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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Star Dust: "Mr. Itano, Will This Be on the Final Exam?" "THIS IS THE FINAL EXAM!!!"

Ichiro Itano may not exactly be on the lips of the general anime fan, but for those who admire sleek & stylish animation of the 80s, then this man is one of the most cherished & beloved. After graduating high school in the 70s, Itano eventually joined the anime industry, becoming an animator for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, both the innovative 1979-1980 TV series & the 1981-1982 movie trilogy. He would make his name truly known, though, when he was offered a spot over at Studio Nue to help work on 1982-1983's Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. While working as a mechanical animation director (i.e. he oversaw how the giant robots animated), Itano decided to give the iconic Valkyries a little something extra whenever they fired their missiles. Simply firing off a lot of missiles at once did nothing for Itano, so he decided that every one of them would fly all over the place while in transport, with each having its own specific trajectory & motion. While he technically had done this visual flair before Macross, it was this anime's portrayal that would lead to it being deemed the "Itano Circus", which is now what any sort of wild & crazy multi-trajectory projectile scene is called, regardless of whether it was animated by the man or not (yes, even Pokémon has done it). Not many people have an actual example of animation named after them, so props to Itano.

Itano would eventually direct his own anime, as well, & I even previously reviewed his directorial debut when I wrote about Megazone 23 Part II International. His successive resumé in the director's chair is admittedly pretty small compared to other legends, with only Battle Royal High School, Violence Jack: Evil Town, Kujaku-Oh 2, & the infamous Angel Cop, followed by a large hiatus for the most part. Sure, he did the occasional bit of animation direction or "special direction" during the 90s, mainly for Macross-related products, but Itano didn't actually return to directing until the mid-00s, when he headed up Gantz & Blassreiter for Gonzo; after that, he's assisted on anime here & there. The man's hiatus was mostly because he wound up becoming a teacher, working at Yoyogi Animation Academy, "YoAni" for short. It was seemingly while working at YoAni that Ichiro Itano wound up directing what it easily his most unknown & forgotten work. It's so obscure that I never even heard of it once until a few months ago, when a VHS rip found its way online, there's no entry for it at all over at ANN's Encyclopedia, Wikipedia Japan has nothing on it, I can't find any cover art or even an Amazon Japan listing, & I didn't even realize Itano was involved with it until somewhat recently.

So let's see if there's anything special about Star Dust, a 30-minute OVA from 1992 that was seemingly a pet project done by Itano & his very own YoAni students.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Obscusion B-Side: 20 Years of The House of the Dead

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Capcom's iconic Resident Evil, the game that, though inspired heavily by the likes of Sweet Home & Alone in the Dark, is generally considered the father of survival horror; it did coin the phrase, after all. That being said, I'm not talking about that franchise's legacy (at least, not yet). Instead, I want to look back at another horror game franchise that made its debut in 1996, one that may not have the cachet of Resident Evil but deserves its own love & respect.

Happy 20th Anniversary, The House of the Dead!

While Capcom introduced survival horror to the world on March 22, 1996 via the Japanese release of Biohazard, Sega would introduce its own iconic horror game to Japanese arcades on September 13, 1996. At least, that's the only definitive date I could find, others simply say just 1997, so I'm going with that. Developed by Sega AM1, The House of the Dead, no relation to the 1860's Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel of the same name, was a Model 2 arcade light-gun rail shooter that took quarter-feeding players on a journey through a giant mansion which had been taken over by hordes of undead creatures, eventually stopping a mad scientist from unleashing his ultimate creation upon the world. Yeah, the basic plot (& I mean basic) does sound slightly similar to Resident Evil on the surface, and both franchises would end up receiving their own crazy, semi-convoluted plotlines as sequels abounded. Unlike RE, though, HotD would only see so many entries in its life. Still, there are so many spin-offs in Sega's franchise that I want to simply focus on the main, numbered entries for this retrospective; I'll bring up spin-offs & curious ports if necessary, though. Yes, this does mean that I'll be skipping over The House of the Dead: Overkill, so sorry if that disappoints you. Anyway, let's start it all with a frantic phone call for help...

Friday, September 9, 2016

B・B Burning Blood: An Indecisive KO

"Forgotten Works of Legends"... This is a phrase I've thought to myself not long ago. Like it says, there are some people who are veritable icons, or at least notable in their own rights, who have numerous works to their names, and when that happens there are bound to be a small amount of titles that have simply gone by the wayside. With this in mind, let this month be a reminder to both you, my readers, & myself of a couple of OVAs directed by two legendary men in the anime industry, both of which were produced in the early 90s. First up is the late Osamu Dezaki, a man who I've covered to a small extent on the blog before. Coincidentally enough, the titles that I did review that were directed by him, One-Pound Gospel (under his Makura Saki pen name) & Champion Joe 1 & 2, were all boxing anime, so I think it's only right to bookend that by looking at Dezaki's final boxing anime, B・B Burning Blood.

This is actually a composite of two title splashes the OVA uses, one after another.

Osamu Ishiwata made his debut in the manga industry back in around 1981, but wouldn't hit it big until 1985 when he debuted a boxing manga in the pages of Shonen Sunday. Running until 1991 & lasting 31 volumes, B.B Burning Blood (I'll avoid using the proper dot simply for typesetting purposes) occupies a bit of an odd spot when it comes to notoriety in that it wound up running for a good length of time, & even won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shonen in 1989, yet doesn't seem to be championed as one of Sunday's most iconic works... At least, I can't find any real indication that it is, even in Japan. Hell, it even spawned a 30-volume sequel, LOVe, than ran from 1993-1999, & followed the daughter of B.B's main character as she took up tennis, yet you'd be hard pressed to find much info about it outside of Japan.

In fact, even this very three-episode OVA hasn't seen any sort of new release ever since the initial VHS & LD release back from 1990-1991; even Wikipedia Japan has barely any info on the anime, simply listing a staff & cast list. Considering that this was directed by the late, legendary Osamu Dezaki, was animated & produced by his older brother Satoshi's studio Magic Bus, & had Akio Sugino doing the character designs & animation direction, it simply astounds the mind that the B.B Burning Blood OVA has become as unknown & forgotten as it has. Consider that Dezaki's 1973 TV series Jungle Kurobe, a very early & obscure directorial work, has seen a DVD release in Japan. Hell, even Sword for Truth, often considered one of Dezaki's worst titles, has DVD releases around the world! Therefore, let's see where B.B falls in the annals of Osamu Dezaki: Is it a sort of lost gem in his catalog, or is it anywhere near as bad as Sword for Truth, which came out during B.B's release in Japan?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Yo-Yo Girl Cop: Shojo-Inspired Fun Hidden Beneath Corporate Lies

One last live-action adaptation of a manga for the time being, so let's end it as it started with another Japanese production. While shojo manga is nominally a world written & drawn by women, there has been the occasional man that has entered the genre. Osamu Tezuka essentially created it, for example, while Leiji Matsumoto originally started his career doing shojo manga. Without a doubt, though, the most successful male shojo author is the late Shinji Wada, creator of Sukeban Deka (literally "Female Delinquent Detective"). While he made numerous manga until his death in 2011 due to coronary artery disease, his 1976-1982 series, totaling 22 volumes, about a female delinquent who becomes an metal yo-yo-wielding undercover government agent is easily Wada's legacy; if you ever see someone in anime or manga that fights with a yo-yo, it's likely a Sukeban Deka reference. Naturally, such an iconic series would be adapted into other media, but while it only ever saw a two-episode OVA in 1991, the series is just as iconic by way of its live-action productions.

First up were a trio of TV dramas that ran from 1985-1987, totaling 108 episodes. Following that were two theatrically-released movies, 1987's Sukeban Deka The Movie (starring the second TV series' lead) & 1988's Sukeban Deka The Movie 2: Counter-Attack from the Kazama Sisters (starring the third series' lead), both of which saw release in North America on DVD by Media Blasters. After all of that, & the mentioned OVA, Sukeban Deka more or less stayed in hibernation for the next 15 years when it came to new productions, minus the single-volume manga Sukeban Deka if Wada did in 2004. That all came to an end in 2006, though, when a third theatrical film, Sukeban Deka: Code Name = Saki Asamiya, was released in Japan. Apparently produced due to strong DVD sales of the TV series at the time, I honestly didn't even know this film existed in the first place... And then a few months back I noticed it on the store shelf of my local FYE (yes, they do still exist). Having been renamed Yo-Yo Girl Cop, which is honestly a little too on-the-nose for my tastes, this movie was actually brought to DVD in North America back in 2007 by Magnolia Pictures, of all companies; hell, it was even given an English dub, alongside the original Japanese with English subs. So how is this movie in the first place?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Crying Freeman (Live-Action): Tchéky Karyo Should Never Hide His Accent... Ever

While many have been in development hell or simply will outright never happen, Hollywood adapting anime & manga into live-action productions is not a new concept by any means. Even though stuff like Ghost in the Shell & Death Note are actually happening right now, & we shall never forget Dragonball Evolution, there's has always been a Robotech, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira, or Battle Angel Alita that's been in purgatory, sometimes for literally decades. Still, live-action adaptations of manga not done by the Japanese have been done ever since at least 1979's Lady Oscar, the French/Japanese (but English language) movie adaptation of The Rose of Versailles. There was actually a bit of a surge of these kinds of movies in the 90s, which gave us films like Fist of the North Star, The Guyver, & Guyver: Dark Hero (the last of which is actually pretty good), but what I'll be focusing on here is one that was produced by our neighbors to the North, yet has never seen a release in the United States.

Written by Kazuo Koike & drawn by Ryoichi Ikegami, Crying Freeman debuted in the pages of Big Comic Spirits back in 1986 & ended after a two-year run, totaling nine volumes. Essentially upon ending, the manga was adapted into a six-episode OVA series from 1988-1994, with each episode running ~50 minutes. During the 90s, Viz would give the manga its first release in North America, while Streamline Pictures handled the OVA, with ADV Films finishing up where Streamline left off at in the early 00s. In the mid-00s, Dark Horse re-released the entire manga across five giant tomes, while Discotek Media would give the OVA a re-release on DVD in 2011. Among all of this, though, were a trio of live-action movies. The first two were Hong Kong-produced adaptations, The Dragon From Russia & Killer's Romance, that were both released in 1990, while the other was a French/Canadian production released in 1995.

The first feature film to be directed by Cristophe Gans, who would go on to direct Brotherhood of the Wolf & Silent Hill, the Crying Freeman movie was written & performed in English, complete with a cast of recognizable actors (some already known, while others would become more known), which gave it a little more of a feeling of legitimacy that its contemporaries of the 90s tended to have (minus Fist of the North Star, maybe). Still, even though it was heavily promoted by Viz in both Animerica magazine as well as the compiled graphic novels, the film would never see a release in the United States, and to this day has still never seen a release here, though it apparently did sneak onto cable in the 00s; there was rumor of a release in 2004, but it never happened. Meanwhile, the movie has gone as far as having been given an HD remastered Blu-Ray release in France a few years back. Therefore, let's see if this was an example of us missing out on something good, or if we've been lucky all these years by never getting it on home video.