Remakes of the '90s article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 3, No. 5, April 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
So, you think it's cool, or perhaps annoying, that Pokemon has a movie? Well, one movie tie-in is nothing compared to what you get in Japan, where name-recognition has been a driving force in the industry for some time. From A-ko to Zenki, an incredible number of new movies, specials, TV series and videos based on nearly 200 different titles were made in the ‘90s alone. No joke! That doesn't even include the multiple series that fall under the same title, like the seven separate Gundam series, or the eight versions of Tenchi Muyo, or the nine different Slayers. So it's not surprising to find a few remakes in the crowds of spin-offs and sequels.
VIDEO TO TV
Some of the remakes best known among fans are those based on original video series. The first title to be reborn on TV was Patolabor, which ran from October of 1989 through September of 1990. It took a few years for the idea to catch on, but soon scads of successful video series started showing up on TV. Those which actually remade their stories include such fan favorites as El Hazard and Tenchi Muyo (twice!). Although their TV remakes are not yet available here, U.S. fans may also be familiar with the far-out, cross-dimensional series, Maze, and Master Mosquiton, a wacky action comedy about a narcissistic young witch and her vampire. Just recently, a video classic finally made it's way to TV. Bubblegum Crisis 2040, the long-awaited remake of the eternally popular cyber-punk series, Bubblegum Crisis, premiered in Japan on October 8, 1998, and its foreign release is anticipated by fans around the world.
Series which begin as videos tend to have a smaller, fan-oriented market, and a smaller viewing audience once they make it to TV. But there have also been many remakes based on anime classics, which tend to generate higher ratings. The ‘90s have seen a diverse array of titles reborn on TV. There was Captain Tsubasa J in 1994, the remake of the long running mid-'80s soccer series Captain Tsubasa. The Akira Toriyama (Dragonball) comedy Dr. Slump, another long running ‘80s show, was remade in 1997. From even further back in anime history, comes a TV series and a movie based on the 1975 children's classic, The Dog of Flanders. The first magical girl show, Mahotsukai Sari (Witch Sally), which originally premiered in 1966, was another classic remade in the ‘90s. The past decade also saw remakes of the kids shows Honeybee Hutch, with designs by Yoshitaka Amano (Gatchaman, Vampire Hunter D, Final Fantasy games), and the ghostly GeGeGe no Kitaro, which seems to have a new series every eight or ten years.
There are, of course, some fan classics which were remade as well. International favorite Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer in the U.S.) was remade in 1997. The epic space drama Vifam was remade in 1998. Tekkaman Blade (known as Teknoman in the U.S.), the dark remake of the ‘70s space hero saga, Tekkaman, came out in 1992. Significantly different from it's original is Cutey Honey Flash, a remake of the odd, ‘70s, magical girl series Cutey Honey.
Not all classics get the chance to be reborn on TV. The ‘90s also saw many video series based on old fan favorites. Tatsunoko enthusiasts had a lot to look forward to. Besides the new TV versions of Tekkaman, Mach GoGoGo and Honeybee Hutch, there were slick, modern video remakes of three superhero classics: Casshan, Hurricane Polymer, and Gatchaman (Gatchaman, Battle of the Planets, Eagle Riders, G-Force). Free of the limitations of TV regulations, the Devilman video series follow the original manga with more gruesome detail than it's older, TV counterpart. Let's not forget the bouncy ‘90s version of Dirty Pair. Though the Lovely Angels have appeared in many different series, Dirty Pair Flash was the first one to examine the beginnings of this deadly duo.
REMAKES FROM LIVE ACTION
Interestingly enough, there have also been many remakes based on live action series and films. With the same producer at the helm, the 1997 film, A Chinese Ghost Story, is an animated remake of the live action film which, a decade earlier, found success all over Asia. The retro fan favorite, Giant Robo, is based on a classic ‘60s live action show, as is Ambassador Magma. Though the story is fairly different from its live action predecessor, the futuristic thriller Iria is a slick animated remake of the cult monster flick Zeiram.
As you might expect with nearly 200 different titles having related productions, there are a few remakes which don't fall into any particular category. How to classify the 1991 TV series Sangokushi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms)? It's based on the same classic, Chinese legend as other versions of the story, but does that make it a remake? The 1996 Dragonball movie, Dragonball Saikyu e no Michi (Road to the Strongest), is supposedly a memorial remake of Dragonball, but it diverges so far from the original, it's almost a new story. Then there's the highly unique situation involving the mid 90s marketing experiment, Ryu Knights. Though the TV series predates the video by three months, this action-packed fantasy with mecha had a TV show, manga, video game and similar but more dramatic video series all produced at the same time. More recently, there's the long awaited Silent Mobius TV series, based on Kia Asamiya's (Steam Detectives) popular, futuristic manga. Unlike many other fan favorites, this TV show is not a remake of a video series, but of the pair of thrilling films which also came out in the ‘90s.
So do all these remakes mean they're running out of ideas in Japan? The reasons are likely more executive than creative. Since the beginning of a direct-to-video market in 1983 and the burst of Japan's bubble economy of the ‘80s, the animation market has changed a great deal. In a recession economy, sponsors are more likely to stick with a proven product than try something new. Naturally, remaking a classic or repackaging a new favorite would appeal to decision makers. With all the videos that have made their way to TV, it makes sense to retell the story, since viewers would be less receptive if they have to rent videos to make sense of a TV show. Of course, there's always nostalgia as a motivation. Not only do fans enjoy seeing classics remade, but, as Osamu Dezaki (Astro Boy, Rose of Versailles, Black Jack*) mentioned in his interview with Animerica, creators are also enthusiastic about remaking old favorites.
Some fans love the diversity remakes offer while others are confounded by the inconsistencies they can create. Either way, remakes in animation are nothing new and will probably continue to be made as long as there is a market which can support the rebirth of old favorites and the diversification of current hits. Viva anime!
*He's done a lot; you pick what you want.