Friday, November 16, 2018

Kasei Yakyoku

Here's a rare bird, not just for Orphan, but for anime as a whole - a four-part josei OVA, 1989's Kasei Yakyoku (Nightsong of Splendor). Josei is probably the least common of the mainstream anime and manga genres - much less common than shounen, shoujo, seinen, minna, kodomo, or even BL. This is (I think) the first version in English, although it's possible that TechnoGirls released a version on VHS tape.

Kasei Yakyoku is based on a nine-volume manga by Hirata Makiko; the manga is not available in English. It is set in late Taisho Japan (1923), a period of political and social ferment. It focuses on a quartet of star-crossed lovers: Hasho Akiko, a daughter of a noble family; Uchida Sara, her maid since childhood; Saionji Kiyokuni, heir to a major banking family; and Ito Taka, a strongman in the Aoba yakuza group. Akiko is betrothed to Kiyokuni but chafes at the constraints of an arranged marriage based on financial considerations. Then Taka rescues her and Sara when their car breaks down in a bad part of Tokyo. As a result, Akiko decides to have an affair with Taka and tries to give Sara to Kiyokuni as a "consolation" gift. Taka sees through Akiko and will have nothing to do with her, and Kiyokuni turns down Sara, albeit with regret. Sara quits her maid's job and tries to make it on her own. However, she is not equipped to face the dangers of the Tokyo demimondaine. Taka rescues her, they fall in love, and then suddenly, it's September 1, 1923...

The summary makes Kasei Yakyoku sound melodramatic, if not downright soap operatic, and to some extent it is. But it's also a fascinating look at a time in Japan when society was undergoing rapid change, and new and old rubbed elbows uneasily. The characters are well fleshed out; there's not a one-dimensional stereotype in the bunch. There's nudity, sex, violence, and raw emotion. What's not to like? 

The voice cast includes many well-known names of 20th century anime:
  • The late Nozawa Nachi (Taka) debuted in 1967. He played Lupin in the original Lupin III pilot film, Axel von Fersen in Rose of Versailles, Cobra in the Space Cobra franchise, as well as Black Jack in Marine Express and Bremen 4 and Takeru in Izumo (1991), all Orphan releases. He died in 2010.
  • The late Mutou Reiko (Akiko) played the title role in Marvelous Melmo and Uran (Astro Girl) in the original Astro Boy. She played Countess Polignac in Rose of Versailles, and Queen Tasuka in One Million Year Trip: Bander Book (an Orphan release). Kasei Yakyoku was one of her last roles. She died in 2006. 
  • Suzuki Hiroko (Sara) played the title role in The Adventures of Pepero and appeared in Peter Pan no Bouken and several other World Masterpiece Theater series.
  • The late Ogawa Shinji (Kiyokuni) played Johnny's father in Starship Troopers and Douglas MacArthur in Junod, both Orphan releases, but I remember him best as the lecherous oji-san, Maestro Stresemann, in Nodame Cantabile. He died in 2015.
  • Seki Toshihiko (Sara's younger brother Junichiro) was one of the leading male seiyuu in this period. He played the title role in Izumo, Riki in Ai no Kusabi, the hero Seitarou in Hoshi Neko Full House, the gang leader Hiba in Wild 7, Miroku in Yuukan Club, Chuuta in Satsujin Kippu wa Heart-iro, the fighter Nagase Jun in Akai Hayate, and the unnamed protagonist of Oruorane the Cat Player, all Orphan releases. He also played Matsuda in the Yawara! properties, Sanzo in the Saiyuuki TV series, and the title roles in Alexander (Reign the Conqueror) and Kaiketsu Zorro.
  • Tsujitani Kouji (Taka's colleague Saburou) played the title role in the Captain Tylor franchise and the lead role in the 3x3 Eyes OVAs. He also played Guy in Ai no Kusabi, Homare in Okane ga Nai, Shou in Condition Green, and Seishirou in Yuukan Club, all Orphan releases. His most recent role was in Kokkoku.
The show was directed by the the late Dezaki Osamu, younger brother of Dezaki Satoshi. Fittingly enough, Osamu got his start at Tezuka Osamu's Mushi productions and went on to direct many famous shows, including Ashita no Joe and its sequel, Ace wo Nerae and its sequel, the Black Jack OVAs and movie, and half a dozen Lupin III TV specials. To quote AniDB, "He was known for his distinct visual style, which made use of split-screen, stark lighting, and pastel freeze frames that he called 'Postcard Memories.' The latter was perhaps his most famous trademark and featured a process where the screen faded into a detailed "painting" of the simpler original animation. Many of techniques that he used became popular afterwards." He died in 2011.

The show poses a number of interesting translation problems.
  • The title, Kasei Yakyoku, is rather ambiguous. The translator, weleaveshadows, used the English title suggested by TechnoGirls, Nightsong of Splendor, but Starlight Nocturne is equally valid.
  • Some characters are referred to strictly by title rather than by name. The Aoba group boss is oyabun, rendered as "Boss" or "the boss." The proprietress of the Cafe Bistro is okami, rendered as "Ma'am" or "Madam."
  • Taka's coterie use terms of familial respect. Junichiro and Sabu refer to Taka as aniki, respected elder brother, rendered by the anachronistic but locally appropriate "Bro." Taka calls Junichiro his ototobun, meaning a friend treated like a little brother.
  • Akiko calls herself atarashii onna or "new woman." This was a feminist movement in Taisho Japan, seeking greater freedom and rights for women.
There are many historical references throughout the series. For example, the magazines that Junichiro is seen reading (Nihon Shonen and Shonen Club) are real boys' magazines of the time.The product advertising billboards also show actual 1920s products; for example, Sakura Beer. weleaveshadows has more notes on the show on her website.

Kasei Yakyoku had a tortuous path to release. Close to three years ago, Iri found some sub-par Internet raws and started to translate, but the awful raws and other opportunities caused the project to be shelved in 2016. While Iri searched for better raws, weleaveshadows of Iquix released her own version of episode 1. I reached out to her and suggested that Iquix and Orphan collaborate to finish the series. She agreed and translated the rest of the OVAs, but the project stalled again on availability of both raws and a translation checker. Finally, Iri located a VHS tape of the first two episodes and a laserdisc of the last two. After delays for shipping and encoding, these raws were ready. The show is a joint Orphan-Iquix release.

Iri translation checked episode 1 and part of 2; laalg translation-checked all four. Yogicat timed, I edited and typeset, and BeeBee and Topper3000 QCed. M74 encoded the first two episodes from the VHS tape rip, and Erik of Piyo Piyo productions encoded the last two episodes from a laserdisc. If we ever find a laserdisc of the first two episodes, we'll re-release them.

I quite liked Kasei Yakyoku. The OVAs tell a complete story, although clearly not the whole story that's in the manga. The ending feels like a good stopping point, with the central relationships and tensions defined but unresolved. And it's gorgeous to look at, particularly the episodes taken from laserdisc. If you'd like to watch Kasei Yakyoku, you can find it on the usual torrent site or download it from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for releasing this. I've been looking forward to watching the rest of it. I feel like Osamu Dezaki's directing is really suited for this kind of story.