Saturday, December 15, 2018
Dead English Language Anime Magazines: “V.Max”
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.