Weekly news recap: We don’t talk about Godzilla for once

After the mid-week update over the announcement of the upcoming animated Godzilla flick, we exhausted the week’s supply of Kaiju Oh content. So, for the first time in recent memory, this week’s news recap is devoid of Godzilla content…. wait, does a con featuring Kenpachiro Satsuma count?

  • William Winckler Productions (the folks behind Shout Factory’s dub compilations of Gaiking, Dangard Ace, and Starzinger) are producing English dubs for Ultraman Ginga S: The Movie, Ultra Fight Victory, and Ultraman X: The Movie. This doesn’t guarantee a US release; English dubs have been produced for numerous Heisei Ultra flicks that never made it over here, seeing releases throughout Asia instead. Winckler’s past dealings with Shout are certainly encouraging, but since the company has previous gone on record saying they have no interest in releasing anything post-Ultraseven, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Still, since Crunchyroll hasn’t said anything regarding the Ultraman X movie, fansubbers are in a holding pattern over it, so this dub may be the first translation that it gets. Hopefully whatever release these dubs see also mean official subtitled versions, import or not.

  • The mobile game Mon MusumeHarem (which is different from Monster Musume, as far as I can tell?), is doing a collaboration with the Ultra Kaiju Personification Project, adding Pigmon, Zetton, Agira, Windom, and Miclas to the roster of girls to collect.

ultra kaiju musume2ultra kaiju musume1

  • Y’know, if it weren’t for Shin Godzilla, I would already be declaring Gantz: O the kaiju film of the year. This music video is quite hype.

  • Hey, remember Anime Midstream, the distributor with a whole lot of heart and a dubious grasp on the reality of 21st century consumers? They burst onto the scene in 2009, releasing Raijin-Oh eighteen years too late, on 5-episode per volume DVDs, complete with a dub cast drafted from willing Anime St. Louis attendees and misguided aspirations for a television broadcast. Needless to say, their machinations collapsed halfway through the series, and I’d assumed that they were done for. Well, they’re back, and this time they intend to release Bt’X, which had its own failed, canceled-after-two-volumes US release back in 2007. Anime Midstream did seem to learn its lesson, releasing the remaining 26 episodes of Raijin-Oh on a single, subtitled box set, so here’s to second chances. Bt’X is a pretty fun little post-apocalyptic mecha adventure show, and it deserves better than a low-grade fansub, though even Saint Seiya has had a hard time cracking the US market.

  • A look at Funimation’s new dub of Escaflowne:

  • Not scifi/fantasy/horror per se, but Criterion will be putting the six Lone Wolf & Cub movies and Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (which Ishiro Honda also directed segments of) on Blu Ray in November. NSFW warning on the Lone Wolf trailer, in case you couldn’t guess.

  • Lastly, a new tokusatsu con is starting next August in Pasadena: Japan World Heroes (from the Power Morphicon folks) has Ken Satsuma and Bin Furuya lined up as guests. Its own website isn’t up at the moment, so I guess we’ll just keep an eye on it.
Posted in News | Leave a comment

Tokusatsu Bungei, or “Hey, you got special effects in my literature!”

Any dedicated fan of Japanese pop culture knows that every medium does not get equal representation internationally: Most anime get official English-language releases, a good portion of video games do, a less proportionate handful of manga, and relatively few tokusatsu make it over in a legitimately-translated capacity. Tokusatsu isn’t the worst-represented format stateside (that would probably be audio dramas, for obvious reasons), but it’s probably along a similar level of niche as another popular-in-Japan-yet-underrated-abroad format: the light novel.

The general set of characteristics comprising “light” novels revolve around making them easily digestible: these narrative books (often collections of chapters previously serialized in magazines) are generally of a prosaic reading level, are split into volumes of roughly 200 pages, and frequently feature illustrations, distinguishing them from loftier forms of literature in the same way that YA and pulp fiction do in English taxonomy (note: light novels are also a separate term from “visual novels”, which I see used interchangeably far too often).  Due to selective exposure in the west, light novels have become a bit of a joke amongst modern-day English-speaking critics, but I assure you they’re not all bad; many of them don’t even involve a teenage protagonist getting stuck in an MMORPG, believe it or not!

Of course, the features that distinguish tokusatsu as a medium, such as monster suits, pyrotechnics, and miniatures, don’t exist on the written page, but conversely the story elements that they’re meant to convey can be presented in prose without budgetary limitations, as ambitiously as the author’s imagination permits. Look no further than the science fiction section of your local bookstore or library: blockbuster special effects films like Star Wars generate hundreds of spin-off novels, while books like Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park got turned into Hollywood spectacle once the effects technology permitted.

While in said hypothetical SF literature section, you may have noticed an interesting trend: There’s a lot of pseudo-Japanese stuff coming out lately. Sure, there was a push for Godzilla novels by Random House in the mid 1990s (including a novel series by Mark Cerasini and YA series by Scott Ciencin, both illustrated by Bob Eggleton in true light novel fashion), but since the release of Pacific Rim (whose novelization won a Scribe award for best screenplay adaptation, might I add), the market for “kaiju thrillers” has exploded (Jeremy Robinson’s Project Nemesis series leads the pack), and the novelization of the 2014 Godzilla was a New York Times bestseller. There are also a handful of English-language-original yokai adventures (such as Richard Parks’ Yamada Monogatari series), and American-produced ninja content is so pervasive that it’s been lampooned by the Japanese Ninja Slayer novels by “Bradley Bond” and “Philip ‘Ninj@’ Morzez” (Yu Honda and Leika Sugi). There’s clearly a market for this stuff, so my question is then “why aren’t we seeing more authentic Japanese prose about Japanese genres?” Well, it turns out there actually are a fair number of English-translated works for tokusatsu fans to read if they choose to seek them out:

  • All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the basis for the Hollywood scifi film Edge of Tomorrow
  • Another by Yukito Ayatsuji, adapted into the 2011 horror movie and anime
  • Attack on Titan novels: Before the Fall and Kuklo Unbound by Ryo Suzukaze, The Harsh Mistress of the City by Ryo Kawakami, and Lost Girls by Hiroshi Seko, all of which are tying into Hajime Isayama’s original post-apocalyptic kaiju manga more than to Shinji Higuchi’s films and miniseries.
  • Blood: The Last Vampire by Mamoru Oshii isn’t quite as action-packed as the American/Korean live-action adaptation is, but has its own pretentiously artsy appeal.
  • Death Note: L Change the WorLd is a novelization of Hideo Nagata’s film, but since that movie was dreadful, I’d suggest checking out Nisioisin’s prequel Death Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases instead.
  • The Fiend with 20 Faces by Ranpo Edogawa, introduces Japan’s first supervillain, inspiration for K-20 and more.
  • Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu, basis for the 1973 and 2006 disaster films and 1975 TV series. Komatsu’s Virus was also made into a disaster film.
  • Ju-On by Kei Ohishi, a novelization which blends the various Ju-On and Grudge installments into a single narrative
  • The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Futaro Yamada, basis for Shinobi: Heart Under Blade
  • MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto (more on that in a bit)
  • Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena, on which Masayuki Ochiai’s 1997 movie was based (also inspiring the more popular video game franchise)
  • Ring, Spiral, Loop, and Birthday by Koji Suzuki, basis for the juggernaut horror film franchise. Unfortunately S, which was the source material for the most effects-heavy entry (Sadako 3D), remains elusive in translation. Suzuki fans should also check out Dark Water, which has a couple film adapations as well.
  • Ten Nights’ Dreams by Natsume Soseki, basis for the 2006 film Ten Nights of Dreams
  • The Wicked City series by Hideyuki Kikuchi, which served as inspiration for a 1993 Hong Kong action/horror movie (3 of 6 novels translated)
  • Wolfcrest by Kazumasa Hirai, basis for the 1973 Toho film, though the two volumes that got English editions are really out of print (I’m still hunting ‘em myself!)

The obvious reasons for why we haven’t seen a flood of such releases (say, on par with the publication rate for manga) are licensing and translation costs (skilled translators for text-based media are far more essential than for visual media like manga or film), but to some extent it’s also a lack of demand. Naturally, people won’t demand something that they’re not aware of, and thus we get to the point of this article: making you aware.

What follows is an overview of some Japanese-language, mostly-light novels with a significant tokusatsu connection that I personally think sound neat and ought to get some sort of English release. Keep in mind, though, it’s a subjective wishlist scrapped together largely from second-or-third-hand accounts, and by no means comprehensive. So, if I’m recommending something you’ve actually read, please leave a comment about how it was, good or bad. Also leave a comment if you think that I really should have included something I didn’t, and you’re mad that I dared to snub the Space Sheriff Gavan or Ultraseven X novels, for example.

Without further ado, let’s talk about books:

Kaiju

  • The original novellas on which Toho’s tokusatsu were based

It’s common knowledge that the kaiju genre hit the big scene with the movie Godzilla on November 3, 1954, but less common knowledge that Godzilla himself predates this film in publication. You see, after Tomoyuki Tanaka had the idea to rip off The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms make a monster movie, Toho hired the hot novelist Shigeru Kayama to write up a treatment. This was in turn developed into the script for the movie and radio play versions, and after the radio play finished airing in September, Kayama’s Monster Godzilla novel was released in either October or November of 1954 (I’ve seen conflicting accounts of whether or not it actually beat the movie to publication). Toho employed this strategy a lot, so a savvy fan can score themselves the original novel versions of Godzilla and Anguirus (the basis for Godzilla Raids Again by Kayama), Half Human (Kayama again), Birth of Rodan (Ken Kuronuma), Matango (Masami Fukushima), Giant Monster Mothra (Makoto Yoshida) and its earlier version The Luminous Fairies and Mothra (Shinichiro Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga, and Yoshie Hotta), Godzilla vs. Biollante (Shinichiro Kobayashi), and more. These generally get reprinted as multiple-stories-per-volume collections, and while the content may not necessarily seem that original (being roughly the same as the movies and all), as a Godzilla completionist I’m obliged to mention begin this list with them.

toho novels

  • The later MM9 novels by Hiroshi Yamamoto

MM9 (Monster Magnitude 9) is quite possibly the single best kaiju novel ever to be made available in English, courtesy of Viz’s Haikasoru imprint. Despite this, it seems that the novel’s flown under the radar, since neither the sequel novels, MM9 Invasion and MM9 Destruction, nor Yamamoto’s MM9-related anthology Twilight Tales have been picked up for an English language release yet. I could go on about the first novel for a while (and have in a few places), so I’m really keen on finding out more about the later exploits of the Monsterological Measures Department team of kaiju meteorologists. The first novel also served as the inspiration for a 2010 TV series of the same with effects by Shinji Higuchi. It also has not been translated.

mm9 novels

  • Kaiju Literature

This anthology series, with volumes released in 2013 and 2014, features short stories and essays from the likes of Hideyuki Kikuchi, Shinji Higuchi, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Chiaki J. Konaka, Shiro Sano, Baku Yumemakura, and Sion Sono. The second volume has a more noteworthy pedigree of creators involved, but the first has more illustrations, so either one should delight the literary kaiju fan. As a side note, I’ve got to wonder if Shiroh Kuro’s story “Kaiju Jigoku” had any influence on IDW’s comic miniseries Godzilla in Hell.

kaiju bungei no gyakushukaiju bungei

  • The as-of-yet-untitled Ultra Kaiju Personification Project novel

Now, this is sort of unfair, seeing as how the prose form of this marketing phenomenon was only announced at WonderFest on February 7, 2016, but with Monster Musume being a bestselling manga stateside and countless other monster-girl books on the shelves (e.g. Rosario Vampire, A Centaur’s Life, Nurse Hitomi’s Monster Infirmary, My Monster Secret, 12 Beast, Princess Resurrection, Franken Fran, etc), I’ve got to wonder if there would be a decently-sized market for  moé girls of the Tsuburaya persuasion. The line does have a couple manga, figurines, hug pillows, keychains, shirts, and more in Japan, so I guess it’s going strong over there. Your best bet is likely to pester Crunchyroll into picking up the anime version when it starts this fall, though.

  • Back to Tatara Island: An Ultra Kaiju Anthology

This anthology is a collection of stories featuring Tsuburaya’s monsters that originally ran in SF Magazine. The title story of the compilation is by Hiroshi Yamamoto, and fans should recognize it as a callback to the “Monster Lawless Zone” episode of Ultraman. Other stories range from Ultra Q to Ultraseven/Ultraman Max to Ultraman Ginga S, by authors Yusaku Kitano (Ashita wa Kitto), Yasumi Kobayashi (Gangu Shurisha), Shinzou Mitsuda (Peeping Eye), Shingo Fujisaki, Hirofumi Tanaka (Death Water), and Denpoh Torishima. Not super familiar with these authors because of the general dearth of Japanese novel translations, but it looks like most are award-winners in the genre.

tatarajima futatabimorning penuts

  • Daimajin Adventure by Hirofumi Tanaka

Fans of kaiju and Cthulhu mythos could do well to check out the Lairs of the Hidden Gods anthology series that Kurodahan Press has been releasing in English. One volume, Straight to Darkness, starts with an essay comparing Toho’s and Lovecraft’s monster canons, has a story about scientists creating a monstrous anti-Cthulhu weapon, and also includes a fictionalized telling (written by actor Shiro Sano) of the making of Chiaki Konaka’s Shadow over Innsmouth movie. The standout short story in the volume, however, is Hirofumi Tanaka’s “The Secret Memoir of the Missionary”, a historical horror piece dealing with Francis Xavier, under the influence of an ancient seagoing giant deity, spreading “Christianity” across Japan, brainwashing, assimilating, and cannibalizing the populace and officials, before being chased away by the Yagyū clan.

Tanaka expressed interest in expanding the story into a full novel, and a decade later he did in an unexpected way: he tied it in with Daimajin. As if the prospect of the iconic Japanese guardian god battling Lovecraftian invaders weren’t enticing enough, the novel also includes several historical characters familiar to readers of Futaro Yamada’s Makai Tensho: Jubei Yagyū, Musashi Miyamoto, and Shirō Amakusa. Not only does it make sense for them to be front-&-center of a religious (cult) conflict, but it also makes my inner Samurai Shodown fan positively giddy.

daimajin adventure daimajin adventure2

  • Gamera vs Phoenix by Nisan Takahashi

When Gamera was brought back in 1995, it could have gone quite differently. Takahashi, author of the original Showa Gamera screenplays, wrote a treatment for a proposed ninth feature film for the titanic turtle, this time with him squaring off against a giant phoenix. Obviously, Daiei went in a different direction, but Takahashi, under the rationale that he was the rightful owner of the Gamera IP, went ahead and published the story as a novel. As I’ve previously stated, I don’t have a lot of details on plot specifics, but as a fan of Showa Gamera the prospect of an entirely original adventure out there is not something to be missed.

gamera vs Phoenix2

There’s also a list here of 67 more Japanese kaiju novels. I really can’t speak much about most of these (save Shigeru Kayama’s Godzilla stuff, obviously), but it looks like Junichi Tomonari’s books have the most intriguing cover art.

junichi tomonari

Henshin Heroes

  • Chôjin Sentai Jetman by Toshiki Inoue

This novelization of the 15th Super Sentai season is a three-volume retelling written by original creator Inoue and gorgeously illustrated by director/designer Keita Amemiya. This version, completely unrestricted by TV standards and practices (which were already rather lax for Jetman by modern criteria), is notorious for mature content (at least three sex scenes!). Thankfully there is a fan translation of the first book available, but beyond that access is limited.

jetman novels

  • Heisei Kamen Rider novels

Did you know that Inoue also wrote novels for Kamen Rider Ryuki and Kamen Rider 555? Every Rider of the Heisei era has had a novel, generally from one of the head writers of their respective shows. They may be side-stories, retellings, sequels, but considering the popularity of the franchise, clamor for these in English ought to be a no-brainer. (Click here for Henshin Justice’s summary of the Kamen Rider Decade novel!)

heisei rider novels

  • Kamen Rider by Masaaki Wachi

If Masked Rider the First didn’t suit your fancy but you still crave a modern spin on the original karate grasshopper, consider this 2002 novelization. It’s a very different take by nature of jettisoning elements of the TV series (sorry, Hayato), but I totally dig the idea of a more monstrous Hongo, something about  which feels fundamentally Ishinomori. It generally sounds awesome, and also makes me wonder about Wachi’s Gatchaman novelization that came out with that series’ tokusatsu movie, though I don’t know if an anime writing track record of Burst Angel, GI Joe Sigma 6, and Garo: Crimson Moon is much to write home about.

kamen rider wachi masaki

  • Masked Rider Eve: Masked Rider Gaia by Masato Hayase

A sequel to the Kamen Rider manga planned by Shotaro Ishinomori himself, this return to Showa-era aesthetics ought to appeal to the same base as Kamen Rider Spirits, only in this case it’s relatively self-contained at two volumes.

MaskedRiderEVE

Along similar lines is the photobook Kikaider 00, which tells some of Ishinomori’s planned-but-scrapped machinations for Kikaider, also written by Hayase but accompanied by shots of his SIC sculpts rather than traditional illustration. Normally I’d say this wouldn’t have a shot for an English release, but if there’s a single tokusatsu franchise that unexpectedly thrives in America, it’s Kikaider.

kikaider 00

Speaking of which….

  • Android Kikaider: The Novel by Keisuke Matsuoka

Simply put, Americans (mostly Hawaiians) love the red & blue guy, which is why we’ve seen the same story as a manga, a TV tokusatsu, a TV anime, another manga, and a tokusatsu movie all get official US releases (not to mention Skull Man and Mechanical Violator Hakaider!). I mean, at this point, we might as well complete the set, right? Author Matsuoka hasn’t had any work directly published in English, but the movie The Hypnotist that ADV put out back in the day was based on one of his novels, and he generally seems to do good work.

kikaider novel

  • The Spirits of Tsuburaya Production World: Another Genesis by Junichiroh Ashigi

Published in Dengeki Hobby magazine, Another Genesis is sort of a kindred soul with Evangelion Anima; both are lavishly-illustrated and offer very different takes on their respective series. The story follows Blast, a human soldier with a shard of the Land of Light embedded within his body, roaming space and gradually becoming more Ultra-like, all while encountering various Tsuburaya heroes. The novel still hasn’t been collected even in Japan, so tracking down all of the individual chapters can be quite a drag, but with the recent push for Ultraman internationally one can certainly hope to see this show up elsewhere. I mean, just look at these paintings!

ultraman another genesis

  • Ultraman Dual by Koji Mishima

This is another recent Ultraman novel, and like Another Genesis it was illustrated by Masayuki Goto (Daikaiju Rush, Dark Soldier D). This one shows the Earth in an oddly neutral position in a conflict between the UItras and Vendalister aliens (hey, I guess you want to make a good impression if you might get conquered), which is stretched thin when an Ultra saint/holy woman crash lands outside Tokyo. As some humans side with the Ultra against the wishes of the government (whose official stance is that she too is an alien invader), the being from M78 actually annexes a chunk of planet Earth, sort of proving their point. With humans renouncing their national citizenships to go pledge allegiance to the Land of the Light enclave, this sounds like an interesting geopolitical take on the Ultraman mythos.

ultraman dual

  • Ultraman F by Yasumi Kobayashi

Another work illustrated by Masayuki Goto, this one is penned by Yasumi Kobayashi, best known in western kaiju lit circles for “C-City”, a short revolving around a mecha-Cthulhu. Like Shimoguchi and Shimizu’s 2011 manga, Ultraman F revolves around the SSSP in a post-episode 39 world, and details the fallout and arms races resulting from Ultraman leaving Earth. Also like that manga, there’s the development of Ultraman-ish armor and elements taken from subsequent Ultra series, but it also does its own thing, including the titular giant heroine.

ultraman-f ウルトラマンF2

  • Akio Jissoji’s Ultra novels

Akio Jissoji is the director responsible for some of the most formative episodes of Ultraman and Ultraseven; his experimental, surreal sequences became iconic moments that elevated the franchise in the popular consciousness. In 1993 (the year Ultraman takes place, according to Jissoji’s episode “The Earth is My Home”), before returning to the franchise for guest direction on Ultraman Tiga, Dyna, and Max, he wrote two novels, one for each of the OG Ultramen. Details on Ultraman: Gold Rush Strategy and Ultraseven: The Targeted Planet are sparse, but they seem like they were well-received (as one would expect from the master), and they do tie in a little to some of the later Showa Ultra shows. The biggest complaint I’ve heard is that each is labeled “Vol. 1” yet there were never any later ones.

jissoji ultra novels

  • Ultraman Sisters by Yuji Kobayashi

Somewhere between the feminist desire for a female primary Ultra host and the chauvinist desire for moé stories about older brothers taking care of their kid sisters is this compromise: the younger sister is an Ultra host. Not sure what to make of this, but I’m always up for a different spin on the Ultraman franchise, and this still seems more on-point than the Ultra Kaiju Personification Project. Kobayashi is a versatile writer, having done everything from Smile Pretty Cure (“Glitter Force” for you Netflix folks) to the first season of Garo, speaking of which….

ultraman sisters 2

  • The Garo novels by Yuji Kobayashi

As we’ve mentioned before when discussing the franchise, Garo’s got an amazing sense of continuity, and earns its nerd cred every time the TV series references back to an event that happened in a different season, movie, pachinko game, etc. Naturally this extends to the written page as well, as the original series composer has written two novels: the anthology Dark Makai Knight Saga (Ankoku Makai Kishi Hen) and Mystic Red Trap (Yohseki no Wana); the latter one introduces the Sabak tournament and Yaiba, the notorious transsexual Makai Knight. Both books also include illustrations by series creator Keita Amemiya.

garo novels

There’s currently a fan translation of Roar of Steel (Hagane no Hokou), the novella in which Raiga Saejima is first introduced, and the same blog was also working through the two novels proper, but it’d still be awesome to see a professional English version. Of course, even the tokusatsu hasn’t gotten that yet…

  • Cutie Honey Boys by Michiru Suwayama

Go Nagai’s original magical girl was conceived as a spin on Toho’s tokusatsu hero Rainbowman, reimagining the hero as a heroine. Thus, it’s only fitting that Honey herself would eventually be gender-flipped, and that’s exactly what happened in Suwayama’s 2004 novel interpretation. Much like Devilman Lady is a particularly sexually-charged version of Devilman, Cutie Honey Boys cranks up the eroticism of the already pretty lewd Cutie Honey, so if you’re only familiar with Cutie Honey the Live or the Hideaki Anno tokusatsu movie, prepare to be scandalized. However, if you’re a long-term fan of the franchise, or just appreciate the idea of a yaoi take to balance with Honey’s traditional female objectification, this may be worth checking out. (Insert snarky comment about Cutie Honey Tears here.)

cutie honey boys

Kaidan and Yokai

  • Matango: The Final Counterattack by Tatsuya Yoshimura

One of Ishiro Honda’s strongest films and alleged inspiration for both The Last of Us and Gilligan’s Island, the 1963 film Matango was based off of the short story A Voice in the Night by William Hope Hodgson. Because of this, it’s only fitting that it return to prose format eventually, and there was a Toho-licensed sequel novel written in 2008. I’m sort of shocked that there hasn’t been more fuss made about it in the fandom, but for one I’m quite keen for more adventures of the island of mutated people and the most delicious mushrooms.

matango novel

  • Sakuya Yokaiden: Legend of the Wandering Dutch Ship by Kimiaki Mitsumasu

Tomoo Haraguchi’s 2000 film about the teenage Slayer of Demons only covered the events of the first Sakuya novel. It sounds as though the second one throws a little more European influence into the yokai samurai story, and I’m curious to see how the characters continue from the last one.

shin sakuya yokaiden

  • Gakkou no Kaidan by Tohru Tsunemitsu

Not to be confused with Takaaki Kaima’s light novel series (which has the same title with different kanji because the Japanese love puns), Gakkou no Kaidan or “School of Ghosts” is a long-running light novel series (24 books so far) with lots and lots of live-action adaptations. In America the franchise is probably known best for the segments “Katasumi” (In a Corner) and “4444444444” in Gakkou no Kaidan G, which were later remade as Ju-On, and eventually The Grudge, or the anime adaptation that ADV gave a punched-up parody dub (under the title Ghost Stories), however the core of the series remains unavailable in either its light novel or tokusatsu movie incarnations. Granted, these are largely horror books targeted at elementary-school children, but speaking as a member of the Goosebumps generation, kids eat that stuff up.

gakko no kaidan books

  • Teito Monogatari by Hiroshi Aramata

The book series that popularized Japanese urban fantasy, Teito Monogatari brought thousand-year-old onmyou magic into a modern context and inspired countless later titles from Onmyouji to Tokyo Babylon to Street Fighter II, and big name artists like Shigeru Mizuki and Yoshitaka Amano have done cover art. It’s a multi-generational epic, spanning several emperors’ reigns, weaving together historical events and real people with mythology and the books’ own narrative, so a deluxe version with proper annotations would be quite welcome. (There have been off-and-on fan efforts to translate them, but they’ve largely been squashed.) The tokusatsu connection is most obviously the multiple movie adaptations (Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (from director Akio Jissoji), Tokyo: The Last War (Takashige Ichise), Tokyo Dragon (Hiroshi Kataoka), Teito Monogatari Gaiden (Izo Hashimoto)), but also that the series’ antagonist appeared as the big bad in 2006’s Takashi Miike flick The Great Yokai War.

teito monogatari

Thus concludes this tokusatsu-adjacent Japanese novel wish-list; if you think one of these titles is intriguing, I implore you: let the publishers know. If Viz, Dark Horse, Yen Press, Vertical, and like hear enough demand, they’re much more likely to look at tokusatsu-related material when selecting their next literary project to localize.

One of my most common theses is that people should really branch out more and explore other facets of their favorite stories; never glibly dismiss something just because it’s a fifth sequel film or TV spinoff or OVA (the exception, of course, being pachinko. All pachinko is terrible.), and naturally this extends to the written word. Sometimes a literary expanded universe can be as good as its source material or better, and frequently a novel will exceed a film based upon it. So, at the risk of sounding like a condescending schmuck: Go read a book!

jack mirrorman manga

Posted in Articles | 3 Comments

News special edition: What, another one?!

Yesterday, Gen Urobuchi,  possibly the hottest Japanese screenwriter working today, famous for hits like Madoka Magica, Kamen Rider Gaim, Psycho Pass, Gargantia on the Verderous PlanetThunderbolt Fantasy, and more (*cough* Blassreiter)teased his twitter followers about the upcoming reveal of a project 16 months in the making… what could be so “unbelievable and shocking”?

Well, if for some reason you haven’t seen it elsewhere, you might have figured out from the context clue that it got us to post on a Thursday: another new Godzilla movie!

godzilla 2017

I do hope it’s not simply titled “Godzilla“, since we already have four of those, but yeah, it looks like that Godzilla anime thing is moving right along, though also not exactly what I was expecting. The 2017 film will be produced by Polygon Pictures, best known for 3D CG renderings, ranging from anime like Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Ajin, and Knights of Sidonia to western cartoons like Transformers Prime, Tron Uprising, and Star Wars: Clone Wars. Directing the film is Knights of Sidonia‘s Kobun Shizuno (though the website advertises using the much more popular Detective Conan movies, and he’s also credited as “co-director” on Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone), with Hiroyuki Seshita of Ajin, Blame!, and (of course) Knights of Sidonia directing CG. Long story short, it’s reasonable to expect a movie that looks sort of like this:

For me, this is a mixed bag: Urobuchi has certainly delivered a string of hits, but as an out-of-touch geezer I can find it difficult to resonate with the CG aesthetics of Sidonia. Still, more Godzilla movies has never not been a wonderful thing, and nobody was expected another Japanese feature to sandwich in between Legendary productions. It’s also going to be unlike any previous incarnation of Godzilla in animation, assuming he doesn’t teach children hiragana or fight Shin-chan or sing in Pikachu’s voice or whatnot. (Hm… considering that Godzilland used Dragonball Z‘s “Head Cha La” and Godzilla Kingdom used Gundam Wing‘s “Rhythm Generation”, I wonder if the OP for this movie will come from a popular anime too?)

As long as we’ve interrupted to talk Godzilla news, Kazuhiko Shimamoto had a “Anno vs. Honoo” doujinshi at Comiket, delightfully taking inspiration from the superb TV drama version of Shimamoto’s manga Aoi Honoo (AKA “Blue Blazes”). The doujinshi sold out immediately, but thankfully Shimamoto did eventually decide to sell a few via his website later.

anno vs honoo

Shimamoto (with Anno’s help) put on a screening of Shin Godzilla where the audience was allowed to cosplay, shout, wave glowsticks, and generally behave like the mob at any American convention. Anno himself showed up, and, as viewers of Blue Blazes know, interactions between him and Shimamoto are generally hilarious. Amanda did a great writeup on the event for ANN, so I’d encourage people to check it out.

anno shimamoto theater

Also, SciFi Japan has a preview for Godzilla: Rage Across Time. I’ll leave things here for now, as tempting as it is to get into the new Ultraman movie dubs and whatnot, and we’ll have our regularly scheduled news recap sometime this weekend. But yeah, heads-up: new Godzilla flick, animated, woot.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Weekly news recap (hurried edition)

Didn’t spend all that long putting stuff together for this week, so there’s a good chance something has been left out. Anyway, going quickly:

  • Discotek has licensed the seminal Captain Harlock feature film, Arcadia of My Youth, as well as Mamoru Oshii’s masterful Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer (it may be a tie-in film, but it transcends that to be one of the finest anime films of all time) …and Chargeman Ken. Y’know, that crappy anime that everyone only watches ironically. I wonder if they’re trolling by juxtaposing the best and worst the medium has to offer?

  • Gokaiger‘s Captain Marvelous has been spotted on the set of Zyuohger, for the 29th episode (the 2000th total Super Sentai episode overall). We’re way behind on the show, but it’s cool that they’re doing some anniversary tie-ins to the rest of the franchise.

Zyuohger-Marvelous-Cameo

  • As if Zyuohger wasn’t video-gamey enough, that’ll also be the motif for Kamen Rider Ex-aid. He’ll even have a form that’s SD, like the avatars one would control in old-fashioned RPGs, although it also reminds me a good bit of Kabutack and the like.

exaid01 exaid02

  • The Hollywood adaptation of Tiger & Bunny has a screenwriter now: Ellen Shanman. I’m not familiar with her work, but she’s apparently got a couple of novels and already adapted another superhero property (The Brokenhearted) for film previously. Of course, this being Hollywood, I wouldn’t hold my breath on this materializing in any substantial form.
  • Okay, some of these fusions are pretty great.

  • Flip Flappers looks like it may be a fun magical girl series; it starts in October.

  • Death Note: Light up the NEW world is taking a page from Attack on Titan and Terra Formars‘s playbooks and getting a three episode prequel tie-in on Hulu in Japan.

take a chip and eat it

ao oni anime

That’s a wrap for this week; until the next!

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Like Thunderbolt Fantasy? Here are some other Japanese puppet shows to try out!

Somewhat shockingly, it’s our general consensus that the best new “anime” of the season is a puppet show: Thunderbolt Fantasy. With its rocking soundtrack, bombastic characters, Yoshitaka Amano-ish (emphasis on “ish”) design aesthetics, and exaggerated action, it makes for a heck of a program.

The show is firmly rooted in a Taiwanese television tradition of budaixi (glove puppetry), both in setting and execution. It’s not an entirely alien concept for western viewers, since one of the seminal budaixi shows, Pili, was localized for Toonami back in the day:

That series, by not fitting into a neat anime box, was already a hard sell for the Cartoon Network audience, and suffered a similar fate to Ultraman Tiga in the US: censorship, joke dubbing, character gender changes, and prompt cancellation. Pili and its budaixi brethren are now starting to really gain a following in English-speaking community thanks largely to the awesomeness of Thunderbolt Fantasy, but that got me wondering: could this mean other Japanese puppet properties may start to take off as well? What all is even out there?

Let’s start at the beginning. Any good tokusatsu fan can point to a certain Toho production from November 1954 as the genesis of Japanese kaiju eiga as a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon, but many also recognize that there were some Japanese giant monster movie dry-runs leading up to Godzilla‘s debut: King Kong Appears in Edo, Giant Buddha Travels the Country, etc. One such footnote is the 1942 short Ramayana, based on the Indian epic, adapted by Gekko Kamen creator Kohan Kawauchi with effects by future god of tokusatsu, Eiji Tsuburaya. Unlike Tsuburaya’s later work, where human actors were composited into miniature sets, everything here is achieved in camera by setting aside the notion of human actors altogether, and using puppetry throughout.

Moving into the 60s, Gerry Anderson’s various TV series (Thunderbirds, UFO, Captain Scarlet) were monstrously popular in Japan, influencing subsequent major properties from Ultraseven to Mazinger Z to Evangelion, so naturally there were imitators of Anderson’s signature marionation. Even Osamu Tezuka got in on the game in 1963 (just four months after the start of Astro Boy!) with an anime/puppet hybrid called Ginga Shonen Tai (“Galaxy Boy Troop”), complete with several of Tezuka’s stock characters:

Unfortunately, most of that show is lost, much like the 1969 puppet show Kuuchuu Toshi 008 (“Aerial City 008“), based on a novel by Sakyo Komatsu (Japan Sinks, ESPy, Sayonara Jupiter), and another show from 1961 called Uchuusen Silica (“Spaceship Silica“). All of them survive partially, though, between clips preserved by collectors (and eventually youtube), as well as promotional tie-in books and magazines from the time.

It makes sense that the birthland of Gerry Anderson would be receptive to Japanese shows done in marionation, so it’s not a huge shock that one series that’s done amazingly well in the UK (and will soon get its American DVD due thanks to Discotek Media) is Star Fleet, originally titled X-Bomber in Japan. Arriving at the height of Star Wars mania in 1980, the show was the brainchild of super robot maestro Go Nagai, and featured a space opera epic complete with elements of both: one one hand there’s a furry alien, cute beeping droid, and alien princess to protect from an evil empire (a couple of voice cast in the dub were actors from Star Wars, actually), on the other hand, there’s the team of three eccentric pilots who manage the titular combining giant war machine (done, like Ramayana‘s giant, in suitmation). The show’s space-soap-opera format would’ve been familiar to Japanese viewers of Space Battleship Yamato and Gundam, but to a Thunderbirds audience it was revolutionary (I’m not sure when the UK got Star Blazers), and it caught on with the UK viewership in a big way, inspiring everything from lunchboxes to tie-in comics. What everyone surely remembers, though, was a certain fan named Brian May, of the band Queen, and his pal Eddie Van Halen, releasing a single album covering the show’s opening theme. The backing of such rock-n-roll giants helped spread notice of the show beyond the UK, and the song even made its way back to Japan, much to Go Nagai’s bemusement.

I have to wonder how receptive the UK would be to a Japanese adaptation of one of their own properties, though. Sherlock Holmes, by nature of being the single most fecund character in world literature, has numerous Japanese interpretations, ranging from a straight manga novelization of BBC’s current Sherlock drama to Osamu Tezuka’s boy-detective-turned-psychopath “Rock Holmes” to Hayao Miyazaki’s version where he’s a dog. Relevant to this conversation is the recent show from 2014 (available with English subtitles on viki!), naturally enacted with puppets, featuring a ghoulish Holmes and a catchy theme song. The show is the brainchild of Koki Mitani, who previously worked on a puppet adaptation of The Three Musketeers.

sherlock holmes puppet three musketeers puppets

Mitani was in turn inspired by earlier puppet shows about Asian historical-fictional characters, including the Shin Hakkenden (1973… fun fact, its compilation movie was alongside Terror of Mechagodzilla at the Toho Champion Matsuri!) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1982), which I imagine should have significant appeal to the crowds attracted to the jidaigeki aspect of Pili or Thunderbolt Fantasy.

1975 toho matsuri

Speaking of kaiju, there have also been monster-oriented puppet shows at various Ultraman events. The best known is the Ultra P series, which began in 1993 and continues in live performances to this day; many of the recent chapters of which can be found camcorded on youtube. In 1996, there was also a TV version, Ultraman M730 Ultramanland, running for 131 5-minute episodes and upping the ante by making the most of the television medium. Any character (kaiju, alien, or human) from across the Tsuburaya landscape is fair game for these shows, and even non-Ultra characters like Booska and Daigoro tend to pop up in their adorable aesthetic.

ultra p

o0800054513468804272

ultra p 2

The same folks also had a Godzilla puppet live performance in 2004. Details are scarce, but I’ve heard their King Ghidorah was really cool.

godzillakun no wonder godzilland gekigodzi

If only there were a short-form kids show featuring puppets with Godzilla monsters, right? Well, you’re in luck, because this was delivered in 1997 with 256 3-minute episodes of some of the wackiest Godzilla content ever produced: Godzilla Island. Nominally, one would expect this to be a mere toy commercial for Bandai’s line of vinyl figures by the same name, and while the monsters portrayed in the show do largely make use of them, several of the monsters never had figures made, and the show even used Trendmasters toys as a base every one in a while. The human actors (most notably Return of Ultraman star Jiro Dan) are portrayed as human though, rather than puppets, as there was nothing even close from Bandai to work with on that front.

The show eschews conventional continuity by being set in 2097, and focuses on a Monster Island populated by both Showa and Heisei-era creatures, as well as those from unexpected sources such as Yamato Takeru, and loosely follows an inept invasion by a pair of Xilians (in what’s also my favorite incarnation of that alien race’s costume design). From monster dance parties to kaiju vending machines, to an A Space Godzilla-esque reveal of alien Godzillas, it’s hard to not be entranced by its goofy glory, though hearing the same OP and ED every three minutes does get a little grating during marathons.

So, the next time you’re wondering why Bandai made a black Mechagodzilla or medical Jet Jaguar, well, this show is to blame (when are we going to get a Hyper Mecha King Ghidorah?!)

 

Godzilla Island wasn’t Toho’s final foray into advertising a major toy line, though, and the next one was dang near as odd: Kawaii! JeNny. The Japanese equivalent of Barbie (it literally spun off from that line), Jenny is a fashionable dress-up doll, and generally not the sort one would expect in a defense team piloting mecha and thwarting world conquest. However, this 2007 show features Jenny and friends as transforming superheroines battling an army of evil teddy bears (no joke), and eventually features giant robots that look like they’d be right at home in a Chouseishin series, likely because Heisei Godzilla designer Shinji Nishikawa and special effects wizard Koichi Kawakita worked on the program. Throw in Carranger scribe Yoshio Urasawa, and you’ve got a mix of talent that you’d expect to hit home… once you can convince fans (especially the dour “serious” sectors of Godzilla fandom) to watch a show with a bunch of Barbies in it.

So, those are a handful of neat Japanese puppet shows that clicked with me personally, but if you’ve got other suggestions, please leave a comment. As Thunderbolt Fantasy continues to impress, one has to wonder if it could inspire imitators and usher in a renaissance for the often-overlooked medium. Maybe some young creative watching it now will be inspired to make something like it in decades to come, just as Gen Urobuchi was inspired by Taiwanese budaixi of the past? Or perhaps, if it does well enough for Crunchyroll, whether we’ll see those Ultraman shorts show up there eventually? Time will tell, but at least for now we’ve got an interesting backlog to check out, with, if you’ll pardon the pun, no strings attached.

Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

Weekly news recap: Still mostly Godzilla edition

Shin Godzilla is doing quite well at the Japanese box office (the franchise as a whole is now second only to Doraemon in theater attendance), so even with the movie out there’s still plenty of Godzilla to discuss this week:

  • Toho set people’s imaginations afire with their registration of Godzilla-Anime.com. I’m keen on seeing some more Godzilla anime, though based on historical precedent, I’m not expecting the sort of dark-n-gritty material that everyone else in the fandom seems to be. (As an aside, I’m fully prepared to debate the numerous folks who claims Godzilla never appeared in anime before this year: Godzilland had TV specials with anime shorts and full OVAs, while Godzilla Kingdom had a little cartoon Godzilla named Megabyte.)

  • The figures are out now for kaiju A and B, but they’re spoilers. So, instead, I’ll just post an image of a Godzilla sculpture made out of cicada shells.

cicada godzilla

  • Universal Studios Japan is getting a Godzilla-themed 4D attraction starting next year. I imagine this one will contain less Hello Kitty than Monster Planet of Godzilla did.

godzilla_universal

GODZILLA-RESURGENCE-poster filipino

eva_vs_godzilla_asuka eva_vs_godzilla_yoji

  • Godzilla and Eva-colored Kiryu are now in a Super Robot Wars game:

Other news:

  • A new independently-made kaiju short has manifested on youtube, titled Tokyo Abandonment Order Garateia. It’s got English subs, and ought to be of interest to anyone following the whole Japanese indy kaiju scene.

  • Archive.org has a huge backlog of Nintendo Power, so I assume one could go there and read Shotaro Ishinomori’s Zelda: A Link to the Past manga… or read about the cool new Japanese SNES games that’ll be hitting the US any day now…. really.

godzilla nintendo power 72

  • A mysterious Pikachu statue showed up in a New Orleans park without explanation. I’m guessing it’s either a TARDIS or a Kilaak mind control device.

new orleans pikachu

ultra monster swimsocks

  • A look at the combining robot based on Toy Story. I guess these are doing well for Disney. And yes, Buzz and the aliens are sixth rangers.

  • Funimation’s been listed as the distributor for the Parasyte movies! We’re slowly catching up to the Aussie releases, though I’m a little concerned about Funi’s theatrical wing considering the lack of theaters announced for the Kenshin flicks.

  • Willem Dafoe has been cast as Ryuk in Adam Wingard’s Death Note movie. I honestly can’t think of a more perfect pick.

That’s a wrap for this week! As always, please leave a comment if we forgot something!

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Briefer news recap

Hope everyone’s managed to avoid Shin Godzilla spoilers better than myself; I ran into a doozy or two within a few hours of the first screening. Reviews have been glowing, but from what’s known I imagine the film is going to prove controversial among a lot of the fandom. It sounds both reverent and highly unconventional… though honestly, I think the idea of a “conventional” Godzilla could’ve been well dismissed by the time he turned himself into a giant magnet 42 years ago. Anyway, until Funimation actually announces their release date (my money’s on a release around Godzilla’s birthday), I’ll just keep the Shin-chan crossover on loop….it’s a nice, much more conventional Godzilla story where the King of the Monsters is defeated by a five-year-old boy farting into his mouth.

shin chan godzilla

Anyway, let’s talk this week’s news:

  • Godzilla’s soccer skills have deteriorated since his days playing against Gundam, Kamen Rider, and Ultraman, but to be fair, it’s hard to keep up with soccer, baseball, and basketball during your movie launch.

  • Shout Factory finally revealed the box art for their Ohranger set. It’s a nice compromise between showing the hero costumes and showing the actors… the Dairanger set’s cover doesn’t convey the sense that they’re a team, while the Kakuranger set is indistinguishable from Power Rangers (at least for people who don’t read the title).

ohranger box art

  • Man, Gantz: O just keeps looking better and better.

  • Chris Mirjahangir’s animated fanfilm Godzilla: Total Destruction is moving along pretty impressively… Michiru Oshima is doing the score! Forgot to post about it earlier, so catching up now.
  • The Japan Animator Expo’s theatrical screening in October will have a new short from Patema Inverted‘s Yasuhiro Yoshiura… and it’s new Patlabor anime! Since this one isn’t streaming on the website, I don’t know what the odds of US distribution are; hopefully either the entire damned Animator Expo gets a home video release with subtitles, or it gets included as an extra with the live-action Patlabor if/when anyone decides to license that (hopefully both!).
  • The video game tie-in for Killing Bites has been delayed. (It’s news to me that it’s even getting a video game!)

rinsetsua nendoroid

  • Amazon is now streaming Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada. Macross is back in print on DVD, but the others are a little hard to find. So, with Orguss finally out from Discotek, you can have a whole Super Dimension franchise marathon!

That’s really all we’ve got to report for the moment. Time to go back to hiding from spoilers, and trying to lose memory of the ones already seen! I wonder if Shin Godzilla‘s getting a theatrical run in Paradigm City….

Posted in News | Leave a comment