Review: Koshonin Season 1

What I love about crime J-Dramas is that while there are certainly some tried and true formulas, a la buddy cop comedies, many of the grittier crime dramas are able to become so much more. Koshonin is one of those shows that does much more.

The story centers around Usagi Reiko, a female officer trained in negotiation tactics who has just been transferred to Japanese Special Investigation Team, the equivalent of SWAT. Katsuragi immediately is met with hardened bureaucracy, female prejudices, and sexual harassment that might make any other woman want to flee the “boys club”. Katsuragi however will not run. Instead, due to her own professional dedication and a personal history hinted at early on, Usagi rises to the challenge, knowing that she’s not just fighting the criminals, she’s fighting the whole system.

Usually when I find new J-dramas it is simply because I’m going through a particular actor’s repertoire. Koshonin though sold me solely on the premise. Partly because J-dramas rarely cover the SWAT angle, and because Koshonin has a strong female lead in the mix, I knew this J-drama would be full of spunk. Even more then just the SWAT factor though, we’re talking lots of stand-offs, and that leads to some very tense TV!

Once I watched the show I found everything I was hoping for. There was plenty of great action as expected and, headed up by the striking Yonekura Ryoko who plays Usagi, great acting as well! Jinnai Takanori excels at playing the stern commander Kirisawa Keigo, while other actors such as Suzuki Kosuke, Kakei Toshio, and Sasano Takashi help round out the SIT. Even though many of the characters you love to hate, they are all portrayed by actors truly putting forth their best efforts. Many of the actors in this show I’ve since followed on other dramas, due largely in part to their performances on Koshonin.

One part of the show that caught my eye was the setting of the various scenes. Having never visited Japan, I’m not really picky about seeing the same Tokyo facets over and over in J-dramas; however, Koshonin seemed to go above and beyond the call to shoot at interesting locations. Now this doesn’t mean that they necessarily went all over Japan in the show, since after all SIT in the show is based in Tokyo. However, even keeping in Tokyo, being a show about SIT allows the director to film in conceivably any location where a crisis might occur, which can be many. My favorite scene is near the end of the show where the SIT has to setup in order to negotiate with a criminal inside a remote house in the snow. The scenes are beautiful even as the tension is ever present. Ultimately I understand not all crime shows can, or will, venture into a plethora of settings; however, Koshonin does, adding one more delight to an already enjoyable show.

To conclude, I will definitely say again that when I imagined Koshonin to be a thrill, both in the field and in the SIT unit itself, I was right. The male characters represent a very grim, but very real portrayal of the demise of the male dominated old guard. In contrast, Usagi, who is tough on the inside and not over-the-top attractive on the outside, represents change. Both sides excellently played by the shows cast. Additionally, as with many crime J-Dramas the action spoke for itself. Coupling together both the traditional good guy vs bad guy stories, and Usagi’s own challenges in SIT, Koshonin rises above standard criminal J-Drama fare wonderfully.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

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FUNiCon 3.0 (Live Blog)

Hello! If you’ve entered here this is not FUNiCon 3.0, but is instead my attempt at live blogging FUNiCon. If you’ve arrived after March 29, 2010 then this is certainly no longer live but hopefully it’ll still be a good recap of the web convention. ^_^ (If in ” ” quotes then it is a quote, otherwise it is paraphrase. Likewise all of the questions, Q’s, are simply my best recollection since I’m adding them a couple days after.)

Big news from FUNiCon 3.0

– Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) has been licensed by FUNimation!

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7:00PM EST

Adam Shehan & Justin Rojas host.

They’ll cover trailers, questions, & more.

~224 Viewers

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7:05 EST

Q. Why was the German song removed from FUNimation’s release of Strike Witches?

A: Lili Marleen, German Love Song, cut from Strike Witches due to lack of North American rights.

Q. Does FUNimation still consider older titles when looking for licenses or is the target focus primarily the new shows?

A: Rojas – “FUNimation tends to license current topical anime, but that’s how the industry tends to skew sales wise. But if there’s a good older show available we’d look into it. Anything with anime is possible”

Q: Is FUNimation ever required to get package deals for anime rights?

A: FUNimation is not contractually obligated to get package deals, i.e. get 1 big show and in doing show pick up lesser shows as well. Shehan – “Haven’t done that yet”

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7:10 EST

Q. Can anime be shown on TV even if it’s been released on DVD already?

A: Rojas – Shows can get released on TV first even if they are released onto DVD first. “Doesn’t necessarily stop [FUNimation] from putting stuff on TV.” 

A: FUNimation for some shows only has streaming rights and not DVD rights. Rojas “Anything with anime is possible” (blogger’s note – he says it a lot ^^)

Q: Why did Eva 1.11 get the cover art for the box that it did?

A: FUNimation gets limited supply of images for box art. The question was about Eva’s film release, so that’s where the image came from – best of the bunch.

Q: Why was the tag line changed for Eva 1.11? 

A: Eva has a casual fan following and hardcore following. The tag line for the original release was trying to push towards the casual fan. The second tag line was changed, partly due to fan response with other mech shows, and the tag line was updated to “limit the confusion” – Shehan. “1.11 sales are doing quite well.”

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7:15 EST

Q: Why do there seem to be less extras with anime releases?

A: “There has been a decline with lots of releases. This has to do more with the economy and less about the box format. This is not just us but across the industry.” – Rojas & Shehan “Due to worldwide economic issues, Japan is making less and less [DVD extras]. We do try to include a lot of US commentary voices when possible.”

Q: Was the Chris Handley case a factor in the initial decision to censor Dance in the Vampire Bund?

A: “Edited or unedited Dance in the Vampire Bund is a MA property either way. Considering the Chris Handley case, we did not really consider it at all [in this case]. What they were told before hand was still out there but tamer than what we thought it was” Seems so far they can make it uncut but that’s not an official announcement. “Funimation tries to do everything uncut often as possible” – Shehan

A: On many DVD players, you can skip [the trailers on DVDs], by hitting ‘top menu’. Some you can’t but “compared to some studios one trailer isn’t that many.” – Rojas

Q: Why did FUNimation not pick up Hell Girl Season 2?

A: We passed on Hell Girl Season 2 due to overall sales. “We loved it in house, and the dub was great, but the end result of sales wasn’t where we needed it to be. It would not have been a responsible business decision on our part” – Shehan

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7:20 EST

Showing the Dragonball Kai Trailer

FUNimation Antimere Robinson joins in – “Lord of Creative Services”

– He helps create and maintain the brand.

Fan Q&A’s for Antimere Robinson

Q: What is the process for designing the art for a release?

A: Basically the process for desiging the art is start with the creative brief for the brand. “Like to give fans the original Japanese packaging as much as possible”. Sometimes it is not possible though or doesn’t work with the brand.

Q: How do you decide what art to use for the box set releases?

A: Outside and inside design of box sets are created on a case by case basis with regards to special packaging, based on popularity too. In Japan they release single vols. still so there’s so much art but it’s hard to bring it all over.

Q: What software do you and your team use to design the product packaging?

A: Programs used to make DVD materials use the entire Adobe Creative Suite. Motion Graphics will use After Effects, Final Cut Pro, standard video programs all on Mac.

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7:25

Q: How do you decide which artists work on which product release?

A: The process is based both off of employee input, if you like a show then you’ll have passion for the show and may get to work on it, and deadlines. Can’t always work on shows you love.

Q: What do you look for when wanting to hire new designer/artist talent?

A: In terms of a graphic designer/artist, like people with technical skills but that alone is not enough. Have to be able to work creatively, be well rounded, and be able to work with the creative team. Being a fan certainly helps, but it helps to have non-fans too to add new perspective, or more mass appeal.

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7:30

Q. What are the roles you’ve played as a voice actor?

A: Played a number of “strange little weird characters”.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: “Most rewarding part of the job is when the final product is brought around [to the creative team]. Just getting to see what you’ve worked on and what everyone’s worked on is the best part”.

New Trailer for Initial D: 3rd Stage

– 4th Stage is coming out May 11.

Antimere showing off FUNimation DVD packages.

– Dragonball (couldn’t see which one)

– Gunslinger Girl

– Speedgrapher Box Set

– Hell Girl

– Ouran High School Host Club (Blu-Ray)

– Shin Chan

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7:35 EST

Box sets continued

– Kenichi

– Soul Eater

Last question for Antimere Robinson

Rojas asks Q: What do you do when you don’t have enough art for a show?

Antimere’s Answer: When not given enough art work you tend to see the art work over again in different fashions.

– Case Closed/Detective Conan

– Hong Kong Connection (Series of Films)

– Eva 1.11

Last of DVD packages. Antimere bids farewell.

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7:40 EST

Char from FUNimation Blog visits to talk about merchandise

– One Piece bath towel

– Soul Eater magnets

– Ouran High School Host Club Playing Cards

– Soul Eater Messenger Bag

– Sgt. Frog Messenger Bag

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7:45 EST

– Tsubasa T-Shirt

– Sgt. Frog Messenger Bag

End of merchandise.

Hosts are unsure if the items are out or not out yet. (Check local retailer)

Older show X will be released by FUNimation on June 15th. Trailer is showing.

A: Sales have not been hurt by early announcements and everyone’s been happy about anime titles being picked up that have been let go by other companies. FUNimation hosts say they don’t get angry with negative feedback. They look through many of the comments, forums, and chats on the internet and try to gauge the opinions. The hosts say they try to understand the issues fans have and if possible try to resolve the issue or explain the reason why FUNimation did something.

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7:50 EST

Q: How does FUNimation get anime shipped to them?

A: DVD’s & other anime materials are delivered to FUNimation through many means – hand delivered, FTP, hard drive, and so many other ways.

Q: What is the percent or amount of sales that determines if a second season gets licensed for a show?

A: There “is no magic number or sales percentage” that says whether a show will get a season season. There’s a balance between expected sales and actual sales and if it’s close and FUNimation feels the second season will still do well then they’ll try to license the show. If some shows are really popular “off the bat they’ll go for more quickly, aka Kenichi & Spice and Wolf” – Shehan

A: Glad that more of their shows are being released online. Unfortunately some shows can only easily be licensed for certain regions. FUNimation doesn’t always have licenses for various countries, primarily US & Canada, but they work with other companies in foreign countries.

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7:55

Q: How is FUNimation’s business doing?

A: “FUNimation is doing pretty good financially.” – Shehan They’re actually hiring new people and since FUNimation is publically traded the financials are public. You can buy stocks in FUNimation if you so choose.

Q: Why did FUNimation acquire Robo-geisha?

A: RoboGeisha, albeit [different] or F’d up as Rojas says, was acquired largely because FUNimation is trying to grow the audience. while this segment might not have been tapped yet, there is a lot of overlap with these films and anime.

Q: Could you run through briefly the process that FUNimation goes through to acquire a license?

A: The process of acquiring a title from Japan, begins with FUNimation looking at new shows, talk to contacts they have over the phone, at places like Tokyo Anime Fair, and they’ll sit down with licensors and if interested they’ll discuss what rights are available (merch rights, streaming, etc.), then they’ll look at the cost per episode per movie. Also they might not be the only people bidding on it, and that’s not totally public, but once they are about to sign the contract different teams begin working on creative looks of the DVD materials, translation begins, and then they start voice casting, work on the dub track, and then they work on marketing/advertising, figuring out the demographic of the show, goes to licensing for merchandising, then the DVD’s are made physically, and the sales teams tell the retailers how many DVD’s they should pick up, and then fans buy it, and then FUNimation checks sales and based on the #’s, online and through DVD sales, there may be more seasons purchased.

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8:00

Q: Is FUNimation planning to stick close to the original Japanese version with Dragonball Z: Kai and will the original music be used?

A: DBZ Kai: the script will be as close as possible to the Japanese version, and yes the original music will be used. Just as the original creator Toriyama envisioned Z, FUNimation will also try to stay more true to the original. Fans are older, the source material is familiar, and “they don’t have to put spin on it to appearl to the mass market.” – Rojas

Q: In the past FUNimation has stated that Crunchyroll titles were less desirable to license. Does that mean FUNimation would never license Crunchyroll shows?

A: Yes in the past Crunchyroll titles were said to be less desirable, but that’s not an absolute no in terms of picking those shows up. Instead, the shows generally have less rights, so FUNimation would be less likely to buy the shows because they might not have much to use and sell.

Q: Does FUNimation get the Blu-Ray and DVD rights for an anime at the same time?

A: “[FUNimation] did pick up titles for FMA with DVD & Blu Ray at the same time, but most of the time the rights for DVDs are picked up first, and they are prevented from getting Blu Rays very quickly, partly because the JP region for Blu Ray is the same as US. Sometimes it just takes a while to receive the rights too, so it’s a mix of the two.

Trailer shown for My Bride Is A Mermaid. Release date is July 20th

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FUNimation acquires the rights to Black Butler (aka Kuroshitsuji)!

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FUNiCon 3.0 is over!

Zippy Lately (March 29 – April 4, 2010)

1. Sgt. Frog

I know last year Funimation made a big deal about the release of Sgt. Frog, debuting at said convention. Silly me I listened but apparently their words didn’t make it too far into my head. Apparently I also missed out (till now) on one of the most absurd wacky comedies anime may ever produce! My friends recently picked up Sgt. Frog, and since then I’ve begun watching along, sharing the comedic moments, reciting favorite one liners, and chuckling at the Gundam references which frankly most of us don’t understand as well as we should.  If you are not watching Sgt. Frog, watch the first three episodes and I bet you’ll start wanting to see more.

2. FUNiCon 3.0

FUNiCon 3.0, much like 1.0 & 2.0, is FUNimation’s successful attempt at creating a mini-web ‘convention’. Perhaps it’s best described as a hijinx filled press conference, but with the mix of humorous hosts, VIP guests, release info, Q&A’s, and so much more I guess it really does fit the convention mold. Anyways this will be going on March 29th 6PM CDT, so on the slim chance you see this by then you should totally tune in via http://www.FUNimation.com

I will attempt to “live blog” my way through FUNiCon 3.0, so even if you do miss it I’ll have a recap post for you. ^_^

3. Domo-kun

Domo-kun has swept Japan, 4chan, and lately the US market. Starting with Target’s embracing of Domo as a mascot, I’ve since discovered Domo themed games in Toys-R-Us. While the age level for these games is fitting of probably Domo’s key audience, children, I still really really want to get one of these Domo games and play it! I can’t promise I will anytime soon but I promise a full report when I do.

Review: Bitter Virgin

What has always impressed me with manga is that the authors are able to have so much story depth, character development, and hard hitting emotions in so few pages. The manga Bitter Virgin, only 4 volumes long, truly demonstrates this power.

Suwa Daisuke, a popular high schooler and teenage horndog, tries to flirt with the new student Aikawa Hinako. Aikawa, who is quite reclusive and shy especially around boys, immediately rejects Daisuke and flees from his presence. Frustrated, in class Daisuke loudly proclaims to his friends that he has no interest in Aikawa, easily within earshot of her. After school, Daisuke enters a church and when he sees Aikawa enter the church, Daisuke hides from her in the confessional. Unsure of what to do as Aikawa approaches, Daisuke poses as the priest, only to hear Aikawa’s shocking confession: her stepfather sexually abused her, leading her to have an abortion and then a child who was given up for adoption.

Daisuke’s public dismissal of Aikawa as a love interest allows her to trust him, and as the story continues, the two develop a strong relationship together. Throughout the manga though, jealousy, family issues, high school, and of course Daisuke’s knoweldge of Aikawa’s secret, all come into play in complicating this already fragile relationship. Will the pair’s friendship remain and grow or will their lives separate cataclysmically? That is the story of Bitter Virgin.

I think it’d be an understatement to say that this is not your traditional manga, but clearly it’s not. Even though the mood is heavy throughout the whole story, seeing something so tragic and true to life is oddly refreshing. Most of us I’d say read stories/watch films for some sort of wish-fulfillment or escapism; however, Bitter Virgin turns that around and instead makes the reader confront the ugly side of life. This is helped further by the autobiographical nature of the story. The author Kei Kusonoki explains in the side notes that she had a miscarriage and that she was quite affected by that event in her life.  The feelings that she went through at that time, and have kept since, helped inspire not only the overall story, but also the continuous theme of loss and regret that carry through in Bitter Virgin. 

Perhaps due to the story’s own honest power and complexity, the character designs in the manga seems surprisingly simple. That’s not to say that the art is dull. Instead, I think that the author just understood she didn’t have to add unnecessary flourish. For instance, the beautiful art of Trinity Blood and the flashy character designs of Sailor Scouts for instance would never make sense with such a plot. Kusonoki’s design choice I think helps add to the harsh realism of the story.

In conclusion, for me the tale of Bitter Virgin was gripping, tragic, and exactly the sort of manga I never knew I was looking for. I couldn’t relate to the characters situation, nor do I think the author expects many readers to have done so.  Instead, Bitter Virgin let me in as a silent witness to the scene, so as to impart upon me a fraction of the character’s emotions, and in my opinion to remind the reader that while life’s scars remain, hope and healing continues.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

[Not licensed presently in US]