“2D vs. Katana” exhibition shows off recreations of swords from anime and video games in Osaka

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RocketNews 24:

Last year, Tokyo’s Ueno Royal Museum held an exhibition of Japanese swords inspired by the mechanical and character designs of landmark anime Evangelion. As cool as some of the pieces looked, though, you won’t find any scenes in the giant robot franchise where someone actually fights using a katana.

On the other hand, right now the Osaka Museum of History is holding an event that goes even further in bridging the gap between fantasy and reality, by displaying recreations of amazing blades seen in anime, manga, and light novel illustrations.

Running from now until December 23, the 2D vs. Katana exhibition has teamed up master swordsmiths with over a dozen Japanese graphic designers. One of the biggest names involved is Kazuo Koike, whose manga Lone Wolf and Cub was one of the first Japanese comics to build an international fanbase. The sword of the series’ tortured protagonist, Ogami, is one of the pieces on display.

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Another artist likely to be familiar even to a non-Japanese atendees is Yoshitaka Amano. A veteran character designer whose career stretches back to the 1970s, Amano provided designs for TV anime Gatchaman and video game franchise Final Fantasy. Weaponry based off his artwork for the multimedia project Zan is being displayed as part of 2D vs. Katana.

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Despite the event’s name, the pieces aren’t all necessarily derived from traditional Japanese sword designs. For example, the Demon Sword, a product of the imagination of veteran science fiction and creature illustrator Yuji Kaida, would look just as at home in the hands of a knight as a samurai.

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Judging from online reactions, the biggest show-stopper seems to be a recreation of a drawing by Yumeji Kiriko, the manga artist of Le Chevalier D’Eon whose work has also appeared in Sega’s arcade trading card games Sangokushi Taisen and Sengoku Taisen. Since the respective settings of those three titles are 18th century France, China’s Three Kingdoms period, and Japan’s Warring States conflict, it seems like organizers could have played it safe with the sort of practical designs used by actual weapons in those eras. Instead, they decided to go with something a bit more ambitious.

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Yes, there seems to be a bouquet of flowers growing out of that sword’s hilt, and in order to stay faithful to the source material, the swordsmith incorporated it into the piece, as shown in this snapshot from early in the production process.

Likewise, losing the ludicrously long hand guard was not an option.

It’s hard to notice in the original illustration, but the sword is actually constructed of two blades, one nestled inside the other, with two prongs at the tip. Like the flowers and hand guard, this is the sort of flourish that’s not an issue at all when working with a pen and paper, but can be pretty problematic when the tools of your trade are hammers and steel. So how does the final result look?

Pretty awesome.

There’s no question those flowers would get torn off in the opening seconds of a fight, and looking at the handle, we’re not sure there’s actually enough room to wedge your fingers into the gap between it and the hand guard. But while the 2D vs. Katana exhibition allows non-flash photography, the event’s leniency doesn’t extend to letting guests grab the weapon of their choice and duel with each other. Taking that into consideration, you can’t really fault the choice to concede a bit of combat practicality when the payoff is that many extra style points.

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Nine celebrities who you probably didn’t know voiced anime…

9) Jonathan Winters

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It was only recently that this supremely gifted and absolutely mercurial improv comedian passed away. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you know him as the voice of Papa Smurf in that lousy Neil Patrick Harris movie from a couple of years ago. Go back a bit farther, and you’ll recall major roles in TV fare like Davis Rules and Mork and Mindy.

Jonathan Winters was also always a prolific voice actor; he had recurring roles in a number of network cartoons. Amusingly, while kids know him only as Papa Smurf, he was Grandpa Smurf in the ’80s ABC cartoon. But let’s go back, way way back, to the year 1961, a producer named Roger Corman, a studio called American International Pictures, and a film named Alakazam the GreatAlakazam, nee Saiyuki, is an early version of the famous “monkey king” saga that everything from Spaceketeers to Dragonball Z is based on; it was one of the first anime productions dubbed into English, and for its time, it had something of a star-studded cast – along with Winters, fellow comic Arnold Stang (who’d soon become the voice of Hanna Barbera’s famous Topcat) headlined, with songs provided by chart-toppers Frankie Avalon and Dodie Stevens. Interestingly, an entirely uncredited Peter Fernandez (the once and future voice of Speed Racer) played the speaking role of Alakazam – according to him, Winters, true to form, ad-libbed pretty much all of his dialogue as the gluttonous, shape-shifting pig, Quigley. My favorite bit? When the character, slavering over a plate of food, pauses – and Winters’ voice remarks, with a touch of reproach, “I never touch pork! You understand.”

8) Peter Ustinov

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Most of you know Peter Ustinov‘s work. But I’m betting that a large portion know him best from his turn as Prince John in the Disney furry animal Robin Hood flick. Now granted, he was awesome in that crummy movie; easily the best part about it. But man, that’s just scratching the surface of how illustrious this guy was. Not only was he a gifted actor, who won not one but two Academy Awards for best supporting actor (in 1961’s Spartacus and 1965’s Topkapi), but he was also a writer, playwright, stage designer, filmmaker, columnist and goddamn diplomat.

But how did the great Peter Ustinov’s career intersect with Japanese animation? Well, Ustinov was a raconteur who was up for just about anything, and so was a businessman from Japan named Shintaro Tsuji. Tsuji’s greeting card company had experienced phenomenal success throughout the 70s thanks to their new mascot, Hello Kitty – yep, I’m talking about the founder and chairman of Sanrio, here – and one of his many successful side ventures was a stint producing animated films. Lots of them were great – fare like Sea Prince and the Fire Child and Unico, movies which look great even today. But Tsuji wanted to make Sanrio’s movies global hits, and he tried to address this by moving the entire animation production team of one particular film, Orpheus of the Stars, to Hollywood.

And so it came to pass that a small team of ace Japanese animators worked together with a small army of Hollywood’s best cartoon talent to create Metamorphoses, a pop/rock retelling of some of Ovid’s stories meant to be something like an answer to Fantasia. But the movie tested poorly, was edited and tweaked, and eventually hit theaters under the title Winds of Change. There’s very little voice work to speak of in the movie, but narration is needed – so it’s provided by one Peter Ustinov. He acquits himself well and is lots of fun to listen to, but his engaging patter is so much better than the actual film, which is pretty but kind of incoherent, that it just gets distracting. Ustinov also provided his voice for Sanrio’s film The Mouse and His Child, but that movie was actually produced and directed entirely by westerners, so it ain’t exactly anime.

7) Lorne Greene

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He’s been gone now for quite a while, but for fourteen seasons back in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, Lorne Greene was a household name thanks to his role as Ben Cartwright in the beloved western TV series Bonanza. He’d previously been a newsreader, but the role of Ben cemented him as one of the great TV dads, right up there with Bill Cosby and Dick van Patten.

It was probably that magnificent voice that landed Greene the title role in The Wizard of Oz, a 1982 theatrical film from Toho that was shown to American audiences first on cable TV, and then on video. It’s actually a decent little movie, a bit more faithful to L. Frank Baum’s original story than the famed Judy Garland film, despite the surprisingly blonde Dorothy. Greene, as the Wizard himself, sounds weirdly confident and paternal given the character’s background as an easily spooked con man, but it’s still interesting to hear him. Two other bits of trivia: Dorothy is played by Aileen Quinn, the stage and screen actress most well-known for playing Annie in the 1982 movie musical, and you shouldn’t confuse this Wizard of Oz anime movie with the Wizard of Oz anime TV series, which was narrated by Margot “O.G. Lois Lane” Kidder and ran on HBO.

6) Adrienne Barbeau

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At the peak of her career, Adrienne Barbeau was the “it” girl who parlayed a supporting role in the sitcom Maude into headlining gigs in a broad range of TV movies, horror flicks, and genre cinema. I particularly like her roles in The Fog and Escape from New York. But there are two interesting things about Barbeau – first of all, while her career has had peaks and valleys, she’s still actually quite busy and popular. She played Ruthie in the well-regarded HBO series Carnivale, and only recently wrapped a two-season stint on soap opera mainstay General Hospital. Secondly, Barbeau is a bit like Mark Hamill – she’s long had an interest in voice-acting, and like Hamill, performed especially well in the ’90s Batman cartoon (she was Catwoman in that one).

But where does her career intersect with anime? In 1987, the famous Hanna-Barbera animation studio teamed up with Tsubaraya Productions, the guys who brought the world the live-action Japanese SF classic Ultraman, in order to create an Ultraman that could be marketed all around the world. The resulting 90-minute film features not one but THREE Ultramen, a team of crack pilots who can all turn into towering, silver and red, bug-eyed defenders of justice when the situation calls for it. Adrienne Barbeau provides the voice of Beth O’Brien, the one lady Ultraman. But Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (simply known as Ultraman USA in Japan) never made it past the pilot phase.

5) Jean Reno

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These days, Studio Ghibli dubs are always star-studded affairs. Starting with Princess Mononoke, the films of Miyazaki, Takahata, and their compatriots have boasted the likes of Claire Danes, Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and of course, The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis. But Ghibli was a worldwide brand for years before they broke big stateside, and other countries sometimes made the leap of using celebrity voice talent to fill the roster. In France, for example, the titular Porco Rosso, ex-WWI ace Marco Pagot, is played by none other than Jean Reno.

Jean Reno is something of a celebrity treasure in Japan, where he’s recently appeared in a series of goddamn amazing commercials where he sulks and wears a Doraemon costume. The incomparable Shinichiro Moriyama voices Marco in the original, and while Michael Keaton does a good job in the U.S. dub, there’s something charmingly rough and naturalistic about Reno’s French performance.

4) David Hayter

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David Hayter is an A-list Hollywood screenwriter and script doctor; not only did he handle screenwriting duties for the first two X-Men movies, he’s also lent his talent to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film and that weird Mummy spinoff, Scorpion King. He’s got a suspense thriller called Caught Stealing in the works, and has also been showing off his own writer/director project, Wolves, which is finished but not quite ready for prime time.

But even before he blew up as a scribe, David Hayter was his own kind of weird nerd celebrity, shooting to notoriety as the voice of Solid Snake in Konami‘s many Metal Gear Solid games. The character is iconic, and his performance has been reliably excellent throughout the series. Before that, he was an anime voice actor. His most notable roles were probably as lovable thief Lupin the 3rd in the Manga Entertainment dub of Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (a previous dubbed version employed Bob Bergen, the usual voice of Porky Pig these days, as the character. How about that?) and as bishonen heartthrob Tamahome in Fushigi Yuugi. Nowadays, Hayter sometimes exercises considerable influence over movies with eight and nine-figure budgets, but he used to play the dopey kid in Moldiver.

3) Kiefer Sutherland

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In 1997, Kiefer Sutherland‘s star was kinda-sorta on the wane. His last big hit, Disney’s Three Musketeers, was a crowded affair, and since then he’d motored along in fair-to-middling flicks like The Cowboy Way and Eye for an Eye. I guess this made it relatively easy for Pioneer LDC, the guys who were publishing hits like Tenchi Muyo! at the time, to sign him up as one of the leads for Armitage III: Poly-Matrix, a high-shine redux of one of their direct-to-video properties. With Sutherland played against the somewhat infamous Elizabeth Berkley (she of Saved by the Bell and Showgirls) as the title character, his billing gave the Armitage III film some surprising and welcome star power. Hollywood actors in Japanese animation are rare in any case, but it was particularly rare in ’97.

Sutherland would permanently establish himself as a household name with 24, but it’s neat to experience this role from just a few years prior.

2) Bryan Cranston

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Before Malcolm in the Middle and way before his Emmy-winning turn as Walter White on Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston used to do anime voices. He’d often use the pseudonym “Lee Stone,” and for the most part, he did walla and small, one-episode roles. He did some voice work for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which he mentioned on a Reddit AMA a while back. But he did have a few significant roles dubbing anime into English – he was Matti, one of the slacker would-be astronauts in GANAX’s classic Royal Space Force. He was Condor Joe in Eagle Riders, Saban‘s unsuccessful attempt to turn Gatchaman II into something worth watching. And best of all, he was Isamu Dyson, protagonist of Macross Plus, certainly one of the best anime shows of the 1990s and arguably one of the best ever.

Years and years later, he’s a huge Hollywood star – and he’s still pretty good at voice-acting, as the Batman: Year One OVA demonstrates.

1) Orson Welles

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 Orson Welles is, to this day, one of the greatest screen actors of all time, as well as a gifted auteur director who brought us the singular classic Citizen Kane, and numerous other great films like The Magnificent AmbersonsA Touch of Evil and The Stranger.

But Welles did some voice-acting. He voiced the trailers for the original Star Trek movie. He played the narrator and the evil snake Nag in Chuck Jones’ TV special of Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki Tavi. You’re probably kind of expecting me to talk a lot about his turn as Unicron in Transformers: The Movie, one of his last roles, but that was actually developed in the US – only the animation gruntwork and some of the designs were outsourced to Japan. The scripts, storyboards, and other stuff were drawn up here. However, Welles did star in a single anime feature film – a 1981 movie called The Adventures of Glicko. It was dubbed into English under the title The Enchanted Journey. In this children’s tale of a curious city chipmunk going back to nature, Welles played the role of Pippo the pigeon.

Welles took every job in stride, and Enchanted Journey was no exception.  Shortly after production of this movie wrapped, Welles died of a heart attack.

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Nine celebrities who you probably didn’t know voiced anime…

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Anime: If you want to know the future of video games, watch “Gatchaman Crowds”

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Gatchaman Crowds is an anime that all gamers should watch as it shows amazing insight into the future of video games in addition to having an adventure that’s deeper than you’d expect. It has perhaps the most realistic portrayal of the future of gaming I have ever seen. This is shown in the form of social networking app GALAX—an app that makes being a good person into a video game.

GALAX, while your typical social networking app on one end, becomes a tool for good on the other. When someone needs help, people in the area are notified on their smart phones and offered a “mission” to help out. Completing this mission adds points to their—for lack of a better term—gamer score. Moreover, GALAX will specifically target those most competent to complete certain missions. If someone is complaining about an abusive relationship, GALAX will give a nearby lawyer a mission to help the person out. If there is a car crash, all the nurses, doctors, and those with first aid training in the area will receive a mission to lend their aid.

We’ve already seen in the real world how far people will go to keep their virtual farms up and running or just how much they care about clicking a cow every day. But imagine if everyone was playing this game where you quite literally had a “good person” score to build up (and show off). Life itself would become a video game.

In Gatchaman Crowds, GALAX was designed as part of a revolution for social change. It’s a counter to a world where people are forced to rely on corrupt or non-caring politicians. It’s also a revolution against something else: the need for superheroes.

Rui, the creator of GALAX, believes that if superheroes exist, people will come to rely on them too much—that they will turn a blind eye to helping each other and just assume that the heroes will help those in need. Real world events like the murder of Kitty Genovese serves to support this fear. So GALAX is a counter to that overdependence—giving people an incentive to help each other and not be apathetic bystanders.

The other characters in the series, the veteran Gatchaman in general, somewhat support this view in that they think superheroes should work only from the shadows—fighting threats in secret, so normal people don’t have to be worried.

In most ways, Gatchaman Crowds is Gatchaman in name only. None of the original characters appear and only the most general plot elements remain—i.e. a team of people called Gatchaman protect the world from alien threats. There are callbacks, sure—like the main enemy being named Berg Katze—but if you were expecting anything resembling the original anime, you will be disappointed.

If you are a person who likes superheroes or wants to see the future of gaming in action, this is definitely an anime you should check out.

Gatchaman Crowds aired on NTV in Japan. It can be viewed in the US for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

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Anime: If you want to know the future of video games, watch “Gatchaman Crowds”

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“Gatchaman Crowds” anime gets 2nd season

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Production on the second season of the Gatchaman Crowds anime has been green-lit under the title Gatchaman Crowds Second. The season will air on NTV, and more details such as the broadcast schedule and staff will be announced in the future.

Gatchaman Crowds is based on the classic science-fiction hero series Gatchaman. The story is set in Japan in the early summer of 2015. 180,000 people live in Tachikawa City, the “second metropolis” of the Tokyo area. Among them are “Gatchaman” — warriors who fight in special reinforced suits powered by “NOTE,” the manifestation of special spiritual powers in living beings. A council has scouted a group of individuals with latent powers to protect Earth from alien criminals. In recent years, the council has assigned Gatchaman warriors to deal with the mysterious entity known as “MESS.”

The cast for the first season included Maaya UchidaKatsuji MoriRyota OhsakaDaisuke NamikawaAya HiranoDaisuke HosomiKotori KoiwaiMamoru MiyanoAyumu Murase, and Sakura Tange.

Gatchaman Crowds premiered in Japan on July 12, and it earned a 2.7% rating in Tokyo’s Kanto area in NTV‘s late-night Friday 2:00 a.m. timeslot. Crunchyroll streamed the first season as it aired. Sentai Filmworks licensed the first Gatchaman Crowds season as well as the original Gatchaman anime for home video in North America. Sentai Filmworks had revealed in July that it had signed a deal with Tatsunoko Production to release 11 of the studio’s titles, including Gatchaman and Casshan.

The first Gatchaman anime premiered in October of 1972 and earned an average rating of 21%. It was only planned for two quarters  of a year, but was extended to two full years and 105 episodes. It has since spawned anime films as well as later television and video series. The anime series in the Gatchaman franchise were adapted, with varying degrees of faithfulness, into English under the names Battle of the PlanetsG-Force, and Eagle Riders.

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“Gatchaman Crowds” anime gets 2nd season

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Gatchaman poster in Shibuya!

Gatchaman poster in Shibuya!

Here is a photo recently Tweeted of the new Gatchaman poster in Shibuya (Tokyo). For those who don’t know, they are making a live-action film based on the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman anime. Those of you who grew up in the U.S. during the 70’s and 80’s may remember Gatchaman as the cartoon “Battle Of The Planets” or “G-Force“.

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Gatchaman (“Battle Of The Planets” live action) trailer

Remember Battle of the Planets (aka G-Force)? It was the  American adaptation of the Japanese anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman that ran from 1978-1985, bringing anime in the US to another level after Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion, and the like…

Well, now we have Gatchaman as a live-action version of a Japanese manga/anime series! The Toho Company in Japan has instead made the full movie, which will go as Battle of the Planets in the US… Here is the first official trailer for the movie.

The film stars Tôri Matsuzaka as Ken, Gô Ayano as Condor No Joe, Ayame Gôriki as Jun The Swan, Tatsuomi Hamada as Junpei The Swallow, Ryohei Suzuki as Ryu The Owl, Gorô Kishitani and Eriko Hatsune. Gatchaman is directed by Tôya Satô (Dream Master, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler,”Ghost Mama Sôsasen) and will released in Japan this August. No news on a U.S. release either at the theater or disc.

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