Tuesday, May 14, 2013

First Impressions: AnimeSols

Anime Sols Logo

Hey guys, it's been awhile since I've posted something that wasn't Crunching the Numbers. This isn't going to be much different, but I wanted to make this post in response to recent news; last night, the site for Anime Sols finally went up! 

Wait, what's Anime Sols you ask? Well, if you've been following ANNCast and Anime World Order, both podcasts recently did interviews with Sam Pinansky, who's sort of the face of this project. I recommend listening to those podcasts for more info if you haven't yet, but in laymen's terms, Anime Sols is a combination Crunchyroll/Kickstarter site. So how does this work? Well, a bunch of anime studios basically partnered up, formed a website that streams a few of their shows, and each show has an option on the side where you can pledge money for an American DVD release. Each show has their own goal, averaging at about 16,000 to 19,000 dollars each to get a show licensed on DVD. Watching the shows is completely free, but if you like owning your anime on physical media and there are shows you'd love to own, you have the option of putting your money where your mouth is.

So what are the shows available on Anime Sols? Currently there are 8 series available (1 of which is a remake of another title on the list): Black Jack TV, Tobikage (better known as Ninja Robots to English viewers), Yatterman, Blue Blink, New Yatterman, Tekkaman, Creamy Mami, and a series of Tezuka movies that were aired for 24 Hour Television, which was a special charity program that was started in 1978. It's not much, but there are some good old-school selections that were never released on DVD in North America. Similar to Crunching the Numbers, I've decided to talk about each of these shows and what my thoughts on them are, as despite the age of these shows, they're new to me and probably new to many anime fans. This is going to be more casual than Crunching the Numbers, and I'll stick to talking about the first episodes only. If you have the time, I recommend checking them all out, and potentially putting some money forward for the shows you like.

Recently I've been watching Osamu Dezaki's Black Jack OVAs (I may or may not do a blog post on them in the near future). They're high quality mature works, taking classic Black Jack stories and presenting them with a darker realstic edge and a flair for drama that only Dezaki can acheive. So you can understand that transitioning from the OVAs to the more cartoony 2004 TV series would be a bit jarring for me. That's not to say Black Jack TV is bad, it just carries a lot less weight than the OVAs.

If for some reason you've never heard of Black Jack, he's the master surgeon who was created back in the 70's by manga god Osamu Tezuka. The stories were mostly told in formulaic one-chapter stories: someone has a disease that conventional doctors can't cure, so they go to the unlicensed doctor Black Jack, who normally charges a high price but can fix pretty much anything. There's normally some social commentary or moral buried in each story. Black Jack himself is an interesting figure; from his scarred face and cape to his mysterious motives, he's an unconventional but likable protagonist.

So how does this version of Black Jack hold up based on my first impression? Eh, it's okay. For 2004 it looks kind of cheap, with big offenders like the poor CG houses in the opening and the bold outlines on the character models. The plot of episode 1 (there's an episode zero that I didn't watch but is available on the site), involves a needle getting lost in a patient and then disappearing. Not the most compelling Black Jack story, but given the strength of the source material and involvement of Tezuka Production, later episodes of the show might be better. Tezuka fans might get a kick out of seeing Sharaku as a character in the show. For those who don't know, Sharaku is the main character of The Three-Eyed One, yet another Tezuka manga. I don't know if this Sharaku has a third eye, but the bandage on his head suggests he might. Or maybe it's a tease.

I know Tezuka and Black Jack fans will definitely check this show out, but for the Black Jack newbs, I recommend checking out the OVAs or the manga first. There's nothing wrong with this version, but if you want to be wowed, this is not the one to start with.

LOVE SURVIVOR! LOVE SURVIVOR! Okay, before you read this, check out the opening song for this show. You will thank me later.

Now that you're done having your ears pleasured, how is Tobikage? Well, it's certainly an 80's super robot show! In the future, Mars has become a colony for Earth. Like some sort of Space Australia, criminals are sent there to do hard labor. The son of one of these criminals, Joe Maya, has just turned 16 and must now become a soldier or a hard laborer. Or that would be a case if a mysterious army piloting ninja robots didn't decide to invade on his birthday. Luckily Joe finds his own giant robot, which can transform into a lion with laser cannons.

The set-up actually reminded me of the recent anime Valvrave, proving that this plot has pretty much been used forever, though this show is somehow not as ridiculous as Valvrave beyond the cheese-tastic opening. Joe's your rebellious young hero; even before the ninja robots show up, he's resisting the police and doesn't want to join the army, because despite soldiers having it better than laborers, he doesn't want to take orders from them. He's a flawed but ultimately sort of likable guy. There's some good if standard old-school mecha action as well, though seeing giant robots with spears take out tanks and jets armed with laser cannons with ease is a bit ridiculous. Not much else to say other than if you like this kind of set-up and transforming robots, you'll probably dig Tobikage.

I'm putting both Yattermans in the same boat as they're not all that different from each other. There's some slight character tweaking for the heroes in New Yatterman and there's some more meta-humor, but both shows start out pretty much the same way. Gan is a mechanical genius and son of a toymaker. With the help of his girlfriend Ai, he completes his father dog mecha, the Yatterwan. Using Yatterwan and toy gadgets, Gan and Ai become Yatterman and Yatterman-2 and fight the villainous and comedic Doronbo Gang!

This is pure Saturday morning cartoon flavor, and right off the bat you'll know if you like this or not. Funnily enough, in anime culture the Doronbo Gang is the most popular aspect of the Yatterman franchise. The three villains were the prototype for later bumbling kid's villains, primarily Team Rocket in the Pokemon anime. Most of the show's humor revolves around them screwing up, puns, and fart jokes. As juvenile as the humor is, it's never annoying and always tongue-in-cheek. When the Doronbo Gang first shows up, they don't just explain who they are to the viewers, they SING about who they are. Now that's how to do exposition. The plotting is extremely simplistic; the Doronbo Gang wants to collect Skull Stones (or Skull Rings in New Yatterman) for their mysterious never-seen boss so they can become extremely wealthy, and it's up to Yatterman to stop them every week. It's as basic as Saturday morning cartoon superhero fare goes, but the show's saving grace is the silly humor and the Doronbo Gang.

I could definitely see myself watching each show once a day. It's a fun diversion that doesn't take itself too seriously, and the tropes it employs, while super common now, were new at the time, and it's fun seeing how they were implemented back in the day. But which version should you watch? Well, both are pretty similar, and I can't pick one as a superior version. What I do know is that the original series gets away with some more... risque jokes than the newer version, but New Yatterman employs some bizarre meta-jokes and parodies of real-life people like George Washington and supposedly Barack Obama, so pick your favorite version knowing that.

Before Sailor Moon, magical girls didn't often fight anyone. They would more often use their magic to make their lives easier or more fun, and at it's heart, that's what Creamy Mami does, but it sticks out by being super-creative. A young girl named Yuu gets magic from aliens for one year. Said-aliens come down in a flying ark with two talking cats who act as mentors to Yuu (cats mentoring magical girls? Never happens!). She uses her magic to become an older idol named Creamy Mami and win over her crush. Oh, and she gets to fight aliens as well.

Now this isn't an action show technically, and the focus is still on Yuu using her magic to become a pop idol, but it's easy to see why this is considered one of the classic magical girl anime. There's a sequence in the first episode in which Yuu experiences the memories of the aliens, and in those memories she slays a dragon. The whole scene looks like it was taken from a fantasy epic, and if we get more scenes like that, I'd definitely buy this show. The appeal of a young girl becoming an adult makes perfect sense for a show aimed at young girls, providing them with the fun fantasy of becoming a successful pop star with magical powers.

Magical girl fans should definitely check this show out, and for people curious enough to explore the roots of magical girl shows, this would be a good place to start out. The creative imagery and sense of wonderment were definitely enough to get me interested.

Another Tezuka offering, this was the last show Osamu Tezuka would directly be involved with before his death in 1989. In the same way Creamy Mami enticed young girls with its creativity, I could definitely see this as being the boy equivalent in some respects. Kakeru has a dream of an evil emperor named Gros attacking him on the train, but Gros is just a fictional character in the books that Kakeru's father writes, or so he thought. It turns out Gros is real, and he sends his henchmen out to kidnap Kakeru's father so he can no longer tell the public about the Gros Empire, despite the fact that Kakeru's father had no idea the stories he was writing were real. Luckily for Kakeru, he finds a magical blue pony named Blink who helps the boy chase after his father. Along the way he meets a shady duo of incompetent thieves, a bus driver who can take him to alternate worlds, and fights a flying mechanical mask.

This is pure kid's adventure fantasy at some of its best. All that stuff I listed above happens in the first episode alone, which makes you wonder just else the show has left to offer. If it manages to stay as creative and imaginative as the first episode, this show needs some definite love as we don't get kid's shows like this anymore. There's not much depth to the characters, but they're written competently and have their distinctive personalities. It's not Tezuka's masterpiece, but if this was the last thing he ever worked on, then he went out on a good note.

Another Tatsunoko superhero show, though not nearly as comedic as Yatterman. Well, it is hilariously 70's, from the catchy but dated theme song to the giant blonde afros. Actually, I take it back, it's awesomely 70's in my book. Someone get me the soundtrack for this, it's a great mix of orchestral and groovy beats.

This is going to shock you, but the plot for this is really simple. In the future, pollution is about to kill the planet. Humanity has three years to find a new home before the Earth dies, but to make matters worse, an alien race called the Waldaster decides to invade. Luckily, we have Space Knight Tekkaman to defend us with his mighty space lance and whip.

This is definitely a show I would recommend to someone who likes old-school tokusatsu shows like Kamen Rider, where the fun comes from people in ridiculous costumes beat up bad guys in their own ridiculous costumes and a kicking soundtrack. Lupin III fans will be happy to hear Yasuo Yamada playing the blonde afro dude known as Andro. If that stuff doesn't appeal to you, Tekkaman doesn't have much else to offer. It's a simple 70's superhero cartoon for people who like simple 70's superhero cartoons, and it doesn't have the comedic chops that Yatterman does. Though I'd argue that someone who doesn't like knights blowing robots up in the middle of space while trumpets blare awesome music in the background has an empty soul.

24 Hour TV Specials:

The 24 Hour TV Specials are about 90 minutes each, and there are 3 available on the site: Bander Book, Marine Express, and Fumoon. Due to the length and my limited time, I haven't checked these out yet, but I've heard they're all interesting experimental films from Osamu Tezuka, and having seen a couple of Tezuka's experimental films, I know that means they're special and probably worth watching. I'd like to point out that the films are all split into three separate videos, so if you want to watch all of Bander Book, you have to go to another video every 30 minutes to watch it all. I don't know why the movies were split up like this, but them's the breaks.

Again, these are just first impressions and not full reviews. I recommend checking all of these shows out and seeing which ones tickle your fancy, but I hope I inspired some interest in Anime Sols. While there have been attempts to kickstart anime licenses in the past, none have been done quite like this, and I want to see the project be successful. The site's not complete quite yet, as the FAQ page is empty and the planned articles and forums are empty at the moment, but the site just went up so be patient.

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