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Anime Movie Highlights 2021: Pokémon, Doraemon and Pretty Cure

29 Dec

The best new anime features I saw in 2021 were the newest movie spin-offs of three long-running TV anime franchises, Pokémon, Doraemon, and Pretty Cure (aka Precure). I saw two of them in Japanese without subtitles and one with subtitles. Two were released in theaters in 2020 in Japan and one in 2021, but I didn’t get to see them until my local Japanese video store got them this past summer. One was eventually released in the U.S., but only on Netflix.

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Japanese Comics: Discovering Manga in the 1990s

28 Oct

American comic book publishers started releasing Japanese manga titles in English on a regular basis sometime in the late 1980s. Some of the earliest to appear were the following:

I first started reading manga in 1992, right after I’d acquired some anime VHS tapes in Japanese without subtitles. My earliest manga purchases were chosen so I could follow the anime adaptations without translation. In the process, I learned to appreciate manga for its own qualities.

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LIKE THE CLOUDS, LIKE THE WIND (1990) – Anime Tale of Village Girl-Turned-Empress

19 Jul

 

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In 1992, I bought a VHS tape, an animated feature in Japanese with no subtitles, from a dealer at a comics show and it was pitched to me as a film by Hayao Miyazaki, whose work I’d begun recently exploring. The title was LIKE THE CLOUDS, LIKE THE WIND (KUMO NO YOUNI, KAZE NO YOUNI) and it was from 1990 and 79 minutes long. I watched it with my daughter. It seemed clearly set in China several hundred years ago and followed the progress of a spunky young peasant girl, Ginga, who learns of a drive by the palace to recruit girls to be potential brides or consorts for the new Emperor. She’s picked to join them and embarks on a series of classes and instruction and physical training along with dozens of other girls who are eventually winnowed down to a handful, including her three roommates, each a disparate type. Palace intrigue threatens them on the inside while a rebel army building force threatens them on the outside, eventually forcing the girls to use the palace stocks of cannons, flintlock rifles and other weapons of war to fight back.

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Yo-kai Watch: A Clever Anime Mix of 2-D, 3-D and Live-Action

24 Jan

A movie shown in Japan in early 2020, MASHIN SENTAI KIRAMAGER EPISODE ZERO, introduced the year’s super sentai season (the basis for Power Rangers), “Mashin Sentai Kiramager” (still on the air in Japan as of this writing), and offers a closing song sequence in which an anime character from another Toei series, the idol anime “Healin’ Good Pretty Cure,” appears alongside the Red Ranger from Kiramager to do a song, with the 2-D cartoon character inserted into the live-action scene. Soon, other animated girls from the Pretty Cure series, a total of seven, gradually join them in the number, featuring three different sets of Power Rangers, all dancing together. In some shots, they’re all filmed on location in Tokyo, while in others the Power Rangers are inserted into 2-D anime backgrounds.

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Power Rangers Samurai Shiba House: A Marvel of Set Design

3 Jun

Last month I watched 20 episodes of “Power Rangers Samurai” (2011), which was filmed in Auckland, New Zealand and was based on the 2009 Japanese Super Sentai season, “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.” It’s about a group of young Samurai Rangers who’ve trained since childhood and come together at a crucial point in their young adult life to stop the onslaught of monsters seeping through “gaps” from the “netherworld” where their monstrous leader, Xandred, and his minions were consigned centuries ago by an earlier group of Samurai Rangers. It was a series I only watched sporadically when it was originally on, so I never came to appreciate the beauty of the building in which the Rangers live and train, known as Shiba House to its occupants since it’s owned, in the show, by the Shiba Samurai Clan, the Rangers’ backer.

It’s a modernist building incorporating traditional Japanese design elements and is a beautiful structure both inside and out. It looked to me to be so real and solid that I couldn’t imagine a Power Rangers budget being able to afford the expense of constructing such a set, even in New Zealand, where production costs are considerably lower than in Hollywood.

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VHS Memories: Discovering Anime in the Early ’90s

16 Jul

I had been following Japanese animation off and on from 1964, when I first saw “Astro Boy” and “Gigantor” on TV as a child, to the early 1980s when I saw the anime features PHOENIX 2772 and GALAXY EXPRESS 999 on the big screen, but it didn’t really take a permanent hold on my consciousness until the release of AKIRA in theaters in the U.S. in 1990 led to a trickle of Japanese animated features being shown at film festivals and repertory theaters.

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The Passing of Two Manga Greats: Kazuo Koike and Monkey Punch

25 Apr

Earlier this month, two great manga creators died six days apart. Kazuhiko Kato died on April 11 at the age of 81 and Kazuo Koike died on April 17 at the age of 82. Both died of pneumonia. Kato was best known by his pseudonym, Monkey Punch, and was the creator, writer and artist of “Lupin III,” a long-running manga about a not-so-gentleman thief and his band of uniquely skilled sidekicks, that formed the basis for numerous animated TV series, movies and specials made from 1971 to 2018. Kazuo Koike was a writer responsible for some of my favorite manga series, including “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Crying Freeman” and “Lady Snowblood.” These titles and others he wrote were made into live-action films, TV series and animated films. The two men were sometime rivals whose careers ran parallel to each other and they even collaborated once, as indicated in this paragraph from Anime News Network featuring Koike’s reaction after Kato’s death had been announced:

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Power Rangers at 25: A Look Back

26 Jan

I was meaning to do a piece on the 25th anniversary of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but I got sidetracked around the time of the anniversary (last August) and then worried how I could tackle such a broad subject in a single entry. I’m glad I waited because I recently came across a long-buried file containing press coverage of the Power Rangers from 1993-95, when the franchise got its heaviest media exposure. I’ve scanned some of these articles (from TV Guide and other sources) and pasted them below. Also, I got to see the very last episode of the current and 25th season, “Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel,” which aired on the Nickelodeon cable channel on December 1, 2018.

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Sentai Locations 2018: Sumida River

10 Jun

On March 27, 2018, as the bus headed from Haneda Airport to the Tokyo City Air Terminal near my hotel not long after my arrival, we crossed the Sumida River and I looked to the left and even though night had fallen, I clearly saw a waterfront location that had been used in KAMEN RIDER ICHIGO, the 2016 Kamen Rider movie that I’d seen in a theater in Osaka during my 2016 trip to Japan, and which I now owned on DVD. As it turned out, it was only minutes from my hotel, so I resolved to make that my first stop the next day.

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Sentai Locations 2018: Chiba City

20 May

In Chiba City, about an hour’s subway ride straight east from downtown Tokyo, there are a number of locations often used for Japanese superhero shows in the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises, usually for elaborate fight scenes. There’s an office complex that has two large plazas that I’ve seen used in many shows over the years. Just a short distance southwest of that is the Makuhari Messe International Convention Complex, which has a large convention center and a separate exhibition hall, slightly smaller, across the street from it. Adjacent to the convention center is a ground-level plaza that reminded me of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Next to the Exhibition Hall is a small park with a couple of unusual sculptures and fountains.

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