I'm Just So Tired of All These Genma Wars
By John Falco (@MercuryFalcon)
“You stay in here, you hear me? When I get back I’m gonna beat that baby out of you!” A redheaded teenager says to a pregnant middle-aged woman. This scene sounds bizarre, but it is par for the course in the 2002 anime, Genma Wars. Genma Wars is a series whose productions and history are possibly more interesting than the story itself and the 2002 TV adaptation by E&G films is the icing on the confused, frustrating cake. Starting in 1967 as a collaboration between two of Japan’s most esteemed science fiction writers, with adaptations involving legendary artists and British rock star Keith Emerson, the series would fall into obscurity resulting in a later adaptation used to exploit the death of the series’ creator for profit and eventually leave behind a legacy of failed animation projects.
Genma Wars began as a collaboration between Cyborg 009 creator Shotaro Ishinomori and 8 Man creator and science fiction writer Kazumasa Hirai. The story begins with Luna, a Transylvanian princess, witnessing a psychic vision of an alien force called Genma destroying Earth. To defend the Earth from Genma, Luna assembles a team of psychics as well as an alien cyborg named Vega, to confront Genma. The series ran from 1967 to 1969 spawning a series of novels penned by Hirai to re-tell and then continue the story. In 1983, studio Madhouse adapted the original Genma Wars manga into the film known internationally as Harmageddon. The film had a star-studded crew helmed by legendary anime director Rintaro, character designs by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, and music by Keith Emerson of the band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Madhouse had huge plans for Genma Wars and intended for it to receive an international release, hence getting Keith Emerson to do the soundtrack. They even came up with the title “Harmadgeddon” because they felt it would help sell the film in regions unfamiliar with the Genma Wars series. Unfortunately, the film wouldn’t see a western release until the early 90s and when it did, it was only due to the success of Akira. Sporting similar character designs and a plot involving psychics, western anime fans at the time saw this film as knock-off and disregarded it. Ironically, it was working on the Genma Wars film that got Otomo interested in working in animation and is probably to the reason the film Akira exists in the first place.
In 1979, Shotaro Ishinomori wrote his own story in the Genma Wars universe unrelated to the previous comics or Hirai’s novels. Published in Monthly Comic Ryu, this story was called the “Eve of Mythology” and was set in a far-flung future where Genma rules over Earth. This comic was vastly different than Hirai’s work and was the basis for the 2002 anime adaptation. In a future that has regressed to a feudal society, two twin brothers are born of a union between the evil King Mah and a human woman. One son, Ruf, is raised in Genma Castle to become the heir of the Mah tribe, while the other brother Jin is raised as a human, unaware of his twin brother’s existence. Eventually, the brothers learn of their past and join forces to defeat King Mah. The psychic powers, which were a focal point in the original Genma Wars story, are still present here, but they are now called the “Force” as Ishinomori was going through a phase where everything he made had to reference Star Wars. Though, this instance is nowhere near as blatant as his manga “The Starbow,” which rips direct shots from the film. He also worked on the story and designs for Message from Space, aka Japanese Knock-off Star Wars, but that was a collaborative knock-off masterminded by Toei and MGM. The Eve of Mythology story line ran until 1984 and spanned 6 volumes, but the comic was cancelled before the story could be concluded. In 2002, E&G films released their TV adaptation which completed the story, though their work was less than satisfactory.
E&G Films is an incredibly controversial studio in the Japanese animation industry. The company was established as E&G World in 1971 but became E&G Films when they combined with a company called Lucky More in 1988. The studio worked on media mix projects with Kadokawa and King Records, with E&G producing animation, King Records releasing music albums, and Kadokawa publishing light novels, manga, and video games to cross-promote their works. These were incredibly low budget and mostly not profitable. The only successful project credited to E&G were the first three installments in the Slayers series, but even that wasn’t enough to solely keep the studio afloat and by the mid-90s, the studio was outsourcing most of their work to South Korean subcontractors to save money. However, despite the company’s penchant for cutting corners, they still struggled to turn in work in time to meet deadlines. In 1998, the studio achieved infamy while working on the anime Lost Universe, a spinoff of Slayers. Though some accounts say this was due to a studio fire, what is known for sure is that the first few episodes suffered from horrendously sub-par animation that had to be entirely redone for the series’ release on laserdisc. South Korean studio San Ho was only sent basic manuals for the characters resulting in a look reminiscent of those “How to Draw Manga” books everyone respects. Episode 4 titled Yashigani Hofuru (Feasting on Coconut Crab) featured art of exceptionally poor quality and wasn’t even completed in time for broadcast, forcing TV Tokyo to issue an apology to their viewers. As a result, it became an inside joke in anime circles to refer to an anime of poor animation quality as a “Yashigani anime.” It's rumored that at one point there was even a Lost Universe film planned for production following the completion of the 26-episode series, but it's believed the negative publicity surrounding the series led to the project being cancelled in lieu of more entries in the Slayers franchise.
If you’re asking yourself how an anime of such low quality could ever make it to broadcast, the answer is rather simple: it's all Evangelion’s fault. Prior to Evangelion, the approximate number of new TV animations every week was around 30. However, after Evangelion became such a massive overnight success, every TV network wanted anime; as much as they could get their corporate hands on. From the late 90s to early 2000s, the number of TV animations premiering every week more than doubled, and to fulfill the high demand, they needed animators; as many as possible. Following the Lost Universe fiasco, E&G struggled to find work and it didn’t help that this happened in 1998, in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis. In October of 2000, E&G released what would be their last original series, the 22-episode Invincible King Tri-Zenon, which aired on Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting Station where it drew in considerably low ratings. Following the failure of Tri-Zenon, E&G tried to avoid bankruptcy with low budget adaptations of pre-existing properties, which aired on the small anime only satellite cable channel AT-X.
Only two days after the premiere of Tri-Zenon, Japan’s Kid’s Station started airing Kikaider: The Animation, an animated retelling of the classic manga by Shotaro Ishinomori. Created as a tribute the legendary artist who passed away two years prior, the series was immensely popular and, along with the successful resurrection of the Kamen Rider series that same year, sparked a resurgence of interest in Ishinomori’s works. A year after the premiere of Android Kikaider: The Animation came Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier, another successful remake of one of Ishinomori’s classic manga series. Only a few months after Cyborg 009 reintroduced itself to a new generation of viewers, came the premiere of E&G Films Genma Wars in April of 2002. Based on information available, it seems that E&G felt that the hype around Ishinomori could make Genma Wars a hit and saw an opportunity to rake in big money for little cost. The character designs for the series are a clear attempt to recreate the work of Naoyuki Konno, character designer on both Android Kikaider: The Animation and Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier. The Eve of Mythology manga had a striking look with noticeably sharp edges that helps convey the danger and darkness of the primitive setting, whereas the anime has a rounded look reminiscent of Konno’s work Kikaider and 009. Hell, the design for the character Meena re-uses that of 009 antagonist Artemis, though their similarities were also present in the original manga. However, fans saw through the charade and Genma Wars was poorly received for its underwhelming… everything.
Shortly after the series flopped in Japan, Enoki Films sent the series stateside where it received an English dub courtesy of Media Blasters. The dub itself contains multiple errors with actors mispronouncing things from Japanese names to common English words. Most notable of these is when the character Nuu refers to the ninja clan as “human physics” instead of “human psychics.” A personal favorite of mine is when the character Ran is accidentally called “Run.” At the time, Android Kikaider: The Animation and Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier were preparing for their American television debut on Adult Swim and Cartoon Network respectively. To an American company unaware of the behind the scenes drama surrounding the production company, Genma Wars was probably an easy sell. Adding to this theory is the fact that Enoki Films, who licensed the series to Media Blasters, edited the anime to hide nudity. These edits mostly consists of obviously zoomed in or slowed down shots, though some nudity and scenes of implied rape still made it through so their specific intentions are unclear. However, it should be mentioned that Enoki Films had a tendency to license anime specifically for their broadcasting potential and even assisted in localizing some series in the 90s and early 2000s. This includes localized dubs for groups like 4Kids Entertainment and Saban, on shows like Fighting Foodons, Flint the Time Detective, and Macron-1. There were also some attempted localizations that never saw the light of day like Tales at North Hills High, an adaptation of His and Her Circumstances and Ursula’s Kiss, a half-baked attempt to produce a localized dub Revolutionary Girl Utena. Unfortunately…maybe, Genma Wars never made it to television and in the end, despite a deceptively similar appearance to Cyborg 009, international distribution, and a very low production budget, the project still failed to make a profit for E&G.
Six months after unleashing their Genma Wars adaptation on an unsuspecting public, E&G released another 13-episode adaptation of a manga by another legendary manga artist, Takao Saito. Saito is best known among anime fans as the creator of Golgo 13, but in 1972, he also had a popular tokusatsu series based on his manga Barom 1, about two boys given the power to fuse into a superhuman monster by joining hands. E&G’s adaptation strays far from the original manga and tokusatsu to the point that the titular hero is completely unrecognizable and like Genma Wars before it, the series was a financial flop. It wasn’t long after Barom 1 that E&G went out of business marking the end of an era for low quality television animation.
Genma Wars is a bizarre series which, despite lack of exposure overseas, played an integral role in the 60s manga scene and can reasonably be considered one of Japan’s most influential works of science fiction. That said; it’s interesting that every attempt to adapt the story results in a financial disaster for the studio responsible. With the exception of the occasional Cyborg 009 project, Ishinomori adaptations are scarce in anime these days. E&G’s adaptation of Genma Wars is an animation time capsule; a reminder of a time when Ishinomori adaptations were in such high demand, a defamed animation company tried to make one on a shoestring budget to save themselves from imminent bankruptcy.