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Friday, February 16, 2018

Otoko Zaka (The Weekly PlayNews Run): Well, I Would Run 700 Miles, & I Would Run 700 More...

Previously on the Otoko Zaka Review:
"Quite honestly, though, this may be one of Kurumada's strongest works when it comes to story. Oddly enough, however, I think Otoko Zaka actually works better now, in 2015, than it did in 1984-1985. The oldest school execution gives it a really cool style nowadays, and even in Japan the audience for it now is nostalgic adults rather than the young boys that Shonen Jump is targeted at."

Back in May of 2015, I reviewed the first three volumes of Masami Kurumada's Otoko Zaka, which was everything that was originally serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump back in the 80s. As I explained in that review, I felt that the manga that Kurumada devised to be his magnum opus, & homage to Hiroshi Motomiya's Otoko Ippiki Gaki Daisho, wound up being canceled primarily due to the fact that shonen action manga had changed so much, partially because of Kurumada, that an "oldest school" execution just wasn't going to appeal to audiences anymore. In 2014, as part of his 40th Anniversary as a mangaka, Masami Kurumada decided to finally bring back Otoko Zaka, nearly 30 years after he infamously "not-ended" it. The "magazine" of choice for it to come back to was Weekly PlayNews, the digital manga-front for Shueisha's Weekly Playboy magazine, where it appeared from 2014 to 2016 in three separate, volume-length stretches. In 2017, Otoko Zaka moved its online serialization over to Shonen Jump+, effectively returning the manga to its original home after a 32-year absence; all new volumes since 2014 have featured the "Jump Comics" labeling, however. Therefore, let's see what happened in the Weekly PlayNews run (Volumes 4 to 6) of Otoko Zaka, & examine what Masami Kurumada has always wanted to draw while working on Saint Seiya, B't X, & Ring ni Kakero 2.

With the initial fight against Don Foreman's Chicago Corps over & done with, the idea of the Junior World Connection wanting to invade Japan & take command over its young gangs has become a real, looming threat. To get ready for the JWC, Jingi Kikukawa has decided to try to unite all of the remaining gangs in Japan together, with Joshu's Wolf Akagi & Aizu's Ranmaru Azusa having joined his ranks, recently. After he & his friends take out the 13 Heads of Tohoku's Ouu Union after a challenge, Jingi decides to run off to Hokkaido on his own to meet with Ken Kamui, the "King of the North", & get him to join their forces. Even if Jingi manages to convince Kamui to help out, though, that's only the start, with Kanagawa's "Julie of Hama" & Hagi's Kyosuke Takasugi also needing some good convincing. Luckily, Jingi knows how to talk to people like these: With his fists.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Akira Tsuburaya's Retro-Modern Anime Club Band: Admittedly, It's Just as Crazy as The Beatles...

*mentally cues up "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles*

♪It was twenty years ago this year
Tsuburaya wanted fans to cheer
Manga that's been in and out of style
But nostalgia's gonna make them wild
So may I introduce to you
Akira Tsuburaya's own
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band♪

With anime starting to enter the new millennium in the last years of the late-90s, there were now tons of old manga from the 60s & 70s that started having a nostalgic cachet for certain fandoms. This resulted in many companies giving these now retro titles new leases on life, especially during the early-to-mid 00s. One man who seemed to really push this concept heavily was Akira Tsuburaya, the youngest son of tokusatsu legend Eiji Tsuburaya.

You know, Mr. Tsuburaya's head actually fits rather well on the Beatles' shoulders...

♪The Retro-Modern Anime Club Band
Giving old manga a new chance
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band
They might seem passé at first glance
Retro-Modern Ani, Retro-Modern Ani
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band
With Leiji Matsumoto
Go Nagai & Saito
And Mochizuki, Yokoyama
Hirai & Ishinomori
Ken Ishikawa♪

In the early 90s, Akira Tsuburaya founded Tsuburaya Eizo/Pictures (no relation to his father's Tsuburaya Productions), which helped produce J-Dramas like 1991's Kaiki 1,001 Nights, 1997's Eko Eko Azarak, & even a 1998 adaptation of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner. Around the time of that last example, the youngest Tsuburaya decided to enter the anime industry, and while his company did help produce a couple of strictly "recent" works, Tsuburaya Entertainment's focus was definitely focused around giving old, classic manga from iconic creators new adaptations, in an interesting variety of styles at that. Therefore, let's take a general overview of what Akira Tsuburaya helped bring to anime, especially since a surprising amount of them actually saw release outside of Japan, especially here in North America.

♪I don't really want to stop the song
But I gotta let the piece go on
This all started 1998
You could purchase it on good-ol' tape
So let me introduce to you
The mighty Queen Emeraldas
Retro-Modern Anime Club Band♪

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Saiyuki Reload Blast: Guess Who's Back, Back Again... Sanzo's Back, With His Friends...

Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki has had the reputation of being a journey that's taken "forever" to actually get to its destination, whether it's due to the anime adaptations relying on tons of filler to pad out their lengths or Minekura herself putting her manga on hiatus (though, in her case, it was due to harsh illness & injury). In its home country, however, the production of anime adaptations has actually been semi-consistent, at least in terms of how long it takes for a new anime to be made & see release. From 1999 to 2004 there was essentially a yearly supply of productions (the "Premium" OVA, Gensou Maden, the Requiem movie, Kibou no Zaika, Reload, & Reload Gunlock), and afterwards it took three years until the Reload -burial- OVA saw release in 2007 (with one release happening in early 2008). Following that it was another three years-ish for the Saiyuki Gaiden OVA to come out in 2011. After that was the special extra episode of Gaiden in 2013, two years later, & then after yet another four years the series returned to TV. Airing during the Summer 2017 season, Saiyuki Reload Blast takes its name from the currently-running third manga series, which Minekura announced right away as being the final part of the Sanzo Party's mission to stop the revival of Gyumaoh. Obviously, this 12-episode TV series can only cover so much, but was Saiyuki's return to TV worth continuing where everything left off at, or should it have just simply rebooted everything from the start & been more welcoming to newcomers?

It's been two years since Genjo Sanzo, Son Goku, Sha Gojyo, & Cho Hakkai were ordered to head to India in order to stop Gyokumen Koshu from reviving her husband Gyumaoh & unleashing the "Minus Wave" calamity that drove the yokai of Shangri-La crazy. After all this time, the Sanzo Party have finally entered the West, with everything being not just culturally different from what they're familiar with (Sanzo in particular has next to venerability this far out), but also much more ruthless when it comes to yokai attacks; the wave is so powerful here that even half-blooded Gojyo is at risk. Eventually, they come across Sharak Sanzo, the guardian of the defensive Kouten Sutra, but when War Prince Nataku of the Heavenly Realm, who defeated Gyumaoh 500 years ago, decides to come to Earth, does this mean that the Sanzo Party's "employment" has come to an end?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Saiyuki Gaiden: I Want to Get Away to Our Sweet Escape...

When Kazuya Minekura debuted Saiyuki in Enix's Monthly GFantasy back in 1997, it became a fast hit, which allowed her to expand on the lore of the world she created. Two years later, in mid-1999, Minekura debuted Saiyuki Gaiden, a prequel manga that took place 500 years prior in Heaven. At this point, Minekura had given indications that Son Goku had been locked in his mountainside prison for the past half-millennium due to something he did while in Heaven (which is accurate to the original novel), & that Sanzo, Gojyo, & Hakkai were in fact the reincarnations of the people who befriended Goku all those centuries ago. Being a side story manga series that was produced alongside the original manga, Saiyuki Gaiden would see multiple hiatuses, as well as moving over to Ichijinsha's Monthly Comic Zero-Sum in 2003, before finally being completed in mid-2009, totaling nine volumes.

Technically, the first time Saiyuki Gaiden would be adapted into animation was during the Homura Arc, a filler storyline which made up the entire second half of Gensou Maden Saiyuki. Since Homura wanted vengeance for what happened over 500 years ago, it only made sense to adapt a small portion of Gaiden that was made at points during that story arc. After that, the side story would remain manga-exclusive until 2011, when a three-episode OVA adaptation came out, featuring animation by a new studio named Anpro; Studio Pierrot did help produce the OVA, however. A year later, Sentai Filmworks would announce a North American release for the OVA series, complete with ADV's dub cast for the Sanzo Party reuniting for the first time since early 2005, when Saiyuki Requiem came out; Geneon's dubs for Reload & Reload Gunlock used a new cast via Bang Zoom! Entertainment. Sentai's DVD release for Saiyuki Gaiden would come out January 2013, but later that year a special fourth episode came out in Japan, instantly making Sentai's release a little incomplete. Anyway, enough backstory about the backstory, so let's see if this backstory actually adds anything to the main story.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Sutural Sutra of Saiyuki: Can You Just Skip the Filler?

Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki has been running on & off ever since 1997 via three series of manga, Saiyuki, Saiyuki Reload, & Saiyuki Reload Blast, and that's not counting prequel series Saiyuki Gaiden & Saiyuki Ibun, which both ran during the main series' runs. Since it became a rather fast success, it eventually got adapted into a TV anime in 2000, a couple of years before the original series came to an end in 2002. Due to a mix of not wanting to catch up to where Minekura was in the story & the franchise in general being really, really popular, especially with female audiences, the Saiyuki anime adaptations have become one of the most infamous examples of staff creating their own anime-original stories, which are often colloquially referred to as "filler", since they tend to do nothing but pad out overall runtime. In fact, according to the Saiyuki Wiki, out of a total 101 episodes spread out across three TV anime (not counting the Saiyuki Reload Blast anime from 2017), only 36 episodes actually adapt from the first two manga series; yes, just barely over a third of the anime is accurate to the manga. Over the years, I've managed to get all of the DVDs ADV & Geneon released for these original three anime series, and I've always wondered something: Can you actually just skip the filler & watch the manga-accurate episodes as a proper adaptation of Minekura's manga?

You see, filler comes in a variety of ways, but can be categorized into two primary forms that I've given names to. One form is "intrusive filler", which is when the original content mixes into the adapted content, making it effectively impossible to ignore or simply skip over. This can either be beneficial & expand on established story, like how Fullmetal Alchemist [2003] actually showed Basque Gran's death (whereas the manga simply referred to it), or it can be detrimental, like how Saint Seiya's early filler actively changed the way the plot actually happens when compared to the manga. The other form is "passive filler", which is when the original content is self-contained & doesn't really affect the adapted content, outside of maybe said original content being referenced to after the fact. This is usually the more common form of filler, as it allows for things like "filler arcs", which tend to not really interfere with the manga story too much (if at all) & act more like side stories; there are exceptions, though, like the end of Saint Seiya's Asgard Chapter tying into the manga-adapted Poseidon Chapter. Therefore, I decided to experiment & took note of which episodes of 2000's Gensou Maden Saiyuki, 2003's Saiyuki Reload, & 2004's Saiyuki Reload Gunlock are adaptations of the manga, and by only watching those episodes I want to see if Minekura's story is told with little to no interference from the filler.

Are you ready, you hellions?