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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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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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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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Japan Journal 2018, Pt. 2: Adventures on Odaiba

12 May

A month ago, I was flying back from Tokyo to New York. Here I continue my search for Tokyo locations used in live-action Japanese superhero shows, specifically the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises, all of which stage elaborate action scenes at accessible locations in and around Tokyo. This entry is devoted to Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay on the other side of the Sumida River from mainland Tokyo. Here’s a travel brochure shot:

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Japan Journal 2018, Part 1: Adventure on Harumi Island

30 Apr

I was in Tokyo from March 27 to April 11, 2018, on a mission to see five J-pop concerts and visit a couple dozen locations used in Super Sentai and Kamen Rider shows and movies. I covered similar locations on my previous trip (March-April 2016) and wrote about them here. My goal was to see for myself the urban spaces that are used in such a unique way on these shows and how they’re used in everyday life when not hosting costumed superheroes and rubber-suited monsters. A collateral benefit of these explorations is the discovery of parts of Tokyo not seen by many tourists. One of my most interesting excursions this time was to the Harumi Island Passenger Ship Terminal, which led to my witnessing quite an unusual cultural phenomenon that I would not have seen had I gone on any other day and which made use of this particular urban seaport space in a most creative way. The Harumi Terminal faces Tokyo Bay and was built on an island that was created in the 20th century and seems to be devoted to residential districts and high-rise apartment and office towers. (New Yorkers: Think Roosevelt Island if it was about half the size of Central Park.) The terminal has a number of large plazas and staircases that lend themselves to the kind of sprawling fight scenes found in the shows I follow, as seen in these pictures:

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Kamen Rider Movies: A 47-Year Old Superhero Franchise Continues to Thrive

25 Mar

Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider) premiered on Japanese television on April 3, 1971. It was the brainchild of Shotaro Ishinomori, author of the wildly successful manga series, Cyborg 009, which had already been adapted into two animated features and one animated series for television. Kamen Rider preceded by four years the premiere of Goranger, the first sentai series and another long-running franchise, also created by Ishinomori. All of these series were produced by Toei Pictures. When I visited the Toei Kyoto Studio Park in 2016, I saw a gallery devoted to Kamen Rider:

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The Last Video Store in the Bronx

4 Sep

On May 27 of this year, my local video store, a branch of the once-thriving FYE (For Your Entertainment) chain, closed its doors for good. Construction began immediately on the site for a new business and just last week it opened, giving our neighborhood for the first time (shudder!), a Starbucks. I had been a regular customer of FYE for 15 years, starting in 2002 when it replaced a previous video franchise on the site, Coconuts, from which I only have one record of a purchase, in August 1999, of three VHS tapes—a Jackie Chan movie and two Godzilla movies, all dubbed in English. I’m sure I must have purchased more there, but I hadn’t noted down any others. I can’t prove there are no more family video stores left in the Bronx (as opposed to those in the X-rated business), but I’m betting this FYE was the last one. (There aren’t many video stores left in Manhattan either.) I used to go to a FYE in Manhattan, but I don’t remember where it was or when it closed. According to a news story on the Bronx FYE closing, there is still one branch open in Queens.

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