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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Demo Disc Vol. 9: Precocious Pilot Programs

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

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

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

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

And that's how you do a segue!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

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

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

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

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