Friday, May 4, 2018

Quitting Social Media, Following Fandom and My Personal Life

It was literally only three weeks ago that I was writing about how I was going to continue with my Anime Archivist project. In the weeks after that post I had written three new articles. I found this quite amazing as I had just come off a really rough period where I had spent a year trying to sort my parents lives out as both of them had to be put into a nursing home almost simultaneously. In the process I had to have a fair few weeks off work just to get things sorted out and for my own mental health as things began to unravel for me back in February just as was in the final stages of sorting everything out.

It's amazing how things change in such short time. My father got quite ill in the last three weeks and eventually died on Monday. While that's bad enough, sorting everything out in the wake of that is even more draining. Legally, financially, logistically and emotionally it's all a bit of a mess. It's pretty hard trying sort all that stuff out as well as the pressures of work (I will be off work for approximately three weeks just to sort stuff out) and the demands of some family members.

Even though it's only around nine weeks away, I'm still going on my two and a half week trip to Japan. I think I really need it. However I still have a lot to plan for that trip. I am a little down to say the least at the moment and am finding rather difficult trying to get motivated to complete what I need to do.

In the midst of all of this, I have decided to quit my twitter account. It's really not doing myself any good. To a large degree I find that a lot of the (alleged) "influencers" on that platform to be mostly wankers and some are rather divisive figures. What I don't understand is why some of these people target other sectors of fandom such as idol fandom and those who like moe elements in anime. Due to this and the utterly appalling way things like the recent Flying Colors Foundation nonsense were handled (or more correctly not handled) by supposedly professional people who call themselves journalists, well I wasn't all that impressed. As a result I think in the future I'll me limiting my exposure to fandom at large just for my own mental health. The drama really tires me out.

I was in the middle of writing up a couple of articles in regards to two issues I have with the way those in the upper echelon of anime fandom conduct themselves, but with everything that's going on, I've decided to put those on hold for a while. At this stage I'm not sure I'll even publish them at all. For now, I wouldn't expect much out his blog until after August. Hopefully by then things will have stabilised for me.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dead English Language Tokusatsu Magazines: “Markalite”

Publisher: Pacific Rim Publishing Company
Format: A4 (Standard US Magazine Size)
Genre/Type: Tokusatsu, Anime, Japanese Cinema
Years Active: 1990 - 1991
Issues Published: 3

One of the rarest types of publication is the one dedicated to tokusatsu (Japanese special effects) films. Over the years I have searched high and low for magazines like this, but generally come up empty handed. I did discover Asian Trash Cinema (later named Asian Cult Cinema), but I was rather annoyed at its misogynistic tone and its focus on degrading exploitation films. G-Fan didn’t hold my interest either and seemed to have a very narrow focus on Godzilla. But there was one Tokusatsu magazine that stood head and shoulders above everything else; Markalite Magazine (a Markalite is the dish heat-ray weapon that appeared in some early Toho films, “The Mysterians” being the most widely known film to feature it).

The magazine was started by two of the most well-known men in tokusatsu fandom in America; August Ragone and Bob Johnson in 1990. Even now, there isn’t a great deal of information about tokusatsu films and TV series in English, especially compared to amount of information and resources that anime fans have at their disposal. This is why I find this magazine so amazing. It is just jam packed full of accurate, comprehensive and detailed information about a subject that was extremely hard to come across in the US. And that’s a claim that many of the English language anime magazines of the time couldn’t make. Certainly in some instances the information presented in those early publications wasn’t entirely accurate. It’s fair to say some of it was completely off the mark and rather misleading. But not Markalite. All of the three published issues ran around 96 pages and were practically filled to the brim of each page with interesting articles and information.

The debut issue had over 30 pages devoted to “Godzilla Vs Biolante”. There’s interviews with the director, the SFX director and even the man in the Godzilla suit, Kenpachiro Satsuma. But it doesn’t end there; we also have a long synopsis of the film, comprehensive biographies of the cast, a look at the special effects and behind the scenes, a complete cast and staff listing and some great side bars about why Godzilla never destroys the Imperial Place and who the heck that scary guy with make-up on was who made a brief appearance in the film (heavy metal singer and personality Demon Kakka). It’s just amazing. Most of the stuff in this magazine you can’t find on the web today.

Other really interesting articles included a listing of every tokusatsu TV show from the 1950’s to 1990 (including air dates, episode numbers, production company, actors and director), the role of aliens in Japanese sci-fi films, the Ultraman series, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla films and number of then current tokusatsu TV shows. The greater majority of these articles were extremely will written and researched and a joy to read. On the anime side of things, a couple of articles are included, mostly about older anime such as “Gigantor” and “Kimba the White Lion”. Both were written by Fred Patten, a veteran of sci-fi, anime and furry fandoms who would later work for Streamline Pictures. While I really respect Patten’s work as a whole, a third contribution, an opinion piece about how anime in the late 1980’s didn’t stand up to what had come before it, is pretty absurd, more so in hindsight. In the article Patten makes the claim that anime had gone down dramatically in quality since the introduction of the Original Video Animation (OVA) format, and things were never as good as they were in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. He cites the rather mediocre “Genma Taisen” (released as “Harmagedon” in the US) and the rather flawed and overly long “Phoenix 2772” as examples of great anime (amongst the Gundams, Macross’, Yamatos and Harlocks he mentions) which only makes it even more laughable. Yes, I suppose only crap was released after 1985; “Project A-ko”, “Megazone 23”, “Bubblegum Crisis”, “Kimagure Orange Road”, “Touch”, “Akira”, all of them trash. The article’s accompanying satirical cartoon has Astroboy smashing his way through an Ingram robot from “Patlabor”. Yeah, that was trash too, and that no good director Mamoru Oshii didn’t do much after that stinker. Oh, don’t get me started on the 1990’s. “Evangelion”? Bah, not that great. Yes, we should all be watching old anime from the 1960’s and 1970’s because it never got any better than that, apparently.

Markalite’s short run also included interviews with Sonny Chiba and Robert Dunham (an American actor who appeared in many of Toho’s 1960’s tokusatsu films), obituaries for Japanese actors Akihiko Hirata and Jun Tazaki, the Australian/Tsuburaya co-production “Ultraman: Towards the Future (Ultraman Great)” series, Akira Kurosawa’s film “Dreams”, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla films, Toho’s early special effects films, including the propaganda films made during World War II and the Hollywood live action adaptation of “The Guyver”. There are also some very intriguing titbits in the news section including a report on a never made remake of the 1960’s “Daimaijin” trilogy which was to be released in 1994 as a co-production between Daiei and Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest. There was some bad stuff in the magazine though; some of the writing, other than from Ragone or Johnson, felt a bit fanish and unprofessional. One issue had four reviews of “Godzilla Vs Biolante” over two or three pages, which felt really redundant. Some of the reviews also were rather overly critical of and unfair to films themselves, seeing as most of these films were low budget and B-grade. The magazine also included Maraklite Maidens, a pull out centrefold which usually taken from publicity shots from various films. Perhaps now days this could be seen as a little sexist.

Unfortunately disaster stuck the company only after three issues. Their publisher had some issues with the anime magazine he was publishing, Animag magazine which I have previously written about. Animag took their magazine elsewhere, and this must have been too much for the publisher financially, who delayed the publication of issue 4 of Markalite for over a year. The editors of Markalite eventually threatened to sue and they got their layouts of the magazine back, which were left on Johnson’s porch, water damaged in a plastic shopping bag. After that, the publisher allegedly skipped the state to avoid creditors, leaving Ragone and Johnson $1,200 in debt and having no way to contact the subscribers of the magazine as the publisher handled the subscriptions and had all of the addresses. What an absolutely horrible way for any magazine to end its life, and rather demoralising for its creators and editors. Afterwards some of the material meant for issue 4 ended up online at the Henshin Online website and also in the newsletter “Henshin!”. “Kaiju Fan” was the successor to “Markalite”, but I still haven’t found any issues of that. Bob Johnson would later co-found the SciFi Japan website, while August Ragone would continuing writing about tokusatsu films and would later write the book “Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters”.

For myself who has a bit more than a passing interest in tokusatsu TV series and films, I find it really disappointing that there isn’t a magazine out there which explores it in depth as Markalite did. Sure, the occasional articles in “Otaku USA” are great, but still I’d like a 100% tokusatsu focused magazine which looked at old and new series that I could pick up from my local comic book shop every time it came out. And sure “everything” is on the internet now days, but sometimes I think I’d prefer reading a magazine and discovering stuff I’d never find out about otherwise.

Unfortunately a lot of the coverage we do get, especially in mainstream coverage of the genre, is quite ignorant of the long history of the genre, it's tropes and conventions. Even today, most modern tokusatsu coverage still hasn't advanced much beyond cliches about men in rubber suits destroying miniature cardboard buildings (when of course it's plainly obvious that cardboard has never been used to create buildings in any tokusatsu film or TV series). In light of that, Markalite's existence and short life span is even more remarkable.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Anime Music Video Compilations: “Ranma ½ Hot Song Contest – Part 1”

Publisher: 5-Ace (Pony Canyon)
Format: VHS, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue
Length: 22 minutes
Original Release Date: 7 November 1990
Animation Exclusive to this Release: Yes
Other Sources (Japanese unless noted): Ranma ½ Hot Song Contest (Laserdisc, VHS 1990), Ranma ½ Hot Song Contest (DVD 2002)
Currently Availability (as of writing): Out of Print

Despite the fact my early foray into anime fandom was the mid 1990’s, surprisingly I was never a fan of the “Ranma ½” franchise. Although little of the series was released on video in Australia (one OVA, one movie from memory), I found many local fans had paid a fair amount of cash to import Viz’s English dubbed VHS tapes. This was unsurprising as the series was huge in western fandom at the time. Based on yet another one of Rumiko Takahashi’s long running manga series and serialised in Shonen Sunday, the core anime adaptation (outside later specials) ran from 1989 to 1996 with numerous TV series, OVAs and movies. While Viz in the US released pretty much everything anime related to the franchise, this music video compilation, which is completely made up of brand new animation, was ignored by the company. I suspect that either a music rights issue or the fact it was too hard to dub the songs forced Viz to scrap any English language release of it. The video uses songs from the “Hot Songs Contest” Image album which was released in April 1990. For those who don’t know, an Image album is one where the voice actors perform songs in character. Kenji Kawai (of “Patlabor” and “Ghost in the Shell” fame) wrote the music for all the songs, though several writers wrote the lyrics. Two videos were released compiling all the songs from the album, both in November 1990. I’ll be looking the first video. But before we get to the individual music videos, I better tell you about the series;

Soun Tendo, head of the Tendo Dojo, is overjoyed that Genma Saotome and his son, Ranma are coming to visit. Genma, like Soun, is a practitioner of the “Anything-Goes School” of martial arts. Years ago Genma promised Ranma would marry one of Soun’s daughters so the Tendo Dojo would carry on for at least another generation. However the girls, 19 year old Kasumi Tendo, 17 year old Nabiki Tendo, and 16 year old Akane Tendo aren’t all that terribly impressed that one of them will be in an arranged marriage. Rather than two men arriving at the Dojo, the Tendo family are absolutely dumbfounded when a teenage girl and panda end up on their doorstep, fighting each other. The girl later introduces herself as Ranma Saotome which only confuses them further. The odd pair explain that a month ago, Ranma and Genma trekked to China to train at the fabled Jusenkyo spring. However during their intense training, Ranma fell into the “Spring of Drowned Girl” while Genma fell into the “Spring of Drowned Panda”. Both have been cursed; when splashed with cold water they respectively turn into a girl and a panda. Hot water returns them to their original forms. Katsumi and Nabiki nominate Akane to be Ranma’s bride; however the Akane and Ranma refuse, despite their father’s insistence. However as the series progresses, they end up being closer to each other, although almost always end up bickering and fighting with each other.

Though wanting to return to the Jusenkyo spring in order to rid himself of the curse, Ranma ends up going to Furinkan High School with Akane. There Ranma has a rival for Akane’s affections, Tatewaki Kuno, the conceited captain of the school’s kendo team. But not only is he after Akane, he falls for Ranma’s female form as well. His sister, Kodachi Kuno, captain of the gymnastics team at an all-girls school, ends up being infatuated with the male form of Ranma. Yet another suitor for Akane arrives in the form of the Ryoga Hibiki, who has a terrible sense of direction and is always lost. In addition Ryoga also wants revenge on Ranma as he followed him to the Jusenkyo spring where he promptly fell into the “Spring of the Drowned Piglet”. Unware that Ryoga turns into a small black piglet when splashed with cold water, Akane takes in the piglet as a pet and names it P-chan. Ryoga uses Akane’s affection for him in piglet form to deliberately frustrate and anger Ranma. As the series progresses, several other characters appear, most whom have had contact with various cursed springs at Jusenkyo including Chinese Amazon Shampoo, who turns into a cat and is after Ranma’s affections and her childhood friend Mousse who becomes Ranma’s rival who turns into a duck. Other major characters include Happosai who is the elderly perverted founder and grandmaster of Anything Goes Martial Arts ,and Azusa Shiratori and Mikado Sanzenin, the figure skating golden pair of Ranma and Akane’s school who just had fuel to the fire falling for various members of the Tendo household.

Once this main cast of characters is introduced, the series follows a formula of slapstick comedy with plenty of misunderstandings between various characters, most of which are never really resolved by the end of the episode in order to reuse the same misunderstandings for comedic effect later on. With that intro out of the way, time to talk about the videos;

“Little Date (TV Service Version)” Performed by Ranma, Akane and Shampoo [Megumi Hayashibara, Noriko Hidaka and Rei Sakuma]
The video compilation opens up with Shirokuro (Checkers in the English dub), Ryoga Hibiki's pet dog and Ryoga himself in P-chan form, switching on a TV. We are then introduced to the hosts of this video special; the nameless Chinese guide from Jusenkyo spring and Sasuke Sarugakure, the ninja of the Kuno family. After some brief introductions we are thrown into the first video, “Little Date”. This was originally the opening theme to the second TV series and performed by idol group Ribbon. This version is a remake with the voice actors for the female type Ranma, as well Akane and Shampoo singing the theme in character. The video is a simple affair which shows off the main characters and the choruses showing the main cast dancing. Unlike the other songs in this compilation, Tsugutoshi Goto wrote the music thought Kenji Kawai arranged the track for this version.

“Anything-Goes Martial Arts Goes On ~ Panda Can't Sing the Song (Musabetsu Kakutou Icchokusen ~ Panda wa Uta wo Utaenai)” Performed by Genma Saotome [Kenichi Ogata]
The song title is literally a synopsis of the music video. Genma prepares to sing a song and asks Ranma to give him a glass of water. Ranma responds enthusiastically by throwing a glass of water to him, which naturally spills over Genma. In panda form Genma attempts to sing, while the Tendo household stare with their mouths agape. The video is sot mostly in the dark with spotlights passing the cast (I’m assuming to hide the limited animation), and due to the lack of light, Genma bumps into Ranma, which causes them to fight. Eventually water is spilt of Ranma which transforms him into his female form. This continues on until the set on the soundstage is destroyed. Afterwards a commercial appears for the Neko Shopping Network advertising the Nekohaten restaurant. Katsumi and Nabiki star along with Genma and Soun Tendo who appear dressed as housewives.

Love Letter from China (China kara no Tegami) Performed by Ranma & Ranma [Megumi Hayashibara and Kappei Yamaguchi]
The next video mimics a clichéd ballad done in a duet style and also satirises karaoke videos, including the subtitles and the old style laserdisc karaoke machines. The video shows the doomed love of Happosai and Shampoo’s great grandmother Cologne and is portrayed in the style of an old Japanese drama. The song is sung by moth the male and female version of Ranama, with someone throwing hot or cold water on Ranma at appropriate timers to create the duet effect. While I find the metamorphosis gag in “Ranma ½” to be generally tiring, here the gag is used really effectively and is quite amusing. Afterwards Ryoga comes on to perform but is splashed with water and turns into P-chan. The Jusenkyo guide and Sasuke start to introduce Ryoga but are puzzled at his sudden disappearance.

“Uncute, Unsexy (Kawaikunee, Iroke ga nee)” Performed by Ranma [Kappei Yamaguchi]
This upbeat number has Ranma initially training and then fighting off a number of Akane’s suitors and rivals such as Ryoga Hibiki, Mousse, Happosai and Tatewaki Kuno. A great deal of the video is dedicated to various individual fights between those characters and Ranma and also a some sequences where all four team up to fight Ranma. The choruses have close ups of Ranma singing whilst two of his rivals squeeze the frame Ranma is in to push him out of the picture. Ranma retaliates usually by squashing his rivals. Akane later shows up the video joining Ranama, much to Ryoga’s frustrations, though some of the other rivals try to woo Akane.

“Two-Part Secret Heart (Heart Naisho/2)” Performed by Akane [Noriko Hidaka]
The Jusenkyo guide and Sasuke cross live to Tatewaki Kuno who is outside a concert hall which is hosting an idol concert featuring Akane. Tatewaki proclaims himself to be the head of Akane’s fanclub and rushes into the concert hall with a camera to film the concert. Akane jumps on stage in a stereotypical idol dress of the era and the enthusiastic audience performing the clichéd chants and calls at the appropriate times during the song. During one section of the song, Akane points at the audience with Tatewaki mistakenly thinking it is aimed directly at him. He gets over excited and rushes toward the stage which freaks out Akane who runs off stage in terror. Concert security tries to subdue him with the camera falling to the ground and eventually fading to static. Afterwards we are treated to faux theatrical trailer for an action film where Mousse is seen on top of the burning Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building fighting a helicopter and Shampoo is seen inside the Forbidden City in Beijing.

“Akane's Lullaby (Akane no Komoriuta)” Performed by Akane [Noriko Hidaka]
The final video is a collection of story book-like water colours mostly revolving around Akane and her nearest and dearest. The end credits are displayed over the top of the artwork. And that’s the end of the video. The second part, which I’ll be covering down the track sometime, was released about two weeks after this video.

As I said before, I was never a fan of this franchise, I tried getting into the series again after Viz Media began releasing the series on blu-ray, but soon discovered that after the main cast were introduced, it’s pretty much a one note joke revolving around easily resolved misunderstandings and the supposedly hilarious switching back and forth of various characters with water due to the curse placed on them by Jusenkyo spring. I find that sort of humour tiresome but note that a lot of Rumiko Takahashi’s popular longer works adhere to similar types of formulas for their humour. One of the problems I do have with “Ranma ½” as a franchise is that it hasn't aged well. In particular the deceptions of Chinese people seem to veer on rather unpleasant racist stereotypes.

Having said that, I do find a lot of the videos in this collection really funny. I think in smaller doses, “Ranma ½” can be very amusing. It still baffles me though as to why Viz never bothered to release this compilation, even as a sub only extra. In Japan the compilation was compiled with the second part on VHS and laserdisc in December 1990 (less than a month after the original separate VHS releases) and later on DVD in 2002. Strangely (as far as I can see) the compilation was never re-released as part of any DVD or blu-ray box set along with the TV series, OVAs or movies. The compilation is currently out of print in all formats. You can buy the separate VHS tapes for as little as ¥1, but the tape containing both parts usually sells at about less than ¥1,000 in the second hand market. The laserdisc version sells for a little more than that. I found one set of new shrink-wrapped VHS tapes (both part 1 and 2) being sold for an astronomical ¥65,000. The DVD is quite rare. Second hand copies run well over ¥10,000.

In conclusion, this is a pretty fun music video compilation that should please both the casual and hard core “Ranma ½” fan. The main impediment for most fans however is the cost and rarity of the video itself in a legitimate format.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Obscurities in the Western Connection Catalogue: “Salamander”

Release Date: 23 January 1995 - 27 March 1995
Format: PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Runtime: 3 episodes x 50 mins
Catalogue Numbers: WEST026, WEST030, WEST034
Japanese Title: Salamander
Japanese Production Date: 1988 – 1989

It’s been nearly four years, but I think I’m finally going to be able to do a few more articles for my long running Anime Archivist project, which was originally a continuation/rebirthing of my Lost World of Anime website and blog. So for my very first article back, I’m going to continue on with the fifth part in my series on the utterly obscure 1990’s UK based video distributor Western Connection and weird and wonderful anime titles that they released in English that no one else bothered to re-release anywhere else. 1995 was the most productive and also the final year of the company. They began that year with another obscure title, “Salamander”, which was based on a scrolling shooter video game and two games which preceded it. First, a rundown of the story;

In the depths of space, Lee McBain, a high ranking official for the nation planet of Gladius, is returning home in his spacecraft after a rather successful trip in which he completed several treaties with neighbouring planets. After recording a verbal report, the ship’s crew notice what seems to be a group of spacecraft tailing them on their radar. However they cannot make a visual sighting of their pursuers. Soon they notice that stars are vanishing and realise that a strange type of gas is surrounding the ship. But escape is impossible, no matter how they try. The crew spot a scaled creature in the gas just as the ship crushed and destroyed.

Meanwhile in orbit around Gladius, three cadet pilots in the space force, Eddy, Dan and Lee McBain’s daughter, Stephanie, are investigating a wrecked space craft which has drifted into Gladius' orbit. Inside the trio discover a cryogenic chamber filled with dead alien bodies. Much to their surprise they discover a beautiful woman, unlike the other aliens is human in appearance, still alive in a frozen cryogenic state. A holographic message embedded in the cryogenic machine tells them that her name is Paola and she is from the fifth planet of the Sonar system. The message also has a further, darker warning; Paola's planet was attacked by an invading force called the Bacterian. First the stars were blocked out by a thick gas and it eventually reached the planet's surface, where it turned everything inorganic on the planet into a massive horrifying organic creature. The surviving inhabitants escaped, but where pursued ruthlessly by Bacterian fighters. Paola was the only survivor.

The Gladius government are deeply worried by this message and debate if Paola’s message is true. Not completely convinced of the threat, Eddy, Dan and Stephanie are assigned the task of observing Paola, who only seems to meditate. Dan is immediately suspicious of her and wonders why is she so calm after the home planet has been destroyed. However Eddy believes her and is upset with Dan's scepticism. Stephanie's only concern is that her father hasn't been found after the space craft he was travelling back to Gladius on disappeared. Eventually the stars cannot be seen from Gladius' surface as a thick black gas surrounds the planet. It is evident that Paola was telling the truth. Eddy asks Paola if she can tell with her telepathy where the Bacterian base is. She tells them that it is near the seventh planet of their solar system. The trio advise their superior officers and are given permission to investigate. But as they near the planet, a voice tells Stephanie not to approach, which she brushes off as her imagination playing tricks on her. They are shocked to discover the planet has turned into a gigantic organic creature that spits out weird monster-like creatures that attack the group's fighters. Through the gas they spot the Bacterian's main carrier and thousands upon thousands of fighters. The alien fighters begin their attack, with Eddy firing back at them. But soon the sheer numbers overwhelm the trio. Luckily the voice in Stephanie's head helps them dodge them and escape. Stephanie soon recognises the voice; it is her father's.

Upon their return Eddy is severely reprimanded by their commanding officer for firing on the enemy, something they were instructed not do, they were to observe only. Despite the fact he has discovered the weakness of the enemy fighters and in spite of Dan and Stephanie's protests, Eddy is demoted to Ground Division. He ends up being assigned to watching over Paola again. She tells him that Gladius has an ancient device that can control the Bacterians. She believes she can find it via her telepathy, and both set off in a fighter to track the object down. Meanwhile the Gladius Attack Force heads for a confrontation with the Bacterian base. Stephanie's father contacts her again via ESP and tells them that they are headed for a decoy and real base is elsewhere. He explains to her that he is in the Fortress “Zero”, and gives her the co-ordinates. Dan follows her when she breaks unexpectedly from the attack force. Both of them enter the fortress and in the centre of it Stephanie is shocked to discover the truth. Back on Gladius, Paola and Eddy have discovered the “controller”. It is an ancient obelisk, seen nothing more as tourist attraction by the locals. When Paola tries to get near it, it rises out of the ground and attacks her. Eddy decides to destroy it to stop it from killing Paola. When the dust settles, Eddy realises he has made the biggest mistake of his life.

This three part OVA is mostly based off a mid-1980's arcade video game called “Salamander” (released as "Life Force" in the USA and Europe in home console versions) was released, produced and funded by the game's maker, Konami. As with the many anime adaptations based on video games, unfortunately this adaptation suffers due to its original source material, especially with mecha and the Bacterian design. But the staff of the series have given their best shot at making something decent out of these limitations. You might have already guessed from the pictures that Haruhiko Mikimoto (“Macross”, “Gunbuster”, “Gundam 0080”) provides the character designs. Director, the late Hisayuki Toriumi (“Gatchaman”, “Like the Clouds, Like the Wind”, “Area 88”), did a great job with the material and for the most part keeps the story moving along at a good pace without it turning into one battle after another. In fact the focus here is on the characters and the battles are rarely touched upon. That's quite a feat considering it's based upon a scrolling shooter game. Using the rather limited graphics from the game, the staff also create a truly creepy Bacterian race, with grotesque planets with pulsating organs and other surreal and bizarre imagery including strange alien fighters and giant golden screaming skulls.

But what suffers most in the series is the mecha design and the contradictory nature of the Bacterian. The invaders are supposedly organic in nature. Generally they take the form of Salamanders and turn planets into heaving great hulks of organic flesh. The metallic fighters and their base seem really out of place. Why would the Bacterian need to have inorganic machines to do battle for them? It's also obvious that a lot of the designs such as the fighters and ships, have been incorporated fairly faithfully into the anime. This however makes the designs look incredibly dated when compared to other mecha design in anime of that period. As with the staff, the cast include some well-known names who give good performances; Kazuhiko Inoue (Ninzaburo Shiratori in “Detective Conan”, Kakashi Hatake in “Naruto”),  plays as Eddy Evans, Kouji Tsujitani voices Dan (Yakumo Fujii in “3x3 Eyes”, Justy Ueki Tylor in “Irresponsible Captain Tylor”), Noriko Hidaka as Stephanie McBain (Noriko Takaya in “Gunbuster”, Shiny Chariot in “Little Witch Academia”, Akane Tendo in “Ranma ½”), the late Hirotaka Suzuoki was cast as Lord British (Bright Noa in the “Gundam” series, Dragon Shiryu in “Saint Seiya”) and finally Sumi Shimamoto as Paola (Ginrei in “Giant Robo”, Nausicaä in “Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind”).

While the first OVA deals with the invasion of Gladius, the two remaining episodes take a different tact and are quite interesting. The second episode (based on the game’s predecessor, “Gradius”) involves the planet Lotus. It's ruler, the young and dashing Lord British calls on Dan, Eddy and Stephanie to help them fight the Bacterian when their obelisk that protects them is accidentally broken. Along the way we discover dark secrets in Eddy's past and Lord British decides that Stephanie would make a good queen. The third episode (based upon the “Gradius II” game) has Stephanie being kidnapped by the Bacterian for the purpose of having her brain melded into a super Bacterian creature named Gopher. Lord British and Dan set off to save her. The better parts “Salamander” are when it ignores games it was based on and the staff creates new stories and scenarios. The second OVA is the best of the lot and adds a lot of depth to the characters.

As per usual Western Connection's adaptation and handling of the product is very poor. The subtitles on these three tapes are pretty appalling for a commercial product. Jonathan Clements's translation is good, but the subtitle timing is woefully off, even more so than their other releases, and there's also typos galore during all three tapes. Watching the tapes is a pretty painful experience due to these subtitles. While I can generally figure out who said what, it just makes for a completely frustrating viewing experience as the subtitles appear so randomly that you don't know when they'll appear next. This anticipation really lessens any enjoyment the viewer gets out of the show. The packaging of the tapes have a few problems too. The cover of the second tape is an extremely crappy photoshopped (like a very early version of Photoshop) one that they've put together themselves out of random screenshots from the series. It's shoddily done and quite ugly. The synopses on the back of the second and third tapes are surprisingly their own, are intelligible (for a change) and actually resemble what's on the tape, but the first tape is clearly culled from Helen McCarthy's review of the series in Anime UK magazine (something Western Connection did consistently for it's releases), which mentions parts of the plot for the second tape. As a bonus, Western Connection have included the advert for one of the early “Salamander” console games at the end of the third volume. However I suspect this was just laziness on the part of Western Connection and was on the end of the original master tape they received.

Overall “Salamander” ends up being an average series despite the staff's best efforts. It works best when it ignores its origins and branches off into new stories. The staff has tried their best using the source material, but in the end it has really hampered them. Still, I quite liked this series, although it went on for too long in places. As you can imagine, trying to track down copies of the series released over 23 years ago is pretty difficult, but not impossible. Amazingly you can still find copies of Western Connection's VHS tapes, but only the first volume. I found two copies for sale on for around £13 each and one copy on eBay for £8. I only managed to pick up the final part of the series more than decade ago after I accidentally came across a webpage where a European fan was selling off his old anime VHS collection. The series was only ever initially issued on VHS and laserdisc in Japan. It never made the leap to DVD, let alone Blu-ray. I would only recommend the series to those who like the original games, or are big fans of 1980's anime. It's fun, but not something that you'll regret not ever seeing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The End and the Beginning of the Anime Archivist, and Future Plans

It's taken over eight months, but I've finally republished (and modified and updated) all of the material from my old blog, The Anime Archivist, which ran for a few years, but I abandoned in 2014. Now that I have transferred all the material over, I have deleted the old blog.

You may note I have now changed the title of this blog to the Anime Archivist. Not 100% sure if I'll kept the name or change to something else yet again. This is the third name I've had for this blog. The original plan I had when I transferred all the material over from my old blog was to keep on going in the same vein and continue to write posts based on the ones I've previously published; ones about anime music video compilations, out of print English language VHS and Laserdisc titles that never made the leap to DVD or Blu-ray, writing up the remaining Western Connection titles the company released, and looking at titles on DVD and Blu-ray (out of print and in print) that fans just ignored or have been forgotten by fandom. I also had planed to keep writing about any anime films I go to see in the cinema, any fan events I attend and to keep writing about my trips to Japan.

Due to a number of issues which have cropped up and changed my life forever, honestly I'm not to sure what I'm going to do with this blog. Currently I'm having a bit of trouble finding time to do any of the writing or finding time to update the two websites I have in addition to this blog. It's been a really tough 12 months for me as both my parents had to be put into a nursing home, almost simultaneously. By myself I had to sort out their financial matters, legal matters (they only had power of attorney for each other), what to do with the house and contents, the car, their dog, upkeep of the house while it was vacant, pay all of the bills, collect the mail etc. Worse was the fact both of them lived over 200 kilometres away. The stress of work and other factors didn't really help the situation either.

At any rate, most of that stuff is sorted out, more or less. But in the last six weeks I've fallen in a heap due to the stress of it all and have had nearly a month of that time off. Most of that was due to taking an anti-anxiety medication and reacting very badly to it. I've weaned myself off the tablets over the last week or so, and have only started to feel normal again in the last day or so.

So in the short term, I plan to keep writing as much as possible, when I can. I think I'll go back to doing reviews of my backlog, as it's pretty enormous now due to the fact I hadn't felt like watching any of it or doing anything else for that matter. Hopefully I'll get back to the core articles that were part of the original the Anime Archivist blog as well as updating, rewriting and formatting old articles I had written for my old Lost World of Anime website and blog around a decade ago.

I'm also planning yet another trip to Japan, this time in the life sapping humidity and heat of late July and early August, mostly so I can experience Wonder Festival and Comic Market, as both events are held close together during that time of year. In between those two events, there's at least one local festival or summer event held in the metropolitan Tokyo area almost every day, so I'm planning to see as many of those, as long as I don't die of heat exhaustion... Planning for this trip is really only about a quarter or half done (but the flights and accommodation are of course already booked), so I expect a lot of downtime on this blog while I plan for the trip.

In short, the plan is not to abandon this blog. Unlike most blogs of this kind, I do this mostly out of fun for myself and I don't care if I have an audience or not. I know I'm generally out of step and sync with the wider anime fandom community anyway. I plan to continue writing about the stuff I enjoy and about material that generally no one else seems to write or care about.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Anime On the Big Screen: “Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1”

Venue: Dendy Cinemas, Level 2, North Quarter, Canberra Centre, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra City, ACT
Date: Saturday 3 February 2018
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 93 minutes
Production Date: 2017
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

We’re only at the start of February and a second anime film is having a limited release in cinemas in this country. I still find it somewhat weird that every month or two I can rock up to the cinema to watch an anime film. A decade ago you’d be hard pressed to find a single anime film at a touring film festival, and then it’d be most likely a dubbed film print of something that had been available on video for years. Alas today’s film is a compilation film, something I’m never too keen to watch. However it was a nice day to get outside; a relatively cool 23°C, which is unusual for this time of year. I said in my previous theatrical anime review that I was no longer going to talk about the patrons who come to these screenings, but have sort of reneged on that. Only seven people showed up including me, with a couple of really talkative otaku types behind me and another couple in front who left 45 minutes into the film and never returned (with good reason…). So, on with the discussion of the film;

We are taken back a decade before the events of the first episode of “Eureka Seven”. Humanity is in the midst of an all-out battle to rid the world of Coralian threat. Military researcher Adrock Thurston decides that the plan to destroy the Coralians using a newly constructed super weapon called the Silver Box is too destructive and must be stopped as he believes both forms of life can co-exist. Adrock rebels and enlists the services of Eureka, who is a female human form of the Coralian sent to by the sentient Scub Coral to understand and communicate with humans. In the series the Scub Coral are a kind of alien race who have merged with the Earth and have caused humans to migrate as they terraform the planet. Scub Coral have various physical manifestations which are known as the Coralian. Using a robot type craft called a Light Finding Operation (LFO), Adrock and Eureka take out several missiles which are launched to kill the Coralian. Meanwhile the battle on Earth is going badly; the vast majority of Earth forces have been wiped out. As the Silver Box activates, Adrock jettisons Eureka to save her and heroically destroys the weapon, presumably dying in the process as it explodes. In his final words he wonders aloud about how his son will grow up and what he would think of him, and proclaims the event of the destruction of the Silver Box as the Summer of Love.

A decade later in the year 12,005 AD, Adrock’s son, Renton lives in the town of Bellforest. Living with his grandfather, Renton attends a military school. He is utterly bored senseless and tries to fill up his spare time by attempting to surf the trapar waves using his own board and idolising Holland Novak of the anti-government militia and counterculture collective Gekkostate. However trapar waves are a by-product of Scub Coral which are rare around that town, leaving him to be rather unsuccessful in his attempt to surf. His only link to the sport, a local seller of merchandise, packs up and leaves as no one is interested in the sport except Renton. Later the area where he surfs is fenced off by the military and destroyed by Scub Coral emerging through the surface. His life sucks even more when a LFO crashes into his house. However inside is Eureka whom he will later befriend. Not shown in the film itself and only alluded to via voiceover and a couple of scenes is Renton managing to board and be accepted onto the Gekkostate.

Renton is treated quite badly by the crew and Holland himself. Eureka later ends up nearly merging with Scub Coral in a mine and is badly injured and takes a long time to recover. Because of these events, Renton eventually runs away. However things don’t go well back on the ground for him. All of his money and possessions are stolen except for his board. He wanders around a city and eventually ends up sleeping with a group of homeless people. He is later awakened by pounding dance music and finds himself in the middle of a block party in the middle of the day. Two of the party attendees, a couple in the thirties, Ray and Charles Beams, befriend him and eventually decide to adopt him. Though a little unsure at first, Renton eventually bonds with his new adoptive parents. Renton finally feels at peace with himself. The husband and wife duo are guns for hire and take on various missions, often with Renton in tow. However two events cause Renton to rethink staying with his new parents.

So more than a decade after the original broadcast of “Eureka Seven”, for some reason a decision was made to create a trilogy of compilation movies and release them into cinemas. Stranger yet there has been a real push to release the films into cinemas outside Japan, including the US, the UK, France, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and here in Australia. The press release from Bandai Visual loudly trumpets that the previous series “Eureka Seven AO” sold over 800,000 units on home video in Japan, which is probably why they’ve decided to make and release these films now. However as far as I'm aware the “Eureka Seven AO” series was received rather lukewarmly in the west. Regardless, the original cast and staff from the TV series have all pretty much returned for these compilations films.

As I mentioned before, this film started off with the “Summer of Love” event which was only hinted at in the original story. The first 25 minutes or so of the film are dedicated this this event in the form of a newly animated battle between the Earth forces and the Coralians. I must say it’s quite an amazing spectacle. However I did feel it did run a bit too long. After that we are treated to excepts of a memorial service held a decade after the event and a sequence showing Renton being chased by a pack of dogs, apparently which is meant to occur between episode 24 and 25. Unfortunately this is where the the most interesting elements of this film ends. From this point onwards the film shrinks from a cinemascope format (16:9) to the 4:3 TV format the original TV series was shot in. Yes, it’s pretty much all TV footage for the rest of the film. I really don’t understand why this was done. The “Zeta Gundam” movies for example, have the TV footage cropped to cinemascope even though they too were shot in 4:3 format. Why have they chosen not to crop the 4:3 TV footage for this compilation film?

Now in a normal compilation film, the vast majority of it is usually edited in a coherent, linear, in sequence kind of way. Not with this film however. For some reason, the director has decided to tell Renton’s story completely out of sequence. We are constantly thrown forward and back in time with title cards reading “Playback” or “Rewind” in between scenes and the only point of reference being the amount of days or hours before or after Renton is chased by the dogs. But at times it seems the original point of reference changes. Adding to the confusion is the completely unnecessary amount of on screen text which does give some useful information such as place names, but includes increasingly trivial amounts of data such as character’s biometrics, absurdly detailed information about various mecha and bizarrely information on why Renton is not wearing a helmet while riding a bike in one short shot, and text labeling a meal of tacos at a dinner table. There has to be several hundreds of separate on screen text blurbs during the film. Little of it adds to the story. The vast majority of the time it just piles on the confusion of the way the film is being told; an out of sequence, schizophrenic retelling of Renton’s story.

The most puzzling thing about this film is the almost complete absence of the Gekkostate and its crew. I think the total amount of screen time dedicated to them amounts to less than five minutes, though it's possibly less than three. It’s a really bizarre and odd omission, as in the original TV series the Gekkostate is key to the plot of the show and the reason why Renton wants to get out of the town he is stuck in. Also conspicuous in its absence is the magazine that the Gekkostate publishes; ray=out. There is not a single mention of the publication in the film, at all, which is strange as it played a key role in the TV series. Instead the main focus of the film is on Renton’s relationship with Ray and Charles Beams which mostly takes place in the episodes from 19 to 24. Secondary to that is Renton’s relationship with Eureka, however not much of that material is presented in the film. We can see that he has a deep connection with her, but little is shown how this relationship developed.

It’s plain to see why that couple left the cinema only half way through the film. The film recounts the story of “Eureka Seven” in a bizarre and unnecessarily confusing manner that is neither entertaining nor gives new insight to the series. The copious amounts of on screen text do not help, nor does the fact that key parts of the story are missing or the jarring leap from cinemascope to old pre-digital TV sized format. If you’re a diehard fan of the series and wanted to see what the “Summer of Love” was about, it’d be great film to watch. But for viewers new to the franchise and hadn’t seen the over decade old series it was cut from, you’d be absolutely lost and have no idea what was going on. There is a preview for the second film in the series after the end credits, which is due for release sometime in 2018. The couple behind me said they wouldn’t be going to see it. It's easy to understand why. Apart from the newly animated 25 minute opening sequence, there’s little here of any value in this film. 4.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Anime DVDs You May Have Missed “Ninja Robots”

Japanese Title: Ninja Senshi Tobikage (Ninja Warrior Tobikage)
Publisher: Payless Entertainment Pty Ltd (Australia)
Format: Region Free DVD, PAL, English Dubbed
Length: 20 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 1985 – 1986
English Version Release Date: Late 2007
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

Note: Originally published on the “Anime Archivist” blog in July 2014.

Despite being a minuscule market in terms of physical home video media, in recent years Australia has gained a reputation for releasing some really obscure anime titles. This title probably takes the cake. In the mid 1990’s, a video production company called Alexander Entertainment Group dubbed this rather unknown and unloved Studio Pierrot robot show from 1985. The English dub, broadcast on the Cartoon Network in smaller English speaking territories such as Singapore, India and Australia, seemingly it didn’t develop a fandom of any sort and languished in obscurity. The only logical reason this show got a release here was the distributor (who makes cheap DVDs for dollar store outlets) most likely got the licence for an ultra cheap price.

Before I we get into the synopsis, I must warn you that I haven’t seen the series in its original language (the first 15 subtitled episodes were streamed on the now defunct Anime Sols website, but I couldn't be bothered evading the geoblock to watch them to be honest). All I’m going off is the English dub, which is pretty dire and muddies the plot something awful, making the show almost incomprehensible at times. Regardless, I’ll do my best to try and tell you what the show is about. Several hundred years into the future, mankind has terraformed and colonised Mars. The planet is run by a militarised dictatorial government with most of the inhabitants and immigrants being of convict stock. The only employment options are the military or construction work. Once teenagers turn 16, they must be tested to see if they are suitable to join the army. If they aren’t, then they must join the construction industry. In short, If you are over 16, work is mandatory. Joe Miya is one such 16 year old who should have turned up at an assessment centre on his birthday. Instead he is illegally using a gun to hunt down rabbits with his friends. His childhood friend, Jenny, reminds him he should have gone to the assessment centre as today is his birthday, but he ignores her warnings. He states he would rather work with his father in constriction. For the moment let’s put aside the fact Joe could just deliberately fail his military exam and would be automatically shunted into construction…

Upon hearing that new group of immigrants has arrived in town, Joe and his brother Mike go down a local bar to meet them. Joe immigrated to Mars when he was a child and misses Earth. He quizzes them about this home planet, but a fight breaks out and the military police intervene. One of the officers spots Joe and asks him why he didn’t show up for military testing and why he owns a gun. His bizarre excuse is that he forgot that today was his sixteenth birthday, an excuse which doesn’t go down well with the MPs. Both Joe and Mike assault the officers and flee from the bar in their dune buggy-like vehicle. The military police give chase across the vast barren landscape. Just about as the pair of them are about to be caught, an alien spacecraft materialises above the group, causing Joe and Mike to crash. To add to the already chaotic scene, a group of robots, also apparently of alien origin, appear and proceed to attack the alien spacecraft. The leader of Mars colony, General Hazzard, is advised by the military police of the appearance of the alien spacecraft and orders it’s capture. Planes and tanks from the Mars forces arrive and attack to robots, but the robots practically wipe out the military forces. Mike pleads with Joe to return home, but Joe states he would rather stay and watch. Unfortunately for the pair a robot attacks them and they are forced to flee. Joe spots a large gash in the spacecraft’s hull caused by a robot’s kusarigama (chain sickle – yes, the robots resemble Ninja) and runs in to take cover. There he is confronted by a group of human-like aliens; two women being protected by a few men. They threaten him with a gun and shout at him in a language he doesn’t understand. Before he can grasp the situation, the group dash though a hidden door which locks so Joe can’t enter.

One of the robots enters the spacecraft hell bent on killing Joe. He runs to what he thinks is a pile of junk in a corner for cover but discovers he is inside a giant robot (Joe seemingly can’t tell the difference between a robot and scrap metal – not too bright our Joe…). Joe manages to destroy his attacker and later outside the ship his robot transforms into a lion. Eventually he destroys enough of the robot attackers that the remainder retreat and the lion robot seems to unceremoniously eject him from the cockpit. From the entrance of their ship, a group of aliens stare down Joe, Mike their two friends Kanji and Rio (who’s curiosity drew them to the battle). Mike and Joe are later captured along with Jenny (it is never explained why she was captured as she wasn’t anywhere near the ship). The female leader of the aliens, a princess, motions the trio to enter the cockpits of three robots on board the ship. However none of them can make the robots move. The military suddenly arrives asking the aliens to let Joe, Mike and Jenny go. Despite having little understanding of what is going on, Joe flat out refuses to obey the military order, despite Mike and Jenny’s protests. Then without warning, the enemy robots appear again. Joe heads out again in his lion robot (with anger apparently the trigger into making the robots function), to repel the attackers. The military use this opportunity to invade the ship and abduct the alien princess. Joe notices the military’s plan and merges with a ninja-like robot (who has wiped out some of the enemy robot prior to this), and pursues them.

The show is already confusing enough at this stage, mostly due to the dreadful scripting of the English dub written by someone who really didn’t understand the show and the characters, or gave a airborne copulation about continuity. What happens after the first two episodes just defies belief. Pretty much every episode in this English adaptation from episodes three to ten is out of order. And this is seemingly not the fault of the el cheapo video distributor Payless. The next episode preview at the end of each offending episode matches up with the following out of order episode. So we go from Joe on Mars chasing down the military who have kidnapped the princess, to the aliens now speaking English, the Princess (called Rowena) safe and sound, the ship in space above Mars and Jenny piloting a robot in uniform. It’s utterly confusing. As far as I can make out, the episodes are arranged in the dub thus; 1 – 2, 9 – 10, 5 – 8, 3 – 4, then from episode 11 it retains the Japanese order. Is it a cock up or deliberate? I’m leaning towards the former. In the jumbled episodes we discover that Princess Rowena and her male offsider, Icelander are from the Andromeda system on a mission to find the ninja warriors who can pilot their three Ninja Robots, in order to save their planet which is being attacked by the Romalians. Apparently the ninja warriors can be found on Earth. However they are being attacked by the Romalia forces headed up by Gretan. Rowena’s ship, Xenos 5, had to make a forced landing on Mars due to an attack. When Rowena was kidnapped, Gretan does a deal with General Hazzard to capture the princess for himself. Hazzard has ambitions to conquer earth with the alien Romalian technology.

To be absolutely frank, the show is a real dog’s breakfast. Even when you take away the really substandard English adaptation, there are elements in the original Japanese show which just don’t make a lick of sense. For example how and why (and how) did the aliens capture Jenny, and why does Gretan maintain his alliance with Hazzard even though there’s absolutely no advantage to him? It would be nice to compare the English adaption beside the Japanese original to at least find some answers, but as I said before, seriously I couldn’t be bothered evading Anime Sol’s geoblock. Even when the episodes are viewed in the correct order, the English script still manages to confuse the fuck out of the audience. For example the reason behind Princess Rowena’s journey to Earth is confused several times; in one scene it is stated they are looking for the Ninja Robots (even though they are aboard the Xenos 5) and they are journeying to Earth to get a fuel source. The dialogue is just as baffling and confused. At one point Mike and Joe return home to their father. Joe asks his brother “Mike do me a favour; get the Ninja Robots”. However in the next scene they are sitting down together having a meal. In another scene an army officer confronts Joe who has just stepped outside the Xenos 5. Joe responds “I don’t know anything about aliens!”, with the Xenos 5 in full view in the background. A scene in the first episode has Hazzard introducing his offsider as Doc Doc. Doc then proceeds to call himself Doc Tac. One of my favourite lines was Icelander’s putdown aimed at Joe; “Be quiet loud boy!”. That’ll teach him. The writers also are completely ignorant in regards to basic scientific facts that even primary school children would know. Even though it is blatantly clear where the show is set, several times it is implied that Mars is outside the Solar System and at one point it is stated that Mars is 6 light years away from Earth.

The sole person who seems to be responsible for this dreadful English dub is Buz Alexander. I suspect this is a pseudonym, but I can’t be sure. If he did indeed script and direct the entire series, I can only assume he never attended film school or classes on script writing. Apart from the dreadful and nonsensical dialogue, the voice acting is pretty flat and uninspired. You have to admit that is sort of strange seeing that there are some pretty decent voice actors in the cast; Wendee Lee, Steve Kramer, Cam Clarke etc. I can only imagine this was due to the direction and possibly the production being a little haphazard. The accents of the characters are all over the place. Icelander is given some sort of faux British accent, Hazzard’s is just plain weird and two men from a ninja-like clan living at Mars’ polar region have Russian accents for no apparent reason. A lot of these accents are quite poorly done and I was initially a bit confused about where the show was dubbed. I thought it was produced with mostly Singaporean actors and American actors as the leads. Apparently it’s all American talent. As the show progresses the voice acting and scripting do improve, but only marginally.

Another element of the production which was a little substandard is the music and audio mix. Naturally the original music has been stripped out and replaced with some of the lamest, cheesy, dull synth you could imagine. Bafflingly only some of the sound effects have been replaced (the vast majority of the original effects remain) and the overall mix of dialogue, music and sound effects is rather poor. You could only conclude that this show was made on a tight budget, possibly bargain basement licence fee, translated and dubbed on the cheap, and the post-production quality amateurish at best. While this adaptation never made to North American broadcast or cable as far as I’m aware, I note that each episode ends with a CBS Broadcast International ident, which is rather intriguing. Obviously CBS thought the show was good enough to sell overseas, but not good enough to broadcast themselves. The Payless DVD versions are OK. You only get two episodes per DVD, but the discs were dirt cheap and video is much better than expected. There are a number of audio dropouts, mostly during the end credits, which isn’t a big deal. The DVD cases are pretty cheap; two of them have pretty much fallen apart, like they were made out of degradable plastic. Payless only released the first 20 episodes of the series. I emailed them back in 2008 to see if they planned to release the final 23. Their response was that the licensor would only let them have the first 20 episodes, which sounds kind of odd and was probably a bullshit answer.

Putting aside the rubbish English adaption, all you can say about “Ninja Robots” is that it’s a pretty mediocre robot show. The lead, Joe, is an annoying, selfish brat and I couldn’t warm to him. His brother, Mike, is bland and almost invisible. Jenny is easily the most likable of the trio. A fourth Earthling, Damien, from the ninja clan at the Mars polar region, also doesn’t really add much to the story or plot. He’s dubbed as a Californian surfer dude complete with clichéd dialogue. The aliens are far more interesting characters, in particular Icelander who is always bumping heads with Joe. The tension builds up nicely towards the mid-section of the show and puts the Xenos 5’s journey into peril. The major storyline in the show is who is piloting the mysterious ninja robot who helps out our heroes (which Joe calls Cybertron), but the advance of this plot point is glacial. However there are parts of the story which just don’t make any sense at all. The one that really bugged me was Gretan’s alliance with Hazzard which is clearly only beneficial to Hazzard. It is never explained why Gretan keeps bothering with him. The only thing which impressed me about this show was the fact there doesn’t seem to be much cut out of the English adaptation. In the first five minutes of the first episode there’s animal death, a panty shot and a fist fight. A scene in a latter episode has Joe spying on Jenny as she takes a shower. All of this is shown uncut. It’s a bit odd considering this adaptation was probably made in mind for terrestrial broadcast.

Overall, it’s a dreadful adaptation of a terribly mediocre anime. The crowd funding to get Anime Sols to release the show on DVD fell way short of its target goal. As a result Anime Sols didn’t stream any further episodes past the first 15. Like a lot of out of print Australian DVDs, the Payless discs are pretty much impossible to find now, though random DVD volumes do pop up on eBay from time to time. Though unless you were a fan of the show, I really couldn’t see the point in going out of your way to obtain it.