Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Long Lost Japanese Anime Magazines Part 2 (of 4)

Note: Originally published on this blog in late 2011, republished on the Anime Archivist blog in December 2012.

In this second part of the series we’ll be looking at the magazines which made their debut from the mid 1980’s to towards the late 1990’s. This was a period where the Original Video Animation (OVA) format made its mark, and the content and focus of the magazines themselves clearly reflect this change in the anime market.

“Anime V” and “Looker”
Publisher: Gakken
Frequency: Bimonthly, Monthly
Size: B5
Publication Dates: June 1985 – March 1999

With the OVA format (that’s direct to video for you young ‘uns) really taking off, especially with the runaway success of “Megazone 23”, it was pretty unsurprising when magazines dedicated to the format began to be published. This magazine was the very first and longest surviving of the bunch. Originally beginning as bimonthly magazine from the same staff who made Animedia magazine, by September 1986 it switched to a monthly. While OVAs were the main focus of the magazine, it also looked at video releases of TV series and some films. Surprisingly adult OVAs didn’t get much of a look in (it was more of a “family” magazine like Newtype and Animage), but a small section was allocated for them, though thankfully the images weren’t explicit at all. As per other anime magazines, this one had the usual bonuses like posters, cassette labels and the like. They also included an extensive listing of all video anime video releases of the month including video covers, runtime and catalogue numbers (quite important for those who imported laserdiscs). As the OVA market began its decline in the very late 1990’s, the magazine was transformed into a general anime magazine called Looker for the October 1998 issue. Unfortunately it ceased publication in March the following year.

Publisher: Bandai
Frequency: Bimonthly, Monthly
Size: A4
Publication Dates: October 1985 – February 1998

Essentially this magazine is pretty much an advertising pamphlet for everything Bandai (or material they had a financial stake in). However you have to admit that it’s a pretty cool looking advertising pamphlet. Like a lot of these magazines, I only have a smattering of issues and nothing resembling a complete set. However from what I understand, the earliest issues resembled a mook (magazine/book) format rather than a standard magazine. Originally a bimonthly publication, like a lot of others of the period it switched to a monthly format, though I’m exactly too sure when this happened, it was probably sometime in 1986 or so. Being a magazine primarily focused on relentlessly promoting Bandai products, anime coverage wasn’t always its primary mission. Model kits featured quite often (Gunpla and the like), video games of course and surprisingly a fair wack of live action material. Not just the occasional Toei related super sentai show or “Kamen Rider” related merch, but occasionally a show like “Sukeban Deka” would make the front cover. The strange live action promotional piece for the 1988 “Appleseed” OVA also got major coverage. Unfortunately Bandai ceased publication of the magazine in February 1998. However the editorial staff went to Media Works to create the anime magazine Dengeki B-Magazine.

“V Zone”
Publisher: Shounen Shuppan Sha
Frequency: Monthly
Size: B5
Publication Dates: November 1985 – April 1987

Another OVA related magazine, this one is a real oddity. As I’ve said before, the video market really took off in the mid 1980’s and a number magazines dedicated to video releases appeared. The first issue of this magazine focused solely on anime with some articles dedicated to tokusatsu. It also had sections devoted to video and laserdisc (and VHD) releases, model kits and of course fandom section with letters and artwork. Pretty much standard for most anime related magazines of the time. Surprisingly from issue two, the magazine’s content changed dramatically. It became a “Fangoria” style horror magazine (the first Japanese language issue of Fangoria didn’t hit shelves until 1994). With the popularity and notoriety of the Japanese horror video market with extreme and infamous titles like “Cannibal Holocaust” (one of the most rented titles in Japan in the 1980’s) and gruesome local productions like the “Guinea Pig” series, it’s little wonder magazines like this were produced. The new format of the magazine continued on for a further nine issues before coming to a halt in April 1987.

Publisher: Hiro Media
Frequency: Monthly
Size: A4
Publication Dates: May 1986 – December 1986

Yet another obscure magazine that I think many anime fans outside of Japan (and probably many inside Japan) had no idea even existed. Like the previously discussed Anime V and V Zone, this magazine’s main focus was the then relatively new OVA format. Now you can tell it’s a quality magazine with a bright future because “MD Geist” was the cover of the debut issue. Just kidding. However it’s no surprise that this horrible little OVA made the cover. Hiro Media, publisher of Globian, had a hand in the production of that show, as well as other “classics” of the OVA format such as “The Humanoid”, “Roots Search” and “Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora”. Well OK, I admit that last one isn’t too bad, and frustratingly never made it onto the English speaking anime fandom’s radar back in late 1980’s and early 1990’s. So pretty much you could say this magazine was nothing more than an excuse to partly promote Hiro Media’s own OVA releases. Eventually the magazine ended with a whimper after eight issues, to be nothing more than a forgotten anime magazine that even Japanese anime fans who grew up in the 1980’s don’t even recall.

“V Version”
Publisher: Minori Shobou
Frequency: Monthly
Size: B5
Publication Dates: June 1990 – December 1990

Surprise, surprise, yet another anime magazine dedicated to the OVA format that disappeared not too long after its release, to be forgotten and relegated to the dustbin of anime magazine history. This yet another anime/comic magazine that Out publisher, Minori Shobou, threw at the market to see if it would stick. Well, it only lasted a grand total of seven issues. If anything Minori Shobou did have a shot at just about every type of anime and comic related magazine you could think of since the late 1970’s. It’s a shame all of them pretty much fell over at one point. With Anime V being a top selling and pretty much the only OVA magazine on the market, it seems that V Version really had nothing extra to offer than what was already out there. Like the majority of anime magazines, it contained serialised manga, a serialised novel, sections on models and garage kits as well as monthly columns on voice actors and fandom sections with art and letters.

Publisher: Seiji Biblos
Frequency: Monthly
Size: A4
Publication Dates: July 1995 – March 1997

When the long reign of anime’s original magazine “Out” ended in May 1995, the staff pretty much just carried on where they left off and created Monthly Megu Magazine. What’s amazing is that there was only a month’s break between the final issue of Out and the debut issue of Megu. With a glut of anime magazines on the market and the dominance of the top three, Animage, Newtype and Animedia, well they didn’t have much of a chance really. Certainly the magazine really looks and feels like a carbon copy of others. There’s nothing to differentiate it from the rest of the pack. Megu’s masthead had the English language subtitle “Hyperkid’s Network Magazine”. I still have no idea what that actually means. After battling it out for nearly two years, the magazine ceased publication with the March 1997 issue.

“Douga Ou”
Publisher: Kinejun
Frequency: Sporadic
Size: A5
Publication Dates: January 1997 – February 2001

I was seriously considering not to include this publication as it’s not a magazine per se, but in the end I decided to. Douga Ou (or “Motion Picture King” as the English subtitle on its masthead says) was an ongoing series of mooks (magazine/books) each devoted to a certain genre of anime or a specific aspect of production. Some of the topics covered in issues were mecha and character design. The mook itself was published by Kinejun, a publishing company which for almost a hundred years has focused on cinema and published various magazines and books on the subject. 12 issues were eventually published in the series. Kinejun also occasionally publish anime series specific mooks, however these have nothing to do with the Douga Ou series.

Next time I’ll have a look at the small explosion of anime magazines that appeared in the very late 1990’s during the post-Evangelion boom.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Video Backlog: “Perfume 6th Tour 2016: Cosmic Explorer”

Publisher: Wrasse Records (UK)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with some English Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 129 minutes (Osaka Concert), 118 minutes (Chiba Concert)
Production Date: 2017
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

For those who don’t know, Perfume is one of the biggest girl groups in Japan. Originally a failing idol group from Hiroshima who somehow managed to get a major label deal, they were about to be dropped from the label after a series of non-charting singles until they gave them one more chance with the single “Polyrhythm” in 2007. Due to the fact it was selected to be used in a recycling campaign by national broadcaster NHK, it became a massive hit, peaking at number 7 on the national chart and selling over 70,000 copies. Since then, every single thereafter for the group has at least peaked within the top three, and all five of their studio albums have hit the number one spot on the charts. I became aware of their presence when I accidentally saw them on SBS Pop Asia on a Sunday morning about four years ago. It certainly wasn’t an instant love affair, however after I saw a few of their rather inventive video clips on Youtube, I was hooked. I’ve previously written before about Perfume’s 2015 documentary which centred on their 2014 world tour (Taipei, Singapore, Los Angeles, London and New York).

As I mentioned before, they formed in Hiroshima in 2000 while attending the Actors School Hiroshima talent academy at the age of 11. They are Ayano Omoto (nicknamed “Nocchi”), Yuka Kashino (“Kashiyuka”) and Ayaka Nishiwaki (“A-chan”). Each have distinctive personalities (and haircuts), but seem really sincere and genuine in what they do and aren’t a product of some cynical, middle aged A&R man. Originally marketed as stereotypical idols, as they entered the world of being major label artists, their style evolved into a rather sophisticated girl group with modified designer clothes, slick dance moves and more importantly an electropop sound solely created by Yasutaka Nakata of Capsule fame (and also Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s producer). While most of their material is most definitely pop, there is almost always an undercurrent of underground dance music lurking within it. However with their last album, “Cosmic Explorer”, they’ve leaned more towards pop with fewer edgier dance moments than previous records.

This three blu-ray set pretty much covers their entire series of concerts in 2016. As part of a push to promote their last album, “Cosmic Explorer”, they toured smaller cities within Japan rather than the major cities as they usually do. These concerts were billed as the Standing Edition as unusually for a concert of this type, the seats in the venues they played were removed. In August and September, they toured the USA, with dates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Finally they returned to Japan to preform another set of dates in arenas in major cities across the country.

The main disc is one of the latter arena concerts at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome. I have seen only a couple of their previous concert blu-rays (I bought two second hand discs on my trip to Osaka earlier this year), however it seems that the set used for this concert is a bit spartan than previous concerts. However the setup is pretty expansive; apart from the main stage which has several rising and sinking platforms and a lazy-susan type rotating platform, another moving and rising platform rig is attached to front of stage which can transport them right out to the middle of the audience. Besides these platforms, there are two non-movable runways which lead to round mini stages,  which come off either side of the main stage. A massive lighting rig hangs over the main stage like a neon covered skeletal spider. Several legs rise and fall to the stage at several intervals.

The concert begins with the intro from the latest album as well at the title track, accompanied by footage on large video screens of the girls in a space craft (hence the title of the album and song, “Cosmic Explorer”). Surprisingly use of special effects as per previous Perfume concerts such as lasers, projection mapping and other effects is keep to a minimum.

But by half way through the set, starting with the new song, “Perfume no Okite” (used in a Uniqlo/Heattech advert earlier this year, still unreleased as a single), transparent screens around the main stage descend from the ceiling and the projection mapping/laser light show begins, which doesn’t really let up until the end of the concert. The rising and sinking platforms are also used in the latter half of the concert to their full potential. The set list contains all of the new songs on the album as well as most of the singles and a few old favourites. The group also perform a melody of hits, B-sides and obscurities such the still unreleased original version of “Imitation World”, first performed in concert in 2006. As per all of their concerts, the trio talk to the audience and later have an audience participation segment called P.T.A. Corner (P.T.A. being the official fan club for the group), where A-chan leads the audience into her made up dance moves and sections the audience off into separate areas in a type of call and response. In this concert she makes the audience mimic Osaka’s Tsutenkaku Tower and the infamous Tower of the Sun (Taiyo no To) which sits at the old 1970 World Expo site. She also uses the call and response section to make fun of the Osakian accent.

The second disc is an earlier show from Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Hall in Chiba, which contains a completely different set list to the Osaka concert. Incomprehensibly presented in cinemascope (which means black bars at the top and bottom of the screen), this is actually the better of the two concerts. Using a similar stage set up as the Osaka concert, this show has seating for the audience rather than having them stand. Right from the get go, the special effects, lasers, projection mapping and dazzling multi-coloured lighting is thrown at the audience non-stop. The concert is also edited more like a music video with several slow motion scenes and more cut always to the specially made on-screen videos, which are mostly projected to give Perfume a chance to change outfits. Of note here is a rather expensive looking lead up video to the song “Cosmic Explorer” which has the girls on an alien desert planet and taking off in a space craft. Another highlight is the 3:5:6:9 Corner part of the show. Introduced in their 2015 anniversary concerts, this involves all three separately rolling a 10 sided dice, then moving spaces on a simple light projected game board on the stage to see what three songs they’ll be performing next. To make things more complex, they are given additional tasks to do while preforming the songs by the staff via video screens. Amusingly Perfume use scooters on the game board to move about.

The third disc contains several features. The first is a 40 minute digest of their US tour. A couple of songs are presented, but it is mostly their P.T.A. Corner segments, in which they ask an audience member who knows Japanese to translate for them. They also perform a live English language version of the song “Baby Face” which delights the audience, and a fan favourite B-side from their very early days called “Jenny wa Gokigen Naname” (“Jenny is Displeased”, a cover of an obscure song by early 1980’s J-Pop band Juicy Fruits). Amazingly the US audience knows the idol inspired response parts that the Japanese fans also shout when it’s preformed at their Japanese concerts. But the obvious highlight of this section is the concert opener, “Cosmic Explorer” which includes five specially made drones flying in formation around the trio.

The second extra is individual edited P.T.A. Corner segments for each city they played at, including the US dates. Naturally the girls tailor each P.T.A. Corner to the locals and there is some pretty funny stuff here. The last extra on the disc is a 14 song compilation of the 3:5:6:9 Corners from all their shows. This segment only contains the songs, but you can also use a shuffle option to play three random songs. Some of the songs in this extra are rather obscure such as “Kareshi Boshuuchuu (Recruiting a Boyfriend)”, their second single, released on an independent label in Hiroshima, from 2002.

Wrasse’s UK release mimics the original Japanese release. The three blu-rays come in a four-fold digipak with the logo for the tour embossed on the cardboard on the outside of the digipak. The digipak also houses a small 14 page booklet, mostly with photos from the tour and credits for the concerts and blu-ray production team. The digipak is housed in a sliver/chrome slip which is made out of thick fold up cardboard. This is a very similar type of box construction Universal use for their Japanese releases of Perfume concerts. The subtitles only cover the spoken dialogue and the songs aren't translated. Mostly the subtitles are more than adequate; however on the rare occasion some of the translation choices seem to be a little questionable. The set is a little pricy at £60, which almost the same cost of the Japanese version (which naturally doesn’t come with English subtitles).

In conclusion, I think this is a pretty good set for fans of the group. The main concert certainly doesn’t hit the same high bar set by their “Level 3” 2013 concert blu-ray. In fact it can be a little bit bland in the first half. The second disc is easily the better of the two, however is bizarrely presented in a somewhat distracting faux cinemascope widescreen which removes almost two thirds of the picture. Also we don’t get a full US concert, which by all accounts, despite a more modest budget compared to Japanese shows, looks incredible, especially those drones in the opening number. But if you’re Japanese language deficient like me, the subtitles do make these concerts a more fulfilling experience. Sure, the girls pad out their speeches at times and can be a little corny and schmaltzy, but more often than not they’re really entering and very funny. Overall I can only recommend this to the fans, but if you are a fan of the group it’s a really satisfying set of concerts and provides substantial value for money (over six hours of quality content) despite the high price tag. 7.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 18 TV series, 8 OVAs and 14 movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of four TV series to be released before viewing them.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Anime Music Video Compilations: “Dancougar Song Special – Jyusenki-Tai Songs”

Publisher: Sony Video Software/Emotion (Bandai Visual)
Format: VHS and Laserdisc, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue
Length: 25 minutes
Original Release Date: 21 November 1986
Animation Exclusive to this Release: Yes
Other Sources (Japanese unless noted): Dancougar Box 1 (Laserdisc, 1992), Dancougar Complete Box 1 (DVD, 2000), Dancougar Blu-ray Disc Box 2 (2009), Emotion the Best – Dancougar DVD Box 1 (2011), Dancouga - Super Beast Machine God Blu-ray Box (2016)
Currently Availability (as of writing): Dancouga - Super Beast Machine God Blu-ray Box

Note: Originally published on the Anime Archivist blog December 2012.

While in my opinion “Dancougar” was a rather mediocre transforming robot show, the franchise does seem to have a dedicated, albeit small, following. The plot, structure and some of the dialogue make the show feel like a throwback to robot anime from the 1970’s. In comparison to robot anime screened in the previous couple of years before Dancougar’s broadcast such as “Votoms” and “Macross”, the show does seem a little unsophisticated. It’s only the mecha and character design which date it as mid 1980’s. But despite my dislike for certain aspects of the show, for whatever reason it fascinates me. This is probably due to some of the odder English language releases the franchise has had. Regardless I have bought a fair bit of merchandise from the show. Because of my fascination with the franchise, I have written a couple of articles about it, and I’ll be reposting them in the future. But in the meantime here’s my look at the music video compilation. First, a bit of background on the show;

“Dancougar” aired in 1985 with a total of 38 episodes, and was followed up by a concluding OVA episode in 1986 and later in the year this music video compilation. The series was popular enough to warrant a feature length OVA in 1987, “God Bless Dancougar”, and in a further four part OVA series in 1989. In 2007 it got remade as TV series called “Dancougar Nova”. The initial episodes of the original TV series follow three cadets at the Space Officer Academy in Australia in the very late part of the 20th century. At this point, as alien empire headed by Emperor Muge Zorbados is in the process of invading Earth, and the Earth losing the battle. The situation has become desperate and the cadets are being sent into the conflict. This includes the close couple of Shapiro Keats and Sara Yuki. Shapiro can see that it is inevitable that the Earth will lose and decides to defect to the enemy. Sara attempts to defect with him but another cadet, the cocky Shinobu Fujiwara, fires at her plane forcing her to land. Shapiro surrenders to the enemy and though they have their doubts about him, Emperor Muge soon realises that Shapiro could be useful to them and gives him a prominent position in their army.

Meanwhile Shinobu has been transferred to Japan as part of the Cyber Beast Force, under the supervision of General Ross Igor and Professor Kotaro Hazuki. The Cyber Beast Force (or CBF) is an agency specifically set up to fight the alien attack with advanced technology. Shinobu is given orders to pilot a machine called the Eagle Fighter. It’s not until he is actually in combat that he realises that through his anger, it changes into “Aggressive Beast Mode” (but the fighter doesn’t transform “physically”, though it can transform into a humanoid form latter on in the series) which can defeat just about any enemy. Shinobu is soon joined by Sara who pilots a tank called the Land Cougar. Two others later join them; Masato Shikibu who pilots a tank called the Land Liger, and Ryo Shiba who pilots another tank called the Big Moth (as in Mammoth). All of their machines are able to transform into an animal form as well as a humanoid form and eventually can link up together to form the giant robot Dancougar. Although they are sometimes defeated by the enemy they always return to counterattack. CBF are sometimes helped by a mysterious fighter only known as the Black Knight who has his own beast warrior machine. The war against the Muge Empire worsens and it seems that Earth is doomed. However the CBF have an ace up their sleeve that may be able to save the Earth. With the introduction of the TV series out of the way, let’s have a look at the video compilation;

“Burning Love” performed by Jyusenki-Tai
The first song is pretty unusual. It’s a re-recording of the TV series first ending theme, with this version being performed by Jyusenki-Tai (Cyber Beast Force), who are the four main voice actors; Kaneto Shiozawa (who plays Ryo Shiba), Kazuki Yao (Shinobu Fujiwara), Shigeru Nakahara (Masato Shikibu) and Yuriko Yamamoto (Sara Yuki). While the original version by Takeshi Ike appeared initially as a B-side to Rie Fujiwara’s “Ai Yo Faraway (Love Faraway)” in March 1985, this version seems to be exclusive to this compilation. I’ve been unable to find any album or single with this version of the song on it. The animation used for the video comes from the final episode of the TV series in which the CBF fight in a climactic battle against the Muge Empire.

“Ai Yo Faraway (Love Faraway)” performed by Rie Fujiwara
This is the full length first opening theme song for the TV series. It first appeared as a single in March 1985 (with the previously mentioned “Burning Love” on the flip side). The video for this clip is edited from a number of TV episode sources, mostly of battles inside cityscapes. It also features (perhaps inadvertently) one of the more unusual in jokes of the series; Kamen Rider appears in one of the battle sequences.

“Honto no Kiss wo Okaeshi ni (A Real Kiss In Return)” performed by Rie Fujiwara
This song is the second opening theme and was also a single for Rie Fujiwara which was released in October 1985. With an English language refrain of “Memories of Love” in the song, this video predictably looks at some of the more tender moments in the series (well, sort of). In particular it focuses on the loves of two of the main characters; Ryo and Shinobu. Well the love aspect of the latter is debatable, but still… The Shinobu section is edited from episode 22, “Time Goes Around Still”. The story revolves around a small town taken over by the Muge and where the inhabitants are subjected to a kind of mind control. Shinobu goes to investigate and discovers that no one in the town can actually see him, except for a young woman called Annette who returned from college to find her home town in this bizarre state. Ryo’s section is edited from episode 13, “Betray Town”. In this episode a Mexican town called Tacos (oh for Pete’s sake…) has seemingly joined forces with the Muge. A young woman named Daniella hides an injured Ryo from the townsfolk. Not to spoil things here, but Daniella does appear a little later in the franchise.

“Shadowy Dream” performed by Tougou Masakazu
This is the second ending for the series. It was first released as a single for Masakazu Tougou in October 1985. In this music video, the visuals are culled from episode 33, “Capture the Intelligence”. In that particular episode, Shinobu teams up with the Black Knight on a counter intelligence mission. Watching this video compilation again, a number years after I last watched the TV series, the hang gliding sequence (in the episode Shinobu recalls hang gliding) edited into this music video does seem really, really strange, when viewed in isolation in this compilation. There is a ton of edited robot action, conversations between the Black Knight and Shinobu, then bam, Shinobu hang gliding seemingly for no apparent reason.

“Tamerai ni Period (Put an End to the Hesitation)” performed by Yuriko Yamamoto
From memory, this song doesn’t actually appear in the anime itself. It was first released as a B-side to Masakazu Tougou’s “Shadowy Dream” single in October 1985. This music video’s focus is on the seemingly never ending unresolved sexual tension between Shinobu Fujiwara and Sara Yuki. The main two sections of the series used here are from end of the first episode, “Empire’s Desire” and sections of the 20th episode “Southern Wind”. The plot of the latter is a little bizarre. It involves a plant called the “Heartbreak Flower” which seemingly causes women to go berserk, hence the reason why Yuki has red eyes and is trying to kill Shinobu in the music video.

“Alone ~ Kodoku no Senshi (Alone -Lonely Warrior-)” performed by Jyusenki-Tai with Ike Takeshi
This is a brand new song which initially only appeared on this music video compilation. In June 1987 it was eventually released on the album “Songs For Dancougar”. Again the performers on this song are the four voices actors for the Cyber Beast Force, Jyusenki-Tai. Accompanying them is Ike Takeshi who provided the vocals for “Burning Love”, the first ending theme to the series. What sets this video apart from the rest is that it wholly contains brand new animation. Well, cels dragged along backgrounds at least. OK, maybe I’m being very harsh, but there isn’t a great deal of animation here. There are a lot of still shots, a lot of single cels slowly moving across backgrounds, and a lot of limited animation. I’d say half of this video was “animated”, the other half still shots. And there isn’t a great deal of “story” to this video. It’s mostly Shinobu and Yuki walking around town (a generic city) together, then separately. Then there’s a sequence involving Yuki and paper airplane and a bizarre shot of a Heineken beer in a Chuck Taylor shoe. After that, we get a few goofy shots of the CBF then the entire team walking through the city at night time. Then that’s it, the video compilation is over.

This compilation also contains newly animated “eyecatches” in between each video. Most are a little goofy to be honest such as the CBF watching an egg hatch only for it to turn out to be a mini Eagle Fighter which spews out fire and burns everyone to crisp. Or the rather fanservice laden one, with Yuki in a towel that gets blown up by a breeze. Most of these little eyecatches have the characters in super deformed mode and barely last more than a few seconds. The opening of the collection also contains new animation which features Yuki and Shinobu, but lasts only a fraction longer than one of the eyecatches. The closing credits also feature a few more seconds of new animation. It starts with the eyecatch from the TV series which freezes as it does in the TV show. The credits roll and at the end the CBF (who all feature in the eyecatch) turn into super deformed versions of themselves and fall over. These little off cuts of additional animation barely make up thirty seconds in total.

Those familiar with the TV series would question why one of the most important songs in the series does not appear here at all. The TV series prominently featured a young girl called Laura Sullivan, who was rescued along with her puppy Becky by Shinobu. Throughout the series she sings a song called “Harmony Love” which does play an important role latter on in the story. The other strange thing is there isn’t a great deal of Laura in the music videos either. So what happened to “Harmony Love”? I have no idea. It’s a really odd and glaring omission.

Overall I think this compilation is reasonably well edited. The new animation is adequately done, though a bit on the cheap side, and the music is very mid 1980’s Japanese pop (your tolerance to this genre of music may vary). Though surprisingly, apart from “Alone ~ Kodoku no Senshi”, it’s fairly free of synths. The availability of this compilation (in legit means) is a little on the pricy side. Currently it’s only available on the Dancouga - Super Beast Machine God Blu-ray Box set which will set you back ¥53,700. The other legit options are just as pricy. Second hand copies of the “Emotion the Best” (Bandai’s “budget” line) DVD Box Part 1 reissue, go for about ¥5,000 upwards, which is probably the cheapest option. Second hand versions of Dancougar Blu-ray Disc Box 2 go for ¥12,000 upwards.Those who still have laserdisc players may be able to find a second hand copy of the first LD box which might set you back ¥2,000 to ¥7,000 depending if it’s bundled with the second LD box by the seller. Of course there are the original VHS and LD versions, but they can be rather difficult to find. I saw a single LD copy on Yahoo! Auctions Japan for ¥1,800 recently. Recommending this compilation goes hand in hand with its affordability. If you are a fan of the show, it’s a no brainer. If not, you may want to give this a miss.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Video Backlog: “Macross Delta”

Publisher: Emotion (Bandai Visual, Japan)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English and Japanese Subtitles
Length: 24 minutes x 26 episodes
Production Date: 2015 - 2016
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

In 2067, eight years after the events depicted in “Macross Frontier”, a remote part of the Milky Way Galaxy called the Brisingr Globular Clustrer is being plagued by a strange disease called the Var Syndrome. This mysterious phenomenon turns people berserk without any apparent cause. Stationed on the planet Ragna, an idol team named Walküre uses the power of their music to calm down those infected by the Var Syndrome. Assisting them is an ace Valkyrie pilot team called Delta Flight. On the nearby planet of Al Shahal, itinerant worker Hayate Immelman discovers a stowaway girl named Freyja Wion inside a crate of apples being imported from the planet Windermere. Freyja is a Windemerean who believes she has arrived on the planet Ranga in order to take part in an audition to become a member of Walküre. However Hayate informs her is has ended up in Al Shahal. With port security after her, Hayate helps Freyja escape.

A sudden outbreak of Var Syndrome causes several Zentradi soldiers to attack the city. Walküre arrive along with Delta Flight to calm the situation, however they are attacked by a group of mysterious fighters who turn out to be the Aerial Knights from Windermere. Freyja decides to join in with Walküre and sing in an effort to supress the Var Syndrome, while Hayate commandeers an abandoned Valkyrie in order to protect Freyja. Later Hayate is reprimanded for his actions but is ultimately set free. Having lost his job, he decides to accompany Freyja to Ranga so she can audition. However when she arrives she is told that she is ineligible to take part as this is the final stage of the auditions for the group. However due to her actions on Al Shahal, she is given special permission to take part. But despite putting on a good performances, none of the participants in the audition are selected to join Walküre. Later as a despondent Freyja leaves on the train, a fellow passenger develops Var Syndrome and she sings in order to calm him. However this was all an elaborate ruse put on by members of Walküre and Delta Flight as a final test for Freyja. She has passed with flying colours and is invited to be a permanent member of the group.

Meanwhile the commander of the Delta Flight, Arad Mölders, attempts to recruit Hayate as a pilot due to the skills he has shown in the battle on Al Shahal. Though sceptical at first and unwilling to take orders, he accepts the offer because he wants to fly again. Hayate is taken on as a cadet under the guidance of flight leader Mirage Farina Jenius, niece of Mylene Flare Jenius (from “Macross 7”). Completely unimpressed with his attitude, Mirage works Hayate hard and complains when he slacks off. Freyja is also learning the ropes while training with the other Walküre members. Mikumo Guynemer, lead vocalist for the group often points out the mistakes that Freyia makes, which naturally upsets her. At an upcoming concert Mikumo reminds Freyia not to make any mistakes or she will be kicked out of the group. In the middle of the concert, Aerial Knights attack and a mass Vars outbreak also occurs simultaneously. Mikumo and Freyja sing in unison to stop the outbreak. The other members of Walküre note how their voices combined in order to suppress the Var outbreak quickly. The Aerial Knights attack has been a distraction in order for Windemerean Kingdom in order to occupy the planet Voldor.  They also announce declaration of war to the New Unified Government.

Later Walküre and Delta Flight go on a covert mission to planet Voldor to discover the Windemerean Kingdom’s plans. They explore ancient ruins left by the Protoculture Civilization which seems to be projecting the song that Windemerean Kingdom’s young crown prince, Heinz Nehrich Windermere, sings, which seems to be the key factor in all of the recent Var Syndrome outbreaks. The team discover that Windemereans are controlling the population through Var Syndrome, which leaves people in an obedient zombie like state, and plan to take over all of the planets in the same manner.

“Macross Delta” is the fourth TV series in the “Macross” franchise. Though this series has (some) links to 2008’s “Macross Frontier”, you really don't need to have seen that series in order to understand “Macross Delta”. Which is good, because I have not seen “Macross Frontier” (or “Macross Zero” for that matter). However I am a big fan of the other parts of the series. “Macross 7” is in particular a guilty pleasure for me. As per usual for Macross anime, Shoji Kawamori is the series director as wellas being responsible for the series concept and story. Kenji Yasuda is the co-director of the series. He previously directed “Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth”. Other staff include Hidetaka Tenjin who is best known for his Macross plastic model box art work, and Thomas Romain, the French designer and creator of “Basquash!” who provides a lot of the design work. The series was created and animated by the studio Satelight who also produced “Macross Frontier” as well as the visually similar “Basquash!”, “AKB0048”, “Bodacious Space Pirates” and “Symphogear”.

There are several elements I really enjoyed in this show. Like all of the previous Macross shows, this TV series also has a large focus on the music. It’s played up more here than in previous series with a focus on an idol group. This shouldn’t be surprising as anime (and otaku) has gone gaga for idols over the last decade or so. It’s a trend that finally seems to be petering out (thank god…). However most of the music in this show is pretty good and a cut above most modern “anisongs”. For the last day or so I have had the first opening theme song, “Ichido dake no Koi nara” stuck in my head. It's pretty catchy. Naturally the five main voice actors who make up Walküre also perform as the real life Walküre, appearing in concerts as well as releasing CDs and other merchandise. The other part I really enjoyed was the designs and world(s) created by the staff. The planet Ragna is strange mishmash of Polynesian culture infused with Chinese and Japanese food, architecture and customs. The indigenous population appear Polynesian but are amphibious with the main local wildlife being mercats (i.e half cat, half mermaid). The mecha designs are also top notch with some very exciting dog fight scenes.

Unfortunately I failed to engage with “Macross Delta” a fair whack of the time. The big problem was that both the leads, Freyja and Hayate, aren’t all that interesting. To a large degree they’re archetypes; just a composite of every other character you’ve seen. As per all Macross series, the obligatory love triangle, with Mirage providing the third side, isn’t all that interesting. In fact it’s pretty flat and tired. Mirage pretty much doesn’t make any attempt to woo Hayate and just seems to sigh and look on sadly as Freyja steals his heart. Surprisingly a lot of the CG in the first episode is pretty shocking to be honest. However by the second episode it improves dramatically. Once the focus starts to shift to the Windemerean Kingdom, and the internal politics in the royal family and Aerial Knights the show improves significantly. There’s also a larger focus on the mysterious lead singer of Mikumo, who is a far more interesting character than the cutesy “moe every girl” that is Freyja.

I bought all nine volumes of this show when I was in Japan in March. Most from second hand shops in a one day shopping spree in Nipponbashi in Osaka. Eight of the nine volumes I bought second hand from the two a-Too shops (the Kanto area version of Surugaya) in the area for almost half price and pretty much in mint condition. Unusually all nine volumes are English subtitled (especially unusual since the show is not streaming anywhere in English). Apparently the key driver behind this was two Macross fans living in Japan, Gwyn Campbell and Adrian Lozano, who seem to have convinced Bandai Visual to add the subtitles to the series. Volumes 1, 4 and 7 come with really nice artboxes which house the other volumes. Hidetaka Tenjin provides the gorgeous artwork for the individual volumes; usually one of the pilots in Delta Flight in their Valkyrie. Each volume comes with a 44 page booklet with designs, artwork and interviews and the disc is housed in a digipak case with character artwork. The packaging is really well done and thoughtful. It knocks any western  release out of the park. On disc extras include “making of” featurettes, TV commercials for “Macross Delta” products, a Walküre concert, interviews and clean opening and closings. There are also bonus animated parody shorts, however none of these are subtitled. Also included is the preview version of episode 1 which was originally broadcast in December 2015, four months before the official broadcast.

Overall I found “Macross Delta” to one of the more mediocre parts of the Macross franchise. The two leads aren’t all that interesting and even though by the seventh episode with a heavier focus on Windemerean Kingdom, it still failed to draw me into the story at times. However when it worked, it really worked well. I just wish all the elements in the show could have been at the same consistent levels. The writing should have been a bit better as well. You could also view this show as a cynical marketing ploy to sell albums for an idol group; however the music is really well integrated into the story. But it's hard to get past the fact it’s quite an uneven show. I really had high expectations as it was part of the Macross franchise and was ultimately let down. I can only give “Macross Delta” 6.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 19 TV series, 7 OVAs and 14 movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of four TV series to be released before viewing them.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Anime On the Big Screen: “Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha: The Great Departure”

Venue: Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT
Date: Saturday 3 March 2012
Distributor: Toei Pictures/Warner Bros Japan (presented by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan Foundation)
Format: 35mm print, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 111 minutes
Production Date: 2011
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

Note: Originally published on this blog in March 2012, republished on the Anime Archivist blog December 2012.

I really didn’t expect Arc to screen any more anime (well anything that hadn’t already had a video release here) for another six months or more. The last anime film they played was the somewhat obscure “Colorful” back in September last year. So I was surprised to find this film mentioned in the paper on Thursday morning and decided to ring up and book a ticket. Good thing I did, as the next day the Arc website stated that the screening had been completely booked out. For whatever reason anime always seems to be big in Canberra. I’m not exactly sure why that is. Admittedly I was scratching my head that this film in particular had sold out. Surely there can’t be that many people who knew of Tezuka, nor read the Buddha manga, or even knew of the existence of this film. The film had only come onto my radar in the week prior due to a review on ANN. Perhaps the popularity can be attributed to the fact this was a free screening?

By the day of the screening, Canberra was absolutely drenched by several days of heavy rain. We’d already equalled had our average rainfall for March on the very first day of the month. I had already taken a trip out to Belconnen to run some errands and had stupidly decided to try and find a copy of “Usagi Drop” in the mall as Belconnen’s JB HiFi had none in stock. Of course it was a wasted trip and I left empty handed and had my sneakers soaking wet as the skies continued to bucket down. I was going to have to sit in the cinema for two and a bit hours with wet feet. I got there a bit early expecting a ton of people and got my ticket. I decided to have a look around the National Film and Sound Archive because I’d never really done that before properly, even when I was working there. There’s not much to the archive really. You could do it over in about half an hour. I went into the gallery which sort of gives a dummies view of the work they do at the archive. There were this couple walking around looking at the exhibits, occasionally strumming their ukuleles. Don’t know what the story was there, and I didn’t want to ask. Anyway the doors to the Arc cinema finally opened.

The audience did have a couple of otaku types (maybe Canberra otaku play ukuleles now?), but surprisingly a fair wack of the audience was made up of parents and their prepubescent children. This was a bit concerning. While the film was unclassified, the Archive stated that children under 15 had to be accompanied by their parents. Yes, more on that later… The rest of the audience was a mix of adults, naturally a mix of Asian people, some Chinese I think, not just Japanese (I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the patrons were Buddhists), and a row of people from the Japanese embassy. As per all screenings in the cinema, the director of programming got up and said a few words on the film, all the while continually mispronouncing the word anime (as well as using the redundant term “Japanese anime”) and butchering Osamu Tezuka's name. He also made the claim that this film was the biggest anime release of 2011 in Japan, ignoring the fact it only made a bit over $5 million, while the “K-On!” movie made over $21 million at the box office. The assistant ambassador also said a few words, nothing of note however. He was a little hard to understand at times, but I’m not gonna fault him for that.

Before the main feature, the audience had to endure “Pictures From An Exhibition”, a 40 minute experimental Tezuka film from 1966. The main feature was already more than 100 minutes long, so why, oh why do we have to sit through this? It’s not a bad film per se, but it’s already had a video release here (via Madman’s Experimental Tezuka Films compilation disc) for a couple of years now. Couldn’t they have just shown “Jumping” instead which only runs for a few minutes? By half way, the kids were becoming restless. One can only wonder what the parents thought of the nipples in the short. At least most adults got a laugh or two out the film.

Then it was time for the main feature. I’ll just point out now that this film is the first in a trilogy and as I understand it only covers the first two graphic novels of the 14 volume Buddha manga. I know of the manga but have never actually read it. It is Tezuka’s own interpretation of the story of life of Gautama Buddha who founded Buddhism. Very first sequence shows a monk traveling though a blizzard. He is cold and very hungry. The animals kindly offer him food they have caught. A rabbit, not being able to provide the monk with food, sacrifices himself by throwing himself into the fire to provide the monk with a meal. Now, remember the amount of children mostly under 10 brought to this screening by their parents? It gets a lot worse, there are a numerous battle sequences, a child is whipped with a close up of the damage to the skin on his back, people are executed and speared, there’s a ton of animal deaths in the film etc. There was a mother who brought a young child (about 8 or 9 years old) sitting in the row in front of me. A scene appeared on screen where a poverty stricken couple crudely cremate their still born child. The mother in the audience tried to cover her child’s eyes. I’m unsure what these parents thought they were bringing their children to.

Back to the film… So after the rabbit roasting sequence, we begin the story proper. The story, set in ancient India, first focuses on a young low caste boy named Chapra. Born as a slave, on this particular day he finds himself transporting cloth to his master when it is stolen by a group of street urchins around his age. He tries to reason with his master but he beats him and demands he retrieves the goods. If he doesn't, his master will sell off his mother. Chapra soon finds the thief, a young boy his age named Tatta. Chapra begs him to return the stolen goods explaining that if he doesn’t he’ll never see his mother again. Tatta takes pity on him and hatches a plan to free his mother. He is able to will his spirit into the bodies of animals to control them. Using a tiger, he attacks Chapra’s master on the way to the market to sell his mother. While mother and son are now free, Tatta’s troubles have just begun. An invading army wipes out Tatta’s village killing his family. Chapra attempts to repay Tatta for his kindness by helping him kill the army’s general, but has second thoughts and saves him. Naturally the general is grateful (he is unaware that Chapra was part of the attempt to kill him) and decides to take him under his wing as an adopted son and train him as a soldier. In doing so, Chapra hopes to leave his low caste life behind and rise through the ranks of the army. At the same time Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the country of Shakya tribe is born. While rather gentle in nature, his father appoints a rather cruel solder, Bandaka, to train him at age 10. Some years later both Chapra meet on the battlefield on opposing sides. Siddhartha is horrified at the carnage on the battlefield as well as the poverty in his kingdom.

Now unfortunately there are a lot of problems with this film. First there’s the drastic character design changes from the manga. Sure, I really don’t mind when studios update designs of old manga, but most here they barely resemble Tezuka’s originals. And unlike Tezuka’s manga, there’s not a great deal of humour either. With the violence, almost continual animal deaths at in one section of the film and graphic depictions of poverty, it makes for pretty bleak viewing. Also rather disappointing was the animation, which seemed to be of TV anime quality, and sometimes of low TV anime quality. I also found the fact that two stories were being told simultaneously, yet they only intersect a couple of times during the film and they don’t really tie together well. I am rather unfamiliar with both the manga and much of the history of Buddhism, so I felt the first half of the film was a bit of a hard slog However I warmed to it a bit during the second half as it became a bit more dramatic (especially Chapra’s story). And I suppose the battle scenes helped a bit to.

The film ends with Prince Siddhartha giving up his privileged life for a simpler one due to the horror he has witnessed and the indifference people have to the suffering of the poor. And now we wait for parts two and three. At the end of the film I thought “well at least it’s not as violent of Fist of the North Star”, because it is terribly violent. Perhaps I felt a bit uncomfortable that there were so many parents covering their children’s faces when any of the frequent horror would appear on screen. Bizarrely a lot of people clapped at the end of the film. I think the Embassy staff started the clapping and others followed. Certainly I didn’t clap because it was a mediocre film and none of the creators or anyone connected with the film was in attendance. Seriously why applaud a film in a cinema? It’s like clapping at the end of a CD or a DVD at home. Pointless. This time around the embassy didn’t bring much in the way of touristy pamphlets like they brought to “Colorful”. Seeing as Japan’s tourism has taken a big hit, you’d think they’d do a bit more. It was nearing 7pm when I left and it was still pissing down outside. It was an OK film, but I’m not really sure it was worth getting drenched just to watch it for free. I can only give it 6 out of 10.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Belated Fan Event Report: AnimeJapan 2017

I've always wanted to go to several fan events in Japan but have been put off how crowded they would be. However for my last trip I decided to throw caution to the wind (a bit) and go anyway. Of the three events on my "must do" list in Japan, AnimeJapan has always been number one. Essentially it's a trade show that doubles as a fan event. It's origins go back to 2002 when the Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) began. Like Anime Japan, TAF was part trade show, limited to business deals on the first and second day, then opened to the public on the weekend. It's major financial backer was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs. In 2010, the then governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, introduced revisions to the Tokyo Youth Development Ordinance which essentially restricted some risque manga and anime aimed at teens to people over 18 years of age where there was no restriction previously.

As you can imagine many manga publishers weren't happy with Ishihara. To cut a long story short and not to go into the long debate of those revisions (or how damn silly they are), a group of manga publishers collectively known as the Comic 10 Society gave the middle finger to Ishihara and boycotted TAF as it was sponsored by the local government. They in turn created their own trade show; Anime Contents Expo (ACE) which ran for two years in 2012 and 2013 in Chiba (the debut 2011 ACE was canceled due to the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami). Ishihara left office in 2012 and in 2014 failed to get elected in the federal election and left politics for good. In late 2013, TAF and ACE jointly announced the first AnimeJapan to be held at Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, Tokyo in March 2014. Amusingly neither the Tokyo Metropolitan Government nor the Tokyo Governor's Office were listed as being part of AnimeJapan's 2014 organising committee (both were part of all previous organising committees for TAF).

2017 marks the fourth year of AnimeJapan. Like TAF, the first two days, Thursday 23 March and Friday 24 March 2017 are set aside for business deals and the press. On Saturday 25 March and Sunday 26 March 2017, the hordes descend upon Odaiba and as you may have seen from reports on anime news sites, there's tons of cosplay and loads of interesting company booths. When I arrived in Osaka the previous week, I had been trying to get a ticket to AnimeJapan from the Famiport machines at Family Mart convenience stores. After about three or four goes, I just gave up. No matter what I did, I could not find the event on the machine despite using an (terribly out of date) English guide I printed from Family Mart's website. Completely fed up, when I got to my Airbnb place in Kanda, I droped my luggage off and walked across the bridge over the Kanda river, walked straight into Akihabara Gamers and got a ticket over the counter (costing ¥1,800). The weather forecast suggested rain was forecast for Saturday and clear on Sunday, so I opted for a ticket for Sunday thinking it'd be nice weather and much quieter.

Unfortunately the reverse was true; Saturday was sunny, Sunday had drizzle. Screw it, I was going anyway and it's indoors. I decided the best course of action was to get there after 11am (doors open at 10am), taking the Yamanote line from Akihabara station to Osaki station, then the Rinkai line to Kokusai-Tenjijo station in Odaiba, which is a lot less crowded than the Yurikamome line monorail. There were a bunch of Americans on the train (military types stationed in Japan) who yakked non-stop from the moment they got on. Lucky they weren't going to AnimeJapan. From Kokusai-Tenjijo, it's a very short walk to Tokyo Big Sight, almost all the way is undercover too so I didn't get wet. You can't get lost really. If you do manage to lose you're way, just follow the other fans who are easy to spot. From the front of Big Sight, staff usher patrons right around to the rear of the convention centre. I was confronted with the scene in the above photo (click to enlarge all photos by the way), however the line moved rather quickly and I was inside within 50 minutes despite the large crowd.

AnimeJapan has several sections; there's the two main halls where about 125 exhibitors promote their products or companies, three stages (which most require separate tickets to see, acquired by a lottery system) in which anime staff, seiyu and some idols hold talk shows or other presentations, a food park where you can buy dishes based upon selected anime shows, a section for cosplayers where they can change into their costumes have their photos taken behind special backgrounds and finally Family Anime Festa 2017, a recent addition where kids 12 or under and their parents can play, eat anime character related food and characters (i.e. poorly paid young people in hot costumes) make occasional visits. In addition there are separate business sections (not open to the general public), one which includes seminars and talks from people in the industry.

I honestly had no game plan, so I just went mindlessly from booth to booth. One of the first things you see when you enter the first hall is the giant blow up titan promoting the second TV series of "Attack on Titan";

One of the biggest properties being promoted was strangely enough was "Paddington 2", the second CG film based up the Paddington Bear books published in the UK in the 1950's and 1960's (getting a early 2018 release in Japan). However anime was of course the biggest draw card. "Love Live! Sunshine!!" had a a number of displays;

As in every record and video store in around the country at time, Toho made sure every knew that "Shin-Godzilla" had just been released on home video in Japan with this display;

A separate booth was plugging the forthcoming "Godzilla" anime due for release in late 2017 with this human sized scale model of a robot which appears in the film;

But by a mile, the biggest draw card this year was the impressive and massive booth for the "Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Magia Record" mobile phone game which drew big crowds all day long;

Card game manufacturer Bushiroad was heavily promoting it's multimedia project "BanG Dream!", which in hindsight seems to have totally underwhelmed fans;

There was also plenty of current fan favorites such as "Detective Conan";

"JoJo's Bizarre Adventure";

And this amazing life sized statue of Elias Ainsworth from "The Ancient Magus' Bride";

I hadn't really planed on visiting specific booths, however the Satelight booth was one I didn't want to miss out on seeing It had a human scaled model of one of the Valkyries promoting the final volume of the video release of "Macross Delta";

Another booth I was interested in was Toho Animation who were promoting amoungst other things the TV series "Little Witch Academia";

Some of the displays were amazing such as the moving and talking (interacting with an emcee) Tachikoma at the Production I.G booth;

And here's the amazing Goten (an armored horse) prop with the owner himself, Garo, behind an emcee, from the live action "Garo" series;

Throughout the two main halls were character balloon art from various TV series such as Chika Takami from "Love Live! Sunshine!!";

Some of the booths had booth girls, most in cosplay, handing out promotional material and often posing if you asked to take a picture of them. I have to admit this lady at the Takara Tomy booth caught my eye;

"Cardcaptor Sakura" had a fairly large presence at AnimeJapan this year, mostly promoting the upcoming anime. But there was plenty of nostalgia for the old anime at this booth;

At a separate booth which displayed many life sized promotional props from the anime, you could take a photo with a guy in a Kero-chan suit. I got there right as a Chewbacca cosplayer decided they wanted a photo with Kero. Pretty much everyone in close proximity crowded around to take a photo of this weird scene;

It was a bit crowded at times and there was a little bit of shoving by some fans. However after 1pm the crowds started thinning out and it was far easier to move about and see things. Some of the booths gave out these very long bags (about 60cm wide) which many fans used to collect the various promotional material being given out. Personally I found these bags really cumbersome and found myself accidentally bumping people with it or it having it being crushed in a crowd. I quickly got annoyed with it and quietly abandoned the bag against one of the walls of hall...

After a couple of hours there you do end up accumulating a lot of promotional material. Let's face it, the vast majority of this stuff is just plain crap promoting anime and games you'll never see or hear of again, or forget within six months of airing or release. Though you might feel compelled to take a flyer or fan or bag or whatever from people handing that stuff out, just ask yourself; do I really want to cart all of this shit home? Having said that, I did get this really cool face mask promoting "The Anonymous Noise" anime TV series;

Though I didn't do any real planning as such, it might be a good idea to preplan which booths you want to go to before you get there. I'd also eat before you go and take some water as it's pretty much impossible to get into the food park. You can get a pass to leave the building and return if you want to grab some food outside. Be warned there's not much available in the immediate area. There's plenty of toilets in the halls, so at least you won't have to worry about that side of things. Apparently over 145,000 people showed up over two days. However it didn't feel that crowded, especially in the afternoon on the Sunday. Due to the rain I didn't see any cosplayers, except for the ones checking out the booths. You're not meant to ask the cosplyers for photos in the building, so don't ask. I spent about two and half hours at AnimeJapan which I think is probably more than enough time to see everything. Getting out of Odaiba can also be a bit of chore. Afterwards I went to Diver City mall, also in Odaiba, to see Tokyo Gundam Front one last time before it shut down, and left for Kanda via Tokyo Teleport station which wasn't too crowded for a Sunday evening.

Summing up, it was a pretty fun experience. It is certainly more of a business event than a fan one. Apart from Japanese companies spruiking anime, games and merchandise, there was also booths promoting female Japanese wrestling, a Chinese video streaming website, and Singaporean, French and US anime and Japanese pop culture conventions. What really hit me was the amount of entertainment being promoted and how much of that fails and ends up forgotten. I sort of felt a bit down knowing a lot of this material, worked on with great passion by it's staff, is just going to forgotten and lost to time or just ignored in the first place. I think by that part of my trip I was a bit fatigued and had overdosed heavily on all of the idols, games, anime and manga merchandise I had seen and trawled through in my trips to Akihabara in the short period I had been staying in Kanda (four days by that stage...). Regardless, this is an event I would recommend to any anime fan.

Forgotten Anime: “The Tale of Genji”

Distributor: Central Park Media (USA)
Original Year of Release: 1987
English Video Release: 1995, NTSC VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English subtitles
Japanese Title: Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari)
Runtime: 107 mins

[Originally posted on the "Lost World of Anime" website in 2006, revised version published on the "Lost World of Anime" blog in 2009, second revised version published on Anime Archivist blog in 2012]

Many, many moons ago, I had a website then later a blog devoted to looking at anime released in English but no longer in print. Alas I dumped both as it became a bit of a chore to keep running. Still, I like writing and still have a love for weird and obscure anime stuff, so I’m going to occasionally keep writing about it. For the most part I’ll be rehashing and rewriting old reviews I’ve done long ago, but on occasion I’ll be writing new ones. So here’s the first;

There are very anime released which could accurately describe as arthouse. Most of it is made for a commercial audience, the majority are essentially genre based or straight out exploitation films which are targeted to a niche audience. Hardly any of the more experimental material makes it over to the west. But then again some really strange titles have been released in English speaking markets over the years and this is one of them; an ambitious theatrical anime adaption of Japan’s most beloved piece of classic literature. First up, the synopsis;

It is the Heian Period in Japan. The current emperor’s then favourite concubine, Kiritsubo, died three years after the birth of their only child, Hikaru Genji. Genji is considered to be a commoner but still remains in the family under the non-royal Genji clan. Over the years Genji transforms into an extremely handsome and talented man, and has admirers all across the court. Although he has an arranged marriage to Aoi, his friend To no Chujo’s sister, the boredom of his life gets to him, and he has many affairs with the women of the court. Throughout this time, Genji seems to be haunted by the spirit of his mother. Phantom cherry blossoms and her kimono sometimes appear during his meetings with his lovers.

One of his lovers is Fujitsubo, the emperor’s current favourite concubine. Such is his lust for women that he even takes away and cares for a young orphan girl named Murasaki so that she will grow up to be his lover one day. Word soon spreads that Fujitsubo is pregnant. Genji goes to her to ask if the child is his, but her lady in waiting pleads with him to leave and tells him that the child is the emperor’s. Soon after, Aoi becomes pregnant, but during contractions, she becomes ill and delirious. Another of Genji’s lovers, Miyasudokno, has seemingly possessed her, and she communicates through Aoi that she doesn’t want to give him up. Though the birth is eventually successful, Aoi dies some time later. In another blow to Genji, his father, the emperor, dies. Due to Genji’s position the eldest son of the emperor is made crown prince. Fujitsubo is distraught at the death of the emperor, and leaves the court to become a Buddhist Nun. Genji’s becomes depressed and laments the fact that everyone seems to desert him. Genji has another dangerous affair, this time with the current emperor’s favourite concubine. He is caught out by the concubine’s father who reports it to Lady Kokiden, the emperor’s highest ranking consort. She has always disliked him, and uses this information to exile him from the court.

This amazing movie is based upon the world’s oldest surviving novel, “Tale of Genji”, written by a woman named Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century. The film was commissioned by Asahi Shinbun newspaper to mark its 100th anniversary. Directed by Gisaburo Sugii who has directed a diverse range of anime from “Touch”, “Night on the Galactic Railroad” and “Street Fighter II: the Movie”, has sensibly decided not cram the whole one thousand page novel into a two hour film. Instead the focus is on chapters four to ten (there are 54 chapters in the novel). These chapters follow Genji as a young adult in the court and chronicle the affairs he has during that time.

I had an extremely difficult time writing the synopsis for this movie. I personally find the film is an absolute joy to watch, but due to its slow moving and somewhat abstract nature, coupled with the fact you would probably need to be a little familiar with the back story of novel, its hellish trying to explain what this film is about. I’ve had to add more of the back story to my synopsis, which isn’t actually presented in the film. I also had a bit of a problem keeping up with Genji’s multitude of affairs, so please excuse me if I didn’t get the order of events 100% correct. I first saw the film at a film festival a decade ago and wasn’t in the right mood for it. Though I thought it was quite beautiful, my impression of the film wasn’t that great. All I could see was a film about a guy who screws every woman he can, than at the end of the film he dances around a giant blossoming cherry tree. After I got the film on video, and researching the background behind it, I can certainly appreciate it a whole lot more.

As I mentioned before, Gisaburo Sugii had previously directed the film “Night on the Galactic Railroad”, which is also based on a classic Japanese novel. Both that film and “Genji” are somewhat similar in the way they are presented. “Genji” is much less abstract than “Night on the Galactic Railroad”, but it still has a dream-like quality about it. My favourite sequences are the ones where Genji’s mother seems to be haunting him. Her kimono and/or cherry blossoms appear whenever he is with a lover, suggesting that the affairs to him are subconsciously a replacement for the love and comfort he never got from his mother. You can also feel from the film that although Genji seems to have everything he could desire, inside he is empty, unable to feel truly satisfied with life. Apart from needing to have some knowledge of the original text, there are some other problems with the film which may prevent an audience from understanding and appreciating it. While the character design is quite elegant and beautiful, the sameness of the designs, especially with the female characters, can make it difficult at times to figure out which woman Genji is with. The film constantly jumps forward in time without any warning, and this makes it quite difficult to figure out how old Genji is and where in time the story was. Genji’s character doesn’t seem to age, so that doesn’t help the audience figure out how much time has passed either. The slow pacing would also test a lot of people’s patience.

Personally I can overlook these flaws in the film. Although it seems quite similar in style to “The Sensualist” (another anime film based upon a Japanese classic novel also released on video in English. I’ll be looking at this at a later date), this film doesn’t concentrate on the sexual aspect of Genji’s affairs. Even though there is some minor nudity, there is no sex to speak of. The only real sex scene as such is so subtlety done a lot of people would probably miss it. Even though I have mentioned knowing the back story to the film would be beneficial in enjoying it, you could actually watch this film without knowing anything about the novel. The problem though that the film is probably a little too abstract and way too slow for most audiences. You could say that this film is an arthouse anime feature. If you enjoy arthouse films, you’ll probably love “Genji”. People who like fast moving action films would probably walk out on it during the long opening credits. The Central Park Media VHS tape is very difficult to come by for well over a decade now. It usually goes for well over US$150 when you can find a copy. If you do love film as art, and come across a copy for sale, don’t hesitate, buy it immediately. This is truly a beautiful and scarce kind of film that goes against the norm in anime, in subject matter, pacing and just about everything. It is such a shame that few anime films like this exist.