Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MISC. MANGA, *Ninja High School

Ninja High School has been widely-regarded as the beginning of "American Manga", as it did come out in the mid-80s just a manga itself was first really creeping into the U.S. market, and it was an original story without it being an American comic based on a Japanese franchise like Robotech. It was first done through Antarctic Press, but then in color through Eternity Comics, and then back to AP again. Created by Ben Dunn(whose prior work including the mecha-inspired Dynamo Joe)mashed this as "Urusei Yatsura meets Archie".

Seemingly normal teenager, Jeremy Feeple, is the son of one of the world's greatest female ninja and the world's greatest rat exterminator(who is now missing). Living in the middle-America town of Quagmire, he becomes the target of two very aggressive girls, one is Ichi-Koo, an up and coming ninja clan leader, while the other Princess Asrial, an alien skunkgirl of imperial birth. A duel begins between the two of them matching Ichi's ninja skills against Asrial's alien strength and technology, but Ichi's wannabe boyfriend Lendo intends to win her heart. Jeremy gets some help from the enigmatic Professor Steamhead, and ultimately his friends get him out of this jam, with Ichi and Asrial becoming the "Betty & Veronica" for his affections. This lead into a spinoff series titled Ninja High School: Version 2 taking place years later dealing with Jeremy's younger brother Ricky who is an accomplished ninja-in-training and his own problems with out of this world female suitors, although it was later retconned into the regular storyline thanks to a time paradox. Eventually, the series becomes a mix of folding in several anime fads and clichés, while at the same time telling a cohesive story with the characters mingling with aliens, superheroes, demons, evil ninjas, and witches. One storyline dealt with Lendo's younger sister Yumei as she went to a totally different high school in Hawaii. This folds back into more material with Ricky Feeple and his friends into plots with feuding ninja clans.

There have been numerous spinoffs from this including Quagmire USA., AOK, and several annual specials. NHS also shares the same universe as other Antarctic Press titles like Gold Digger and Warrior Nun Areala. It's a long and complicated series to get into, even though there have been several jumping on points throughout its run(usually the manifestation of some cosmic restart button), but it is worth looking into, at least from the beginning. You can see how the artwork improved over its 20+ year run. If you liked looking at how old school otaku operated in Otaku No Video, then you run through some real American comics history!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

OBSCURE O.V.A.S, *Moldiver

When Pioneer was starting out their line of original video anime productions, one of their more forgotten titles was this tribute to the Superman Family. Moldiver was a 6-episode OVA series with super-powered suits, robo-babes, mecha suits, and space adventures.

In the mid-21st Century, Mirai is a young model whose brother Hiroshi has created a special device called a Mol-Unit that allows its user to create a special hologram around them endowing them with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. Hiroshi at first uses it to be a superhero under the name Captain Tokyo, but Mirai gets her hands on it and Hiroshi somehow allows her to continue using it. The weird part is when Mirai first uses the Mol-Unit, she transforms into her brother's bulky Superman look, which is weird with her girly voice coming out of someone who looks like a bodybuilder in a spandex outfit and cape. Mirai later redesigns the Mol-Unit so it looks more like herself in a frilly superheroine getup, and calling herself "Moldiver". All this while the mad scientist, Dr. Machinegal, is planning on collecting rare bits of technology from the 20th Century for his own selfishness, and he sends his platoon of sexy android women on missions to obtain these collector's items. There appears another Mol-Unit user later in the series to rival Moldiver, who is really Mirai's younger brother, although despite nearly killing her several times, it's never clear as to why he's doing this. The final story arc deals with Mirai's love interest being sent out on a space mission with Dr. Machinegal trying to sabotage it.

This was a fair anime series, but mostly only appeals to any otaku of blatant fanservice and superhero shenanigans. The OVA was released at first on VHS(and laser disc of all things), the eventually on a collected DVD. There was a manga sequal by Shinpei Itoh(creator of Hyper Dolls)which so far hasn't been printed into English. Another attempt at reviving it was going to be a Moldiver American comic book mini-series that Pioneer was planning for several of their titles which only got one issue of Phantom Quest Corp and all six issues of Tenchi Muyo(that was a sequal to Tenchi Universe. Moldiver herself makes a cameo on the Tenchi Universe TV series is it Mihoshi's favorite TV show!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

ANI-MOVIES, *Mr. Bug Goes To Town

A classic among classics, this was the second feature-length animated film from Fleischer Studios who were most known for their work on the original Betty Boop, Superman, and Popeye. Their first full-length movie was Gulliver's Travels was a groundbreaking follow-up to Disney's Snow White, but Mr. Bug Goes To Town was a fresher approach at an animated movie, even though it was inspired by a book by Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck titled The Life Of The Bee. Brothers, Dave and Max Fleischer, put alot of time and effort in completing this, even though it broke up the Fleischers for a while, and the movie itself proved to be a financial wreck. However, over the decades the movie has become viewed as a cult hit. The film was originally supposed to be titled Hoppity Goest To Town, although the current DVD release of it is called Bugville.

Set in the big city, a community of bugs live in a patch of land in the park. Their tiny community is in danger as the fence to their area has been damaged and people keep throwing cigarette butts on them setting their houses on fire. Fortunately, former resident Hoppity the grasshopper comes back home to help, and reunite with his sweetheart, Honey the bee. The greedy rich bug, Mr. Beetle has his sights set on Honey though, and frequently sets his two cronies, Swat and Smack, to fowl up Hoppity's attempts to hook up with her. Hoppity finds out their human neighbors are a couple of successful songwriters, and their incoming payment from a recording company would allow them to have their yard repaired, making the bug community safe. Mr. Beetle gets wind of this and arranges for the check to the couple from coming in, thus causing the bugs to have to seek shelter in the newly created sky rise building. Hoppity hears that the couple is getting a place on top of the building, so all the bugs make their way up the building as its being built and eventually make it to the top just as the couple moves into the new penthouse with a lavish garden for the bugs to live in.

Mr. Bug Goes To Town is truly worth seeking out and adding to your collection. It is admittedly a little longer than it should be as the plot seems to string along near the end, but it really makes for a timeless all-ages classic. Since it's in the public domain you can find this under several releases, just maybe be a little picky about the look of the quality depending on what company is doing it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

MISC. MANGA, *Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge

Despite the title, this was the only full on Darkstalkers manga to get an English printing. Viz first released it as a 6-issue mini-series, and then as a collected trade paperback, unlike some of their other video game-based manga releases which were originally printed in Game On! magazine. There have been other manga based on the Darkstalkers games, including one of Vampire Savior(or Darkstalkers 3), plus a compilation of stories from this series and Red Earth titled Maleficarum was released in English. There were also two American mini-series created by Capcom Comics to coincide with their successful Street Fighter comics. This manga was on its own done by Run Ishida who had also worked on the Warrior Nun Areala one-shot comic. It was probably given the title of Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge instead of just Darkstalkers to coincide with Viz'a release of the OVA series of the same name, which they used to differentiate between the anime series and the American Darkstalkers cartoon.

This is set up in three sections all set in the same world where monsters are referred to as "Darkstalkers". The first one is a short one where the succubus Morrigan confronts the vampire lord Demitri. The next one is a 3-part story featuring the catwoman Felicia where she frees her "owner" from some kidnappers, teams up with the werewolf Jon Talbain, and the two of them then stop the zombie rocker Lord Raptor from stealing someone's soul. The last segment is another 3-parter about the Darkstalker hunter Donovan(who is half-Darkstalker himself)as he crusades to stop Morrigan from stealing the souls of innocent men.

This was a fair collection of stories that works better than the mish-mash that was the OVA series adaptation of the video games. If you were a big enough fan of the original Darkstalkers video game trilogy, than this is totally down your dark alley.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

ANI-MOVIES, *Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest

This CGI-animated movie was done as a Belgian/French/Italian/Spanish production created by Michael Ocelot, a longtime animator whose work includes Tales Of The Night, and Kirikou And The Wild Beasts. Similar to the classic animated film, The Adventures Of Prince Achmed from the 1920s, this was an Arabian Nights-styled fantasy adventure story done in the point-of-view with the characters usually being seen from one side. It was done with lavish 2-D backgrounds and 3-D characters to create an enchanting effect like you're looking at a moving watercolor painting.

Set sometime probably in the 15th or 16th Century, a European nobleman's son named Azur was raised by Jeane, a Middle Eastern nanny whose son Asmar was the same age as Azur, and Jeane raised them both as her own. She would often tell them stories about the Djinn-Fairy locked away in a mountain waiting for a prince to rescue her. Until Azur reached a certain age, his jerk-ass father sent him off to boarding school and kicked Jeane out along with her son. Years past, and Azur decides to instead of living up to his father's expectations to travel across the sea to see the tales of the Djinn-Fairy are true and free her himself. He gets knocked overboard and ends up in the correct land, but the locals are superstitious about someone with blue eyes, so Azur pretends to be blind. He teams up with a beggar, who leads him to Jeane's house, and she is now a rich merchant. Asmar is also planning on seeking out the Djinn-Fairy the following day too, so Azul goes to the nearby clever but young Princess Chasmous who helps him with some magical items for his quest. Both Azul and Asmar go their own separate ways on their journey, but they are ambushed by bandits, so the two of them eventually have to team up to complete their quest. In the end, both of them enter the Djinn-Fariy's inner-sanctum together, which makes both of them eligible to marry her. After using her magic to summon nearly the entire remaining cast to see how to solve the conundrum of which one she should marry, the Djinn-Fairy calls forth her cousin the Elf-Fairy to help decide(although one wonders why her cousin wouldn't help to free her on her own in the first place). However, the Elf-Fairy falls for Asmar while Azul becomes the winner of the Djinn-Fairy, making for a very happy ending.

I'll admit I was very impressed with the film's approach to telling a story. The mixture of English and Middle Eastern dialogue give it an outstanding international flavor. The animation is revolutionary and mixes in modern computer animated with traditional theatrics. It appeals to all ages, and is really worth seeking out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

MISC. MANGA, *Sidescrollers

Artist from F-Stop and creator of Salt Water Taffy, Matthew Loux, did this one-shot graphic novel hoping to appeal otaku and video gamers. Sidescrollers plays out like Clerks meets Saved By The Bell, but with a serious manga approach to it.

Set a few weeks after high school graduation, slackers Brad, Brian, and Matt are spending their summer off playing video games and with seemingly no real plans for the future. Whether they're going to college or getting jobs is never really explored, even though it's revealed Brad works part-time at a fast food joint. The story itself shows a productive day in the life of these three geeks. They spend their time arguing about which cereal mascots would win in a deathmatch, collecting action figures, and keeping up their high score on the nearby Street Fighter arcade game. They also have to dodge Brad, the local jock/bully character who is dating Brad's love interest Amber whose only seeing her to win a bet, plus Brian being stalked by the most evil cat in the world. This all leads up to a big party where Brian's brother is playing with his band.

Sidescrollers is a slice-of-life story that would probably make for a lighter-toned Kevin Smith screenplay. The book actually won some young adult readers awards, although it recently came under fire by some conservatives about its profanity and sexual overtones. It's possible that it wasn't fully looked over upon its original release, but it does make for good read for teenage readers and for generic geeks who like a decent story with relatable characters.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

MISC. MANGA, *Battle Of The Bands

Weasel Guy creator, Steve Buccellato, made this original manga-styled graphic novel for Tokyo Pop as a continued series in the vein of Scott Pilgrim, but instead only so far lasted one volume, which seems to be the case with alot of Tokyo Pop's original titles. Battle Of The Bands is like a cross between Hopeless Savages and Jem.

Led Salad is one of the leading all-female bands in the world, but this world is apparently some alternate one where female bands can get away with all out guerilla warfare with each other, including rocket launchers! Although Led's longtime roadie is leaving the group, so they need someone tough enough to fill his shoes. Enter Chet, a former musician that was just dumped by his bitch ex-girlfriend/daughter of a record company. He tries bartendering a Led Salad party, and saves one of their member Becky from some falling debris. The band takes Chet in as their new roadie, and gets nearly killed on every stop of their world tour as the girls are constantly attacked by rival bands. But Chet's ex has plans of her own for Led Salad as she forms her own band.

This was a fanservice-filled harem action comedy that would've made for a better plot to the Josie And The Pussycats movie. In terms of comics, it's not bad either, although most otaku should appreciate it for its humor and design.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


U.S. Comics-Turned-Manga

Just as there's been plenty of anime based on American comics, there's also been an equal amount of Japanese manga that have been adapted from. Some from in recent years, with others as far back as the 1960s. Most of them have been printed into English, so give some of these a looksee.
Released in Japan in the mid-60s, this was the first ever American property to be redone as an official manga. Written and drawn by Jiro Kuwata who had also created the original Robocop, 8-Man, so he already had some experience dealing with superheroes. The manga was a licensed homage to the Batman Silver Age comics of the time, as well as the Adam West TV series. You'll catch a few regulars like Clayface and the briefly seen Lord Death Man, as well as a few other DC villains like Weather Wizard. This inspired a special segment on the Batman: The Brave And The Bold animated series too. The manga was originally presented in English in a large collected edition by Pantheon Books along with several photos of 60s Japanese Batman merchandise, but has been printed out in its entirety through DC Comics as three separate graphic novels.
The second manga based on the Dark Knight, this was done by Kia Asamiya, whose work like Silent Mobius and Steam Detectives were greatly influenced by Batman comics. In it, the Caped Crusader investigates a new drug which allows someone to temporarily transform their likeness into whoever they want, although all its users seem to want to be various members of Batman's rogues gallery. Batman gets some help from a lovely Japanese reporter, and his case takes him to Japan to find the source of the new drug trafficking. The style for the manga was heavily inspired by the two Tim Burton movies, but adds some elements from Batman: The Animated Series too.
From Togari creator Yoshinori Natsume, this was the third official manga based on the comics. This also takes a hint from Batman: The Animated Series in that it deals with our hero fighting a nemesis who was actually someone Bruce Wayne learned martial arts with while training to be Batman in Japan, and in this story he is taking down Gotham's underground. The series was released in as a 4-issue mini-series and later a manga-sized paperback.
This was done around the same time as the original Spider-Man manga in the early 70s, both of which were published by Kodansha. It was written by Lady Snowblood writer Kazuo Koike. A lot of what went on the story has been lost to the ages, because most of the original prints aren't around anymore, but it was basically a Japanese adaptation of the original Hulk comic story, but instead of Bruce Banner, it's Hiroshima-survivor Dr. Araki who comes to America to help the military create a gamma bomb. He gets dowsed with radiation from it and transforms into the Hulk. Unlike the Marvel Mangaverse version though, this one isn't a giant kaiju-sized Godzilla knockoff, and here he's referred to as the "Haruku". You won't be seeing any real printed editions of this in English anytime soon, but there are several scans of it available online.

Unlike some of the other manga titles, this one actually takes place in the same timeline as the American comic. A Japanese kid in America named Ken Kurosawa is a karate punk, but cares for his sick younger sister. He gets killed in a car bombing, and spends the next seven years in Hell. He is brought back to Earth as a Hellspawn by Malbogia(the Image Comics version of the Devil), and is trained by Clown to be one of Satan's little helpers. Ken meets other characters not shown in the manga like the fairy-like Bee, the angel Mikaela, and his mentor, a former Hellspawn named Cheveyo. Ken spends his new life as a Spawn dealing with enemies from Heaven and Hell, while trying to protect his sister who is now a big teen celebrity. The manga comes to a slightly abrupt ending as Hollywood ends up getting infested with Spawn-zombies, while Ken is mostly unaware of this, although it seems to be one of Clown's schemes. This manga was done by newcomer Juzo Tokoro who had a good feel for the characters while integrating the story to the established Image Universe.
This was the earliest manga based on a Marvel Comic, printed in 1970, which is pretty early on considering the original comic was less than a decade old. Being a Japanese remake of the wacky wallcrawler, this sees young Yu Komori getting bitten by a radioactive spider and eventually decides to become a masked crimefighter. The manga does act mostly as a retelling of the American comic, with its own versions of regulars like Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Electro, the Lizard, and one of the more obscure members of Spidey's rouge's gallery, the Kangaroo. The series started out as a standard superhero story, but began taking on some dark and sexual overtones prior to its cancellation. So far, the Spider-Man manga has only been released in English through Marvel Comics in single issue format in the late 90s with no collected trade paperback.
This was the second serialized manga about Spidey, but no relation to the previous Spider-Man manga, or the Japanese live-action show. It was a complete retelling of wall-crawler where here he's a 15 year old named Sho who somehow gained spider powers, and wears a colorful costume to fight crime. The only one who knows his secret is Police Detective Mokoto, and the two have a working relationship similar to Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Spider-Man regularly fights the evil Lord Gokibu who we never see, but he sends his minions like General Wasperus and Mantis to deal with him. The manga world has its own versions of Elektra, Blade, and the Fantastic Four. It's also a little weird as this Spidey's costume has the letter "J" in the middle of his spider insignia, and you can see his eyeballs through his mask. This series was first printed into English in the pages of Spider-Man Family, and later collected into two trade digest paperbacks.
This was technically the second manga title based on Spider-Man, but with no connection to the one from the early 70s. It was based on the goldmine of memes that was the Japanese live-action Spider-Man TV series. They ran it in several different magazines, none of which were apparently collected into a single graphic novel, and so far remain unavailable in English. The TV series was totally separate from the American comics and the prior manga as it had a young motorcyclist discovers a dying alien who gives him spider powers to battle the evil Professor Monster and his Iron Cross Army. This Spidey also had his own flying rocket car and transforming giant robot, something that Peter Parker never could've afforded on a photographer's salary. Stan Lee actually preferred the Japanese TV series as opposed the American live-action show which came out around the same time. This version of Spider-Man also appears in the Spider-Verse event in the regular Marvel Comics which combines pretty much every Spidey from every parallel universe together in one big Legion of Spider-Men.
Run Ishida who had handled the Darkstalkers manga did this short story which did appear in Anime AX magazine out in Japan. This is a new take on the American comic about a nun who is part of Catholic church's special Warrior Nun branch that hunt down demons. Instead of Areala though, it has Warrior Nun Sakura who is new to a Catholic girls school, and has to save a student from selling her soul to the sexy demoness Lillith. This was printed as an English one-shot special that also reprints the original story in Japanese too.
This manga was an original story written by Yasuko Kobayashi who also wrote the the Witchblade anime TV series, and apparently takes place in the same universe as the anime and the American comic. Like the anime, its also set in Japan and deals with a school girl who ends up becoming the next bearer of the Witchblade, partially thanks to the machinations of the U.S. government. Takeru uses the Witchblade to destroy all the known demons in Japan, along with an American naval fleet. It's up to an old friend of hers to use his own spiritual powers to stop her rampage of revenge. The manga was followed up by a Japanese one-shot novel that continues the Witchblade's journey in Japan on to another successor.
Unlike most of the other American titles that were made into manga, this series was a direct adaptation of the first X-Men animated series from the 90s. It essentially took each one of the 26 episodes and made a single issue for each one. This was released in English from Marvel at the same time they released Spider-Man: The Manga in 26 issues, but so far hasn't bothered with a trade paperback. It's worth looking up at least for a manga spin on the merry band of mutants.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I should buy a boat

MISC. MANGA, *Tantric Stipfighter Trina

Another of Tokyo Pop's OEL(original English language)manga titles that was meant to be an ongoing series of graphic novels which only lasted one volume, Tantric Stripfigher Trina was one of TP's numerous attempts to try and reach the older teen demographic with some seriously overdone fanservice. This was written by former fanzine creator Ken Faggio, and drawn by Fernando Furukawa who went on to work on the Starcraft manga and some Garth Ennis titles.

Trina is the sole survivor of a clan of female warriors on the planet Rama which was destroyed by a mercenary. She now uses her seductive skills as a dancing fighter to become a bounty hunter to track down those responsible for her world's destruction. She gets the female Cloud Strife lookalike, Abbey, as her new protégé, who secretly has a crush on her. Trina is also on the run from the ruling class called the Cog and Crown, which it is later revealed was behind her planet getting the finger. Trina takes on the master mercenary Curse and his bikini-clad hit-girl squad, which leads her to the martial arts master Terse who lead the attack on her home. Although their climatic fight is interrupted by an inquisitor from the Cog. Trina combines with Abbey in a world DBZ fusion to form a four-armed goddess to defeat him. They then set out to take down the corrupt royalty.

This was a fair manga, but was borderline ecchi on way too many occasions. There's some intense fighting scenes though, and should attract the attention of your average raving horny otaku.

Monday, July 7, 2014

MISC. MANGA, *Telling Tales

Not to sound like some kind of otaku hipster, but I've been a fan of Sweatdrop Studios "before they were cool". They are a British-based independent publisher of manga-styled comics and graphic novels. They made a slightly big impact in the Stated around the beginning of the 2010s with some of the trade paperback graphic novels. Most of these are collaborative anthologies, each one dealing with a certain theme. One of which was a collection titled Stardust featuring rejected submissions from Tokyo Pop's UK edition of Rising Stars Of Manga. Telling Tales is one of their more widespread releases in America, mostly due to the fact that the dealt with all-ages manga retellings of classic European fairy tails.

This graphic novel has different takes on various children's stories, mostly from Russian folklore and Grimm's Fairy Tales. The first is actually done by Svetlana Chmakova(of Dramacon)fame, who is not a Sweatrdop regular, and she does her version of Alenushka and Ivanushka, an old Russian tale about a constantly cursed girl and her younger brother. The rest of the stories are done by Sweatdrop Studios artists like Emma Vieceli who does The Three Sisters and Their Glass Hearts which is about a trio of princesses who for some reason are born with hearts made of actual glass which could crack causing them to die. The strangest is The Bird, The Mouse And The Sausage which showcases an actual living/talking sausage rooming with a bird and mouse. Moroz Ivanovich is another with two siblings starring the Russian equivalent of Santa Clause and Jack Frost. Some of the more familiar tales like Red Riding Hood, The Snow Queen, and The Prince And The Pauper are handled very well in their own way. The book closes out the Grimm's The Three Feathers about three brothers vying for the throne, but the simpleton one simply named "Simpleton" ends up winning it thanks to a magic kingdom of talking frogs.

This is one of Sweatdrop's heftier books at over 200 pages long, which includes some bonus material in the back. It makes for a great gift for your kids, and a superb intro to the style of manga without alarming any parents.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

OBSCURE O.V.A.S, *Casshan: Robot Hunter Cashern

Based on a 70s anime TV series by Tatsunoko Productions(the creators of Gatchaman), Casshan(or as it's known in Japan, "Casshern")has gone on to inspire a live-action movie, and a TV remake titled Casshern Sins which was featured briefly on Toonami. But this particular 4-episode OVA was a gritty retelling of the original TV series which on its own was also the main influence for none other than Mega Man as both are about robot-fighting android superheroes with jet-powered robot dogs.

Set in a world that seems like Terminator: Salvation totally ripped them up, a mad mega-android named the Black King(or BK-1)has lead an army of robots to take eventually conquer most of the world with pockets of humanity fighting for survival. Casshan is first viewed by the resistance as a legend or a martyr for their hope, and he finally steps forward with a frontal assault on Black King's fortress along with the busty blonde Sailor Moon lookalike, Luna. He succeeds in freeing some human prisoners, although it's never really said why the robots bother keeping humans around other than for forced labor. One project has the robots forcing the humans to build a bridge to transport troops across a canyon by train, even though it would be just a easy for them to carry them by plane or helicopter. Casshan is in fact an android given the memories of a young man named Tetsuya whose father was the one that originally created Black King, even though it went all HAL 9000 and decided to eliminate all mankind. Casshan also has the the spirit of his mother inside a strange robo-goose, but he ultimately hopes to free his father's spirit which is being held somewhere inside the Black King himself, although whether it might be Tetsuya's father controlling him is a mystery to him.

The OVA was done by some of the same creators of other Tatsunoko remakes in the 90s like Gatchaman and Hurricane Polymor, but this one seemed to keep most of the spirit of the original than those other ones. The animation is obviously upgraded, but this OVA takes it into more of a sci-fi/action route than the traditional superhero one. It was originally dubbed by Carl Macek for Harmony Gold into a VHS single feature, and then was re-released on DVD for ADV films using the previous dub but into a 4-episode format.