Series that have yet to be licensed for wide release in America include "School Rumble..."

Anime Expo offers taste
of what’s coming

We're rushing headlong into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which means only one thing for serious anime and manga fans: Anime Expo in Anaheim, Calif., four days of what is arguably the West Coast's largest dedicated anime convention.

...and at left, "Darkness of the Sea, Shadow of the Moon" by Chie Shinohara and the "Crayon Shinchan" anime.

This year's convention, running Friday to July 4, will see the major U.S. production studios and publishers (and most of the minor ones) reveal a large chunk of their upcoming licensing plans.

Here's a sampling of what Wilma Jandoc and I hope will soon see official release, whether on DVD or in translated manga form, in the United States. (And no, Chinese bootlegged DVDs and Internet downloads don't count.)

Jason's picks

"Initial D: Fourth Stage": Tokyopop probably has the inside track on bringing out the latest installment of the boys-and-their-racing-toys anime. The company has been merrily churning out the "Initial D" manga, with its bastardized Americanized names and slang for 18 volumes now, after all.

But all indications point at the company having licensed only everything through "Third Stage," with no mention yet of this sequel. So could some other company snatch this out from under their noses? (One can hope.)

"School Rumble": Anyone who was at the "Anime Music Videos 201" panel at Kawaii Kon in April got to see two episodes when technical difficulties cut short the panel. Judging from the laughter, it's apparent that this high school romantic comedy would find an audience stateside.

Despite its name, the only crushing that goes on is among several students pining for a secret love. Call it a love triangle without any connecting points. Tenma loves Ooji, but she can never confess that love without her nerves getting in her way. Kenji, a delinquent, loves Tenma, but he has similar problems with nerves. Hilarity ensues.

"SuperGALS!" Season 2: At the AnimeNEXT convention in New Jersey last weekend, ADV representative David Williams said that his company does not have the license to this, even though ADV licensed and released the first season. The reason cited: lower-than-expected sales.

A shame, really. Because while "SuperGALS!" seems to have a shallow "Valley Girls in Japan" premise on its surface, the comedy/drama blend in this series makes it much more than that.

Ran Kotobuki is a teen who just wants to have fun rather than follow in the footsteps of the rest of her family, who have all been police officers. Her friends, the sugary sweet Miyu Yamazaki and the quiet and intelligent Aya Hoshino, are more than they seem, having had dark histories before Ran came along to set them straight. Their adventures together are a fun look at a segment of teen girl culture in Japan that deserves a second chance.

"Yakitate! Japan": This is the story of a boy, his "solar hands" that give him uncanny bread-making skills, and his quest to create Japan. No, not Japan the country, but Japan the bread, a special concoction that his grandfather loved because it went well with his morning breakfast of natto and miso soup. It's fitting in a punny sort of way, as "Japan" contains the Japanese word for bread, "pan."

Why should this series come to America? Well, think about it: How many series can you think of with this premise, plus a bread shop manager with an afro?

"Crayon Shinchan" anime: Hawaii viewers already got a taste of the antics of the "Japanese Bart Simpson." But that was back before the days of DVD, and our VHS copies are slowly deteriorating. Plus, none of the theatrically released films were ever released here.

It could be argued that the "Crayon Shinchan" manga, which did see widespread U.S. release, hasn't captured American attention like, say, "Dragon Ball Z" or "Full Metal Alchemist." Plus, there are many episodes out there, so the cost might be prohibitive. But let's face it: The manga just isn't as good as the anime. And a wider audience needs to see Shinchan's antics in action.

Wilma's picks

Almost anything by Chie Shinohara: This manga artist is best known stateside for her only series to be released here, "Red River." But that historical romance is a far cry from her true forte: shoujo (girls) horror. Yes, girls horror manga, at least one of which was made into an anime.

Series such as "Darkness of the Sea, Shadow of the Moon," "Purple Eyes in the Dark," "Ryoko no Shinrei Jikenbo" (literally translated as "Record of Ryoko's Spirit Events") and a slew of other manga and one-shot stories tell of teen girls who must deal with supernatural happenings. "Darkness of the Sea" pits twin sisters against each other, while "Purple Eyes" follows a girl who turns into a leopard and must hold back the feline's bloodthirsty instincts.

"Agatha Christie no Meitantei Poirot to Marple" (Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple): I have to admit I know nothing about this anime other than it came out in Japan last year and ended this May. But as one of the avid fans of writer Agatha Christie's mysteries and other books, I latched onto this title immediately. After all, we've seen the excellent BBC television series that starred David Suchet as the impeccable Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and Joan Hickson as elderly spinster Miss Marple, who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and has a nose for evil.

This anime melds the two worlds of Poirot and Marple, who actually never meet in Christie's books: Mabel West, the daughter of Miss Marple's nephew, is intent on becoming a detective and so goes to London to work for Poirot.

With its emphasis on psychology, Christie's writing is a perfect fit for anime, which often have stories that, in typical Asian fashion, deal with more abstract views. It will be interesting to see how these famous detectives are portrayed in Japanese and what angle is taken on their mystery-solving abilities, given that the series seems to focus on Mabel.

Nickelodeon cartoons: For those of you who are at least in your late teens or so, you might remember various cartoons that aired on Nickelodeon back in the late '80s and early '90s, among them "The Mysterious Cities of Gold," "The Adventures of the Little Koala" and "Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics." You might be surprised to discover that many of those were actually anime -- included the three just listed -- produced in Japan and brought over to the then-fledgling Nick network.

Other Japanese productions on Nick that have yet to be released stateside in some format include "Maya the Bee," "Mapletown" and "The Little Prince." ("The Noozles" made it onto VHS around 1991; good luck finding them.)

Looking back, it shouldn't be surprising that these are anime, given the style of animation that even as a young child I remember being very different from the American-made cartoons I watched.

But if any one series should be chosen to be released on DVD (hopefully with the original Japanese voices included), "Mysterious Cities" would be it.

"Kokoro Toshokan" (Kokoro Library) and "After School in the Teacher's Lounge": I'm only almost interested in seeing these released stateside, and that's because of the roundabout way they were brought to my attention.

"Kokoro Library" piqued my curiosity not because I love the story line or characters -- both of which I know almost nothing about -- but because I happened to buy the soundtrack on CD and fell in love with it. My interest in the actual anime is simply an extension of my interest in the beautiful, relaxing yet uplifting music composed by Hogari Hisaaki.

The same holds true for "After School," a two-episode miniseries with music composed by famed Japanese violinist Norihiro Tsuru. With such wonderful soundtracks, it's not such a far-fetched idea to want to watch the original anime.

Aside from the music, however, the premise of "Kokoro Toshokan" seems a bit cheesy. And "After School" has a homosexual focus, following a male teacher who becomes enamored of another male teacher and the ensuing emotional angst of the two.

On second thought, maybe these are two anime that shouldn't be released here.

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