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Friday, March 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Obscusion B-Side: The Most Magnificent of the Seven

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

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

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

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

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