New to the Site? Click Here for a Primer!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 2

Normally, whenever I make a "twelve anime" list, I compile the entries based on my own research & whimsy, which means that there's a strong tendency for them to be picked more on personal attachment or interest than neutral logic. On rare occasion I put out a call for outside input, but the end result tends to only give me one or two picks, if even any at all. When I asked for this streaming purgatory list, however, I got the complete opposite. This is obviously something that other people may have thought about in the back of their minds, because I received a bunch of responses, almost all of which giving multiple answers. Because of that, I can easily make a second list another time (likely next year), so let me see which six either seem to be the most wanted or at least catchy my interest to some extent.

Polar Bear Café
I am admittedly more on the side that prefers action-oriented stories, or at least something with a feeling of conflict to it, but I can definitely see the appeal of watching an anime just to relax & feel good. These tend to get categorized under the genre of iyashikei, or "healing", anime due to their soothing & mentally non-straining execution. Admittedly, I'm not 100% sure if Polar Bear Café technically counts as an iyashikei anime, but I do remember watching an episode or two of it years ago, and it was very chill. Anyway, this 50-episode TV anime from 2012-2013 was based on the Aloha Higa manga that ran in josei magazine Flowers from 2006 to 2014, where it then moved to Cocohana magazine, under the name Polar Bear Café: Today's Special, & still runs to this day. It told the everyday lives of the walking & talking animals (& humans) who both work at & frequent the Polar Bear's Café, which is run by a Polar Bear who loves making bad puns.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Twelve Anime That Deserve Being Rescued from Streaming Purgatory Part 1

Back in 2011, I made a pair of lists where I compiled anime that had once seen release in North America via home video & I felt deserved being "rescued", i.e. licensed once again & given a re-release, ideally with improved video, audio, translation, etc. Around the same time, streaming really started making its mark with anime fans, especially with the advent of simulcasts, where brand-new anime productions were being made available legally around the world within hours of them airing in Japan. As anyone can easily tell you, though, there is just a metric ton of anime being produced every season, let alone every year; some will even tell you that there's "too much anime" being made.

Because of that, the dream of having "(almost) everything" is only half way there, because while streaming gives us access to those new shows, not all of them get the opportunity to become a part of a fan's collection. Instead, they become victims of licensing agreements, and once those licenses expire, and a site like CrunchyRoll decides to not renew, that anime becomes lost, officially, and this time around there isn't a home video release for people to rely on to keep things on the up-&-up later on. Now this list isn't about those anime that were once streamed but are now gone, as those are worthy of being "license rescued" & that's not what this list is about. Instead, I'm going to list off twelve anime that are still legally streaming, as of May 2018, but have yet to be given home video releases. Luckily, I asked for some help, and I got a ton of responses, so for the first time I have split this list evenly between my own personal picks, and what others have told me deserve being rescued from "streaming purgatory". Still, this is my blog, so we're starting with my picks first.

Saint Seiya Hades
It's absolutely astounding how seemingly hard it is for the works of Masami Kurumada to receive any sort of complete release here in "North of Mexico", especially when it comes to Saint Seiya; I even once called it a "Kurumada Curse". Luckily, the past few years have been slightly better in that regard, and that's due to the advent of streaming. Still, even there we have some notable blank spots when it comes to the "OG" productions, like the entire second half of Saint Seiya TV, i.e. Episodes 74-114. Instead, we have the first 73 episodes, which cover through the Sanctuary Chapter, and the final 31 OVA episodes from 2003-2008, which cover the Hades Chapter. Still, even those officially-available original series episodes are only partially saved from purgatory, and it all comes down to one company, Cinedigm.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Monkey Turn V: I Wonder if the Kyotei Champion Goes to Tokyo Disneyland...

The year 2004 was an interesting time for anime, especially when it came to late-night. Before this year, the late-night "anime infomercial" was still a niche, though it was expanding ever since the end of 1996. This specific year, though, saw around 60 different anime series air in late-night TV slots, establishing this format as the future. At the same time, though, 2004 was the end of airing a single series over the course of an entire year (if not more) in late-night; longer series have more recently come back slightly, but it's been mostly shorter shows since then. I bring this up because Monkey Turn was one of those "last" year-long, late-night runs. However, unlike Monster or Hajime no Ippo, which both ran as gigantically long single shows, the kyotei racing anime was split up across two 25-episode seasons, though there was no hiatus between episodes. That being said, though, I can fully understand why there was a split between seasons here, because Monkey Turn V offers a concept that's different from Monkey Turn. Where the first season was your standard "rising to the top" story in concept, the second season goes in a direction that's not seen too often in sports anime & manga: What happens after you achieve your dream?

Upon graduating from Yamato Kyotei Academy, Kenji Hatano made a promise to everyone, including his girlfriend Sumi Ubukata, that he would become Japan's #1 kyotei racer within three years. While he got close to doing so when he made it to an SG tournament in his third year, it wouldn't be until after 3.5 years that he finally beat the likes of "Boat King" Yusuke Enoki, "Wolf of Hokuriku" Gunji Inukai, & rival Takehiro Doguchi, becoming SG Champion. Now Kenji has to not only maintain his new spot among the best, but he also has to watch out for new challengers, like female expert Chiaki Kushida or local favorite-turned-SG-competitor Hidetaka Gamou. Before he can do any of that, though, Kenji suffers an injury, as a horrible capsize during a race results in his left wrist & hand getting sliced open by another racer's propeller, potentially ending his racing career right as it finally hit its stride.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Retrospect in Retrograde: Monkey Turn

One thing about the "Year of Unfinished Business" is that I finally plan on getting back to series & franchises that I covered years ago, but never really followed up on. Of course, after all these years, I don't feel 100% comfortable about just jumping into a second season or later productions with only potentially vague recollections about what came before. Not just that, but my first couple years of doing this blog saw me write entire reviews based on nothing more than what I remember an anime being like; not every review was like that, but a fair number of them were, especially in those first few months. Therefore, I feel like enough time has passed that I can go back & re-assess anime that I reviewed way back when, & see if I still feel the same about them now; also, I want to this give them the proper write-ups I should have given them back then. So, in place of this season's Demo Disc (don't worry, it'll be back this Summer), I would like to introduce a new concept to The Land of Obscusion.

Welcome to Retrospect in Retrograde, and for my first revisit, I can't think of anything better: Monkey Turn.

On Februaru 25, 2011, I looked back fondly on my memories of the 2004 TV anime adaptation of Katsutoshi Kawai's 1996-2005 Shonen Sunday manga about kyotei/mini-hydroplane racing, and called it "the best sports anime that you've never seen." Since then, I've learned a bit more about this 25-episode anime, specifically two interesting things. First, this anime (& it's successive season) ran in a late-night slot, which honestly surprises me, both because that means that Monkey Turn ran for a solid year in late-night, which just doesn't happen nowadays, and also because of the pedigree the manga had. Kawai's manga tied with Hikaru no Go for the Shogakukan Manga Award for "Best Shonen Manga" in 1999, so I simply figured for the longest time that the anime had a prime time slot, just like its fellow award winner's anime adaptation had; both even aired on TV Tokyo. Second, back in 2011 I had no idea how much of the 30-volume manga the anime adapts, & I really still don't today, but I now do know that the anime kind of pulls a Ring ni Kakero 1 by skipping over an early portion of the manga, so that it can focus on the primary focus, i.e. the actual professional kyotei racing; some of the early parts are done via flashback at points, though. So enough re-introduction, it's time to see if Monkey Turn still comes out as one of "the best" out there, personally, when it comes to sports anime.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Localizations We Almost Got... But Didn't

Nothing major can happen without a plan being made, first & foremost. At the same time, though, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, sometimes to the point of never coming to fruition in the first place. When it comes to video games, I'd say that any region of the world will receive more or less an equal amount of localized games from another region as it would get those made domestically. Like anything, though, there are a lot of steps to making a localization happen, & those steps have to be laid out in a grand plan. Unfortunately, while most localization plans do indeed come to fruition, there are some that were planned for release, and maybe even officially announced, but wound up being exclusive to the region they were originally released in.

So let's take a look at these transposed translations, these retracted reveals, & these candid cancellations that all had hopes for English localization, only to be stopped for a variety of reasons, with at least one even threatening legal action! But... Yes, I'm totally aping Guru Larry, so I'll stop right here & go straight to the first entry.

Sony Computer Entertainment of America has always been a bit of an infamous division of Sony, especially in regards to the lives of the first two PlayStation consoles. For example, there have been complaints that SCEA was "anti-2D", i.e. being downright dismissive to certain video games & publishers that wanted to release games based around 2D sprite work, simply because SCEA wanted to focus on 3D polygons. Working Designs' Vic Ireland admitted that such a policy existed during the PS1 era back in 2012 during an interview with ANNCast, & even Mega Man 8 was initially rejected for release, until SCEA found out that the Sega Saturn was also getting it, so the decision was reversed with the request for some sort of exclusive content (which wound up being a mini-booklet with artwork). Obviously, there were some games & even companies that were exceptions to this, & the policy did relax over time, but SCEA still maintained some variation of it into the PS2 era, but now this even applied to polygonal graphics. In other words, if SCEA simply felt that a video game that a publisher wanted to release in North America didn't look good enough, 2D or 3D, then that would be enough reason to deny release. While proof of this is scarce, Agetec did submit evidence of this back in 2004 with the game Shadow Tower Abyss.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Truth Behind "The Disaster Anime": Game Lab's Musashi Gundoh Interview Translated!

Happy Easter, All You April Fools!

Way back on December 1, 2011, to celebrate the blog's first anniversary, I wrote a review of the infamous 2006 TV "kuso/crap anime" Gundoh Musashi, or Musashi Gundoh (seriously, either order seems to be official), making it the first milestone review (#50). Even back then, though, I had heard of an interview that had been done after the anime had aired in Japan. As the years went on, I managed to actually find where said interview came from: Volume 140 of Sansai Books' Game Labo Tokubestsu Henshu Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyu/Game Lab Special Edition: Modern Visual Culture Research, released December 2006.

While the main feature in this mook was a 36-page article titled "Kono Anime ga Yabai!/This Anime is Dangerous!", likely a parody of Takarajimasha's "Kono ___ wa Sugoi/This ___ is Great!" series of guide books, it actually had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Instead, in the middle of this Volume was a six-page pair of interviews with Nobuyuki Sugaya & Yuki Kinoshita, the respective producer & director of Gundoh Musashi. In fact, these two interviews were conducted literally days after the anime finished airing on satellite network BS-i on October 29; technically, the final episode aired on October 8, but after that came three "summary" episodes. For years, I was curious about what was said in this mook, and since this is a year about "Unfinished Business", I finally found an Amazon Japan seller that was willing to ship a copy overseas (& for cheap, too), & put my money down. So now, with a translation from Anne Lee of Chic Pixel, I give you the raw & (then) fresh feelings about what exactly went down with what I once called "The Anime Equivalent to The Room", & now nickname "The Disaster Anime", starting with the interview done with ACC Production producer Nobuyuki Sugaya. Specific notes by either myself or Anne will be included via italics for clarification, when needed.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Run=Dim: CG=Too Soon?

While the large majority of anime that Idea Factory self-produced were released in the form of "Original Video Animation", i.e. they went straight to home video, the video game company didn't wait too long to enter broadcast television. Debuting back in 2000, Run=Dim (you don't pronounce the "=") was a short-lived series where you took control of giant robots, with three entries to its name: 2000's turn-based combat game The Mechsmith: Run=Dim for PS2, 2001's strategy RPG Run=Dim as Black Soul for the Dreamcast, & 2002's 2D shoot-em-up Run=Dim: Return to Earth for the WonderSwan Color. Idea Factory wasn't the only company involved with the series, though, as Seoul-based Digital Dream Studios was involved from the very start, and Yuki Enterprise (now known as Examu) handled development for Black Soul.

Both IF & DDS had grand plans for Run=Dim, though, as in between the releases of The Mechsmith & Black Soul was "the first full 3D CG animated TV series in Asia" version of the series, one that IF & DDS co-produced & animated. Running for 13 episodes during the Spring 2001 season on TV Tokyo (yes, this aired on mainstream television on Friday mornings!), the two companies had hopes for this to only be the beginning. As indicated via the Wayback Machine, DDS was advertising a theatrically-released movie later that October, plus a second season the following July. Unfortunately, the anime that, according to DDS, "was praised as one of the finest 3D CG animations by the Japanese and Korean press," never received more than that single season of anime, & the later WonderSwan game didn't even feature Idea Factory's name in it, whatsoever. So only a single questions remains now: How the hell did an all-CG TV anime series produced by a couple of game companies fare back in 2001?

At the end of the last century (you know, the past), global warming resulted in the polar ice caps melting, creating titanic tsunamis that completely flooded various nations of the world, including Japan, completely changing the way humanity operated. It is now the year 2052, & the Japan Established Security Army for Space, JESAS for short, is in the midst of a battle with the UN-supported Green Frontier over who will take command of expansion out into space. This battle is a literal one, too, with JESAS having to rely on young teenagers who possess potential with humanity's 6th sense, which they've called "AI", to pilot giant robots called RBs to take on Green Frontier, which has a yellow RB named Run=Dim as its trump card. One of these teens is a boy named Kazuto Moriguchi, but after being deemed expendable when an experimental weapon named the e4 is fired during a battle, he defects over to Green Frontier, even if it means having to fight those he had started consider to his friends.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Rebirth Moon Divergence: Or, as O~3 Entertainment Would Have Used, Reverse Moon Diva Gents...

From 1998 to 2004, Idea Factory more or less made its own anime productions, both for anime & the occasional game sequence. While there were "actual" animation studios involved, they tended to either only assist or work alongside IF as co-producers. The only exception at this point was 2001 TV anime Mamimume Mogacho, a claymation/CG mix that was based on an Idea Factory game, but was co-animated by Sega & Swimmers Animation Studio, though IF's staff were still directing & producing. Starting in 2005, though, Idea Factory decided to stop making animation in-house & simply hire an animation studio to handle that workload. The studio of choice was Wao World, which was established in 2000 as a subsidiary of educational company Wao Corporation, and at this point had only operated as an assistance studio on anime like Wind -a breath of heart- & Zoids: Fuzors. Wao's sole primary production by 2005 was the historical movie Nitaboh, the Shamisen Master the year prior, but has since been the main studio for series like Showa Monogatari, Time Travel Girl, & Anime-Gataris, as well as other historical films directed by Akio Nishizawa, head of Wao Corporation.

Yeah, those are French fansub credits... They're the best I could work with.

Wao World's involvement with Idea Factory wouldn't last too long, as after 2006 IF moved on to simply using still character portraits for things like intro sequences, with the final game to feature actual animation throughout being Spectral Force 3: Innocent Rage on the Xbox 360. Not just that, but Wao World didn't really make all that much for IF, with only four games actually bearing any fruit. Aside from the aforementioned 360 game, there were three PS2 games that saw Wao do both in-game cutscenes & OVA prologues. The most infamous was IFMate dating sim Mars of Destruction, which was the second Wao/IF production, but the other two had a curious subtitle for their respective OVAs. Both early-2005's Spectral Force Chronicle & late-2005's Rebirth Moon were strategy RPGs, and both of their OVAs were given the word "Divergence" in their titles. Anyway, while I've been unable to get a hold of the former's OVA in any way, shape, or form (at least for a decent price), there is a French fansub out there for the latter that I can at least worm my way through. Rebirth Moon was the first (& only) game in the IF Type-0 label, which was meant to be for more experimental forms of gameplay. In the end, though, the only thing that came out of the game was that its radial-based combat system would be carried over to Chaos Wars & IF Neverland spin-off game Spectral Gene. The game would also be given an enhanced HD port on the 360 under the name Diario: Rebirth Moon Legend in 2007. So let's see how Idea Factory ended its foray into anime with Rebirth Moon Divergence, which came out alongside the PS2 game.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven: Do Androids Dream of Digital Love?

Back in that initial run of Idea Factory anime reviews, I covered Mars of Destruction, a mid-2005 OVA meant to act as a prologue to the IFMate brand's sixth dating sim of the same name for PS2. Since its release, it's gathered a bit of notoriety as being one of the "worst anime of all time", with it even being the #1 spot on the ANN Encyclopedia's "Worst Rated Anime" list for years upon years; I don't even know how long it's been there, but it's easily close to (if not more than) a decade at this point. In my review, though, I felt (& still feel this this day) that its status as one of "the all time worst" may be a bit overstated, but that's mainly because I feel that I've seen much worse, and have even covered some on this blog, like Legend of DUO, Twinkle Nora Rock Me!, & Gundoh Musashi, the last of which remains my #1 pick for that title. Now, to be fair, Mars of Destruction is bad, but for essentially just as long on that ANN list has been the #2 spot, which is another Idea Factory anime. Therefore, I think it's finally time to tackle the Tenkuu Danzai Skelter+Heaven OVA, and see if the people who use ANN truly know their "worst anime of all time".

The fourth game in the IFMate brand, Tenkuu Danzai/Sky Conviction Skelter+Heaven saw release in Japan on the PS2 on November 25, 2004, with its major hook being that it revolved around young women who piloted robots, with action sequences relying on Quick-Time Event-esque gameplay. A month later, on December 8, Idea Factory released a ~20 minute OVA to help promote the video game. Seeing as 2005 would see the company hire Wao World to do the animation for both games & OVAs, Skelter+Heaven is notable as being the final Idea Factory anime that the game company actually animated (primarily) itself. After a (surprisingly) decent, if annoyingly self-defeating, turn out for Steady x Study, does Idea Factory's final self-produced anime show some true advancements in capabilities... Or is this truly worthy of being called second worst (of all time)?

In the year 2030, Tokyo is invaded by a giant, squid-like creature that comes from space, with the military being helpless against it. Defense corporation Altamira Agency, however, has been working on technology for the pace 15 years, just in case interstellar invaders were to come: Wet Props, artificial beings made to look like women, who pilot giant robots named Skelters. With guidance by male commander Otoya Funagai, the Prop-piloted Skelters go into their first ever battle, and though they wind up succeeding in killing the alien invader, Funagai is deemed a failure as commander by Hiroaki Mishima, CEO of Altamira. Unfortunately, just one year later, an entire squadron of giant squids come down to Tokyo...

Friday, March 9, 2018

Steady x Study: Money for Nothin'... & Chicks for Free?

Back in early 2013, I dedicated some of two months to reviewing a bunch of OVAs that were all produced by video game company Idea Factory, back when it was trying to be more of a multimedia production house. Whether it was any of the three Generation of Chaos OVAs, Gakuen Toshi Vara Noir (the first episode, at least), Mars of Destruction, or Kingdom of Chaos: Born to Kill, nearly all of them were, quite frankly, rather poor & not even all that enjoyable in an ironic, "so bad it's good" fashion. The only exceptions were GOCIII, which was actually more than decent, & Born to Kill, which was honestly pretty damn good (though it still had the same visual "quirks" that all the others had). After those reviews, I had always planned on returning to the Idea Factory anime well, but so far the only time I actually did so was last October, when I reviewed the Spectral Force OVA, IF's first ever anime, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of that series. Therefore, with this year being about finally going back & covering stuff I left behind, let's return to this poorly-rendered CG well that was made by "The Ed Wood of Anime," as I deemed Idea Factory last year.

In 2004, Idea Factory started up a new brand called IFMate, which focused on what people internationally call dating sims; in Japan, they word "ren'ai" is used, which uses the two kanji for love, "koi" & "ai". Unlike visual novels, a.k.a. otome games aimed at women, dating sims are technically made for male players, as the goal is to have one of the female characters fall in love with the male protagonist. The IFMate brand wouldn't last long, dying out post-2007 after moving over to being based on anime properties, but the first entry was Steady x Study for the PS2, released on March 25, 2004. Today, the game is probably most known for its tangential relation to the IF Neverland brand, as "lead" female character Koyuki Saito may very well be the girl that Jadou summoned to the fantasy world of Neverland in the original Spectral Force, who would be known as Little Snow. Though the only game to outright make that connection is crossover RPG Chaos Wars, so the canonicity is purposefully tenuous, there is the fact that Koyuki translates directly to "Little Snow", and the white-haired witch was originally a brown-haired schoolgirl, like Koyuki is in her own game. Anyway, on May 26 that same year, Idea Factory decided to release a ~25 minute OVA for Steady x Study. Today, this is likely the most obscure & forgotten Idea Factory OVA out there, so what better place to start than here?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: The Most Magnificent of the Seven

The late Akira Kurosawa has been nicknamed "The Emperor", due to this iconic & influential career as a filmmaker, & the film often considered his finest is 1954's Seven Samurai. It's influence was recognized almost immediately, too, as it would only take a scant six years for it to be imitated by another country. That film would be 1960's The Magnificent Seven, which was directed by John Sturgens, of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral & The Great Escape fame. The film transposed the basic concept of a town hiring seven men to protect them from a group of bandits from Sengoku Era Japan & samurai to the Wild West & gunslingers. Sturgens' film was successful in its own right (in Europe, as it bombed in the U.S.), which resulted in it receiving three sequels: 1966's Return of the Seven, 1969's Guns of the Magnificent Seven, & 1972's The Magnificent Seven Ride. None of these sequels were anywhere near as successful as the original, & have since become rather obscure & forgotten, only being known most now for being packaged with the original in recent remastered DVD & BD boxsets. In 1980, independent film legend Roger Corman went against his usual low-budget style and spent roughly $2 million to produce Battle Beyond the Stars, a space opera that was intended to be "Seven Samurai in Outer Space"; it wound up earning $7.5 million. Finally, in 2016, Training Day & Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua lead a remake of The Magnificent Seven, which wound up doing what the original couldn't & actually become a box office hit in the United States.

Now, only one question remains: Which of these "Seven" is the "Most Magnificent"?

Just think about it for a moment... We have seven films that are about a group of seven people coming together to save the day & protect the downtrodden, so why hasn't anyone actually tried to rank them & see which of these seven rises to the top? Therefore, I will take that challenge by watching all seven of these films and organize them here, from worst to best. Now, of course, any sort of ranking is going to be inherently subjective & personal, so if you've managed to see all of these films & feel differently about the order I wind up with, then that's perfectly fine; this is MY list, after all. Also, before anyone asks, I am only relying on these seven theatrical-length films, mainly to keep the theme of the number seven intact, so I won't be including longer interpretations of Kurosawa's concept, namely The Magnificent Seven's TV series adaptation from 1998 to 2000, nor PlayStation 2 video game Seven Samurai 20XX or TV anime series Samurai 7, which both came out in 2004 to celebrate the original film's 50th Anniversary; I can vouch that the anime is really damn good, however. So, with all of that out of the way, let's get this started. First, I'll go over each movie chronologically, & then I'll actually rank them, from weakest to "most magnificent".

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?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Saiyuki Requiem - The Motion Picture: "Open Up Your Mind" to a Different Side of Saiyuki

Welcome, reader, to The Land of Obscusion's 2018, which is the "Year of Unfinished Business". Such an endeavor can be compared to a massive journey, one where I look back at what I had written about during the previous seven years, and see what I ignored, missed out on, or simply forgot to cover. In fact, one could call this a "Journey to the Max", so what better way to start out this year of returning to previous series & creators that I had once covered than with Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki?

Over the course of a little over a week at the end of August 2012, I reviewed the three Saiyuki OVAs that had never been officially licensed & released in North America: 1999's Saiyuki "Premium" (which pre-dated the TV anime), 2002's Saiyuki: Kibou no Zaika (an interactive OVA, though I watched a bootleg that removed the interactivity & likely didn't give me the best ending), & 2007's Saiyuki Reload -burial- (which adapted the flashback arc of the same name from Saiyuki Reload). To this day, none of these OVAs have since been licensed, which is sad (especially for the last one) but understandable. That being said, there are two other non-TV Saiyuki productions out there, both of which did see license & release in North America, so let's see if I missed out by not including them in my coverage over five years ago. Up first is Saiyuki Requiem: Requiem for the One Not Chosen (yes, it is that redundant), simply titled Saiyuki Requiem - The Motion Picture by ADV, the franchise's sole theatrically released movie from August 18, 2001, a few months following the end of Gensou Maden Saiyuki, the first TV series.

After taking out a small army of crazed yokai, the Sanzo Party get lost trying to head to the next town, only to wind up running into a young woman being hunted by a giant bird monster. After losing it in the woods, the lady, named Houran, offers to welcome the Sanzo Party at the mansion of the master she works for, including food & board for the night. Soon enough, though, the truth starts to unravel, as Genzo Sanjo, Son Goku, Sha Gojyo, & Cho Hakkai were lead to this mansion so that the master, Go Dougan, can enact his vengeance on the group, for misgivings he feels they did to him three years ago. Meanwhile, the Kougaiji Party comes across the bird monster themselves, and after dispatching it, follow the Sanzo Party's tracks to the mansion, in order to find out who could even summon such a creature.