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.
- 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!