Sunday, April 5, 2015

Video Backlog: “Raijin-Oh”

Publisher: Anime Midstream (USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub (episodes 1 to 25 only) and English Subtitles.
Length: 51 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 1991 - 1992
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

The Jaku Empire arrives in Earth orbit from the fifth dimension, ready to invade the planet below. However an alien entity named Eldoran appears and confronts the attackers in the robot Raijin-Oh. Eldoran attempts to stop a missile full of Akudama seeds which will eventually hatch and turn into monsters being sent to Earth. However the commander of the invasion, Belzeb, forces the missile to prematurely detonate in order to thwart Eldoran. Raijin-Oh is caught in the explosion and is flung into Earth’s atmosphere with the Akudama seeds. Raijin-Oh crashes onto a primary school in the town of Hinobori. It lands right on top of a fourth grade class, room 5, class 3, and smashes right through the roof. The class naturally panic but are confused to find the rubble floating in mid-air. The room goes black and Raijin-Oh’s cockpit opens. The glowing alien entity known as Eldoran tells the children that they are to protect the Earth from the Jaku Empire and gives them each a medallion. As quickly as Eldoran arrived, he disappears and the class room appears to be undamaged. The call and their teacher, Mr Shinoda, are confused. Was it all a dream? However no one can doubt that each member of the class has the medallion that Eldoran gave them.

The following day Belzeb and his subordinate, Taida, arrive in Hinobori and let loose an Akudama seed which transforms into a mechanical exhaust monster which starts to cause havoc. The children gather at the school realising that the arrival of the monster is part of the Jaku Empire invasion Eldoran was talking about. In their classroom they discover that most desks have an area where their medallions can be placed into. Once they do that, the class room starts transforming into a command centre. Three of the boys, Jin, Asuka  and Kouji, discover bracelets which pop out of their desks. They place their medallions inside the bracelets and find themselves being transported inside three giant robots; Ken-Oh, a humanoid robot piloted by Jin, Hou-Oh, a bird like mecha operated by Asuka and Juu-Oh, a lion robot manned by Kouji. Having been thrown into battle against the Jaku Empire’s robot without any training, to boys struggle to bring it down. They must cooperate with their classmates in the command centre to defeat the mechanical exhaust monster robot.

OK, so this show is quite formulaic. Most episodes have the Akudama seed being born into some kind of small monster after being activated by hearing a human saying out loud that something annoys them or a nuisance (for example a crying baby, which will cause the dormant Akudama seed to transform into a comical baby monster that cries all the time). Taida will arrive, check out progress and watch as it gets bigger and bigger by consuming something. The children, who call themselves the Earth Defence Class, send out Ken-Oh, Hou-Oh and Juu-Oh to fight the monster. Belzeb arrives (after Taida screws things up and the monster looks like it might be defeated), who then ups the size of the monster by unleashing a blast of dark Jaku power via a fairy like creature called Falzeb who lives inside his chest (yes that’s right, literally inside Belzeb’s chest). Ken-Oh, Hou-Oh and Juu-Oh form to transform into Raijin-Oh and defeat the monster. Add in some sort of problem that one of the 18 kids has which may or may not be related to defeating the monster which gets solved by the end of the episode. Repeat by about 50 episodes.

They do change things up mid-way; Belzeb gets a robot of his own, the Jaku Satan, which combines with the monster of the day. And of course the Earth Defence Class gets their own super weapon, Bakuryu-Oh, a dragon like robot that can transform into a humanoid and eventually combine with Raijin-Oh.  There are also a number of comic relief characters, the previously mentioned Mr Shinoda who has a thing for the school nurse, Ms Himeki, the oddball principal and the school’s goat, Carol. But the show is squarely aimed at young kids and is a bit repetitive and bit dull at times I’m afraid. Not helping is the rather flat and dull animation. Other than the stock footage of the robots, there are no shadows or any real detail in the character animation. It just looks so cheap, but this is early 1990’s TV animation. What can you expect? However I did enjoy the second half much more than the first. There were a lot of crazy monsters, quite a lot of inventive ideas in the stories and number of laugh out moments. And you have to admit the transforming school is really quite clever, especially for show aimed at young boys.

I initially thought this show was part of the “Brave” robot series (or “Yuusha” series, which includes “GaoGaiGar”) as it’s also produced by Sunrise, but it’s actually part of the “Eldran”(or "Eldoran") robot series, three early 1990’s TV series and an aborted fourth which appeared as a one shot OVA in 2001. I generally don’t follow this genre too closely so the differences between the Yuusha and Eldaran series are neither here nor there to me. However I bet most people would pick “GaoGaiGar” or even the unlicensed gem “Gear Fighter Dendoh” over “Raijin-Oh” any day.

The show is adapted by a new company with the unfortunate name of Anime Midstream. Look, I know they’re just a bunch of anime fans releasing their first show, but I’m still going to have to point out a few flaws. The first volume came out in early 2010 and their plan was to not only dub it into English (yes, a 20 year old robot show not many people had heard of) but to release it in single volumes with five episodes at a time. This was in a market which was regularly releasing half series box sets, and almost anything over 10 years old (or even younger) as sub only. Over four years later, they finally gave in and released the second half of the series as a cheap digipak (which looks a lot like the dreaded Hong Kong bootleg DVD sets from the early 2000’s), subtitled only. But unfortunately a couple of the single disc releases have some significant problems. Volume 1 for some reason the Japanese dialogue only is present in the left channel. Switch over to the English dub and the music and sound effects with some dialogue comes out the right channel with occasional dialogue coming out the right. I tried it on two different DVD players and my BD player. Same result every time. This is a massive cock up. In every review I have read no one has seemed to have noticed, which baffles me.

Volume 2’s video is actually stretched in 16:9 format, not the correct 4:3. Even the back of the DVD slick reads 16:9, which means the company knew about this stuff up and shipped the discs without correcting it. That’s pretty poor form. Minor annoyances include bizarrely placed chapter stops which means you need to fast-forward quite a bit if you don't want sit though the opening animation every time. Chapter stops after the opening animation, after the first eye catch, before the end animation and before the next episode preview is standard on most discs since DVD came out. Why they didn't do this is beyond me. The video quality isn’t all that good either, with some worn out old composite video masters as the source. There’s also some very sloppy translation. They credit the original creator as Kei Yatate, when it’s actually Hajime Yatate, which is the collective pseudonym for the studio Sunrise. They also list the opening theme song as “Silk” when it’s actually “Dream Shift” by the group Silk (they do list Kinuko Oomori as the singer which technically correct, but the song was released under the name of Silk). On the positive side, there are quite a few extras on the discs. These include clean opening and closing animation and a couple of music videos, one of which is Silk’s actual music video for “Dream Shift” which features Kinuko Oomori’s big 1980’s hair.

Despite all of the problems with the discs, I really have to hand it to Anime Midstream for getting the show out. It’s obviously been a labour of love, but perhaps a series too large for a new video company to take on. I wish them the best for the future and I really do hope they release more titles. As for the show itself, look, it’s not the best example of the genre. It does get better in the second half and there is a lot of absurd humour which I like. But I think this release will only appeal to a small set of fans. I can’t imagine how Anime Midstream made any money off this show. I was going to give it .5 less, but I think overall the show deserves a 6 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: One series, one movie, also waiting for second parts of a number of shows to be released before viewing them.

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