Under the Dog (2016)

Just about three years ago I ran across a Kickstarter campaign that excited me quite a bit. A small company called Mentat Studios LLC had a vision – they wanted to produce an anime for anime fans around the world without the need for the industry standard production committees and TV networks butting in. It seems that there are a lot of industry types in Japan that are not fans of the current road that the anime market is going down e.g. visual novel anime projects and moe shows designed to sell merchandise and little else. Hiroaki Yura, the executive producer at the time, even went as far as to do a solid Reddit AMA that outlined the project’s vision:

“I hope UTD will give an example that the Japanese anime industry should really focus their attention globally, not just our tiny Japanese audience. Anime should be for the whole world, not just Japan. We don’t always want moe anime or a light novel based anime. I for one long to see anime like Akira.”

This was also the original trailer presented, none of this is in the movie, so it could be seen as a trailer of what could have been a later episode I suppose.

 

while the project did not make the five million dollars needed to make a full feature length film, it did make enough money for one 30 minute OVA episode. I really wish that it could have made more (although some issues the project had that I will talk about in a bit could have complicated it) because ideally Under the Dog was meant to be a TV series.

The staff consisted of Jiro Ishii, director Masahiro Ando, producer Hiroaki Yura, character designer Yūsuke Kozaki, and composer Kevin Penkin. Though the project was successfully funded, Creative Intelligence Arts and Kinema Citrus separated due to creative differences, and Kinema Citrus took full control. The split resulted in the replacement of some development staff, including Yura being replaced by Kōji Morimoto and Yoshirō Kataoka.

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This really worried me, because at the time the whole project seemed somewhat “up in the air” backer rewards started getting cancelled and rumors of creative differences were hitting message-boards. Now it’s early 2017 and I thankfully got my psychical Blu Ray disc to review – technically it was released last fall digitally, but I wanted to wait until I had the disk.

The Blu Ray itself is a bare-bones affair with basically just the film and a handful of special features including the above trailer and a few sound options.

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What we see in this episode is largely stand-alone, but like many 1980’s OVA episodes it’s full of stuff that would be awesome if further explained. There are characters, organizations, and other bits of world building that obviously had to be set aside to meet the running time, making this seem like a introduction to a show that will (likely) never exist. According to the original Kickstarter page, the overall plot is as such:

The story takes place within Neo Tokyo in the year 2025, five years after a severe terrorist attack at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Students possessing special abilities are forced into serving an elite anti-terrorist unit created by the United Nations, fighting against threats including other ability users. If these agents fail their mission, they will be killed along with their families, who have bombs planted within their heads. One member of this covert ops unit, a Swedish girl by the name of Anthea Kallenberg, seeks to find who she really is.

Not a whole lot of this actually makes much of an appearance in the actual movie, as the focus of fifteen minutes of it is built around two entirely other characters than Anthea. The OVA’s story underwent a massive reboot in February 2015, shortly after the staff shakeup and the removal of Creative Intelligence Arts from the project. This may be why the OVA’s story and feel is almost totally different from the trailer and the previously revealed plot elements (there is no mention of a terrorist attack on the 2020 Olympics in the final product, for example).

We find a young girl named Hana Togetsu who appears to be a member of some sort of clandestine organization and is referred to as a “Flower.” Flowers are forced to work under the United Nations to carry out assassinations of terrorists and other detriments to human society such as monsters called Pandoras. It’s implied that a failed mission results in imminent death for a Flower agent and her family, and considering the tension she appeared to have with her family at the beginning of the movie, it seems messed up. She has been planted (Flower! Planted! whoooaaa – I’ll get my coat…) into a school to shadow a boy that seems to have some sort of latent abilities that her organization is after. Too bad the US Military appears to run in Team America style to complicate things.

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On the technical side, everything looks pretty nice although not incredibly spectacular. I can only assume that the budget and staff change-ups meant that parts of this production were rushed. Some of the animation, especially some of the American soldiers is worse than other parts of the film, so they stand out as being somewhat off. This isn’t helped by English voice acting for these characters that isn’t the best. If anyone has been anime anime with half-English and half-Japanese dialog (Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad comes to mind), they usually end up like this since they use non-native speakers or untrained people that just happen to know English.

I really enjoyed the character designs for all of the principle characters, and would have loved to know about some of the other agents that we barely see. I found out by looking at the Anime News Network Encyclopedia entry for Yusuke Kozaki to see he has done a TON of stuff I enjoy like a DS game called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, Fire EmblemNo More Heroes 1 and 2, and even Pokemon Go. I need to possibly read some of his manga works if I can find any that are translated.

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All-in-all Under the Dog is a solid enjoyable watch that could have really benefited from being a bit longer. it definitely reminded me more of old-school anime (which is what they were going for) in that it pulled no punches, was bloody as hell, and was made for people like me in mind. It’s basically a cross between Gunslinger Girl and Evangelion in many ways, and despite my few quibbles above I’d recommend checking it out if you can. OH! and if you’re there you can try to find my microscopic name in the end credits!

I am hopeful that we get to see Anthea’s story told as this was recently posted on the official Website for this project:

We are excited to announce that a new partnership for Under the Dog is established! We should be able to officially announce more details soon, but for now, we just would like to let our backers know that Under the Dog, which started out on Kickstarter, will now expand beyond crowdfunding!

This is all due to your support. We thank you again and again, and please look forward to seeing what comes out of our new partnership!

I’m still assuming we won’t see more as this was months ago, but I’ll be excited if this turns out false and we do get more.

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And in case you were wondering….

The phrase “under the dog” comes from GREAT3’s song “Under the Dog” with a line that says “Why don’t you sleep under the dog if you are so sad” for which the meaning is trying to convey (in translation) the definition we had placed on our KS page: “when one is in a situation so disagreeable that they would wish to rather be “under the dog,” a place of dishonor, misery, and filth, in order to escape their current state of affairs.” While the meaning for “underdog” can still apply to the situations the characters will find themselves in, the original meaning comes from very specific elements that are not necessarily tied to “underdog.”
–Kickstarter FAQ answer

 


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Leiji Matsumoto ‘s World Illustrations Album Animage (TV Land Extra Edition) 1977

I recently snagged an art-book for fairly cheap that I’ve been trying to get for a while. According to google translate, it’s called  Leiji Matsumoto ‘s World: Illustrations Album Animage (TV Land Extra Edition) 1977 and appears to be some sort of a magazine in the vein of those special edition Time Magazine checkout line books. It contains a handful of artwork from Leiji Matsumoto from various properties like Lightning Ozma, Submarine Super 99, Captain Harlock, The Cockpit and more.

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The above is the English version of the image in the book, I didn’t want to break the spine to get the scan.

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The Grindhouse – Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals – A Recap of episode 1

The Grindhouse is a new feature kicking off here on Arcadia Pod. This article is NOT a movie review, but a detailed recap of a film set up in such a way that you really don’t have to watch it. I will watch questionable movies so you don’t have to. As this goes on, expect me to go over dollar bin anime, bad cartoons, and even the occasional TV series! Without further ado, here is the first edition, where will be looking at Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals episode 1. The next 4 of these will be about this train wreck of a show.

When I first got into anime, it wasn’t at all like it was today. It wasn’t the wide selection of movies and other merchandise currently available. I can fondly remember going to our crappy little video store in town way back in 1998 and rummaging through tapes looking for something cool to watch. This was before DVD players got really big and the anime market seemed to be old VHS tapes locked away near the “adults only” section. All the titles that this dingy, poorly-lit store had were of the exploitative nature, mainly focusing on nude girls and bloody disembowelments – a real treat for any self-respecting sixteen year old kid.

Aside from classics such as Vampire Hunter D and Akira, my friends and I would ALWAYS rent one movie in particular: Final Fantasy – Legend of the Crystals. In hindsight, I have no idea why we actually rented this movie, as we pretty much mocked the whole thing. It was basically something that we would make jokes about due to some poor choices that the movie seemed to take at almost every turn. That didn’t keep us from watching it over and over again, meaning that some of the horrendous plot and bad writing were hidden directly behind a big old layer of charm.

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The main problem that occurs right from the get-go is that this OVA (direct to video basically) series has very little to do with Final Fantasy despite it purportedly existing as some sort of sequel to Final Fantasy V. It’s almost like some guy that played the games was telling an uninterested writer about the plot over the phone; the writer, while starring at a Ralph Bakshi poster, cranked out what he could, but ended up with this. The tone is all wrong, the music is wrong, and it just really doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy movie.

The beginning of the film brings a false sense of security for anyone expecting this to be decent, as the main theme from Final Fantasy V, Tour de Japon, plays for a bit here. When I first watched this, I of course had not played Final Fantasy V, but as an older gamer, that was a nice touch. This leads directly into the first scene showing a man sitting on a Cliffside looking at a brewing storm. At this point I’m quite worried as to how this movie is going to be written because this character basically starts repeating every line he says one additional time. In this way we learn that “A storm is coming” not once but twice. I know he’s talking metaphorically about an upcoming battle that this movie will no doubt present, but the storm in the background makes it look like he’s some sort of lonely man that talks to himself all day.

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We learn that this sad old man is in fact the grandfather of the movie’s heroine Linaly, a girl who is supposedly a descendant of Bartz, the Final Fantasy V’s protagonist. Since this takes place hundreds of years after the events in the game, we will sadly not get to see any of those characters, save one that we meet later on. Grandfather announces that it is basically up to him to stop the upcoming storm, one which he can sense because of the “evil winds” and starts rushing out the door. If my grandfather started saying crap like that, it would result in a one way ticket straight to the home. Linaly won’t have that and insists that she needs to go instead or at least tag along with her Grandfather as if to humor him in his senile dementia. It was hard to pay attention to this as my eyes were drawn to Linaly’s ridiculously short miniskirt that seems to be defying some sort of natural law. I wasn’t looking in any sort of sexual way, but looking simply in a sense of sheer wonder.

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Pretty soon we finally get to meet the actual “main character” of this whole ordeal – Prettz. Unlike the usual modern Final Fantasy hero, Prettz is not a douche-bag emo guy covered in zippers and belts that talks in ellipses, but a goofy loud-mouth who won’t mind his own business. When he sees Linaly and grand—you know I’m tired of typing “Grandfather”, from now on his game is Gomez. So anyway Gomez and Linaly are in a boat traveling to one of the temples to see what is going on, and here comes Prettz chasing them around, yelling that “old people and girls should not be alone!”. Since I never had the illusion that this planet was populated by incestuous pedophiles, one can only assume that Prettz is a jerk. When declined as the pair’s bodyguard, he gets mad and insists on going anyway. In fact, he throws such a big tantrum that he collapses a bridge in a “super-comical way”. Aw sweet! Jar Jar Binks is the main character!

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It’s at this point that I want to point out that Prettz has the most true-to-date 90’s attire on that anyone possibly could. Note his shaved-under rat-tail hairstyle, sleeveless T-shirt, and comfy pants. While those aren’t exactly the class of Zubaz pants, they still take me back to a much simpler time; a time when our fantasy heroes did not dress like Lady Gaga when they fight monsters. Seriously, all Prettz needs is a fanny pack and a gym membership and I’d imagine he was an off-duty WWF wrestler.

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This whole plotline gets pretty tiring at this point, and Prettz has only been on screen for a short while. While watching I was basically worried that the movie would consist of Prettz chasing around Linaly and whining the whole time. Prettz gets a huge motorcycle and silly armor to help in his chase, much to the chagrin of Gomez. More slapstick ensues, until we finally get some worthwhile dialog where Gomez relates to Linaly what the “evil wind” is all about. It looks like the wind crystal must be in danger and he could sense the trouble. This is cut short as Gomez comically trips for no reason whatsoever and tumbles a ridiculous distance down a hill, way to take this movie seriously guys. So far the overall tone of this movie is somewhere around a morning children’s show, not the caliber of the games in my opinion.

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Suddenly and literally for no reason at all, a huge demon-like creature with eight eyes leaps from the ground and makes Linaly decide to cast a spell. Since Linaly is speaking as if she is going to summon a creature, I’m at this point wondering what sort of awesome creature will come out. Could it be Ifrit? Shiva? Bahamut? Sadly no, we get this:

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That’s right folks, a stupid looking naked……chicken thing? Please God tell me that isn’t supposed to be a Chocobo!

Gomez apparently shares my opinion of the matters and begins to slam the beast left and right, saying things like “couldn’t you do better?”. Linaly is sad that a half-assed Chocobo is the only thing that her mighty summoning powers can muster, and I can see why, did you see how stupid that thing looked!

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Finally Prettz shows some A-game and rushes the monster on his motorcycle with a huge katana, this not only kills the creature stone dead, but makes Gomez look like a tool for raising such a fuss about him tagging along. After they escape to what appears to be an inn, Gomez lays in bed worried that he is too old to carry on this adventure, this leads Prettz to basically heckle him for being old. Gomez yells at him and tells him to go home. Linaly sets out on her own, only to have Prettz follow her out and along the way. We get a few minutes of glorious dialog where Prettz says he wants to go, and Linaly rejects him. As this pattern has been the majority of the actual spoken dialog of the show so far, my initial worries of the plot of the show may not seem to unfounded. I mean seriously this is basically the movies script up to this point:

Gomez: “A storm is coming”
Gomez: “A storm is coming”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
Prettz: “I wanna go!”
Gomez: “NO!”
(Repeat infinitely)

Just as with the monster, mere minutes ago, something suddenly leaps out of the ground towards the party, possibly a subtle hint at the random nature of battles in the old games. But this thing isn’t a monster – it’s a huge garishly pink spaceship of some sort. Once it fully lifts out of the ground, we’re told by Prettz that these are in fact sky pirates trying to kill them. A door opens on the ship and what appears to be a dominatrix and her two husky female sex slaves rise from within. Her name is Rouge, and she wants Prettz’s motorcycle apparently. I would too if I had to fly around in a ship as ostentatious as that pirate ship she has. Prettz makes short work of the pirates using some bombs that he apparently carries around at all times, but I doubt that’s the last that we’ve seen of these guys.

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They finally make it to the Wind temple, the first of four that I’m sure we are to encounter in this series, and just as soon as they get there Prettz runs out for no explicable reason leaving Linaly to solve the puzzle of how to enter the temple on her own. We soon find that Prettz has seemingly commandeered the pirate ship we just saw and is holding it hostage with his bandoleer of goofy bombs. By goofy, I don’t mean in a general way, like “oh hey look at those goofy bombs”. These stupid incendiaries actually have smiley faces on them and open up to show the face before they explode. We know this because Prettz insists on clapping them together like a set of garish castanets in order to intimidate the bondage ship’s crew. No doubt Prettz shops at the same weapons shop as the Joker. This of course happens for no reason at all, because Linaly has actually managed to solve the puzzle of how to gain access to the temple all on her own without her jackass buddy.

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Next thing you know Prettz drives the airship through a narrow crack in the surrounding cave and crashes it into the temple. This draws the attention of another person with an equally goofy looking airship by the name of Valkus. Valkus always struck me as the “Cid” character of this show, as not only was he in command of an airship, but he is basically a badass.

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As our heroes walk into the room containing the wind crystal, the scene cuts to someone talking in a robotic gibberish voice, talking about how “the other three crystals are in our hands”. This voice seems to be from a female subordinate of some guy sitting on a huge brain in the middle of the room. That’s right I said brain, as in part of our human anatomy, except this time super-sized. He of course spots a few almost sexual sounding villain catchphrases like “my body aches with excitement”, these are all off-putting.

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What follows is basically the most awkward thing in this entire series, and a scene that would live in infamy for my friends and me. Linaly grasps the crystal only to have it enter her body through the chest.

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She tumbles to the ground looking ill and the camera quickly cuts to her hind-quarters which are now glowing.

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Both turn around and stare at her butt as it radiates a warm golden light.

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Maybe this is why her dress is so unreasonably short, that way we can see her butt glowing whenever she eats too much Mexican food. This is quite possibly the lamest excuse to have fan-service EVER in an anime, and to make it a plot device!

That’s it for episode one, join me again soon as we gaze into the warm golden light that is episode two…


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The Monday Meme: Party!

party

Image from: Tiger Mask W


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A Look at All the Cameos in Tiger Mask W

I’ve recently started watching the winter 2016/7 anime Tiger Mask W, a wrestling anime featuring stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling. New fans might think that all of the colorful characters are from the minds of producers alone, but I’m here to show that a handful of these grapplers are actual people! This has always been something cool when a wrestling anime comes out in Japan, as Jushin Thunder Liger had an anime show, and guys like Terry Funk appeared in Ultimate M.U.S.C.L.E. I’ll eventually review Tiger Mask W, but for right now check out some characters you’ll get to see if you start watching this.


 

TIGER MASK

Naoto Azuma is the main protagonist of the anime series, which is actually a sequel to a 1968 manga and 1971 anime series. While Naoto is a fictional character made for this show, many people have actually portrayed the character in real life. There have been a handful of wrestling anime characters that have spilled over into the real world, and Tiger Mask is perhaps the longest running.

  • Tiger Mask I Satoru Sayama
  • Tiger Mask II Mitsuharu Misawa
  • Tiger Mask III Koji Kanemoto
  • Tiger Mask IV Yoshihiro Yamazaki
  • Tiger Mask V Ikuhisa Minowa
  • Tiger Mask W Kota Ibushi

TIGER THE DARK

Takuma Fujii is a new character in the anime called “Tiger the Dark”. He is basically this anime’s version of the Black Tiger who has always been a rival of the Tiger Mask character. A lot of famous foreign wrestlers have portrayed “Black Tiger” through the years, even the legendary Eddie Guerrero once held the title! There is currently a version of the actual character of “Tiger the Dark” currently in NJPW and is feuding with the real life Tiger Mask W.


SPRING TIGER

Haruna Takaoka aka Spring Tiger is the female protagonist of the series. Like the previous two, she is a made up character, but is not wholly based on fiction. A female Tiger Mask iteration, called Tiger Dream, was played by female wrestler Candy Okutsu in the mid-1990s. unfortunately, Okutsu being injury-prone and having to take several sabbaticals from the ring, the character was easily forgotten by the fans and eventually abandoned.


KAZUCHIKA OKADA

Kazuchika Okada is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Okada joins Naoto in his fight against GWM. In real life Okada is a very accomplished wrestler who has held the IWGP Heavyweight title on four occasions as well as a ton of other accomplishments. He did have a breif, and largely forgettable run in america in TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling.


HIROSHI TANAHASHI

Hiroshi Tanahashi is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. A wrestling ace who helps Naoto in training. In real life, he is a former seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, one-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, two-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and two-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion. Tanahashi holds the record for most reigns as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, while his fifth reign holds the record for most successful defenses, with eleven.


YUJI NAGATA

Yuji Nagata is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Aside of wrestling, he’s also involved with the management of NJPW. Most American fans will recognize him for his tenure in World Championship Wrestling in 1997-8 during the height of the Monday Night Wars.


TOGI MAKABE

Togi Makabe is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. In the show, he has a sweet tooth and hosts a famous blog about sweets, being so obsessed with them that he can lack motivation without sweets. One cool tidbit – The character is voiced by the real Togi Makabe.


KIMIHIKO OZAKI

Kimihiko Ozaki is based on a real-life ring announcer in NJPW.


TOMOAKI HONMA

Tomoaki Honma is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. He is currently working for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). He is a former one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and a two-time World Tag League winner with Togi Makabe.


TOMOHIRO ISHII

Tomohiro Ishii is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name.Though pushed for most of his career as an undercarder without any major championship wins, Ishii gathered a cult following, until he was too popular to ignore. Since then he has gained tag championships, singles titles and even the ROH Television title.


YOSHI-HASHI

Yoshi-Hashi is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. While he was almost an enhancement talent of sorts in real life, he has slowly started to win occasional matches. a feat that earned him a PWI ranking of 314 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2016.


BILLY THE KIDMAN

Billy the Kidman is a fictional character in Tiger Mask W, but it’s funny to not that there is a real-life wrestler from the late 90’s – 2000’s named Billy Kidman.


 

BULLET CLUB

Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale are real life members of the gaijin (foreigner) heel stable “The Bullet Club”. Also represented is Kenny Omega who is the current stable leader. Previous members of the group include WWE’s Anderson and Gallows, Finn Balor and AJ Styles.


QUEEN ELIZABETH AND PAYNE FOX

While not a direct cameo, Queen Elizabeth and Payne Fox are obviously modeled after WWE women’s champions Charlotte Flair (daughter of Ric Flair) and Becky Lynch.


TETSUYA NAITO

Tetsuya Naito is based on the real-life professional wrestler of the same name. Naito is currently in his first reign as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, while also being a former IWGP Heavyweight and NEVER Openweight Champion as well as IWGP Tag Team and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with former partner Yujiro Takahashi, with whom he teamed as No Limit. In addition to those, Naito is also a one-time winner of NJPW’s premier singles tournament, the G1 Climax, having won it in 2013, and the New Japan Cup, winning it in 2016. In 2016, Tokyo Sports named Naito the wrestler of the year.


BLACKOUT

Blackout is a robot (sure why not) from the Tiger’s Den, he serves as the gatekeeper of the Hell in the Hole match being the last challenge to face. He bares more than a passing resemblance to WWE’s wrestler The Undertaker.


METAL BROTHERS

Metal Brothers I & II are a couple of masked wrestlers that make an appearance. They bare a resemblance to the WWE’s legends the Road Warriors.


FUKUWARA MASK

Fukuwara Mask isn’t a real character, but his “gimmick” is very similar to a number of clownish wrestlers from Osaka Pro like Ebessan, Kikutaro and Kuishinbo Kamen. He dresses with a Hyottoko mask and common clothes, giving him a ridiculous appearance. Fukuwara Mask’s focus is in providing laughs and serving as a comic-relief by deliberately acting like a fool in his matches, which the audience enjoys.


And More!

There are other references and mentions like Jushin Thunder Liger, Captain New Japan, Toru Yano, and members of Los Ingobernables de Japon such as Evil and Bushi. Here’s hoping they do more of this show, as I would love to see a lot of of the real life wrestlers from NJPW! Stay tuned for a full review of this show soon, I still need to finish it up and I’ll let you know what I thought!


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Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice (2017)

For me, one of the most overlooked and underappreciated anime / manga franchises out there (at least in America) is the venerable Cyborg 009 series by the late Shotaro Ishinomori. Created in 1963, Cyborg 009 could be considered Japan’s first superhero property, and one of, if not, the first fully racially integrated superhero team stories out there. There have been countless comics, movies and TV shows made for the franchise, this being the most recent. It should be no surprise to my readers that I really like older anime and things that have interesting art styles, and I find Ishinomori’s versions of the classic 60’s manga style to be at least up there with Tezuka.

Sadly, I recall the art style of the 2001-2 show (that aired on Cartoon Network) to be a dividing force in anime fandom at the time, with some of the more “mainstream” fans disliking it “because it looked old”. Thankfully 2017 is an entirely different beast, and while this show has had a modern facelift, anime fans seem to be more willing to try different things today which is great! Don’t be surprised if I do more Cyborg 009 reviews soon, as the 50th anniversary has brought a handful of new shows, films, and comics to enjoy.

Cyborg-009-Call-of-Justice

The main story of Cyborg 009 involves a shady militarized weapons manufacturer and terrorist organization called Black Ghost, and their newest project – cyborg super soldiers. Nine people from around the world are kidnapped and forced to undergo experiments which turn them into cyborgs with superhuman powers. Realizing that they have been wronged, and that Black Ghost is a threat to humanity itself, the cyborgs band together in order to stop Black Ghost in its’ goal of starting the next world war.

This story picks up years after Black Ghost has been eliminated, and the Cyborgs are trying to live as close to normal lives as they can, only to have that ripped away from a new threat – Metahumans with abilities like their own that have seemingly been ordered to kill the Cyborgs. Called “The Blessed” these guys are all sorts of zany bad guys such as a Cowboy that can control the weather, and a man that can alter gravity at will.

Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice is a “Netflix original” that was originally released as three films in Japan. It was produced by Production I.G and OLM Digital and distributed by Toho with Kenji Kamiyama (he directed  Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex ) as executive producer and chief of the project, and Kokai Kakimoto (Psycho-Pass movie unit director) as director of the films themselves. Netflix basically took this footage and edited it into a twelve episode series that premiered last month (Feb 2017).

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I mentioned earlier that there was a “facelift” of sorts for the animation and character designs, and for once this is a modernization that isn’t terrible. The Cyborgs in Cyborg 009 have always had iconic red costumes adorned with yellow buttons and long yellow scarves. This motif is intact, but the suits have been “upgraded” to armored protective suits with yellow vent ports in the place of buttons. oh yeah, the yellow scarves are there! It’s subtle, but it’s a welcome upgrade for the long running series. Another change is that the character designs have been tweaked a bit, even from the 2012 film 009 Re:Cyborg, also from production I.G.

While this may be the farthest departure from the classic art style by Shotaro Ishinomori, the character  designs are good, in honestly my only quibble is that every iteration seems to make Jet Link (Cyborg 002) look less and less stylized that his original design. Jet used to have crazy spike hair and a huge hooked nose, now he just has a big nose and shaggy blond hair as if played by a young Owen Wilson. This isn’t a deal breaker, but I wish classic character designs wouldn’t be hidden sometimes – this was also an issue for me with the recent Harlock CGI film. The flipside to that sentiment is that thankfully, Cyborg 008 – an African man named Pyunma, has been toned down as to not look like any sort of blackface character as he previously was depicted. Granted, this hasn’t been an issue since the 70’s or so, but seeing the original 1960’s version of this shows Aquaman is pretty uncomfortable at times.

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You may have noticed that this show uses 3D CGI graphics to render characters rather than a traditional style that mimics old-school cel art. Japan has caught a lot of flack for years in the way that they handle this sort of animation as it seems somehow “cheaper” than American and even European counterparts. This sadly isn’t an actual technical limitation, but a misguided stylistic choice. The following is an excerpt from an Anime News Network column on the issue that may shed some light:

Part of the problem is that not only are CG artists trying to imitate the look of 2D animation, but they’re trying to imitate an aesthetic that was born out of cost-cutting. If anime had always been lavishly funded, it might have consistently been animated on 1’s or 2’s (that is, 24 or 12 frames per second, or a cel every 1 or 2 film frames). But it’s usually far less. To try and match that, CG artists have started rendering at lower frame rates — 6 or even 4 frames per second.

This style is jarring to western fans used to things like CGI animated films from Disney, Dreamworks, or Pixar. Hell there are even crappy children’s shows that look infinitely better than a lot of CGI anime – a recent whipping boy for this is 2016’s Berserk TV series – check out the bloodbath that unfolded after that show premiered to see how passionate fans are about this issue.

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So where does Cyborg 009 – Call of Justice fall into this picture? Well, thankfully it looks pretty good – it’s by no means the best I’ve seen, but the animators made some cool choices that show a lot of depth and show off action very well. There are a few janky scenes here or there, but for the most part the animation seemed on par with shows like Cartoon Network’s recent Green Lantern series or Disney’s Tron show. It seems that Japan is finally drifting away from the fake low framerate effect on their shows, now they just have to work out stiffness a bit more, and we’ll really start to see the style come into it’s own.

I did forget to mention earlier, but I watched this anime in English on Netflix, so we have an anime dub in play. This one was produced by California-based Bang Zoom! Entertainment who used to always do dubs for Manga Entertainment releases. They are usually a solid studio with this production being no exception. I haven’t followed a lot of today’s voice actors very much, but everyone involved seemed to do a great job, and there wasn’t anyone in the cast that grated on my nerves.

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All-in-all I really enjoyed this show, and hope more people check it out. Thankfully, it exists as an entry point into the franchise and really doesn’t require any knowledge of a 50+ year old back-story, but it also doesn’t alienate long-term fans. Perhaps the plot is a bit “too safe” to be anything immediately classic, but it’s a fitting chapter in a long story. If you think this looks cool, or want to see what is basically “Japanese X-Men” I’d give this show a shot!


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Vampire Hunter D: Raiser of Gales (1984)

Vampire Hunter D Volume 02: Raiser of Gales (Vampire Hunter D #2)

Recently, I was discussing a Kickstarter campaign to bring a new Vampire Hunter D comic to the masses with a co-worker, and mentioned that I had started to read the VHD novel series. They had no idea these books were out there and there was so much material, so we went to good old Mr. Wikipedia to look. 30+ total books WOW! and here I am at number 2…lol!! I have actually read the comic from the Kickstarter, so I will likely discuss it on here soon.

When we last left D, he had defeated Count Magnus Lee, and ventured into the wastelaands to look for more work. This chapter follows D on yet another adventure, this time in the snow-covered town of Tepes. The people of the village once cowered in fear beneath the shadow of a dreary castle once inhabited by a member of The Nobility (vampires). The Nobility moved on, or otherwise vanished from Tepes, and the castle sat empty with only its elaborate traps intact. One day four of the village children vanished, presumed to have ventured into the castle. Only three returned, with no memory of what happened or where they went, and one had gone completely mad. That was ten years ago. Now, in the year 12,090 A.D., vampires who can walk in the daylight have seemingly appeared, and many murders are taking place.

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This book is in some ways better and in some ways worse than the first one. I loved the fact that the majority of the book played out like a murder mystery with D acting as a goth Angela Lansbury, shaking down skeevy locals and fighting monsters at the the same time. Okay I guess that’s nothing like Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote, but you get the point. The book unfortunately falls into the tread of repeating a bit of the tropes in the last book – D goes to a town, Vampires are attacking town, D meets 17 year old brunette girl that falls in love with him, all the men in town get real rapey, D is a badass – the end. aside from this, there is a TON of character building for D and some more world building for the world of 12,090 AD.

If you like this series, and Gothic horror in general, check this out. Hideyuki Kikuchi does play around with the narrator of the story a bit, treating the voice as some omniscient deity that knows everything and can leap into the points of views of all of the characters at any time. It’s vaguely similar to how old school pulp writers used to write stories, and I know it can put people off of his writing style. If this isn’t an issue keep reading, and onward to book three!


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Vampire Hunter D (1983)

Vampire Hunter D

When I was a kid, perhaps too young to watch these sorts of films, I fell in love with the movie Vampire Hunter D when it used to air on The Science Fiction Channel (now called Syfy for some reason). This, along with Nosferatu and hammer horror, has made it basically impossible to take many “modern” vampire books or films seriously – especially ones featuring adolescent sparkly vampires. For the longest time, I knew that the film was based on a book series, but had no idea that there were dozens of volumes out there and that most of them were translated into English. The wait was well worth it, and this book was awesome.

For those that have seen the animated feature, the story of this book may seem familiar as it is the basis for that film. There are a few differences, but the plot is largely similar – the studio that did the anime adaptation did a pretty solid job for the most part. For those that may not have seen it, here is a quick run-down. The year is 12,090 AD. Ten thousand years prior to this book, there was a war between humans and supernatural monsters of all sorts, and the monsters won. Humans are now a subjugated race and are seen as livestock  by vampires. These noblemen and women keep mechanical security systems as well as armies of werewolves and mutants to protect them from any human stupid enough to try to face them.

While out hunting one night, a young girl named Doris trespasses into the vampire domain of Count Magnus Lee. As payment for her crime, Lee “kisses” her and discovers that her blood is the sweetest he’s tasted in ages. Lee decides to marry Doris much to her own displeasure. Lee’s daughter Ramica cannot tolerate the idea that her father, a descendant of the Ancient One (likely Count Dracula), intends to pollute the House of Lee with human blood, and she vows to stop the marriage.

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Doris runs into a young man calling himself “D” that claims to be a vampire hunter, Doris makes a living as a werewolf hunter herself, and sees D as a stupid young kid that likely has a death wish. That is, until she sees him in action. D is insanely fast, strong, and agile – all things that would definitely help if vampires were to start walking around – Doris decides to try to enlist his aid. What follows is a story of D, who is himself at least half-vampire, fighting all manner of evil monster to slay Count Lee.

Hideyuki Kikuchi is a master of setting moods and describing events in this book. Considering the style in which he writes, I would not be too amazed if he was a fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, as he is somewhat similar to he and other old-school pulp writers. Granted, this was an English translation, so maybe the translator is instead – who knows!  Honestly his only flaw is that he tends to make some characters a tad one dimensional – people like Greco Rohman, the seedy man-child and son of the mayor that has his eyes on Doris, is a cartoonishly evil buffoon that comes across quite trope-y. Sadly D himself also comes across as of he has little personality in this novel existing to be surly and stoic 24/7. Thankfully “lefty”, D’s sentient left hand, is there as comic relief and adds a bit to D’s character. Doris, however, is actually fleshed out really well – a fact that is somewhat surprising considering how she seems like a perpetual victim in the anime. She gets time to look badass, and take names, herself.

I love the pulp style that Hideyuki Kikuchi writes in, I see that some reviewers find it silly, but I read a lot of older science fiction, so this is right up my alley. If you love Vampire Hunter D, gothic horror, post-apocalyptic fiction, or weird sci-fi, I’d check this out. Can’t wait to read more!


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Megaten Games Should Be More Controversial Than They Are

NOTE: A version of this article was originally posted on a now-defunct gaming website that I previously worked for. Some of the references might be a bit dated. Rather than have something I worked hard on disappear from the internet, I have decided to post it on here. 

Remember the HUGE controversy that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas spawned a few years ago? Despite the “Hot Coffee Mod” being only unlockable by way of a cheating device, many an anti-videogame lobbyist threw up an amazing fuss over the game citing it as the downfall of our civilization amongst other things. Let’s face it, was all the fuss really worth it? Only a few folks could even access the section, so was it really that bad? What about all of the controversy that has recently started up for the new iteration of the Medal of Honor franchise? Being able to play as the Taliban has opened a can of worms that many folks are drawing battle fines for. It’s okay to fight against Nazis and Viet Kong though, as they are old news.
Both examples make me chuckle, as there are tons of games out there with far more objectionable content that would make these people freak out like crazy if they only knew about them. Hell, if you look at a game like Pokémon just right, one could argue that it is simply an animal fighting simulator, and in this post-Michael Vick world, that’s the last thing kid’s need (sarcasm). Another example is the growing H-games category, including awful games that depict things such as rape of digital characters. These are even sold in the U.S. generally by digital distribution, and nobody bats an eyelash.
The main subject of this article is another game series; one that would outrage many folks if it weren’t for that fact that these people that get on anti gaming bandwagons do no research and only get mad about what is popular. Part of me sort of hopes at least one stuffy suit in an offiece finds out about the series so it gets more popular. Called “Megaten” for short by many of its fans, the Shin Megami Tensei games have been alive and kicking since the Famicom (NES) days way back in the late eighties. Many do not know this, as the series was completely unheard of in the west until Persona, a spin-off game for the PlayStation rolled stateside with heavy edits in place. But why was this the case? Why was this game series seen as “un-releasbale” for so long? and why is the game more controversial than most other games out there? I have listed a few, but not all, reasons that I feel truly illustrate this point.


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Way to go guys….

Anti-Government / Anti-Authority Overtones

One of the first factors that I would like to bring up, as to why this series used to be quite sensitive and still would anger pundits and folks like Tipper Gore, is it’s general consistency in the “authority is bad” department. Games and movies alike have been lumped together in the assumption that all they do is create juvenile delinquents. The cornerstone of this belief, especially games like GTA, is that they promote a lack of family values, starting with a lack of respect for elders. This scenario pops up in just about all Megaten games.

Let’s face it, if a demon invasion were to happen in your town, the local government would probably come across as jerks trying to handle it. Martial law, food rations, curfews and other inconveniences would surely occur. Problem is that in most games where this happens there is an ulterior motive for this, one that does not involve the well being of the people.

This exact scenario happens in the Nintendo DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. An outbreak of demons causes the Japanese Self Defense Force to seal in Tokyo keeping anything from entering or leaving the city. The main characters find out by way of a computer program acting as a “Death Clock” that everyone there is to die in exactly one week. The assumption is that the SDF is going to nuke Tokyo wiping the infestation off the map. The main characters fear the worst, as SDF soldiers are realized as anonymous inhuman soldiers within the game. This sentiment is made worse by the fact that many times within the game, soldiers and government officials stand by while all manner of atrocity occurs, letting religious cults seem the ones to trust in the situation.

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“We don’t have to listen to you adults!”

 

Many games in the main series revolve around a post-apocalyptic backdrop for all the demon wrangling. This is usually caused by a total mismanagement of a small situation by a few world powers, and BOOM, end of the world. If the government wasn’t the cause of the calamity, they usually stand benign and allow all kinds of bad stuff to happen.

Another spinoff of the series, Persona, shows how corrupt and untrustworthy the governments can be in these games. For Example, one of the main antagonists of the game is a huge multi-national company called SEBEC. These guys specialize in looking like any other electrical company from the outside, but actually exist as some kind of militarized pseudo government that rises up to control the world once all hell breaks loose. Pretty soon you are fighting SEBEC agents and soldiers along with the popular demon characters.


 

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Don’t you hate when you forget to wear pants?

 

Gore and Sexual Imagery, Especially in Spinoff Material

Most anime and Manga fans are pretty lucky to have adaptations of or spinoff material from their favorite videogames, as these items can be a huge marketing push for the company producing the game. This success has been seen with Final Fantasy VII and its spinoff materials including the widely popular Advent Children movie. The Megaten series is no stranger to this as there have been a number of anime and manga publications out there for years. Problem is that most of these go overboard with the “adult” tone. While a lot of the Megaten games are full of dark imagery, they never really cross the line into the pornographic side of gore, nudity, cursing, and other hallmarks of mature media. This hasn’t stopped the writers of these movies and books from making their stuff basically all pornographic.
One example of this that immediately comes to my mind is the near ancient OVA (Original Video Animation or Direct to Video) movie Digital Devil Saga: Megami Tensei. The movie came out right as the game series began to be somewhat popular, but is actually based on the original novel that the game originated from. What follows is 45 minutes of gratuitous nudity, tentacle …..uh….situations, and gore. By the end of the movie you end up pretty desensitized to what is happening and you very well could fall asleep, that’s what I did at least. There are a lot of goofy situations like the main character creating a virtual reality version of his teacher in order for a demon named Loki to have sex with in the virtual realm. As you can see, pretty off-base stuff.

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This game where I actually kill people is awesome!

A lot of the manga is equally off-base including the sole Western released manga (as far as I know) Kahn, which takes place storyline-wise after an obscure spin-off game made many years ago. Much like the later Persona games, the action takes place entirely in a school that gets infested with demons. On any given page the reader is blessed with beheaded students, blood sprays and even a lesbian girl-on-demon girl sex scene. I totally remember that in the games! (oh wait…) All joking aside it seems that anyone who wants to shell out some extra cash on some Megaten side stories will have to watch out, as your basically buying porn. Bloody weird porn with demon sex in it.

The games themselves are still fairly violent and risqué, but are a lot more subtle about it. One of the more “out in the open” things found in some of the games are the designs for some of the demons themselves. Had this series been released in any other decade there would be many a digital bikini getting drawn onto pixilated characters as there are some pretty scandalous things in the game, such as:

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and…no comment on the next one:

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Good to see he can still fight like that!

Skewed Religious Overtones

Much like how western folks get random kanji tattooed on themselves that are supposed to mean “strength” but actually says “Kitchen”, the Japanese have always been fascinated with western religious imagery and mythology, especially for works of fiction, and slightly mis-used them. If you are an anime fan and have seen a show called Neon Genesis Evangelion, you know exactly what I’m talking about in this regard.
This topic is actually one of the more controversial aspects of this series, and help lead to the games being dubbed “un-releasable” back in the good old days due to heavy censorship. On the surface the Megaten games take the age old RPG cliché of “the bad guy is an evil religion / deity / priest etc.” motif and attaches actual religions to it. Instead of a fictitious god with a generic name like “the nature spirit” we have YHVH. “YHVH?” “What does that mean?” YHVH, which is also called the tetragrammaton, is the actual perceived “name” for what many of us call God. This acronym can also have syllables added to it to read as Yahweh or Jehovah depending on what religion you come from.

In the game Shin Megami Tensei II YHVH is the main bad guy, a point that would utterly anger most religious types. His motivations in the game are that the world has become so unreasonably bad that he has decided to destroy it and begin anew. This leads to a difficult choice for the gamer: does one listen to their God who wants to destroy the earth, fight against him and join with Satan, or decide that their all idiots and do your own thing. Not only does this fly in the face in just about every Christian concept there is, but it promotes anti-authoritarian values to the highest degree. Did I mention that the main character in Shin Megami Tensei II is the Messiah? Yeah talk about daddy issues!

The “real ending” of this game is one where you chose to kill God himself, to which he gives a speech along the lines of “As long as humanity is too weak to look for their own answers, their weakness will create a belief in me that brings me back to life again and again and again! MWAHAHAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”. You walk outside and Satan himself is there acting all cool like the Fonze saying “hey man, good job!”

Don’t take my word for it: Here is a bit of one of the endings of Shin Megami Tensei II for reference –

 

The religious imagery does not end there, as you fight enemies such as a crucified man who looks to be of the Jesus persuasion, bondage clad sado-masochistic angels, demons named after archangels and saints and so on. It would be a safe bet that if the wrong person witnessed various parts of these games, there would be a crap-storm. The Jesus thing is a big problem as labeling a fictitious character as the “messiah” or a reincarnation of Jesus pretty much makes everyone angry. This is especially true when you have a character in a game that looks exactly like the Western depiction of Jesus that is evil and is a false messiah like Takaya in Persona 3.

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Didn’t know Jesus was packing

The problem with this is that anytime one makes a reference to an actual deity in a game, TV show, or movie that doesn’t paint it exactly in the best regard, the followers of said church are probably going to get mad. Two examples of this that I can think of off the top of my head are the Danish Cartoon debacle and the protests over the popular Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Both situations ended up garnering death threats and angry mobs, and in the case of the cartoons, promised violence. Imagine if you will, those folks finding out about these games!


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Kids handling guns

After the Columbine tragedy, depictions of school children doing any harm to each other (or themselves for that matter) are generally frowned upon in the U.S. and much of the western world. Why else would a ten year old movie such as Battle Royale never get released legitimately here despite honors, awards, and wide appeal? It’s because most folks are scared that they will get blamed when the next series of schoolyard violence opens up. Color me surprised when the trailer for Persona 3 opened up and showed what looked to be a group of kids shooting themselves in the head with small caliber pistols. “surely they’ll edit that out” I said, remembering the unnecessary edits done to previous Persona games. These were edits that went so far as to change people’s Races or remove entire chunks of storyline. It’s a different era I guess, because said guns are definitely in the game.

 


 

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Hitler’s short-lived “cool” phase

Other Issues

The following is a small list of “hot button issues” that any Megaten game tries to push the envelope on, but weren’t big enough for their own section.

Occultism – The series is full of depictions of Satanic, pagan, and other rituals including sacrifices, blood orgies, and other items that would make many frown upon the game.
Anti-Semitism – The main storyline of the first half of Persona 2 revolves around a clan of Neo-Nazis trying to resurrect Hitler to take over the world. They succeed and you have to fight Hitler. This would get the game outright banned in some countries such as Germany.

Cannibalism- In the game Digital Devil Saga the main characters are all demons, and gain powers from other demons by way of eating them. When Serph and company devour other demons, they gain magic points, but only if this attack actually kills the demon in question.

Homosexuality – Rather than dancing around the issue of homosexuality in games, (much like the character Birdo in the Mario series) The Megaten games have always presented it in an honest adult manner. Usually there is a random character in the game that turns out to be a cross-dresser or openly gay. Take for instance Kanji Tatsumi in persona 4, and his problems with his own sexuality and it’s perceived “un-manliness” (yeah that’s a word now).


 

So there you have it, the most controversial game series out there should be the Megaten series, yet a very small amount of folks have actually played it. I bet by reading this at least one reader has become shocked and outraged about the series, which is my intention. If we are to believe that “controversy sells”, what better way to promote a game that I enjoy than to use it to anger “stuffy” folks. All kidding aside, most themes in these games make GTA look tame by comparison due to the tone it uses. Other games revel in the immaturity of the gore, sex, and drugs they use, yet the Megaten series does it in an intelligent adult manner.


 

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My Forays into Anime Cel and Original Art Collecting, a lost Otaku Hobby.

Back in around 2001 or 2002, I was poking around an internet forum and discovered the hobby of animation cel collecting. At that time, you could get some cels super cheap online so I jumped in and snagged a few. Cels (or celluloids) are paintings on transparent plastic sheeting used to create an animation. Each cel is one “frame”, and they are filmed and then put behind one another to give the illusion of a continuous motion. Since it takes hundreds of these to do a few seconds worth of film, there are ones that are similar out there, but no two are exactly alike. The cool thing (to me at least) with these was that they are all unique and original, and I that I got to own a piece of my favorite films or TV shows!

I honestly didn’t collect a ton of these because they can be pretty expensive and sometimes VERY rare. Certain shows did not keep their cels to sell; in fact, many of these cels ONLY exist on the secondary market because people fished around in studio dumpsters and hauled huge armloads out to safety. This was also the way people were able to obtain cels for bootleg Korean animation projects that I might review on here as well. At pretty much that exact same time period that I started buying these, animation had really shifted away from animation cels and into digital animation – now I know you can get digital scan sheets used in much the same way as some of the coloring sheets you are about to see, but I haven’t followed up on this, and don’t know the lingo.


Anyway here’s a few I’d like to share with you guys!

These first two are for Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995). Notice that  have pencil drawings for each. These are called “Douga” and are sometimes stuck to the cels they accompanied. Thankfully these are separated.

Note: these are crap pictures I took with my phone, my apologies.


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This one is from one of the Tenchi Muyo animes, probably Pretty Sammy (1995)

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These are from Great Teacher Onizuka (1999) – The one of Tomoko in the talent contest is actually multiple cels and a background, that is unfortunately stuck together. sometimes the paint from the cels acts like glue, and trying to force it could ruin the artwork.

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This one is in rough shape, but it’s from Galaxy Express 999 (1978), sadly the cel is stuck to the douga, and the black lines appear brown, meaning that the color was probably sun-bleached. All I’m concerned with is that I have it!

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Akira (1988) This is my prized cel! it appears to be a “key cel” of Kei since the number is circled, but I’m no expert in these things.

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I also have a few pieces of original artwork by two manga creators. These are in marker on  white Shikishi Boards.

dscn0018  Leiji Matsumoto

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Toohru Fujisawa


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ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Mid-Season Thoughts

ACCA

Every year it seems like a billion anime TV shows get released, and with each season having upwards of 50 shows, one can safely assume most of those are mediocre at best. I work a LOT, so I can’t watch everything I would like to, and truthfully, it’s very easy to burn out of anime fandom if one tries to be a completionist of any sort. I have to be VERY selective of what I watch, and usually I go for off-the-wall stuff that strays from the mainstream shonen fighting shows and paranormal adventure shows that everyone seems to absolutely love.

This year I decided to re-subscribe to Crunchyroll in order to watch the relatively recent live action Great Teacher Onizuka show, and have found a few gems from the “simulcast” section of the app. I’m not sure of it was the eye-catching art style, or the fact that it may very well have been the first thing on the list, but I decided to give ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department a try, and I’m very glad that I did.

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Based on a popular Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, ACCA (as I will refer to it from now on) tells the story of Jean Otus, who acts as the second-in-command of the ACCA inspection agency. Jean’s job is to travel to the various major cities within the Kingdom of Dowa (which is, itself divided into 13 districts) and visit other ACCA offices to look for corruption, government waste, and other things that may destabilize the Kingdom. ACCA had been created over one hundred years in the past, during a lengthy period of unrest, in order to bring order to the masses. Many feel that ACCA is no longer relevant, but murmurs of revolution seem to be in the air. Small hints of possible revolution have been cropping up, such as scenes where various people start remarking on the increasing number of fires that have been occurring.

I jokingly told my wife (after viewing episode one) that this show could be summed up as “office politics – the anime” which was perhaps a bit flippant considering the way the show has progressed these past few episodes. To some, ACCA might seem slow – as it is free of the ridiculous exposition dumps and false world building that a lot of modern anime seems to be comprised of. Instead, the story is left to breathe while the viewer is allowed to see some sites, and understand the culture of the various districts within Dowa. This almost makes it a animated travel show ala Anthony Bourdain. Jean travels to places, buys gifts for his co-workers and sister, and samples the local cuisine. Food, in particular, takes such a large role in some episodes that one wants to sample the exotic sandwich breads and pastries that everyone seems to be obsessed with.

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I think the main reason this show has endeared itself to me so much, is that it reminds me a LOT of a few other shows from a number of years ago that had a similar traveling theme – Kino’s Journey, and Mushishi. Kino’s Journey was a philosophical show that saw the titular hero visiting various towns that all seemed to be examples of philosophical conundrums, and example being a town where everything was handled by majority vote to the conclusion of there being one person left alive in the entire city. Kino would go to these places and observe the issues these people have and rarely take action to alter the path that fate was going to take. Mushishi was a  bit different but involved a traveling apothecary / exorcist as he went from town to town saving people from paranormal creatures and other bad things.

ACCA is very similar in the way Jean interacts with the other districts, he’s there to inspect these towns, not to do anything to alter them in any way. in some cases, he is even witness to an attempted rebellion, and decides that preserving the status quo is better than reporting this to his superiors. One of my favorite “visits” is Jean’s trip to a city that is full of gigantic people that eat enormous food. It’s never made abundantly clear why this is the case, but I’ll pretend that the produce all has growth hormone in it or something, because nothing else makes much sense. it’s obviously a slight softened jab at America from an outsider’s perspective, but it still gave me quite a few chuckles. Seeing Jean and company try to eat strawberries the size of basketballs and sandwiches that would make that guy from Man Vs. Food blush.

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Jean soon finds himself to be the object of a persistent rumor, one that places himself at the forefront of a suspected Coup d’état that he has no knowledge of. It seems that many feel he is in some way an information broker for coup leaders, and that his travels are actually a cover for bad things that he may be doing. People think he is rich, and privileged due to his large house and his smoking habits (smoking seems to be very scarce and an extreme luxury) so him being some sort of spy makes sense to many. Sure, he has heard the same murmurs from around his office, ones of fires and killings, but has no clue why he is suspected, or why the rumor is so specific. Many see him as non-caring or naive about this situation, but Jean is pretty stoic and street smart. something like a baseless rumor isn’t going to rattle him.

I won’t actually spoil anything here, but episode seven delivers a huge bombshell in the plot department, one that will likely move the narrative to the season finale and hopefully beyond. I have not read the manga or kept up with ratings, so I have no idea how much story is left or how cost effective more would be, but I really hope the show continues for a while instead of stopping at episode twelve. assuming the ending is good, ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department could end up being a personal classic of mine – an anime that may not be the next Dragonball Z or Naruto, but I will end up remembering for a long time. Here’s hoping it stays this way as we move into the back half of the series!

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the entire show in a few months!


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BROAD EXPERTS LLC Makes Me Wish I was Rich

BROAD EXPERTS LLC, has officially made me wish I could justify blowing money for no reason, as they have teamed up with legendary manga creator Leiji Matsumoto (my favorite if you can’t tell by now) to create some awesome, but very pricey art prints. According to a press release, “BROAD EXPERTS LLC is a Japanese company devoted to creating artwork with pop culture influences.” They will be starting pre-orders soon for a series of 6 limited edition ukiyo-e prints featuring characters and spaceships from Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato, and Captain Harlock.

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Source: Official BROAD EXPERT LLC home page


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Here’s an Interesting Thing From The New Yamato 2202 Trailer

A brand-spanking-new trailer for Uchū Senkan Yamato 2202 (Space Battleship Yamato / Star Blazers) just went up, and it looks pretty great. I confess that I have yet to finish the previous Yamato 2199 series as I was holding out hope that the American rights holders would eventually release everything over here eventually. Instead, they seem to be doing a Harmony Gold-styled rights squatting and have all but abandoned the project, but alas I’m used to going to weird lengths to watch my obscure anime that I enjoy.

I have no idea what this trailer says in Japanese, but one thing sticks out to me – that bad guy looks exactly like The Earl de Darkwood, the main antagonist from Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto’s Interstella 5555. Granted Matsumoto has common design tropes that he (or the directors using his ideas) use in every property – like a character that always is a waif thin woman with blonde hair (Maetel clones), or a man with a scar across his face (Harlock clones). But seriously check this out:

Gamilas bad guy dude

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 The Earl de Darkwood

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Unless the Earl has Hulk powers, I think it’s safe to say it’s a coincidence, but I’d be floored if they somehow had something to do with eachother.

The Return of Classic Anime?

“The following is a summation of 20 or so years of anime fandom, past and possibly the future. Anime has gone through rough times these past few years, but news of things like Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Your Name, is dominating the box office worldwide give me hope. Not only are things looking up for creators (as long as your not a young animator) but fandom seems to be healthier than ever. Is it sustainable? Who knows, everyone seems to thing the entire industry is in a bubble yet again, but one thing is definitely making me happy – classic anime is finally getting some love.”

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The following is a summation of 20 or so years of anime fandom, past and possibly the future. Anime has gone through rough times these past few years, but news of things like Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Your Name, dominating the box office worldwide gives me hope. Not only are things looking up for creators (as long as your not a young animator) but fandom seems to be healthier than ever. Is it sustainable? Who knows, everyone seems to thing the entire industry is in a bubble yet again, but one thing is definitely making me happy – classic anime is finally getting some love.

I’ve been an anime fan for nearly all my life, granted, it wasn’t for several years that I knew of the term “anime” and recognized it as a wholly separate entity from normal old cartoons that cluttered up many a Saturday morning. Like most kids of my generation, I used to watch stuff like Robotech and Voltron, but it was not until I was visiting a friend’s house in third grade where I fell in love with it. This kid I was hanging around with had a nerdy father that had rented Akira, and even though we were unable to watch the entire film (not appropriate for our age back then) it became a new thing to look for anytime we had a few extra bucks laying around. This became my favorite time to be an anime fan, because every trip to the video store was like a treasure hunt – even the worst amine that we rented (Final Fantasy Legend of the Crystals comes to mind) was an almost alien experience and very exciting. We were like film connoisseurs looking for obscure films at a Blockbuster Video, part of a secret club that not many knew about.

While in college, it was easy to spot a generational shift in anime fandom. Gone were the days of pirated unlicensed VHS copies of anime lugged to club meetings in milk crates – everything was starting to be readily available 24/7 on the internet, and even for a time, Cable Television. A lot of the younger fans that were attending had zero interest in “classic anime” or trying anything that wasn’t already popular. The term “classic” is extremely vague and carries the baggage of a general correlation to the age of the subject. To some, it could even be a sort of a pejorative term as many regard older media as inferior and “not cool”. I remember several anime club meetings where certain members would whine about having to sit through anything “old”. This disregard for the history of the medium that we all love highlighted a division between fans, and one that I feel nearly led to the demise of the medium.

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This “Toonami Generation” led directly into the “fad generation” of anime fans, this may be an unpopular opinion, but this was a generation of fans that did not like anime as much as the anime culture that started to appear in the mid 2000’s. I stopped going to anime conventions in around 2006 because the viewing rooms were empty and playing ancient ADV releases from five years prior that many had long since bought on DVD and sold back to their local video store. Panels were empty, and the merch was starting to no longer contain any novelty items from Japan, it was all retail stores desperately trying to unload boxed sets of stuff that nobody was going to buy. Want volume 1 of Bleach on DVD? “Step Right up!” Want An animation cel from Macross Do You Remember Love? “what’s a Macross?” People were there to hang out, which is cool, but the reason for the con itself seemed to be a total afterthought.

So what happened?

In 2000 digital animation became the norm, and traditional animal cels went the way of the dodo. Suddenly, anime hit somewhat of a “fad” and became a mainstream medium thanks to high DVD sales of these flashy new cheap digital shows. Best Buy suddenly had an anime section, Hollywood actors were doing voice over work, and popular TV shows had anime parodies or actual continuations like Supernatural and Marvel comic properties. Hell, I think there was even a Twilight Manga at some point. At least 10 TV channels (some completely gone at this point, or restructured) had entire blocks devoted to anime, something that I assume was more-or-less bought by DVD companies to promote back-catalog items, but also because everyone wanted their own Adult Swim.

Even Tech TV (merged into G4 a long time ago) had an anime Block, miss that channel a lot.
Even Tech TV (merged into G4 a long time ago, even G4 is dead now) had an anime Block, miss that channel a lot.

Just like when anything gets popular, a counter faction sprang up to often deride anything that had a tinge of being made in Japan. Some of these were bitter former fans, ones that saw what they enjoyed being taken over by so-called “weaboos” a pejorative term for anime fans that sprang up a decade ago. Others were people that saw this con-culture of the Fad Generation, found it annoying, and decided to hate on it as a whole. I liken this to what happened to professional wrestling fandom about the time that UFC and other mixed martial arts groups got popular at around the same time.

Then the bubble burst. Many fans were ignorant of the issues plaguing the Japanese industry, but things weren’t good. Sales were going down, merchandising was flat and the once lucrative option to sell to the west was drying up due to tastes changing and popularity dying. Stores were stuck with mountains of stuff nobody wanted, companies started to close, and anime looked to be on it’s deathbed.

An interesting graph from an Asahi Shimbun article reporting that industry insiders are claiming that the “anime bubble has burst”. The top part with the red line shows the number of new works of anime produced each year since 2000. The bottom part shows total sales for the anime industry, with the darker blue section of each bar representing anime aimed at a general audience and the lighter colored section representing anime for kids. Both graphs show a decline since 2006.
An interesting graph from an Asahi Shimbun article reporting that industry insiders are claiming that the “anime bubble has burst”. The top part with the red line shows the number of new works of anime produced each year since 2000. The bottom part shows total sales for the anime industry, with the darker blue section of each bar representing anime aimed at a general audience and the lighter colored section representing anime for kids. Both graphs show a decline since 2006.

I think the biggest thing that signaled this crisis was the collapse of ADV in 2009. At their peak they were a great company, having the rights to some of anime’s biggest shows like Neon genesis Evangelion. after seeming basically untouchable, they decided to have a TV network, a magazine, a manga line, etc until they were hemorrhaging money. They did this so they could say arrogant press-lines like “we’re the biggest animation company besides Disney”. They thought they were a huge media conglomerate instead of what they really were: a successful anime dub-house.

At the last few A-Kons I went to (anime con in Texas) most companies would show off maybe 2 new licenses, then you would walk by ADV’s table and they would have 20 new acquisitions, mostly containing shows of questionable subject matter, and no fan base whatsoever, and shows that utterly flopped in Japan. granted, they got these deals for pennies on the dollar, but it costs money to dub and produce anime….money they didn’t have. They got funding by some corporation in Japan, that started a hostile takeover, and it crashed them…

Thankfully, this blog post isn’t the history of anime’s demise, but the above is a nice way to illustrate what the anime market looks like now and why the title is “The Return of Classic Anime?”. I used to have to go to ridiculous lengths to try to find some obscure anime and manga that I like, still keeping that treasure hunting mindset that was solidified in my youth. I have bootlegs that I either created or purchased of shows that I assumed would never have a chance of coming out over here, things Like Leiji Matsumoto’s Starzinger and Danguard Ace, manga for decades old Gundam side-stories and other stuff that was annoying to acquire.

Dangaurd Ace

I recall years of articles in magazines and on sites like Anime News Network where people would ask things like “Why hasn’t X been licensed yet?” to be met with a reply of something like “it’s old and there is no market for it”. It can be argued that any recent success the anime market has had could be chalked up to yet another bubble that is due to burst, but one thing is evident – there IS a market for that older stuff. Anime now has older fans that want stuff akin to the way Criterion sells old films – I’ll call it the Premium Market.

Fans in this market are willing to pay a lot more and are excited about old stuff or long dead licenses. They actually still buy physical media, and aren’t just looking to get a ton of stuff for cheap. These are the fans that anime companies have needed for a while, and they are the ones driving sales for things like the hardback editions of Gundam: The Origin from Vertical publishing, or just about anything from Discotek Media. These are basically the vinyl collectors that are breathing life back into the music industry for the anime industry, a fanbase that was pushed away as a weird novelty before finally getting their due.

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I started really thinking about this while listening to a recent podcast from Anime News Network in which they interviewed somebody about anime expo 2016, and it seemed like these fans were the talk of the town. Take this recent Publisher’s weekly article discussing the convention in which this new trend was discussed:

At the Kodansha Comics panel on Saturday, Ben Applegate, director of publishing for Kodansha Comics, cheered the ongoing rebound in manga print sales. “You’re probably seeing all the industry people here smiling, so you know that the manga industry is doing really well,” he said. “This resurgence of manga is allowing us to take chances on different series we wouldn’t usually in the past.”

The exact topic being discussed was a release of the 1970’s Queen Emeraldas Manga, and the astonishing way that it SOLD OUT pre-order-wise at this very convention. without skipping a beat, a recent manga publisher called Seven Seas recently announced that they were publishing a Captain Harlock manga in the west, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes is currently being released in novel form, and soon in anime form. had you mentioned any of this to me a decade ago, I would have laughed.

Anime companies, at least in the United States at least, are finally starting to see that there are ways to sell older stuff, and simply making it a cheap bargain bin item is a good way NOT to sell something. Making deluxe sets with collectors and connoisseurs in mind has breathed life back into a once though of as dead market, and has made classic anime something not to be reviled, but something honored.

The Akira Remake Just Keeps Looking Worse…

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding Hollywood is not the tired “they have no new ideas” complaint, a complaint that is bolstered by dozens of films based on other movies, books, toys, and cartoons filling the cinemas. Mine is a broader concern that they have no regard for the fans when it comes to such adapted works. I don’t mind Hollywood remakes and sequels of stuff I enjoy, but what I don’t want to see is adaptation for the sake of itself, and missing the point of the source material.

A while back, Michael Bay summoned a veritable crap-storm of nerd rage when a script for his new Ninja Turtles film leaked to the masses. The story, characters, and general spirit of the original had been all scrapped in favor of something that was essentially the same plot of his Transformers franchise. Mr. Bay yelled at fans on Twitter, whined in interviews that he was misunderstood, pretended the script was fake, and eventually delayed the movie for some reason “totally not related to the backlash…seriously you guys.”

Luckily, it seems like the film is back on track, but the whole situation is almost baffling. Why would a film studio take something fairly popular amongst a very hardcore and vocal fan base and alter it to an unrecognizable state? Why not actually make a NEW franchise with nothing to do with an established franchise? It’s almost like this happens behind closed doors:

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“Hey guys, thanks for meeting me here today! The purpose of this meeting is that I have a GREAT idea, no not an original one of course, (chuckles) that would be difficult and my head hurts from all that blow I did earlier! So here’s what’s gonna happen….We gonna take something that already exists and we remake it. This is cutting edge stuff guys, nobody has ever thought of re-doing classic films before!! Here’s the catch about us remaking it though, we don’t! (everyone in room gasps!) This is the clever part guys, we throw away everything that made the original popular! We change everything about it, because despite the popularity and reverence for the original we know better than the original creators. It’s a stroke of genius, I know.”

This attitude seems to plague all of Hollywood, a place that has increasingly replaced artistic vision for dollar signs. There’s no wonder most “talent” is flocking to television, as that format seems to have more freedom for just about  everyone. That isn’t to say they aren’t without their issues as well. I remember reading about a San Diego Comic Con years ago where a group of execs slipped into a screening of the US remake of the popular UK science fiction drama Life on Mars, only to be horrified by the bad reception it was getting. Supposedly, they had no idea that the show had fans over here, and immediately re-shot the pilot with a new cast attempting to re-create the show exactly.

Japanese Anime and Manga seem to be the new hotbed for film licensing, and it has been pretty bleak. Executives seem to understand which are the popular franchises, but miss the entire point of why said franchises are popular. It’s like they assume that fans will see things based on name only, and will gladly accept massive changes to all aspects of a production. We thankfully dodged a Keanu Reeves Cowboy Bebop Film, a Zac Efron Full Metal Panic film, and even a Evangelion film that was supposed to be all action, and none of that pesky plot from the original. Sadly, we were “blessed” with atrocities such as the Fox Dragonball: Evolution film, so it hasn’t been perfect. Each time this happens, the possible directors of these franchises in the making, seem bewildered that there is so much outcry.

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The property that I am the most worried about in regards to this situation happens to be Akira, one of my most beloved science fiction stories. I basically have Akira to thank for getting me into anime, because I was completely oblivious that there was an entire industry devoted to “cartoons” that weren’t necessarily meant for children. I’m not going to pretend I understood the film when I first watched it over at a friend’s house back in 1992, but the mix of violence, psychological storytelling, and amazing visuals simply blew me away. I eventually bought all of the manga, animation cells, and even action figures related to it.

For about ten years now I have been hearing about a possible “American remake” of Akira being in the works, but they never get off the ground. Fans flip out about proposed changes, and each one dies a quiet death shortly after. The newest version of this project seems to be one helmed by a director named Jaume Collett-Serra. This name may be familiar because he’s been talking this project up for years now, and it seems perpetually stalled because he feels that he needs to drastically alter everything about it. In an interview with Coming Soon, the would be director had the following to say:

“I hope that I can bring strong characters. In the original source material, I don’t think the main characters are the protagonists. What I’m hoping is to bring characters.

Nobody’s interesting. Tetsuo’s interesting because weird sh*t happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That’s part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They’re used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.

Yeah. So hopefully in my version that will be strong, and you’ll have a story that happens in that world that will show you a little bit of the mystery. Then, if you’re interested, they’ll make “Akira 2 & 3” then you can get deeper into it. I love the world, a lot of people love that world, so why wouldn’t we indulge in it a little bit and see how it would be if it was real? Like you say I don’t have to explain everything, but wouldn’t you like to spend two-hours in a world of “Akira” and follow a character and be like, “that’s cool”? That’s all I want to offer, is two-hours in a world you can actually feel. We’re working on it.”

So there you have it, get ready for the American Akira that nobody wants!

Kick Heart (2013) Short Film

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As promised, I’m going to review a newer anime today rather than sticking to the decade of my birth like my last few entries. This short film is one that many people have probably not heard of before, as it was created via a “crowd funding” project. About a year ago, I found a film called Kick Heart by Masaki Yuasa and Production I.G. on Kickstarter. Mr. Yuasa is of course the man behind the surreal (and pretty much awesome) short film Cat Soup, so I knew I just HAD to back the project. It doesn’t hurt that I’m also a huge pro wrestling fan either! It eventually made it’s required money, but missed it’s “stretch goals” which would have potentially moved the project into a feature length film, but what we got was pretty awesome none-the-less.

The story follows a man named Romeo Maki as he tries to get by with a fairly surprising dual life. Romeo works as both a masked professional wrestler and the CEO of a rundown orphanage. He funds with orphanage via proceeds from his night job, but things aren’t looking good. Lately the roof has been leaking non-stop, and it appears that a large snake has taken the children’s restroom as his home. In desperation, Romeo enters a $50,000 “winner takes all” contest against another masked wrestler named Lady S, but things get weird real quick. Lady S “gets off” by inflicting pain on her opponents, and Maskman M (Romeo) get’s the same pleasure from receiving pain. I know this sounds like the makings of an adult film, but don’t worry, Kick Heart is pretty much PG-13. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Lady S also works at the orphanage as a quiet young nun named Juliet, but Romeo doesn’t realize this.

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The animation in this film is pretty nice, and resembles those old Bill Plympton cartoons more than any anime I’ve ever seen. Everything is sort of “sketchy” and VERY brightly colored, which really helps this film have an “edgy” or “underground” feeling to it. It’s almost like something that would have aired on MTV’s ancient Liquid Television show really late at night. I enjoyed the fact that you never got to see Romeo’s face completely, this was mostly because he lived most of his life as a masked wrestler, and tradition generally goes that such performers are never to be seen in public without their masks on. Romeo, in businessman mode, always has a black censorship bar over his eyes, a little touch that gives this film something different that really makes it stand out.

The character designs are pretty awesome and some are even borderline grotesque. Lady S’s tag team partner, in particular, is a giant of a woman that is so large that she crushes a portion of the audience when she is defeated in one of their bouts. The cool thing is that because of this, no two characters look the same, and are “larger than life” just like how pro wrestling characters generally are.

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I love what Kickstarter and other crowd funding services could potentially bring to the anime market. Films like this or the recent Bubblegum Crisis Blu-Ray release are products that most likely would not have been produced in the current anime market, so pre-ordering these projects beforehand really lessen the risk of the project being unsuccessful, and guarantees the releases. Eventually I want to see more experimental films like this, and maybe older anime getting put up. It really could change the landscape of the whole industry.

Here is a trailer:

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Black Magic M-66 (1987) OVA

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Science fiction stories, and more specifically cyberpunk stories, are by far my favorite type of anime and manga; and one of the grandmasters of the genre would have to be Masamune Shirow. Not only did he unleash the beast that was the Ghost in the Shell franchise to our defenseless eyes, but also brought a helping of Dominion Tank Police, Gundress and even Appleseed. Rest assured, as this blog continues, I will be posting more of his stuff than you can handle.

So, what makes Shirow’s work stand out so much? Despite his foray into erotic pin-up art for the last decade or so, Shirow’s work was essentially the formula that most 80’sand 90’s cyberpunk anime followed. His productions were characterized by sexy leading ladies, philosophical plots, and a procedural police drama flavor. On top of all of this, Shirow is known for his highly detailed level of world building; this is seen most notably in his vehicles, mecha, firearms, and cybernetics.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

Before Ghost in The Shell or even Apleseed, Shirow penned a science fiction manga simply called Black Magic. Bandai eventually got the rights, and produced a short OVA (original video animation) based loosely on a small portion of the comic. Hiroyuki Kitakubo also co-directed this piece, and later went on to work on such films as Akira, Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, and Roujin Z usually as a key animator or storyboard director. So here we go – let’s look at Black Magic M-66, one of Shirow’s earliest works!

Black Magic M-66 is the story of a hard-as-nails and usually scantily-clad journalist named Sybil out for the scoop of her career. She learns about a crashed military transport and two lethal combat androids on-board. She assumes that the military is going to battle a “violent, armored thing on the road”, but little does she know, it’s worse. Perhaps because of the crash, or a fault in programming, these mechanical murderers get loose and set out to kill the granddaughter of their own creator. Sybil has a choice, if she wants her big payday, she better protect the girl from the bots.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

The plot essentially boils down to a prolonged chase scene that somewhat reminded me of the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator film. M-66 is like the Terminator and has been programmed to kill Ferris (Sarah Conner) who is only safe because she is being protected by Sybil (Kyle). Yeah, it lacks the time travel plot and other aspects, but the similarity is there. I wish that Black Magic M-66 could have been a tad longer, because the plot really gets rolling about 10-15 minutes into the movie, and rushed to the ending from then on. To me, It needs a bit more breathing room.

This video has a lot of what I like to call “the pervy side of Shirow”. I mentioned earlier, that Shirow basically exclusively produces erotic pin up art ever since he completed his manga Ghost in the Shell II: Man Machine Interface. People thinking that this career turn is a new thing, need to go back and watch Black Magic M-66. Not only is Sybil’s very first scene one where she is not wearing any clothes, but other characters seem to be border-line nudists as well. Ferris, The aforementioned granddaughter in question, walks around in what I can best describe as her underwear with shoes on for a good chunk of her early scenes.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

A special nod goes out to the way the android M-66s are designed and their “fighting style”. When they finally are spotted by the military and engaged, the inhuman,near animalistic way in which they move is almost unsettling. The “male” M-66, which meets a grizzly end by way of military might towards the beginning of the feature, is vaguely monkey like and sticks to the ground, whereas the “female” M-66 lumbers around shooting things with laser eyes and retracting knives as fingers. These monstrosities really bring this film into it’s own,and keep the whole thing full of “on the edge of your seat moments”.

Before I sat down to write this, I had never actually seen this anime for some reason. I think this boils down to the scarcity of the older Manga Entertainment DVD when I used to work at a retail store, and my unwillingness to spend large amounts of money on it. I believe the older DVD was released in 2001, and it wasn’t until a few months ago that a new company, Maiden Japan, re-released it minus any English dubbing. If in a pinch, I bet you could find it on any popular video sharing site, but I don’t condone that due to an actual American license, but whatever floats your boat.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

In conclusion, Black Magic M-66 is not as polished as later works from Masamune Shirow, but it still retains a lot of his trademark style. You have the procedural cop drama trope with the military guys, the mecha, the androids, and even the sexy female lead. All it’s missing is the philosophical treatment with the plot. If anything, it’s always fun to see where a director honed his chops.

Black Magic M-66 Screenshot

 

Nineteen19 (1990) OVA

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One genre of anime that was definitely done better in the past was the romance genre. Today, a lot of productions that could be considered “romance” often have little drive or story to move the plot along. Often times “harem anime” and ”moe anime” dominate the market, and pander to a very select crowd of fans. While there are definitely “diamonds in the rough” many of these shows are soulless commercial money grabs, created to fill time on a TV schedule. We will be discussing a romance show of a different color in today’s review, considering this genre is nearly extinct from anime today – The shounen romance. That’s right folks, today we will be looking at a romantic comedy / drama from the perspective of an eligible bachelor looking for love.

Nineteen19 is an obscure studio Madhouse production directed by Koichi Chigira (Venus Wars, Kimagure Orange Road, Tokyo Babylon etc.) Based on a manga by Sho Kitagawa (Blue Butterfly Fish) that was published in Weekly Young Jump. The story follows a young restaurant worker named Kobuta, who despite having all the opportunities any man would dream of, has never really been in a serious relationship with a girl.

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And sticking to the major trope that all teen dramas and comedies are based, everyone is concerned that he is still a virgin at age 19. Women are basically throwing themselves at him due to the way his friends tell everyone at every turn about his plight, and he will have none of it. That is until he meets the love of his life, an old junior high school friend named Masana that moved to Tokyo and became a successful model. It seems she has recently become available, and Kobuta sees this as his chance to make the move that he never had the guts for before.

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The main thing I like about Nineteen19 is that it’s told from the point of view of Kobuta, but doesn’t devolve into the over-the-top machismo and borderline misogyny that one could expect from a modern male centered romance story. He’s a stoic dude and somewhat emotional – thus more realistic than what one sees in Hollywood films. While his fling with Masana is somewhat ephemeral, one feels really happy for the guy when everything starts clicking into place. Although I will warn that this anime has a bittersweet ending, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all lollipops and unicorns for 45 minutes.

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Aside from Kobuta and Masana, the cast is not very fleshed out. We get to see both of their respective groups of friends, Masana’s ex-boyfriend, and Kobuta’s boss, but only briefly. Kobuta’s boss is especially strange for his penchant for groping everyone’s hindquarters in a creepy, and yet somehow innocent way. A little bit of explanation for that would have been nice! That’s the problem with older anime OVAs, the short duration (this clocks in at around 45 mins) means that only the most important things get fleshed out. We get to see the romance between the two main characters and that’s all that matters.

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One thing that makes this anime significant is the use of music, and more specifically the interesting music video cutaways inter-spliced into the film. This was made in 1990, so you can expect early 90’s club music and contemporary pop of the era. The music was created by Toshiki Kadomatsu, a popular R&B singer and songwriter that has released quite a few albums, and is still releasing music today. Here is a sample of one of the videos:

Nineteen19 is pretty hard to come by. It’s an old, unlicensed, OVA from over twenty years ago, so a domestic DVD release is laughably implausible. The film gained prominence in the early 90’s through anime clubs and tape traders, and is essentially kept alive by them today. I found a fan-sub on YouTube that I have posted below so you can also enjoy the film. It has a few spelling mistakes here and there,but it gets the job done. YouTube has really become the place to find obscure anime such as this, finding this even five years ago would have resulted in hours on torrent sites and other irritations.

Nineteen19 is a slice of life anime that brings a strange sense of nostalgia over me. I was too young to be able to identify with Kobuta at the time, but I think it really brings out what a real relationship can be like. Our culture has left tons of would-be romantics assuming that they should be attempting to re-create scenes from popular Hollywood films to win affections from the other half, a feat that usually will get the person into trouble in real life. This aspirational brainwashing has made people forget what a real romance can be like: false starts, awkwardness, and misunderstandings. If you want to see something different, and enjoy slice of life anime, watch Nineteen19, I think you’ll dig it.