Riding Bean: Kickstarting The Engine
Back in 1989, a man named Kenichi Sonoda had his manga, Riding Bean turned into an Original Video Animation (OVA), with the promise of more episodes to come. While this never came to pass, licensing company AnimEigo bought the distribution rights to the anime and dubbed it in English in 2002. Twelve years later, my friend Alex discovered it and showed it to me. Riding Bean tells the story of the eponymous Bean Bandit, a getaway driver for hire who relies on his wits and his Buff Roadster car to get in and out of tight situations. The OVA is a master class of ‘80’s action schlock, it has gunfights, betrayals, and amazing car chases. Bean is an incredibly likeable and nigh unkillable man (all of his clothes are bulletproof, even his bandana) and it really is a shame that he never got a second episode. Plus, in an astounding feat, the 2002 release has a fantastic English dub, something that, if you know anime, is a rarity, especially in the early 2000s.
However, his partner, Rally Vincent, did end up getting her own spinoff miniseries known as Gun Smith Cats, which is what I saw first. It’s set in the same universe as Riding Bean, but Rally Vincent looks vastly different than how she did in Riding Bean and the story is focused on her. This 3 episode series is one of my favorite old school anime of all time, with expertly crafted action sequences, amazing hand drawn animation and extremely likeable characters. It really sheds a light on what Riding Bean could have been, had there not been a falling out between creator Kenichi Sonoda and the animation studio Toshiba EMI.
Many years have passed and both series had been lost to time, either by being out of print on DVD or relegated to obscurity, save for a few videos on YouTube. But that all changed thanks to Kickstarter. AnimEigo, the aforementioned American licensor of Riding Bean, recently Kickstarted Blu-Ray special edition box sets for both Riding Bean and Gunsmith Cats, both of which raised well over their initial goals by several hundred thousand dollars. Seeing the sheer amount of support his work was getting, Kenichi Sonoda opted to go into the Kickstarting business directly, and that brings us to the topic of this article: Kenichi Sonoda is Kickstarting a new Riding Bean anime, and he needs your help to make it happen.
So, why should you help make this new Riding Bean anime a reality? Well, if you’re a fan of 1980s action movies, you’ll love Riding Bean. Additionally, Kenichi Sonoda is ridiculously dedicated to authenticity in his anime production. While he was working on Gunsmith Cats, Sonoda took a trip to Chicago, Illinois (where the anime takes place) to get an authentic feel for the city. Sonoda recorded video and audio footage of a real GT Shelby 5100, the car Rally Vincent uses in the series, to get the look and sound of the car down to its smallest detail. Kenichi Sonoda even employed American musicians for the anime’s music, using R&B singer Phil Perry, and Andrea Robinson for Riding Bean, and Jazz artist Peter Erskine for Gun Smith Cats. Sonoda’s dedication and love for America shines through in everything he does because of his incredible attention to authenticity.
Not only that but Kenichi Sonoda is arguably one of the pillars of modern anime creators. Sonoda was the Character Designer for Bubblegum Crisis, one of the very first critically successful science fiction anime. It premiered in Japan in 1987, a full year before AKIRA hit the big screen. Bubblegum Crisis was a massive hit in Japan. It proved that the science fiction genre could be popular, and could be successful. Without Bubblegum Crisis’ massive success, AKIRA and other science fiction anime like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star never have materialized.
Ultimately though, backing this new Riding Bean anime project is more than just bringing an idea to life, it’s fulfilling a dream for Kenichi Sonoda. He has always wanted to tell Bean Bandit’s story, but obstacle after obstacle kept falling in his way, from Toshiba EMI abandoning the project after the first OVA, to the manga which was cancelled after only five chapters were produced. With this anime, Kenichi Sonoda can finally tell the story that he’s always wanted to tell, unencumbered and uninhibited. And as an author and content creator myself, there’s nothing I would support more. But with less than two weeks left in the campaign, I suppose only time will tell if the rubber hits the road.