A Fistful of ’80s

Or, How I Learned to Just Embrace the Corn
by Bolt Vanderhuge

In spite of being something akin to an old classic, I feel like Fist of the North Star tends to get forgotten by modern audiences, or just mocked by them if they are made aware of it.  Yet if one can overlook the poor animation quality, visual inconsistencies, and simplistic plot, it really is a strangely watchable show.

First, though, you should be aware of the fact that you have essentially two options, as I’m highlighting both a movie released in 1986 and a series which aired from 1984-1987, which were both produced by the same creative staff.  The series was pretty obviously made for a younger crowd, and is toned down accordingly, often through the use of silhouette or recoloring blood to either black or white for the gorier scenes, while the movie revels in goriness, being sure to show you as much of the insides of the victims of the various styles of martial arts (referred to as fists) used by protagonist Kenshiro and a few other characters he comes across on his journey to rescue his fiancé.  Ironically, there’s a lot more random nudity in the series than there is in the movie.

Nudity has no place in my gory movie

In any case, this is a post-apocalyptic story, set in the ruins of a nuclear holocaust that has claimed most of humanity and left the entire planet a ruin.  The movie leave the nature of this apocalypse something of a mystery, but the series explicitly spells it out and even shows it a few times in flashback.  While most of what remains of humanity has fallen into anarchy and lives off what they can salvage from the remains of civilization (and is very much inspired by Mad Max), there are still martial art masters keeping their traditions alive.  Most of them, such as the titular “Fist of the North Star,” are seen as so powerful that there can be only one legitimate practitioner of them at a time.  Kenshiro is but one of three adopted sons of the master of the Fist of the North Star, and undergoes trials with them so the master can decide which to choose as heir to his Fist.  He ends up going with Kenshiro, and this ends up making the others rather upset.  One of them just takes what he has learned so far and kills the master before leaving on a quest to take over the world so he can bring order to the chaos.  As it happens, Kenshiro was set to marry a woman named Yuria, and is best friends with the man who has learned the Fist of the Southern Cross, Shin, at this time, and his other jealous brother decides to screw him over by convincing Shin that Yuria would be better off with him.  So the first part of both the movie and the series consists of Shin betraying Kenshiro and almost killing him in order to get him to give Yuria up, giving him the signature Big Dipper scar on his chest in the process, with Kenshiro seeking to rescue Yuria and take revenge on Shin after he has recovered.  This then ultimately culminates in a conflict with his oldest adoptive brother, Ken-Oh/Roah, and him never quite getting Yuria back.

No matter which version of this story you decide to watch, you are going to be bombarded by cheesy ’80s action goodness combined with all the anime clichés you can think of.  The series does tell a much more coherent story than the movie, and actually adds more than one dimension to the main antagonists, but it does really draw the story out and take its time to get to the point, but it makes up for this by being strangely watchable, with just enough interesting points to keep one watching.  The movie is basically just a massive dose of the good ol’ ultra-violent – the product of a style that has become a thing of the past, much to my disappointment.  The downside to both versions is that it involves a couple of kids joining up with Kenshiro, essentially to become audience proxies so that things can be explained to them.  But as with most child characters, they tend to be rather annoying and get used to generate melodrama thanks to their stupidity.  One of them, Lynn, is like a moéblob even though that trope had yet to be a thing, and is so clingy she would give Overly Attached Girlfriend a run for her money.

Strictly speaking, I would not call this a “good” show per se, as Kenshiro really epitomizes the Gary Stu trope, and the story is quite simplistic, but it is still a lot of fun to watch Kenshiro’s arms blur as he pushes his enemies’ secret pressure points to make them all explode, and even does crazy things like beat up a WWII Panzer tank, so I’d still recommend it to fans of the ’80s action genre.

Fuck Yeah! Look It Up:
Fist of the North Star [Hokuto no Ken] 109 episode anime (1984), and film (1987)
Based on the manga by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara
Produced by Toei, Licenced by Discotek

The Man We Don’t Deserve (Or Need)

When the world needed a savior, Kanta Mizuno appeared – and it was pretty much downhill from there.
by Gristle McThornbody

The face of a man looking at 5 lbs of meat in a 2lb bag

Desert Punk is a 24 episode romp from our old friends at Gonzo that spins the tale of *the bestest ever* Handyman Guild mercenary and his misadventures in the Great Kanto Desert. Surrounded by much more competent (or at least level-headed) contemporaries -and an apprentice- scrounging for table scraps in post-apocalyptic Japan, what once was a flight of fancy almost seems an attainable and realistic “new normal” when viewed from the 2020 landscape. Some shows are plot driven, some are “plot” “driven” (boobs), and some, like this one, are character driven (also boobs). While sitting as another post-world-ending anime, and borrowing quite a few well-known tropes of both that genre and good Japanese humor, the thing that sets DP apart is the bang-up jobs the Americans did with the localization.

The dub is what essentially made anime more appealing to me back in 2009, having come from a good diet of Cowboy Bebop on CN, and seeing Azumanga Daioh at the Clark County anime club. It was proof that anime could do more than be cool like Bebop or ordinary like Azu. Madcap adventures and well-done ribald humor planted firmly into satire with a decent plot (up to a point) endeared Desert Punk to me, and made me want to jump into the genre even more.  

Such a well-developed plot

Adapted from the still-ongoing manga by Usune Masatoshi, the anime plows through its 24 episodes fully tongue-in-cheek, and it’s obvious they had tons of fun adapting the madcap adventures to an English language audience. If you want a sampler without spoiling the Gonzo ending, take these Punkisms for a ride. I’d venture a guess that either the ADR folks were given full-reign, and very much knew their source material very well, because whoo-boy, have I seen tons of anime set in this type of world where the VO falls flat on its face. So, I’m grateful that they had a deft, 4th-wall-breaking dub to take us through to the end times of this anime.

It’s all fun and games until you realize…

While it’s been 11 years since I first saw it, removing the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia reveals that this is a still-fun watch. There are plenty of wacky, wild situations for the titular character goes head first into, and it gets into an episodic, nearly predictable formula. Namely, DP does a thing, either fails or succeeds and almost gets the boobies. Situations range from stealing what turned out to be a truck full of poop, to trapping the boob-tastic Junko so that she ends up high heels and a bathing suit, to a nice dueling episode with Rain Spider. Along the way, DP picks up an assistant/apprentice/annoying moéblob (that’s actually useful one or twice), and with the strong bunch of folks, it rather works out well, surprisingly. So, that’s the first 75%. The plot gets flipped at the end, but this is a Gonzo title, after all. Plan accordingly. But I’m not giving away that end, though lol! So, since you’re the type of audience that likes Max Weeb, you’ll probably like Desert Punk, too.

There are many swords to fall on. Why DP’s?

Fuck Yeah! Look It Up:
Desert Punk (2004) 24 episode anime
Based on the manga by Masatoshi Usune
Produced by Gonzo, Licenced by Funimation

The Passion of the Animator

Eizouken takes us on a journey of inspiration…and cash
by Punch Rockgroin

Back in 2014, Shiro Bako gave us a taste of what it takes to produce an anime in the modern day. These were the more technical aspects, such as the steps in animation, getting the voice work recorded and the humps encountered along the way. It showed a bit of the inspiration of what drove the animators into their profession, but these inspirations tended to come from series in their childhood more than anything else. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! shows a bit of that, but also shows the creativity that can be derived from the everyday, and what drives them to complete their vision.

The series follows a trio high schoolers (duh) looking to get into animating. Well, two of them are there to animate, while the third sees an opportunity to make some money. Midori Asakusa is seemingly the head, who directs the animation and comes up with the ideas. Her friend (referred to as “comrade”) Sayaka Kanamori isn’t much for watching anime, but can’t resist a great plan for making money, and is generally tasked with maintaining both cash flow and keeping the animators on schedule. Completing the trio is Tsubame Misuzaki, a famous amateur model who is fascinated with movement and would rather be an animator than an actor like her parents.

Tsubame is forbidden by her parents from joining the school’s anime club, so after running into Asakusa and Kanamori and finding their shared interests, they instead form the Eizouken (film club) to get around this quandary. From there, the only way is up, with the occasional meddling from the student council, and Kanamori making sure the animators are staying on task.

Throughout the show, we are treated to Asakusa’s thought process on creating a world and a story, while relying on the real world for ideas. There are times when I have to wonder if today’s animators are more inspired by the anime they watched growing up than the world around them, but this gives me some hope that there are those out there that utilize everyday life to create something other-worldly. Even Misuzaki, who is enthralled with motion, especially drives this point home: She watches people and their movements, and will take even mundane things like tea thrown from a cup to make more believable motion. Some of the backgrounds have a nice “lived-in” feel, looking appropriately dirty in their detail. On top of all this is Kanamori, butting heads with school faculty and other clubs just to get more money.

Eizouken is a fun watch from start to finish. The process of inspiration, to hard work, obstacles and finally fruition for all of their projects is a treat, to both the eyes and the heart. It is not a thought-provoking series, but could at least serve as a way to inspire and guide those who also seek to bring their ideas into reality. All it takes is dedication to your vision…and someone who will keep the money flowing.

FUCK YEAH, Look It Up!
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Based on the manga by Sumito Owara
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Animated by Science Saru
Licensed by Crunchyroll

Making a Spectacle of Itself

Subverting Expectations Before It Was Cool
by Bolt Vanderhuge

Red Spectacles (1987), along with its sequel/prequel, is not well known even among anime fans, even those who are aware of the last of the “Kerboros Saga” films, Jin-Roh.  Its director, Mamoru Oshii, is generally better known for his animated works, especially the 1995 adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, the production of which is actually the reason he didn’t end up directing Jin-Roh.  More recently, however, people have been rediscovering what was Oshii’s first non-animated film, perhaps thanks to reviewers like yours truly retroactively throwing a spotlight on it.  The problem is, a lot of people go into this film expecting it to be like Jin-Roh, and all the marketing for this movie really doesn’t help much in that regard.

The infamous armor is barely even in it

Even the Wikipedia article would doesn’t reveal the fact that this film is as far from Jin-Roh as one can get while still being in the same alternate-history universe.  I will try my best to explain, but one cannot truly have this film explained to them; it must be experienced.

The first step to understanding this film, is realizing that it’s not straightforward, at all.  There are layers to it, and it’s difficult to realize it the first time you watch it, other than the obvious contrast of the segments that are in color with those that are in black and white.  And the majority of the film is in black and white.  The basic plot of film is that the “Special Unit,” created to combat a rising crime rate in an alternate-history Tokyo that had been occupied by Germans rather than by Americans, gained enemies among the Metropolitan Police and was overthrown when a new regime came to power.  The “Kerberos Riot” resulted when the Special Unit refused to stand down, but after a siege it surrendered.  However, senior detective Kōichi Todome, managed to escape Japan, and returns to Tokyo after three years in hiding, only to almost immediately draw attention from the government.  However, it doesn’t take long for things to get stranger and stranger, and it becomes impossible to take seriously, as absurdist humor takes over the film.

Within the first few minutes, actually

It is better to think of this film as more of an exploration of concepts than as a narrative that is meant to be followed and understood by the audience.  If anything, I’d say the entire point of the film is for the audience to figure it out for themselves.  It’s difficult to determine what even actually happened in the “real world” as portions of the film are undeniably only taking place in Kōichi’s mind.  It’s been suggested that the color portions of the film are the only “real” parts, but there are at least two different versions of Kōichi’s escape in color, so which is real?  And who is the mysterious woman who keeps appearing throughout the film?  Everything is pretty much left up to you to decide for yourself, along with whatever it was that Oshii was trying to tell you with this film.

All that can be said for certain is that this film is well worth watching and experiencing for yourself, and that no brothers or friends exist in a small restroom.

Fuck Yeah! Look it up!
The Red Spectacles (1987)
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Distributed by Omnibus Promotion

A Full Course of Fun

Like someone made a Rosario + Vampire Hentai
by Bolt Vanderhuge

Itadaki! Seieki is probably one of the more vanilla hentais you might watch, as the only “strange” thing about it is that it involves a half-vampire/half-succubus who can change her body and personality based on the desires of her chosen meal. “Meal” is actually the entire premise of this short OVA, as Setogaya Mari lures high school student Kanzaki to the PE storage shed after school in a very stereotypical set-up that the OVA actually lampshades, only to kick him in the head so she can bite him and feed on his blood. He takes it pretty well. She introduces herself as a vampire, and has the bat wings to prove it, but as it turns out, she can’t actually handle blood. Apparently she had been living off of sweat and saliva – secretions which are a form of life energy. Kanzaki has a certain alternative he suggests to her instead. Alas, she doesn’t actually swallow much thick Bavarian cream through her mouth, if you’re into that kind of thing, as she seems to just absorb it.

It’s just so gosh darn cute!

As you might guess, this turns into a regular thing, and Setogaya isn’t exactly subtle when she comes to get her lunch either. It’s a pretty thin premise, which is probably why it’s less than a half-hour long when you watch both parts of this OVA together. So it’s pretty tame in spite of getting a bit rapey at one point, and might not appeal to you if you’re used to something more adventurous than high school students sneaking off to fuck and a woman who can make her boobs bigger or make herself just the way Aku likes ‘em at will.

If you just can’t be bothered to read subtitles, like I used to be before I became a MaximumWeeaboo, this has been localized as Vampire Vixen. Probably a bit catchier than “Gimmie That Semen.” The dub is… okay. It’s better at some points than others. At least they tried. The main appeal here is that the localizers got a hold of an uncensored version, to further enhance your hentai viewing pleasure.

So should you watch this OVA? Fuck, why not? It’s like a half-hour long, bro.

Fuck Yeah check it out!

Itadaki! Seieki / Vampire Vixen
Based on the manga by doumou
Produced by Pashmina, Licenced by Kitty Media

Riding That Bean

An ’80s Action Anime Classic

by Bolt Vanderhuge

As Anime Central 2019 approaches, and the premiere of a new crowdfunded OVA featuring Bean Bandit along with it, I thought I’d take a look back at the OVA that started it all. It occurs to me that some (or most) of you might not know who Bean Bandit is, nor the man who created him, Kenichi Sonoda. To be fair, most of the work he is known for came out in the ’80s and ’90s, but he’s probably best known for the anime and manga Gunsmith Cats. Less known is his previous work featuring many of the same characters, Riding Bean, which also takes place in Chicago.

Just imagine the Blues Brothers theme playing to this.

Bean Bandit is essentially a shady getaway driver for hire, who drives a tricked out sports car of his own design that is not only bullet-proof, but can swivel all four of its wheels ninety degrees so he can drive it sideways. If you’re familiar with Gunsmith Cats at all, you might recognize the name Rally Vincent. In Riding Bean, she’s a blonde-haired, blue-eyed anime American, who’s partners in crime (and the sack) with Bean Bandit, which is something of a surprise given their back-and-forth relationship in the Gunsmith Cats manga, and the fact he appears basically the same in both. He never did make it into the anime, though, which is probably why most anime fans aren’t even aware of him (uncultured swine!).

As for plot, Riding Bean isn’t super complicated or anything (it is only 48 minutes long after all). It’s just a classic ’80s action flick, featuring plenty of violence and brief nudity, and a tone that’s never quite entirely serious in spite of the blood and gore. Basically, a sadistic lesbian kidnaps a millionaire and his daughter, and her brilliant plan is to frame Bean Bandit for the kidnapping since he’s already on the Chicago PD’s shit list. Unfortunately for her, Bean Bandit is basically the Terminator, and manages to escape the trap she set for him by sheer awesomeness alone.

Please note this is after he’s been run over by this car.

The soundtrack is very ’80s, and despite the fact it was dubbed much later than the original 1989 release, the delivery of the vast majority of the lines fits right in with the era. But that’s okay, because that’s all part of the glorious ’80s anime experience.

There’s also an interesting “what if” scenario with this anime, because this was apparently originally planned as a series and that never happened. There was also a manga based on this premise that was left unfinished because the magazine publishing it cancelled, which caused Mr. Sonoda to move on and create the Gunsmith Cats manga. While Mr. Sonoda prefers Bean Bandit because he can identify with him better, I tend to prefer Gunsmith Cats and that version of Rally Vincent. All the same, I’m excited to see what the new OVA is going to bring, and I hope to catch it when it premieres at ACEN this year.

In the meantime, it’s fun to look back at what started it all, and I recommend you check it out yourself!

FUCK YEAH! LOOK IT UP
Riding Bean Original Video Animation
Based on the manga by Kenichi Sonoda
Produced by AIC, Licenced by AnimEigo

Check your rearview!

Future GPX Cyber Formula is coming back from behind

by Bob Johnson

One country’s breakout hit is another country’s also-ran. Notoriously, Cowboy Bebop – perpetual pinnacle of the genre among western anime fans – never caught on in Japan, whereas shows like Future GPX Cyber Formula outsold it and got sequel after sequel. So what gives? How is *THIS* such a huge franchise?

Maybe it appeals to Japan’s affinity for achievable futurism and plucky protagonists. At age 14, Hayato Kazami is hanging around his dad’s co-workers, “Cyber Formula” race team SUGO – but his main jam is riding his motorcycle. Everything is turned on its head when thieves come for the team’s car, forcing Hayato to take the wheel. Day saved, no problem? Well, Asurada’s computer locks everyone else out except the kid, and even the race team’s top cyber-whiz can’t crack the FaceID. So their up-and-coming Cyber Formula team is doomed unless Hayato can learn to drive.

Continue reading

GOTCHA!

China makes its first shots and corrects for windage and elevation
by Punch Rockgroin

If the new Diablo: Immortal game is any indication, mobile gaming has yet to take off in the West in the way it has in Japan. Mobile gaming continues to grow in popularity, while the Diablo fiasco is only exacerbated by the statement “You guys don’t have phones?” As other parts of the gaming market lag and dwindle, mobile gaming has found its footing.

Japan is spoiled for choice when it comes to mobile, such as Granblue Fantasy and Fire Emblem Heroes, among others. One such mobile game I have mentioned before, Kantai Collection (for a time overtaking Touhou Project as the top spot for doujins released at Comiket), has stagnated and is falling behind a rival with a similar premise.

A rival made in China. Continue reading

City Pop

-or- How I Learned To Stop Worrying About the Radio In My Supra
by Gristle McThornbody

Once the domain of vaporwave-blaring hipsters pining to be ironic under the guise of A E S T H E T I C, city pop is Japan’s answer to the bombastic 80s. Clawing back from relative obscurity, we are treated to neon-filled, tape deck fueled ode to the big city life. Filling this watercolored, pastel world is the melodic and often horn-filled songs that toast to the bustling life of a never-ending, 24-hour day. To some degree, it mirrors America in the same time, with artists like Chris Cross who –well sparkle- with some technopop elements, while letting the mix aerate with elements that naturally advect into our stream of consciousness, and you have the recipe for that musical entrée.

Continue reading

Gods, Gold, and Revenge

Golden Kamuy‘s Hokkaido Treasure Hunt

by Punch Rockgroin

Great Hunter Asirpa

A young hunter, with the greatest facial expressions known to man.

On rare occasion, I will buy a manga based on its cover. Golden Kamuy ended up being an exception simply based on the fact said cover had what I assumed (correctly) was the main character wielding some type of well-detailed bolt action rifle. Reading the description on the back cover stated the story follows a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war. Being this is a time period rarely covered in fiction, historical or otherwise, I picked it up without much hesitation. Best of all, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent story with great art and GTO-worthy facial reactions.

Continue reading