Saturday, December 5, 2020
Date: Saturday 5 December 2020
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 140 minutes
Production Date: 2020
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No
Exactly a year on from going to see “Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll”, here I am going to watch the follow up film and conclusion to the series. It had a been a pretty eventful 12 months, that’s for sure. The film itself has been delayed twice in Japan due to COVID-19. While there were heatwave conditions the previous weekend, the week had cooled down substantially, and by late morning it was 24°C. But it felt rather cool due to a breeze and the fact it was overcast, but not overcast enough not to let some sun through the cloud cover. The forecast called for at least 15mm of rain during the day, but while it threatened, there was no rain until the early evening. It didn’t really feel like the Christmas shopping season, but that changed after I came out of the cinema around 3:15pm to a crowded mall.
go here. There are some minor spoilers ahead, but nothing that hasn’t already been revealed in Japanese trailers and other promotional material.
This concluding chapter of the franchise follows on directly from the previous film, but oddly begins by fast forwarding around 70 years into the future where the unnamed granddaughter of Ann Magnolia is mourning her death. Ann was the daughter of Clara Magnolia, a client of Violet Evergarden. Ann and her granddaughter were very close, but unbeknown to her was that Ann’s mother had asked Violet to write 50 letters to Ann, with each one being sent on her birthday for a period of 50 years. This was because Clara didn’t have long to live and wanted to send something for her birthday every year after she had passed on. Moved by what Violet had done, Ann’s granddaughter sets out to discover more about Violet.
Later at the postal company, the staff discuss the fact that technology is rapidly moving on in the post war world. The telephone is becoming commonplace. With the near completion of the radio tower in the centre of the city, they all realise that the occupation of Auto Memory Doll will become an antiquated one and they’ll eventually have to move on to other careers. Iris is particularly angered by the invention of the telephone. Some time later, Claudia and Benedict Blue ask Violet to accompany them on an outing. She politely declines. Instead visits the grave of Gilbert’s mother which she attends to at least once a month. There she runs into Gilbert’s elder brother, Dietfried. He realises that she has been placing flowers on her grave and tending to it for some time. Dietfried later advises her that he is selling the family boat and asks if should would like any of Gilbert’s childhood possessions which are on board. Her eyes light up and she agrees. She eventually decides to take a book he loved as a child (the same one Gilbert read to her) and a backgammon board game.
A large number of postal items addressed insufficiently causes Claudia and Benedict to evaluate what to do with them. Going through the storage area for these items, Claudia spots a letter with handwriting that is very familiar to him. He later confronts Violet to advise her that he may have discovered where Gilbert may be. He tells her it is a bit of a long shot, but the only thing she can hear is that he may still be alive. Violet insists that she goes along with him to the island the letter was sent from. However, the trip does not go well at all. While on the island during a fierce storm, the postal company contacts the pair to say that one of their clients is on his death bed. Violet feels responsible that she was never able to complete the letter to Ryuka and tries to set out back to the mainland to get to the hospital where Yurisu is. Claudia advises her that there is no way she can get back to the mainland and she’ll have to wait until the morning when the ferry arrives.
Coupled with the Gilbert Bougainvillea plot line is a secondary plot involving a young boy, Yurisu, who has a fatal disease. To a degree this feels unrelated to the main plot, but does tie in with the main storyline for the search for Gilbert. Both story threads are about reconnecting with loved ones you have been apart from. But from the start we know how Yurisu's story is going to end. At this storyline’s climax, it does blatantly ramp up the melodrama and sadness, almost to the point of being mawkishly maudlin. Considering what is happening in the main storyline simultaneously, it does seem really over the top, though honestly, I’m a sucker for this franchise and I didn’t mind it too much. This part of the story also ties in with the events of episode 10, in which a sickly mother asks Violet to write letter to her young daughter. This in turn links up with the third storyline in the film which follows the the unnamed granddaughter of the mother’s daughter.
Violet herself in seems like she has reverted to a previous version of herself right from the beginning of the film. This seems at odds with how she was portrayed in “Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll” and the end of the TV series. Perhaps this was done to show that her unresolved feelings for Gilbert are getting in the way of her fully living a normal life. I quite liked how they portrayed Claudia in this film. He knows he cannot compete with Gilbert, who for all intents and purposes is long dead. He also understands that he really can’t reconcile Violet's longing for Gilbert. Another stand out character is Dietfried. While he is still portrayed as untrustworthy, in this film he is redeemed to a large degree. The film also manages to squeeze in cameos from all of the cast members without it feeling forced or unnatural. There are also numerous Easter eggs hidden away in the film if you look closely enough. Admittedly most of them are blink and you’ll miss them type shots, so it maybe easier to spot them when the film eventually comes to blu-ray.
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Date: Saturday 24 October 2020
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 124 minutes
Production Date: 1988
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): Yes, Bandai Namco Arts/Emotion (Japan, 4K Ultra HD Version; Japanese dialogue, English dub, English and Japanese subtitles)
I didn’t think I’d be watching this film on the big screen. To be honest I had deliberately avoided watching the film back in the 1990’s that way. I had already seen it on VHS (the old Streamline English dub) and had no desire to watch that shitty, poorly mixed dub again via a scratchy, worn out 35mm print. Local distributors, Ronin Films, had the rights to the film for decades and would often play it at midnight screenings in their own (now defunct and sadly missed) Electric Shadows cinema. That cinema was the only place in town which played any anime films and even hosted the local screenings of Japanime 02 back in 2002. Now, like every other anime title in this country, Madman owns the rights to the title. “Akira” is getting a re-release in cinemas now as part of a promotional push for a forthcoming 4K Ultra HD blu-ray release.
The audience was mostly made up of young people in their late teens or early twenties with few women in attendance. 18 people showed up altogether. A couple sitting near me would not shut up and pretty much provided a running commentary on the film. Another guy at the front constantly left the cinema and returned throughout the entire second half of the film. There were two living, breathing otaku stereotypes in attendance, both quite obese, one constantly feeding his face non-stop and make a bit of noise doing so. At the end of the film, pretty much everyone just got up and left the very second the credits started rolling. A couple of guys behind me called the film “boring” and one said he fell asleep five times. Boring is not exactly how I'd describe the film, but OK, whatever. So, all in all, not one of the best outings I’ve had at the cinema. It surprised me that a fair wack of the audience had seemingly never seen the film before. That really shouldn't be surprising. I guess most younger fans haven't seen the film, so I'll quickly give a rundown (or attempt to) on the story;
Kaneda and the other members of the gang arrive and come to Tetsuo’s aid, and Kaneda is confused at the presence of the young boy who is wrinkled like an old man. He shouts out to him but the boy walks away. Suddenly several military helicopters arrive on the scene. Unbeknownst to Kaneda, the young boy is an esper in his late 30’s, called Takashi, who was part of a secret experiment since his childhood into developing a trio of children with psychic powers. Earlier that day he had been freed from a government laboratory with the aid of an anti-government resistance group, who has ties to a politician within the opposition party in parliament. The man who helped free Takashi was killed by government forces and he had been wandering the city alone looking for the leader of the resistance group. Colonel Shikishima, who has been tasked with Takashi's capture, takes him back and also orders the capture of the injured Tetsuo. The other members of the gang are arrested and taken away, with many of them confused thinking the military has seemingly joined forces with the police.
Tetsuo tires of his treatment and the experimentation and escapes in order to return to his girlfriend Kaori. He hatches a plan to escape the city by stealing Kaneda's motorcycle. But members of the Clown’s gang ambush him and severally beat up Kaori. Kaneda and rest of his gang who have been in pursuit of Tetsuo after he stole the bike, save the pair from the Clowns. Kaneda has an argument with Tetsuo; however, he begins to have intense and disturbing hallucinations due to withdrawal from the medicine he has been taking. A team led by Doctor Onishi retrieves him, much to Kaneda and the gang’s anger and confusion. Afterwards Kaneda joins Kei's resistance group after following her post chaos and confusion of a train station bombing led by her group. The group decide to let him join as his friend is being treated in the same complex as the other espers they plan to liberate. However, the infiltration by the group goes badly. Several of the group are killed by armed guards and Tetsuo’s psychokinetic powers awaken. He becomes egomaniacal and unstable after the trio of child-like espers attempt to stop him. Tetsuo flees the facility after learning from Kiyoko that he can gain help from Akira, who is in cryonic storage beneath the Olympic Stadium construction site.
Otomo really hadn’t had much experience in the director’s chair up to this point. In the year prior to this film he had directed short segments in the omnibus anime films “Labyrinth Tales” (aka “Manie-Manie” or “Neo Tokyo”) and the opening and ending segments of “Robot Carnival”. It’s kind of nuts to think that the producers were OK with handing such a large budget to a rookie director, even if the “Akira” manga was a massive success at the time. But of course, Otomo made an incredible film. As a director he did the complete opposite to what other directors and studios would in making an animated film in Japan. The dialogue was pre-recorded before most of animation was even begun. Not only did this mean that the lip flaps matched perfectly, the animators could used the performances to animate the characters, which arguably meant both elements matched each other perfectly. The film also used more animation cels than any other anime film of the time; 160,000 in it’s 124 minute run time. Computer animation was also used extensively, though in ways that weren’t obvious. The most obvious CG is of course the pattern indicator used by Doctor Onishi, but it was also used extensively to plot the path of falling objects like glass shards and the falling Lego blocks in the scene where the esper kids fight Tetsuo. The CG animation was then rotoscoped onto animation paper.
Although I do love the film and pretty much watch it at least once a year, I do have some issues with it. The biggest one I have is the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo. I can understand Tetsuo’s frame of mind would be out of wack upon receiving an absurd amount of power after living a life of being bullied and abandoned. And yes, I can understand Kaneda is a young man who wants to assert himself in a world that is totally hostile to him and everyone around him. Maybe Kaneda just has no fear and is a complete idiot, but with society literally collapsing around him, the army battling the psychic powers of Tetsuo and firing destructive lasers from satellites at him, he doesn’t seem to pause and say, “maybe I need to sit this out”. Instead he seems to be totally focused on fighting Tetsuo regardless of the utter chaos around him. The second issue I have is with the female characters in the film. Compared with how they are portrayed in the manga, here they are relegated to bit parts, especially Lady Miyako who only gets a couple of very short scenes (cameos really). Kaori, who is in a completely different role in the film, possibly comes off the worst. However, I completely understand that due to time constraints of a two hour film, certain storylines and characters need to be truncated or removed completely. But the resulting film does feel totally male focused.
As I previously mentioned before, this re-release of the film is part of an international push (well in the UK, USA and Australia at least) to promote a new 4K transfer of the film which will be released on Ultra HD blu-ray at the end of the year. Filmed on 35mm stock and of course being largely cel animation with a few composites of CG animation, "Akira" looks pretty damn amazing on a large theatrical screen. This time around I managed to spot a few little details I had never seen previously. The audio has been remixed in 5.1 surround, which I think is a brand-new mix to previous 5.1 mixes. In the theatre I found it brought out a lot of little elements in the music as well as elements of sound effects which I hadn’t noticed before. The subtitles were produced by Funimation, but I am not sure if it is a completely brand-new translation. The company seemingly cannot subtitle signs in a subtle or non-evasive way, which detracted from the experience. They also did not translate the infamous “Just cancel it!” graffiti on the sign counting down the days to the Olympic Games.
Friday, October 9, 2020
Date: Thursday 8 October 2020
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 105 minutes (main feature), 14 minutes (“Marulk's Daily Life” shorts)
Production Date: 2020
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No
Here we are, several months into the pandemic and I thought I would not be seeing a film inside an actual cinema for at least 12 months after. While pretty much every theatre shut down in the initial stages of the pandemic, most decided to reopen a few months later. But most big studios are extremely wary of releasing films at this time. Some have tried and failed miserably (see the box office bomb that was “Tenet”). Most new films have been delayed indefinitely, though some have been fast tracked to streaming, including a small number of anime features. This has led to the cinemas that are still open to run old favourites. I’m not entirely sure this strategy has worked for them. With the risk of catching the coronavirus still a possibility, why would you pay $15 to see a film you could see for a fraction of the price at home, even if you were in a socially distanced cinema? Independent film distributors however are taking a risk and hoping filmgoers will come out to see something new. This includes Madman who are releasing this film in both subbed and dubbed versions.
A gigantic chasm, one kilometre across and seemingly bottomless, was discovered 1,900 years ago on an island in the southern ocean of Beolusk. Inside explorers find lost relics and lost technology far beyond man’s current technical abilities, as well as previously unseen creatures and plants, some of which are deadly to man. An industry develops around the pit, colloquially named the Abyss, with explorers, called Cave Raiders, becoming famous from their discoveries. A large town called Orth develops and encircles the edge of the Abyss. In this world, currently similar to the 19th century, we meet a 12 year old girl named Riko. Currently living in the Belchero Orphanage, her mother, Lyza, is what is known as a White Whistle, one of the elite and famous Cave Raiders. The Belchero Orphanage funds itself by training and sending children in its care down into the Abyss to find artefacts to sell. Riko and her partner Nat are attacked by a creature called a crimson splitjaw. Riko draws the creature’s attention away to save Nat from being eaten. However, Riko is cornered by the creature after trying to lose it amongst a labyrinth of caves and crevices. She is saved by a blinding blast of energy which wounds the creature causing it to flee.
The Abyss is highly dangerous for humans. Apart from the dangerous creatures that lurk within it, humans can get sicker as they descend into each distinct “layer” of the Abyss. Not only can they go insane, but they can literally lose their humanity, even their physical form as a human, and devolve into other creatures. This means that Riko’s mother could possibly not be in her right mind. There is also the possibility that she may not even be human anymore, or more likely died a long time ago. Regardless, Riko sneaks out of the orphanage and descends into the Abyss with Reg. After many adventures including coming perilously close to death on several occasions, they come across a creature called Nanachi who helps them when Riko’s life is in grave danger. Sent down into the Abyss as a human child with her friend Mitty, they were both tricked and subjected to cruel experiments along with a group of other children at the hands of White Whistle named Bondrewd. The pair eventually escaped Bondrewd’s clutches, but Mitty ended up as a deformed creature in severe pain. While caring for Riko, Nanachi pleads with Reg to help Mitty, who reluctantly complies. When Riko recovers, Nanachi decides to join Reg and Riko’s search for Lyza.
Upon reaching the Idofront, the trio are surprised to be greeted by a young girl their age named Prushka who claims to be Bondrewd’s daughter. With the arrival of Bondrewd, the situation becomes tense, however he states that he is more than happy to let them pass through to the sixth layer. Prushka invites them to stay overnight. After not being able to sleep, Nanachi decides to seek out Bondrewd and confront him. He tries to persuade her to join him again to continue his work. Believing that agreeing to his request will give Riko and Reg the best chance to get to the sixth layer, Bondrewd reveals that Reg is a rare and valuable relic that needs to examined. Meanwhile Riko awakes and finds Reg and Nanachi are missing. Searching for them, she ascends a chained off staircase which apparently leads to a curse. Hallucinating that her body is being ripped apart and dissolving, she awakes to find that she fell flat on her face and her injuries have been attended to by Prushka. Telling Prushka that she can’t find Reg and Nanachi, they both search for them, but find the main door to the rest of the complex has been sealed. With the help of Prushka’s pet, they ascend the staircase while avoiding the curse, but to their horror discover that the Umbra Hand have been conducting painful experiments on Reg. With the help of Prushka, the trio escape, but Bondrewd and Umbra Hand peruse them.
As for the content itself, hoo-boy, where to start with this film. So, if you’ve seen the TV series, you pretty much know what to expect; a fair bit of cuteness with an adorable kid looking for her mother she hasn’t seen for a decade (that’d be Riko) and her realisticly human looking robot sidekick Reg, whom she found in a gigantic chasm dubbed the Abyss. The kids at the orphanage are essentially little slaves who bring up relics from a long-forgotten civilization in order to keep the orphanage in the black. In contrast to this is the Abyss, which although has great beauty and wonder, it is also an alien place that is utterly hostile to humanity. If you don’t get eaten by some weird prehistoric creature or poisoned by its exotic flora, the Abyss contains little understood “curses” which can send you literally insane or deform you into some weird blob without humanity.
The film is far more brutal than the TV series. There’s more body horror in it than your average David Cronenberg film. The cruelty can be utterly astounding. However, it’s not as if the TV series didn’t warn us of this. We were introduced to Bondrewd at the end of the TV series and Nanachi and Mitty’s story makes it quite clear what kind of man he is. I feel his crimes against children, and humanity in general, have parallels to the infamous Unit 731 and the Nazi’s experiments on human subjects. Like those who participated in both, he seems to think he’s doing this for the greater good. I’ve read some reviews stating that Bondrewd clearly loves his daughter. I don’t think that’s true at all. Bondrewd cares and raises Prushka in the same way a farmer would prepare a bull for competition in an agricultural show. But there’s only one real reason why farmers breed cattle. Of course, unlike a farmer, Bondrewd is utterly insane. Being in the Abyss for that long would send you that way eventually.
Coupled with the film are all four shorts of “Marulk's Daily Life” these were short animations which one accompanied the main feature every week for four weeks in its Japanese screening. Luckily Madman showed all four at once. Though in retrospect seeing them all on sitting did become a little tiresome. You may remember Marulk in the TV series who is Ozen’s helper at the Seeker Camp deep in the Inverted Forest in the second layer of the Abyss. The four stories aren’t really connected as such; the first has Marulk trying to get Ozen into bed after she falls asleep on the table. The second has Marulk cleaning the rooms of the inhabitants of the Seeker Camp. The third has Marulk running an errand for Ozen on the surface in Orth. The final short is easily the best and chronicles how Marulk began serving Ozen.
Wrapping up; I did like the TV series, but to a large degree this film is a completely different beast. Having a cinema release meant they could amp up the violence and gore, and they did. I was expecting this, but I did feel a lot of it to be rather cruel and unnecessary. Unlike the final episode of the series which showed the fate of Mitty, there wasn’t much of a post mortem on any of the high impact scenes in the film. For me that’s what made the TV series work; something horrible or utterly hideous happened, but there was space and time for both the audience and characters to digest it. Here that doesn’t happen. We just swerve into the next horror show after the leaving the previous one. Having said all that, there were plenty of moments to enjoy and Riko and company are getting closer to their goal, even if Riko now realises it may not be what she expects or wants. I can only give this film 6.5 out of 10.
Friday, May 29, 2020
As I live in Australia, I thought I’d dedicate a paragraph or three (or four) in regards to bumpy ride decade we had over here. The biggest surprise was the continuing resurrection of Siren Visual. The company was the distributor for Manga Entertainment back in the 1990’s, but with Madman Entertainment becoming the dominant force here from the late 1990’s onwards, they had fallen on hard times. The early 2000’s saw them releasing a pitiful number of anime titles on DVD, then an ill-advised venture into ero anime, with all of their titles being cut to ribbons to appease local censorship classifications, and unwanted attention from religious right campaigners. Finally, they got it together in the mid 2000’s releasing titles from Sentai Filmworks, Aniplex and Funimation. They also ventured into subtitled only titles with anime still not released in other countries in English on DVD or blu-ray with “Welcome to Irabu's Office”, “Hakaba Kitaro” “Nodame Cantabile” and most surprisingly, “Monster”. But things would come crashing down late in the decade when their distributor, Gryphon Entertainment, went belly up and they seemingly couldn’t secure a new deal with anyone else. While they continue to have booths at the dealers area in every single anime convention in the country selling old stock, it seems unlikely we’ll see any future releases from them.
Finally, on to Madman Entertainment’s wild ride of the last decade. One of the biggest things to happen to the company was the constant change in ownership over nearly a decade and half. Back in 2006, toy company Funtasic bought them out for AU$34.5 million dollars. Fast forward eight years and Funtasic was a floundering as a company. The co-founders of Madman plus a small coalition of investors then made an offer to Funtasic to buy the company back for significantly less, AU$21.5 million. To paraphrase Kerry Packer; you only get one Funtasic in your lifetime. Despite Funtasic agreeing to the deal, two years later the matter ended up in court, with Funtasic saying Madman owed them an additional AU$2.5 million credit adjustment. The court rounded the amount owed down to a measly AU$268,000. Later Japan came knocking, with Aniplex becoming a minority shareholder in the company in 2017. In early 2019, Aniplex purchased the anime division for AU$35 million.
|Animelab celebrate their one millionth subscription|
It wasn’t all sunshine and light for the company. They lost distribution rights to Viz manga titles in 2016 to local distributor Simon & Schuster. For their 20th anniversary, they held the inaugural Madman Anime Festival. The event was so successful it became a touring event with conventions in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. This was after several well-established anime conventions gave up the ghost, mostly in the early part of the decade with the decline of university anime clubs mostly to blame (anime clubs were usually the core part of the committees who ran them). Anime conventions certainly didn't die out with Animaga (Melboune), Smash! (Sydney), AVCon (Adelaide), GeeCon (Darwin) and AICon (Hobart, finishing in 2018) keeping the tradition going. Tons of Japanese guests came to these conventions including Shinichi Watanabe, Yuko Miyamura, Sakura Tange, Kotono Mitsuishi, Toshihiro Kawamoto, Megumi Ogata and Toru Furuya.
While cosplay continued to expand into almost a more mainstream hobby, unfortunately harassment of female cosplayers became an issue at conventions. Explicit anti-harassment policies were enacted by conventions in the early 2010’s, mostly under the banner of “Cosplay Is Not Consent”. Though it should have been something that was common-sense to most, it served as a reminder to fans that cosplayers deserve respect and as a voice for cosplayers in order to report harassment.
With momentum against sexual abusers and harassers building, the US anime industry’s worst kept secret was brought into the public domain. Several women including voice actors Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi, publicly accused fellow voice actor Vic Mignogna of sexual assault and harassment. An avalanche of accusers and allegations, both from fandom and the industry were publicly aired with Mignogna being terminated from his contracts with Rooster Teeth and Funimation. Mignogna categorically denied the accusations but made a public apology at a convention soon after. He then filed a defamation lawsuit against Rial, Marchi, Rial’s fiancee Ron Toye III, and Funimation with Mignogna’s fans coughing up an absurd US$236,000 to fund the case. Funimation then filed an anti-SLAPP motion which is a piece of legislation designed to provide for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits. The legal team for Mignogna was laughably incompetent. The end result was that his lawsuit was dismissed and he was forced to pay the defendant’s legal fees which amounted to US$223,042.42. Regardless, Mignogna’s fans seem to blindly support him despite the mounting evidence against him.
Internally, fandom had a very difficult decade. It became more fractured and deeply divided than ever before. There were several factors that caused this, but the main catalyst was probably Gamergate. Mixed in with that debacle was sites like 4chan and 8chan (which were both born from large anime communities), lurching to the right or more correctly the far right. But this also mirrored a more fractured political scene in the US with the general population becoming entrenched with one side of politics. To be blunt, this all happened around the 2016 US election. Rightly or wrongly, those from the left and right began to inject politics into anime, even if it was there or not. Fandom became surprisingly prudish, with a new moralism creeping into anime fandom. But not from the Christian right as you’d might expect, but from the left. Those on the right also chased phantoms like “political correctness” being inserted into anime (when it wasn’t the case). At times it really felt like anime fandom was at war with itself and wanted to wipe the other side out. The fracturing was so bad that niche pockets within fandom actively despised other niche pockets of fandom. However, it was quite apparent that the vast majority on both sides never really understood fandom or how that fandom consumed anime, the history and tropes of anime or even Japan itself. You could easily argue that social media enabled this division, and that division was stoked and exploited by individuals for personal and political gain. By the end of the decade, many in fandom were bemoaning social media and pined for the fandom of the previous decades of message boards, fan websites and blogs.
|The Anime Man & Akidearest|
In the latter part of the decade, a couple of what could only be described as scams were pulled on anime fandom, but oddly never reported widely on English anime news websites. First up, the Flying Colors Foundation who promoted themselves as a non-profit organisation that wanted to engage with the western anime community in order improve the anime industry. This would initially done via a survey filled in by fans and promoted heavily by popular Anitubers. Red flags started to be raised mid-way through the survey when it asked rather intrusive questions about mental health, including if you had a mental health condition and if so, what you were diagnosed with. The survey wasn’t exactly anonymous; you had to fill in a valid email address at the end of the survey in order to submit it. There was also the fact many filling in the survey were teenagers. The whole thing was rather ethically dodgy to say the least. It was also hard to figure out who was running Flying Colors Foundation. Their senior leadership was cloaked in secrecy until the organisation eventually relented and publicly released the information. However, it was revealed by one fan journalist that there were many more people working for the organisation than revealed, a lot with industry connections. They also claimed that they weren’t paying Anitubers to promote the company, but that had been contradicted by Anitubers themselves who stated they were paid. It was quite obvious that Flying Colors Foundation was set up with purposes of marketing stuff to anime fans and to sell analytics data to companies. There wasn’t anything non-profit about it. When found out, Flying Colors Foundation backpedalled quickly and eventually shutdown operations, stating they’d publicly publish the data from the survey. That never eventuated.
Easily one of the biggest niche fandoms to emerge in the decade was Sakuga fandom. While this type of fandom had been active in Japan since the 1980’s, it was intriguing that it suddenly became popular in the west this decade. Essentially this fandom focuses on the animation itself and tries to identify the individual animators for well animated scenes. Some parts of fandom did suggest Sakuga fandom only cared amount the quality of animation and not about the plot or anything else, I felt this was misplaced criticism of those fans. Without animators there would be no one to create the anime we love. While voice actors, directors and screenwriters are well known to fans, animators also deserve recognition as well.
|Unicorn Gundam statue outside Diver City|
Tokyo in Odaiba
Believe it or not, Harmony Gold was still flogging “Robotech” during the last decade. But the company had several legal issues with the three properties which made up the series. Tatsunoko, whom they licenced the properties off back in the 1980’s, claimed Harmony Gold owed them US$15 million in damages, claiming they had breached their contracts including sublicensing the shows and not paying home video royalties. Unbelievably Harmony Gold won and Tatsunoko actually renewed their agreements to the three series for at least another decade. This dashed the hopes of “Macross” fans in the west who had thought that other "Macross" anime series in the franchise would be up for grabs by licencors after the original deal would have expired in 2021. However, licensing agreements with the franchise are far more complex than the mantra “Harmony Gold won’t let anyone licence any Macross anime” that western anime fans constantly repeat.
In a surprise move, Shout! Factory, who distributed the “Power Rangers” franchise, began releasing the original Japanese versions of the “Super Sentai” franchise “Power Rangers” was based on. Beginning distribution in 2015 with “Zyuranger”, the company released every series up to “Hurricaneger” and in addition “Jetman”, which was never used for the “Power Rangers” franchise. The DVD sets unfortunately ceased in 2019 due to Hasbro's acquisition of the “Power Rangers” franchise from Saban Brands. In the final year of the decade, Criterion announced their 2,000th release and it was a doozy; a blu-ray box set of the entire showa era “Godzilla” films, i.e. every film from the original 1954 film to 1975’s “Terror of MechaGodzilla”. It was an amazing set with some fantastic extras, though maybe the packaging was a little unwieldy and it could be argued that the artwork didn’t really represent the era the films were created in.
|Fred Patten with Osamu Tezuka in 1980|
Well, that wraps up my reviews of anime in both the Japanese and English adaption industries. It took over six months to complete, but I got there in the end. Who knows what will happen over the forthcoming decade? 2020 has already thrown quite a few curveballs and we’re just half way through the year. To be honest, I am not all that optimistic about the future. I just hope creative industries such and anime and tokusastu continue to thrive and fandom continues to enjoy them.
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Anime companies in the very early 2010’s were, to a degree, still reeling from the busting of the US anime bubble of the late 2000’s. Most US companies had scaled down releases substantially. With the exception of Funimation’s titles, the vast majority of physical home video releases were subtitled only. The situation became more dire with the head office of Bandai announcing that they were pulling out of the US home video market and that they would be winding up operations of Bandai Entertainment in March 2013. It soon became apparent that this new strategy was a worldwide one as Bandai also shut down their European video label, Beez, soon after. The company announced they would be now taking a more international approach to home video, with many of their top tier titles receiving English subtitles, and sometimes English dubs, on the Japanese blu-ray releases. However, in the end, most of these titles eventually received western releases anyway.
|Aniplex of America's Garden of Sinners Box Set|
One of the biggest surprises of the decade was Disney relinquishing theatrical and home video rights to almost all of the Studio Ghibli catalogue to independent studio GKIDS. I’ll talk more about GKIDS in the theatrical releases section of this post, but will mention that the studio teamed up with independent DVD/blu-ray producer Shout! Factory to release their titles, which not only comprised the Ghibli catalogue but other anime fare, both otaku-type titles and family films. But the most unlikely hero in terms of physical releases this decade was Discotek. Though initially releasing niche and cult Asian cinema in the previous decade and a few older anime films from the 1960’s and 1970’s, they soon switched gears and aimed directly for the sector of the market which enjoyed older anime with a whole slew of new and “rescued” licenses. This included series and films saved from oblivion and painstakingly restored such as the 2001 “Cyborg 009” series, “Robot Carnival” and “Kimagure Orange Road”.
|Viz Media's Sailor Moon Box Set|
Funimation made some odd moves in the decade; sold off by Navarre to a group of investors that included original owner Gen Fukunaga, partnering with Crunchyroll only to nullify that deal several years later after Sony bought a 95% stake in the company. However, the weirdest thing was that Funimation briefly shared offices with Christian media company EchoLight Studios, a Texas-based Christian television production company run by Rick Santorum, the former conservative politician. Fukunaga was also the co-founder and manager of EchoLight Studios. The internal machinations of the company came under scrutiny when fans noticed incredibly negative reviews from employees on recruitment website Glassdoor with titles such as “Cannibalistic, Orwellian Nightmare”.
|Reception of Sojitz's main office|
Although I’m not covering manga, it would be odd if I didn’t cover the demise of Tokyopop. Originally beginning in 1997, the company single-handedly changed how manga was released in the western world; from single issue comics sold in comic book stores to “tankobon” sized, “unflipped” (i.e. read right to left and printed the same way as Japanese managa) and sold in bookstores. However, the company flooded the market with hundreds of titles and several large chain stores carrying their titles went bankrupt, owing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Somehow the company managed to limp into the 2010’s. But the death knell for them was Kodansha entering the US market and taking back their licences. The company ceased manga distribution in April 2011. A dreadful reality web series called “America's Greatest Otaku” followed as well as a documentary on the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami called “Pray for Japan”. However, the company still continues to exploit young comic book artists with some of the worst contracts in the industry.
I’ll have a look at Australian companies separately, but I just want to mention one non US company; All the Anime. Founded by ex-Beez staff and based in Scotland and France, over the course of the last seven years have released some of best anime box sets in the English speaking world. They also released a number of titles in English (subtitled only of course) which hadn’t been released elsewhere such as “Princess Arte”, “Tokyo Marble Chocolate”, “Amanchu!” and a collection of Production I.G short films.
Lastly, the weird story of Crimson Star Media. A brand-new company, they licenced the anime “Looking Up at the Half-Moon Anime”, but disaster struck when owner, Corey Maddox, was gaoled for a year on charges of violating probation. The original charge? Nine counts of sexual exploitation of children. In the end Crimson Star Media didn’t release a single disc. Nozomi Entertainment (video company for the Right Stuf) released the series instead.
Of course, the biggest change this decade with fandom was the move from owning physical copies to streaming anime from legitimate companies. This had already begun in the late 2000’s when pirate anime site Crunchyroll went legit and began licensing titles directly from Japanese companies. This soon morphed into “simulcasts”, where anime would be translated and released to fans several hours after broadcast. In many cases western fans had access to most broadcast anime before most Japanese fans who did not reside within the metropolitan Tokyo region. This is because stations in other prefectures don’t broadcast episodes for up to a week later. Other companies soon realised there was money to be made in streaming. Funimation initially had a streaming deal with Crunchyroll, but broke it off in the latter part of the decade and created their own streaming platform. Funimation also pioneered “simuldubs”, which as it sounds involved the English dubbing of titles being broadcast several weeks after the initial broadcast. Other established companies got into the streaming game as well, such as Sentai Filmworks who created the Hidive website.
So, we know anime fandom mostly dumped physical releases when the bubble finally burst in the 2000’s and never really went back to buying them. So, the question is; where was that money going? The answer of course was merchandise, mostly towards highly detailed figures. Thanks to an overabundance of anime comprised mostly (or entirely in some cases) of female characters, there was never going to a be a shortage of inspiration for these figures. If we’re being totally honest, the vast majority of these figures are aimed young men. And naturally, even if the character didn’t act that way in the anime, a fair wack of these figures had a sexual aspect to them. It did amuse me that western fandom would baulk at paying a single cent to watch anime, yet seemingly have no qualms about plonking down US$150, minimum, for one of these figures, and usually would have a harem of dozens of these figures. Other merchandise that tickled a mostly young, male western fandom included body pillow covers, which again, were even more sexualised than the figures.
Crowdfunding saw the promise of creators sourcing funding directly from fans. However, the reality wasn’t what some in the industry hoped for. Many US and UK companies used online companies like Kickstarter in order to help source and collate the funds. However, the projects put up for crowdfunding were sometimes rather curious. For example, was there a need to crowdfund for English dubs of “Escaflowne” and “Aria”? Surely there was no need to crowd fund a blu-ray box set of the original “Bubblegum Crisis” OVA? While companies like All the Anime, Funimation and the Right Stuf dabbled in crowdfunding, AnimEigo used it for every release they issued in the decade. For them it was a guarantee of shipping a set number of units for a predetermined price. Japanese companies also used it as a way to gain funding directly from English speaking fans. This was used mostly for pressing up English language blu-ray sets and creating one off OVAs. While it worked well for the former, there was mixed results for the latter, with the vast majority of projects failing to meet the required funding goal. Projects which did succeed included “Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade” and “Nekopara”.
After promising to make the film for nearly a decade and a half, James Cameron finally came through with “Alita: Battle Angel”, though with Robert Rodriguez in the director’s chair. The resulting film wasn’t bad at all. The CG created Alita was amazing, especially with her facial expressions and Rosa Salazar’s performance was very empathetic. Christoph Waltz was also excellent as Dr. Dyson Ido. Unfortunately, the dialogue at times was gobsmackingly awful. Though the film made an astounding US$404.9 million at the box office, a sequel looks unlikely, despite fans of the film championing for one. Though audiences seemed to despise Rupert Sanders’ (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell”, I thought it was an interesting take on the franchise. Criticism of the film seemed to centre solely on the fact Scarlett Johansson portrayed Major Mira Killian, who in the original manga was a Japanese woman (Motoko Kusanagi). The criticism seemed to ignore the fact a key theme in the film was loss of identity, which Killian was grappling with in the film. It also seemed to ignore Killian’s real identity which was revealed towards the end of the film. Despite the accusations of “whitewashing”, the cast was quite diverse with Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han and Danusia Samal in the lead and secondary roles. Lastly, Japanese pop culture has really seeped into western pop culture. For example, “Ready Player One”. Though not a great or memorable by any stretch of the imagination, the film did include some surprising cameos such as a Gundam, Kaneda’s motorbike from “Akira” and the Mach 5 from “Speed Racer”.
|That offending scene from "Code Geass Lelouch of the|
In the next part I’ll be looking at what happened in Australia, a decade of turbulence in English speaking fandom, and the rise in physical tokusatsu releases amongst other things. And seeing as we have just discussed the home video market, here’s a list of my favourite releases of the decade;
My Favourite English Language Physical Anime Releases of the Decade
- Tiger & Bunny Part 1 to 4 Limited Edition (Kaze/Manga Entertainment, February 2013 to September 2013)
- Attack on Titan - Part 1 and 2 Limited Edition (Funimation, June and September 2014)
- Love Live! School Idol Project - Season 1 Premium Edition (NIS America, September 2014)
- Patema Inverted Ultimate Edition (All the Anime/Anime Limited, October 2014)
- Kill la Kill - Part 1 to Part 3 Collector's Edition (All the Anime/Anime Limited, October 2014 to June 2015)
- Escaflowne Ultimate Edition (All the Anime/Anime Limited, November 2016)
- Outlaw Star Complete Blu-Ray Box Limited Edition (All the Anime/Anime Limited, November 2016)
- Revolutionary Girl Utena - 20th Anniversary Ultra Edition (Nozomi Entertainment, January 2018)
- Flip Flappers - Complete Collection Limited Edition (Sentai Filmworks, February 2018)
- Robot Carnival (Discoteck/Eastern Star, March 2018)