We're still livin'. Livin' in the eighties! We still fight! Fight in the eighties!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Memories Attack the Mind! Beware the Imagining of the Past!

One of the more interesting things about being dead to anime for fifteen years is that, for the most part, everything is new again. Even the old stuff. With the advent of easy subtitling, more access to translations (not to mention, many more people qualified and interested in translating), and more than one or two companies willing to bring stuff over here, even the anime I knew and loved back during the second wave of anime fandom has become more accessable to me.

And that can lead to dangerous side-effects. It's very similar to the warnings that I used to dish out to newbies back in the day when they'd beg and plead to know what the guy in the green hair was yelling at the gal with the big boobs while their respective mecha were self-destructing. All that dialogue. All that drama. All that swelling background music. The explosions. I'd put on my very best Dr. Zaius apeface and channel Maurice Evans best I could. "Don't look for it, Taylor, you may not like what you find."

"They're just making dumb comments about the weather, you idiot!"

More often than not, all that sound and fury could be boiled down to "We're both fucked. And I've always hated you and hope you die and go to hell!" Generally, what was on the screen was what was on the screen. But it always sounds better in our head. That's just human nature mucking with our minds.

Don't believe me? If you can bear it, sit down in front of your TV set and mute the volume during a soap opera and start trying to figure out what Dr. Moron is talking to Nurse Airhead about. Invariably, after two or three minutes, Dr Moron is telling her how much he wants to rip off her tidy whites and do the horizontal booty boogie with her. Unless of course, you're a woman, in which case they're talking about...well, pretty much the same thing except maybe with a glass of champaign and five more minutes of foreplay. Don't deny it, ladies, we're not the gender that writes all that crappy "ship" fiction. Yeah, I went there.

"Wanna Fuck?"
"Sorry, Doctor, but I'm in love with Nurse Hilly."
"Can I watch?"

Nine times out of ten, we just expect too much from shows we love. And that only gets amplified when we can't understand what the characters are saying.  Hell, sometimes it's even amplified when we have a fairly good idea of what they're saying.  Case in point, Hokuto no Ken 2.  Now, back in 1985 or so, I had lengthy phone conversations (along with the humongous bills to prove it) with fans who spoke Japanese to one extent or another over exactly what was going on in this anime we all loved. Well, okay that all seven of us loved.  Finding people willing to devote time and effort to translating this particular show was, to put it mildly, difficult.  The first generation of American anime fen were all into Zeta Gundam by that time.  Or, Patalliro, if they happened to have two XX chromosomes.  So when it came to HnK, I had two options - I could go and bother people like Mary Kennard (who at least had a passing interest in the show and was still learning Japanese at the time) or hope to find a native Japanese fan who was into the thing.  I got lucky on both counts, but that topic deserves a future blog post of its very own.

Anyway, the original run of the Hokuto no Ken anime (up to the death of Raoh) is, on the surface, fairly easy to understand with minimum translation aid - the plot itself is pretty straightforward - the difficulty was always in the mythology and some of the more, shall we say, flowery prose that Buronson employed to depict what was, at its base, a show about a bunch of sweaty, bloody, macho dudes beating the crap out of each other.

 "Sei-Tei Souther This!"

So, once I got connected with folks like Tomoaki Okuzumi and Miyako Graham and started to produce a few (admittedly sparce) bits of translation, that first series became fairly easy for me to follow. Certainly easy enough to explain to the (very) few fans that showed up at cons asking about it or, more rarely, actually asked for copies of the anime from the C/FO-San Antonio tape library.  Helping matters somewhat were the subtitled episodes appearing through Hawaii (and by the grace of one Laurine White of Sacramento, bless her heart and may she live forever), but those translations were extremely simple and the subtitles tended to fade the more copies that were made.  And, believe me, we made a LOT of copies of those.  I'm amazed my tapes of those held up as well as they did.

In any case, we were fairly happy campers when it came to those first 109 episodes - between a core bunch of us, we could pretty much answer most of the questions that came our way and I was feeling pretty good about the chances of turning a few more people onto what I thought was a pretty damn cool show.  We were fat, happy, fanboys eagerly awaiting the rest of this absolutely wonderful excuse for wasting copius amounts of time, just knowing in our heart of hearts that things could only get better.  Yeah, all the girly men were into Saint Seiya (mainly 'cause that's where all the fangirls were) but we were keeping strong the faith, sure that, fifteen years from now, Kenshiro would still be making heads explode and Hokuto no Ken would take its place among the greats, right next to Tetsuwan Atom and Yamato.

"Zippedy-do-da, zippidy aaaaaaa..."

But then a funny thing happened on the way to manga/anime immortality.  Buronson and Tetsuo Hara discovered LSD.  Or the Super Adventure Club. Or the downside of fame.  Or the "Iron Fist of Editorial Sucktitude!" Or something.

Something really, really disappointing.

The phone calls from Tomoaki became more and more confused as he tried to explain to me about Gento and Hokuto Ryuuken and why Captain America was palling around with Bat, Rin and another Rin in an underground cavern.  On that note, what the hell was up with all the caves in Hokuto no Ken 2?  Did Tetsuo Hara use all his money from the first series and take up spelunking as a hobby?!  Tomoaki took to mailing me the Shonen Jump pages right after having read them, as if that would make them somehow easier for me to understand.  Or maybe he was just so disgusted at the way things were going that he didn't want to keep them. After a while, it became fairly clear to me that he was trying his best to have it make sense to himself as he explained it to my addled whiteboy brain - which was a bad sign. A very bad sign.

"You are already confused."

By the time we got over to Shura and Kenshiro was climbing the hill of fighters to get to the demon Rashou and found he had more brothers than Jacob and Joseph (and an adopted sister, as well as four hundred MORE people who saved his life when he was a kid), I started to get the idea that someone or a bunch of someones on the Hokuto home team didn't have their heads in the game anymore.  But the cherry on top of crap mountain was when Kaiou sent Rin away on his horse under the Hokuto Sleeping Beauty spell and everyone in the entire land of Shura knew what was going on.  Except Ken.  It's like Kaiou got his jollies by sending lovestruck women all over the land on a regular basis.  Kinda sick, though it might go a long way to explaining all the brain-dead men in Ken's world and how they managed to propagate.

So, yeah, I lost a lot of enthusiasm over the series as it went on. I kind figured I wasn't the only one. Still, the mythology was intriguing and the whole Hokuto Souken/Ryuuken thing remained fascinating beyond what Tomoaki could manage to explain to me.  I mean, these are the same guys who gave us 14+ manga collections and 100+ anime episodes of excellence, right?  Surely they had some kick-ass explanations for that statue in the cave and the two women with the babies sacrificed to the wolves and why Raoh kept popping up all over the damned place when he died four volumes ago.

So, after my re-awakening a couple weeks back, it was with wide eyes and light heart that I skipped over to watch the subtitled streaming HnK 2 episodes that have appeared on the net in the years while I was sleeping away in blissful ignorance...

"Silly human."

Yeah, pretty much.  It's almost always better in your head.  And in your memories as well.  There's always a risk of mistranslation or, more likely, a certain personal bias that creeps in; a translation "style" if you will.  I recall Miyako Graham's manga translation of the Toki/Raoh fight (my favorite chapter of the manga series) that I asked her to do for me waaaay back when.  I dunno how much was Buronson and how much was Miyako, but the prose read like a Romeo and Juliet/Of Mice and Men mash-up.  I really wish I could find my copy to scan part of it here, but unfortunately it got lost somewhere in the fifteen-year void.  Not that I didn't dig the shit out of it, but I'm afraid that Buronson is probably a lot closer to Tarantino than he is to  Shakespeare and Steinbeck.

The episodes I watched were translated and subtitled by "HeartofMadness," which I assume is, well, a group of fan translators and subtitlers. I'll leave the heavy crit to those out there who have seen other work by this bunch, but by and large, I thought they did a really good job with the episodes I watched.  I'd seen enough fan work back in the day to recognize good effort.  The people who did these, really love the source material.  In some cases, maybe more than it deserves. 

"My Hokuto Ryuuken will smash your Hokuto Souken.
Oh, yeah, and love is for losers."

Don't get me wrong, there are parts of Hokuto no Ken 2 that I still love.  Falco can stand with the better characters of the first series, albeit on one leg.  I thought the whole "Raoh as savior" angle was great, even if they did overplay it.  By the time the HnK 2 anime showed in Japan, my thinking was always that Raoh had overshadowed Kenshiro as the most memorable character from the first series, an opinion backed up by the way they chose to end the feature film. It's interesting to see that the recent film/OVA releases as well as the TV anime from last year (well, okay, two years now) heavily spotlighted Raoh, showing the character is still amazingly popular after all these years.  Kaiou himself was a fairly lame mash of Souther and Raoh, but man, did his introduction scene rock.  I thought the "Kenshiro resurrection" scene in #140 was a slight improvement over the obvious parallel sewer scene during the Souther arc.  The idea of the blood of the old man seeping into the comatose Ken and waking the "spirit of hokuto shinken" or whatever was brilliant.  Hell, Ken doesn't even have to be conscious to handle your basic thugs.  Good stuff.  And, then there was Shachi...

Damn, I have to admit that I hated that character back in the original run.  Absolutely loathed him.  He was a cockier Rei with a lesser voice actor, and even the character arc was similar.  Even after it was apparent where the arc was going, I didn't buy into the rehabilitation of the guy in the way I did with, say, Ein.  It wasn't until Tomoaki sent me the manga (about a month after the episodes aired, which is a bit assbackwards to the way it usually worked) that covered the Shachi/Kaiou Hokuto Souken statue cavern fight that the light bulb went off in my head.

If you've only watched the Hokuto no Ken 2 anime version of that scene, you're really missing out.  Go find the manga. Trust me on this.  It's not bad enough that Buronson and Hara had the guy pluck out his own eye, but remember that line from Kaiou in the anime about breaking Shachi's body?  In the manga, he actually does it - he basically dismembers him, piece by piece during that fight. Arms, legs, pieces of Shachi go here there and everywhere.  Back in the day, my warped mind pictured Buronson and Hara in a bar somewhere, grouching over the fact that the fighting manga genre that they'd spent their sweat and labor on was being slowly taken over by the bishonen boys over in the Saint Seiya corner of the Jump offices.

"We'll show them. Let's take apart our pretty boy, one arm at a time!"

  "Geez, Gibson, you sadistic bastard, what did I ever do to you?"

heh, seriously, I wish I had a decent scanner so I could put the grosser bits on here.  Just the thought of it makes me smile.  Yeah, there were a few things about HnK 2 that can still do that.

I just wish there were more...


  1. you put all the classic in this time, one of then the planet of apes I love this movie, and if my memory don't fail me this anime is fist of the north star , excellent so bloody and violent, kids don't try this at home or anywhere...please don't try it.
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  2. Hey, Robert! This is Jeff from "the good old days"! Nice to hear from you again! Still doing the anime thing, currently buying the "North Star" DVD Collections (where is Volume #3?). Anyways, try to come up to a con one of these days! Oh yeah, "Ken 2" is indeed quite f***ed.

  3. Aaaaaack!


    Damn, man, I have so much else on my plate, I hardly ever check the comments on this anymore. And clicking on your name above just sends me to a generic entry. So I don't even have any way to contact you directly...

    Dude, glad to hear you're still alive and kicking! Since AKon is still goin' on, I'm assuming Meri is still okay. I wish I had the time to get up to Dallas for another con, but things are shaky at present.

    RWG (live in La now)

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