Remembering, Re-watching & Re-evaluating the Ronin Warriors Dub

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Between June and August, I spent a teeny bit of my free time re-watching one of my favorite anime shows as a youngster: Ronin Warriors!  I remember when I learned about it in the late 80s and early 90s during trips to Thailand, when it was under its original title: Yoroiden Samurai Troopers.  Shows like this, along with other shonen favorites like Saint Seiya and Dragonball Z, were all the rage in Asia, and U.S. broadcasters seemed totally unaware of this.  But when it came out on Chicago’s UPN network in the mid to late 90s, my brother and I were ecstatic.  No more renting from Japanese home videos with no subs folks, we were now dubbed and hittin’ the big time.

And you know what?  After all these years of remembering it like it was gold on pancakes, my feelings about the show have shifted.  Dramatically.  Ronin Warriors is still good, but…     Well…..

Let me explain.

Like a lot of TV anime in the 80s, Samurai Troopers is about a group of young guys fighting evil-doers.  That’s a given.  However, its samurai theme in urban Tokyo was pretty unique at the time, and many fans will cite things like it’s awesome character designs, sense of horror and dread, along with it’s amazing music, as elements of the show that were key to its devoted following.  These are all things that continue to make me a fan of the show, and I’m almost 40!

My main issue with Ronin Warriors (instead of Samurai Troopers) stems from how the original Japanese story is retold for a North American audience.   A large bulk of Japanese names found throughout the original show were renamed to generic pan-Asian terms, the most egregious example being the show’s main baddie Lord Arago, whose name becomes Emperor Talpa for Ronin Warriors (which is probably taken from the Tibetan ‘Tulpa’, a term for a spiritual manifestation).  Other examples include the Chinese sounding transformation call, Dao Ji (whatever the fuck that means), and even a ton of incorrect translations for some of the virtues that each Ronin carries (Rowen may be ‘Life’, but it actually reads ‘Wisdom’).  For those that were uninformed in the 90s, Asian culture might be some throwaway gimmick that you could use to sell toys, but let me tell you something: that ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ shit won’t work now.

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Moreover, the RW dub finds a way to paper over the holes you can easily find in the English-language plot.  The biggest example that I recall stems from the portal / vortex that leads our heroes into the Evil Dynasty.  Much of the show’s first half concerns our heroes trying to find a way into the Dynasty to defeat the bad guys and save the city.  Whenever they’re overwhelmed by the Dynasty Warlords or some other villain, the Ronins get help from their mentor, a monk with a magical staff called the Ancient One.  As the show wears on, our heroes find themselves unable to enter the Dynasty through their heavily guarded gateways.  This (and a whole slew of other events that I won’t get into now) forces the Ancient One to intervene one last time against Talpa.  After a grueling duel of magic against the ghastly emperor, the Ancient One sacrifices his life and remaining energy to open a massive portal that bypasses the Dynasty’s defenses to allow our heroes to enter Talpa’s empire.  All good, right?

Well, the second half of the show requires our heroes to go back into the Dynasty once more.  And yes, there’s a massive portal in the middle of the street, just like in the first half of the show, but guess what?  There’s no explanation as to why this portal showed up.  Really.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  The Ancient One is already dead.  There was no sacrifice made.  Hell, I bet the original Japanese plot must’ve explained its reappearance somehow, but the dub found some way to just paper over it with “Let’s kick Kayura’s butt” or something.  If you don’t believe me, go on over to Amazon Prime and watch the damn show again.  Seriously.

Now, let me be clear and say that I adore the Ocean Group and their collective of amazing voice actors.  They helped make anime so much more accessible in North America thanks to all the hard work they put in for localization.  Remember the Viz Video dubs of such OVA greats like the Fatal Fury franchise, Ogre Slayer or even Ranma 1/2?  Yeah, that’s ALL thanks to them.  I would not be the anime fan that I am now if it weren’t for their efforts.

However, a lot of the nuances related to Japanese history are lost in their work with Ronin Warriors.  We don’t get a clear sense of the ‘timeline’ that occurred with regards to Japanese history, and furthermore, we don’t even know that the Ronins themselves were portrayed as descendants from renowned samurai (you’ll only get this hint from the original Japanese plot).  Instead, we’re given generic pan-Asian names, poorly translated kanji and a brief whiff that maybe, just maybe, this all takes place in Japan. Despite my love of the dub (it’s natural, well-spoken and free of awkwardness), we really don’t know anything other than, “The Dynasty is here, and we’re gonna kick its butt!”

Though, to be fair, that’s not to say that you won’t have a good time watching Ronin Warriors, because if you’re new to it, you totally will. Especially when it comes to the voice acting.  So yeah, I’m totally nitpicking throughout this piece, but there’s also some rad vibes coming from our heroes.  Ryo’s voice is more or less a California surfer, while Rowen’s (my favorite) is a total New Yorker.  And what about Cye’s English accent, ‘eh mate?  It’s all rad, and to kid in the 90s, that’s all that matters, right?

Ronin Warriors is the kind of small phenomenon that we American anime fans look back on fondly because, like DiC’s dub of Sailor Moon, Funimation’s version of Dragon Ball Z and Toonami’s riff on Gundam Wing, it was an affirmation that North American TV was finally giving us the televised anime goods that the rest of the world got without a hitch.  From the mid 90s to the early 2000s, all of us were beginning to think that anime wasn’t just gonna be some fledgling subculture, but a real interest that lots of North Americans would grow to love.

And you know what?  It has.  It really has.

Anime is as popular as its ever been here.  Anime Conventions pop-up all over the continent, where it isn’t a stretch to see fantasy, anime and sci-fi booths all under the same roof.  Hell, even cosplay is becoming more mainstream now, and Studio Ghibli is well-loved among American otaku and mainstream film critics alike.  There’s even Ghibli theater screenings folks!  Theater-fucking-screenings!  That was unheard of in my youth.

But with all that comes a lot of other baggage too.  Namely, the misrepresentation and erasure of Asian culture.  No amount of Pokemon donuts can hide that fact that Takeshi / Brock really loves onigiri, or that Serena / Usagi from Sailor Moon goes to school in Japan.  Even my beloved Power Rangers franchise can be guilty of this (Power Rangers Samurai, hello?).  These last few months had me re-live those awesome times when my brother and I would come back home from school to see a new episode of the Ronin Warriors.  Sadly however, I’m not that teenager from the 90s anymore.  I’m an aging, Asian-american anime fan whose life has seen too much whitewashing, erasure and bullshit when it comes to Asian representation on TV.  I ain’t content with being the best friend on TV, the extra in your ‘Chinatown’ episode, or the back-up dancer to your Asian-themed music video with NO Asian lead artist (and fuck you asian folks who do the reverse).  No more white girls with chopsticks in their hair, no more shit-dubbed kung-fu flicks with fucked-up accents, and, lastly, no more samurai-themed 80s anime that fucking localize 智 for ‘Life’.

I came into this to reminisce about one of my favorite anime TV shows, but I came out realizing that, for all the good that it gave me in my youth, Ronin Warriors left out a ton of shit that would’ve made it even more plausible for someone like myself.

Then again, I wouldn’t be writing any of this if it hadn’t been for Amazon Prime listing the show as ‘Samurai Troopers,’ instead of ‘Ronin Warriors.’

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Netflix’s Wu Assassins

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Whenever I need to take a break from lamenting about the insanity of global politics, I watch Netflix or Amazon Prime.  I recently binged on the latest seasons of GLOW and Mindhunter (both phenomenal by the way), but afterwards, I went full-on Indiana Jones and ventured into Iko Uwais territory with Wu Assassins.  For this review, I’m gonna talk about what’s good, bad, and ugly, about Netflix’s latest action show.

THE GOOD:  The NUMBER ONE REASON why you should be watching Wu Assassins is for the fights alone.  End of fucking story.  Dan Rizzuto’s choreography and Kimani Ray Smith’s stunts are absolute boss here, and Iko Uwais SHINES in every fight he’s in.  It’s like you’re watching the rapid-fire fighting of The Raid, but on a polished AMC show.  Furthermore, everyone, from Juju Chan, to Li Jun Li to Katheryn Winnick, is fighting like madmen here.  Seriously.  Every single actor on this show put EVERYTHING into these fights, and it shows.  One of the highlights for me involves Lewis Tan going toe-to-toe with a knife fighter in Episode 9, while Iko is taking on three guys at once!  This is the kind of combat you wanna see on a show like this, and it’s well worth the price of admission.  If you’re here to see an ASS KICKING CAST with a REMARKABLE stunt team, look no further than to Wu Assassins.

THE BAD:  Well, if you came here for the fights, then you’re in luck.  However, what sucks about the show is that, like a lot of martial arts themed shows, it’s lacking in coherent plot.  It’s really REALLY all over the place here, with a hokey premise involving the Wu Xing, terrible pacing, jumbled character motivations and forced musical choices (some of the rap really, REALLY doesn’t work for a LOT of episodes).  Furthermore, there are way too many characters involved here, and the show could’ve done more to whittle down the cast a bit here, especially in regards to Tommy Wah and even Ying Ying.  Lawrence Kao did do the role justice here, but really, I felt Tommy Wah, was just a big hindrance on his team of friends.  Ying Ying did the plot no favors and, in my opinion, helped make the show verge on more stereotypical ground with her vague intentions, arrogant posturing and overall annoying demeanor.  If the show needed a Miyagi-esque Sensei / Sifu character, they should’ve had the gall to write one that doesn’t like an asshole manager who demands results yet gives no guidance.  Fuck that shit.

THE UGLY:  Is it me, or is the CGI on this show fucking ugly?  I mean really REALLY UGLY.  For all it’s combat merits, this show has some 3DO level graphics man.  It’s especially worse when it comes to the fire effects in the first few episodes.  I mean jeezus, it makes Byron Mann look cheap, despite him being a total badass as the ever-conflicted Uncle Six.  These effects only really work in dark settings (see Alec McCullogh’s first encounter with the Water Wu), but the production team didn’t take that into consideration for large parts of the show.  What results is a genre show that has fantastic martial arts trappings, but poor supernatural effects.  To the Wu Assassins post-production crew: please up the ante when it comes to the computer effects.

All in all, I highly recommend that you check out Wu Assassins.  It ain’t perfect, but it’s got a stellar cast and some wicked fight scenes that, I believe, are worth experiencing.  Though it’s riddled with poor pacing and lackluster CGI, it’s my hope that they’ll fix these hiccups for Season 2.  Furthermore, it’s not everyday that you see a Southeast Asian guy headlining a Netflix TV show, so, in a way, you’re patronage of this show is kind of contributing to the un-whitening of American TV, and that’s a good thing!  With shows like Warrior following in the footsteps of the recently finished Into the Badlands, it’s my hope that we’ll be seeing better martial-arts themed shows from the U.S. eventually.  Well, at least ones with better CGI.

Naika Reviews T-SQUARE’S “Horizon” (2019)

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It’s been a very, VERY LONG time since I jammed on a new album from T-Square, and let me tell ya, it’s totally AWESOME!  Hell, I’m listening to this album more than the last one I bought, and that’s Smile, from 2013.  It’s fun, funky and devoid of this ‘play-it-safe’ attitude that I felt was holding albums like Wings back.  Furthermore, it features some fine work from Philippe Saisse, who’s filling in on keyboards for Keizoh Kawano due to an unspecified illness.  Nevertheless, Kawano-san’s contributions are still felt in the song writing department, and it shows.  Here’s my personal rundown on T-Square’s latest album and why I think you should give it a go.

For starters, Horizon is simply a lot of fun.  The most dramatic tracks you’ll find here are Some Other Time and Tsuioku no Machi (追憶の街), where both give the album a nice hint of drama without derailing any party vibes.  Frankly, I was expecting Some Other Time to be more along the lines of MJ or Missin’ You actually, (y’know, heart-tugging jazz) but I was totally surprised.  It’s a song that settles your feelings with a smile, and I think that’s great.  Ending the album with a track like this REALLY makes me look forward to the next album.

Anyways, let’s backtrack to the rest of the disc, shall we?  It all starts off with SKY DRIVE, another in a long line of awesome EWI songs by T-Square where it’s all about adventure.  Don’t expect the kind of drive that you’d find on Truth or Faces, but it’s a soaring way to get the party started here.  Next up is Kawano’s Kasareria, which is another good track from our long-time keyboard king.  It’s a nice sax song that feels like you’re on the beach, where the pleasantries end on a very percussive note thanks to Bandoh’s drumwork.

And speaking of Bandoh, I have to talk about my favorite track on this album: PARALLEL WORLD.  Would you believe that I was on the fence about this album until I heard this one?  It’s a refreshingly funky track that makes my toes tap every time, and that EWI from Takeshi Itoh is just rocking all the way through.  There’s just lots going on for this track, and hell, there’s even something that sounds like a vibraphone too, but I could be wrong.  It’s a mountain of funk from T-Square and if it were up to me, it should be the first song you hear on this album.

My next two favorites would have to be Love Game and Samba de Bantha.  The prior is an Andoh-penned funk rock track featuring some nice slap bass with a healthy dose of trombone, while the latter is a Brazilian stroll under the sun.  I always love flute tracks from T-Square, and Samba continues this awesome trend thanks to Takeshi Itoh.  I personally think it’s a lot better than Wings’ subdued Natsu no Ashioto,  and has much more in common with the pleasant-yet-fast-paced Pioggia di Capri from B.C.A.D., a personal favorite of mine.

Though I’ve said nothing but praise about this album so far, it’s time for me to talk about the tracks that, unfortunately, don’t quite measure up for me.  The title track to this album is a nice one, but I don’t listen to it as often as I should.  It’s not a soaring EWI track like SKY DRIVE, but it’s a whimsy affair that’s there to make you smile.  I guess I only listen to it when I wanna feel happy about life I suppose.  Nothing bad, but nothing too amazing either.  However, the outlier for me would have to be Lonesome George.  I dunno.  I guess I should give it more of a chance, but I’m not always the biggest fan of T-Square’s hard-rock EWI tracks.  It has its moments, but, all in all, those hard riffs ain’t for me.

Despite my lack of love for Lonesome George, the album as a whole is still fantastic.  In many ways, Horizon is an album from T-Square that gives us a new…uhm, horizon for us to see them in.  It’s an adventurous ride, with Kawano and Bandoh leading the way in the songwriting department.  Furthermore, Parallel World, Love Game and Samba de Bantha are, for me, the big gems of this album and should not be missed.  For awhile now, I was always concerned that T-Square’s output from the 2010s would be less funky, but I’m glad to say that it ain’t the case here.  For those of you who are still into CDs, I would recommend that you go and grab the Limited Edition album since it comes with an All Region DVD that gives us a backseat view of the band’s recording sessions in L.A.  Overall, Horizon is a joy to listen to and should not be missed by any T-Square fan.  Hopefully, we’ll hear a lot more from the gang next year, and maybe we’ll see Kawano-san back on the keyboards again once he’s all better.  Until then folks, happy listening!

Who Rules the World?

Despite the VAR controversies, the bullshit handball call against Japan, Thailand bowing out hard and some sips of tea, I at least have something to be proud about in the U.S. of A. instead of….you know, deplorable concentration camps in the southern border.  Thank you women of the World Cup.  It was one helluva tournament!

I Love Shinjo-kun & Chiitan!!!

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In the last few months, my Wife and I have been obsessed with Yuru-Chara, specifically the Kochi-born Shinjo-kun and his mischievous otter compatriot, Chiitan.  While Shinjo-kun is the more cute and docile of the two, Chiitan is a trouble-making mascot who’s more “Jackass” than “Sesame Street.”  Their antics are lovable all the same, and we would never have heard of them if it wasn’t for John Oliver recent video about Chiitan.

Thanks to John Oliver, Chiitan’s notoriety has spread worldwide.  Her legion of fans have grown enormously, but, as some of you may already know, that’s come at a price.  Though Chiitan and Shinjo-kun share the same designer, Susaki city, the area that Shinjo-kun represents, is none too pleased with the former’s antics (one of her coolest twitter vids shows her tipping over a small van…..awesome!).  This is especially so since Chiitan is an unofficial mascot made independently without any formal ties to Susaki city (she’s actually based in Tokyo).  Formal complaints from the city have been lodged, and as of this moment, Chiitan and Shinjo-kun can no longer collaborate.  Things have gotten so bad that Chiitan’s beloved Twitter account was closed down under mysterious circumstances, which forced our crazed otter mascot to create another one.  A petition was going around recently to reopen Chiitan’s original account, but I’m not so sure if  Twitter will listen since it loves white supremacists a helluva lot more than harmless mascots who spread joy to the masses.

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However, let’s not forget about the other star of all this:  Shinjo-kun.  Though Chiitan seems to be more widely known, Shinjo-kun edges it out for me simply because he’s sooooo adorable.  Naive, curious and very very very playful, Shinjo-kun is this big-headed river otter who wants to get his puffy hands all over EVERYTHING!  If you check out his YouTube channel, he does adorable things ranging from trying out local snacks to green onion farming.  He can even wear cute costumes and play Street Fighter V like a boss!

Furthermore, Shinjo-kun celebrates holidays!!!  On Twitter, you can see him wear adorable dresses and costumes for his birthday, and he also welcomes events like the New Year with animal costumes that are reminiscent of Lunar New Year.  My favorite video of his is where he’s feeling emotional over New Year’s postcards while he’s decked out in a Year of the Pig / Boar costume.

So yes, these are the creatures the missus and I have been obsessed with over the last few months.  We check both Shinjo-kun and Chiitan’s social media accounts CONSTANTLY (she more than me), and go totally ga-ga over their new videos.  Though we do love Shinjo-kun a bit more than Chiitan, we no less feel that if it wasn’t for Chiitan’s popularity, we would never EVER know about her lovable predecessor.  I just wish things would go back to normal for these otter mascots.  The sooner the powers-that-be can come to a compromise over these two otters, the sooner we can all see them get back together to make adorable mayhem just like in the old days.

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Check out Shinjo-kun’s YouTube account here.

Check out Chiitan’s YouTube account here.

Follow Shinjo-kun’s Twitter account here.

Follow Chiitan’s new Twitter account here and be sure to sign her petition!

Check out Shinjo-kun’s official website here.

A Brief Arsenal Autopsy

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Man, it’s been a busy few months.

With the 2019 Women’s World Cup now under way, I’m finally going to seize this opportunity to talk briefly about Arsenal.  As some of you may know, it’s been a bit of a rocky road for the team this season.  It was Unai Emery’s very first season in charge of the club and, in all honesty, it should’ve been better.  I don’t think anyone was going to come away thinking that Unai was going to get us back into, let’s say, the top three again or something, but at the very least, he’d get us towards being more….well, competitive again.  Now, what do I mean by that?

Well, to me, that means not having a mental capitulation when we’re down a goal or two under a mid-table team.  That also means having a defense that won’t commit a glaring amount of goal concessions and that also means defensive midfielders doing their fucking jobs.  A few bloggers have already pointed out where we need to improve in areas like the midfield and defense, but overall, I was hoping that Unai was going to help get the team into a more defensive / counter-attacking mindset and, frankly, that’s still a work-in-progress.  He tried a pressing game in the early season I think, but that quickly went to shit.  He did get notable wins against some bigger clubs in the prem, but our away form has been horrible because we’re prone to attacks in transition from smaller teams.  Couple that with inconsistencies in formations, injuries to Bellerin & Holding and an obvious lack of leadership on the pitch and you have yourself a dysfunctional team.  The only upside in all of this is Auba and Lacazette; a strike partnership that would have more impact if we weren’t so leaky elsewhere on the pitch.

I won’t deny how good it felt this season to win against Spurs, Man U and Chelsea in the Prem, but in my opinion, a lot of that felt hollow when we lost momentum during our last 8 or so games.  We had a Top 4 finish in our hands, and we fucking blew it with our away form.  I’m not sure if this is a mental thing or what, but to me, this should be something on Unai’s radar because these last few games were woeful.

Lastly, I need to say a word about transfers.  Mustafi needs to fucking go.  Seriously.  Ship him to Inter or Hamburg or somewhere but by God he’s awful.  He has no consistency, makes batshit errors and just passes straight back into the opposition.  He needs to fucking goNo questions asked.  So yeah, a Center Back is definitely needed.  Unai also needs to get Chambers and Holding into the game again in case we screw the transfer up.  Also, if it were up to me, we need to send Guendouzi on loan.  He’s a great prospect but by God is he raw.  He’s got to get that defensive mindset into his game or else he’ll get chewed up in this league, so I think a loan spell (preferably to a counter attacking team) would do him wonders.

Also, I’m not a fan of Xhaka.  He’s just not good enough defensively and just too error prone for me.  If the club is keeping him, then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get him to be more like ARTETA and less like XHAKA.  And lastly, I need to talk about Ozil.  I was not a fan of how Unai handled the “Bench Ozil and see what happens” situation, though I am critical of the player sometimes.  Many are speculating that he’s either in decline or is suffering under Unai’s tactical system, but, in my opinion, it might be a bit of both.  However way you see it, I feel that the only thing that’s clear is that the tension between both parties (Emery and Ozil) is a detriment to the team.  I’m of the opinion that Ozil should stay and fight for his place, but Unai has to fucking find a system (with Ozil in mind) that works to win games.  We’ve been too reliant on a flanking game (with Kolasinac….my God) and we’re just not incisive in the middle of the park, and that’s where Ozil shines.  We need to finish teams thru the middle and we can’t have that when we’re changing formations every other game, are too feeble in possession, have defensive meltdowns or get bullied / pressed off the ball.  I think Ozil, Iwobi, Kolasinac and other players can change their games to overcome these issues but these ideas need to come from the top….they need to come from Unai.

I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen this summer.  I don’t know how competitive we’ll be in terms of recruitment as we look forward to another season of the Europa League, but what I do know is that shit needs fixing….NOW.  I don’t need to see another bone-headed defender in this club who can’t stop a cross.  I’m sick of seeing an Arsenal player go into a meltdown and capitulate a penalty when he’s been turned over.  And I’m sure as fuck not willing to see the team eat itself when unfair things happen.  We need to get over this and show that we’re willing to fight for every scrap there is.  No, I wasn’t able to see the Europa final (I saw highlights….ugh), but why should we bank EVERYTHING on the final when we had a top four Prem finish in OUR HANDS!?

I love you Arsenal.  I do.  But we need to be tough with ourselves.  We need to be ruthless with ourselves, and we need to find a way to win.

 

P.S.:  Though I may admit that some of the team’s issues may be things that were inherited during Wenger’s time, I find myself missing Le Prof a lot more.  How I wish our current manager had the ounce of character that he had when things turned sour…