In 1989 anime companies AIC and Artmic partnered with Kenichi Sonoda to make an anime OVA called Riding Bean. The 48 minute long anime was supposed to be a pilot for an ongoing series of OVAs featuring Sonoda’s creation “Bean Bandit”: a badass courier and expert driver and his partner Rally Vincent who operate outside the law for large sums of cash. However due to a falling out with Toshiba EMI who put up part of the financing for the series the rest of it was dropped and so only the one finished OVA was ever produced.
I first saw Riding Bean in around 1992 or 1993 as one of many “gateway drugs” into Japanese animation being released onto British home video at the time. Back then in addition to the big hitters like Manga Video and Kiseki there was also a label called Anime projects. Anime projects was a UK imprint for the US company Animeigo: a small anime VHS (and later Laserdisc/DVD) label in Wilmington, North Carolina who specialise in both anime and Japanese cinema.
Sonoda’s intention with Riding Bean was to make a sort of homage to the American crime dramas and car chase epics of the 1970’s and 80’s. The OVA is set in Chicago and Sonoda used a lot of reference materials and photographs to recreate what he saw in the city and drew on influences like the movies Bulllit and The Blues Brothers while writing the script.
Because the story is under an hour long the film is punctuated by a lot of humour, action, great animation and attention to detail. It has stood up remarkably well and I still enjoy it to this day.
On March 6th 2016 a page on the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter appeared that had me rubbing my hands in anticipation. It was from Animeigo.
Previously they had successfully funded and released Blu Rays of both Bubblegum Crisis and Otaku No Video via kickstarter, two titles also from Kenichi Sonoda that they had previously released on both VHS in the early 90’s and more recently on DVD. Their third release was of course for Riding Bean. I backed the kickstarter immediately. Little did I know I was about to become more involved than simply helping the project financially.
The previous two projects I had only found out about after the campaigns closed, however I was still able to back them and recieve my Blu Ray. Thanks to the fact I found out about the Riding Bean kickstarter the day it was released I got to participate in the whole rollercoaster ride of kickstarter backing, seeing how quickly it got funded (in under an hour) and how it even breezed through most of the stretch goals in a single day as well. Quite remarkable for such a niche and old anime OVA I’d say. Soon after I chose an amount to pledge I noticed that the kickstarter page had an advert asking people who wanted to be a part of the “crowd production team” to apply to Robert Woodhead (the owner of the company) by email.
When I was younger I often daydreamed about how great it would be to work for an anime label, going to cons, doing promotions, getting to see stuff first, going to Japan to meet creators etc. Of course this particular role was just a remote working job where you’d be sitting at your own PC at home and it was just a one off gig, but still…..it was a small slice of my dream. It was working for an anime label whose releases I’d loved for decades and for a man I am very fond of. How could I not like the guy for who gave me access to everything from Urusei Yatsura to the Lone Wolf & Cub movies in my native language? (and with better subtitles than pretty much every home video company to boot).
So I put in my application for subtitle proofreader and waited.
After a couple of weeks I started to think that maybe I’d been forgotten about. I wondered if I’d get a rejection email in the vein of a job application or if I failed I simply wouldn’t receive a response.
More time passed and I sent a follow up email asking if people had been selected and if I would hear anything, it had been the best part of a month and the suspense was killing me. Robert politely emailed back saying the choices hadn’t been made and that it would be a week or so but that he would let me know either way which was reassuring.
During this time I got a little bit defeatist, “I’ll never get picked” I thought to myself.
Except that I did.
I couldn’t believe it when the email came. It might sound like a small thing but to others but to me it was HUGE. I’d always wanted to be part of the anime industry in some small way and here was my chance. I was happy to do it for free but the contract promised some nice anime merchandise which was the icing on an already particularly tasty looking cake.
The project didn’t start for a little while after that. When it did I was introduced to two mentors who would answer any of my questions and help me get settled and I was given access to a message board where we’d share correspondence.
To say we all got on really well would be an understatement. Our combined passion for anime in general and the Riding Bean project meant it rarely felt like work at all. The guys mentoring me had been on board for the previous two Kickstarter projects doing crowdproduction work and so knew the processes like the back of their hand which meant my transition to the work was very smooth indeed.
We were given a low quality AVI file of Riding Bean with the first version of the subs burned in. We each had access to a Google document and we picked a colour to write in so that Robert and the other crowd production team members would know who was writing what at a glance. The idea was to note down any errors or inconsistencies we found while watching- grammar, spelling mistakes, phrasing, subtitles in the wrong colour or incorrectly timed. Anything we felt the need to question really.
I think initially about three different checks were done on the actual dialogue followed by checks on all of the subtitles on the Japanese audio commentaries and one to check the hard of hearing audio descriptive subs on both the actual film and also on the English commentary track.
Because every subtitle track needed to be checked multiple times and there were so many of them we all discussed the fact we had frames from Riding Bean burned into our retinas by the end of the project.
There were some pretty funny conversations as well regarding the smallest details. For example In one scene in the Riding Bean OVA a hostage (Mr Grimwood) is asked if he needs to use the toilet while his captor Carrie is holding a plastic container for him to urinate in. So many lines were written on the message board about what this should be called that it became quite funny. Some people said “portable urinal” or “portapotty” or even just the generic “toilet”. However one person chimed in that someone in their family worked in hospitals and because they were shaped like a duck they referred to them as “piss ducks”. We all fell about laughing at that. In the end after careful consideration we went with the simple but effective “Piss bottle”.
Bad quality subtitles used to annoy me a great deal on any official DVD/Blu ray release but now having done subtitle proofreading for a while I find them RAGE INDUCING. Some of the things I’ve seen big companies let through quality control on their subs would have me embarrassed if I was head of a home video company. More video labels should employ fans to do quality control on their releases.
Robert has had enough foresight to see that no-one cares about the quality of the end product more than the target market themselves; obsessive collectors of anime on Blu ray and DVD.
Every aspect of this release was scrutinised, rescrutinised and scrutinised again for paranoia’s sake. I wish all companies would follow suit and then we’d always get wonderful releases like the one you see below.
I hope I will get the opportunity to work with Animeigo again (a new kickstarter project is to be announced in the near future) but If I don’t it was a fun ride while it lasted and an honour to have been part of a company who cares about old school anime as much as I do even if it was very briefly.
If you’d like to own a copy of the Riding Bean “Hi Octane Edition” on Blu Ray please visit animeigo’s website at http://www.animeigo.com
A standard edition with just the Blu ray plus the collector’s edition with a keyring, patch and artbook are avaiable as well as a digital download of the movie. If you’re a big fan of owning promotional and design art I recommend going for the collector’s one while stocks last as the artbook is extremely nice and includes the original Riding Bean manga short plus a new one commissioned by Sonoda-san exclusively for this release!
TRIVIA: Rally Vincent, Bean’s partner later was re-imagined as the protagonist of Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats manga. Her nationality and character were changed significantly and Bean Bandit turned up again this time as a sometime ally (and ocasionally enemy) of Rally and Minnie the two main protagonists.
Please feel free to comment on this article. I love getting feedback on my articles and speaking to like-minded fans.