Saturday, December 15, 2018

Dead English Language Anime Magazines: “V.Max”

Publisher: V.Max, Newtype Press, Newtype Publishing, R. Talsorian Games
Format: 210mm x 280mm (Standard Magazine Size)
Genre/Type: Anime, Manga, Tokusatsu, Anime Music, Model Kits, Role Playing Games, Convention and Fandom Events Coverage
Years Active: 1991 – 1996
Issues Published: 17

As San Francisco Bay Area based anime magazine Animag entered the 1990’s, several internal issues within the magazine’s staff and its publisher, Pacific Rim, caused a major rift. Though the magazine did survive the internal and external conflicts, several staff left Animag for good. This included Animag’s co-founder, Matthew Anacleto, who was reportedly so frustrated with chaos at Animag that he along with other ex-staff created their own magazine; V.Max. Though not explicitly stated in the magazine itself but referred to in a line below the masthead, V.Max was intended to be an upgrade of the A.N.I.M.E. (Animation of Nippon Inter-Mediary Exchange) newsletter. A.N.I.M.E. was the original newsletter of the fan collective/club that Animag was born from. The title of the magazine, V.Max, was taken from the mid 1980’s anime series “Blue Comet SPT Layzner”. In that series, the titular robot’s A.I. system Fouron could engage a high performance system named V-Max at will.

Like other magazines of the era,V.Max had similar content; several anime and manga series profiles, a rundown of several new OVA releases, CD soundtrack reviews, a short one page profile of someone in the anime industry, a somewhat light-hearted news section and lists of Japanese laserdisc releases which of course included catalogue numbers so you could order them. The magazine was initially bi-monthly and ran for 28 pages in black and white with a colour cover. With the exception of CD soundtrack reviews, no actually critical review appeared at this stage of the magazine’s life. Instead there were only short synopses of anime and manga. An editorial from editor Chris Keller explained that it wasn’t the magazine’s job to tell the reader what they should or shouldn’t watch. They would only provide information and it would be up to reader to decide. The magazine also included lyrics or quotes from various anime which began on the cover and concluded on the contents page. This was a rather cute idea, but it only lasted until the sixth issue.

As per other English language magazines of the era, the subjects chosen for the more in-depth articles were usually the more popular titles amongst US anime fandom of the time; “Nadia of the Mysterious Seas”, “Video Girl Ai”, “Legend of the Galactic Heroes”, “Gundam”, “Record of Lodoss Wars” and “Patlabor”. Profiles of anime staff also were of people who were well known to fandom at the time; Naoyuki Onda, Hideaki Anno and Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. Interesting titbits in early issues included a report in the news section that in a Japanese supernatural magazine Go Nagai claimed that real demons were models for the creatures that inhabit his manga. Make of that what you will. Several conventions of the era were also comprehensively covered. Of most interest was coverage of Anime Expo ’92, held in San Jose, California in July. Though not sufficiently titled or explained, one photograph seems to show guests Haruhiko Mikimoto, Buichi Terasawa and Yoshiyuki Tomino performing karaoke!

As further issues of the magazine were released, it became quite apparent that the staff really didn’t think much of any English language adaption made for the US market, be it manga, or English dubbed or even English subtitled VHS tapes. The two main targets seemed to be Viz Communications and of course Streamline Pictures. The report on the Streamline Pictures panel at the Anime Expo ’92 was rather scathing. It stated that Carl Macek implied that “Robotech” was far better than “Macross” and that the core target of Streamline Pictures’ dubbed VHS tapes were people who “live in trailer parks watching TV and eating fish head sandwiches”. Not sure if this quote was 100%  accurate, but I think we all know that at time Macek could come across as bit of a narcissist and was often rather critical or downright hostile to anime fandom. While I think a far bit of criticism and bile directed towards him by elements in fandom was way out of line, its little wonder he pissed off a large section of fandom.

By mid-1993, things had changed substantially for the magazine. In the seventh issue it was announced that local model and garage kit shop Newtype had taken the publishing reins. The news section was gone. Profiles of newly released Japanese OVAs as well as the CD soundtrack reviews were replaced with reviews of locally released English language tapes, Japanese and some US CD soundtrack releases and an addition of video game reviews. And because a plastic model and garage kit shop was running the show, the magazine now included lengthy reviews of a garage kits. A fan art page was also added. By this time the magazine ballooned to 40 pages in length. In this short era of the magazine, it continued to stick to its core coverage of two or three manga and anime features as well as listing new and forthcoming Japanese laserdiscs and whatever new dubbed and subbed VHS tapes were being released in the US. Three big names in the anime industry were also interviewed for the magazine; Koichi Ohata (mecha designer and director of the infamous OVAs “M.D. Geist” and “Genocyber”), Haruka Takachiho (author of the “Dirty Pair” and “Crusher Joe” novels) and legendary Japanese voice actor Megumi Hayashibara.

Only after three issues, the era of Newtype running the show was over. Enter R. Talsorian Games, a role playing game company best known for their games “Mekton”, “Cyberpunk 2020” and their adaptation of “Dragonball Z”. In some ways they were a perfect fit for the magazine, but in some ways they weren’t. The first major change was the magazine went from bi-monthly to quarterly. The list of new and upcoming Japanese and US releases disappeared and the fan art page only continued to appear sporadically until it eventually disappeared altogether. Worst of all R. Talsorian Games devoted least eight pages to its anime related role playing games each issue. Despite the fairly sickening self-promotion by its new commercial publisher, V.Max continued to produce the same high quality articles on various anime and manga including features on “Yu Yu Hakausho”, “Compiler”, “Gatchaman” and more obscure manga such as “Desert Rose”.

This new era of the magazine also included a large focus on fandom, and not just reports on local US anime conventions. The very first issue of the R. Talsorian Games era included a report on Comic Market 45 (aka Comiket), the winter 1993 edition of Japan’s largest and most insane doujinshi festival. Written by then overseas coordinator for the Comiket organisation committee, US ex-pat Chris Swett, it gives a short but informative run down of the event. A more lengthy sidebar article presents a more detailed history of the event with a comment from the chair of Comiket welcoming foreign participants as well as an address to obtain more information on how to get a table at Comiket. I believe this is the very first time Comiket was profiled (or even mentioned) in an English language publication. A few issues later the recently opened Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture (half an hour from Osaka by train) was profiled.

The author of the sidebar article on Comiket was the infamous K.J. Karvonen. He gained quite a reputation due to a review of a book and various articles and opinions written for Hawaiian based anime magazine Animeco. I won’t be going into what he wrote or why his views were not appreciated (to put it mildly) in the US anime community at the time as I will be looking at Animeco sometime down the track. At any rate, Karvonen got his own regular column in the magazine in late 1994 called Otaku World. While his article on Comiket might have been informative and measured, his writing (and rantings) in Otaku World weren’t. His first article about Rumiko Takahashi’s panel at the San Diego Comicon in August 1994, wasn’t too bad. It did however get a little worse from there on. He got his wife, Tery, to write up a perspective on fandom from the viewpoint of female anime fans. Tery, being a comic book artist, supplied the drawings for the article as well. It’s as you’d expect and terribly fanish. A latter article on Canadian anime fans, in particular the Vancouver Japanese Animation Society and its fansub offshoot, the infamous Arctic Animation was just as embarrassingly fanish. Editor Chris Keller’s promise in the very first issue that it would never navel gaze or pander to this stuff seemed a rather hollow one.

However I did enjoy the two part interview that Karvonen did with Running Ink Productions, a fan powered animation company that created the opening ceremony animation for Anime Expo ’92, called “Bayscape 2042”. The animation was obviously inspired by Daicon Film’s opening animations for Japan SF Conventions in 1981 and 1983 as well as borrowing heavily from various AIC OVA productions like “Bubblegum Crisis” and “Gall Force”. The two articles provide a very interesting insight to the production difficulties of the project and what they hoped to achieve in the future. This final era of the magazine also included interviews with really big names in the anime industry including Yasuhiro Imagawa, Go Nagai, Monkey Punch, Akemi Takada, Mamoru Oshii, Nobuteru Yuki and Scott Frazier (now known as Jan Scott-Frazier). The other big addition would be inclusion of a regular tokusatsu column in 1995 written by Bob Johnson, who co-founded “Markalite” magazine and would later go on to co-found the SciFi Japan website.

While a lot of the writing on anime, manga and various conventions and events was really well done, the major problem I had with this magazine was its issue with English adaptations, specifically English dubbing. Not a great deal of the reviews received anything beyond three stars out of five. I do think the US actors and directors who take on the task of dubbing anime always seem to have a difficult time with the material they're trying to localise, and the results are rarely as good as the original. But I understand that people like them, and for whatever reason a lot of people just won't read subtitles. But the staff at V.Max didn’t want to acknowledge this and hated dubs with a passion. No matter how well a dub was done, they seemed to just rip it apart, simply for the fact it was a dub. Chris Keller even wrote a three part editorial (meant to be a four parter, cut short by the demise of the magazine) devoted to why he didn't like dubbing. It was quite tiring at times. I really wished they concentrated on the content of the anime when reviewing, rather than the English voice acting.

By 1996 the end had come and R. Talsorian Games stopped publishing the magazine. The reasons as to why they took this decision were never made public. While the magazine had some great articles and good interviews with a lot of top Japanese creators and people associated with the anime industry, I sort of understand why they couldn’t compete with the competition. By the time the mid 1990’s had rolled around, magazines like Anime UK, Manga Mania, Protoculture Addicts and Animerica had entered the market several years prior, refined their content and had become major players. They had much better articles, more positive reviews and were less critical of English dubbing and companies trying to release anime and manga. A lot of anime fans, most who had only come into contact with the commercial US anime industry, chose other magazines over V.Max, and looking at other competitors, it's not hard to see why. While there are a number of issues are available in the second hand market, for general collectors I don’t think there is much value in collecting issues of V.Max other than for curiosity. This is yet another obscure English language magazine that has pretty much been totally forgotten, lost to time in the history of US anime fandom.

No comments:

Post a Comment