A real blast from the past: Heat Guy J

I often talk about how the early 00s, in the era before mega hits like Death Note and Code Geass came along in the holy grail years of 00s anime (’06 and ’07) there’s a veritable ‘lost era’ of digipaint shows that are now mostly lost to time – ill remembered and ill loved.

Heat Guy J is one of those shows. Although it’s acquired something of a reputation of being a bit of a bomb, I hear it actually sold half decently when released by Manga UK over here a few years after its original Japanese broadcast. Maybe it was the expectations – after all, Heat Guy J was directed by Kazuki Akane, best known for Escaflowne, and co-penned by Hiroshi Onogi, who was behind the script/scenario of some of the biggest shows in anime like the original Macross and Zeta Gundam, as well as working on RahXephon on 2002, the same year Heat Guy J started airing.

The Escaflowne connection continued in the form of Nobuteru Yuki, the self-same character designer from Escaflowne – and it sure shows in the pointy nosed character designs, for me one of the biggest sells of Heat Guy J, along with the highly Kanno-esque soundtrack.

In short, Heat Guy J – produced by studio Satelight – was every bit the spiritual successor to Escaflowne. And yet, in so many other ways, it wasn’t. Gritty, grimy and dark to Escaflowne’s rolling fantastical feel, many of the same storytelling qualities were present (a mix between an episodic and more long-running story style), but let down by the classic feeling of bloat that afflicted many two cour shows in the early 00s. Whilst Escaflowne was lean and clean-cut, Heat Guy J lumbered in its muscular urban setting, never quite realising the sheer power and charm of its predecessor.

And yet, I still feel it’s a show ripe for re-assessment at some point. With the recent re-release by Funimation of another classic early 00s shows – Wolf’s Rain – I think people are starting to come round to the idea that the early 00s wasn’t all digipaint horror. And while Wolf’s Rain was always a much better show to begin with, I think it too shares many of the same stylistic and storytelling hallmarks present in a show like Heat Guy J.

Those looking for a bargain, the whole series in box-set form can be had for around five quid at the time of writing, second hand, on Amazon.

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Shigeo Komori – Traditional (From The New World OST)

Considering the sheer quality of Shigeo Komori’s soundtrack for From The New World / Shin Sekai Yori, it’s surprising to see he hasn’t done more in terms of anime soundtrack duties. Aside from arranging/production duties on songs used in K-On and Saekano, his only other soundtrack work according to MAL is 2011 series A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives and current season show Elegant Yokai Apartment Life.

I love the deep, mystical quality to this track – people often talk about the purpose of religious music to put ‘the terror of God’ in people, and never is it more true than here. From The New World is a fantastically dark series at heart, and the swirling transition between age-old choral chant into distorted electric guitar contains this kind of timeless ‘through the ages’ feel so true to the series ‘return to ruin’ brand of post-apocalypticism.

It’s only a minute and a half long, but it sure packs a punch into that short runtime. If ever there was a snatch of sonic quality that so fundamentally caught up all the emotion and tone of a series, this might just very well be it.

(And that’s not even mentioning the series’ use of the sublime New World symphony from Dvorak – probably my favourite Western classical piece of all time)

MAN WITH A MISSION – Dead End in Tokyo

Man With A Mission remain endlessly fascinating for me, and I don’t just mean the wolf-head outfits. Moreover, I find their clear strategy to put out an all English language track part of a wider trend of Japanese hard-rock acts moving into the English-speaking market, filing them next to the likes of One OK Rock – part of a concerted effort that is seeing the biggest inroute of Japanese music to the West in years (and yes, I suppose you can factor the ‘Babymetal effect’ in there somewhere too.

But whereas Babymetal could arguably be dismissed as a quasi-gimmick act, in much the same way Hatsune Miku could be, Man With A Mission ally themselves more with the existing route of Japanese metal acts like Crossfaith making headway in the Kerrang sphere – and indeed, earlier this year Bad End In Tokyo featured on the Kerrang radio playlist itself, a sure sign that they had ‘arrived’ in Western music circles (and crucially, beyond the insular sphere of purely anisong/Jrock fandom).

To be completely fair, Dead End In Tokyo lacks some of the unbridled, high octane pace that made Raise Your Flag such a supreme joy. But it more than makes up for it in swagger, a cocky strut that eyes the global music market and goes ‘I Want a bit of that!’. If anything fully ‘breaks’ Japanese music in the West, it will be via bands like Man With A Mission and One OK Rock.

And yes, the song really does sound like nothing less than the return of Hard-Fi – which in my eyes can only ever be a good thing.

Kenshi Yonezu – Peace Sign (My Hero Academia OP)

When the second season of My Hero Academia started airing, I’m not sure anyone expected the show to become the behemoth it now currently is. While the 2nd season was always hyped to a strong degree, many initially wavered on it, put off by the slow pacing of the 1st season and the fact season 2 was airing alongside another ridiculously hyped second season: Attack on Titan.

But as MHA’s tournament ark got underway, treating us to some absolutely stellar animation and a renewed sense of urgency, it quickly became apparent that MHA was fast becoming *the* hottest ticket in anime fandom right now, with volumes of the manga approaching Tokyo Ghoul levels of public appetite. MHA had officially entered the major leagues.

And the second season’s OP theme Peace Sign is much the same – initially something of a dark horse, not overly bombastic or powerful, but there in the background, ticking away, growing on you until suddenly – BAM – you realise it’s a fully fledged smash. Now occupying the No. 1 spot on YouTube’s Japan top tracks even though it’s now been switched out with another OP theme for MHA’s second cour of the second season. In the process, the song has racked up over 21 million views on YouTube, it’s energetic, brisk indie-pop guitar stylings a fantastic match for the show’s own athletic, brawling ode to self-improvement.

May’n – Belief (Taboo Tattoo OP)

When it comes down to it, May’n remains one of my favourite J-pop singers at the moment – and of course, while much of this is down to her definitive tracks as the singing voice of Sheryl Nome for Macross Frontier, her post-Macross material is totally up to scratch too, delivering much of the same swagger and class as her Sheryl songs.

Belief is chief among them, a fast-paced, frenetic anthem that ended up soundtracking the OP for much-maligned manga adaptation Taboo Tattoo. I’ve always seen shows like Taboo Tattoo in much the same lineage as things like Black Bullet, firmly b-tier action/fantasy shows that throw up simplistic tropes and pretences at ‘darkness’ but are generally forgotten swiftly after the season they aired in ends.

And while Taboo Tattoo ultimately ended up being largely forgettable (though not without some decent moments), I feel Belief ends up being one of the best things about a show – doing exactly what an OP theme should do; pump you up for the action that’s to follow. ‘What can I do for you?’ May’n sings – and really, the possibilities are endless.

Did the slow English release of Platinum End harm it?

I’ve been pondering Platinum End recently – the latest series from the creators of Death Note – and how it never seemed to really ‘hit’ in the way it should have. Beginning in November 2015 in Japan and running in Jump SQ (the monthly equivalent of Shonen Jump), the series had already been translated into French and was available in French supermarkets via Kaze’s manga imprint by summer 2016. A fast turnaround by all accounts.

But here in the UK and the US, the series currently stands at 20,000 members on MAL, the 4th most successful manga series to launch since the start of 2015, and yet about to be eclipsed by current Shonen Jump hot ticket The Promised Neverland, which is chasing up on 19,000 members at the time of writing.

Part of me wonders whether this is to do with the slow/split English release of the series – the digital Kindle version of volume 1 was available in July 2016, achieving parity with the French editions, but the physical version wasn’t available until October. Even now, the 3rd physical volume is set for an August 2017 release, while in France, they released the 5th volume back in May 2017.

Do we know how well the series is doing in its English translation? Sadly, just as the first volume was released in English, the news came that the New York Times was discontinuing its Manga Top 10, a real blow to industry-watchers who found this a fascinating weekly update in terms of what was selling well. Of course, we have the Amazon pre-order chart too, and by this account, the odds don’t look overly great for Platinum End, with series like Tokyo Ghoul and My Hero Academia regularly outpacing it.

Where this all leaves us is a situtation where Platinum End will arguably only be ‘saved’ in the West by an anime adaptation – which to be fair, is sure to come at some point. The general length between the start of a manga and the start of its anime adaptation typically comes in at around three years these days, so on that account, we might expect an anime version of Platinum End in 2018.

With their previous form with the work of the creators, Madhouse would make a natural fit for the series, and would be sure to deliver the hype and fan expectation a series like this needs. Platinum End, like Death Note, excels at the ‘high concept’, the back of the envelope Hollywood elevator pitch stuff that warms the blood with an instantly recognisable ‘sell’ which can be used to hook potential fans on the series ‘Hey mate, you gotta check this show out, it’s about…’

While I’m personally not the biggest fan of Platinum End, as the successor to one of the biggest manga/anime series of all time, it deserves the mass exposure an anime adaptation would lend it to fully ‘realise’ its potential.

How Robot x Laserbeam nails the feeling of ‘elitism’ in sport

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Robot x Laserbeam, the new series from the Kuroko’s Basketball creator, currently running in weekly Shonen Jump. It took me a long time to warm to sports series – finally won over by Haikyuu’s anime as it powered into the mid-season reaches, and aided by Yuki Hayashii’s amazing score. When it comes to manga versions of sports series, I’ve always been a little more skeptical – I invariably find the action hard to follow, lacking the fluidity and dynamism of when it’s translated to anime.

And yet, I find Robot x Laserbeam weirdly gripping. Perhaps that’s because unlike most Shonen sport series which are about a fired up youth aiming ever higher and higher in a very workmanlike feel, Robot x Laserbeam adopts a sleeker, more stately feel from the off. And a large part of that is down to its chosen sport – Golf.

Yes, Golf. I know when the series first started, many ridiculed or scoffed at the focus on golf – surely one of the most elitist, plummy sports known to man. But for me, that’s been part of the charm of the series from the off. Instead of the same cookie-cutter genki high school lads, all immaturity and unbridled energy, the lads of Robot x Laserbeam are all about slick golfing uniforms, impeccable manners and high class styling. They strut and swagger around and in general appear far more poised and refined.

In this more ‘adult’ flavour – I get touches of the kind of ‘game theory’ aesthetic I’ve talked before about in series like Kaiji – and while Robot x Laserbeam doesn’t concern itself with gambling, by selecting golf as its sport of choice, I feel it moves in that same circle of slickness that the world of professional gambling does. It’s ‘high class’ and it knows it.

How The Promised Neverland nails the old-school fantasy vibe of ‘the unknown’

I’m still absolutely lapping up The Promised Neverland right now. It’s just reached a year into its publication – a sure and steady milestone of any manga running in Shonen Jump when most new series are usually culled only a couple of volumes into their run. But The Promised Neverland has been absolutely on the money from the start, ever chapter containing an abundance of tension, mystery and intrigue that keeps you reading week on week.

I’ve talked before about how, like Attack on Titan, the series is the master of the ‘unknown’, ie. presenting questions upfront that wont be answered for years, dropping little tidbits and tasters that you file away in the back of your mind – feeding the database mindset of the hardcore ‘wiki’ otaku who must know everything and wants to mine the series for every scrap and morsel of lore.

And as The Promised Neverland moves deeper and deeper into its second core story arc as the kids escape the walls of their initial nursery, we begin to see the series shift into more of an overtly fantastical note. A kind of darkly surreal, Tim Burton esque Alice in Wonderland trip through swirlingly mystiqued landscapes that recall the illustrations of Chris Riddell – who’s fantasy books I read avidly as a kid. Riddell’s books mastered that same spindly, ethereal style that was at once both childlike, but scratch the surface and it was *all* dark. You know in The Promised Neverland that *bad stuff happens*, and that death lies only a second or two away for any of the kids.

As I see these landscapes, I instantly recall ‘classic’ fantasy. Old school fantasy. Stuff like Watership Down, Lord of the Rings and such like. Stuff with morals. Deep, rural, ancient morals. The kind of folkloric tradition passed down by campfire in the darkest hours. That’s what I’m after, and right now, The Promised Neverland can’t stop giving it.

 

Could the anime YouTube bubble be about to burst?

Following up on my previous post on how longer videos are disrupting the field in terms of anime YouTuber discourse, i’ve been pondering the issue some more and stumbled across some ideas raised around the wider theme of where exactly YouTube, and its viability as a vlogging platform might be going long term. The suggestion is that we’ve already reached ‘peak’ vlogging in many ways, and that from here on in, it’s a downhill ride.

It reminded me of a few of the suspicions I raised last time about how more and more vloggers are either easing off in terms of quality or regularity of videos, or how more are just plumping for lengthy ‘podcast’ esque videos that are basically just purely audio, or unedited ‘to camera’ pieces. Basically, as YouTube becomes more flooded and more competitive, it becomes less viable to spend time and money on ‘luxury’ content, and instead just opt for plug and play cheapness that can be hashed out at a speed of knots for double the hits.

Could this really be the case? While I think we’ve certainly seen the beginnings of this kind of trend, my hope has always been that as the ‘old guard’ eases off or changes priority, fresh new talent would enter the sphere, constantly pushing the standard higher as YouTube increasingly became the ‘new TV’ for the public at large – people moving away from old style appointment viewing and watching purely ‘on demand’, within their highly specific interest fields.

But perhaps the future is more bleak than that – YouTube as it stands now is becoming a littered minefield full of illegally uploaded third party media that clogs the recommendation system and creates a smorgasbord that is almost overwhelming in scale. Much as many early music streaming services railed about the dangers of an abundance of choice when all the world’s music was suddenly on offer, perhaps this is starting to happen with YouTube too, with the ‘quality’ voices lost amidst the muck?

The thing that worries me most is the inconsistency – as expressed before, once great YouTube talents are easing off, with video uploads becoming once a month gems that are all too quickly consumed and then gone. In their place, a vast sea of poor quality imitators that are, for want of a better word, ‘audio only’ – failing to use YouTube for what it inherently is, a video platform. Yes, proper editing is a skill, and difficult to do well – but as we see a shift toward 40 minute podcast-style audio thinkpieces on every single One Piece episode cluttering the YouTube sidebar, you know you’re onto a losing streak…

Aldious – Radiant A

Picked this CD up at MCM Comic Con earlier this year and am incredibly glad I did as it introduced me to the sultry, super-sleek world of Aldious and their fantastic blend of Japanese girl-group glam and some absolutely rocking guitar riffs. Put any Babymetal comparisons aside, Aldious are the real deal, combining a striking visual appeal with a bevy of energetic rock numbers. The world of Japanese girl-group rock/metal is becoming increasingly crowded of late, but Aldious stand out as by far one of the catchiest, with songs that work just as well as pop numbers as they do as gutsy rock tracks. If you’re a fan of anime music – particularly bands like Scandal – then Aldious will be right up your alley, it’s the same brand of catchy, hype-as-hell material that’ll have you up and ready to take on the world in seconds. Check out their music videos on YouTube too, because Aldious look amazing.