Happy 50th Anniversary to Spectreman!

It’s now 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the 2nd Kaiju Boom, also known as the Henshin Boom, a period when Japanese television was flooded with transforming superhero characters. No doubt a lot of fandom is ecstatic to celebrate the half-centennial of Kamen Rider, which was made as direct competition to Ultraman’s return in the likewise seminal Return of Ultraman, but, there’s one title that beat both of them to air, debuting on January 2, 1971. This show even aired on American television alongside the likes of Ultraman, Johnny Sokko & His Flying Robot, and Space Giants, so every once in a while when I’m be out and about with some tokusatsu T-shirt on, a Gen-Xer will approach me and ask:

“Hey, is that Spectreman?”

The 63-episode show clearly made an impact on a number of young viewers, and is still a staple of gray-market convention tape traders to this day. A cornerstone of vintage tokusatsu content and a foundational link in the evolution of the genre, luxury merchandise from expensive home video sets to hyper-detailed vinyl figures continue to feature prominently in the Japanese market as well. In short, it’s a classic.

I’m sure others will do some sort of proper series retrospective for this anniversary, but for my part I thought I could round up some 20 fun pieces of trivia to celebrate the big gold guy’s 50th.

  1. While the US version and the Japanese re-broadcast is titled Spectreman throughout, this wasn’t the case for the show’s original Japanese run. The first 20 episodes were titled Space Apeman Gori, after the show’s main villain, followed by Space Apeman Gori vs Spectreman until episode 39. The change to promote the hero more in the title seems obvious in retrospect (sponsors weren’t happy with the show being named after the villain to begin with), but at the time when the show started there were no similar hero programs on the air with which to conform.
Space Apeman Gori/ Space Apeman Gori vs Spectreman opening
Spectreman opening

2. The villainous alien apemen Gori and La were a deliberate attempt to cash in on Planet of the Apes, which was very popular in Japan.

3. Spectreman himself is very much a mock Ultraman: he’s an alien from Nebula 71 (not M78), he can fly, he has a human form that works with a government organization to combat monsters, he even has a flashing light that indicates when his power is running low. But he does have one advantage: his height, according to official stats, is however big it needs to be, which at times gets ridiculous.

3. The show was made by P-Productions, continuing the trend of golden heroes from Space Giants and their failed 1967 pilot Jaguarman. The animal theme of the latter carried over to Gori (not to mention Lion Maru and Silver Jaguar), while the size-changing aspect went to Specterman.

4. The show was rushed into production. The previous show in the slot, Akai Inazuma, ended abruptly in December 1970, leaving only 25 days to create a replacement, so Masaki Tsuji wrote the scenarios for first two episodes overnight. P-Pro president Tomio Sagisu’s proposed concept for Elementman, about a hero who could turn into solid, liquid, and gas, was also incorporated.

5. Before the series, a pilot was produced, with a very different look for the hero and villain. The Gori suit from the pilot was reused for La, and, being a hot otaku property, there is even merchandise of the unused Spectreman design.

6. The identity of the actor from the pilot is unknown. Originally it was reported as Jiro Dan, the very lead of Return of Ultraman, but this has since been debunked. There is a resemblance, though.

7. The early part of the show had a strong environmental theme, with pollution-based monsters with names like Dustman and Hedoron (“hedoro” meaning “sludge”), a precursor to eco-savvy kaiju flicks like Godzilla vs Hedorah and Gamera vs Zigra. This made the sponsors uncomfortable for some reason, and the messaging was phased out of later episodes.

8. And what could be more eco-friendly than recycling? The show reused kaiju from both the Jaguarman and Hyo-man pilots, and fans of Goke the Bodysnatcher from Hell might want to take a close look at Dr. Gori’s flying saucer.

9. Less eco-friendly: as a promotional stunt, producer Takaharu Bessho solicited viewers to send in their cockroaches for episodes 7 and 8. Some of the resulting fan mail actually did contain live cockroaches, to the disgust of the higherups.

10. You know how children somehow manage to get into rooms that they’re not supposed to all the time in tokusatsu movies? This also happens in real life, as the studio used for filming effects was pretty run down, so a child broke in and stole one of the Spectreman flying props! This prompted the production to move to a new studio with the 32nd episode.

11. The show was twice adapted for theaters as part of Toei’s Manga Matsuri. Episodes 9-10 played alongside Go Go Kamen Rider, Alibaba and the 40 Thieves, Andersen Monogatari, and Mako the Mermaid, while the 27th episode played with Kamen Rider vs Shocker, Return of Pero, Moomin, and Sarutobi Ecchan.

12. The late, great manga maestro Daiji Kazumine was in charge of the comic adaptation, and it became one of the works most associated with him, running a whopping seven volumes. As with his Ultraman work, there are some original stories mixed in among the adaptations of TV episodes, and some deviations between the two, including more graphic violence and a more expressive main character.
I should clarify, though, that this is only for the Spectreman manga that Kazumine did in the pages of Adventure King and Shonen Champion, since he also had a version in Delightful Kindergarten targeted at much younger children.

From Delightful Kindergarten

13. While Spectreman himself doesn’t appear, his human identity Jouji Gamou does get a cameo in Go Nagai’s Abashiri Family. He says that he can’t transform to face the monster threat in the issue because it’s not owned by P-Pro.

14. The US dub of the show was directed and written by Mel Welles, best known for playing the penny-pinching boss in the original Little Shop of Horrors, but also a staple of English dubs for things like Magic Boy and The X from Outer Space. He punched up the dub a bit to suit his own sensibilities, though not as extremely as some English tokusatsu dubs (Ultraseven, Ultraman Tiga).

15. The US theme song is definitely a catchy and iconic piece in its own right. The backing uses Mystic Moods Orchestra’s “First Day of Forever”, which is notably uncredited, only listing Bob Todd, Gregory Sill, and Jeremy Winn for the song.

16. If you want to watch Spectreman in the US, your options are limited. While it doesn’t have as complicated a rights situation as Ultraman or Space Giants did, it’s never been licensed for DVD or Blu-ray stateside, so your best option is tracking down the Image release of the show on VHS and laserdisc. Even that only gets through about a quarter of the show, however, so hopefully it gets picked up some day!

17. Though Spectreman isn’t available on DVD in the US, Yudai Yamaguchi’s movie adaptation of the zany delinquent gag manga Cromartie High School is.
Why is this relevant? Gori and La literally drop in for a scene!

18. Spectreman was among a few sources for footage compiled into the 1983 Leslie Nielson comedy Naked Space. Heck, I’m seeing Gori and La as the thumbnail on the trailer on YouTube:

19. Gori was one of a few Japanese influences (like Kagestar and Speed Racer‘s dub) on the villain Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls.

20. The show also inspired the Franco-Belgian spoof Léguman, about a vegetable-themed tokusatsu hero.

Bonus fact: The main character Jouji Gamou is named after Russian-American physicist George Gamow, best known for work on the big bang theory (the actual theory, not the sitcom). Tomio Sagisu used the name as one of his many pen names for a while, so it was a natural fit for the hero in his story.

That’s a wrap! Happy anniversary to Spectreman!

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End-of-Year Maser Patrol News Recap

Apologies: I’ve been bad about making timely news recaps this year.

2020 has been terrible, and the general stresses of the world combined with some personal life situations/tragedies have made it difficult to find the time and motivation to pour through the news each week. My new years resolution is to try to get more on top of that, though, and to that end I put together a Facebook page, so all I have to do when I see something cool is hit “share” rather than mucking about in WordPress. That should also keep a roughly chronological account of neat news items, as well as other miscellanea that I encounter, and in turn will make it easier when it comes time to round up items to talk about for the ‘blog posts.

It seems like a fool’s errand to try to discuss everything that I’ve been neglecting to since October, but here’s a rundown of a few of the ones that come to mind:

Productions

  • In what I think is the most exciting development of the past couple of months, we have a trailer for Godzilla: Singular Point, due on Netflix in April. I think that Orange’s CG and Bones’ human animation both look on-point, and the soundtrack is great. Most of the fandom discourse has been around the monster redesigns, though claims that what seems most likely to be Titanosaurus is actually Godzilla because of Keita Amemiya’s old drawing of a Godzilla mosasaur is ones of the wilder bits of speculation I’ve seen bandied about.

A lot of fans are expecting this to be more action-packed and less esoteric than the other modern Japanese productions, but I’ve read enough Toh EnJoe works to know that he can go toe-to-toe with Anno and Urobuchi in the pretentious, impenetrable, techno-philosophical narrative department. I mean, just as one example, for a second the trailer does feature a riff on Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s famous woodblock of Tametomo and the giant fish, only with a red ocean and “古史羅” (“koshira”) written over it, sort of a pun since “koshi” is “ancient history” (NB: this is different than Godzilla’s usual kanji, 呉爾羅). Also EnJoe’s love of time travel and reality-bending narratives also make me think that the “Singular Point” of the title isn’t merely the gibberish that a few others seem to suspect.

More elaborate character profiles have been translated, so there’s a lot to dig into.

  • Takeshi Yagi directed a 90-minute special for NHK titled Godzilla’s Leading Ladies (Godzilla & Heroine in Japanese), and it’s a lot of fun. There’s some rare behind-the-scenes video from the 50s and 60s that Tomoyuki Tanaka shot, Yumiko Shaku got back into her Godzilla x Mechagodzilla jumpsuit, Kumi Mizuno talks about working with Nick Adams, Shiro Sano oversees the show, and there’s a robot girl for some reason. It’s very dialogue-heavy, but apparently a subtitled version has been prepared, so hopefully that sees the light of day soon!
  • SSSS.Dynazenon is still a little slow on their reveals in the trailers, but the newer one has a bit more in the action department. They’re also wasting no time with marketing this time, as a figure of the title robot is already up for sale.
  • As if to respond to the Godzilla SP trailer (but really all just part of Netflix’s big anime reveals presentation), we also got a couple of stills from the unfortunately-titled Pacific Rim: The Black, as well as the leaked opening. I don’t expect much from Polygon, but the opening is in-line with a lot of Netflix openings, from Daredevil to The Haunting of Hill House, not to mention the original Pacific Rim‘s ending.
  • Somehow a stupid pun in the Monster Hunter movie resulted in an avalanche of outrage in China. The full explanation of the controversy is outlined here, but be warned, it’s all very, very dumb. The movie’s prospects would likely have been grim at the best of times, considering how preciously fans of the games erupt against the changes made for the adaptation, but without the Chinese market and a worldwide pandemic, its box office was dire. I personally plan to order the Blu-ray sight unseen, but have no movie that I’d risk attending in the cinema right now.
  • Hiroto Yokokawa is working on a new kaiju short for next year, Yatsuashi. That’s an impressive speed, seeing as how Nezura 1964 is debuting in January.
  • Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger is managing to somehow simultaneously be a celebration of past Super Sentai shows for the 45th anniversary while also not really resembling a Super Sentai team at all. Rather than the typical five matching heroes with the leader in red, this show’s main hero Zenkaiser is a rainbow-colored fellow like JAKQ‘s Big One… the difference being that Big One was an “extra ranger” who only showed up halfway into the show. Zenkaiser is also channeling Dragonranger and Akaranger in his design, but his belt and head crest could just as easily put him at home in a Kamen Rider series.

    The rest of the team is not the usual spandex-clad matching heroes, either, but mecha reminiscent of the giant combined robots from Zyuranger, Gaoranger, Magiranger, and Boukenger… they’re even named Zyuran, Gaon, Magin, and Vroon. If anything they remind me most of Gaogaigar‘s support cast (complete with symmetrical docking), so it should make for an interestingly different anniversary series, if nothing else.
  • The third season of Thunderbolt Fantasy starts in April.
  • Platinum End is getting an anime adaptation. The series is from the duo behind Death Note, and represents a return to that same supernatural mystery/thriller genre, but also features a number of characters in a super-powered cat-&-mouse battle royale wearing superhero outfits to keep their identities secret from one another. It’s not quite as engrossing as Death Note, but still good stuff.
  • Mappa will be doing an anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man. The edgy (pun intended) manga has gained a lot of popularity for its insane antics and crass humor, and several readers felt like they were “getting away with something” by having it run in Weekly Shonen Jump, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s been moved online to Shonen Jump+. But regardless, Mappa’s execution of shows like Dorohedoro inspires a lot of confidence in this being superb.
  • The Polonia brothers’ 2015 kaiju spoof ZillaFoot has been available to rent on Vimeo from SRS for a while, but with SRS’s recent kaiju home video boom, they’ve decided to extend its hour runtime to feature length, padding it out with additional footage (ala the US cut of King Kong vs Godzilla) sourced from their fans. Time will tell how this approach works out for them, but it’s an interesting idea, nevertheless.
  • Here’s a proof-of-concept for an independent flick titled City-Crushing Monster. Not much actual monster footage, for a POC.

Home video

  • Most of kaiju fandom is more excited for Godzilla vs. Kong than anything else, so it was a big hullabaloo when it was announced that WB’s entire slate for the next year was going directly to HBOMax. This seems a symbiotic arrangement, since WB’s upcoming slate (Dune, Suicide Squad, The Matrix 4) is overwhelmed by franchises that have flopped at the box office, and HBOMax has very little exclusive content of its own so far to bolster it as yet another streaming service in an oversaturated market. However, this was a jerk move to Legendary (who paid for most of Godzilla vs Kong), since they were only informed about this decision when it was made public, and they had to turn down a very lucrative offer from Netflix for the film.

    It’s definitely a good decision to send the picture direct to streaming during the COVID pandemic, and possibly a good call to offer an alternative to cinemas even during normal times, but Netflix would have probably been a better home for the title, so it’s a shame that it got to the point where things have begun to get ugly between Legendary and WB.
  • SRS has picked up the rights to Monster Seafood Wars, one of the most exciting entries yet in their ever-expanding kaiju library. I hope they take a look at some of Minoru Kawasaki’s older titles that haven’t made it to the English-speaking world yet, as well.
  • Arrow’s release of Daiei’s Invisible Man movies is up for preorder for a release in March. A lot of their fans were salty about this announcement (evidently they saw that bandages were hinted at and thought they’d announce Darkman), but I’m ecstatic that anyone’s taking a chance on vintage tokusatsu titles with no prior international release.
  • Hakaider is getting a Blu-ray release from Media Blasters; I see they’ve eschewed the “Mechanical Violator” title. I don’t believe there’s a Japanese Blu-ray for the film, interestingly enough, so this might be the first HD version on the market.
  • Ultraman Taro is up for preorder, hitting January 12. As mentioned in the panel at Kaiju Con-line, it looks like the numbered classic sets are planned up through Ultraman Leo, and then they’ll do something different.
  • Howl from Beyond the Fog is getting a mass-market release on DVD. While it’s neat that getting the movie into Walmarts will get more people to see it, I’m not sure how well it’ll go over with that orange-and teal King of the Monsters mockbuster cover (a lot like a certain Total Film issue, below), though, since it’s such a different kind of film.
  • Scorpion is releasing Voyage into Space on Blu-ray. With all of Johnny Sokko on DVD, I don’t have a lot of incentive to pick up the compilation movie, but I’m sure some folks will be into it.
  • Not a giant monster movie itself, 1930’s Ingagi was a huge influence on King Kong, but has long been very difficult to see due to its banned film status. However, Kino Lorber is putting it onto Blu-ray, which should go well with their releases of Konga, A*P*E, The Ape, etc…
  • Discotek has licensed a bunch of classic mecha anime, including Acrobunch (nobody saw that coming), as well as Daimos and Daltanious (completing the set they started with Combattler V and Voltes V).

Comics

  • After their license expired for a while, Godzilla is back at IDW. First on the docket: a five-issue comic for “middle-grade readers”, evidently simply titled Godzilla. Erik Burnham, Dan Schoening, and Luis Antonio Delgado are running the book, all of whom have experience with licensed titles at IDW with Ghostbusters, which I’ve heard some good things about. The decision to go after a younger audience makes a lot of sense; the Scholastic market is a huge and under-appreciated segment of American comic sales, routinely trumping the likes of Marvel and DC.

    I must confess that this launch title is a little less exciting than last time around, but it still seems worth checking out, and hopefully will lead to more diverse output from the company (but please, guys, see if you can reprint the old Dark Horse/Marvel runs in English!).
  • More details have been announced for Phase 6’s Aizenborg comic: Replicating the disparate aesthetics of the original anime/tokusatsu hybrid, the human scenes are being done in this version by Matt Frank using digital art, while Hiroshi Kanatani uses markers to represent the kaiju/hero pieces. It’s a pretty clever approach to take, and after seeing how Redman: The Kaiju Hunter turned out, this could easily bring Aizenborg to a whole new level!
  • Rise of Ultraman must be doing somewhat okay as a miniseries, since Marvel just announced that they’re continuing it with Trials of Ultraman in March. There was a little concern after the drop in sales between the first and second issues, selling around 30,000 copies; this isn’t huge numbers for Marvel, but perhaps the potential power of the brand is keeping them on it.
  • Skybound has a new Ultraman pastiche on the way, Ultramega. As a fan of Skybound as a line in general, I’d already be onboard, but since James Herrin was also involved with some giant monster stories in BPRD, I have a little extra confidence in it. I know a few Ultraman fans are concerned that it looks a bit like it’s trying edginess for its own sake without doing much original, but we’ll find out when the comic drops in March.
  • In very exciting and utterly unexpected news, Seven Seas picked up the license to Shotaro Ishinomori’s original Goranger (or, I guess, “Gorenger“) manga. It’ll be interesting to see how the manga (which is a little goofy at times) is received by the modern Sentai/Power Rangers fan base, and I absolutely love the way that Seven Seas are emulating the (woefully defunct) Shout Factory DVD releases with this cover design. August Ragone’s liner notes with background about the franchise should make for good reading as well.
  • Negi Haruba (most famous for The Quintessential Quintuplets) is doing another manga about a group of five, this time titled Sentai Daishikkaku (戦隊大失格, “Sentai Disqualification”). It starts in February in Shonen Magazine.
  • Koyoshi Nakayoshi’s manga Sentai Red Becomes an Adventurer in Another World (戦隊レッド異世界で冒険者になる) recently started running in Shonen Gangan. The popular isekai genre has had all sorts of everyday people get reincarnated as heroes in Dragon Quest-like fantasy realms, but this one turns the trope on its head by making the protagonist who dies and gets whisked away to the sword-&-sorcery realm the leader of a sentai team in his past life, bringing his transformations and mecha along with him. These two major genres have certainly met before (e.g. Rayearth), but never in a mash-up quite like this!
  • After Ultraman, Getter Robo, and Robot Detective, Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi are rebooting yet another classic hero character, with Batman: Justice Buster for Kodansha’s Morning magazine. Hopefully this one gets a US release; it can always be a crapshoot with manga but Batman has the best history of all American comic heroes in that department.
  • Monthly Hero’s is moving entirely online. The magazine going that way is a big deal, since it’s the number one Japanese manga anthology for superhero content at the moment. They’re a 7-11 exclusive, so hopefully this is a way to broaden horizons, rather than a sign that the imprint as a whole is in trouble.

Video Games

  • Symphogear XD Unlimited added Gamera to the ever-expanding list of kaiju franchises that it’s crossed over with. As with their ULTRAMAN, Godzilla, SSSS.Gridman, Nanoha, and Attack on Titan collaborations, it was a good mix of splicing the franchise mythologies together and giving the gears neat new armors based on the kaiju characters. This one apparently got some merch that I’ll have to be on the lookout for, such as posters, buttons, and acrylic standee figures.
  • A Godzilla skin showed up in Fall Guys.
  • ULTRAMAN‘s Ultraman, despite not being a giant robot, is a main feature in mech fighting game Override 2. (Also, I had to look up their character Watchbot to confirm that it’s not actually Draco Azul)

Miscellaneous

  • Part of the Godzilla Day festivities this year that I don’t think was on anyone’s bingo card was the return of Hamtaro collaborations. I guess with the 20th anniversary of the original Godziham products, it made sense to revive the merchandising line. Matt Frank designed the main image at the center of the new line!
  • Mega64 has been doing amusing sweded versions of titles like Dragonball Z and Metal Gear Solid for a while, but their Evangelion really picks it up a notch.

On a sad note, RIP to a few creatives who we’ve lost in the past few months.

  • Izumi Matsumoto, creator of the seminal romantic comedy (with ESP powers) Kimagure Orange Road. His work is a powerful, emotional manga at times, and one of the finest anime of the 1980s.
  • Tom Kotani, the director of the Rankin Bass pictures The Last Dinosaur, The Bermuda Depths, The Ivory Ape, and The Bushido Blade. The Last Dinosaur is a personal favorite of the entire 1970s tokusatsu canon.
  • Daiji Kazumine, arguably the most prolific kaiju mangaka of all time, with work on King Kong, Ultraman, Spectreman, Mirrorman, Godzilla, and countless other titles.

Yeah, it’s been one of those rough years.

But hopefully 2021 will be better. Best New Year’s wishes to all!

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Unmade movie review: Versus (2008)

Note: this thumbnail was for fun and was not part of the unmade movie’s script

The early-to-mid 2000s were perhaps the peak of Japan’s soft power in Hollywood. Anime (or anime-inspired cartoons) dominated all the children’s networks, Hayao Miyazaki won an Oscar, blockbuster movies like The Matrix, Kill Bill, and Transformers flaunted their Japanese influence, and suddenly people knew who Ken Watanabe was. The horror genre, in particular, was indelibly impacted, by two Japanese titles remade in Hollywood in 2002: Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil (based on the 1996 video game), and Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (based on the 1998 Hideo Nakata movie, in turn based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki), kicking off new interest in zombies and ghost stories. Just as Nakata’s movie had inspired a glut of imitators in its native country, Hollywood scrambled to remake as many titles as possible from the contemporary “J-horror” boom: Dark Water (2005), Pulse (2006), One Missed Call (2008), Don’t Look Up (2009), Apartment 1303 (2013), among other remakes drawing from various Asian countries.

It wasn’t just the concepts, but also the talent, that was being brought over. Nakata himself was hired to direct The Ring Two (2005), Takashi Shimizu remade his own work with The Grudge (2004) and The Grudge 2 (2006), and Masayuki Ochiai got the job for the 2008 remake of Shutter despite having nothing to do with the original. Interest was high enough that American studios were starting to invest in Japanese productions, and the likes of Takashi Miike and Norio Tsuruta were getting gigs on Masters of Horror. This is the environment that Ryuhei Kitamura, having achieved the pinnacle of what he thought possible with Japanese cinema with 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, found himself in when making his Hollywood breakthrough.

Despite an interest in Japanese horror and Kitamura’s fluent English skills, it was still an uphill battle to land a project, eventually landing 2008’s The Midnight Meat Train, which was unfortunately scaled back to dollar theaters upon release due to studio meddling. Even with a Hollywood film under his belt, Kitamura’s cinematic calling card remained the same: his notorious, revolutionary 2000 debut, the zombie/action/gangster cult-opus Versus. It was his claim to fame, and his most entwined picture, beginning as a sequel to his debut student film Down to Hell (1997), he poured his all into it, and it paid off big time, launching the careers of both Kitamura and his collaborators Tak Sakaguchi, Yudai Yamaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, et al. In 2004, as a sort of capstone to his whirlwind Japanese career before going Hollywood, he released The Ultimate Versus, an extended edition of the already-two-hour movie with a lot of newly-shot action sequences. He was always teasing the prospect of Versus 2, and the demand was certainly there; the movie’s American distributor Media Blasters had commissioned Versus’s action choreographer Yuji Shinomura to do something similar with Death Trance (2005) and star Tak Sakaguchi was tapping into the subject matter with his own directorial work (written by Kitamura), Samurai Zombie (2008). Thus, an American remake seemed like a no-brainer.

Kitamura announced the American remake while promoting Midnight Meat Train at Fantasia International Film Festival in July of 2008, telling a Dread Central reporter “The US Versus will be insane!”. The exact progression and number of revisions to the remake’s script is unknown, but it seems that the preferred version was completed around December of 2008, and has been brought up several times since, most notably in 2010 when he told Andrez Bergen:

“This year will be tenth anniversary year of Versus so I’m thinking of doing something special. The original film means a lot to me and has huge fans all over the world, so I can’t do anything easy or cheap – I can’t guarantee anything in the long run, it’s a definite that I’ll do the new Versus in the future for sure.”

After that, conversations shifted back to a Japanese-made sequel with Tak Sakaguchi rather than an American remake, which was what was touted during the promotions for No One Lives in 2013. However, in 2019 Kitamura told Cinapse:

“There will be no Versus 2. But I am working on a Versus reboot, which is 100 times crazier, bigger. It’s kind of like Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s all new, but the same. So, it is kind of like, Versus: Fury Road, that is what I am working on right now. So, I don’t know when. I have a lot of things going on, but I will do it in the near future.”

At any rate, things appear to have been in a holding pattern for a while. So, being more a decade removed from the draft that was, and on the heels of Versus’s recent rediscovery thanks to the Arrow Blu-ray release, this is a good opportunity to explore the film which could have been. The intent here is not to leak spoilers for the film in development, as I assume that whatever incarnation presently exists has evolved significantly from the 2008 version, but to evaluate that incarnation as a lost project in its own right.

The script draft I have seen is dated 12/01/08, presumably following the American convention to mean “December 1” rather than “January 12”, and is listed as JAZ Films, a production company who according to IMDB only produced two movies, both in 2008: The Objective and Reservations. The co-writing credits are more encouraging, however: after Kitamura is listed George Krstic, the creator of Cartoon Network’s tragically underrated Megas XLR and a writer for Motorcity and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, along with Mitch Wilson, best known as the writer/director of Knucklebones (2016). Krstic is a particularly inspired choice for collaboration, given his comedic sensibilities and familiarity with Japanese pop culture conventions (again, just watch Megas XLR); he and Kitamura would go on to pitch the Syfy series Orion, described as “National Treasure meets Firefly”, which was picked up for development in 2010 and was announced as on-track at Universal in 2013.

The script is 128 pages, a large portion of which is predictably dedicated to action choreography. The story of the original Versus is not terribly complicated, so several aspects appear to have been fleshed out to be more palatable to a wide audience. It’s an interesting mix of scenes that are nearly verbatim with the original and those that would otherwise be utterly unrecognizable; whether that compromises the simplicity of the original would likely have been a matter of debate.

To start with, in this version characters have names. While this seems like a no-brainer in film production, one of the unusual things about Versus is that nobody does, so invariably people discussing the movie come up with their own monikers for them like “the dude with sunglasses” or “facial expression guy”. Actually having names streamlines things a lot from a scripting perspective, and I don’t think that names associated with roles actively detracts from anything. While characters like “The Girl” have been replaced with “Jess” and “The Man” with “Kizaki”, the notable exception preserving the Clint Eastwoodian anonymous appeal is the protagonist, who’s still only referenced as KSC2-303, or “303” for short.

Every character present in the original has some analogue in the remake, along with their particular eccentricities (the one alteration I noticed was that it’s now the marshal with both hands who gets triggered by getting called an officer, rather than the one-handed one), but there are some new touches as well, such as the assassin trio now being Christian evangelicals. Being an American film, ethnicities have been changed to diversify the cast: 303 and the prisoner that he escapes with (who’s been amped up as a hoodlum similarly to a character in Kitamura’s Alive) are Caucasian, Kizaki and Tiny (Minoru Matsumoto’s character in the original) are Japanese, Lorenzo (Yuichiro Arai’s analogue) is Latino, Rick (Ryosuke Watabe’s short-lived character) is African American, the lead marshal is African American while his partner is white. Jess is only described as “pale”, and Reggie and Francis (the characters corresponding to Kenji Matsuda and Kazuhito Ohba) were not specified, which is probably wise so they could leave casting open to whoever could look psychotic and/or pretty enough. The progressively-minded will also likely appreciate that Jess has a bit more agency than The Girl did, actively shown fighting against the zombies, albeit without the insane bravado of the practically superhuman surrounding cast. On the other hand, she and 303 share a kiss, a cliché by Hollywood standards but which almost never seems to happen in Japanese action flicks.

Among the returning casts, the most profoundly altered is Ken (corresponding to Toshiro Kamiaka’s character), who this time instead of dying offscreen and contributing nothing more than a cool-looking leather duster, fills a kind of Kyle Reese-meets-Ben Kenobi role here as the only hero who knows what’s going on, interrupting Jess’s kidnapping and keeping her safe until 303 happened to drop in (unlike the original, our hero running into the gangsters was a coincidence not arranged in advance), all while speaking cryptically about destiny and hinting at their previous reincarnations. Much like the fake-out in the opening of the original film, the remake does make it seem for a while like this could be our hero, until he subverts expectations by kicking the bucket. There’s also a flashback to him and “the samurai” (303’s past life) training together in the feudal Japan, towards the end of the film, when we find out about the “princess’s” resurrection powers.

The two marshals are also a blast, amping up the bullshitting that we all love (this time he claims to be 1000 times faster than Evander Holyfield, instead of Mike Tyson) with a ton more ludicrous claims including how he worked for Area 51 and that must be the source of the zombies. The duo get a few more action scenes to take out zombie hoards (they don’t get their fight with the assassin, though), and, in a piece echoing one of the deleted scenes from the original movie, get fused together into one hyper zombie!

There are numerous new characters, as well: an additional gangster character (the one who actually abducted our female lead) named Kevin, an angry biker name Goat who 303 strips for his clothing Terminator-style and who eventually partners up with Tiny for some antics, and a host of bit parts, reminiscent of both the rapid character appearances and comedic tone of Final Wars.

The expanded cast is an indication of an expanded budget, and that’s certainly not the only clue to that. Rather than in an abandoned forest, the zombie pandemonium in this movie takes place in bustling Las Vegas with a ton of collateral damage, which I imagine may have been one of the more controversial deviations from the source material. (Vegas had also just been used for the setting of 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction, from Kitamura-favorite director Russell Mulcahy.) The setting shifts across an array of locations: a few casinos, a swimming pool, a morgue, a brothel, a parking lot, and the climactic showdown is at Anasazi ruins. Ruins aside, these probably wouldn’t have the creepy atmosphere of the Forest of Resurrection, but decades of zombie flicks have demonstrated that an overrun cityscape can prove just as unsettling. The movie’s combination of numerous extra cast members with nonstop violence also keeps the zombie cycle self-sustaining, so even without the plot device of a mobster corpse-dumping ground, there’s no shortage of bodies to get zombified. (The script is explicit that the resurrections are associated with an eclipse, unlike the vagueness of the original when it comes to the subject. It’s possible that the woods were just always full of zombies, but that wouldn’t fly in a major metropolitan area.)

To navigate the gauntlet of locations, and also highlight the budgetary increase, there’s a plethora of high-adrenaline car chases… in fact I completely lost count of how many. Vehicle-fu in general is a recurring motif as characters pursue one another with, fight on top of, and run each other over with cars, jeeps, trucks, motorcycles, helicopters, and fighter jets. While the original film only implies a crashed armored vehicle preceding 303’s escape, this one shows him full-on leaping from a crashing plane in full flight…twice! Perhaps the comparisons to Fury Road reflect that some of these factors persist into Kitamura’s current draft, but honestly it feels a bit more like Crank.

Another piece that wouldn’t have been possible on the original movie’s budget is the ending fight scene, in which the portal actually swallows the combatants. Instead of merely representing otherworldliness with a simple orange filter, this version has them duking it out in a full-on hellscape, and then flashing through various reincarnations that they’ve had in different time periods: the Civil War, Medieval Europe, the Roman Colosseum, even some sort of Lovecraftian alien prehistory with cyclopean ruins and pyramids at non-Euclidian angles! This sounds like it’d be quite a challenge for the effects team, so I’m curious if it would have come across organically or looked more cartoonish with all of the required CG.

The Lovecraft connection is interesting given that similar subject matter had just been tackled in Midnight Meat Train, but it also represents another trend that I notice with this script compared to the original: the pop-culture seems a bit more on-the-nose. The original movie certainly makes no bones about being inspired by Sam Raimi, George Miller, Highlander, and more, but it rarely name drops nods very explicitly, while this one…well, there’s a part where the marshals take off in helicopter and “Danger Zone” starts playing. There are references to Terminator and JJ Abrams, parts reminiscent of From Dusk ‘til Dawn, and there’s even a scene where the one-handed cop is told he can join the likes of “Ash, Cobra, Luke Skywalker, and that mad cat from Rolling Thunder” (Space Adventure Cobra isn’t exactly well-known in the US, but a Hollywood version was announced in 2008. If Alexandre Aja had gotten to make his Cobra movie, perhaps audiences would have gotten the reference, but as it stands it’s wild to think of a joke in one unmade movie hinging on a different unmade movie – both remaking Japanese properties, no less!). One of the nods that I particularly got a kick out of was Ken’s refusal to explain the situation to Jess during their initial car chase, mostly because Kitamura has raved about how Schwarzenegger doing the same to Rae Dawn Chong in Commando is one of the greatest repartees in cinema history. I have to wonder if his work on Final Wars and LoveDeath (which both namedrop cinematic references left and right) influenced this direction at all.

There’s a lot of potential in the screenplay, and had it been made, perhaps it would have been a cult hit, inspiring memes and Funko pops and T-shirts with the main characters’ matching phoenix-shaped birthmarks of destiny. However, as much of an uphill battle the first movie was to make, this time would be harder, since Kitamura needs to top himself, keeping somewhat faithful without coming across as simple rehash, which is a delicate balance. Versus was certainly able to utterly surpass the scope of Down to Hell, but it’s not clear if that’s scalable, especially given the monolithic cult status that it had since achieved. There have been remake cases where everything worked (The Grudge comes foremost to mind), but it’s a difficult balance, and Kitamura’s original support network might not have been able to drop everything and fly to Hollywood to compose music, design costumes, and action-choreograph the film… critical components for a movie that’s the unironic epitome of “style over substance”. So, he’d need to find people stateside who could realize his vision, not to mention find a cast capable of embodying these over-the-top characters, a tall order even when there isn’t an economic crisis putting a pinch on investors (again, this was 2008). Fallout with Lionsgate over Midnight Meat Train had stalled Kitamura’s career taking off stateside, resulting in him getting more work in the direct-to-video range than theatrical, and interest in Asian horror films was starting to wane. Altogether a confluence of troubling factors, no fault of the script, appear to have put the American Versus into stasis.

Time will tell what becomes of Kitamura’s aspirations for the film, but I remain hopeful that he can, as he alluded to with Fury Road, pull off something with all the gusto and energy that he did decades prior. In that case, it’ll be interesting to compare not only to the original picture, but also this screenplay, to see what’s been retained and what’s changed over the years, since at this point the draft’s composition is considerably further removed from the present than it was from the original Versus. Regardless, it was still fascinating to see what could have been and imagine what it would have been like if such a project had come to life a dozen years ago.

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Kaiju Transmissions podcast: Ryuhei Kitamura’s Action-horror

I was on Kaiju Transmissions last month for a post-Halloween show to talk about some of Ryuhei Kitamura’s early action/horror output, including:

  • Down to Hell
  • Versus
  • Alive
  • Aragami
  • Longinus

He’s a favorite director of mine, so it was great to geek out over.

Direct download

Expect something else Versus-related shortly!

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Interview: Tokyo Shock

I recently sat down for a conversation with Media Blasters to discuss the past and future of the Tokyo Shock line. The brand has been particularly active lately, with Zeiram 2, Zebraman, Devilman, and Gappa getting Blu-ray releases, plus Hakaider, 964 Pinocchio, Zebraman 2, and more on the way.

Well, thank you for agreeing to chat. Tokyo Shock has been a big influence on me ever since seeing Moon Over Tao and Story of Ricky on VHS 20 years ago. How did you first get interested in Asian cinema?

Oh, that was through I would say Miike. I remember when I saw Fudoh and was blown away. I knew that Japan was making some special stuff.

That’s a strong entry.

Yeah, Fudoh I still feel [is] one of his best early works.

How did Media Blasters come about? It’s a pretty diverse company between the labels, with Anime Works, Tokyo Shock, Kitty Films, etc. Was that always the vision?

It came about because of a Star Trek convention and I saw my first anime, Project A-ko … I went [to] horror, anime, and all types of conventions and found all these great titles.

I see! Back in the day there was quite a mix of content at the conventions scenes.

Yup, and no where else to get it. If not for conventions and college clubs [we] never saw this stuff.

Is that still how you find content to license?

Not as much, the internet changed everything.

So, looking for reviews or talk about titles online now is the main method?

Pretty much, but as we got bigger we saw them in production. Before the public.

That’s neat! So you were able to do set visits outside of the Fever Dreams productions?

Yes, or even in preproduction.

Are there certain studios that you’re able to work better with because of that?

Yeah, very good with Nikkatsu, Shochiku, Media Suits.

Is there a licensing philosophy behind the Tokyo Shock label? Like the sort of thing that makes you think “this is a good fit” or “this not so much”.

Director mostly and type of content.

The director aspect makes sense. You certainly did more than anyone else in the US for Takashi Miike, Keita Amemiya, Ryuhei Kitamura.

Have there been any titles you can talk about that you thought would have been great fits, but weren’t able to license?

Audition.

Ah, yeah, that seems very much up your alley.

Or maybe many Toho.

On the subject of Toho, you released several of Toho’s giant monster movies, and I know that there were some issues with getting the two Godzilla movies to market. They have a reputation for being very protective of the Godzilla brand specifically; did they treat those releases any differently than they had the prior ones?

Not really, just we were too excited and we went overboard. They really approve no extras. We did all these extras and this became an issue later.

But yes, Godzilla is special to them.

Right, I think those were all new while the other discs were extras from the Japanese versions.

Yup, and we had to correct them all and only barebone release they approved.

Although, I remember you did a new edit of Frankenstein Conquers the World, right?

No, whatever they have is [it] …While fans were happy we took a hit for sure.

That’s a shame.

It is ok. Maybe one day work [with them] again.

So, no plans for any of the other Toho flicks on Blu-ray for the time being, it sounds like?

Not at this time, Toei and Nikkatsu to start. Shochiku has not many films we really like that much. Pony soon.

Because Blu-ray is the same region code in the US and Japan, there’s more opportunity for reverse importation than there was with DVD. Has this affected how studios treat licensing?

Not really.

That’s encouraging; it’s something that a lot of fans speculate about.

Sure.

Have there been unique challenges working on Korean, Hong Kong, or Thai movies as opposed to the “bread and butter” of Japanese stuff?

No, they are easy; just Korea is very expensive and Hong Kong is fine, just not as well organized. Korea makes great stuff. Thai, very good too.

Which titles have been surprise hits for you?

Hmmm… hard to say. Guess you are taking Tokyo Shock?

Mostly, but feel free to talk about the other labels as well.

I would say biggest surprise probably on Tokyo Shock be Visitor Q. I really thought “just not much there”, but did really well.

That’s a very strange film, but I remember it was my roommate’s favorite in college.

Yeah just too strange. She was a contest. The directors given low low budget and make a film.

A lot like Aragami, in that regard.

So, I notice that Anime Works seems to have an equal distribution between movies and TV series, but Tokyo Shock leans a lot more heavily into the movie side. Are live-action shows more expensive to license, or do they not perform as well?

[They do] not perform as well, and just too much work for that many episodes.

I mean, shows like Ultraman or Ultra Q [are] exceptions, but not many. We looked into those shows but they were messed up back then.

Yeah, the rights were tied up in a legal battle.

Yes.

In the last year, Tokyo Shock has made a huge return, with several times as many releases as we’ve seen in previous years. Why is now the time for them?

I recently went Japan prior to COVID, and then after COVID we were able close deals finally. So that visit, which I had not done in years, was very important.

Also we stopped producing.

Producing dubs?

Producing movies. We recently did Shinobi Girl, Flesh for the Beast. Voodoo Virus is it.

Ah, I see. Okay, well, I’ll let you go now, but thank you very much for your time!

Thank you.

Keep up with the latest Media Blasters announcements on their Facebook page.

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Halloween Hijinks: Japanese Body Horror

Confession: I was struggling to come up with another iconic monster to round up for this year’s Halloween article, and as such, a suggestion came my way – why not focus on a monster movie subgenre that isn’t constrained to the individual monster’s form? Or, that form itself is without constraint? Basically, I got a request to cover Japanese body horror.

Body horror isn’t about fear of the monster itself (exclusively, anyway), but rather the process of a person involuntarily transforming into one. Naturally, this has overlap with many major monster types: werewolves who don’t want to be werewolves, zombies decaying as they retain their humanity, the people who have an adverse reaction to eating mermaid flesh. In the interest of time I certainly can’t hit them all (having procrastinated on starting this until right before Halloween), but I’ll try to cover the titles that are best, best-known, and potentially interesting to readers here.

To start with, while “body horror” is usually assigned as a genre beginning with Cronenberg and his ilk, the idea of fear at a gross unnatural physical change is fundamental to human psychology and dates back throughout literature. In Japan, you could look to the rapid aging of Urashima Taro at the end of his legend or the protagonist’s gradual draining of vitality during the Peony Lantern story as such, the same with cautionary tales about deformed-and-deforming vengeful spirits such as the Kuchisake Onna and the Teketeke.

The second World War brought about deformity on a larger scale than previously encountered, enhancing the taboo of the subject but also cementing it in the collective subconscious, and thus prompting a certain level of metaphor to be tactful about the topic (lest one handle it outright and get banned, like the haunting Prophecies of Nostradamus). This, as with most subjects, brings us to the topic of Godzilla. Very much analogous to radiation victims, the world’s most famous kaiju was designed with hide resembling the keloid scars that developed on a-bomb survivors. While I’ll credit Shin Godzilla as the entry that leans the most heavily into this “gradually evolving, unpredictably amorphous” take on the character, Godzilla’s role as a mutation has been a staple of the franchise since the beginning.

The body horror in 1954’s Godzilla isn’t really realized from the human perspective, however, but that came from some of the science fiction films that Ishiro Honda directed in its wake. The next worth mentioning is 1958’s The H-man, in which people are attacked by blob monsters and, in turn, become blob monsters themselves (the same time period saw other countries making liquid creature movies, such as The Quatermass Xperiment, The Blob, and Caltiki the Immortal Monster; blobs were in vogue). However, while horrifying, these melting transformations were relatively quick; there wasn’t a sense of lingering with the effects…that would arrive with what’s arguably Honda’s best horror film, Matango.

A moody horror drama, Matango focused on a group of misfit castaways stranded on a remote island without food. They discover irradiated mushrooms with devastating effects: ingesting the fungus gradually turns the person into a mushroom monster, sort of a zombie predating the modern zombie phenomena. But how long can a starving person hold out? Those mushrooms are delicious after all…

Of course, the mastermind behind such monster effects was none other than Eiji Tsuburaya, so I guess it’s a fine time to bring up the Ultraman franchise, which has a number of arguable appearances. While the character of Kanegon has become quite a cute mascot with numerous appearances, it’s easy to forget that he’s supposed to be a human child karmically transformed into a money-gobbling freak, and the Ultra Q episode “Kanegon’s Cocoon” was actually a major influence on Shinya Tsukamoto when conceiving Tetsuo the Iron Man – the *definitive* Japanese body horror flick (though one can argue that Kanegon’s rotting appearance in Redman is a horror unto itself). Another iconic character with a tragic backstory is A. Jamila, an astronaut who was mutated into a kaiju only for Ultraman to murder. Those are both examples from the 1960s, without a graphic fleshy component of the transformations, but the franchise got there eventually, as is evidenced by the gradually evolving, live-organism-absorbing Beast the One in Ultraman the Next.

That’s not to say that there weren’t graphic transformations during the golden age, though. The most notable title of the time is probably 1959’s The Manster, which is admittedly a mostly American-made feature filmed in Japan. Our hapless hero is the victim of medical experimentation and winds up growing an entire evil twin out of his shoulder.

Medical experimentation is certainly a source for a fair degree of body horror, from the notorious Horrors of Malformed Men (the banned Toei picture about artificial mutilation, itself stitched together from five unrelated Rampo Edogawa stories) to the equally notorious Guinea Pig pictures of the 1980s (which Charlie Sheen famously mistook for actual snuff films) all the way to the insanity of the modern manga Franken Fran, in which the cute girl protagonist performs miraculous surgeries that sometimes turn her patients into monsters in thematically ironic ways. On the particularly monster-movie-heavy side of these, the 2018 gekimation flick Violence Voyager is certainly an experience, centering on a theme park where the proprietor has lured in various children to turn them into boxy-headed misfits.

However, such operations are also the source of a great many Japanese superheroes, ranging from Cyborg 009 to 8man to Kamen Rider. This causes no end of angsty pontificating as the protagonists lament their own lack of humanity, but for the most part they were physically indistinguishable. It was out of this concept that some of the next set of heroes came along, such as Inazuman, Demon Lord Dante, and even Kazuo Koike’s version of The Incredible Hulk, who (despite not having been surgically altered) represented more grotesque transformations. The most significant of that wave is certainly Devilman, a series that started as a repackaging of ideas from Demon Lord Dante and wound up not just being Go Nagai’s magnum opus, but a veritable essential classic that spawned countless spinoffs, retellings, and imitations. A lot of the horror in Devilman focuses around demons cruelty towards humans and vice versa, but the handful of “Devilmen” (those who are possessed by demons and transform but still maintain human will) are appalled at the creatures that they they’ve become; easy to imagine with Nagai’s ghastly imagination and psychosexual imagery at the helm.

Devilman was a huge influence on Hideaki Anno for Evangelion and Clamp for X, but from a body horror perspective, I think the most noteworthy direct descendent is Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte. The parallels are obvious, only with alien parasites instead of demons: the series begins with a human who is improperly possessed, retaining his humanity, moves on to him hunting down the successfully possessed who are eating people, and culminates with the revelation that regular people afraid of monsters are capable of inflicting cruelty beyond even the monsters’ imaginations. Iwaaki actually penned a story for the Neo Devilman spinoff, in case there was any room for plausible doubt. Anyway, the aliens cause the heads of the humans possessed to be amorphous shapeshifters who can change disguises and turn into various bladed weapons (James Cameron wanted to adapt the series at one point, raising immediate comparisons to the second terminator), but our hero only has his hand taken over (putting him into the “possessed talking hand” camp with the leads of Midori Days, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Vampire Hunter D), thus body horror. One nice thing about the series that one can rarely say is this: every version is good. Read the manga, watch the anime, watch the live-action movies; you’ll have a great time with any of them.

The gory excesses of Nagai’s manga work married well with the splatter boom brought about by home video in the 1980s, and thus a glut of hyperviolent works began flooding store shelves, bringing about a new level of excessive, painful transformation sequences as well. Suddenly there was a flood of heroes in titles like Shin Kamen Rider, The Guyver, Baoh, Guy, Biohunter, Genocyber, Apocalypse Zero (which has no shortage of fucked up content, for sure!), and more whose henshins were more the stuff of nightmares than an imitable pose for kids to copy at home.

Often the source of such hero’s powers was something dangerous that constantly threatened to consume them if they weren’t careful. The idea of this borrowed dark power taking over is a big part of Devilman, but has become a ubiquitous trope in all sorts of media (heck, take a look at all the recent Ultraman storylines with Belial widgets), but is accompanied by physical changes of varying levels of grotesqueness in the likes of Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, Garo, Ushio & Tora, Tokyo Ghoul, and the current Jujutsu Kaisen, to name a very few, when the enhanced combat abilities may result in a hero growing tails, claws, extra eyes/mouths, and so on.

Of course, it rarely gets quite as out of control as it did for Tetsuo, the antagonist of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal work Akira. I feel like I shouldn’t even have to explain this one, since it’s such a classic, lampooned from Robot Chicken to South Park and used in Absolut Vodka commercials, but if for some reason you like body horror and still haven’t watched the most technically well-made anime picture ever produced…well, do it.

What’s often less reported is how Akira is in many ways a send-up to the classic Mitsuteru Yokoyama work Gigantor (AKA Tetsujin 28): The titular Akira refers to himself as #28, the hero is named Shotaro Kaneda, and Tetsuo’s name means “Iron Man” as a play on Tetsujin’s “Iron Person”. I say this mostly as a way to segue to a movie that hit the next year, coincidentally also pronounced Tetsuo (albeit with different kanji), and also meaning “Iron Man”, naturally released abroad as Tetsuo the Iron Man.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo has been a strong bit of genre contention in my circles since the recent Arrow box set put it back into the limelight. The premise is that a person, in retaliation for a past wicked misdeed, is cursed and begins growing metal and machinery from his body, as well as the ability to absorb such within himself. I think that’s a stretch to define as “cyberpunk”, since there’s not really anything “cyber” about it, but upon debate I’ve found many titles less deserving of the moniker also get lumped into the genre. What the movie certainly is, however, is body horror, with our nameless protagonist slowly having a meltdown as he…well…melts down into a pile of unrecognizable scrap material. The sequel, Body Hammer, does feel a bit more scifi and methodological, perhaps due to the “cyberpunk” label that was placed on the original (Tsukamoto apparently had to have the term explained to him after the international acclaim of the first film).

If you decide to watch the Tetsuo trilogy, I would also recommend tracking down the origins of it, the 1986 short The Phantom of Regular Size, which was basically remade into Tetsuo (not included in the recent box set due to music rights issues, but it’s floating around the internet), as well as A Snake of June, which maintains several of the same themes, only more sexual. Of course, Tsukamoto’s filmography has quite a bit of flesh-destroying body horror, from Hiruko the Goblin to Tokyo Fist to Vital, so it really depends on what your stomach can handle.

Curse-based transformation is a recurring motif in Japanese horror, and in the late-1980s economic bubble environment that gave birth to Tetsuo, there were independent creators knocking out offbeat horror flicks for the video market on a fairly regular basis. A few that come to mind include Conton (1987), which has a haunted protagonist puke up snake-like things and eventually turn into a big monster at the end, Gakidama (AKA Hungry Devil Spirit, 1985), in which the hero coughs up a flesh ball with a life of its own, Entrails of a Beautiful Woman (1986), that ends with a rape victim turning into a demon and laying waste to her tormentors (ironically only available in the US, not in Japan), George Iida’s very Cronenberg 1987 debut The Unborn (AKA Cyclops), where a woman pregnant with a monster baby is pursued by a freakish man, and the long-delayed, eventually-released Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell, which is true to its reputation as the “Japanese Evil Dead”, not to mention extreme anime titles like Wicked City, Dark Cat, Iczer 1, and so on. (There’s also 1988’s Evil Dead Trap, which features *spoiler* a serial killer with a malformed conjoined twin…maybe that’s body horror? Or maybe it just lives with other Japanese video nasties like Biotherapy, Sweet Home, and Guzoo, a woefully under-appreciated part of the cinematic landscape.)

There are more modern examples as well. By now I’ve probably talked Hajime Ohata’s Henge (2011) up enough that most folks reading should be aware of it, since it turns into a kaiju flick at the end, but it’s a nice little love story where a wife takes care of her demonically possessed (?) husband as he morphs into something terrible. 2017’s Vampire Clay has hapless art students who get bitten by creatures sculpted from blood-soaked clay turn into mushy clay people themselves, smooshing and stretching in disturbing ways. There’s also Sion Sono’s 2007 flick Exte, about living hair extensions taking over their hosts, which is like something out of a Junji Ito story.

Oh, gosh, that reminds me, we haven’t talked about Junji Ito yet.

I’ve got some mixed feelings about Ito, since he’s awesome and his work is awesome, but, a lot like how Tezuka is the only classic manga author to get a foothold in the US market, Ito is now unironically referred to as “the guy who makes all of the horror manga”. I’m sure he’d feel similarly, given his reverence for other foundational Japanese horror maestros like Daijiro Morohoshi, Hideshi Hino, Shigeru Mizuki, and Kazuo Umezz who, incidentally, have also done their fair share of body horror:

The only non-Ito name to seem to be getting some Western cred in the horror manga field lately is Shintaro Kago, who’s largely an ero-guro type (though some titles like Dementia 21 are pretty great). I honestly had to search a while to find a representative Kago piece that wasn’t too disturbing for the blog!

But Junji Ito is the brand name that you can buy t-shirts of at Hot Topic, so I guess he deserves some deep focus. As salty as the prior statement may seem, it is legitimately great that he’s having his day in the sun, since his work has been excellent, and, frankly, this was a long time coming. He made his debut in 1987 and gradually racked up a bibliography and rep for stellar short stories, but the popularity poop really hit the fan in 1999 when his first story Tomie was adapted into a theatrical film, and it was a massive hit. There have now been eight theatrical Tomie flicks plus a TV miniseries, OVA, and there was going to be an American remake until Quibi died, so the fate of that one is unknown. The biggest J-horror franchise to not yet get an Americanized treatment, it makes sense that Tomie was viewed as problematic, since it’s at least gynophobic, possibly misogynistic, in that the main antagonist is an unkillable schoolgirl creature who gets her jollies driving men insane and goading them to kill each other, potential suitors, and her. Tomie’s various forms as she regenerates from a lover’s psychotic dismemberment are indeed grotesque, but since she’s hardly a sympathetic monster and doesn’t seem to mind, I’m not sure if the body horror label is appropriate for her or not.

Junji Ito is more than Tomie, though: in addition to the first Tomie sequel, nine other live-action adaptations of Ito’s work occurred in 2000 alone! Of these, the best two, coincidentally the two available stateside, and the two with the most body-horror, were both directed by Andrey Higuchinsky, a music video director who cut his horror drama teeth on the 1997 Eko Eko Azarak TV series. The first of these is the theatrical adaptation of Ito’s long-running (by Ito standards) manga Uzumaki, about a town plagued by the abstract concept of spirals, which is still generally considered the best cinematic adaptation of his work, and a contender for a spot in any pantheon of top Japanese horror movies, assuming you can get your head around (and around and around and around) the cooky premise. The spiral infection takes on many forms, from people contorting themselves into spiral shapes, removing their own fingerprints and cochlea, growing out hair into prehensile spiral tendrils (I told you it was like Exte), and even turning into snails. The story is very much a series of vignettes leading to a climax, but the creepy creativity keeps it up throughout. It’ll be interesting to see how the animated adaptation for Adult Swim compares when it hits next year!

A few months after Uzumaki hit theaters, Higuchinsky was back, this time adapting Ito’s short story “Long Dream” across a two-part television event, which has been edited into a single movie for its DVD release here. This one is interesting, since it starts as complete, a faithful adaptation of the story (presumably the first half when it aired on TV), then, as though they realized they had to kill some more time, it has an original, much more conventional horror story tacked onto the plot for the finale. As much of a letdown as the back half may be, the setup is compelling enough, with a patient at a sleep clinic suffering from Inception-esque time dilation in his dreams: a night’s sleep seems like days to him, then like years, then like millennia. He gradually evolves into the next step in human evolution as so much time passes in his own mind. Keep in mind it’s on a TV budget, though it’s a lot more cinematic than a lot of the television productions of the time!

Junji Ito has countless other stories, so it’s a fool’s errand to try to run through them all; perhaps for some future Halloween I’ll do a run-through of the various movie and TV adaptations, though. Most of them are mediocre, but every once in a while you run across something like these Higuchinsky flicks, or the brilliant Tomie Unlimited, which was a good fit for the franchise because of the director selection of Noboru Iguchi, the unhinged master of gonzo Japanese splatter.

So, uh, I guess we better talk about Noboru Iguchi now. Initially a porn director, he started down a path towards what Wikipedia would have you think is “mainstream film” with some early horror comedies like 1997’s Kurushime-san and 2003’s Larva to Love getting acclaim, then moving on to Kazuo Umezz adaptations like Snake Girl and Cat Eyed Boy. What really put him into the international eye (for cult film junkies) was the 2006 adaptation of Go Nagai’s Sukeban Boy (AKA Delinquent in Drag), featuring a whole bag of what were to become Iguchi’s hallmarks: school uniforms, gratuitous nudity, wanton violence, scatological humor, and grotesque body horror far exceeding even what was in Nagai’s original. As the characters sprouted guns from bloody stumps and shot projectiles from their horribly mishappen nipples, audience cheered; suddenly lead actress Asami had become an action star and a whole new subgenre was born.

Sukeban Boy could very well have been a one-off fluke had foreign audiences not taken notice, but what really cemented that this was going to be *the* new voice of Japanese cult cinema was American distributor Media Blasters, hot off their first original co-production Death Trance, courting Iguchi to do a follow-up. Thus, Machine Girl was born, and the decade that followed was a whole movement of similar splattery content, including the entire Sushi Typhoon label at Nikkatsu, much of it tailored towards a cartoonishly exaggerated view of Japan for Western audiences. Examples of this 2000s Japansploitation include Iguchi’s own RoboGeisha, Mutant Girls Squad, Karate Robo Zaborgar, and Dead Sushi, and extends to others in the wake like Go Ohara’s Geisha Assassin and Psycho Gothic Lolita (which also has some nice monster transformations!), Seiji Chiba’s Alien vs Ninja, Kengo Kaji’s Samurai Princess, and so on. In short, it was a major boom.

The name raised the most by this movement was undoubtedly Yoshihiro Nishimura. Mostly an effects guy early on, Nishimura had already been collaborating with Iguchi for a while by the time Machine Girl rolled around, having previously done gun-breast effects in Sukeban Boy, and before that in one of Iguchi’s hardcore porn films featuring future Samurai Zombie star Nana Natsume (according to Iguchi, his inspirations for this were Shotaro Ishinomori’s 009-1 and, of course, Devilman). During Machine Girl’s production, Media Blasters asked Nishimura if he’d like to helm a movie of his own, to which he dug up his old 1995 student film Anatomia Extinction, and decided a remake was overdue. The result was Tokyo Gore Police, a huge step up in every direction.

While Anatomia Extinction is a neat little dystopian indie that transparently apes Cronenberg and Tsukamoto, Tokyo Gore Police feels very much like its own, fully-realized vision, in which an out-of-control virus has caused some people to spontaneously sprout weapons from their bodies in a cornucopia of unsettling ways, necessitating a police force equipped to respond. There are certainly elements that feel like earlier splatter flicks and cyberpunk works like Bubblegum Crisis, but the overall effect is something that I feel like Nishimura’s been trying to recapture for his career ever since…and what a career it’s been!

Nishimura’s been all over the place since 2008, with his fingers in everything from Tormented to Jellyfish Eyes to Shin Godzilla, racking up producer credits along with effects, writing, and direction. His directorial works have literally gone around the globe, getting invited into international anthologies like ABCs of Death and The Profane Exhibit. He’s really good at collaborating with other directors, as he has with erotic zombie maestro Naoyuki Tomomatsu on Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, or Shinji Higuchi on the Attack on Titan TV miniseries, or Noboru Iguchi and Tak Sakaguchi on Mutant Girls Squad. I think he really shines in these collaborations, and they wind up being more than the sum of their parts….much like some of the weird semi-human creatures in the films.

One of Nishimura’s recent directorial outings is 2017’s Kodoku Meatball Machine, which deserves special mention as the third installment in the Meatball Machine franchise. That series revolves around tiny aliens who take over human bodies and pilot them around like mecha, augmenting them with weapon enhancements along the way. It started in 1999 with Junichi Yamamoto’s low-budget Meatball Machine (now marketed as Meatball Machine Origin), which was remade in 2005 with Yudai Yamaguchi in the director’s seat, Nishimura on effects, and the great Keita Amemiya on character designs. So, in a way, Nishimura winding up at the helm for the third one feels like a natural progression, bringing his own manic energy to the already pretty over-the-top trilogy.

(Hey, while we’re on the topic of aliens taking over human bodies, does Goke the Bodysnatcher from Hell count as body horror? Eh, whatever.)

Speaking of Keita Amemiya, he, along with Mahiro Maeda and Blade of the Immortal’s Hiroaki Samura worked on a video game that’s kind of body horror: Dororo. Or perhaps it’s the opposite of body horror. It’s based on the classic Osamu Tezuka manga that’s also been adapted into anime twice (the recent Mappa version written by Yasuko Kobayashi is real good) as well as a live-action film. The premise is that our hero Hyakkimaru had his various bodyparts stolen by demons as an infant, so now he’s a kind of Edo-era cyborg with swords for hands and whatnot. He goes around killing the demons, and each as he ganks each one it returns an eye, an ear, a tongue, skin, etc, so he becomes more whole as the work goes along, which is kind of antithetical to the usual subgenre route of someone losing their humanity.

Tezuka was a doctor by training, so his work often intersects medical fantasy, particularly when the eponymous surgeon in Black Jack builds a body for his daughter/love interest who was initially a sentient vestigial twin, or the main character of Ode to Kirihito is turned into a strange dog man by disease. Hey, that’s all kind of body horror, come to think of it.

On that note, perhaps it’s time to wrap this piece up. I think we’ve covered the major titles, and there’s not much else I want to talk abou-

Yep, we’re done here.

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Loose news round-up (plus random thoughts)

The recent Godzilla SP announcement proved to be the kick in the pants that I needed to get a new post together…however, WordPress had some other plans, changing up the interface something fierce, hence this being a bit delayed. At any rate, I’ll see if I can figure out the new layout enough to get a news recap post out, just to cover some of the most major highlights of the past few months, with a few opinions and a bit of conjecture sprinkled in.

For those who missed it, Godzilla: Singular Point will be an anime TV series debuting on Netflix next year. The first rumblings of it were October 6 when a newly-formed English-language Twitter account announced it as its third post , which was certainly met with healthy skepticism (especially since it self-described as “fake news” as a joke), but it actually panned out to be true, with an official announcement the following day.

At any rate, as the rare “anime person” in tokusatsu fandom, I’m obliged to provide two cents on the announcement. The obvious knee-jerk is to compare expectations to the anime movie trilogy, since that was also a Netflix joint, but there’s no overlap in staff between the productions, and this is television as opposed to feature films, so I can’t imagine they’ll be very comparable. I’m simultaneously more and less excited for this than I was for the trilogy (which I don’t hate, btw).

On the good front, Bones and Orange are two superb animation studios, as opposed to the bottom-of-the-barrel that one gets with Polygon Pictures. I’d advise those anxious about the use of CGI after getting burned by the movie trilogy to look into Orange’s work on Land of the Lustrous or Beastars; they do some of the best work out there with the medium. While I’m not a particular fan of Blue Exorcist, my gripes with that stem more from cliché plot points rather than the character designs, so having Kazue Kato on character designs seems like it may turn out well… there are an assortment of characters seen already, but I’m curious to know how they’ll look in animation. The folks we’ve seen in the preview image sure look pale!

Toh Enjoe isn’t as hot a commodity as Gen Urobuchi, but he’s been around the block a bit as a science fiction writer. I confess that all I’ve really encountered firsthand is Empire of Corpses (which I adore) and his couple of episodes of Space Dandy, but I’ve heard good things about Self-Reference Engine and his Ghost in the Shell short story. I get the impression that he’s a fairly literary type, so I’ve got to wonder if the people expecting this to be more smash-em-up than the previous anime will get what they want.

Atsushi Takahashi is a relatively unknown quantity as a director; he did the Blue Exorcist movie and one of the Doraemon flicks (which I never checked out), the TV series Rideback (on which I have no particular strong feelings), and individual episodes of several generally good titles like Monster, Space Dandy, and Abenobashi. Maybe he’ll really shine with this, though. A lot is being made from Takahashi being an assistant director on Spirited Away, as well as kaiju designer Eiji Yamamori’s background at Studio Ghibli, but I don’t expect much based on that, since Ghibli has a reputation of demanding that everyone do exactly as Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata say without a lot of room for staff to put in their own creative touches. I also never got into Yowamushi Pedal, so it’s hard to know what to expect from composer Kan Sawada. Hopefully they all have a big break with this and do something unique, but we shall see.

As for the decision to go forward with a TV series, it makes sense, given the apocalyptic atmosphere for cinema in general during the pandemic, and Toho and Legendary’s contract forbidding work on new movies at the same time. The countless delays on Godzilla vs Kong will make it harder for Toho to keep their momentum going if they restrict themselves to features. There were also rumors that Legendary was interested in a Godzilla TV series for HBO Max, but much like Godzilla SP, I’ll wait until there’s an official announcement to give it much credence.

In other Godzilla stuff:

  • While the movie itself was delayed until May 21 (for now), the Making of Godzilla vs Kong is still on track for a November 17th release. Of course, there was a lot in Godzilla King of the Monsters that never made it into that Making of book, so perhaps the movie will still have a surprise or two in store. The tie-in comics, Godzilla Dominion and Kingdom Kong are hitting in March.
  • Along with the much-lauded Godzilla ziplining attraction at Nijigen no Mori on Awaji Island, there’s also a museum, shooting gallery, and theatrical short directed by Kazuhiro Nakagawa (Day of the Kaiju). I don’t know about the ziplining, but a new short and display seems like it’d make it worth the trip! (Not to mention the weird food items…)

Ultraman items:

  • Ultraman Z has been going generally well, considering the pandemic and the most unfortunate passing of head writer Kota Fukihara. I get the feeling that the true scope of the chaos behind the scenes won’t be known for a while, but certainly things like the teased Olympic themes, the early advertisements of lots of Ultraman Geed involvement, and the total lack of set-up surrounding Jugglus Jugglar give us a taste of it. A few aspects do still feel like regressions after how well Ultraman Taiga was executed last year, but the action and creative miniature work has proven top-notch.
  • Marvel’s Rise of Ultraman is turning into be quite a ride. While the first issue had segments for Kaiju Step and Ultra Q, the second issues did not, so I have to wonder how much side-story content of that type they have planned. The story is certainly decompressed, since we’re 40% of the way through the miniseries as Hayata and Ultrman are still in the process of merging, I’m thinking we’re probably going to round things out with a single giant monster fight across five issues. Still, it seems like a solid gateway for people new to the franchise, and the writers appear to have done their homework on parts of the lore like the Ultra language.
  • Ultra Galaxy Fight: The Absolute Conspiracy starts November 22 on YouTube, and if nothing else, the presence of a pre-corruption Belial sparks some interest. Needless to say, speculation of where this fits into the already-fraught Ultraman timeline is running wild, along with people wondering if this could be a reincarnation, clone, Zarab-seijin, etc.
  • In the ultimate reversal on the Chaiyo rights debacle, Tsuburaya productions has now not only been granted excusive rights to their own properties, but also to their co-productions Jumborg Ace & Giant and The 6 Ultra Brothers vs. The Monster Army. These two would certainly make for an interesting double-feature in some sort of box set, especially if it came with a full break-down of the legal battles and weird Chaiyo attempts like Ultraman Millennium as extra features.
  • The first teaser for SSSS.Dynazenon isn’t all that exciting by itself, but the prior series was so excellent that we can all have solid confidence that this spinoff should at least turn out decent.
  • Redman: The Kaiju Hunter might be over, but Phase 6 has teased another TsuPro project upcoming, namely Izenborg. Matt Frank and Hiroshi Kanatani appear to be involved, going off of their Facebook posts.

Other kaiju stuff:

  • While Kaiju Ward Gyarasu (or “Gallas” as it’s better known in fansub circles) fizzled out on Toei’s streaming service after a single episode last year, the Kaiju Ward concept was recently announced as continuing in manga format. It’s being redone as an anthology, with the first two chapters available now on the Toei Tokusatsu Fan Club. The first (the same as the tokusatsu) is Gyarasu, which was drawn by an artist known as Uzuki, while the second, Discargot (rhymes with “escargot” since it’s a snail monster) was done by Kaiju Retto Shojotai‘s Kotaro Yuki. It’s planned for five chapters, so hopefully the manga has a better fate than the live-action series did!
  • Nezura 1964 seems to be coming along. While The Great Buddha Arrival was certainly interesting, there are times when it felt a little “kitchen sink” in its approach; I’m hoping that the follow-up will be more focused. They have said that there will be a fair bit of CG involved here (no surprised given Hiroto Yokokawa’s background), but how it’ll all come together is still a bit mysterious.
  • Hot on the heels of our 15th anniversary of The Great Yokai War panel at Kaiju Con-line, Kadokawa announced a sequel, making our closing remarks immediately outdated. Nevertheless, it’s quite excellent that The Great Yokai War Guardians is happening. Takashi Miike is back in the director’s seat, with Yusuke Watanabe writing (his filmography is all over the place, from Robo Rock to Gantz to Gatchaman) and Hiroshi Aramata continuing in a producer role. Kokoro Terada (Damian from Tokusatsu Gagaga) is set to star, and it sounds like the yokai roster will be a bit international (perhaps playing on the original manga?)
  • Daisuke Sato and Keizo Murase are teaming up again, this time for Brush of the God. They’re collecting funding by Kickstarter now, and while they’re not offering a completed copy of the film as a reward, there is a digest version as an option. Howl from Beyond the Fog was really good, so I’m eager to see what they can achieve with a bigger budget.
  • Naoki Urasawa’s Asadora is getting a US release in January, part of what seems like a nice return for the artist who was ignored stateside during his Billy Bat years. Asadora is, as typical for Urasawa, a longform ongoing mystery drama, but in this case there’s some kaiju at the center of events.

Other heroes:

  • I completely missed everything leading up to Kamen Rider Saber, and now it’s an ongoing series. Haven’t really checked it out…uh…no comment, I guess.
  • Rafael Segnini’s Jaspion 3D fan trailer is complete, and getting some well-deserved attention. Also, look for a cameo from On the Rocks!
  • Seven Seas picked up the license for Superwomen in Love, coming out (no pun intended) next April. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this henshin-hero-yuri-romance, and it’s great to see them bringing more superhero content to English-speaking markets.

Video news:

  • Just in time for the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Gkids picked up North American home video rights to Evangelion. There was immediate speculation about what extras would be included, which is hard to guess since Gkids hasn’t really done much with TV series releases in the past. I would expect the dub to be the same as the version on Netflix, or at very least not the ADV dub, since only a handful of companies (i.e. Discotek) seem to go that far to preserve all the alternate versions, and Khara seems to dislike the original dub (hence Netflix getting the newer, and arguably worse, redub).
  • SRS got the rights to Howl from Beyond the Fog, which will definitely be the crowning achievement of their growing kaiju lineup for a while.
  • Media Blasters has been on a tear lately, with a ton of their classic titles getting reissued on Blu-ray. In addition to Zeiram 2 and Gappa, Zebraman and Devilman are up for preorder, and they’ve promised Hakaider. On the new movie front, they also teased Rise of the Machine Girls, which, considering that the original was one of their productions, seemed like an obvious get.
  • One of the staples of Media Blasters that they’re not issuing now is Versus, and that’s because Arrow is putting out a pretty deluxe edition of it. They also have Burst City on a recent Blu-ray release, so they’re hitting a lot of Japanese punk classics!
  • Discotek picked the rights to Symphogear G, so hopefully they can get through the whole five seasons. The first season has already started shipping!
  • Speaking of Discotek, they also have more Urusei Yatsura movies coming next summer, and Ninja Senshi Tobikage on the way.

A few western works as well:

  • A nice look at some of the creatures in the upcoming Monster Hunter movie:
  • Love and Monsters comes out next weekend, and appears to have some behemoth beastie action.

Miscellaneous:

  • Netflix is making a new Spriggan anime. I love their commitment to bringing back nostalgic titles like Devilman and Baki; at this point I wouldn’t be surprised by a new 3×3 Eyes or Ogre Slayer materialized.
  • Cinema Lab seems like a hot new label, having recruited the likes of Mamoru Oshii, Kazuya Konaka, One Cut of the Dead‘s Shinichiro Ueda, and Katsuyuki Motohiro (Ajin, Psycho-Pass). The label’s debut project, directed by Motohiro, is Beautiful Dreamer, which (at least seems to be) about a group of students making their own movie based on Oshii’s classic second Urusei Yatsura flick.

To leave things on a high note, here’s a bizarre little AIDroid music video that Koichi Sakamoto put together. It’s entirely likely that I missed something major, but as always, feel free to leave a comment if you notice a glaring omission. Take care!

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Quick update

Hi all, Kevin here. The blog has gone sadly neglected for the past few months, for which I apologize; the stressful current state of world events has certainly taken its toll.

However, I have not been completely off the radar! Here are a few activities you might have missed:

  • First of all, Alex of Control All Monsters and I sat down to recreate our G-Fest panel from last year on the Gamera trilogy, in time for the Arrow Gamera set.

  • Amanda and I were also on Kaiju Transmissions to talk about the Ultra Q movie and what a translation nightmare it posed to fansubbers for decades. I also joined them (along with Justin) to talk about Masaaki Yuasa’s new Netflix series Japan Sinks 2020. Again, if you’re not subscribed to them, I’d encourage doing so.

Ultra Q the Movie:

Download

Japan Sinks 2020:

Download

  • This weekend is Kaiju Masterclass, the year’s second online convention for giant monsters. The guest list is jaw-dropping for a first-time convention (or any convention), so I’m quite honored to have three panels over the course of the three days: a solo deal on Toho Tokusatsu on Television, one with Matt Parmley and Stan Hyde on the 1970 Osaka Expo, and a 25th anniversary panel on Godzilla vs Destoroyah with John LeMay and the Kaiju Transmissions crew. Full schedules are posted on their website, but keep an eye on their YouTube page in case you miss anything; all will be available after the livestreams. Hopefully you can attend this weekend, but if not, you should be able to check out the videos below:

  • I might start up a Maser Patrol Facebook feed to keep some bite-sized findings and fun-facts up-to-date between longer blog posts. I’ve been experimenting with the format on another page, so if you want an idea (or just want to read up on tokusatsu-related manga), give that a look.

On that note, I’ll wish everyone a safe continued existence during these unusual times. We’ll return to normalcy at some point, and Maser Patrol will get back into doing some proper write-ups again as well.

Posted in Podcast, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Watch/Read/Buy: a recent media-merchandise roundup (US-focused)

Since I’ve been negligent for the past couple of months, I thought it might be good to do a quick rundown of some of developments regarding the recent and upcoming kaiju/henshin hero/J-horror releases that folks on this side of the Pacific can spend their time and money on. Some of this might be repeating things from previous posts, but hey, a reminder can’t hurt. So, let’s get to it!

Home video

Mill Creek

  • As a special for Ultraman day, Mill Creek made a little set titled “The Birth of Ultraman” exclusively available via Deep Discount. The set has seven episodes with their English dubs, based on what TsuPro had complete access to at the time, and the black-and-white Birth of Ultraman stage show that aired in Japan a week before the first episode. It’s hard to justify spending $20 for that unless you’re a hardcore fan, but many of us are; I just hope this doesn’t encourage future releases with a single 20 minute episode each like the Japanese sometimes have.

  • The Kaiju Con-line panel and subsequent Q&A with Keith Aiken helped to put a lot Ultraman-related speculation to rest. Of particular note:
    • Ultraman Taro will be coming around January, followed shortly by Ultraman Leo, which is the end of the mural sets. They might start a new mural for the 90s/2000s ones.
    • There’s no problem with Johnnys or 4Kids holding up Ultraman Tiga. They’re considering issuing the 4Kids dub separately.
    • The movies and direct-to-video specials would be included with the sets for Ultraman Tiga, Ultraman Dyna, and Ultraman Gaia.
    • They don’t have the rights to Ultra Q the Movie, Ultra Q Dark Fantasy, Ultraman Great, Ultraman Powered, Ultraman USA, ULTRAMAN, or Ultraman vs Kamen Rider due to co-production status. Or, obviously, anything Chaiyo.
    • The Ultraman Zero releases will (predictably) be messy. It sounds like Ultraman Zero the Movie and Ultraman Saga are each getting their own separate releases, but Killer the Beatstar will only be included with the Ultraman Zero the Chronicle clip show series. All the Ultra Galaxy stuff, movie included, will be in one set.
    • They don’t have the rights to the Heisei Ultraseven productions for some reason. Ultraseven X they have, though.
    • They don’t have Ultraman Story or any other Showa movies.
    • They do have Ultraman Zearth, The☆Ultraman, and amazingly, Ultraman Kids 3000.
    • They don’t have Andro Melos because the masters looked bad. Which is odd, since that DVD is available in Japan.
    • They don’t have Ultraman Nice, Super Fighter Legend, Ultraman Graffiti, M78 Love & Peace, Ultra Nyan, or Kaiju Girls. So, keep watching the Kaiju Girls series on Crunchyroll and the movie on HIDIVE.
    • They don’t have The Men Who Made Ultraman, Revive Ultraman, Ultraseven that I Loved, or similar specials.
    • They don’t have Ultraman Taiga or Ultraman Z yet, but want to get them as soon as they’re available for licensing.
    • They have Gridman, but no other TsuPro hero shows. So, keep watching Mirrorman on Toku. Gridman is probably a long way out for a Blu-ray release, so maybe it’ll coincide with SSSS.Dynazenon.
  • Mill Creek also recently put of a Blu-ray of The H-man and Battle in Outer Space, joining their Mothra steelbook to complete an upgrade the old Icons of Science Fiction DVD set content, audio commentary and all. Unfortunately, like that set, it has partial dubtitles on Battle in Outer Space.

Arrow

  • The already exciting Gamera: Complete Collection set continues to look better and better. There was a panel at Kaiju Con-Line that went over some of the features in great detail with a few surprises (Garasharp artwork, David Milner’s Noriaki Yuasa interview) that should whet the appetite, and based on a couple of other audio commentary clips I’ve been lucky enough to preview, it should be an impressive and informative assortment. Get it August 18th!

  • Further tokusatsu releases from Arrow have been teased, but plans for their future releases haven’t been elaborated on (it’s a bummer that they ran out of time during the Kaiju Con-line panel, since that would have been the perfect opportunity to clarify). What is known is that they recently picked up rights to Warning from Space, and about a year ago Kim Newman mentioned in a post (since deleted) that he’d been interviewed by them regarding The Invisible Man Appears and Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly. The Gamera set did balloon a lot in scope from the original conception, which likely would have moved any other tokusatsu plans back, but hopefully those are all still on the way, and hopefully won’t be exclusive to the UK if so. At any rate, it’s interesting how heavily they’ve been working with Kadokawa.
    (edit: Per the aforementioned Kaiju Con-line panel, they have also looked into the Yokai Monsters trilogy, but only one of the movies had HD elements available. If true, that’s quite unfortunate, since those movies are a lot of fun.)

  • On the audio commentary for Arrow’s release of  “Solid Metal Nightmares: The Films of Shinya Tsukamoto“, Tom Mes repeatedly teases the possibility of a second set including movies like Hiruko the Goblin, Gemini, and Tetsuo the Bullet Man, contingent on the first set selling well. It’s hard to tell how seriously to take these claims, as Mondo Macabro recently released Gemini on Blu-ray, so such a released might be prohibited in the US. Also, Phantom of Regular Size was excluded from the set due to music licensing rights, so we’ll have to continue to seek that one out via alternative means.

Media Blasters

  • Zeiram 2 is getting a Blu-ray release on September 22nd! There’s been a fair amount of confusion as to why they’re starting with the second film, and I have to assume that it’s a licensing restriction, the same as why they released it first back in the day. It is a shame that they aren’t able to get both films at the same time, to replicate the awesome Japanese Blu-ray double feature release, or that they never got to bundle Zeiram, Zeiram 2, and Iria back when they had the rights to all three. At any rate, this ought to be an upgrade from the 2001 DVD. (Edit: Carl Morano at Media Blasters confirmed that they are trying to get the rights to the first movie, but that it would need to be part of a package.)

  • The Blu-ray re-release of Death Kappa did not, in fact, have the Japanese ending included, contrary to what Media Blasters’ Facebook page had previously stated.

Shout Factory

  • Weathering with You is coming out on Blu-ray September 15, or, if you want to hold off for a fancy deluxe special edition with soundtrack and booklet, November 17.

  • Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna‘s US theatrical run got buried by coronavirus, but it’s getting a home video release October 6. Here’s hoping it’s more coherent than Tri ended up becoming.

  • The double-feature of The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior is now officially out of print, so if you want a copy of a 1980s version of The Grudge or Hiroshi Fujioka as a slasher villain, get it soon…Amazon has two left as of this writing!

Other labels

  • The spoof Notzilla has found a distributor, Allied Vaughn. Per Avery Guerra, it should be available on demand and on disc on August 18th, but I haven’t seen it actually up for preorder at any retailers yet.

  • The Mighty Kong actually got a DVD release from Tricoast Entertainment way back in October, but I didn’t notice until Astounding Beyond Belief pointed it out more recently. It’s also streaming on Amazon Prime, and, apparently, cropped.

 

Streaming services

Shout Factory

  • Both the original Kamen Rider and Kamen Rider Kuuga are streaming on TokuSHOUTsu, as well as Tubi (original, Kuuga). As a collector and fan of physical media, it’s a little disheartening that three of the four Kamen Rider shows available legally in the states are exclusive to streaming services, but perhaps if they do decent numbers on the streaming front they’ll consider Blu-ray sets down the road.

  • Kamen Rider Heisei Generations Forever will be arriving on the service August 1. It may seem an odd move when you consider that only one Heisei series has actually been released here, but it’s wise to acknowledge that most of the potential audience is caught up via fansubs and wants to see the newer stuff rather than trying to release everything in order.

  • Shout Factory announced a deal with Mill Creek to stream their entire Ultraman catalog on TokuSHOUTsu. This is a good move for Shout, since the selection of titles on TokuSHOUTsu was pretty much limited to a dozen Super Sentai titles with two Kamen Riders and one Ultraman, but this shifts the balance with a lot more shows, including ones from this century (which they were definitely anemic on before).

YouTube

  • Ultraman Z is streaming weekly on Tsuburaya’s YouTube account, with each episode hitting Friday nights at 8:30 EST (basically a live Saturday morning broadcast in Japan) and remaining up for two weeks. The show is already fantastic, but I get a special kick out of the semi-broadcast experience, complete with commercials for Ultraman stuff during the breaks.

  • Speaking of director Kiyotaka Taguchi, his independent web series UNFIX continues to update with new episodes as well on a relatively monthly basis, with subtitles! Check it out to see the mature tokusatsu stories he can tackle without the constraints of Bandai product placement.

  • Not only has The Godzilla Channel been keeping a steady stream of new Godziban episodes coming (some of which have been *wild*), but they’ve also recently started a weekly Chibi Godzilla short, under the name Tadaima! Chibi Godzilla, to run for 12 segments until September 30.

  • Ever testing the bounds of what can reasonably be done in a movie, the One Cut of the Dead franchise has a new short filmed entirely during lockdown: One Cut of the Dead Mission:Remote. As the original film is picking up more and more recognition stateside, I’m really hoping that the second one (Operation Hollywood) gets translated to complete the trifecta.

Netflix

There’s always a stream of interesting new content coming to Netflix, including recent titles like BNA, Dorohedoro, Beastars, and the third seasons of Castlevania and Baki. Among other things, Studio Trigger has a tie-in to Cyberpunk 2077 (titled Cyberpunk: Edgerunners) coming in 2022 that should be great, as well as an eventual second season of Love, Death, & Robots. But of particular interest for tokusatsu fans:

  • Masaaki Yuasa’s Japan Sinks 2020, a remake/side story/reimagining of the classic Sakyo Komatsu novel, dropped earlier this month and has garnered a decent amount of attention from anime fans, tokusatsu fans, and the general entertainment-going public. I’ll be going onto Kaiju Transmissions for a review at some point in the near future to share broader thoughts about it.

  • Ju-On: Origins has been better-received than the most recent American reboot by a mile. I admit that I still need to finish it, more due to too much content fighting for time than anything else.

  • Season 2 of ULTRAMAN is “coming”, without a release date yet. It is interesting that this trailer seems to pass right over a couple of forms that Ultraman Taro had in the manga…hopefully not just because they were harder to animate.

  • Still no word on when Polygon Pictures’ Pacific Rim series will materialize.

Funimation

  • Deca-Dence has post-apocalyptic robot-vs-monster elements reminiscent of Attack on Titan, Macross, Pacific Rim, and The Dragon Dentist…at first, before some table-flipping revelations in the second episode. Strong Trigger-era Gainax vibes as well, so if that’s your thing, you can check it out streaming each week; it’s something else.

  • The fan-service-laden sentai spoof Super HxEros is streaming new episodes weekly. It seems to be ramping up the cheesecake factor from the already racy manga, which might be a selling point or a caveat depending on your viewer.

Others

  • The independent superhero flick Rise! Dharuriser is available now on Amazon Prime.

  • Toonami has updated their drop date for Uzumaki from “this year” to “2021”. This is surprising considering that the amount of press for it had picked up in the past couple of weeks; I was expecting it to be hitting within a month or two. Also coming in 2021 is Blade Runner: Black Lotus from the ULTRAMAN team of Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki.

  • Quibi’s adaptation of Tomie from Alexandre Aja has also been getting some more press, including casting Adeline Rudolph (Agatha from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) as the title character, but given Aja’s tragic history of adaptations (Cobra) and Quibi’s struggles to gain a foothold in the market, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s really happening.

 

Comics

  • Naoya Matsumoto’s Monster #8 recently began serialization in Japan, and despite not being available translated on the Shonen Jump app (as far as I can see), it is up free on Shueisha’s MangaPlus. Weirdly, the English release appears to be lagging behind, as it’s still on chapter 1, while the Spanish translation (under the title 8Kaijuu) is already up to chapter 4.

  • Marvel’s The Rise of Ultraman is hitting in September, but a preview  of the five-issue miniseries is already available. Still not sure what to make of this, but it’s kind of reminding me of Ultraman Powered so far.

  • Viz’s release of ULTRAMAN continues to plug along, with volume 14 coming October 20th.
  • In less fortunate news, there hasn’t been a new release for Seven Seas’ Ultra Kaiju Humanization Project since volume 4 hit in February, and no further volumes have been solicited. It’s a shame that we only got halfway through the story (which recently wrapped up in Japan), but it was always a hard sell, relying on a lot of gags that refer back to specific Ultraman episodes that hadn’t been released stateside yet. I’d like to think that if the timing had been a little different (after the Mill Creek releases), it would have been able to find an audience a bit better. As I’ve said before, it’s the most fun of any Ultra manga released here.

  • Redman: The Kaiju Hunter recently wrapped up its run with volume 3. It’s not up on Amazon (yet) but you can order directly from Night Shining. It was a heck of a revival!

  • Image has a new kaiju-versus-giant-hero series, Big Girls, starting in August. It’s from Jason Howard (The Astounding Wolf-man).

  • Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Short Story Collection is hitting from Viz on October 20th. Particularly noteworthy here is that this anthology includes his kaiju story “Kingdom of Monsters”, which was a delight to read. On this very blog back in 2013, I said not to hold your breath on an English release; well, now you can breath easy.

  • Kaijumax has been getting slowed down by, well, everything, but issue 4 of season 5 is expected on August 26.

  • Unconventional (deconstructionist?) giant heroine series Gigant seems to be moving along at a good pace, with Seven Seas releasing volume 2 on August 4 and volume 3 on October 13. This is in contrast to Dark Horse’s re-releases of Gantz in omnibus editions, which appears to have stalled out after volume 5 in March.

  • There have been no solicitations from Yen Press yet for Kaiju Girl Caramelize after we got volume 3 in May, but it’s a little early to panic. The series only released volume 4 in Japan in March, so perhaps they’re spacing things out. At any rate, it wouldn’t hurt to go support the US release, since it’s an adorable little romcom.

  • Attack on Titan volume 31 is hitting August 25th. Very close to the end!

  • Sadako at the End of the World is getting its US release October 20th. Who wouldn’t want to read about Japan’s most iconic onryo taking care of orphans in a post-apocalypse?

  •  The 12th volume of the supernatural thriller (with superhero costumes) Platinum End is due January 5.
  • The villainess-protagonist comedy Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General is getting its fifth volume released on November 17th, over a year after the previous volume.
  • The raunchy cross-dressing supervillain comedy Raw Hero will see its third volume released October 20th.
  • The second volume of Dororo & Hyakkimaru will be released just in time for Halloween on October 27th.
  • Mermaid Saga has its first omnibus edition hitting November 17th.

 

Books

  • JL Carrozza is working on a book tentatively titled SF: The Japanese Science Fiction Encyclopedia. If his work on Otaku USA isn’t enough to persuade you, he also managed to coax Patrick Galvan, John LeMay, and myself into doing a couple of guest essays.
  • Speaking of John LeMay, he also helped out Benjamin Chaffins in putting together a book of interviews, titled Discovering Tokusatsu. It should be an interesting read!

  • Still speaking of John, he recently authored a book all about lost projects for everyone’s favorite cinematic shark and its imitators, Jaws Unmade.
    John has also recently started the Lost Films Fanzine about all sorts of rare and unmade genre media. Connor Anderson (of Easter’s Kaiju Kompendium and our own Gridman review) contributed to the second issue!

  • Finally, on the note of something that John hasn’t got anything to do with, the Evangelion Anima novel series will get its third volume released August 25th and its fourth volume on November 24th.

 

Toys

  • Despite Godzilla vs. Kong being greatly delayed, Playmates’s line of action figures has started showing up on Walmart shelves as though the film were already incoming. I won’t go into some of the potential spoilers that are out there (you know where to look), but it seems that they’re taking a page from the Jurassic Park toys by having each monster feature removable chunks of flesh.


Also, Nozuki appears to have been renamed Warbat.

 

  • Rumors are swirling that Playmates’ hold on the Godzilla license for Godzilla vs. Kong has pushed Neca out of the Godzilla figure game for the time being, as they sent out notices that they will no longer sell Godzilla products at all after mid-August. They previously hinted back in March that they wouldn’t be making anything new after the latest wave (the 1989 and 2003 Godzillas), but this is still a bit of sad news for a fine line of figures; buy any you want now or forever hold your peace. On the plus side, they are giving us a sweet King Kong figure in September.

 

  • Mezco is doing a few Ultraman figures for their 5 points line. In other retro-styled figure news, Mego also has some Ultraman stuff in the works, if that’s more your speed. I’ll probably stick to Bandai imports, but depending on price/look, these could be intriguing.
    There’s also a lot of different Ultraman pins hitting the market, for the pin collectors out there.

I realize that I could probably have a whole section regarding upcoming video game releases, but I confess that those are somewhat harder to keep track of. With that, let’s call this roundup a wrap!

…apologies for what the above post may have done to any bank accounts.

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Kaiju Transmissions triple-shot

Also, because I forgot earlier, I did guest spots on three episodes of Kaiju Transmissions without posting about them here. I wholeheartedly suggest adding Kaiju Transmissions to your podcatcher feed to make sure you get every episode, but I was also on the show to discuss:

Shinpei Hayashiya’s Deep Sea Monster trilogy

Howl from Beyond the Fog

Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster

I won’t embed each one here unless someone really wants me to, since hopefully you’ve already heard the episodes!

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Podcast recap: Kaiju Con-Line double-feature

Hi all,

Apologies for the lack of blog posts during all the lockdown. A lot of steam was let out of the weekly news recaps due to all of the depressing coronavirus-related news, so they’ve basically fallen on hold. However, both myself and Amanda have been doing well, and I was able to participate in a number of virtual events to keep social during the pandemic (arguably more social than I was beforehand!). Last weekend was the stellar Kaiju Con-Line event from KaijuCast‘s Kyle Yount, and I had the good fortune to present two panels. But seriously, check out the whole playlist; there’s a lot of great content.

As for my panels:

Great Yokai War or Greatest Yokai War

Before Kadokawa rebooted Gamera to be more Brave or gave Daimajin a brand new Kanon, they revived their third most-popular monster franchise: Yokai Monsters. The resulting picture, The Great Yokai War, has an interesting history tying together Japanese mythology, manga, and popular culture in a way that hasn’t been replicated before or since. Join Kaiju Transmissions’ Kyle Byrd and Kaiju for Hipsters’ Kevin Derendorf as they unpack this maze of monsters, Miike, Mizuki, and Megolopolises.

…and

Non-Kaiju Movies! (…with Godzilla and company)

Controversial opinion: We should sometimes watch something other than kaiju movies. The world of cinema is vast, and there are many wonderful aspects to enjoy in other genres…including appearances by Godzilla, Gamera, Guilala, and Ultraman! This panel covers some to the less-discussed, often zany minor appearances by our favorite monsters outside of their usual kaiju eiga stomping grounds, and discusses why we might be more likely to see a Godzilla cameo in Hollywood than in Japan.

Thanks to everyone who watched live in the broadcast, and for those who have yet to see them, enjoy!

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Scanlation: Gamera vs Morphos (1999, Nenpei Moo)

Arrow’s Gamera: The Complete Collection is hitting on August 17, with an assortment of amazing special features hitherto unseen for the franchise. To celebrate this incredible boxset, we decided to plunge the darkest depths of Gamera apocrypha and dug up something that was not included: Gamera vs. Morphos, a short story by Nenpei Moo for Animage in January 1999 to promote the upcoming Gamera 3. This was a special bonus Animage issue, so it was very difficult to track down, and the story hasn’t been reprinted in the 21 years since. As usual, we encourage everyone to support official releases if possible, so please discontinue any circulation of this translation if an official one becomes available, and try to pick up a copy of the Japanese edition of this story if it’s ever reprinted.

Direct download

No translation notes on this one, since it’s pretty straightforward. Hopefully it whets the appetite for the Gamera goodies that Arrow has in store for this summer!

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News recap: RIP Nobuhiko Obayashi

Welcome back! Hopefully everyone is following good social distancing guidelines, but in case you need some help, our favorite kaiju heroes are here to help:

 

On to the news.

  • Starting things off on a bit of a bummer, Nobuhiko Obayashi passed away this past week. He was a real trooper, surviving three years and eight months on a three-month cancer diagnosis, but he was always the type to subvert expectations. Needless to say, we’re big fans of his work here.

We look forward to his final picture, Labyrinth of Cinema, being released in Japan later this year.

 

  • In happier news, Toei Tokusatsu World is now live. Things were looking a little dicey on the first day, when the studio accidentally did automated copyright strikes on their own videos until the whole channel channel got deleted. Thankfully, things were restored by the next day and ever since things have been running smoothly. So go check out the weird Fushigi Comedy shows and other stuff that otherwise would never stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any attention internationally!

  • A YouTube screw-up was hardly the worst thing that happened to Toei tokusatsu in the past couple of weeks, as Kiramager‘s lead actor Rio Komiya was diagnosed with COVID-19. He’s since been released from the hospital, but the studio was shut down for decontamination, and this will surely throw a monkey wrench into the show’s filming schedule.
  • After nearly a decade, a second season of Tiger & Bunny (which arguably helped pave the way for other 2010s superhero hits like One Punch Man and My Hero Academia) has finally been announced for 2022. Why it took so long is anyone’s guess, but hopefully the quality will hold up after such a hiatus. (Double Decker was great, which is encouraging, though.)

  • After appearing in a few other Hasbro properties, Godzilla will be showing up in Magic the Gathering, specifically as part of the “Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths” expansion, in which regular cards are being reskinned with classic kaiju. Expect them to be a pain to collect.

Rarer still will be the initial-run Space Godzilla card titled “Death Corona”, which has predictably been renamed given the current world events.

  • We’ve got another look at the intriguing manga Sengoku Gridman, as well as Neon Genesis Middle Schooler’s Butler Cafe, which will both be running in Monthly Shonen Champion starting in May.

  • A short anime titled Kaiju World Conquest has debuted on Twitter. It’s based on a four-panel comic about four space monsters that intend to conquer the world, but wind up just kind of hang around an office lady’s apartment.

  • Discotek announced another batch of titles for Blu-ray. While there was no tokusatsu (*sheds a single tear*), they did reveal the the Crusher Joe movie, Ninja Scroll TV series, and, shockingly, Astroganger!  Who knew that would get a US release before the original Getter Robo?

  • The proof-of concept footage for the fan film Godzilla Heritage, which Toho brought the hammer down against like an angry god, was released to the film’s Kickstarter backers. It’s nice that the footage is out there, even if the project didn’t pan out.

  • In an unexpected turn of events, Gunhed is making an appearance in Super Robot Wars X-Omega. It’s got a pretty hyped trailer, demonstrating the movie’s lasting cult appeal.

  • Premium Bandai is selling figures of Kamen Rider 01‘s Izu. Always nice to see the non-masked characters getting some representation in the merchandise, but this character is getting quite a lot (see this plushie…or this one).

  • Finally, a new short debuted for an Ultraman/Uniqlo collaboration.

…is it any weirder than Evangelion selling Civics, really?

That’s a wrap for the time being, stay safe, all!

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April 4/5: Kaiju Quarantine live podcast festival

This weekend, an octet of kaiju-centric podcasts will be gathering on Discord to do one live commentary each on their favorite giant monster movies. The Maser Patrol podcast itself isn’t among them, but I did get invited to join the Kaiju Transmission crew for coverage of Invasion of Astro-Monster at 4:30 CST on Saturday. Drop by and ask us questions that we can answer live on-air; that way we won’t have to worry about talking about what’s going on in the movie the whole time!

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March news recap – plenty of new kaiju and hero media is a good reason to stay inside

In the overall scope of world events, this March has been one of the most impactful months in recent memory, as COVID has interrupted plans on all scales. On the Japanese pop culture end, events ranging from the Tokyo Olympics to Comiket to the premier of the Ultraman Taiga movie have been pushed back, and in terms of this blog specifically, Anime Central has been canceled (perhaps we will still record the panel we had planned for that as a podcast), and G-Fest, while not cancelled yet, has been getting lots of criticism for its attitude regarding the situation… at very least Japan has been issuing travel advisories which might impede guests flying over, but time will see how things develop. On a more personal note, both myself and my fiancee have fortunately managed to remain employed during this pandemic, and our hearts go out to all those who have had their livelihoods threatened both economically and health-wise. I hope everyone reading the blog has managed to stay safe!

The good news, in the likely event that you’re confined to your home right now, is that there’s no shortage of excellent entertainment to keep you busy. Personally, I went through the entire run of Return of Ultraman and Ultraman Orb: the Origin Saga thanks to their recent Blu-ray releases, along with anime Somali and the Forest Spirit, Beastars, and the new season of Castlevania (a fourth season of which has been announced, hurrah!), along with starting Brand New Animal (there’s a lot of furry-type stuff lately, huh?), Kiramager, and In/Spectre. On the manga front, there have been new volumes of Ultra Kaiju Humanization Project, Creature!, and Gigant released stateside lately, which is as good a batch as ever for kaiju fans, and there was also the finale to the very anime-inspired cartoon Steven Universe, complete with a giant monster.

If you’re more of a reader, I’d have to recommend my buddy John LeMay’s new book, Writing Japanese Monsters, for going through the script revision process of the most noteworthy kaiju and tokusatsu films. I’d say you should read it even if I wasn’t in the dedication, but hey, even more so now.

But that’s just the tip of the distribution iceberg! Let’s get started:

  • The motherload of streaming news this month is that Toei is launching the Toei Tokusatsu World Official Youtube channel next month with a whopping 70 classic Toei hero shows, all with English subtitles (for the first two episodes, at least; after that they’ll be crowdsourcing subs). While some of these have gotten US releases before (e.g. Message from Space, Juspion), the vast majority have not, and some, such as the Fushigi Comedy franchise, have barely ever been touched by fansubbers…it could be a great way to drum up interest. With new (admittedly raw) episodes every day after, there’ll be an overwhelming amount of content, so it’ll be interesting to see how long episodes remain online, if fansubbers step up to help out in the subtitles, and if they can sustain this model without moving to a subscription service.

  • Shout Factory has officially licensed the original Kamen Rider, and are now streaming it via Shout Factory TV and Tubi. They also have a dedicated Pluto channel, TokuSHOUTsu, for showing Kamen Rider, Ultraman Leo, and their handful of Super Sentai series. Speaking from experience, the streaming channel has already made a fun watch-together for tokusatsu fans wanting to hold a virtual movie night, though the episodes can get a little out of sync depending on what set of ads each viewer gets targeted with.

  • Bravestorm is finally getting a US release via GVN Releasing (an independent DVD label who haven’t done any other Japanese films, so far as I can tell). I’ve been an advocate for this film for a while, so it’s nice that more folks stateside will finally be able to check it out. There have been some grumbles that this is DVD-only, but keep in mind the Japanese Blu-ray release has English subtitles, so if you really want it in high quality, that is an option.

  • Speaking of Japanese releases with English subtitles, Garo: Under the Moonbow included subtitles on its Japanese Blu-ray. Since Kraken’s Garo releases seem to have halted lately, this seems like a good compromise for English-speaking fans who want to keep collecting the series.

  • Another Keita Amemiya flick, Rokuroku, has finally gotten a Japanese home video release. Not sure about whether subtitles are included on this one (since I just found out about it recently), but it’s been a long time coming to video…I missed a screening in Philadelphia two years ago and have been kicking myself about it ever since!

  • While Crunchyroll licensed the original Kaiju Girls TV series, they appear to have since cooled on their enthusiasm for Tsuburaya products lately (SSSS.Gridman aside), so it seemed that the theatrical film Kaiju Girls Black would have dismal prospects in the international streaming market. Thankfully, HIDIVE has stepped in and picked up the movie, so it can finally be seen in translation. Who knows, maybe if it does well in streaming, one of the Section 23 companies could print a few discs? (please?)

  • Media Blasters announced a new Blu-ray for Death Kappa. Since I’ve previously asked about getting the ending to the Japanese version included on a US re-release, I reached out again, and was quickly told that they will include it… but everything else is not listing that as a feature, and I’ve seen them tell others that this is identical to the previous release, so there is definitely some mixed messaging. Since the ends are significantly different, it’d be nice to see the Japanese version available here.

US ending

Japan ending

  • Since the Mothra steelbook did quite well, I guess it’s no surprise that The H-man and Battle in Outer Space are also getting put onto Blu-ray by Mill Creek. Despite claims that this is the Blu-ray debut for both, Battle in Outer Space had a lackluster release before from Sony (MOD), so hopefully this surpasses that one. No word on if it’ll retain the commentary from the DVD, but it seems possible.

  • Arrow had previously released the live-action The Guyver on Blu-ray in the UK, but they have now licensed it for Canada as well. The prior release was region-free, so this probably won’t make a huge difference.

  • Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century got a Blu-ray release recently via Dark Force Entertainment. So far it seems like it’s only been made available to subscribers to their home video plan, or on double-feature with Giant Spider Invasion, since their manufacturing plant was shut down due to COVID.

  • Like Yeti, another “giant monster, but not really kaiju” flick that I’ll mention just-because is Orca, since that’s getting a Blu-ray release as well thanks to Shout Factory. It did already have a Japanese BD release, for what it’s worth.

  • GKIDS announced that Lupin III the First will be getting a theatrical release in North America in 2020. I’d love to see Takashi Yamazaki get more of his stuff released here, so hopefully this gets him some credit as a director and not just for the Lupin franchise.

  • A short kaiju spoof titled Monster Challenge was published online. It stars Patton Oswald and was directed by Cloverfield composer Michael Giacchino (it’s got part of his Cloverfield music in it, to boot).

  • Manga Cross, who publish, among other things, Island of Giant Insects, has a new horrific giant monster survival series in their anthology: Umigui. It’s from the duo Yuki Fujisawa and Yasunari Toda, the latter of whom drew the excellent s.CRY.ed manga.

So, that’s some great licensing and recent release news, but what new content is in development or coming soon? I’m glad you asked.

  • Details have been revealed for Ultraman Z, starting in June. It seems they really want to play up the master-to-student legacy thing, with Zero stepping into the mentor role (like he did a little in Ginga S and more so in Geed). Zero is kind of an ideal character to plop into any series that Tsuburaya needs to, since, like Zoffy, he’s unburdened by a strong connection to any particular secret identity/actor, so you can understand them bringing him back around again.
    Also, since this is the first new show since the Mill Creek stuff took off, I wonder if the chances of a simulcast will go up?

  • The new Garo series, Versus Road, debuts April 2. It’ll be interesting to see how this VR setting thing plays into the franchise, and how it goes as a 15th anniversary project. Things have been a little quiet for Garo lately, but if the quality is good, I don’t mind.

  • Mamoru Oshii has a new anime titled Vladlove, and this is encouraging since it’s his first proper TV series in 30 years, is a comedy, has Kenji Kawai and Junji Nishimura on board, and is attracting comparisons to Urusei Yatsura. It won’t air until fall, but a promo video was briefly online…until someone realized it wasn’t finished and pulled it back down. Hopefully that’s not a bad sign.

  • Some more details have come out about Masaaki Yuasa’s upcoming adaptation of Japan Sinks for Netflix: it sounds like a lot more of a family drama than other versions have been, focusing on teenagers and their parents. I’m curious to see how this stacks up against the monstrous success of Yuasa’s previous outing with Devilman Crybaby;  it’d be nice if it caused a wave (no pun intended) that led to the live-action versions getting released as well… heck, or even a rescue of the Takao Saito manga.

  • Btooom mangaka Junya Inoue is launching a new manga titled Kaiju Jietai (Monster Self Defense Force) on  in Monthly Comic @Bunch on April 21. Not much info on this yet, so we’ll just have to keep an eye on it.

  • A trailer was released for Monster Seafood Wars, and it looks about what I’d expect from Minoru Kawasaki:

  • It looks like maquettes are coming along for the monster in Nezura 1964. Now to see the actual suit!

  • A look at the independent kaiju flick Savage Monster Barrigular, which I hope to see in full some day:

  • Some unfortunate news regarding Pili, as far as I can glean from here (Chinese is not one of our languages), as well as some 4chan chatter: it seems that one of the puppeteers referred to COVID as the “Wuhan virus” and had some Taiwanese-independence-leaning posts on Facebook, which has led to China flat-out banning their next production, What’s the Use for My Talent, Anyway?. Without the Chinese market, the show is dead in the water, which spells big trouble for Pili as a company. Thus, the next season of Thunderbolt Fantasy could be in jeopardy as a result, which is a damned shame. Hopefully the Japanese market (and heck, that sweet Netflix money for War of the Dragons) can keep them afloat for the foreseeable future, and the studio’s tensions with Chinese censors ameliorate.

  • A trailer is up for the TV adaptation of the ecchi Sentai parody Dokyuu Hentai HxEROS. As with a lot of these sex comedies, it may be funny or might be cringe-inducing, but we’ll see in July.

  • A trailer for Sayonara, Tirano…will it redeem Kobun Shizuno for dinosaur fans?

  • A wave of merchandise has appeared for Toei’s Spider-man. The chogokin is getting reissued, this time with a full-size Spider Bracelet rather than the vinyl figure that the original came with (I’ll stick with my original release, thanks), there’s going to be a Super Minipla of Leopardon, and Spidey himself is getting a Figuarts (with an unfortunate crotch sculpt). I continue to wonder how the increased exposure of the character is fitting into Marvel’s grand scheme, but here’s hoping for the Spider-verse sequel, and fingers crossed a home video release stateside someday.

  • SSSS.Gridman is continuing to Evangelionize their merchandise by featuring the heroines in outfits that have noting to do with the actual show. The latest is cheerleaders! For those keeping track at home, they’ve been brides, witches, musicians, Santas, kimono-clad, wearing swimsuits (not the ones from the actual swimsuit episode), Uchuusen mascots, and kaiju girls. Presumably nurse, mermaid, nun, catgirl, and apron-clad versions are on their way, because they’re going to check all the boxes eventually.

On a sad final note, RIP to Stuart Gordon, who directed a great many wonderful films, but most notably for readers here is Robot Jox, quite possibly the finest live-action mecha put to film. And, while he has not passed on, I also have to lament for Hiroshi Yamamoto, who suffered a cerebral infarction and has lost much of the cognitive function that made him such a wonderful science fiction writer (seriously, go read MM9 and Stories of Ibis!). Both of these men have made some amazing art, and it’s worth tracking down their work if you haven’t done so.

Hopefully the topics here give everyone cooped up at home an idea of how to pass the time during the coming months. Stay safe, stay indoors, and keep enjoying kaiju, scifi, and superheroes, everyone!

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Kaiju Transmissions podcast: Virus (1980)

While there hasn’t been a new Maser Patrol episode in a hot minute, Kevin (along with author John LeMay) had a chance to drop by the Kaiju Transmissions podcast this week to discuss Kinji Fukasaku’s 1980 disaster film Virus, AKA Day of Resurrection. If you want to get your mind off of current events…well, this might not be the movie for you right now.

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Kaiju-fied news recap

In a rare event, there was actually so much kaiju-adjacent news in the past week that rather than posting at the standard biweekly rate, I’m opting to do a recap today!

  • To start with, Minoru Kawasaki’s Monster Seafood Wars has a poster, giving us a first look at the actual kaiju in the movie, and a May 23 release date. If that is the Calamari Wrestler costume recycled, it’s been modified a little.

  • Toei and Shochiku have a new movie in the works titled Daikaiju no Atoshimatsu (“atoshimatsu” meaning remediation or cleanup), with a premise similar to Marvel’s Damage Control: the people who dispose of hazardous materials left by giant monster attacks. It’s from comedic director Satoshi Miki, so I assume that it’ll be another relatively low-budget spoof.

  • A little late since this trailer debuted in front of Sonic the Hedgehog, but Paramount’s animated kaiju wrestling movie Rumble debuts next year. It’s a very vague title, even if it’s arguably a multiple entendre.

  • Fukuoka’s local heroes will be crossing over for a new TV series Dogengers, starting in April. The series is handled by Fumie Arakawa (director of ToQger Returns and Zero: Dragon Blood), so it ought to be in reasonably good hands; unfortunately the appeal could be pretty limited for those not from the area.

  • I missed the announcement of GigaBash back in September, but apparently Passion Republic Games brought it to PAX for the public to try this past weekend. It looks like fun!

  • Platinum Games has a teaser for the the third installment of Hideki Kamiya’s “hero trilogy” (after the stellar Viewtiful Joe and Wonderful 101), and it looks heavily Ultraman-inspired. This ought to be excellent, given the pedigree.

  • Speaking of Ultraman and games, the official North American website for Ultraman launched, and it’s called Ultraman Galaxy, the same name as the 2013 puzzle game (not to mention potential confusions with Ultra Galaxy and Ultraman Ginga). Anyway, they announced another game there, one with another unfortunate name: Kaiju Kombat. Sounds like it will be a chess battler rather than ta fighting game, and forum members can try it out now….let’s see if Wizards of the Coast gets uppity this time, too.

  • Another Ultraman development was some new details from the Marvel comic series. It seems that they’re going for a straight remake of the original series, although there is at least one original character (“Kiki”) and the uniforms are different. Writer Kyle Higgins is beloved by Power Rangers fandom for his work on the Boom Studios comics in that line (for however much PR fans can be trusted) and writer Matt Groom’s Self/Made seems to have encouraging reviews, plus artist Francesco Manna is decent (NB: Marvel is promoting with Ed McGuiness Ultraman art, though).

  • Shifting to the toy collecting world, an unexpected piece of merchandise has been realized due to Redman’s meme-centered revival: A figure of the Redman version of Icarus-seijin. Now you can recreate your favorite slasher movie moments with our hero stalking the innocent alien through the bamboo forest!

  • Neca announced two new Godzilla figures at Toy Fair: 1989 and 2003. Since these are two of the most popular iterations of the character (especially of the ones not yet handled), it’s a bit of a no-brainer, but it is still a shame that Toho seems against them developing the more “off the beaten path” designs. Both will be hitting in June, so I imagine many will be seen at G-Fest.

  • I’ve been a little disappointed at the lack of decent figures for Zyuranger‘s space witch Bandra, but Hasbro has a decent one coming in August for the Power Rangers’ dub of that character, Rita. Of course, there’s a catch, or even several:
    • The figure comes in a two-pack with Saban-original character Lord Zedd. Since the Zedd figure has already been released, many PR fans are grumpy about this since it means rebuying the same figure, as well.
    • It’s a GameStop exclusive, and those can be notoriously sparse in terms of stock.
    • You’d be supporting Hasbro, who still haven’t gotten their Super Sentai DVD releases back up and running.

That’s a wrap for this week! Enjoy March!

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February news recap

Procrastination and distraction has gotten the better of me again, but the inundation of kaiju news items in the past couple of days has made it impossible to put off a recap any longer.

Production news:

  • A Godzilla vs. Kong image from Toyfair has been making the rounds online, giving a better look at how the Legendary Godzilla will be tweaked this time. The back spines seem to be reverting back towards the 2014 design, which is puzzling, though I suppose only the most diehard of fans would particularly care.

  • This student film Giganto Makhia looks quite promising:

  • A new Garo season has been announced, titled Versus Road. The premise, being set around some sort of VR headset, initially seems rather out-of-character for the franchise, though if they tie it into Vanishing Line‘s computer stuff it could work nicely.

  • Kobun Shizuno has an upcoming film, Sayonara Tyrano (sic). It’s adapted from the same book series as Heart and Yummie and You Are So Yummy – Happy to Be with You, but I don’t believe there’s any direct connection between the movies themselves.

  • A new Digimon series has been announced for April, and because they’re completely creatively bankrupt, it looks like a straight remake of the original Digimon Adventure (right after the alleged “last movie”). This doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, Toei.

  • The trailer has been posted for the last two installments in the Rurouni Kenshin film series, The Final/The Beginning. It’s fantastic that the entire manga’s story is finally getting adapted!

 

Home video news:

  • Arrow’s Gamera box set is up for preorder, and it’s a doozy. Audio commentary from Ed Godziszewski, Steve Ryfle, David Kalat, August Ragone, Kyle Yount, Matt Frank, and (apparently) the team behind Japan’s Green Monsters, the best possible transfers, and a reprint of the Dark Horse Gamera comics make this an easy shoo-in to buy, but it sounds like there are still more features left to be announced!

  • Speaking of Arrow, they have a Shinya Tsukamoto set on the way as well. I’ve lamented that Tetsuo the Iron Man and its sequel have been woefully out of print for far too long stateside, so this is a welcome upgrade, along with new copies of Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet, A Snake of June, Vital, Kotoko, Killing, The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo, and Haze. Audio commentary is by Tom Mes, who literally wrote the book on the man, so it’s a solid collection as well.

  • Raiga vs. Ohga (now titled God Raiga vs. King Ohga) is up for preorder from SRS. Make sure to preorder stuff from them to ensure they get properly pressed discs instead of BD-Rs; Attack of the Giant Teacher only did 60 copies in preorders and had to be burned instead of pressed.

  • SRS has also licensed Norman England’s The iDol. Previously the film was only available as a special feature on the German DVD release of New Neighbor, so hopefully some more Americans will be able to see it now. It’s quite a fun little picture, and the 13 years it took to get US distribution is far too long.
  • Keith Aiken confirmed on Facebook that Mill Creek is also working on a release of Gridman the Hyper Agent. Given the success of SSSS.Gridman, it’s a no-brainer, but still a pleasant surprise.

  • Disney+ will be adding Marvel Future Avengers on February 28. I’ve long been perplexed at the myriad Japanese Marvel projects not getting US releases, so here’s hoping this does well. We’d really like to see Disk Wars!

 

Video game news:

  • A Kickstarter campaign to port The Wonderful 101 to Switch was funded in no time. This is no great surprise, since it’s been one of the more conspicuous titles to so far have not been updated for the newer platform.

  • A Record of Lodoss War game is coming to Steam. It’s a platformer where you play as Deedlit (fun fact: MM9 author Hiroshi Yamamoto was the guy who played Deedlit in the original D&D campaign that Lodoss was based on!)

  • Symphogear XD is finally available internationally! Just in time for that, they got a collaborative crossover campaign with Attack on Titan. They’re hitting all the big kaiju franchises!

 

Print media news:

  • Viz just announced a ton of cool new licenses, including:
    • The insane shonen action manga Chainsaw Man
    • The Revolutionary Girl Utena sequel novel
    • A deluxe edition of The Mermaid Saga
    • Junji Ito’s killer planet story Remina
    • A short story collection from Naoki Urasawa

  • The ULTRAMAN anime is getting a novelization. I guess that’s what happens when you’re the most-watched anime on Netflix.

Other news:

  • Godzilla is getting his own Monopoly and Jenga games. I assume there’s a lot more demolition of the hotels than there is in traditional Monopoly?

  • It’s nice to see how even though Yasushi Nirasawa passed too soon, his redesigns of Ultraman monsters continue to be realized in merchandise. Acro has a Metron coming in April.

That’s quite a recap, but as always, if something fell through the cracks, please leave a comment! Until next time!

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New Year’s news recap

Happy new year (admittedly a couple weeks late)! I’ve been distracted from putting together news recaps for a while, but that just means a lot more things to cover this time around. Let’s break it down by category:

Godzilla news:

  • Kicking things off, there were some leaked images from the Godzilla vs Kong toy line. They may or may not constitute a spoiler for the film, but they sure are interesting…honestly I’ll say they make me more intrigued with the picture.
  • The first three minutes of the Shinkalion movie (The Mythically Fast ALFA-X That Came From Future) have been posted online, featuring a battle between Godzilla and Hatsune Miku. This has been a bit of a thorn in my side, since numerous outlets are reporting this as an “upcoming release” for 2020, when it came out in December. Also, people keep reporting it as “Ice Godzilla” instead of the actual “Snow Godzilla” name.

  • Godzilla manga artist Takayuki Sakai’s Godzilla Comicalize Magazine did a Batman vs. Godzilla doujinshi for this winter’s Comic Market, finally realizing the unmade project.

  • Speaking of Godzilla cameos and Comiket, Weathering With You got its theatrical release in the US this past week, and as a Toho movie, there was a little background cameo in that one, too.

Other kaiju news:

  • The Great Buddha Arrival director Hiroto Yokokawa has announced another kaiju film, and similarly to his previous work, it’ll be about the making of a lost picture: this time the unmade Daiei flick that led to Gamera’s creation: Nezura 1964.
    Much like Great Buddha Arrival, we’re getting promised a parade of industry cameos (including the returning Yukijiro Hotaru and Yoshiro Uchida), and I imagine publicity will be fairly mute until it debuts. I do like the giant-sized Nezura, which I believe is unique to this interpretation.

  • A whopping 22 years after their prior release of the film, Media Blasters is re-issuing Gappa the Triphibian Monster on Blu-ray. There’s been some grumbling since the (longer) international cut does not appear to be included, but this will almost certainly have better image and sound quality than the ancient DVD and VHS releases.

  • That Gamera box set from Arrow has been more officially announced. Still no word if it’ll be available in the US or UK-exclusive yet.

 

Ultraman news:

  • Ultraman Ace and Ultraman X now have preorders for BD: May 12 and April 21 respectively. Both are solid shows, and it’s exciting to add them to the collection.

  • ULTRAMAN was the most viewed anime on Netflix in Japan last year. As much as the outrage from Evangelion fanatics is a lot of fun, I do have to sort of ponder this, since the series honestly wasn’t all that great.
  • The Ultra Kaiju Humanization Project (which is secretly the best Ultraman manga available in English) just wrapped up its run in Japan. Hopefully the whole thing is able to make it to US shores!
  • RIP Shozo Uehara. His tokusatsu work was excellent, so if you have the recent Blu-rays of Ultra Q, Ultraman, Ultraseven, Return of Ultraman, or Juspion, or older ones like Inazuman and Red Baron, or even anime like Captain Harlock or Fist of the North Star, watch a few episodes in his honor.

SSSS.Gridman news:

  • A stage play featuring the Neon Genesis Middle Schoolers is due out in May.

  • Acro has new figures up for Nanashi A and B, while Good Smile is proceeding with a Devadadan. The roster of kaiju with vinyl figures is slowly filling in…

  • I appreciate how SSSS.Gridman takes deep cuts even in little stuff like magazine covers. A recent appearance in Uchuusen featured Akane and Rikka cosplaying characters from 1983 issues of the magazine.

Other hero news:

  • We’ve gotten our first look at this year’s Super Sentai, Mashin Sentai Kiramager. The costumes are fine (a female green is a neat shake-up), and the preview of the mech battle looks really exciting. We’ll have to see how well the “collecting shiny gems” motif works with the “machines” one, but with Naruhisa Arakawa writing, my expectations are pretty high.

  • Jushin Thunder Liger, the real-life pro-wrestler based off the Go Nagai hero character, has finally retired after 35 years in the industry.

 

  • A new Gantz spinoff has been announced, this one set in the Edo era: Gantz: E. I wonder how the inherent scifi of the premise, setting, and aesthetic will mesh with a jidai geki setting, but time will tell.

  • Here’s a trailer for the Mini Force movie, Deeno The King Of Dinosaurs. I still haven’t checked out Mini Force, despite it being on my Netflix queue for months, so perhaps I should get on that.

  • After years of no updates, it seems the English-language print edition of the Ambassador Magma manga has been cancelled. Not a great look for DMP.

Other news:

  • A trailer dropped for Voltes V Legacy, a live-action project out of the Philippines adapting the classic anime. A lot of people are concerned since this is from GMA, who previously did the lackluster Shaider tie-in Zaido, but, given that  Zaido was 13 years ago, I think it’s fair to give them another chance at this point.

  • The second Thunderbolt Fantasy movie, Bewitching Melody of the West, is now on Crunchyroll.

  • In “neat concept” stuff, the new Hentatsu TV series is apparently set in a post-apocalyptic Nakano Broadway.

That’s a wrap for now! I’ll try to get another article or something together in the next few weeks to make up for the lack of updates.

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Maser Patrol podcast episode 46: Lost Films and More with John LeMay

Looking for a last-minute Christmas present? Well, you’re in luck, because John LeMay has a varied bibliography on topics ranging from history, UFOlogy, horror films, cryptozoology, spaghetti westerns, and a whole smattering of kaiju/tokusatsu-related titles, with a special emphasis on lost and unmade movie projects. Since the new editions of The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monsters: The Lost Films and Terror of the Lost Tokusatsu Films are now on the market, it was a great time for John to stop by the podcast and talk about what he does.

Unfortunately we had some serious Skype lag during the call, but for the most part I was able to clean it up in post, so it only gets confusing on occasion.

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The 2010s: A decade in review timeline

As December winds to a close, I find myself reflecting back…. back on how many podcasts, blogs, and YouTubers seem to have already done their decades in review, yet we haven’t gotten around to it here yet. But seriously, the past ten years has given rise to a lot of great content and interesting media trends, and yes, even this very blog. So, whether it be to reminisce, let lapsed fans know what they’ve missed, or simply to get some time travelers up-to-speed, I thought it’d be nice to recap a few of the major events and most noteworthy new titles that came about in the 2010s.

Uh…different sort of “Decade in Review”

There’s no rankings here, just a chronological walkthrough without much in the way of commentary (I’ll leave that to others). However, I will say that this was initially conceived as a “tokusatsu of the 2010s” timeline, but it quickly expanded to anime, manga, games, novels, and similarly-inspired non-Japanese media, while ignoring certain tokusatsu genres entirely (e.g. samurai and war films). In short, it turned into a list of the kind of stuff Maser Patrol focuses on.

Because of that, there will be some glaring omissions if you really want to hear about Japan’s classically “best” content: titles like Your Name or Erased or The Tale of Princess Kaguya are wonderful and technically science fiction, but they lack certain visual factors (like monsters and superheroes) that’d make them crossovers for the tokusatsu enthusiast, so they’re not listed, let alone compelling human dramas like Yuri on Ice, Kids on the Slope, and Keijo. (If you want to hear about the tons of great anime out there, you can check out Anime World Order‘s excellent year-by-year breakdown, so it need not dominate things here.)

With that out of the way, let’s start where the decade began!

9-Jan Higanjima: Escape from Vampire Island released
14-Feb Tensou Sentai Goseiger debuts on TV
2-Apr Daimajin Kanon debuts on TV
2-Apr Clash of the Titans remake starts Legendary Pictures down the path to focus on giant monsters
17-Apr Kaibutsu-kun drama debuts on TV
27-Apr Ratman manga begins publication
1-May King of Thorn anime movie released
5-May Shingo Honda’s Creature (AKA Hakaijuu) begins publication
22-May Tetsuo the Bullet Man released
22-May Mutant Girls Squad released
6-Jul Occult Academy debuts on TV
8-Jul Shiki vampire anime debuts on TV
17-Jul MM9 – Monster Magnitude drama debuts on TV
27-Jul Death Kappa released
4-Sep Gothic & Lolita Psycho released
5-Sep Kamen Rider OOO debuts on TV
17-Sep Sym-Bionic Titan debuts on TV
19-Oct Marika Seven manga begins publication
30-Oct Garo: Red Requiem released, reviving the Garo franchise. It’s also Japan’s first full movie filmed with 3D cameras.
27-Nov Mazinkaiser SKL OVA debuts
1-Dec live-action Space Battleship Yamato released
21-Dec Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus released
23-Dec Ultraman Zero the Movie released

7-Jan Puella Magi Madoka Magica magical girl anime debuts on TV, becoming a massive hit. The series takes some inspiration from Kamen Rider Ryuki.
29-Jan First live-action Gantz movie released
13-Feb Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger debuts on TV, kicking off an era of crossovers and revivals at Toei
11-Mar The Great Tohoku earthquake causes a tsunami and meltdown at Fukushima’s Daini nuclear power plant. This traumatic event forever changed Japan, and its impact continues to be felt in media, pop culture, and artwork.
3-Apr Tiger & Bunny superhero anime debuts on TV
8-Apr Ghastly Prince Enma: Burning Up debuts on TV
23-Apr Gantz: Perfect Answer released
April Studio Chizu founded
12-May Nobunagun manga begins publication
14-May Tomie Unlimited released
14-Jun Mappa studio founded
6-Jul Clip show Ultraman Retsuden brings Ultraman back to television
8-Jul Blood C anime debuts on TV
8-Jul The Hero Yoshihiko debuts on TV
23-Jul Alien vs. Ninja released
23-Jul Helldriver released
23-Jul Yakuza Weapon released
10-Aug King of Tokyo board game franchise begins
16-Aug Ready Player One novel published, featuring Ultraman, Kiryu, and Leopardon
22-Aug Studio Trigger founded
4-Sep Kamen Rider Fourze debuts on TV
17-Sep Henge released
24-Sep Garo: Makai Senki debuts on TV
1-Oct Monthly Hero’s manga anthology begins publication, including ULTRAMAN and Hero Company (hits Killing Bites, Majestic Prince, and Sword Gai are added shortly after)
15-Oct Noboru Iguchi’s Karate Robo Zaborger movie released
16-Oct Ultra Zone debuts on TV
4-Nov Bite Me if You Love Me released
26-Nov Earth Defence Girls P9 released
9-Dec Ranma 1/2 live-action movie released

6-Jan Symphogear magical girl anime franchise begins
12-Jan Confusingly-named Another horror anime debuts on TV
15-Feb Gyo anime movie released
25-Feb Zombie Ass released
26-Feb Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters debuts on TV
27-Feb Danger 5 debuts on TV; the spy pastiche contains many anime/tokusatsu aesthetic references
17-Mar Ultraman Sisters novel published
19-Mar Monster Musume manga begins publication, starting a boom of monster girl material
24-Mar Ultraman Saga released
2-Apr Zetman anime debuts on TV
6-Apr Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger debuts on TV
18-Apr One begins Mob Psycho 100 manga, which will go on to anime and tokusatsu adaptations
21-Apr A Letter to Momo yokai anime movie released
12-May Sadako 3D released
1-Jun Wit Studio founded
14-Jun Yusuke Murata begins redrawing One’s webcomic One Punch Man, to great acclaim
10-Jul Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo debuts as part of the Tokusatsu Special Effects Museum
15-Jul Impromptu G-Fest panel reveals footage from Wolf-man vs Godzilla, leading work on the fan film to resume after decades
21-Jul Iron Girl released, kicking off a DTV series
21-Jul Wolf Children released
2-Sep Kamen Rider Wizard debuts on TV
5-Oct Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure finally gets a TV anime adaptation
12-Oct Psycho-Pass cyberpunk anime franchise begins
20-Oct Space Sherriff Gavan the Movie revives the Metal Hero brand
15-Nov Jeremy Robinson’s Project Nemesis kicks off a series of “kaiju thriller” novels and comics
17-Nov Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo released to mixed response
15-Dec Humanoid Monster Bem movie released

12-Jan Neo Ultra Q debuts on TV
18-Jan Machi Action suit acting movie released
5-Apr Garo: Yami o Terasu Mono debuts on TV
7-Apr Attack on Titan anime debuts on TV, sparking a phenomenon
13-Apr HK: The Forbidden Superhero movie released
26-Apr Jellyfish Eyes released
1-Jun Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s movie Real released
4-Jul Seven Cube manga begins publication
4-Jul Earth Defense Force 2025 game released
7-Jul Kamen Teacher drama debuts on TV
9-Jul Atlantic Rim mockbuster released
10-Jul Ultraman Ginga kicks off the current era of Ultraman shows
11-Jul first Yo-kai Watch game released, leading to a franchise that would popularize yokai worldwide
12-Jul Pacific Rim released, cancelling the apocalypse
12-Jul Gatchaman Crowds debuts on TV
18-Jul Attack of the Friday Monsters game released
13-Aug Ultra Q finally gets a US release for the first time
23-Aug Wonderful 101 game released
24-Aug Gatchaman live-action movie released
7-Sep 009-1 live-action movie released
26-Sep Mega Monster Rush Ultra Frontier shorts debut
4-Oct Shougeki Gouraigan debuts on TV
4-Oct Kill La Kill debuts on TV. The series takes much inspiration from Sukeban Deka, the works of Go Nagai, and more.
5-Oct Kaiki Daisakusen Mystery File debuts on TV
6-Oct Kamen Rider Gaim debuts on TV
10-Oct Samurai Flamenco debuts on TV
13-Oct Ando Lloyd debuts on TV
9-Nov Tiger Mask live-action movie released

25-Jan Nuigulumar Z released
28-Jan Mega Shark vs Mecha Shark released
8-Feb Earth Defense Widow released
16-Feb Ressha Sentai ToQger debuts on TV
8-Mar Zero: Black Blood debuts on TV
14-Mar Kaiju Sakaba opens
29-Mar Heisei Rider vs Showa Rider: Kamen Rider Wars movie released
1-Apr Booska+ manga begins publication
2-Apr Marvel Disk Wars debuts on TV
4-Apr Garo: Makai no Hana debuts on TV
5-Apr The Next Generation Patlabor series debuts
7-Apr Kanpai Senshi After V debuts on TV
1-May Tatsuya Shihira’s manga Q begins publication
16-May Godzilla kicks off the MonsterVerse
24-May Kikaider Reboot released
6-Jun Edge of Tomorrow (based on All You Need is Kill) released
7-Jun Jossy’s released
5-Jul Ao Oni movie released
7-Jul My Hero Academia manga begins publication. It will go on to become the highest-circulated superhero comic in the world.
10-Jul Big Comic Original Godzilla special published
12-Jul Day of the Kaiju short debuts at G-Fest
12-Jul Zella: Monster Martial Law released
15-Jul Ultraman Ginga S debuts on TV
19-Jul Blue Blazes drama debuts on TV
11-Aug Colossal Kaiju Combat: Kaijuland Battles game is released
6-Sep In The Hero suit-acting movie released
27-Sep Shusuke Kaneko’s Danger Dolls released
3-Oct Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames debuts on TV, the first anime based on the franchise
5-Oct Kamen Rider Drive debuts on TV
5-Oct Cross Ange anime debuts on TV
7-Oct Robosan debuts on TV
7-Nov Japan Animator Expo shorts begin online streaming, including shorts for Ultraman, Gridman, Patlabor, and some other kaiju content
29-Nov First live-action Parasyte movie released
1-Dec Atom the Beginning manga begins publication
18-Dec Godzilla PS4 game released

11-Jan Yatterman Night debuts on TV
17-Feb Zyuranger marks first ever US release of an uncut Super Sentai series
22-Feb Shuriken Sentai Ninninger debuts on TV
18-Mar Kaijumax comic begins circulation
21-Mar First live-action Assassination Classroom movie released
28-Mar Garo: Gold Storm movie released, followed by TV series
1-Apr Ultra Kaiju Humanization Project manga begins publication
24-Apr Shinjuku Gracery rebrands as a Godzilla-themed hotel
25-Apr Second live-action Parasyte movie released
30-Apr Chroma Squad game released, forced to claim inspiration from Power Rangers
18-May First volume of Tokusatsu Hihou magazine published
20-Jun Ninja War Torakage released
20-Jun Yakuza Apocalypse released
27-Jun Love & Peace released
3-Jul Ushio & Tora yokai anime debuts on TV
5-Jul Live-action Death Note series debuts on TV
6-Jul Mysterious Ultraman n/a short debuts online
7-Jul Mega Shark vs Kolossus released, channeling Attack on Titan
11-Jul The Boy and the Beast anime movie released
14-Jul Ultraman X becomes the first Ultraman show to get international simulcast
1-Aug First live-action Attack on Titan movie released
19-Sep Attack on Titan: End of the World released
20-Sep Daimajin Adventure novel published
2-Oct Kagewani monster anime debuts on TV
3-Oct Live-action Bakuman movie (about aspiring mangaka) released
4-Oct Kamen Rider Ghost debuts on TV
4-Oct Concrete Revolutio debuts on TV
9-Oct Gamera proof-of-concept short released
9-Oct Garo: Crimson Moon debuts on TV
31-Oct Infini-T Force manga begins publication, reviving old Tatsunoko heroes
4-Nov Platinum End manga begins publication
7-Nov An Evangelion-themed bullet train begins running
11-Nov Cyborg 009 vs Devilman debuts
14-Nov Japan Local Hero Wars released
21-Nov Digimon Adventure Tri series debuts
5-Dec Outerman released
31-Dec Funimation Channel rebrands as Toku

13-Feb Lychee Light Club live-action movie released
5-Mar Chimagure Sukeban Chainsaw released
19-Mar Moribito live-action movie released
1-Apr Kamen Rider Amazons debuts on Prime
8-Apr Garo: Makai Retsuden debuts on TV
23-Apr I Am A Hero movie released
29-Apr Live-action Terra Formars movie released
14-May HK: Abnormal Crisis released
10-Jun Voltron: Legendary Defender debuts on Netflix
18-Jun Sadako vs. Kayako released
7-Jul Ultraman F novel published, future winner of the Seiun Award for fiction
8-Jul Thunderbolt Fantasy debuts on TV
9-Jul Ultraman Orb debuts on TV
16-Jul Kaiju Mono released
22-Jul Godzilla appears on Crayon Shin-chan
29-Jul Shin Godzilla released, mania ensues
20-Sep First volume of Ini Kai Suru Kotonaku, Juujitsu Shita Hibi published
27-Sep Kaiju Girls anime debuts online
1-Oct Cutie Honey Tears released
2-Oct Kamen Rider Exaid debuts on TV
14-Oct Gantz: O anime movie released
15-Oct Higanjima: The Last 47 Days movie released
29-Oct Death Note: Light up the New World released
5-Nov LEDX released
8-Nov Gemu released online
11-Nov Mech-X4 debuts on TV

6-Jan Zero: Dragon Blood debuts on TV
12-Feb Uchuu Sentai Kyuuranger debuts on TV
18-Feb The Dragon Dentist miniseries debuts on TV
10-Mar Noboru Iguchi’s Slavemen released
10-Mar Kong: Skull Island released
18-Mar Napping Princess anime movie released
24-Mar Power Rangers movie released
31-Mar Ghost in the Shell live-action movie released
1-Apr Ayakashi Banashi debuts on TV
2-Apr Takashi Miike’s Idol × Warrior Miracle Tunes debuts on TV
7-Apr Colossal released
14-Apr Mystery Science Theater 3000 begins a short-lived revival, covering several giant monster movies
5-May Tetsudon Kaiju Dream Match anthology released
13-May live-action Hurricane Polymar movie released
4-Jun Kaiju Club drama debuts on TV
8-Jul Ultraman Geed debuts on TV
20-Jul Netflix’s Death Note released
29-Jul first live-action Tokyo Ghoul movie released
4-Aug live-action Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Part 1 movie released (subsequent parts not announced)
6-Aug First Japan World Heroes convention held
19-Aug Kodoku Meatball Machine released
30-Sep live-action Ajin movie released
1-Oct Dragon Force: So Long Ultraman movie includes unauthorized Ultraman appearance
6-Oct Garo: Vanishing Line debuts on TV
19-Oct The City Shrouded in Shadow video game released, featuring creatures from Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, Evangelion, and Patlabor
26-Oct Love Fighter Shuravan manga debuts
28-Oct Shusuke Kaneko’s Linking Love released
10-Nov Bravestorm released, reviving classic Senkosha characters Red Baron and Silver Mask
17-Nov Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters released
7-Dec Earth Defense Force 5 game released
8-Dec Gigant manga begins serialization
9-Dec Destiny: Kamakura Story released
15-Dec The Return of Izenborg documentary for Arabic television contains a new effects short

5-Jan Devilman Crybaby released
13-Jan Mazinger Z Infinity released
27-Jan Rokuroku released
4-Feb The Cloverfield Paradox hits Netflix out of nowhere
11-Feb Lupinranger vs Patranger debuts on TV
18-Feb Koujin TV movie released
27-Feb Kaiju Girl Caramelise begins publication
3-Mar Ghost Squad released
19-Mar Ziga manga begins publication
23-Mar Pacific Rim: Uprising released
29-Mar Ready Player One movie released, with no Leopardon or Ultraman
1-Apr 6th Gegege no Kitaro anime debuts on TV
13-Apr Rampage movie released
13-Apr Dragon Pilot debuts on TV
18-Apr Tsuburaya defeats UMC in United States district court for Ultraman rights
20-Apr Inuyashiki live-action movie released
24-Apr Ninja Batman released
18-May Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle released
30-May Matt Frank revives Redman in Redman: The Kaiju Hunter comic
23-Jun One Cut of the Dead released (and becomes a cult sensation)
30-Jun Punk Samurai Slashdown released
7-Jul Ultraman R/B debuts on TV
20-Jul Bleach live-action movie released
25-Jul Illang: The Wolf Brigade, a remake of Jin-roh, released
3-Aug My Hero Academia: The Two Heroes movie includes hero “Godzillo”
11-Aug Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion has an episode with the Evangelion train, as a semi-crossover
2-Sep Kamen Rider Zio debuts on TV
30-Sep Double Decker anime debtus on TV
4-Oct Jinga: Kami no Kiba debuts on TV
4-Oct Zombie Land Saga anime debuts on TV
7-Oct SSSS.Gridman debuts on TV
8-Oct Hero-san and Former General-san manga begins publication
25-Oct Do Your Best, Chibi Godzilla book published
9-Nov Godzilla: The Planet Eater released
23-Nov Hard Core released
15-Dec The Great Buddha Arrival released
18-Dec Amazing Spider-man #18 brings Toei’s Spider-man into the comics canon
28-Dec Kaijuretto Shojotai web manga begins publication

18-Jan Tokusatsu Gagaga drama debuts on TV
25-Jan live-action School Live movie released
31-Jan Alita: Battle Angel live-action movie finally, finally, finally released
2-Feb First episode of Kaiju Ward Gallas released; second episode still not announced
8-Feb City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes movie includes a Godzilla hotel scene
17-Mar Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger debuts on TV
22-Mar GEMSTONE Godzilla short film competition entries posted online. The winners went on to create Godziban.
1-Apr ULTRAMAN anime debuts on Netflix
1-May With the abdication of the Heisei emperor, the Reiwa era begins. Franchises like Godzilla and Kamen Rider quickly jump onto the new era for marketing purposes.
7-May Deep Sea Monster Raiga vs Volcano Beast Ohga released
10-May Detective Pikachu movie released
31-May Godzilla vs Evangelion ride opens for the summer at Universal Studios
31-May Godzilla : King of the Monsters released
1-Jun The Asylum’s Monster Island mockbuster released
6-Jul Ultraman Taiga debuts on TV
10-Jul Mill Creek acquires rights to sizable part of the Ultraman library for US distribution
13-Jul Attack of the Giant Teacher released at G-Fest
9-Aug Godziban series debuts on YouTube
27-Aug Juspion becomes first Metal Hero to get a US release
30-Aug Astral Chain game released
1-Sep Kamen Rider Zero One debuts on TV
29-Oct Criterion releases complete Showa Godzilla set, bringing the first subtitled home video of King Kong vs Godzilla to market
18-Nov Kaiju Step short anime debuts on TV
24-Nov Howl from Beyond the Fog released
14-Dec First TsubuCon held
27-Dec Godzilla appears in Shinkalion movie

…and that brings us up to the present day! It’s been a heck of a decade, and it’ll be interesting to see where it stacks up in the years down the line. There’s plenty of cool new stuff on the horizon for the 2020s, so let’s look forward to covering them as they materialize in the future!

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to leave a comment if there’s some major title that deserves special mention. Think Eko Eko Azarak: The First Episode of Misa Kuroi should have been listed? Believe the Gintama movie was snubbed? Feel upset at the exclusion of Lust of the Dead? Let me know! This was a fairly quickly-put-together list and by no means comprehensive, and there was a lot of content over the years. Hopefully you’ll remember something that you’ve been meaning to get around to by going through the list, so I’d be keen to learn what I might be missing on this end as well.

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News recap: First TsubuCon quite a success!!

This weekend was the first ever Tsuburaya Convention (TsubuCon), attached to Wonder Festival. As an inaugural outing, there were a number of fantastic announcements and reveals, including:

  • The first look at Shin Ultraman has been unveiled. A lot of folks are disappointed by how vanilla it looks, but honestly, I think the back-to-basics approach is what the “Shin” calling card has been about from the get-go. Shin Godzilla was inspired by concept art for the 1954 movie, so it makes sense that Shin Ultraman goes back to Tohl Narita’s concept…no color timer, no eye holes, no back fin.
    It’s wild that they’re being this upfront about a movie that’s not getting released until 2021, isn’t it? Usually we don’t hear about stuff like this until it’s a few months out.

  • A new anime titled SSSS.Dynazenon is coming as part of the “Gridman Universe”. All the key talent who worked on SSSS.Gridman are involved, so it should be great, but that show is a tough act to follow.

  • A trailer for the Ultraman Taiga movie, featuring the whole New Generation.

  • Netflix’s ULTRAMAN is airing on TV starting in April. A lot of folks are reporting this as the second season, but it looks like it’s only what’s on Netflix now, just broadcast on TV. However, it is getting a live-action short, which is pretty cool.
  • Kaiju Decode got a promo image, along with the reveal that Sei Nakashima (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) is doing the designs. The promo looks like it could be another monster girl thing.

  • For the most obsessive SSSS.Gridman fans, Figurex is making life-size figures of Akane and Rikka, for about $15,000 each.

  • The Kaiju no Sumika (“Monster Habitat”) VR exhibit that’s currently on display at Tokyo Dome City (due to close in January) will be opening in other locations starting in March… including a show in Los Angeles!

Non-TsubuCon stuff this week:

…and to promote the show, a really cuddly Gamera suit:

  • Two seconds of Godzilla vs. Kong footage got leaked. Presumably Shaggy and Scooby’s reaction isn’t part of the film, but we can dream.

  • John LeMay released an updated version of his Lost Films book, and it’s easily twice the size of the previous edition. Thus, it’s worth picking up, even if you have the earlier version.

  • Attack of the Giant Teacher presales start January 2, to ship in February.
  • No More Heroes 3 has a new extended trailer that’s basically a short film. There was a little controversy since there’s a little bit of effect animation at the end that appears to have been plagiarized, though that comes from a public data set that the animators used, rather than being taken directly.

  • A trailer for My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, continuing the trend of using the “rise” word in superhero franchise movie titles:

  • Coffee mugs based on the Toei Spider-man have started popping up at Disney stores. With such a glut of merchandise, I wonder if the show itself will get added to Disney+?

  • The new stage play Cutie Honey Emotional seems to be mixing up the formula for the classic magical girl by making her part of a magical girl team rather than just having her transform into multiple identities: Sweets Honey, Lovely Honey, Jumper Honey, Cyber Honey, and Black Honey are also present. I don’t know how to feel about that development, but the new costume is neat.

  • A red-band trailer for the reboot of The Grudge:

That’s a wrap for the news for this week, but expect another post before the end of the year.

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News recap for the end of November

It’s been a wild few weeks with Thanksgiving and year-end festivities, but this previous weekend I made it out to Anime NYC, where I learned that:

  • The English-dubbed episode of Godziban was very difficult for its Japanese voice actors, suggesting that future dubbed ones are unlikely, but the producers did seem happy that someone in the West is watching the show.
  • Strega is getting an English dub, which Garage Hero will eventually distribute. That whole panel was great.
  • Megalobox is going to be getting a sequel.

But, what else has been going on? Well, we can find out in this news recap:

  • First of all, Godzilla vs Kong was delayed until November 20. No surprise there, since it never really seemed right that another huge expensive Hollywood Godzilla flick would hit less than a year after the previous one, and we haven’t gotten so much as a poster yet.
  • While the delay was a little bit of a bummer, we can’t get too down, since the same day we got more information about the Godzilla collaboration in the Symphogear XD mobile game. As I’ve said many times, Symphogear is a superb, sublime, phenomenal, action-packed magical girl anime, and after the SSSS.Gridman collaboration that they did for the mobile game, a Godzilla one is quite exciting. Oh, and that game is getting an English-language release soon!

I love the character combinations here. Godzilla is paired with the scrappy, aggressive Kanade, rather than defaulting to the main character Hibiki. Hibiki, being the strongest character and gold in color, is paired with Ghidorah. The silver-armored Maria originally had a copy of Kanade’s armor, so Kiryu is a good fit. Shirabe is reincarnated from a very powerful ancient character, so the reincarnation-prone Mothra is a reasonable match for her, and since Shirabe is frequently paired with the scythe-wielding loser Kirika, Kirika is of course Gigan. This leaves questions of who Tsubasa and Chris could be….maybe Rodan and Showa Mechagodzilla? Space Godzilla and Moguera? Ebirah and Zone Fighter?

I demand action figures of all of these.

  • Marvel has announced that they’ll be doing some Ultraman comics. It’s exciting to see what they’ll involve, though the approach has been strange. The announcement included no new artwork, but old DVD art by Alex Ross, who has said on his YouTube page back in September of 2018 that he was “looking to do new artwork featuring the character” not for the Asian market. The image’s filename even suggests that Ross was hired to work on the book, but it’s not actually part of the press release. At any rate, more exposure and a new take is definitely a net positive, and even a lousy Marvel book can be entertaining.

  • Return of Ultraman and Ultraman Orb Origin Saga Blu-rays are up for preorder, so you know what to do.
  • In twelve days, we’ll get more information on Toei and Tsuburaya’s upcoming anime Kaiju Decode. Toei can be quite janky, especially on “sure things” (see Sailor Moon Crystal, Digimon Tri, the early parts of Dragon Ball Super), so hopefully they put good animators on this one.

  • The Redman: The Kaiju Hunter comic just announced a new antagonist Bemdora, who’s totally based on the original Bemular (as in the original concept for Ultraman) design. Kudos to Matt Frank for reviving that deep cut, and in a way more organic than the ULTRAMAN manga’s doing!
  • Chris of the Kaiju Kingdom Podcast was at DesignerCon, and noticed that Mondo has a line of Pulgasari toys upcoming! I really wonder how licensing works for that batch.

  • A poster for the four-part “Daikaiju Gomera vs Kamen Yaiba” storyline in Detective Conan next month:

  • The Evangelion train may be gone in real life now, but at least it’s still showing up in the Shinkalion movie:

  • An ad for the Kamen Rider Zero One movie:

  • The Island of Giant Insects got a live-action promo:

  • Viz is releasing Junji Ito’s short story collection Venus in the Blind Spot in August. It’s a little concerning that they’re advertising it as including “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”, since that was already included in their release of Gyo, and I hope we don’t get too much redundancy among the collections that they put out.
  • As a no-brainer cross-promotion, Zombie Land Saga is being used to promote Zombieland: Double Tap in Japan.

  • Finally, a new ad for next year’s Sorcerous Stabber Orphen remake. I hope it does well enough to see some other “vintage” light novels get pulled out for revivals, too.

That’s a wrap for the moment; until later! I promise that the next post will probably not be as delayed as Godzilla vs. Kong.

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Two-week news recap: Godzilla turns 65 in style

November 3rd was Godzilla’s 65th birthday, and it was a wild Godzilla Festival in Tokyo this year.

  • The Nijigen no Mori theme park, best known for ziplines and a replica of the village from Naruto, is adding a life-size Shin Godzilla attraction. This looks like a pretty fun day trip for folks staying in the Kansai area, but I don’t know if anything will top Universal’s Godzilla vs Evangelion ride.

  • Professional cosplayer Enako got to make gijinka an official part of Godzilla marketing with her “Enagodzilla” exhibit and merchandise.

  • I thought Symphogear XD Unlimited couldn’t get any more awesome after that SSSS.Gridman crossover…now it’s got Godzilla showing up in game!

  • Several directors got on stage and discussed the movies that they had wanted to make. Bagan never really goes away…

  • There’s…whatever this is:

  • A Godziban live show:

  • Also, Godziban got an English dub, for one episode, at least.

Other neat stuff:

  • Mandarake is opening up a Sofubi specialist store. If you have the funds, swing by and pick up one of their ugly original Megagorilla figures.

  • We now have a video for the Osomatsu brothers meeting Pennywise as promotion for It Chapter 2.

  • A trailer for Dino Girl Gauko:

  • Finally, a trailer for the upcoming remake of The Grudge. Or, re-re-remake?

That’s a wrap for this week, until next time!

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Maser Patrol podcast episode 45: We’ve got the seasonal Blus…

On this episode of the podcast, Kevin, Justin, and Byrd sit down to discuss some of the exciting recent tokusatsu home video releases from Criterion, Mill Creek, Discotek, Section23, SRS, Shout Factory, Arrow, Kino Lorber, and Synapse. We also go into the overall home video market landscape, distribution, why we still collect physical media, and the convoluted history that Godzilla has had on North American home video.

Direct download

Show notes:

There are other cool new titles out there, from Legend of the Demon Cat to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I think we hit the major tokusatsu releases. Hopefully this helps someone to make good decisions with their holiday shopping, add to their personal collection, or just feel more educated about the products for knowledge’s sake!

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Slow news week recap

Not a whole lot to report for the past couple of weeks, but here goes nevertheless.

  • Starting on a sad note, RIP Hiroshi Sagae. He had a lot of fantastic ideas, and was always an enthusiastic and friendly fellow, and it seems like he left far too soon. The silver lining is that his Gotouchi Kaiju project will continue without him, so his legacy will live on.

  • In happier news, SSSS.Gridman finally has a north American Blu-ray release incoming in January. There’s a standard edition and a deluxe one with an art book. It’s hard to say if that’ll justify the additional price for those who already have Japanese art books, but at least the deluxe one actually has Gridman on the cover.

  • Speaking of Gridman, the spinoff manga Hime & Samurai and Neon Genesis Junior High Student Diary just started. There are honestly too many spinoff manga for this franchise to keep track of them all!

  • Lupin III has threatened to steal Godzilla’s “treasure” in time for the kaiju’s 65th anniversary on November 3rd. I feel compelled to point out that the new Lupin movie, Lupin III the First, is directed by Takashi Yamazaki, a Godzilla fan who also included Godzilla in Always Sunset on Third Street part 2, though there’s also a new TV special with the legendary phantom thief.

  • Netflix has an upcoming children’s show titled Dino Girl Gauko, about a girl who can turn into a dinosaur when she gets upset. Seems like a fun enough premise…. I wonder if she’s related to the heroine of Kaiju Girl Caramelise?

  • Not sure about Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 based on this trailer, but it is interesting to see the franchise’s continuous evolution.

  • Speaking of other artist’s takes on Hyakkimaru, Rumiko Takahashi did a poster for Festival d’Angoulême that covers him and several other classics. It’s neat to think about how each of these titles may have inspired her work.

  • Yu Yu Hakusho‘s Yusuke is getting Nendoroid treatment. I wonder if they feasibly could do something like that with Toguro, seeing as how his head is so very small?

  • A promotional collaboration is underway for It with Mr. Osomatsu, because…yeah, I got nothing. This is way weirder than the Osomatsu/Ultraman collab.

That’s a wrap for this edition; until next time!

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Mid-month news recap

Time for a quick recap of some of the interesting happenings in tokusatsu and anime in the past couple of weeks:

  • Tsuburaya’s latest Ultra Fight series, Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes, is looking pretty interesting on a couple of fronts. First, it’s being streamed weekly on YouTube with both English subtitles and an English dub (it’s ironic that these seem much more available in dubbed format than any of the Ultraman TV series).
    Secondly, it features Ultraman Ribut, who previously has only appeared in animated form in a few episodes of the Malaysian cartoon Upin & Ipin. I love how the Ultraman franchise is so willing to incorporate its more seemingly apocryphal content into the main continuity; I can’t think of any other franchise that’s so integrated.

  • After a successful release of the first two Deep Sea Monster movies from Shinpei Hayashiya, SRS has announced that they also licensed the third, Deep Sea Monster Raiga vs Volcano Beast Ohga. This is quite exciting, as there’s no Japanese home video release yet, and this movie was directly inspired by US fandom (including cameos by Kaijucast’s Kyle Yount and Kaiju Gaiden’s Mark Jaramillo).
    I would encourage them to translate the credits and center the subtitles this time, though.

  • A new monster has been revealed for the upcoming (as of yet untitled) MonsterVerse comic that leads into Godzilla vs. Kong. They’re going with “Camazotz”, which, being a traditional deity name, suggests some stylistic continuity between this and King of the Monsters. So far the comics always seem to muddy the continuity more than clarify anything, so we’ll see if this continues the trend.

  • There’s a new Chinese giant monster movie announced called Spiders, which will be confusing, especially since there’s already giant monster movies titled Spiders (2000) and Spiders 3D (2013).

  • Hit science fiction/horror franchise The Promised Neverland is getting a live-action adaptation. The characters have been aged-up significantly from the source material (a 19 year-old actress for a character that’s 11?), which removes a lot of the impact, and I don’t think is a great idea.

  • Ultramechatron Team Go looks like another edgy Power Rangers parody, to go down with Mighty Moshin Emo Rangers, Gigabots, Mystic Cosmic Patrol, Meet the Putties, Power/Rangers, etc. (Not that Japan has any shortage of similar Sentai parodies…)

  • Gen Urobuchi has a new mecha series titled Obsolete for YouTube Premium starting in December.  Presumably this means that it won’t get a physical release, but I’m not particularly familiar with YouTube Premium’s business model.

  • Mappa’s Dorohedoro series has drawn my attention in a way that the manga never did, but since it was licensed by Netflix I assume we won’t see it stateside for at least a year.

  • Drifting Dragons is also a Netflix acquisition, for those who want to watch a dragon-themed cooking show.

  • Netflix is also producing a new Masaaki Yuasa series (Devilman Crybaby did make quite a splash), this one based on Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks. It’ll be interesting to see how Japan Sinks 2020 compares to the 1973 Submersion of Japan movie and Shinji Higuchi’s 2006 Japan Sinks adaptation. Maybe if it’s popular enough, someone will release the original movie in English?

That’s a wrap for the time being; we’ll see what the upcoming weeks bring.

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Halloween Hijinks: Kaiju Horror

I was racking my brain trying to think of what to do for this year’s Halloween Hijinks, since we’ve already discussed Japanese media depictions of most of the staples: vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, yokai, and Lovecraft creations, plus horror anime. Before I resigned myself to watching half a dozen Japanese invisible man flicks, Nick Driscoll made a wise suggestion, that so long as I have kaiju on the brain 99% of the time anyway, this might be a fine time to run through some of the spookiest daikaiju horror material on the market, so here we are.

Now, this is hardly new ground to cover, since there’s a sizable overlap in monster fans and horror fans. Most horror outlets cover kaiju on occasion, and there’s been a panel or two at G-Fest covering the subject of horror (I recall a particularly great one with Jörg Buttgereit), so I don’t think I need to cover the real basics… everyone already knows about the grotesque transformations in Shin Godzilla, the human bodies dissolving away to skeletons in Godzilla vs. Hedorah, the implacable undead Godzilla of Giant Monsters All-out Attack, the found-footage survival horror of Cloverfield, or the colossal, man-eating creatures of War of the Gargantuas, Attack on Titan, and the 90s Gamera trilogy.

Instead, let’s talk about a few examples a little more off the beaten path. These shouldn’t be huge revelations for long-time kaiju nuts, but for casual fans looking for something to scare up their Halloween season or horror junkies who’re looking to diversify their kaiju portfolios beyond the basics, there might be a title or two worth checking out.

Redman

This first example is cheating…kind of. See, Redman started off as a children’s show in 1972, basically as an extremely low-rent superhero program in the vein of Ultraman. It was super cheap, so instead of filming on sets with miniature cities, the show was filmed out in the wilderness. This is key to how Redman became a bit of a meme and saw a resurgence in recent years: because the monsters aren’t threatening anyone, and there’s no dialogue in the show, it appears to be a series just about a man in a mask showing up an slaughtering creatures that aren’t hurting anyone. Some of the shots are even framed like something out of Friday the 13th.

It probably doesn’t help that the “hero” also has a tendency to chase after the monsters that are running away from him, keep hitting monsters when they’re down, or that he essentially fights with a machete, either. Basically every shot in the show feels like you’re witnessing a murder.

Also by nature of being a cheap show, the monster suits are often in rough shape, adding to the sense that something is fundamentally wrong with what you’re watching. Seriously, what happened to Kanegon?!

Fandom latched onto the idea that Redman was basically a sociopathic slasher, and Tsuburaya is never one to let a merchandising opportunity pass. The character has since shown up in stage shows where Ultramen have to stop him from attacking peaceful monsters, on t-shirts with blood-stained logos, and most recently, in Matt Frank’s excellent ongoing comic series Redman: The Kaiju Hunter, which delves deeper into the unsettling world that the series never elaborates on.

Redman episode 1 on YouTube

Redman: The Kaiju Hunter volume 1 on Amazon

 

Creature! (AKA Hakaiju) by Shingo Honda

Shingo Honda’s brutal survivalist monster manga takes place in a town completely overrun by a wide variety of abominations, from the smaller human-sized threats, all the way up to well…bigger.

The creature designs alone are certainly nightmare-fuel, but the horror covered in the series is diverse, ranging from the graphically violent monster-eating-people action, to body horror as humans are infected with monster elements, to good old-fashion human-on-human inhumanity. The manga gets crazier as it goes along, with elements of government conspiracy and apocalyptic sequences reminiscent of Evangelion and Devilman.

The series ran for 21 volumes from 2010 to 2017 (only 19 volumes have been released to Kindle as of this writing, though you can read the first 13 as a self-contained story), and it also inspired a short live-action promotional prequel, which makes up the first two minutes of this video:

Creature! volume 1 at Amazon

 

Henge (2011, dir Hajime Ohata)

Since the promo for Creature! had an ad at the end for Henge, I figure that’s a good segue. I’ve written about this movie before, both in Kaiju for Hipsters and an error-filled blog post from when I first saw it, but this The Fly/Tetsuo-inspired body-horror piece is described by the director as a “love story between husband and wife”, since it’s about a wife who helps her husband eat people as he’s increasingly taken over by possibly-demonic (?) forces. He gets pretty gnarly towards the end:

It’s worth bringing up in the kaiju context due to the final sequence, where he grows enormous and goes through a rampage through Tokyo. The effects scenes were clearly done on a budget, but Kiyotaka Taguchi’s creative framing (and some nice blood splatter) make it fun enough to watch.

Henge streaming on Amazon

 

Kagewani

A moody paranormal investigation anime in the mold of The X-Files, each eight-minute episode is relatively crudely animated (basically one step up from Yamishibai), but has a great art style that lends itself to amping up the tension. The format is at first glance monster-of-the-week, with a professor who specializes in kaiju traveling the world while learning about a variety of creepy cryptids (ranging from dinosaurs to man-assimilating jellyfish to Tremors-ish land worms), but there is an underlying plot running throughout involving his backstory with the titular “shadow crocodile” and an organization that intends to weaponize the monsters. Since the episodes are short, each of the 13-episode seasons will go by briskly, and the stories never overstay their premise.

Watch Kagewani on Crunchyroll

 

7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano

Nominally based on Hal Clement’s 1950 science fiction novel Needle, this 2008 manga series has a lot in common with Ultraman the Next, in that a bad alien comes to earth and starts absorbing various lifeforms into a fleshy collective, while a good alien pursues it and fuses with our protagonist. Much like the amorphous blob that Tetsuo becomes in Akira, the amalgamated meat monster in this is probably not something you’ll be seeing in action figure form any time soon.

7 Billion Needles volume 1 on Amazon

 

Higanjima: Escape from Vampire Island

While the manga Higanjima by Koji Matsumoto is about people trying to survive an island full of vampires, there’s no shortage of other grotesque monstrosities that show up along the way, as the vampires tend to mutate into other nasty things.

The manga inspired a 2009 live-action movie, which is currently available in the US from Funimation, and not a bad watch.

For the most part, the movie sticks to mundane vampires, but the kaiju connection in this film is a big beast that shows up at the end for a climactic battle. It doesn’t go quite as wild as the manga, but it was still early in the story when the movie was made.

There’s also a 2013 Higanjima TV series, which led into a second theatrical movie, Higanjima Deluxe (Nirvana Island: The Last 47 Days). This one has a lot more monster action and some really grotesque looking creatures (think giant Street Sharks covered in eyeballs), but sadly neither that TV series or this film have been made available in English.

Buy Higanjima: Escape from Vampire Island at Amazon

 

Devilman Lady

Much like how the original 1972 Devilman anime only sort of took rough concepts from the concurrent manga, the 1998 gender-flipped Devilman Lady is only a loose translation of its own, from Go Nagai’s 1997 Devilman Lady manga. The anime is from excellent director (and noted kaiju fan) Toshiki Hirano (Iczer 1, Dangaioh, Godzilla 1990, Rayearth), so the first difference that’ll leap out at folks who did read the Devilman Lady manga (aside from the fact that there’s a fair deal less rape in the anime) is that our heroine has a tendency to turn Ultraman-sized to fight a lot of the monsters of the week.

It’s rather the same setup as the original Devilman at the end of the day: Rather than following schoolboy Akira Fudoh, who gets possessed by a demon and goes out hunting other demons with the help of his crazy quasi-boyfriend Ryo Asuka, this series follows model Jun Fudoh, who gets possessed by a demon and goes out hunting other demons with the help of her crazy quasi-girlfriend Lan Asuka. Lots of gore, tragedy, and crazy plot twists ensue (spoilers for an almost half-century-old comic?), so if you’re a fan of the original manga, or the Devilman Crybaby series on Netflix, I’d certainly suggest giving this anime a spin.

Watch Devilman Lady on Amazon Prime

 

Gyō by Kazuo Umezu

Gyō is a manga about a giant fish monster by Kazuo Umezz (Drifting Classroom, Cat Eyed Boy), not to be confused with Gyo, which is a giant fish monster manga by Junji Ito (we could talk about that one, but it’s gross). Umezz is a legend in the horror manga community, having inspired the likes of Ito and trained the likes of Rumiko Takahashi, and in the kaiju space he’s be known for his characteristically disturbing take on Ultraman. However, he also has a somewhat well-known short 1971 kaiju-centric manga, and that’s what we’ll talk about here. There are rumors that the manga may have been inspired by an unused concept from Ultra Q, as one of the unmade episodes was “Pagos vs. Gyo”, and a monster named Kaigyo (“strange fish”) did show up in one Ultra Q monster list in Shonen Magazine.

Anyway, the story itself is pretty simple, that of a bullied child who befriends a weird fish when he can’t make other pals. The kid gets sick, the parents blame the fish and throw it away. Decades later, it’s huge and comes back looking for his friend.

It also destroys the then-new Fukushima reactor, which might be awkward to view in a modern context, or might just play into the long-lasting relationship between that site and the kaiju genre.

Of course, the real sign that Gyō has a lasting kaiju legacy, several vinyl figures have been produced:

Unfortunately, Gyō is not available in English at the time of this writing.

 

Series Kaiju Ward: Gyaras

There was a lot of buzz for this exciting original series for Toei’s Tokusatsu Fan Club streaming platform, however, it’s not currently clear whether it’ll be a series at all: the first episode debuted back in February and there’s been no further news about it (there’s even a Twitter account tracking the days since it dropped). What it appears to be about (based on the episode that did air) is smug jerks getting their karmic comeuppance in monster form, as the pilot has a playboy jerk get stalked by a giant crow, all the doing of a mysterious traveling saleswoman. So far so good, but I wish they would make more of it.

There’s no North American release for Gyaras (or “Gallas”, as it’s better known), but MegaBeast Empire is fansubbing it.

 

Gantz by Hiroya Oku

Hiroya Oku’s brutal survival horror/sci-fi action series Gantz is an institution, with 37 volumes, a three volume spin-off, live action films, video games, an anime TV series, and more. The premise is that after death, certain individuals don’t go to the afterlife, but have a chance to win their lives back by battling various dangerous alien creatures using high-tech weaponry. The aesthetics are cool, the enemies are memorable, and the constantly rotating cast keeps the stakes high and will really lead you to cheer in the heroic moments and wallow in the crushing defeats.

I think that the best way to experience the series is to read the manga start to finish, but not everyone has time for that. As a compromise, there is a nicely done CGI movie that will give a flavor of the premise while also loosely adapting the popular Osaka arc from the manga: Gantz: O. It’s got both evil yokai and Pacific Rim-style giant robot battles (and a giant monster made of naked ladies)!

Oku’s latest manga Gigant also has some tense scenes of giant humanoids attacking Tokyo, but it’s more of an Ultraman pastiche-meets-romance (giant porn star!) than an action horror series.

Buy Gantz omnibus 1 on Amazon

Watch Gantz: O on Netflix

 

King of Thorn by Yuji Iwahara

Surprise, another manga about a group of people cut off from civilization struggling to survive and being hunted by monsters! Yeah, this seems to be a recurring motif in kaiju-related horror. King of Thorn sees survivors of a rare disease coming out of cryogenic freeze unexpectedly, only to find that the lab they were in is overgrown with vines and there are dinosaurs and other strange beasts roaming the area. I was already on board with that post-apocalyptic premise, but the plot keeps clever twists coming in a way such that you can never quite predict where it’s heading. The manga version does feature giant monsters arising all over the globe towards the end, but the movie adaptation concentrates that down into only the titular King of Thorn, a dragon made of vines:

The 2010 movie adaptation does condense a lot from the six volumes of source material, and loses a fair deal in the process (including many monsters), but it’s still a gorgeous picture (CGI aside) that restructures the plot in a way that will keep even fans of the manga guessing. Also, the soundtrack is fantastic.

Buy King of Thorn (manga) volume 1 on Amazon

Buy King of Thorn (movie) on Amazon

 

Honorable mentions:

  • Godzilla in Hell – does what it says in the title
  • Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds – Toei’s Jaws-inspired killer cryptid pic
  • Neo Ultra Q – probably the most off-putting of Ultra Q titles
  • Ki-gai – a four-episode monster show culminating in a kaiju climax
  • Giant Monster – a comic from 30 Days of Night‘s Steve Niles
  • Shibuya Goldfish – even more killer fish in this manga, this time attacking the heart of Tokyo
  • Island 731 – the Island of Doctor Moreau-inspired lead-in to the Project Nemesis “Kaiju Thriller” novel series
  • Koujin – the titular creature in this samurai flick is Shin Godzilla-level creepy looking
  • Hellstar Remina – I felt like I needed to mention something by Junji Ito, so can a killer planet count?

Caveat: Island of Giant Insects

Crunchyroll licensed Island of Giant Insects months ago, but still isn’t streaming it, and I can probably guess why: much like High School of the Dead, it pretty much pornographically fetishizes its gruesome kill sequences. Even hardened gorehounds cringe at this blend of violence and sex, so be prepared for that if you decide to check it out.

 

On that note, that’ll be a wrap. Hopefully this has been helpful in expanding your creepy kaiju horizons. Until next time, Happy Halloween!

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At long last, a news recap!

Long time, no post! It’s a busy time to be an otaku, as this last week saw the North American theatrical releases of Tokyo Ghoul S, Takashi Miike’s First Love, and Promare, which are all pretty fun (well, Promare was a tad cliche, but a lot of other folks really dig it). More broadly, since the last news recap, the solid Ultraman Taiga and Kamen Rider Zero One have started, the stellar Astral Chain dropped, and Discotek’s release of Juspion, not to mention the ridiculous hype that Symphogear XV has been dealing each week. But, bloggers gotta blog, so let’s take a look at some neat developments since last we recapped!

  • The coolest thing to happen while I was out was the premiere of the Gojiban series on YouTube. The result of that Gemstone competition from a few months ago, it’s a weekly puppet show in the style of GekiGoji, and it being easily available on YouTube is a blessing. (Aside from UNFIX it may be my favorite YouTube tokusatsu series.)

  • The most unexpected bit of news was that Toho’s Snow Man, banned from home video release for decades, is somehow getting an extremely limited Blu-ray release in Germany. It’s being put out by Marumi HighVision, who strangely don’t mention the controversy surrounding the movie in their post, but do call it a Gamera flick (?)

  • Unexpected in a completely different way: Hellboy taking part in Japanese pro wrestling, promoting the new movie’s Japanese release. There was also a crossover promotion between Hellboy and Devilman.

  • Mill Creek’s Ultraman releases are going to be coming fast and furious, according to this leaflet that’s circulating on social media. Reality looks just slightly off from it so far, with Geed and Orb coming in November, but Ultraseven in December. Walmart will have the Geed and Orb movies separately, if for some reason that’s all you want.

  • Toshiki Inoue is writing a Kamen Rider 555 spinoff manga about Kaixa, titled Kamen Rider 913. It’ll be interesting to see whether he’s as big a jerk in the manga as he is in the show; potentially entertaining if so.

  • SRS has licensed Attack of the Giant Teacher, doing the same thing that they did for Reigo and Raiga, releasing it on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. This is pretty fast, considering how the film premiered at G-Fest two months ago and only hit Japanese theaters last week; funny how low-budget independent movies get US releases so much more smoothly than bigger-budget Japanese effects films.

  • Minoru Kawasaki has a new kaiju flick on the horizon, whose English title is either Monster Seafood Wars (according to publicist Avery Guerra) or the more literal translation Three Monsters Gourmet (according to the crowdfunding campaign for the movie). The publicity linking the movie’s concept to Eiji Tsuburaya’s unused pre-Godzilla giant octopus movie pitch is a nice touch.
    The concept art looks like the movie might reuse suits from The Calamari Wrestler and Crab Goalkeeper, but we’ll see…also, it’s supposed to get a manga adaptation in Web Comic Gamma!

  • Another new ad for the Thunderbolt Fantasy movie:

  • By the way, if you’re craving something else along the lines of Thunderbolt Fantasy, another Pili show, War of Dragons, is on Netflix. If you watch just one puppet show on Netflix this year…well, make it The Dark Crystal, but if you watch another, you could do worse than War of Dragons.

  • Junji Ito’s Uzumaki is getting an anime miniseries adaptation for Adult Swim. The Junji Ito Collection got a lot of flak for adapting the hyper-detailed look of Ito’s manga to animation, so it’ll be interesting to see how this is received.

  • Detective Conan is getting a four-episode arc about a murder mystery taking place on a film set for “Daikaiju Gomera vs. Kamen Yaiba”. Both the kaiju spoof and the hero pastiche have featured in the anime before, but this is notably the longest arc to feature either…possibly worth lumping together and considering as a movie?

  • I was late to the party on Peter Tieryas’s Seiun Award-winning alternate-history dystopian scifi novel series United States of Japan, but they’re pretty interesting. The third part, Cyber Shogun Revolution, was announced for March.

  • Shudder added One Cut of the Dead, so if you haven’t checked out what the fuss is about, just watch it.

On that note, let’s call it a wrap for now. Hopefully the next news recap comes a little more quickly than this one did…otherwise I’ll have to start planning for Halloween. But, only time will tell what the world of Japanese-style genre fiction has in store for us in October.

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Maser Patrol podcast episode 44: Kevin and Amanda’s Bizarre Japan Adventure

On this episode of the podcast, Kevin’s in Japan, and with the help of local guide Amanda, we talk about all the neat pop-culturey stuff we got to see and do.

Direct download

Photos after the jump. Continue reading

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Quick news recap

I had a few spare minutes today, so here are some neat things that either came up in the previous week, or I simply neglected to mention last time.

  • The big news of the week is that Anno and Higuchi are teaming up with Tsuburaya and Toho for Shin Ultraman. The move makes sense given Anno’s obsession with the franchise and the phenomenal success of Shin Godzilla, but I’m surprised that they announced the film that’s this far out (2021), including the main cast already.
    It’s an interesting batch of dramatic actors who have just dabbled in effects pictures a little bit, including Takumi Saito (who was also in Shin Godzilla, but also Space Battleship Yamato and several Yoshihiro Nishimura projects), Masami Nasagawa (who played Mothra fairies in the Millennium series, and was in Pyrokinesis, Bleach, Gintama, I am a Hero, and Kingdom), and Hidetoshi Nishijima (who was in… Casshern, I guess. He was also the dub voice of Pikachu in the Japanese release of Detective Pikachu).
    It’ll be interesting to see how this movie develops!
  • Despite the prolonged dormancy of the Gamera franchise, the turtle recently popped up as a card in the Bahamut Greed mobile card game.

  •  Pacific Rim now has a theme park attraction coming in Indonesia, “Shatterdome Strike” at Trans Studio Cibubur. Jakarta is a long way away, so it’d be nice if they could replicate this at other parts as well.

  • Another trailer for the Blackfox tokusatsu tie-in. I assume we’ll be getting the anime stateside, but the tokusatsu is a harder sell. The official website is bilingual in English, though, which is a good sign.

…or the silly trailer:

  • Arrow is releasing a Ring boxset in October with Ring, Rasen, Ring 2, and Ring 0. Unfortunately, they’re going with the cringey “Ringu” title, despite the fact that they previously released this same set in the UK under the “Ring” title. David Kalat’s commentary alone may make this worth upgrading from the old DVD sets.
    Now if we can just get the entries of the franchise that haven’t been officially brought over….

  • The US trailer for Tokyo Ghoul S, hitting North American theaters in September.

Okay, that’s a wrap. Now to plan vacation for real!

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Last weekly news recap for a bit

I’ve got a couple of busy travel weeks ahead, so it’s possible that there won’t be a news recap for the month of August. Still, it’s a fine time to leave things, as there were a lot of exciting developments in the past week.

  • Starting with the thing that’s got everyone buzzing, details were announced for the Criterion spine #1000, Showa Godzilla collection box set. On the negative side, there’s a lot of fuss about the art (Katsuya Terada, Bill Sinkevich, Geof Darrow, and Art Adams are all beyond criticism, but the candy-colored pop art of the Criterion release throws some off), the use of Toho transfers (rather than Criterion going straight to film elements as they often do), the lack of dubs on many of the included movies, and very little new commentary (no new audio commentary). On the other hand, this is a steal compared to importing the Japanese releases, it does have some new special features (unused special effects reel!), and it’s probably the only time the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla will ever get a US release. Hardcore fans sometimes forget that not everyone already has all the previous releases of the movies, and having them together like this has been something on North American wishlists since the dawn of home video. (Including Criterion, who even tried to pull off something similar in the small scale back in the laserdisc days, so shut it, film snobs upset that this makes the first case of overlap between Criterion and MST3k!) So, even if it’s not the release to end all releases, it’s not a horrible package by a long shot. (Now, when are we gonna get a 100 Shot, 100 Killed box set?)

  • Discotek announced that they’ll be releasing the first season of Symphogear on Blu-ray next year! Ironically, the stream of the announcement on YouTube was immediately taken down due to a copyright strike from King Records, but that just goes to show how guarded the license can be for the musical magical girl battle series, and what a feat it was for them to finally get some US home video distribution. So, support the official release when it’s available, and watch it on Crunchyroll until then.

  • Also, reminder that Reigo: The Deep Sea Monster vs. the Battleship Yamato and The Deep Sea Monster Raiga are now available for preorder from SRS Cinema. Weirdly, the original titles are present, but only on the VHS (!) editions, while the Blu-rays have been updated to the more King of the Monsters-exploitation friendly Reigo: King of the Sea Monsters and Raiga: God of the Monsters. I’m digging this BD cover art, though.

  • The new Garo movie, Gekko no Tabibito also hits in October, and, in preparation for this, the Garo YouTube page has been uploading episodes of Makai no Hana for free viewing (in raw Japanese, no subtitles). The movie, no surprise, looks good, but the poster is particularly intriguing given some unexpected faces on it.

  • Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D, Crawl)  is apparently adapting Tomie for the streaming service Quibi. On one hand, this makes sense, as the last major Japanese horror franchise to never get adapted for Hollywood, but on the other, it was always a little weird (and misogynistic) for western sensibilities. The Quibi platform, however, sounds lame, with eight-minute episodes targeting short attention spans…not great for building suspense.
  • Speaking of short-form shows, the Ultraman YouTube channel will be adding Ultra Galaxy Fight: New Generation Heroes in English starting in September. These shows tend to be for Ultraman completists, but hey, it’s free.

  • Speaking of Ultraman dubbers, there’s a new William Winckler project with Takeshi Yagi. Wonder what they’re working on?
  • Zombieland Saga has been renewed for a second season, titled Zombieland Saga Revenge. It was a popular show that left things on several hanging plot threads, so this is no great surprise.

Well, that’s a wrap for this week, and possibly until the end of next month. We shall see!

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RIP Greg Shoemaker (1947-2019)

One of the best movies I stumbled across to cover when I was writing Kaiju for Hipsters was War of the Wizards. It’s not a difficult movie to find, by any stretch of the imagination, but generally speaking, you just don’t hear kaiju fans discussing it nowadays. So, sometimes people ask how it even got on my radar, and I have to say: I read about it in an issue of The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, which was written before I was even born.

It’s amazing that even in this age of Wikipedia and Google, one can still find such fresh insights from a fanzine that ran between 1968 and 1984, yet the archives available still deliver coverage of under-discussed lost-to-time gems, along with  numerous hot takes on classics as they were coming out in real time. It’s wild to think about, but the little Ohio-based zine was quite a pioneer, inspiring the likes of G-Fan, Monster Attack Team, Markalite, Oriental Cinema, Japanese Giants, and a whole host of anime mags, not to mention the websites that followed…it even preceded Japanese genre magazines such as Kaiju Club, Uchuusen, and Hobby Japan!

A lot of the tentpole members of English-language Japanese genre fandom started with TJFFJ, either directly or indirectly, reading or writing for writer/editor Greg Shoemaker, so the news of his passing this week is hitting the community pretty hard. So, here’s to a trailblazer, father of organized Japanese fantastic film fandom and publisher of a magazine that set a high standard for all that was to follow.

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G Fest XXVI Panel: Nessie – The Kaiju that Hammer Loched Away

Here’s a video of one of the panels I was on at G-Fest this year. The camera is aimed more at the panelists than it is at the screen with our visual aids (including both concept art and newly-commissioned art that Greg had done for the panel), but you can still get most of the information from what we’re saying.

Otherwise, you can always just follow along in the slides here.

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Monstrous G-Fest summary and news recap

Back from a very busy G-Fest! It was wild with many panels to do, and several more to attend, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • The upcoming video game Dawn of the Monsters was announced. You can see a whole panel about it here (and also Alex’s excellent history of kaiju video games panel here), but the game looks like a lot of fun and I look forward to trying out the completed version.
    According to the press release:

    Dawn of the Monsters is a couch co-op, brawling action game that takes up to four players on a worldwide tour of destruction. Players take on roles from an all new cast of kaiju and are tasked with defeating the “Nephilim”, a horde of monsters that are destroying the planet. Conquer four unique worlds and unlock The Maw, an endless onslaught of kaiju brawls. Featuring beautiful 2.5D graphics inspired by the works of Mike Mignola, combat inspired by classics from the action and fighting game genres, and fully destructible environments, couch co-op in Dawn of the Monsters is bigger and badder than ever before.

Then there was the film festival:

  • Notzilla is a goofy parody film, rife with puns, fourth wall gags, and lampooning of the 1950s. Some of the jokes will make you groan, some will make you chuckle, but they come at a fast enough clip that you’ll be able to have a good time.  The movie has been in limbo since 2010, so it’s pretty cool that it finally got completed and had some sort of release. (Couldn’t find a trailer, so have a suit test.)

  • Howl from Beyond the Fog was supposedly 90% done last year, but the version screened this year was still a preliminary cut. Needless to say, what screened looked great. There was no voice acting, which does kind of work with the 1909 setting of the movie, but I think I’d be the minority that wouldn’t find it so off-putting (I watch too many puppet shows, I guess), especially since there’s already a theme of blindness running through the film. It sounds like they might be able to include The Fog Horn as a special feature when this gets released; fingers crossed!

  • Yagon the Water Monster is on YouTube in its entirety now, so you can watch it for yourself:

  • Attack of the Giant Teacher was off-putting to some of the audience, since there’s basically no tokusatsu in the first hour of the movie. However (perhaps because I saw the second half first) the story of a teacher at a closing school trying to make life better for his students and put on one last school festival was still fun, if more Linda Linda Linda than Ultraman. Fun fact: the monster in the movie was just salvaged from a props room at Toho, where it was laying around unused.

  • The Great Buddha Arrival was wild, best described by Kyle Byrd as “like David Lynch made an Asylum film.” Contrary to reports of it being a remake of the lost 1934 movie, it’s one of those meta works positing that the 1934 film was based on true events and the main character is a reporter searching for the “true story” behind it. There is a parade of celebrity cameos, and some laugh-out-loud gags, but also a trippy black-&-white sequence about suicide and lamentations of tragedy, with a lot of whiplash as you never know what to expect next. Just as the main character wonders “what does it all mean”, the audience is also pulled through a haunting phantasmagoria of weighty imagery, so I’d very much like to hear from the director about the creative process was for this movie. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were still pretty surprised.

Finally Kaneko brought his movie Linking Love, which was essentially Back to the Future with a genie instead of a DeLorean. It was a fun romcom with several callbacks to Kaneko’s career (including a Urusei Yatsura sequence), but the side effect was that it got several of my friends addicted to AKB48 music, so caveat emptor.

With all that said and done, let’s take a look at what all happened news-wise while we were away:

  • As great as the Ultraman news is, there’s also bad news: we’ve suspected for months that the Hasbro acquisition on Power Rangers would affect Shout Factory’s Super Sentai DVD releases, and it appears that is true. It was nice while it lasted, and hopefully they’re able to turn that around someday and get the remaining seasons released.
  • In other “bad for media” news, Harmony Gold somehow managed to renew their Macross license. Fans were literally counting down the days until that expired so someone else could get their hands on the IP, but I guess that’s not happening now.
  • Criterion’s 1000th numbered release is shaping up to be a box set of the Showa Godzilla features, if all is to be believed. There was an announcement at G-Fest to expect an official word on that soon, but some places already have it up for preoder.

  • Meanwhile, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is getting its home video release on August 27, with a nice assortment of special features including deleted scenes and director commentary (the digital release is August 6, which is a little awkward considering the movie’s pro-nuke message). Also, Detective Pikachu on August 6.

  • Publicity is ramping up for Kamen Rider 01, and wow, I have not liked a main rider design this much in a long, long while. Hopefully the show lives up to it.

  • Doraemon’s next movie will be Nobita’s New Dinosaur, a riff on the 1980 flick Nobita’s Dinosaur (the first Doraemon movie) and its 2006 remake.

  • Toei has a short movie titled Jurassic! coming next month.

  • It looks like the final rebuild movie for Evangelion is actually hitting next summer. Let’s see if they actually resolve anything this time….

Or maybe they’ll just have another collaboration with Battle Cats?

  • A trailer for Kaiju Step, which starts September 27. Being a short anime for children, I wouldn’t hold my breath on seeing any sort of release for it outside Japan.

  • Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution is coming next February. This is still a little soon after the disappointment of Digimon Adventure tri, but we’ll see if it’s truly the “last” one.

  • Human Lost is getting a global release in October/November. This means theaters, according to Funimation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go to Netflix in a hurry after that.

  • Katsuhiro Otomo has a new movie in the works with Sunrise, titled Orbital Era. He’s also doing a new Akira animated series at some point, and that terribly-sounding Hollywood remake of Akira is back on hiatus again.

  • Sound & Fury does not appear to be based on the William Faulkner novel.

  • Takashi Yamazaki is doing a Lupin III movie, confusingly titled Lupin III the First.

  • The Russo brothers have the rights to adapt a movie version of Battle of the Planets, which really just makes me sad that the awesome-looking Imagi Gatchaman movie did not come to fruition.

Lastly, if you haven’t heard about the arson at Kyoto Animation, it was heinous. Even if they’re not a studio that you normally follow, consider doing something to contribute to relief efforts.

On that note, we’ll wrap things up until next time. There are still a few G-Fest panels left to post, so keep a look out on the feed!

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G-Fest XXVI panel: Bandai & Tsuburaya

Another panel from this past G-Fest, I joined RJ of BoatsCanFly and Matt of Kaiju Transmissions for a panel talking about how a certain toy company has been influencing the creative process behind the Ultraman franchise.

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G-Fest 2019: Godzilla Anime Trilogy Panel

We never did a proper podcast on the Godzilla anime trilogy, so I sat in on a panel discussing the subject this G-Fest. Not quite my usual format, but for a final panel of a long weekend where nobody knew each other and there was no preparation, I’ve certainly seen worse.

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Maser Patrol podcast episode 43: “Kaiju & Tokusatsu Fandom in Media” at G-Fest XXVI

Of the whopping six panels I did at G-Fest this year, this was the only solo effort. It was the last of three back-to-back presentations, so I was a little frazzled, but hopefully it’s entertaining nevertheless.

Also, Justin was correct about Rolling Bomber Special at the end.

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Quick news recap (no Godzilla this time edition)

With  G-Fest, NYAFF, and other exciting things right around the corner, this may be the last news recap for a while. I’ve already spoken about the numerous exciting movies playing at G-Fest (e.g. Attack of the Giant Teacher, Howl from Beyond the Fog, The Great Buddha Arrival), but NYAFF has some potential gems as well. For example, Hard-Core:

Anyway, on to the news:

  • As if The Asylum’s Monster Island wasn’t transparently riffing on Godzilla: King of Monsters already, the Japanese poster and title made it pretty explicit:

  • A teaser has leaked for the upcoming Monster Hunter movie, which is wild, since it’s over a year away. Anyway, I’ll be there opening day.

  • Netflix’s ULTRAMAN has been renewed for a second season, which will probably catch them all the way up to where the manga is at. Speaking of which, Bandai Premium has a pretty nifty HG figure set coming out with the main cast, though that 70 buck  price tag is a punisher.

  • Speaking of Ultraman, episode 0 of Ultraman Taiga has been posted online in anticipated of the new series.

  • No More Heroes 3 was announced at E3. I can appreciate any trailer with a henshin sequence.

  • George Takei is starring in season 2 of The Terror, which seems to be bringing the J-horror. It’s an anthology season show, so even without seeing the first season, one should be good to jump into season 2.

There are a handful of other little things, like a Golden Kamuy/Spider-man collaboration and a new Cyborg 009 manga, but I figure I’ll just leave it here for now. Happy convention season to all!

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Maser Patrol podcast episode 42: A Legendary Double Feature

In this episode, Kevin, Andy, Josh, Justin, and Matt sit down to chat about Legendary’s new monster movie, co-produced with Toho, that hit theaters last month. The one with the British bad guy, environmental themes, an absentee dad, and Ken Watanabe.

Oh, I guess we talk about two movies.

I recommend both, but if you only care about one movie or the other, we shift topics at the 57 minute mark. Also, the end music came in a little early due to technical difficulties, but you didn’t miss much.

Direct download

Links:

Matt’s Godzilla review on Kaiju Transmissions

Justin’s Godzilla review on Film Find

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Post-Godzilla news recap

Hope everyone enjoyed Godzilla:King of the Monsters! Now we’re in the lead-up to the next big event, G-Fest XXVI in Chicago July 11-14, which is now only a month away. The schedule is up on the website, so if you want to see my panels/presentations, I’m doing a ridiculous six of them this year!

  • Bandai and Tsuburaya (Friday, 2:00 PM, Kennedy) – Join your hosts as they discuss the history between Bandai and Tsuburaya Productions, and how this relationship has affected the Ultraman franchise in recent years.
  • Kaiju Transmissions Podcast Presents: 30 years of Godzilla Vs. Biollante (Friday, 3:00 PM, Ballroom 2) – An in-depth look at the making of the 1989 classic, including unused scripts, the manga adaptation, behind the scenes pictures, and more!
  • Kaiju Fans in Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Kenny (Friday, 4:00 PM, Kennedy) – Ever wonder how movies, TV, or comics would represent the G-FEST demographic? Wonder no more, because this panel covers portrayals of characters who are wild about kaiju and Japanese superheroes, as well as the rise of Japanese “otaku” culture.
  • Heisei Gamera: A Look Back (Saturday, 1:00 PM, Ballroom 1) – In the late 1990s, Shusuke Kaneko released a groundbreaking film trilogy featuring Gamera, the kaiju turtle. With intriguing scripts, interesting characters, and groundbreaking special effects and miniature work, these films became instant fan favorites. Our panelists will discuss all three films of the trilogy and the impact they had on the kaiju genre.
  • Nessie: The Kaiju that Hammer Loched Away (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Ballroom 1) – Much like the Loch Ness Monster, Toho’s late-1970s unmade Hammer-coproduced monster movie, Nessie is a mysterious subject of great speculation. Join our panel as they shine a light on the cryptid sci-fi film, discussing the canceled production and the relationship between Japanese kaiju and cryptozoology.
  • Godzilla Anime Trilogy (3:00 PM, Kennedy) – Planet of Monsters, City on the Edge of Battle, and The Planet Eater. These three animated films were released on Netflix, giving Western fans a chance to see a new and unusual take on their favorite giant monster. The films received mixed reviews; some fans loved them, others hated them. Come hear this panel of fans discuss the pros and cons of the latest Godzilla films to come out of Japan.

Anyway, onto the news! We’ll start Godzilla-focused and transition to some other topics:

  • That Boss Coffee commercial was a total tribute to Haruo Nakajima. It’s pretty great.

  • There’s going to be a new Godzilla card game in the Chrono Clash system. They’re making some interesting choices with the lineup, so hopefully they can expand it with a a wide variety of cards.

  • Mike Dougherty posted one of his early Godzilla fanfilms; he’s come a long way.

  • The Godzilla vs. Evangelion ride at Universal has opened, and it looks like a hoot.

  • A new Ghidorah was introduced for the ride, and amazingly, it got its own figure. Are there any other theme-park based Bandai kaiju figures (with original sculpts) out there? The Kiryu Unit 01 popcorn bucket is also pretty boss.