Monday, October 22, 2018
Date: Sunday 21 October 2018
Distributor: Toho Pictures (presented by the Japan Foundation as part of the Japanese Film Festival)
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 112 minutes
Production Date: 2017
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No
Unlike the horrible weather of the previous day, Sunday was a fantastic, sunny and warmish spring day with scant cloud cover in the blue skies above. Surprisingly Canberra Centre wasn’t crowded as usual. The second anime movie I went to see this weekend was playing as part of the 2018 Japanese Film Festival which had run over the previous three days. Two anime films played last year, however we’re back to one feature this year and it’s a doozy; a film based on a continuing franchise over two decades old that has made no real impression on western anime fans, let alone in Australia. I was given a survey as I walked in and told to complete it so more anime was programmed for future festivals in Canberra. I wasn’t going to argue the point of why in hell this film was programmed. There was plenty of other recent features they could have programmed such as the two Science Saru films; “The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl”, which oddly Melbourne did get, and “Lu Over the Wall”. However I made the comment that one of the better independent Japanese films of recent years, “One Cut of the Dead”, wasn’t even playing in Canberra for the festival, yet was listed in the line up for other capitals.
The series follows Shinichi Kudo, a high school detective who gains fame by helping the police solve murder mysteries. While on a date with his childhood sweetheart Ran Mori at a theme park, he comes across a shady deal being hatched by a criminal organisation, but is caught by its members and knocked out. They force a strange new poison down his throat in an attempt to kill him. However instead of killing him, it oddly shrinks his body down to that of a first grade child. To hide his true identity, Shinichi takes up the alias Conan Edogawa and tags along with Ran’s bumbling detective father, Kogoro Mori, in the hope Kogoro will take a case involving the organisation that poisoned him so he can obtain the antidote that can turn him back into his old self. When he is able to solve a case, he uses a tranquilizer to put Kogoro to sleep and impersonates him using a voice changer to reveal the solution. Conan enrols in a local elementary school where he makes friends with several classmates who form their own detective club called the Detective Boys. He also befriends a professor, Dr Agasa, who makes various gadgets for him to use in his investigations and often teams up with teenage detective Heiji Hattori and his not quite girlfriend, Kazuha Toyama.
In the aftermath we learn that Mikiko has broken her arm and can no longer play. She convinces Kazuha to play for her, though she feels that she is not up to Mikiko’s standard. Help arrives in the form of Heiji’s mother, Shizuka Hattori, a famous karuta champion, who teaches her everything she knows. It is later revealed that karuta champion Toshiya Yajima has been murdered. Several karuta cards are spread around the crime scene. It becomes obvious that the murder is related to the forthcoming karuta tournament, and soon people connected with the tournament start receiving threatening emails containing images of karuta cards which all have the word “Momiji” in their poems. It is believed that a man named Shikao Nagoro is behind the threats. Missing for several years, Nagoro was the leader of an elite karuta group in which Momiji was his greatest student. Conan believes the final target of the bomber is Momiji herself and that the bomber will strike in the finals of the championship.
On the positive side of things, much of the action is really well done. There are approximately three major action sequences and Shizuno shows off his fantastic skills in all three (Shizuno storyboarded the film as well). He certainly knows where to place the camera to obtain some great shots. According to interviews for the film, manga author Gosho Aoyama cited the recent live action adaptations of the manga series “Chihayafuru” (also made into an anime with the live action films being screened at this Japanese Film Festival) as inspiration. Much like “Chihayafuru”, this film makes use of the beautiful surrounds of the Omi Jingu Shrine which in real life hosts the national karuta championship. In the game play of karuta itself, Shizuno cleverly uses the cards flying in the air as moving screens to depict the action in and around the game being held. The closing credits also uses really beautiful live action footage of the area in and around Omi Jingu, which I thought was great way to end the film.
Adding to this hellish mix was the rather bizarre world of “Conan” in which not only do you have to suspend disbelief that a teenager has been shrunk to the size of a young child, but also that he solves crimes and uses his unconscious girlfriend’s father and a voice changing bowtie in order to announce the culprit of the crime, because no one is going to believe a child. And this is despite the very realistic world settings. The gadgets Conan uses are really silly and implausible (turbo propelled skateboard?!) and the action sequences have some plainly absurd moments. The worst offender is the action sequence at the TV station. One part involves Conan escaping the burning and crumbling roof top by riding his turbo skateboard around and around the TV station’s satellite dish in an effort to gain speed so he can jump over the road into the river several hundred metres away. It’s utterly daft. Meanwhile the bomber standing outside the burning building is depicted as if he is wearing a black zentai suit, which I assume is to hide his identity from the audience, however it just looks strange, as nobody in the crowd seems to notice this weird man in a black zentai suit grinning manically. Other methods surely should have been considered to hide his identity from the audience. Why they chose this method baffles me.
Summing up, I couldn't get into this film much at all. It was too hard me coming into this film fresh without really knowing the history of the franchise. It was extremely difficult to work out the convoluted mystery, keep track of the suspects and try to figure out who all these characters are and how they relate to each other in the “Conan” universe. I also couldn’t suspend my disbelief in spots. Parts of it were a bit too silly. The choice of this feature for the film festival beggar’s belief; a movie from a 20 year franchise that is pretty much unknown to a lot of western anime fans, let alone general festival goers, involving a mystery set around a card game unfamiliar to the vast majority of westerners. I mean the manga series is a relatively good seller for Viz and American late night show host Conan O'Brien has recently raised the profile of the series, but come on! At times the film did interest me, I did like part of the mystery and lot of the action sequences where fun (when you could suspend disbelief), however it wasn’t exactly a fun experience for me. 5 out of 10 and I’m being quite generous.
Saturday, October 20, 2018
Date: Saturday 20 October 2018
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 108 minutes
Production Date: 2018
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No
In the space of a few weeks there are three anime films in local cinemas, with two on this weekend. Spring has arrived and while it’s rather warm, storms have arrived. Instead of rain all day there several were short torrential downpours accompanied by lightning. Not the best weather to go out in. And despite the weather. as per usual the Canberra Centre was packed. There was a desk near the top of the escalators in the cinema for the Japanese Film Festival which was currently screening. I’ll be going to see one film from that tomorrow. It was a pretty low turnout for this late afternoon session of the film; seven people, a Malaysian family of three who really seemed to enjoy the film, a couple in their early twenties, myself and one other bloke. I sort of wonder what the future holds for theatrical anime… Anyway, let’s talk about the film;
Much to his annoyance, Sakura pesters him to hang out together. Initially she helps him at the school library (being a loner and a total bookworm this totally suits him), where he puts returned books back on the shelf. The chatty, happy go lucky Sakura tells him that she has told no one of her pancreatic disease outside her family, except him. One day she tells him that she heard that in other cultures people eat parts of organs to cure their own sick organs and suggest she wants to eat his pancreas to get better. Sakura later manages to drag him around town where she saves an old lady from being shaken down for compensation money by a gang. He questions if she has no fear due to her limited time, however Sakura denies this. Classmates see both of them out together and they become the talk of the class. No one can figure why Sakura wants to hang out with the most antisocial guy in the class.
Despite that the two of them end up playing truth or dare, in which the boy discovers more about Sakura. He also accidentally finds her pills, insulin and syringes which keep her alive, which affects him greatly. The night ends with her too drunk to get up and her forcing him to carry her to the bed and to sleep next to him. Sometime later Sakura forces him to visit her house. She becomes a little too playful and hugs him, suggesting that they both have sex. However she backs off saying it was a joke. Rather frustrated, he picks her up and pins her to the bed. Realising he has done the wrong thing as Sakura cries, he leaves disgusted with himself. Outside he runs into the class representative, Takahiro, whom he doesn’t realise is her old boyfriend she has recently broke up with, and accidentally ends up insulting him. Takahiro punches him and Sakura runs outside to stop Takahiro from hurting him further. Thinking he could win her back, Takahiro is baffled by her response. The boy now realises that he needs to be beside her until the end.
From what I’ve seen in a lot of the reviews so far the film has polarised many people. Because of that my expectations were relatively low going in. I was quite surprised that they easily exceeded those expectations. First of all the promotional material and the story synopsis lead you to believe this going to be a really overly sentimental, mawkish tear jerker of a film. Secondly, it does seem rather obvious where the film will end up. Perhaps I have become rather sentimental in my old age, but I didn’t feel my emotions were blatantly manipulated like they were in “Maquia”. In part I think this due to the writing and fact Sakura is not presented as some weak, sickly girl we forced to feel for. She’s presented as an incredibly cheerful and outgoing young woman. Her illness is barely touched upon and we never see any obvious decline in her health or her looking fragile. When the end comes, it's like a bolt out of the blue. There is no gradual decline as you might expect. I am rather glad for this as I thought I was going to be put through an emotional wringer.
While the first two thirds of the concentrate on the relationship between Sakura and the boy, the last third the film does become somewhat schmaltzy with a number of “cute” shots of the elderly and children and after Sakura’s death (you know it was coming) a rather odd pastel coloured dream-like sequence with the boy reading her diary. There are also three Japanese pop songs (the opening, insert song and end credits) from various pop rock bands which don’t help the story at all. All three sound the same and are rather dull, like a lot of commercial pop rock songs from major Japanese labels. The title, although explained fairly early on in the film, is rather odd, especially to those not familiar with its origins from certain Asian cultures. Considering the bemused responses to the film's title I've seen online, I’m surprised it wasn’t retooled for English speaking audiences, especially since neither the light novel nor manga had been commercially released in English yet.
Eirin mark and copyright details before walking out of the cinema! 7 out of 10.
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Format: VHS, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue
Length: 50 minutes
Original Release Date: 21 September 1985
Animation Exclusive to this Release: Yes
Other Sources (Japanese unless noted): Genesis Climber Mospeada Box (Laserdisc, 1992), Genesis Climber Mospeada Volume 6 (DVD, 2001), Genesis Climber Mospeada Box (DVD, 2007), Genesis Climber Mospeada Blu-ray Box (2013), Robotech: The Complete Set (DVD, 2013, USA, Japanese Dialogue with Optional English Subtitles), Robotech: Love Live Alive (DVD, 2014, UK, Japanese Dialogue with Optional English Subtitles), Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles and Love Live Alive 2-Movie Collection (DVD, 2014, UK, Japanese Dialogue with Optional English Subtitles), Genesis Climber Mospeada Blu-ray Box (2017)
Currently Availability (as of writing): Genesis Climber Mospeada Blu-ray Box (2017)
Very few anime music video compilations have ever had a commercial English language home video release. This one only made the cut as it was attached to the “Robotech” franchise. Announced and released in 2013, “Robotech: Love Live Alive” is an adaption of the original “Mospeda: Love Live Alive”. It’s a pretty dire adaptation which pads out a 50 minute music video compilation to about 90 minutes, mostly with recycled animation from the “Mospeda” TV series. Luckily some video releases of “Robotech: Love Live Alive” got “Mospeda: Love Live Alive” subtitled as a bonus. This is a far more interesting video. Created as bookend to the TV series, it follows the character Yellow Belmont as he makes his way to a concert he is performing at. First up though, a rundown on the “Mospeda” series;
As per the previous battle three years ago, the Inbit attack the fleet before they can enter the atmosphere. The battle does not go well for the Mars troops, with many of the fighters wiped out. The ship Marlene is on is destroyed while entering the atmosphere, but Stig manages to crash land somewhere in South America in his fighter. Seemingly the sole survivor of the battle, Stig, unfamiliar with the Earth’s weather and wildlife, is stunned and sadden by Marlene’s death as he watches the holographic message she gave him. Regardless, Stig decides to procede with the orginal pan and heads to Reflex Point using his Ride Amour, a transformable motorbike named Mospeada, which can turn into a robotic type of battle amour. Along the way Stig comes across a young man called Ray, also on a Mospeada which he has salvaged from a crashed battleship, being attacked by the Inbit. Stig destroys the attackers and asks Ray if he knows where the other Mars troops are. Ray says he hasn’t seen any troops for a long time.
All of the songs in this compilation are form a newly recorded album of the same name which was released on the same day as this music video compilation. As far as I can figure out the vast majority of songs are originals, with only a few being re-recordings of previously released songs. Most songs are sung by Jin Haneoka (who previously performed songs for the “GoShogun” anime) who is backed by While Rock Band who wrote and performed most of the music on the previous “Mospeada” soundtracks. Interestingly Jin Haneoka's name is written in hiragana on the album, while his non-anime music album releases have his name written in kanji.
“Mind Tree” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Fire!” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Clap!! Clap!! Clap!!” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Dream Road” performed by Mine Matsuki and While Rock Band
“Midnight Rider” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Crystal Moment” performed by While Rock Band
“Devil's Eye” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Blue Rain” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Love is Free” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Heart Wave” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
“Horizon” performed by Jin Haneoka and While Rock Band
I’m not a big fan of this series, but this set of songs and their accompany videos aren’t too bad. It’s a nice way to end the series without producing a new OVA or film for it. Despite my dislike of the very heavy and very electronic sounding drum machine, most of the songs aren’t too bad at all. “Devil's Eye” and “Fire!” are probably my favourites. The animation isn’t too bad either, but barely gets above what was seen in the TV series. Oddly all of the song titles are English, including the re-recorded songs which originally had Japanese titles. Not sure why that decision was taken for this project.
Overall, this is quite a decent set of music videos which add a lot of story to the end of the “Mospeada” series. But if you haven’t seen the TV series previously, you probably won’t be able to follow what is going on. With that said this compilation is probably for fans of the show only.
Friday, October 5, 2018
Format: PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Runtime: 5 episodes x 45 mins
Catalogue Numbers: WEST033, WEST036, WEST040
Japanese Title: Slow Step
Japanese Production Date: 1991
This is the sixth part in a series of nine articles on the somewhat obscure 1990’s UK based video distributor Western Connection and the anime titles they released in English, titles that no one else bothered to re-released anywhere else. For a run down on what I thought made the company so special, see here. As I said in the last part of this series, 1995 was a very productive year for the company with a whole slew of releases. With Manga Entertainment being the dominant force in the UK market, anime on home video at the time was filled to the brim with violent OVAs and action films. This title was a romantic comedy. First up, let’s talk about the show itself;
One morning Minatsu witnesses a hit and run from the bathroom window. She reports the distinctive car to the police and later that evening sees it parked on the street. She runs into a café to report the car but doesn't realise that the occupants, who are gang members, are listening to her every word in the café. They dash out of the cafe, but later follow her home and try to silence her on the rooftop of the apartment building she lives in. Luckily she is saved by the young man who chats up girls, Naoto Kadomatsu, a highly ranked high school boxer, who beats them senseless. A few days later Minatsu decides to go out but spots the gang members waiting outside believing they are still after her. Not wanting to give up she disguises herself with a wig and glasses. Unfortunately Naoto spots her and tries his clichéd lines on her, not realising its Minatsu. She rejects him, but he eventually falls in love with her and asks Minatsu (out of disguise) if she can organise a date with her. Minatsu decides to go on the date disguised in an attempt to end the matter, but makes things worse and ends up giving him a fake name to go with the disguise, Maria Sudo, as well as a convoluted backstory.
Even worse is to come. Minatsu’s dual life is soon over when Chika accidentally lets slip that Maria and Minatsu are the same person, and the two boys Shu and Naoto, decide to make another contract and fight for her in the boxing ring. The loser will give up Minatsu. Unfortunately for the boys Minatsu doesn't like the idea of two men fighting over her. In fact it horrifies her. She decides to run away from it all, however Ayako forces her to confront the mess she has caused head on.
Although “Slow Step” seems to have a rather convoluted plot, it's really easy to follow and is quite funny. Rather than going for a typical high school romance, Adachi flips the entire scenario around and comes up with something quite unique. I particularly like the way he gets Minatsu into deeper and deeper trouble with seemingly no way out of the situation. I also liked the additional elements of the lecherous teacher (played by Akira Kamiya who previously played Ryo Saeba in “City Hunter”, perfectly cast for this part) and the sukeban (juvenile delinquent or girl gang member) Ayako Sawamura, who add a lot of interest to what could have been a really standard love triangle set up. The ending and Minatsu’s final choice are really not what you’d expect from this type of show. On the initial viewing of the OVA, I felt everything was a little too rushed and too neat. But having seen the show again recently, I can now see the subtle hints of how Minatsu came to her decision. However I feel to a degree it’s a little too hard to swallow the concept that a high school girl would make that choice.
Putting that side for the moment, the fact this OVA series was actually released in English is quite amazing. Right in the middle of the 1990's in UK, at the very highest peak of the “Manga Videos” era, where hyper violent OVAs and movies such as “Guyver”, “Mad Bull 34” and “Fist of the North Star” were racing up the video chart, our beloved Western Connection decided to release this title. Subtitled as well, when dubbed tapes were the dominant force. In this climate how do you think a romantic sports comedy would have gone down with the video tape buying public? One word; awful. According to Jonathan Clements it was the worst selling anime title in the UK until the “Kimagure Orange Road” OVAs were released a year or two later. The saving grace was the fact that supposedly Western Connection didn't make many copies of “Slow Step”.
Possibly the most extraordinary thing about this release is that it's a Mitsuru Adachi anime. So very little of his work has ever made it commercially into English. Apart from this rather rare three VHS tape release, the only other works of his to be released in English are his manga "Short Program", released by Viz in 1999 and the anime series “Cross Game”, streamed for a limited time, also by Viz, back in 2010. As Adachi's work is beloved in Japan and has a small but quite dedicated following in the west, you really have to wonder why western anime and manga publishers have generally ignored his work. Perhaps the length and age of titles like “Touch” and “H2” are off-putting. But then again during the frenzy of licensing in the early to mid 2000's which sometimes saw the release of long, odd and plainly “unsellable” titles (like all of “City Hunter” and “Marmalade Boy” for instance), you have to wonder why so very few of his titles made the leap into English.
But if you can get past all of that, the characters and a lot of the situations are generally charming and humorous and might just win you over. And Adachi's distinctive jug-eared character designs are so delightful. Jonathan Clements, at every opportunity he gets to talk about this title, states that the VHS tapes were practically impossible to find only a few months after Western Connection released them. However I managed to snap up all three volumes online fairly easily around a decade after they were first released. Now days it’s pretty much impossible to find copies of this show. It was never reissued on DVD in Japan either. However I did recently spot the first UK VHS volume on eBay going for £15, so with a bit of searching you may be lucky. Honestly the chance of “Slow Step” seeing a re-release in English is highly doubtful. While “Slow Step” is a rather funny comedy/romance OVA, I can really only recommend it to die hard Mitsuru Adachi fans.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Format: Region B Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 38 episodes x 24 mins
Production Date: 1994 - 1995
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes
In the time that has passed since I’ve reviewed “Sailor Moon R”, Madman Entertainment announced new Blu-ray sets based upon masters used in a 2015 broadcast on NHK Premium Broadcast Satellite. I was rather sceptical that these set of masters would be much of an improvement over Viz’s dreadful sets. However I was really impressed with the video quality. First though, let’s talk about the show itself;
Rei has started to have disturbing apocalyptic dreams where the city is engulfed in darkness and destroyed and the Sailor Senshi are tuned to stone then eventually rubble as the darkness destroys everything in its wake. Attempting to gain more insight as to what her dreams mean, Rei preforms a Shinto fire ritual reading. When that yields few results, Rei later places a prayer on a sacred tree. The tree suddenly transforms into a monster who pins her to nearby wall and proceeds to draw out her heart in the form of a floating, glowing crystal. Usagi hears Rei’s screams and transforms into Sailor Moon, but is unable to defeat the monster. The remaining Sailor Senshi appear to help out but are also pinned down. Tuxedo Mask manages to distract the monster and Sailor Moon attacks it using Moon Princess Halation, but it has no effect. In response the monster overpowers Sailor Moon and ends up breaking her Crystal Star brooch. She reverts back to Usagi and all seems lost until two mysterious energy blasts destroy the monster. Two shadowy figures in Sailor Senshi outfits take Rei’s crystal heart but return it after determining it isn’t the talisman they’re looking for.
Usagi and Minako later meet Haruka Tenou, an attractive student of a prestigious high school. Both are smitten by Haruka but are soon disappointed to discover she is a woman. Her constant companion, Michiru Kaiou, is a talented violin player. The pair always seem to be present whenever Daimon are present. The attacks from the Daimon increase, facilitated by Kaolinite and later Eudial of the female scientist group in Death Busters called the Witches 5. In one attack, Haruka and Michiru become trapped in an underground carpark with the Daimon and Usagi. Having no choice but to transform and reveal their identities to each other, the Sailor Senshi are shocked to discover Haruka and Michiru are in fact the mysterious Sailor Senshi Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune. Sailor Moon asks why they need the talisman, but they refuse to tell her. In the midst of this, Queen Serenity sends Chibi-usa to present day Earth in order for her to continue her training. As the Daimon continue their attacks, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus tell Sailor Moon and the rest of the Sailor Senshi to stay out of their way and not to interfere.
By the third season of this series (actually called “Sailor Moon Super” as evidenced by the next episode previews) the format of each episode had been set in stone. While the “monster of the week” formula is rather predictable, the creative staff manages to make things interesting by creating some really hilarious and bizarre monsters. All of the Daimon monster names are puns on whatever the theme of the episode is such as festivals, an episode revolving around a planetarium etc. The women of the Death Busters sent out by Professor Tomoe also spice things up, in particular the Witches 5. While their main goal is pretty dark, taking the hearts of innocents, a lot of the time they are used for comedic purposes. In particular Eudial and her station wagon and Mimete’s continual obsession with celebrities. By this series Kunihiko Ikuhara has really stamped his influence on the show. There are some really surreal moments in this which at times seem like experiments and ideas that would be refined for “Utena”. A lot of the Witches 5 sequences in the lab look and feel similar to those in “Utena”. In one episode directed by Ikuhara himself, he uses a set of bespectacled triplets which look very similar to the triplets in “Utena”.
Interestingly as the series progresses, it increasingly focuses in on the Sailor Senshi at the detriment of the secondary cast established in the first two series. By this series there are only fleeting appearances of secondary cast. Some only appear in one episode only such as Umino, Naru, Rei’s grandfather and Usagi’s family. However one of the episodes highlights Yuuichiro and Rei’s feelings for each other. It’s a fantastically sweet story with Rei finally letting him know how she feels. This series also contains the infamous Shin-chan parody sequence with Chibi-usa which baffled many fans of the show who were unfamiliar with “Crayon Shin-chan”. Both shows were huge at the time of broadcast and featured on the same TV network. As a result the voice actors for Shinnosuke (Shin-chan) and his mother, Akiko Yajima and Miki Narahashi appeared in that episode. “Crayon Shin-chan” included a parody of “Sailor Moon” within the show called “Sailor Mufoon” and Aya Hisakawa (Sailor Mercury), Emi Shinohara (Sailor Jupiter), and Kae Araki (who voiced Sailor Moon when Kotono Mitsuishi was ill in the final episodes of the first season) reciprocated by appearing in an episode of “Crayon Shin-chan”.
Overall, this is a very good release of one of the best magical girl shows ever produced. The “monster of the week” formula can be frustrating, but there’s more than enough variety to keep things interesting. Of note is Kunihiko Ikuhara’s style seeping into the series with some sequences looking like early prototypes of what would be used in “Utena”. The story revolving around Hotaru and Professor Tomoe is well written, as is the climax of the series. But I think the two episode post climax could have been truncated or cut all together. This series has pretty much escaped the ravages of time, but I think the magical girl shows which came after it probably toped this show and as result the series doesn’t feel quite as exciting as it first did. 7.5 out of 10.
Remaining Backlog: 25 TV series, 4 OVAs, 10 movies and one TV special. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of three TV series and one movie to be released before viewing them.
Friday, September 14, 2018
Publisher: Pony Canyon (Japan)
Format: Region 2 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English and Japanese Subtitles
Length: 95 minutes
Production Date: 1999
English Version Release Date: 19 July 2000
Currently in Print (as of writing): No
Good for nothing middle aged police officer Kankichi Ryotsu (or Ryo-san to his colleagues) has been chosen via computer as a “robber” for a drill at a local bank. But due to Ryo's nature he has decided not to follow the script and make the drill much more “realistic” by stopping staff from setting off the alarm and actually taking wads of cash from the bank. This horrifies everyone including his robbery partner and police officer, the long suffering Yoichi Terai. After Ryo deliberately lets Yoichi get splattered with a paint dye bomb so he can grab the bank's money, he escapes giving his waiting colleagues the slip. However Ryo happens across a real bank robbery in progress. The two bank robbers have taken one of the employees hostage. Ryo fires blanks at both the robbers from a machine gun that had been confiscated from a gang the previous week. The robbers are shocked and drop their weapons, which gives the waiting riot squad a chance to arrest them. But Ryo's commanding officer, Daijiro Ohara, is as per usual livid at him.
Later the next day, Ohara is chewing out Ryo, but he makes an excuse that he should be on patrol and quickly rides off with his boss continuing to shout at him. Unfortunately for Ryo the townsfolk have heard of yesterday's incident, one in a very long line of disasters for Ryo, and the townsfolk criticise him as he rides along the road. So to avoid them he cycles out further to he gets to Ueno park. There he reminisces about his childhood days spent there until he discovers that the temple in the park has been replaced by a gaudy hotel. Disgusted at it, Ryo throws a small rock at it, and much to his surprise the entire building collapses. However this disaster wasn't Ryo's doing for once. It is the work of Bentan Mask, a mysterious terrorist who gave a warning via the internet of his intent to destroy the building. The department has invited Lisa Hoshino from the FBI (the same woman who defused Ryo's bomb) to help investigate the crime and to help thwart any future attacks. Ohara orders Ryo to attend Lisa's lecture on dismantling bombs, in which the disinterested Ryo falls asleep in. Lisa punishes him by programming her bomb defusing robot, Dandy, to dismantle his chair, which sends the sleeping Ryo crashing to the floor. Incensed at this, Ryo challenges Lisa to duel with his homemade robot, Densuke the 28th. Naturally Ryo's poorly made and odd looking robot loses.
Despite the positive result in charging Torazo, Ryo is yet again chastised by Ohara. Ryo believes it is all Dandy's fault and breaks into Lisa's trailer to graffiti the robot. Unfortunately he is caught red handed and even after viewing closed circuit TV footage of him writing on the robot, he claims that someone who looked like him broke in and committed the crime. Ohara can't take anymore and confines him to the police dormitories for two weeks. Ryo's work colleague, the young, rich and handsome officer Keiichi Nakagawa, visits him and is utterly astounded to find him digging a tunnel underneath his room. He says that according to a magazine article he read (actually from a 1968 issue of Shonen Jump) that a shogun's gold is buried somewhere below. Keiichi has to leave Ryo to his own devices as Bentan Mask has sent another warning. This time it's an industrial area owed by the Shinatora Company. Lisa and Dandy are about to go in to find and defuse the bomb. But a worse problem arises when a group of children tell them that they were playing hide and seek in the building and one child cannot be found.
Oddly, like a number of the most popular and highest rating anime on Japanese TV, "Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen-mae Hashutsujo" (shortened to "Kochikame" by fans and later the producers of the show) has been pretty much ignored by fans in the west. One of the main reasons for this was the TV series never got a release on Laserdisc or even a later release on DVD. Therefore in the mid to late 1990's when this show was released, the fansubbers didn't bother with it. It's a shame as the show is really funny. To back up just a bit, the "Kochikame" TV series which ran from June 1996 to December 2004 for a total of 367 episodes (though there was a one off anime special created in 1985), is based on an extremely popular manga by Osamu Akimoto. The manga ran continuously in Shonen Jump from September 1976 to September 2016 which made it the longest ever running manga without a break. It has reached a total of 200 volumes of manga and sold over 157 million copies. Never heard of it? Can't say I'm surprised. For some reason a lot of the extremely popular mainstream manga and anime never make it in the west or are complete flops. Hence the reason why you can't buy “Sazae-san”, “Chibi Maruko-chan” or “Doraemon” on DVD in English (except for a couple of movies released in Hong Kong) or see them on TV. I think for the most part they're "too Japanese". It's much easier to market sci-fi or fantasy anime which have universal concepts and storylines.
In the very early days of DVD, a small number of anime in Japan was released with English subtitles, of which some were really odd choices. In 2000, possibly because the film had been translated in an attempt to sell it to various international markets, Pony Canyon released this movie with English subtitles. Strange really, as none of the TV anime or the manga has ever made it into English. However despite the fact the disc was English friendly and most DVD players could have region coding disabled, the show really failed to make a splash amongst English speaking fans, even those who regularly imported Japanese DVDs. I think that's quite a shame because as I've said before this show is really funny. While the main plot has to do with a mysterious bomber named Bentan Mask, this is nothing more than an excuse to cram in a ton of absurd jokes that have nothing to do with any aspect of the storyline. I have to say that for this most part this works really well. There's just gag after gag coming at you from all directions. Finally at about the two-thirds mark it does slow down to resolve everything and you could say at this point things get bogged down a bit. However the climax to the film and the whole absurd build up is hilarious.
Pony Canyon issued the film on DVD twice, once in 2000 in CD jewel case packaging and the second in a more standard DVD case in 2004. Despite the popularity of the series in Japan, both versions have been deleted. I have the oddly packaged CD jewel case version, which quite a number of early Japanese DVDs were released this way. It includes a “making of” featurette, several trailers and TV spots as well as cast and crew biographies. Unfortunately none of these features are in English. The disc also includes an 8 page booklet, which like all inserts in Japanese DVDs, shows how the menus works, and amusingly clearly shows where the “Easter Egg” is located in one of the menus (it's another TV spot). Both DVD versions of the film can be found online for less than ¥2,500 second hand. While hardly a classic film, “Kochikame the movie” is yet another title that against all odds made it out into the commercial market in English and then was promptly ignored. I think this is really unfair. If something as long and laden with Japanese pop culture references as “Keroro Gunso (Sgt Frog)” can be marketed in English, then this show could easily be also. While the movie has one small scene at the very end which would require previous knowledge of the show, the rest of the film can be watched without knowing anything about the manga or TV anime. This sadly out of print DVD offers a small glimpse into the wider world of “Kochikame”, and disappointingly I don't think I'll be able to see that world in English.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Original Year of Release: 1986, 1985 (Megazone 23), 1984 (Southern Cross)
English Video Release: 1987, PAL VHS, English Dubbed
Japanese Title: Megazone 23, Southern Cross
Runtime: 82 mins
It’s been over nine months since my last instalment of this series, so I have decided to resurrect it. I really want to review all of the old video tapes I have as generally no one seems to talk about this stuff anymore. Most reviews will initially be revisions of stuff I published on my old defunct “Lost World of Anime” website and blog. First up will be a film that has fascinated me for a long time, so much so I created a now dormant website about it; “Robotech the Movie”.
I’m going assume people reading this review are already familiar with the “Robotech” story, so I’m not going to give a synopsis of the series. Instead I’ll plunge headfirst in the story of this film; some 16 years after the events of episode 36 of “Robotech” (the final episode of the “Macross Saga” arc), the Earth has begun to rebuild and is peaceful again. However the Robotech Masters have arrived to retrieve the memory matrix from the computer that was on board the SDF-1, which crash landed in the Pacific in 1999. A platoon of Bioroids is sent down to battle the humans. Solider Todd Harris and his squad members are sent in to fight off the attack. But something strange is happening. Civilians are being captured alive by the enemy. Colonel B.D. Andrews joins in the battle and fights alongside Todd's unit. However Andrews is captured, and the enemy retreats much to the Earth Defence Forces puzzlement.
Later we meet Mark Landry, a teenager who works at a motorcycle repair shop. He receives a phone call from his friend Todd Harris. Todd is a little agitated, and asks Mark to meet him in an underground car park. There Todd shows Mark a large motorcycle called the MODAT 5. The machine is in fact acts as a database terminal to a giant military computer as well as transforming into a robot. Todd tells mark that he stole it from the military in order to expose cover-up about the new invasion by Supreme Command and Colonel Andrews. He tells Mark they must contact "Eve", but their conversation is cut short when Andrews men come to retrieve the bike. In the confusion, Mark escapes with the MODAT 5 and unbeknownst to Mark, Todd is killed by Andrew's men. An attempt is made to search for Mark and the bike, but Mark has already disappeared and gone back to his workplace. There he gets the bike repainted red and tells the story to his disbelieving workmates.
“Robotech the movie” is one of those films where the story behind the film is far more interesting than the film itself. However the story of the production of the film, even in places like Wikipedia and as told by other supposedly reliable sources and writers, is often flat out incorrect and repeats easily disproved myths that have built up around the film over the last 30 years. This mostly due to fact the film, outside of a few European and South American releases, did not have a wide release. My own research material I have accumulated over the years includes interviews with the film’s creator Carl Macek, (such as Bob Miller’s extensive interview in “Animato! Magazine”, Spring 1990 and his interview on ANN Cast, Anime News Network in January 2010), the film’s entry in the “The Animated Movie Guide” (written by Jerry Beck, who hatched the plan to form Streamline Pictures with Macek after seeing a film festival screening of “Robotech the movie” in 1987) and Peter Walker’s Robotech Research website (Peter actually saw the film in the cinema in Dallas in 1986).
Eventually Macek stumbled across an OVA called “Megazone 23”. Due to fact it was born out an aborted TV series and had an inconclusive ending, Macek commissioned anime studio AIC to create a new ending for the OVA (which makes no sense if you’ve seen the original OVA) based on his story with other additional animation of generic looking outer space scenes (stars, planets, galaxies etc.) to create an opening title sequence for the film. This early version of the film was to be set during the SDF-1's return to Earth after accidentally warping to Pluto's orbit in the third episode of “Robotech” and supposedly was a straight dub of the OVA with few cuts. The profits of the “Robotech” were apparently meant to fund the follow up TV series “Robotech II: the Sentinels”, which Macek was handling the production of in Japan.
While Macek’s statements about his interactions with Golan seem absurd, judging by the comments of those interviewed for Hartley’s Cannon Films documentary, it’s entirely likely it happened just as Macek states. But the film’s release, reaction to the film and its supposed failure are basically myths in Robotech and wider anime fandom. Frustratingly these myths are repeated ad nauseam with little to no evidence to back them up. In July 1986, Cannon Films test marketed the film in 35 cinemas across the Metroplex area of Dallas, Texas. Not realising the “Robotech” series had a wide demographic across many age groups, the company only marketed it to children. The film was generally only screened in matinee sessions and TV advertising limited to very early morning slots. Yet despite this Macek claims that the film did very well; “It did exceptionally well at the box office 'Robotech the movie' beat the hell out of (Roman Polanski's) 'Pirates', and did respectable against James Cameron's 'Aliens', which was amazing to me”. Reviews of the film were good as well. In the September 1986 Lone Star Comics newsletter, “The Lone Star Express”, Derek Wakefield wrote a very favourable review in his anime column “Banzai!” and noted that the film “had several good reviews by critics”. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the only paper in the region to review the film, gave it a 7 out of 10 score
Eventually Harmony Gold’s licence for “Megazone 23” expired. The official line from the company is that as Macek despises the film (and over the years he’s made it very clear he hates it) and they don’t want anything to do with it. Despite that statement a fair amount of material relating to the film has been released over the years; a two part comic adaptation in 1996, a wealth of promotional material relating to the film on ADV Film’s “Robotech” DVD box sets, the sale of a Garland bike figure from “Megazone 23” on Harmony Gold’s online shop, and bizarrely an incomprehensible 29 minute edit of the film with all of the “Megazone 23” footage excised which was released on a “Robotech” DVD box set in 2011. My own personal opinion is that Harmony Gold cannot be bothered relicensing “Megazone 23”. It’s nothing to do with Macek’s feelings on the film. In the 2000’s, ADV Films did have the licence to “Megazone 23” while simultaneously holding the licence for “Robotech”, yet the film was never released. As Macek was an employee of ADV Films at the time and was credited as a producer for the “Robotech” DVD sets, naturally he would have pushed hard to have any release of the movie vetoed.
I readily admit that the film is pretty bad. In fact it’s a total mess of film. However I do find it to be kind of a fun film. It's utterly silly and filled with almost non-stop action. But it's not exactly the worst part of the “Robotech” universe. That title has to go to the abysmal “Robotech: Love Live Alive”. But honestly, how well does this film stack up against the rest of the franchise? Not a great deal of the material in the “Robotech” universe is what you'd call a work of art. A lot of it is poorly written, is full of cliché ridden dialogue and has plot holes a mile wide. Take for instance “Robotech II: The Sentinels” which at times is as poorly written as “Robotech the movie”, and still it’s considered by most “Robotech” fans as part of the official story. You also have the continually changing meaning of the word “Protoculture” in the original TV series. One minute it has the same meaning as that in “Macross”, next it seems to be an actual fuel source.