of-concepts. This isn't anything new for anime, either, & I've even reviewed a few pilots on the blog, like the ones for One Piece, Hunter X Hunter, Seikimatsu Leader Den Takeshi!, Dororo (via the TV series review), & Ring ni Kakero 1. That being said, pilots aren't exactly the easiest things to consistently review. Sure, some have enough to them for me to actually do a review of fair enough length, but others aren't that lucky; the HxH pilot review is proof of that. Therefore, this volume of Demo Disc will be all about anime pilots, but we're not starting with your everyday pilots that wound up resulting in more. Instead, we'll be looking at pilots that never went anywhere, similar to what happened with Takeshi! or Perfect Victory Daiteioh (see Vol. 1 for that one). Sometimes these unlucky dead ends wind up seeing official release at some point, but at least one of these in this volume was never meant for general public viewing, but is now, so let's try to see why these precocious little scamps didn't go anywhere.


Space Adventure Cobra (English Dub Pilot)
We're starting things off here with something a little different, as first on the plate is a pilot for an English dub that never went anywhere. While dubbing TV anime in an uncut fashion is the norm nowadays, it was next to unheard of back in the early 80s, but TMS felt that it had a true international hit in the form of the anime adaptation of Buichi Terasawa's Shonen Jump manga Cobra. Therefore, before TMS even opened its own American office in Los Angeles, an English dub of a single episode was produced, with the hopes of getting the entire show dubbed & aired on American television. Take into consideration that TMS wasn't planning on treating Cobra like a piece of children's programming, like how animation was essentially treated back in the 80s (remember, this is TV we're talking about), but rather wanted this dub to be for a general audience, if not primarily older audiences. Unfortunately, a market for animation aimed at older audiences (hell, a market for "anime" in general) just didn't exist in North America yet, so the pilot was never picked up by anyone. Luckily, TMS hasn't exactly kept this dub secret, & Right Stuf's first DVD set for the TV anime does include it as an extra on Disc 1. Therefore, how is this pilot, & does the dub hold up well for being more a proof-of-concept than anything substantial?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Obscusion B-Side: Street Fighter vs. The King of Fighters: Live & Let Die and Go for Broke, for This is Gonna be a Match to Remember!

Like any great rivalry, Capcom & SNK has had a very symbiotic relationship. After all, 1984's Vulgus, Capcom's first arcade game, was distributed in North America by SNK. Similarly, after co-creating Street Fighter in 1987, Takashi Nishiyama & Hiroshi Matsumoto left Capcom to join SNK, where they started that company's status as a legendary fighting game developer by creating Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, & The King of Fighters, among others. Finally, SNK's return to relevance recently was lead by Yasuyuki Oda, who directed KOF XIV & was previously worked with Capcom as battle designer for Street Fighter IV  (not to mention worked with the original SNK before that). That's why it only made sense when the companies teamed together to produced the Capcom vs. SNK & SNK vs. Capcom games from 1999-2003 (& 2006); it was seemingly destiny for the twain to meet. That being said, the first Capcom vs. SNK, outside of the (hidden) inclusion of Morrigan Aensland & Nakoruru, was literally just "Street Fighter vs. The King of Fighters"...

And that's how you do a segue!

What about Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, you ask?
There's a simple answer to that.............

Naturally, with the success of both Street Fighter II & The King of Fighters, live-action movie adaptations were made. First up was Street Fighter, which came out on December 23, 1994 and was written & directed by Steven E. de Souza. King of Fighters wouldn't see a film adaptation until August 31, 2010 & it was directed by Gordon Chan. Street Fighter is the much more well known of the two due to it being given a wide theatrical release internationally, plus a cartoon series sequel & two wildly different fighting game adaptations (one by Incredible Technologies & the other by Capcom). King of Fighters, on the other hand, received theatrical releases in Canada & Japan, but went straight-to-video elsewhere. Both are intensely ridiculed to this day, so why am I pitting them against each other?

Because it's April Fools' Day, & what better way to have fun on a (not actually a) holiday about playing jokes on people than to continue Capcom & SNK's absolute rivalry by having it's two live-action movies fight to the death, to determine which one stands tall in victory!

Round 1... Ready?... Fight!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 3

As I mentioned at the end of Part 2, I'm kind of cheating when I say that Toshifumi Kawase had a 14-year streak of directing anime. This is mainly because Kawase didn't direct an anime that debuted in the year 2000. The most there was were the final four episodes of B.B-Daman Bakugaiden V, which aired in January of that year. Kawase wouldn't be the real head honcho of another TV anime until the start of 2001, instead working throughout 2000 as a storyboarder for Boogiepop Phantom, Hajime no Ippo, InuYasha, & the final episode of Turn-A Gundam. Still, Kawase did so some directing at the same time, but it was for international use instead.


The third animated adaptation of Marvel's X-Men comic series, following the 1989 Pryde of the X-Men pilot & the 1992-1997 TV series that defined the franchise to many people (like myself), X-Men Evolution was a different type of story. This time it re-imagining Charles Xavier's team of mutants as teenagers who have to mix in with their "normal" high school peers (Nightcrawler notably had a watch that projected white skin over his traditional blue hue), and was quite honestly a rather good & interesting Marvel animated series; it's also the third-longest of all (behind only the X-Men & Spider-Man shows of the 90s). Similar to how Toei helped do animation for the 1989 pilot, though, X-Men Evolution also had its animation done partially overseas, this time by Japan's Madhouse & Korea's Dr Movie. As indicated in the image above, Toshifumi Kawase was one of the animation directors for the show, specifically for the first season. In fact, Kawase was the most prolific animation director for those first 13 episodes, as he directed seven of them. Unfortunately, only three of the four seasons of X-Men Evolution actually saw home video release (& not exactly consistently, either), but at least one can get a hold of all of the episodes that Kawase directed the animation for, & it is fully available legally via streaming through some outlets, like Amazon.

Still, this isn't what we're here for. We're here to look over Kawase's directorial streak for made-for-Japan animation. Therefore, let's move on to another piece of children's anime meant to promote a toy line, but at least this one would be aired internationally... And become a rather notable hit for its time.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 2

Last we left Toshifumi Kawase's decade-plus streak of directing anime, he had helped reinterpret iconic 70s anime Brave Raideen into the Gundam Wing-influenced bishonen romp Reideen the Superior, a series that seemingly did better than expected & wound up running for 38 episodes. While still working with Sunrise every now & then from here on out, though, Kawase would also start working as a bit of a freelancer following Reideen, often finding consistent work with Studio Deen (which itself was formed in the 70s by former Sunrise employees). Before we head into the next wave of Kawase-directed anime, though, we first have to bring up an experiment with how anime was brought to viewers that would become the very standard anime is made within.


In 1992 Japan's giant economical bubble popped, and with it came a notable crash. For the anime industry, the end of the bubble economy effectively killed the OVA boom that allowed seemingly anyone with an idea & money to make anime, with the 90s OVA market focusing mainly on pre-existing franchises or continuing off of recently successful TV series. In late 1996, though, a new idea was tested out on TV Tokyo, which was airing short-run TV series (i.e. 12/13 episodes) in late-night/post-midnight time slots, with said TV airings acting like long-form infomercials for the eventual home video releases. The first show to try this out, Those Who Hunt Elves, actually debuted a day after Reideen the Superior did, and when the latter anime ended, Toshifumi Kawase got himself ready to try his hand at working on late-night anime, with his first one debuting roughly three months later.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Torrential River of Directing: The 14-Year Anime Streak of Toshifumi Kawase Part 1

Anime, much like any form of visual storytelling, is a collaborative effort, but most people tend to look at a single name when giving credit to its creation & final product: The director. It makes perfect sense to do so, as a directorial role is that of someone who leads others, so the director is the person who generally takes command & claim over how the final product is. Some directors wind up having a strong style to them, which makes it easy to see which ones are done by specific people. For example, no one's going to confuse an Osamu Dezaki work with a Yasuhiro Imagawa joint. There is something to be said, however, for a director being a reliable hand, i.e. someone who can deliver quality work consistently. For me, one of the most reliable directors I can think of is Toshifumi Kawase.


Back in 2014 I did a series of posts called The (Yasuhiro) Imagawa Chronicles, where I gave a general overview of the entire catalog (at the time) of Yasuhiro Imagawa, who started with Tatsunoko before quickly making a name for himself with Sunrise. Toshifumi Kawase's career starts off very similarly, as he also made his name with Sunrise. He started back in 1980 as a production assistant for Invincible Robo Trider G7 before doing more or less the same from 1982-1984 with Combat Mecha Xabungle & Aura Battler Dunbine. It was during Dunbine that Kawase would see his first taste at directing, as he was episode director for Episodes 17 & 22, and even got a character named after him in the form of Captain Kawasse. Following that, Kawase worked as a storyboarder & episode director from 1984-1990, working on Heavy Metal L-Gaim, Zeta Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Metal Armor Dragonar, Mister Ajikko (the last time he & Imagawa would work on the same production), Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers, Jushin Liger, Kiteretsu Daihyakka, & Brave Exkaiser. In 1987 he made his debut as director when he headed up the OVA Dead Heat, which is most known for being the very first 3D anime & one of the few initially made for the obscure VHD videodisc format; I might check this out & review it, one day, though I can never see it the way it was intended.

Following all of that, however, Toshifumi Kawase would start working as the director of entire TV anime series, and his reliability is easily shown here, since every year from 1991 to 2004 saw at least one anime series directed by him. A 14-year streak of directing anime (if you include his work with series composition, it becomes 17 years) is nothing to sneeze at, so what I want to do is give a general overview of what exactly Kawase directed during his decade-plus streak. This isn't going to be quite as extensive as what I did for Yasuhiro Imagawa, but that's mainly because, during this very streak, Kawase still worked on other anime as a storyboarder &/or scriptwriter, & adding those titles would literally double the amount of shows to cover! I'll be splitting this up across three parts, and for Part 1 we'll be sticking to the early-to-mid 90s, from his most "iconic" work to how he helped reinvent a highly influential mech anime of the 70s.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Culdcept (Manga): Naja, You Can Go to the Buffet After You Save the Forest!

If you were to ask a reader of manga what his or her "first manga" was, they'd likely answer something along the lines of Naruto, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, etc.; you know, something that had some relation to an anime that has some sort of "mainstream" popularity. Now, my "first manga" was technically a chapter of a Pokémon manga that Viz released in the old flipped-artwork floppy fashion, but I didn't actually realize that until just a few years ago; I forgot I had even bought it as a kid. No, if you were to ask me what my "first manga" really was, as in reading it because it was manga, I'd answer with a series I doubt many would know of. Much like how I started getting into anime, though, it all has to do with video games...


Created by Omiya Soft (Front Mission: Gun Hazard, Kikou Sohei Armodyne) in 1997, Culdcept has become the franchise that's defined the company. Debuting on the Sega Saturn, followed by updates, sequels, & ports on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox 360, DS, & (most recently) 3DS, the game series is best described as a mix between Magic the Gathering & Monopoly. Like the former players utilize decks of cards filled with monsters, spells, items, & more to compete against each other, but like the latter it's all played on a board game-like field & winning requires you to achieve a certain amount of magic & reach a goal, capturing spaces on the board & taxing unlucky visitors in order to do so; you can also fight to take over land, too. It's an intensely addictive & outstanding series that North America has only seen two entries from, Culdcept II/Second Expansion on the PS2 (simply renamed Culdcept) from NEC Interchannel (from the company's hyper-short-lived revival outside of Japan) in 2003 & Culdcept Saga on the 360 from Bandai Namco in 2008; Europe has never seen an entry. Well, with the newest entry, Culdcept Revolt on the 3DS, actually being released abroad by NIS America later this summer (complete with a European release, for those across the pond!), I think now is the best time for me to give my "first manga" a re-read, plus finally check out that final volume we never got.

That's right, Culdcept was adapted into manga, debuting in the second ever issue of Kodansha's Monthly Magazine Z in 1999. With editorial supervision by Omiya Soft, illustrator Shinya Kaneko was hired to create his own take on the world of the game, and it first ran until about early 2004 or so, being canceled after four volumes. It would be brought back, however, within a year & last another two volumes before either going on hiatus or being canceled a second time; regardless, Magazine Z went defunct in 2009, so it would have been canceled eventually. The ever ambitious & reckless TokyoPop, obviously wanting any sort of tie-in it could get a hold of, licensed the manga & got the first volume out roughly half a year after NEC brought the PS2 game over, and would eventually release all but the sixth & final volume. Why that last book never came out is a mystery, since it came out long enough before Kodansha took back all of the licenses it had with TokyoPop in 2009, but I recently decided to finally import that last volume for completion's sake. Therefore, let's see if Shinya Kaneko's Culdcept manga holds up now, nearly 13 years after I first started reading manga seriously.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Chosoku Spinner: Yo? Yo. Yo?! Yo!!

I've said it before on the blog, but the thing about anime & manga that appeals to me the most is how either medium can literally be about nearly anything; you can bring up something & be told, "There's an anime/manga for that." This is especially true for sports & games, which has allowed anything from boxing to baseball to go to shogi to mahjong to pachinko/pachislot to ice skating to bread baking to be made into an anime or (at least) manga. Speaking of bread baking, probably one of the most famous for adapting nontraditional things to manga is Takashi Hashiguchi, the creator of Yakitate!! Japan. I reviewed the anime adaptation of his manga across three parts in 2015, but that wasn't even the first time Hashiguchi saw a manga of his be adapted into anime. It first happened in 1998 for a manga focused around competitive yoyoing.

Like I said, anime & manga can be about anything.


Debuting in late-1997 in the pages of Shogakukan's CoroCoro Comic, Chosoku/Super Speed Spinner was the first notable manga to come from the mind of Takashi Hashiguchi (who had debuted in the early 90s), after an initial one-shot a few months earlier titled Moero/Burn! Spinner. The focus on doing tricks with a yoyo isn't really all that absurd, since the toy has always been very popular in Japan; most World Yoyo Champions from the past 10-20 years have come from Japan. The manga would run for nearly three full years, ending in mid-2000 after seven volumes, and during the serialization Shogakukan would work with TV Tokyo & a young animation studio called Xebec to adapt the manga into a TV anime from late 1998 to mid-1999. Maybe it was because it aired as part of children's show Oha Suta, but the anime had a bit of a bizarre airing schedule to it. The first four episodes came out weekly to close out 1998, but once the new year started only two episodes would come out every month (on two consecutive weeks), resulting in the anime only running for 22 episodes across the better part of a year. Not just that, but the anime has seen very little re-releasing in its home country, with the only home video release being across five VHS tapes from 1999-2000 (which are copy-protected, so I can't record them onto DVD), & the only seeming re-airing being on Oha Suta back in 2008 (so maybe a remaster was done?), where it was considered a "legend". In 2003, though, Chosoku Spinner (both manga & anime) was exported to Singapore, with the anime being given a completely uncut English dub by Odex under the name Super Yo-Yo. So, what happens when anime gets a hold of the yoyo? Let's find out.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Obscusion B-List: Completely Unexpected Video Game Crossovers

Last year I did a B-List titled "Video Game Crossovers with Completely Unexpected Rosters", where I brought up six(-ish) crossover video games that featured line-ups so non-traditional that it was almost worth checking them out solely for the rosters. It was a rather successful piece for the blog, at least in terms of what I'd consider "successful" here, so I have decided to create a sort of "sequel list" to that one. Now I could have been rather blasé in that regard & simply made "More Video Game Crossovers with Completely Unexpected Rosters" (& I won't say that it will never happen), but rather I want to twist this concept around a bit & instead put the "Unexpected" focus on the crossovers themselves.


Crossovers can be weird... And I mean WEEEIIIIRRRD. It's one thing for a crossover that sounds obvious to feature some crazy surprises in the roster, but what about those crossovers that just make you tilt your head & leave you speechless? Comics legend Archie is a surprisingly notable one, having crossed over with The Punisher & Predator, but there are plenty of other memorably unexpected crossovers. Products like Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, that Power Rangers in Space/Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation crossover episode, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, & even Who Framed Roger Rabbit are perfect examples of when the very existence of said crossovers are a major appeal in & of themselves. Therefore, let's look at six times when video games featured out-of-nowhere crossovers... And, to no surprise, Capcom makes up half of this list, because the former Japan Capsule Computers Co., Ltd. really likes its crossovers.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Shinken Legend Tight Road: A Standalone Story Mode Without a Fighting Game

In our modern times, the apparent standard for most new anime is to run for one entire calendar season, or roughly 12/13 episodes; this is often called a "cour", after the French word for "course". Anyway, while this essentially started being a standard once anime started moving into late-night slots, this wasn't the only time anime tried out the single cour format. An interesting experiment with this idea was actually done by Toei Animation & TV Tokyo back in the second half of 1994, and in the complete opposite of late-night. Instead, two single cour anime were aired Fridays from 7:35-8:05 in the morning, and while the first show (Metal Fighter Miku) did see release in North America on DVD by Media Blasters back in 2001, the other has gone on to hyper-obscurity... So you know that I'm the perfect guy (i.e. the only man stupid enough) to check it out.


Running from October to December of 1994, Shinken Densetsu/True Fist Legend Tight Road (or simply Shinken Legend, as the VHS covers say) actually has a bit of an interesting, but short, history behind it. Similar to Metal Fighter Miku, this was conceived as a multimedia production, with Shinken Legend in particular meant to promote an upcoming fighting game published by Zamuse & developed by a small little dojinshi developer called Gust. Unfortunately, the game never actually saw release (if even development), though Gust would go on to become a successful RPG studio through its Atelier & Ar Tornelico franchises, & is now owned by Tecmo Koei Games. While it's not the only time an anime has been made to promote a video game that never came out (90s OVA Early Reins is another example), I'm not sure if any others were actually done to the scale that Shinken Legend was, i.e. an entire TV series being made.

So when an anime is based on a fighting game that never actually comes out, what's the end result like? Let's find out.

Taito Masaki is working on a cruise ship as payment for a trip to the country of Grazia, which is where his father went to five years ago in search of a dream, only for him to die. While on the ship, Taito becomes involved in the search & apprehension of Charlie, a missing British solider who's also part of a "Human Weaponization Concept" codenamed Rabbit, due to the red eyes test subjects have when enraged. This is only the beginning of Taito's journey in Grazia, though, where he teams with Brigadier General Sarah Jones (Charlie's commanding officer), Gerard Gelain, & Kicks Rockwell as they decide to take on the Spiral Palace run by Captain Klaus Daggats, Grazia's "God of Fighting", who has a relation to both the Rabbit project & the death of Taito's father.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Ring ni Kakero's Supreme Superblows Part 2

I'd say it's fair to say that the most identifiable aspect of an action manga is the wide variety of named special attacks that the various characters use in battle, and Shonen Jump has a gigantic girth of them. The Kamehameha, Hokuto Hundred Crack Fist, Pegasus Meteor Fist, the Kinniku Buster, Getsuga Tensho, Gum Gum Pistol, the Rasengan, Rei-Gun (get it?), Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki, Cool Drive, Sunlight Yellow Overdrive... All of them owe some inspiration to Ring ni Kakero. As I stated in Part 1, while Team Astro did feature crazy special maneuvers with wild names first, it was RnK that really put it towards the forefront, and it's become a bit of a standard in many action series. After all, the kids who read these manga needed something to scream out while they played around & tried to recreate some of these for the fun of it.

Therefore, let's end this 40th Anniversary celebration of Ring ni Kakero's debut in the beginning of 1977 by looking at some more of the best (in my opinion) superblows that inspired too many other to count.


Cosa Nostra
When Ryuji first delivered the Boomerang Hook during the Champion Carnival, it was showcased as Ryuji having something special about him. When Shinatora first hit Rolling Thunder later in that tournament, he was shown as being similarly special. But then Black Shaft hit Ryuji with his Black Screw during the Pacific War, showing that other strong Jr. boxers had their own special attacks. Similarly, when each of these were first done, Kurumada treated them with more impact, but nothing really special about them. It wouldn't be until the World Tournament that the term "superblow" would first be used, and to go with new term Kurumada decided to give these ultimate punches the visual flair that they'd become iconic & inspirational for. The first person to be given this type of treatment is Don Juliano, Italian Jr. Champion, self-proclaimed "Sicilian Dandy", & head of the Jr. Mafia. Understanding that Ryuji Takane is a dangerous person to take on, he makes no attempt to try to make this fight a long one, so he starts up right away with his superblow, Cosa Nostra.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ring ni Kakero's Supreme Superblows Part 1

Finally, to end this celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Ring ni Kakero, we take a look at an element that is likely one of the most influential: The superblows. Now, to be fair, the concept of named attacks was nothing new when RnK debuted. Various martial arts manga utilized such things, the idea giving attacks names existed before manga was even a thing due to the legendary Wong Fei-hung, and the idea of over-the-top signature moves was outright taken from Team Astro, which featured baseball techniques like the Giacobini Meteor Shower Swing, the Skylab Pitch, & the Andromeda Nebula Swing. What Kurumada made iconic was giving his characters' various superblows names that were not quite as literal, instead giving them larger than life names that evoked various feelings & ideas. After all, an uppercut is an uppercut, but naming an uppercut something like "God Dimension" & making it look like Apollon's opponent has been hit with the power of the Sun itself makes it look badass as all hell.

Therefore, here are my personal twelve favorite superblows in all of the original Ring ni Kakero manga. Unlike the prior list, however, I'm only going with the way the manga showcases them, because otherwise I'd have more than just twelve. The anime managed to take Black Shaft's Black Screw, Napoleon Baroa's Devil Propose, & Orpheus' Dead Symphony, which all looked a little plain in the manga, and make them look outstanding. Therefore, let's just stick with how Kurumada originally drew them.


Heart Break Cannon
We're starting off with a superblow that's admittedly simple, but is just as dangerous in real life as it is in the manga. When Jun Kenzaki stands to fight against Theseus of Team Greece in the final set of matches of the World Tournament, he only had so much opposition against him. Team Germany's Scorpion gave him a fight, but not even he could stand against the newly-debuted Galactica Mangum. In comparison, Theseus is something different, knowing exactly how to hit Kenzaki without a care for his well being & able to counter any punch at first. Once Kenzaki finds an opportunity he tries to fight back, but Theseus has the perfect move to stop him with... A heart punch. However, this isn't a measly little punch to the heart. Instead, this move is a cannon of a punch.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ring ni Kakero's Best Bouts Part 2: From the World Tournament to the Final Fight

In creating this list of the best fights in Ring ni Kakero, & this is seen in the first half, I noticed something... Ryuji Takane is all over this list. I guess that makes a certain sense since he's the main character, but at the same time I can give an easy explanation to that. In short, Masami Kurumada tended to give Ryuji the fights with a lot of meat to them, likely due to his status as main character. That's not to say that the other characters have fights that aren't any good, because there are really enjoyable fights from Ishimatsu, Kawai, Shinatora, & Kenzaki, but the main issue with most of them is that they don't tend to have the same amount of time that Ryuji's fights are given. This can be considered a bit of an example of how RnK is the "bible" of fighting manga, and therefore later titles would give more time to the supporting cast's fights, but it's something to point out.

That being said, let's get to Part 2 & see which were the best fights in the second half of Ring ni Kakero.

(WARNING! As I'll be covering exact fights, please keep in mind that I may venture into spoilers at times. I'll try to keep them as general as possible, but fair warning.)


Ryuji Takane vs. Napoleon Baroa
After being first mentioned at the end of the Champion Carnival, the World Tournament Chapter finally starts up, and the fights in this arc are almost all really damn good. While there are still some rather short fights (two of the fights against Team France are good examples of that), the rest all have something really cool to them. Ishimatsu taking on four members of Team Italy on his own, the crazy ability all of Team France have (which I'll get to in a bit), the scientifically concocted counter-strategies Team Germany uses to combat Golden Japan's superblows, & the sheer spectacle that is Team Greece are all excellently memorable moments, so choosing just one from this entire arc is really damn hard. If I can for a moment, I just want to give "honorable mentions" to Ryuji vs. Don Juliano (a very strong start for the arc), Ishimatsu vs. Tiffany (another showcase of Ishimatsu's tenacity), Shinatora vs. Himmler (if only for the Special Cross Counter), & Kenzaki vs. Theseus (the first time Kenzaki actually is pushed hard).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ring ni Kakero's Best Bouts Part 1: From Tokyo to the Shadow Clan

Befitting a manga series about boxing, Masami Kurumada's Ring ni Kakero is very much focused around combat. Almost every story arc has many, many 1-on-1 fights housed within, especially once it hits its genre-defining groove & enters its more tournament & challenge match-focused direction. With that in regard, it's obvious that not every fight is going to be a knockout (cue rimshot). This is all the more true for RnK, as many of the fights don't follow the seeming standard that people nowadays associate with fights in shonen manga. Instead of primarily stretching out battles for drama & emotion, like how it's generally done today, bouts in RnK are primarily fast & over fairly quickly, though there are a handful of exceptions. Therefore, deciding which fights are the "Best Bouts" in this series comes down to not just the action itself but also the circumstances in & around them. In the end, I decided to round it down to one fight for each story arc in the manga & one special inclusion so that it's an even ten bouts. So, without further ado, let's get started.

(WARNING! As I'll be covering exact fights, please keep in mind that I may venture into spoilers at times. I'll try to keep them as general as possible, but fair warning.)


Ryuji Takane vs. Jun Kenzaki II
First up is what is officially named the Road to Tokyo Chapter, which shows how Ryuji & Kiku Takane go from a downbeat life with their mother & their new deadbeat stepfather to eventually living with Zoroku Omura at the Tokyo boxing gym that he runs. The main focus in this arc is character development more than anything, showing how Ryuji starts off completely resistant to taking up boxing before he meets young prodigy Jun Kenzaki & finds a reason to take up the sport. In that regard, there are really only two actual "bouts" in this arc, so this wasn't a hard choice to make. The first (impromptu) fight between Ryuji & Kenzaki isn't bad by any means, but as a fight it's pretty one-sided. It's simply Kenzaki beating the ever-living crap out of Ryuji until our lead manages to find an opening & knocks his newfound rival out of the ring & into a giant mirror on the wall of the boxing club's gym. The second fight, however, is another thing entirely.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ring ni Kakero Trivia Track: Six Neat, Important, or Interesting Factoids

Masami Kurumada made his professional debut in 1974 with Sukeban Arashi/Delinquent Storm, a comedic series about Rei Kojinyama, who tries to be an ideal schoolgirl to honor the memory of her deceased mother but can't help leaning back into her delinquent lifestyle. After that wound up getting cancelled, he decided that his next series would pay homage to one of his favorite manga of all time: Ashita no Joe. He quickly realized that simply following AnJ's style would both be a disservice to that manga as well as his own series, so he wound up adopting a more over-the-top style influenced by Astro Kyudan/Team Astro, a popular Jump manga that was running when he debuted. While being technically a baseball manga, the feats & games that were actually played were so absurdly over-the-top that it kept readers captivated for four years & 20 volumes; it was that concept of "attraction" that Kurumada wanted to bring to his boxing manga.

In doing just that, Ring ni Kakero wound up becoming an important part in the evolution of not just Shonen Jump but also action manga, often called "fighting manga" in Japan, in general. You can read my review of the manga to get a better understanding of why that is, but what I want to focus on are the little things. I've brought most of them up before on the blog but want to describe in more detail here, while one of them in particular I've only alluded to. Call it "trivia" if you will (hell, I did in the name of this post), but let's have some fun here. First up is probably the most important piece of trivia of all, though.


"The Hot-Blood Fighting Manga Bible"
It's easy for something to be called a "classic", since most just equate that word with age instead of saving it solely for those with good quality; personally, I think the word "vintage" should be the general term, instead. It's tougher for something to be called an "icon", as that has to indicate not just age & quality, but also a status as being something that represents an entire group, whether it's a genre, style, medium, etc. What's nigh-impossible, though, is for something to be called a "bible", because to reach that status it has to not only have age, quality, & a status of being a representative behind it, but also be considered the product that everything that comes after it follows; it's an (or the) authority on something. You almost never hear anyone try to actually define something as being the bible on a concept or style, so when something is deemed to that level, then you have to take note.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Put It All in the Ruby Anniversary: Ring ni Kakero Turns 40!

A belated Happy New Year, everyone, & welcome to the year 2017... If you wish to hold on tight or kiss your ass goodbye, then go ahead & do so.

Once again, I have reserved the first month of the year to be "Jump January", and like the previous times I did this there is a singular theme behind it. For this year, I want to celebrate what I feel is an important anniversary that will likely get next to no celebration elsewhere, even in its home country of Japan. Forty years ago, on this very day (or, at least, on the second Monday of January), Masami Kurumada's Ring ni Kakero/Put it All in the Ring debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.

Calm down, Ryo-san, you'll run for WAAAAYYY longer...

Yes, for those who didn't know (like myself until I checked), 40 years marks the Ruby Anniversary of something, and that's what applies to this boxing manga. Since Shonen Jump doesn't mark exact dates, I had to calculate what day Issue #2 came out on, and since the magazine (officially) comes out every Monday in Japan, that means that Ring ni Kakero debuted on January 10, 1977; interestingly enough, this year is only one numbered day off in that regard. I'm sure most people are not familiar with RnK, so here's how I described it when I reviewed the manga back in 2013:

"Ryuji & Kiku are the two children of Gou Takane, a world-class professional boxer who was on his way to becoming world champion until his untimely death. Kiku decides to train Ryuji into a boxer, but Ryuji wants nothing to do with the sport. After seeing that their mother Chiyo has suddenly re-married to an abusive drunkard, Kiku takes Ryuji and they head off to Tokyo, where Kiku plans to make her younger brother into an excellent boxer, even if Ryuji doesn't want to. Through an encounter with Jun Kenzaki, a young boxing prodigy, though, Ryuji finds his motivation to become a pro boxer, and along the way will meet other junior boxers from all over the world on his path to (potential) greatness."

Since I am a big fan of this manga (& it's eventual anime adaptation), I wanted to celebrate this anniversary. Sadly, however, I feel as though I might be the only one out there who actually will give a hoot about this anniversary, even counting Japan itself.