April 26, 2018

Family Gekijyo (weeks 3-4)

It's Groundhog Day at Family Gekijyo, where every day is the same, except when it is slightly different.

Garo: Yami o Terasu Mono concluded its run and was followed by Garo: Makai no Hana ("Flowers of Hell"). The latter debuted in 2014, with Masei Nakayama as Raiga Saezima, the son of Kouga Saezima from the first series (he grew up fast).

The fourth series returns to established conventions. I didn't see the point of the alternate universe business in Yami o Terasu Mono and the serial format is only good for bingeing. Makai no Hana is more episodic, making non-linear viewing more tolerable.

This series takes place in present-day Tokyo. Imagine that Buffy lived in Wayne Manor and Giles was Alfred. That's sort of what we have here, and it plays to the inherent strengths of the genre: Spirit World Warriors battling evil in the shadows of the "normal."

Japanese urban fantasy is adept at locating magical mayhem in the midst of the modern world. Being a ghostbuster in Japan will keep you busy.

"Flowers of Hell" doesn't constantly take itself too seriously. Masei Nakayama even manages to smile now and then. The Halloween episode (beginning with an old-fashioned credit scroll in English) has him battling villains from popular Hollywood horror movies.

In another episode, a demonic manga artist attacks him with his literally animated illustrations. And then there's the traditional Japanese house that stomps around like out of Howl's Moving Castle.

The episodes follow a similar set-up and resolution, so the most interesting element is the creature-of-the-week, although the little vignettes that play during the closing credit scroll constitute a show of their own.

Up until episode nine ("Shiiku"), I would have rated the series PG-12. But the producers apparently decided it was time to use up their gratuitous nudity quota. The result is better than I expected—imagine an episode of Criminal Minds, with an unreliable narrator.

Or give it the Silence of the Lambs treatment and you could end up with a first-rate psychological thriller or a fantasy horror flick.

I do have to wonder about the casting call: "You'll be naked and mostly dead while Tokio Emoto hauls your body around." Well, not wonder all that much. The Japanese website tags the three as "AV" actresses. Not all that unusual in Japan.

Tokio Emoto plays the serial killer. He's only 28 but qualifies as a "veteran" character actor, with supporting roles in several NHK series as well.

That episode got skipped during the daytime portion of the rerun loop, which is in accordance with how Japanese commercial television works too (granted, no American over-the-air television station would broadcast anything like "Shiiku" at any time ever).

Family Gekijyo is likely showing the third and fourth series because the first two seasons were licensed for North America by Kraken Releasing (née Sentai Filmworks) and are available on Blu-ray. Several of the animated spin-offs are streaming on Crunchyroll.

As for the rest of the programming, it's the same only—no, for now it's more of the same.

 • Garo: Makai no Hana (2014)

But change is coming! According to the news ticker that occasionally appears at the bottom of the screen, a fresh slate of programs is scheduled to begin May 1.

Related posts

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Family Gekijyo (weeks 1-2)
Family Gekijyo (weeks 5-6)

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April 19, 2018

Family Gekijyo (weeks 1-2)

Family Gekijyo, the Japanese channel replacing TV Japan on Dish, didn't have a published program schedule when it launched on April 2 (the on-screen program guide works). After all, there was barely anything to schedule. But something is better than nothing, so let's discuss the something.

The first two weeks, Family Gekijyo (on Dish) ran episodes from a live action urban fantasy series and three "classic" anime series in a "creeping loop." Sunday saw coverage of a shogi tournament. Then back to the loop. Then a rerun of the shogi tournament Sunday afternoon.

Then back to the loop, now with reruns of the shogi tournament filling the late night slot. (By "creeping loop," I mean that every day, each series advances two episodes and loops again.)

Based on what I've seen and what's listed in the on-screen guide, here are the programs for the first two weeks (all half-hour shows except for the shogi tournament):

 • 21st Ginga Shogi Tournament
 • Zerotesters (1973-1974)
 • Reiden the Brave (1975-1976)
 • Beeton the Robot (1976-1977)
 • Garo: Yami o Terasu Mono (2013)

Zerotesters is clunky old space anime. Reiden the Brave is a clunky old mecha anime. Beeton the Robot is the best of the old bunch, a family comedy that's sort of "the same only different enough to keep us from getting sued" version of Doraemon.

Garo: Yami o Terasu Mono (lit. "Wolf Fang: Those who Illuminate the Darkness") is the third installment in the franchise, with a new cast and an "alternate universe" setting.

The special effects are "good enough." The martial arts sequences are impressive. Its biggest fault is taking itself too seriously, like Buffy with no sense of humor. And landing in the loop at random times doesn't make it easy to follow the story.

On the other hand, the episodes I caught three or four times did begin to make sense (that's actually a good way to study a foreign language).

It is not a kid's show. Well, it's a Japanese kid's show. The occasional winsome lass (it's not Game of Thrones either) appears in a Garo episode sans clothing. The "family" in Family Gekijyo is of the commercial variety—as any consumer of "young adult" manga and anime can attest—not the stodgy NHK version.

Even a kid's show like Beeton the Robot did a running gag in one episode that had a Betty Boop lookalike constantly falling out of her clothes (think Benny Hill). Highlighting that "advantage" without getting too crass about it could help differentiate Family Gekijyo from TV Japan.

As for shogi, I know practically nothing about it, so it falls into watching-paint-dry territory. That's true of international chess too. And go. Alas, cerebral spectator sports aren't nearly as interesting in real life as they are in manga and anime. But that's a subject for another post.

I can only hope the rest of Family Gekijyo's prime time slate is indeed "coming soon."

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Family Gekijyo (weeks 3-4)
Family Gekijyo (weeks 5-6)

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April 12, 2018

Family Gekijyo

A dozen years with TV Japan were rudely interrupted by NHK Cosmomedia America abruptly jumping ship to DirecTV. TV Japan had been on Dish since its debut in 1991. It might have been enticed by the bigger pool of subscribers (twice that of Dish), but I think the switch has as much to do with streaming technology.

TV Japan recently launched a library service (no live streaming) called dLibrary Japan. Streaming is the ideal delivery platform for these niche services. TV Japan only reached 80,000 households at Dish, which may have prompted NHK Cosmomedia to look over the fence and see greener grass at DirecTV and Xfinity.

But Dish did something intriguing too. It handed TV Japan's slot to Family Gekijyo (ファミリー劇場). Meaning "family theater," the kunrei-shiki romanization (ignoring the long final vowel, the more familiar Hepburn renders it gekijo) straightaway tells you it's a Japanese import. As the official press release states:

Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, the Tokyo-headquartered Japanese entertainment and media industry leader, has announced the launch of its popular Japanese channel FAMILY GEKIJYO exclusively on the USA's DISH Network, in collaboration with Superswiss. The launch took place April 2, 2018 at 5:00 pm (MDT).

The press release also mentions Tohokushinsha's intention to delve into OTT services.

As best I can tell, Family Gekijyo (Japan) resembles ION Television: some original programming backfilled by lots of reruns. A handful of NHK series from a few years back are featured on its home page.

TV Japan is a compilation service crafted for Japanese living and traveling abroad. It does a good job of staying on top of the news and current with the top-rated commercial series in Japan. Family Gekijyo is produced in Japan for a home audience. Alas, too bad it just can't time-shift the raw feed and beam it across the Pacific.

According to Dish,

The international version of this popular Japanese channel is being created to offer general entertainment programming, including live action series, anime, documentaries and game shows. Plus, news programming to come!

Parent company Tohokushinsha Film Corporation does bring a sizeable media catalog to the table. Since 1989, "TFC's satellite operations have expanded to a total of 11 channels, and controls every aspect of [its] satellite business, including programming, sales, and transmission infrastructure."

Family Gekijyo certainly has hypothetical access to enough material to fill a 24/7 service. The problem is lining up all those broadcasting rights ducks in an orderly row. As noted above, the "international version" is "being created" as we speak. It was not launched as a finished product.

Far from it. More like "we'll start working on it real soon now." Even without so much as a placeholder website for Dish subscribers, they must have pushed ahead with the roll-out because of the opening created by TV Japan's departure from Dish.

In any case, I'm not eager to leave Dish. DirecTV would cost ten dollars more a month, on top of new equipment and a fresh 24 month commitment. Besides, starting from zero like this, I'm curious to see how it shakes out—as long as something does shake out in a reasonable amount of time.

Related posts

Family Gekijyo (weeks 1-2)
Family Gekijyo (weeks 3-4)
Family Gekijyo (weeks 5-6)

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April 05, 2018

Winning by losing

When I was in college in the 1980s, Japan was constantly in the news, and the news was mostly about economics and international relations. But aside from Godzilla movies and Kurosawa films, hardly anybody knew anything about Japanese culture.

Except it was inevitable that Japan would soon rule the world.

These days, Japan is only in the news because of natural or made-made disasters (like North Korea). Or the odd summit meeting. And yet foreign tourism to Japan has reached all time highs and Japanese culture has become ubiquitous outside Japan.

Sony recently purchased Funimation (the biggest anime distributor in North America). Netflix is pouring some of its billions into 30 original anime productions.

The 1964 Olympics focused on the modernization of the Japanese economy. The 2020 Olympics will focus on the internationalization of Japanese culture. Even as Japan gets eclipsed by China economically, it grows more powerful than ever culturally.

Eamonn Fingleton likes to argue that slipping into third place behind China was Japan's "briar patch" strategy to get the rest of the world to stop focusing on trade imbalances. As this Noah Smith Twitter thread shows, it has worked brilliantly.

Noah Smith tends to grossly overgeneralize when it comes to Japan (a bad habit among foreign correspondents in that part of the world). Though that is kind of the whole point. Japan can now count on the overgeneralizers overgeneralizing to its advantage.

Third place is proving not a bad place to be.

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