#207 : The Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Take one… Sanrio… a company known for all that is ‘kawaii’, cute… the home of the beloved feline, Hello Kitty. Sanrio was also at one time a film production company, which created at least one animated feature film a year during the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. They created anime that was very much on the side of the previously mentioned cute factor, anime for children and families to share and anime that also featured a twist of heartbreak. Take two… Osamu Tezuka… the “God of Manga” (much respect to you sensei) and the father of many beloved titles and characters. Take three… Unico, a creation of his from the 1970s, would be published in a Sanrio shojo magazine that by 1981 was ready for the animation world. Add these three elements together and we get The Fantastic Adventures of Unico.

FAoU_1The story of Unico is perhaps one of the most unfair tales of exile that makes me look into the mirror, both personally and collectively. Why are those who are humane, pure and a giver of love and joy often the ones who are a target to those in authority? Simple, they are a solution to the problems that these authorities have either created, or promise to handle if you give up your freedom. Yet these innocent ones when pushed will fight back and defend because they are those who are not corrupted, those who have a heart of pure love to give… those who only want the best for everyone. A baby unicorn named Unico is one of these unsung heroes that because he was born different has a destiny that may be on the side of unfair, but also rewarding to those who meet him.

FAoU_2After angering the Gods, the West Wind is called forth to take little Unico away. What’s his crime? Besides being adorable… he makes everyone happy, he gives love and he will be your friend no matter who you are. He sees the essence inside of each of us and loves us for that and that alone. Talk about a criminal? I guess they feel the same way with Rainbow Brite too? Here’s a theory, maybe Unico is LGBT and the Gods are bigots? I mean he looks a little gender non-conforming and is open to love anyone no matter their gender. Maybe… but then again, he is a little kid who has not been corrupted by adults, or culture. Instead of taking little Unico away, the West Wind decides to hide him in a remote area… at least until he is spoted again and she must find yet another place of refuge for the baby unicorn. The question remains if Unico will ever have a place of permanent residence.

FAoU_3Unico’s journeys has him meet a little devil who has no friends and eventually a cat who wants to be a witch. While light on plot, this film could have gotten away with a shorter run time (maybe by half/45 minutes?). The story of the cat, who becomes a girl becomes the major focus of the movie and could have been the entire plot in its own right. Some make too much of a mention of the creepy baron who seduces the girl, the one who was a cat, by getting her drunk. Hard to believe that much of the themes and situations in The Fantastic Adventures of Unico would label this as a family movie, but then again this was made in a different time. Back in the 70s and 80s animated films had a little more edge and danger and showcased to us at the time that not all the world was squeaky clean and perfect, i.e. The Transformers: The Movie and Watership Down.

FAoU_4Most Sanrio films leave me crying a little on the inside. Inside?! Come on now, I shed tears outside as well since the emotions can be so great. Tezuka as well is a genius at bringing out the feelings with the universally moral messages we all can relate too. You never forget a story that touches your heart. Even at the end of The Fantastic Adventure of Unico Unico is once again swept away with the West Wind to another place to secure his safety and longevity. This in a way is a gift wrapped in silver lining. Unico will still be alive another day, will still spread love to another lonely soul and leaves a trail of influence to all those he has met already to live their lives with a little more joy. Maybe one day he will meet you as well?

… one more thing… did you see the Hello Kitty cameo!?

#206 : The Transformers: Super-God Masterforce

More classic tales of the original 1980s G1 The Transformers from the vaults of Japan!; hip hip hooray! I first want to give the utmost thanks to Japan for not giving up on The Transformers in the late 1980s. In America the tastes were changing, how fickle, and I am sure many marketing adults wanted to pump different toylines into the market, but hey… don’t mess with The Transformers, or fans of the original storyline. Japan began a second original G1 series in 1988 after the previous year’s The Headmasters and while it has The Transformers name, in terms of plot, it really jumped the shark at times. Yet The Transformers: Super-God Masterforce proved to be a strong successor.

TF_SGM_1Often when we think of The Transformers, we expect a mecha show about sentient robots. For Super-God Masterforce we insert a major twist. Humans have played a major role in The Transformers from the beginning. Spike and Sparkplug and then Carly and Daniel were key side characters from the original American version. The concept of combining the human with the machine was also explored in episodes like Autobot Spike and Almost Human. For the American fourth season, The Rebirth trilogy, the Headmasters and Targetmasters were humans and humanoids in robotic suits that allowed them to become the heads, or weapons for their corresponding Autobot and Deception machines. Japan meanwhile went with a differing mythology for The Headmasters as human sized Cybertrons (Autobots) and Destrons (Decepticons) would use larger bodies (transtectors) in an attempt to survive in their particular surrounding.

TF_SGM_2Now we move onto Super-God Masterforce where the human element of being part of the machine would take full fruit in Japan. We begin with the Pretenders who were life sized real honest to goodness Transformers, that have an alternate form of either a human (Cybertron), or demon (Destron). Maybe they used the same shrinking technology that Soundwave and Blaster had, or maybe they are cousins of Ultraman? Talk about ‘Robots in Disguise’… literally. Then we have the Headmaster Juniors which take two sets of three kids and give them fancy suits which become the heads of transactors via magic bracelets. Sounds a little like henshin meets the American Rebirth version of the Headmasters characters. And then you have Godmasters, or Powermasters in the west, who via magic bracelets gain fancy suits to turn into the engine’s of transtectors. Humans piloting robots… you know if this show was not licensed as The Transformers, this could have been like many other run of the mill mecha shows?

TF_SGM_3While Super-God Masterforce is a direct followup to the previous shows, there are some odd plot holes. First, there hardly is a mention of the back history of The Transformers including: the exodus from the planet Cybertron, or the wars from the American G1 shows. The Headmasters is occasionally referenced with the concept of Cybertrons fighting in space and a short communication from Chromodome. Then we get introduced to the new leader of the Cybertrons, Ginrai, who looks an awful lot like Optimus Prime. Didn’t he die again in The Headmasters? So… how did a red semi truck that transforms into the most iconic robot of the entire franchise end up again on Earth to be found by a young truck driver? I have no idea, but we have to roll with it I suppose. While Super-God Masterforce may make you wonder what happened to all the back story I may conclude that maybe this is an alternative universe? One truth to Super-God Masterforce is that it never takes itself seriously, so maybe I shouldn’t with my expectations for this show.

TF_SGM_4Feeling my inner child/longtime fan resonate with this show could not be denied. I too could finally become one of The Transformers, even though I am like you, a human being. While Super-God Masterforce really goes out on a limb in certain categories to what we consider the usual framework of The Transformers universe it certainly worked. And in the end all of the Transformers would revert to sentient robots. My only wish is that I would like to have a pair of those magical bracelets for myself. Then I could yell out, “MASTA-FORCE!” and become like many of my heroes. But as a substitute I and you have this show, which will suffice for now… until I move onto the third series… The Transformers: Victory.

#205 : Legend of the Galactic Heroes: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars

It all began here. Behold a grand vision, an epic beyond scope. Witness a story about a fated meeting between two talented men who were destined to play the game of life while serving on different sides of a conflict. All of this during a particular point in time… and space. Welcome to the world of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. The grand 110 episode OVA would be released late in 1988, but earlier in the year a film would kick off the animated version of Yoshiki Tanaka’s novel series. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars begins this grand space opera that for many of us became an obsession.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100How does one open a great anime film? With explosions  flashy colors, or beautiful people? NO!!! You enter a black screen with scrolling German text and the beginnings of Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony. Heavy! I love Mahler’s music so I was very impressed, but may I ask… is this really an anime? Enter spaceships, multitudes of them, and a blonde young man in a pondering mood accompanied by Chopin. OMG are you for real? All of these great classic pieces of music and superb artwork… would you believe at first I hated anything that was Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

LoGHMCitSoS_2I was very much in a state of ignorance, prejudice and being closed minded from the possibility that this anime franchise was more than the hype I had heard. LoGH has a very, VERY!, dedicated fan following that puts this series on such a pedestal that I with the way I am had to be oppositional.  Then over time as I continued on the LoGH journey I would change my perspectives. I began to see that I was witnessing something very beautiful and special. It may be true that LoGH has a lot of dialogue, battle tactics, politics and is quite a long experience to watch, but at it’s core is a story about people, the lives they live in an extraordinary time and the emotions they go through.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Introductions for both our ‘Heroes’ is long overdue. Meet Yang Wen-li, a well educated junior officer from the Free Planets Alliance that is strategically brilliant. As as a young and lower ranked officer he is often overlooked, unheard, or put into his place by his superiors. Meet also the Galactic Empire’s Reinhard von Müsel (later von Lohengramm), who being the attractive blonde youth archetype and the brother of the Kaiser’s mistress was gifted the rank of Admiral. He commands a beautiful white vessel too. While many elders hold much jealousy toward him in terms of moving up through nepotism, they don’t realize his dormant talents as a commander and tactician. Both young men are not taken seriously, until the events of this movie by way of the two standout moments: The Battles at Legnica and Iserlohn Fortress. By the end of the film both ‘Heroes’ learn of each other and with a sixth sense both end up feeling a great respect towards each other and a tie that binds them together in terms of fated destiny.

LoGHMCitSoS_4Being young, brilliant and full of new possibilities can be a wonderful thing except at times there is a problem. When one is young, brilliant and full of new possibilities that is situated in a group that is propped up by an older, more conservative and, or more stagnant environment, then a clash of energies can bring about tensions. Call it jealousy, call it ignorance, or call it reluctance to surrender. When one is young and wanting to prove oneself in the world there is often resistance and sparks will fly. This in simpler terms is the battle of generations; the older guard who refuse to step aside to allow the new vision and hope take their rightful place in the sun. Maybe this newer regime has to grow some patience within the short term and eventually learn to bend the system and work within strategic loopholes, which are nothing more than opportunities.

LoGHMCitSoS_5This for me in a nutshell is what My Conquest is the Sea of Stars is, a rising up of a new generation and a new ideal to follow. We get a taste of what to expect in the coming OVA and coming back again I was more than ready, excited and loving it all more than the before. What makes this movie, this franchise, so great? Well, the proof is in the pudding. Just open your eyes and ears, because its there for all to see, hear and feel. This may not be for everyone, but this is space opera and science fiction at it’s best. A true hallmark for an intelligent and mature audience be it anime, or any other expression of storytelling.

… the only downside to this movie is that now I can’t get Ravel’s Bolero out of my head. And why is this a downside? … Well it isn’t 😉

#204 : Cipher

Wow, an anime that opens with a Phil Collins song! Against All Odds to be exact, except it’s not Phil’s singing voice, perhaps due to licensing. It really sets the mood during the opening credits and wouldn’t you know it, it closes the film too. Here we have an odd OVA of a shojo manga adaptation that combines 80s era MTV styled music videos, off the cuff interviews and promotional commercials. Interesting and would you believe it’s in English too. What? Like a dub? No no, that was the original audio track. Interesting. All of this combined becomes an exploration into the lives of twin boys that focus into one identity. This was Cipher.

Before diving into Cipher the Video, the proper name for this anime, I had to look into the definition of cipher itself. Basic dictionary definitions point to a secret code and even the number zero. How about a cipher in terms of a person, an individual? I found this description at Quick and Dirty Tips that spoke to me immediately…

A cipher can also be a person, often a fictional character, who is a blank slate—and that’s how I used the word when talking with my husband. A cipher has so little personality—is such a nothing—that the readers or viewers can project their own ideas and values onto the character.

… now we are onto something. I think we can look into the anime now.

Cipher_1What I found interesting about Cipher was how shallow and fake everything appeared. And yet you find a depth within this void of plasticity, which sounds ironic, but then again view this OVA like an art exhibit more so than a piece of entertainment. Everything looks polished, perfect, well dressed and it all comes out very dull and preprogrammed. Listen to the voice acting in particular, is it badly acted or oddly phrased? The English language dialogue is an odd choice, but the story is set in New York, so the creators wanted to be authentic to the native vernacular. And not just the dialogue, even the setting was drawn from scouted photography of New York City for authenticity. Obsession with American culture cannot be questioned as all this is outlined in a documentary that follow the main feature OVA.

Cipher_2Our characters don’t have much back story in the anime and one will have to reference the manga, or some basic research to find out who these twins of Cipher are. Jake and Roy Rang are former child stars who exude blond teenage heartthrob eye candy that lead not a double life, but a life single life in two bodies. A persona of Siva, and at one point see a statue of the Hindu god Shiva, is played by both boys and this role serves as an actor and student in greater society. Yet outside this role, who are these boys? While there is a lot of fun and happiness portrayed, I return back to that opening segment which feels a little lonely and sad. Beyond the man made role, are these boys their own individual, or only a manufactured personality that is split into two? There is often a close bond between twins where we can’t tell one from the other and for one female friend this is the case as she is the only one who seems to know the truth of Siva. Or, is she their girlfriend?

Cipher_3Often who we portray in public may vary greatly from our genuine selves. I question if we are all a cipher to one degree or another? Look at social media, or TV and movies and even anime as well, it’s all a camera angle behind a distorted reality. Some may find Cipher as a bland 80s stream of music plastered on top of unrelated events. Yet I see this as an exploration of identity, or maybe our lack of a genuine sense of self in a world that is mostly unreal. This anime may have been more of a promotion for the manga than an actual story in and of itself, but it spoke to me in a profound fashion. I think the cover of the Phil Collins song Against All Odds says it all…

How can I just let you walk away, just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you, ooh
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me,
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cause we’ve shared the laughter and the pain and even shared the tears
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, oh there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face
Ooh take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds and that’s what I’ve got to face

I wish I could just make you turn around,
Turn around and see me cry
There’s so much I need to say to you,
So many reasons why
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face
Now take a look at me now, cause there’s just an empty space

But to wait for you, is all I can do and that’s what I’ve got to face
Take a good look at me now, cause I’ll still be standing here
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It’s the chance I’ve gotta take

Take a look at me now

#203 : Cherry no Manma

Maybe someone can fill me in and my beautiful audience with a bit of trivia… what is the shortest anime ever made? Or maybe a more precise question is what is the shortest OVA title ever made? I can throw a possibility into the ring with this entry, Cherry no Manma, as this one off was only ten minutes long. 10 MINUTES! And that includes the opening and closing credits, so with the law of averages in play this anime is more like eight minutes long. That’s like… uh… well… I’m not expecting much out of this one.

CnM_1Based on the manga of the same name, Cherry no Manma at only ten minutes, got to reintegrate that again, is I hope a very condensed version of the overall plot line. Because if it isn’t… shaking my head. Apparently a young girl, Kanoko, lives with what other sources have said are two housemaids. Both of whom are boys and since it is a shojo comedy verging on the romantic, they are both on the scale of being handsome. One who has a ponytail, Yuzuru, seems to be very much the gentleman and concerned with our lady’s welfare to the point of being a brown noser. Then there is Yuki, who is more of a slacker, has short hair and likes to go into Kanoko’s bedroom to stare at her panties when they are being hung out to dry after washing. What!? Ok dude, if you like to wear them that’s cool (I doubt this is this case), but staring at and admiring her underwear… well we all need a hobby.

CnM_2Kanoko catches Yuki in the act and calls him the ever popular term, ecchi, a pervert! Yuki feels odd, well duh. Then Kanoko puts all her underwear away to find a pair missing. She then blames Yuki and no, he did not take them. Wait a minute, this whole plot, that’s only ten minutes, is centered around missing panties? “Oh Lordy, trouble so hard.” I know this is a quasi comical thing, but… shaking my head. Cherry no Manma is like that one episode of That ’70s Show, “Eric’s Panties”, which was funny, or maybe a weird inverse of the old comedy Three’s Company, except Cherry no Manma… shaking my head.

CnM_3Shake no more my child as ten minutes have passed; you survived. This is far from the worst anime ever made, very, very far, and in its own way is comical, but really… missing panties. I only hope the manga has more to offer… and often the case it usually does, but I prefer animation. Now for the kicker, the punchline… once Kanoko finds her missing panties she writes an apology on them and hangs them up for Yuki to keep in his room. Now he can say he has his own panties. And guess what folks? I saved you ten minutes to watch something else. You can yhank me later 😉 But then again this is worth a watch at least once.

Anime Wisdom from Quattro Bajeena… I believe in a better tomorrow that is here today.

Quattro Bajeena, or Char Aznable by any other name, and yes there were others, Édouard Mass and even Casval Rem Deikun… Will the real Quattro Bajeena please stand up? And he has. As a central figure to the original Gundam timeline, Quattro, or Char, was at his most humanitarian height in the sequel Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. It is a shame he fell from grace in terms of being a hero from Zeta Gundam to Char’s Counterattack. His guise as Quattro seemed to have shed anger from the past to move ahead into the future, but this sadly was temporary.

It was a time when he had the awesome hair and swapped the mask like helmet for aviator sunglasses; he was stylin’! That aside, Quattro’s ascension as an individual for change was his climatic speech in the Assembly at Dakar. A speech in which he came out to everyone as Char and issued a call to everyone to rethink what we need to focus on for not the future, but the right now…

I would like to start by asking the forgiveness of the assembly members and all Federation citizens. We mean no disrespect by taking over this meeting. I am Lieutenant Quattro Bajeena of the Anti-Earth Union Group. There is one more thing I must disclose before I say what I came to say. I have another name. I am also the man who was known as Char Aznable. I have come to you today as someone who carries within him the true aspirations of Zeon. Do not think of me as Char of the Principality of Zeon, but rather as the son of Zeon Deikun. Zeon Deikun’s legacy has nothing to do with the evils and hatred of the Zabi family. Zeon Deikun did not build the principality of Zeon! When one sees how the Titans do as they please with the Earth Federation Forces it becomes apparent that they are more depraved then the Zabi family ever was!

Humanity went to space so that the planet would not collapse under the weight of the people on it. Once there, they flourished, expanding their living space as they built more colonies on their own! Unfortunately, their success filled them with hubris and dreams of glory creating evils like the Zabi family! We mustn’t repeat that mistake! Why won’t people understand that moving into space will broaden their horizons!? We believe that humanity should no longer pollute the Earth! But the Titans whose souls are pulled down by gravity think only of ravaging it! Why is it so hard for people to understand? From the dawn of history, mankind has played in this cradle called “Earth.” But now, humanity must leave the nursery behind! Our infancy has come to an end!

Tell me why at this turning point in our history we must fight amongst each other and further pollute the Earth? The Earth should be returned to its natural state and all of humanity must make its home in outer space! Otherwise, Earth will no longer be the planet of water. Even this very city of Dakar is slowly being engulfed by the desert. This is how exhausted the Earth is! Right now, every one of us would like to see the Earth remain alive and beautiful. If we truly feel this way then we should not cling to the Earth as parasites just to fulfill our selfish desires.

The Titans have started a battle disregarding the lives at this assembly. See for yourselves the brutality of the actions they take. They place themselves above the regular Earth Federation Forces and label anyone who opposes them evil doers. But, their own arrogance is the greatest evil; they will be the ruin of humanity! Those of you who were watching the television must realize by now that this is how the Titans go about their business. I admit, it was wrong to take over this assembly, but what of the Titans who were trying to destroy it with the members still inside? Would they even destroy their own supporters?!

There is of course more than one form of pollution. Greenhouse gases are one thing, but fear and negativity are another. I don’t believe we need to leave our beautiful planet, but instead change the way we view the world and ourselves. I see a lot of fear right now, a lot of negativity right now, but a whole lot of potential for creating something beautiful RIGHT NOW! The era of dividing humanity and fulfilling aimless desires we don’t believe in anymore is over. This holds true for both Universal Century 0087 and in our calendar year of 2020. Old corrupt regimes will do what they can to hold onto power by making you afraid, but there are those who are willing to stand up and say, NO! I am a sovereign being and I am one with all my brothers and sisters and we fear nothing that is not real. And you too are a sovereign being and I am willing to shake your hand, give you a hug and say you are my friend. United we all stand.

#202 : Fist of the North Star 2

Legends never die, heroes are immortal… with all that in mind, let’s have a sequel! Considered the genesis point of shonen fighter that defined the genre we know today, Fist of the North Star was as much evolutionary as it was revolutionary. The epic tale of the wandering martial artist Kenshiro has only just begun after the conclusion of the 1984 TV series. A film adaptation would follow in 1986 and a multitude of reboots have abounded ever since. Yet in 1987 a true sequel, or perhaps continuation was released to TV. Familiar faces have returned and new foes await in Fist of the North Star 2. Are you, “A tough boy (or girl)” that knows what it means to be “livin’ in the 90s”?

FotNS2_1Round Two! Now then, is this going to be nothing more than just a wash, rinse and repeat series almost as if the first Fist of the North Star never ended? I thought the battling was over; Raoh was defeated and peace was brought back to the land. Didn’t Ken and Yuria get to live happily ever after and settle down, build a house, raise a family, etc.? Not completely. Three truths exist in life: death, taxes and shonen fighters are often never over even when it is over. Just add yet another arc again and again and again if the going is good. So don’t expect nothing new in terms of what you have seen before, well except for the characters we meet during this 43 episode sojourn.

FotNS2_2Let us now return to more familiar names. Kenshiro is obvious, this is his show after all, but two faces you may not recognize completely are Bat and Lin. During the first series they were both young children who were often under the care of Kenshiro like a surrogate father. For Fist of the North Star 2, Bat and Lin reunite and fight along side Kenshiro as they have grown into adulthood. A true surrogate family reunion. Many new quests include finding the Celestial Emperor, a journey to the Island of Asura and the distant memories as well as the ever powerful influence of the once mighty Raoh still permeate throughout the land. In usual fashion, Kenshiro ends up wanting to go it alone eventually, feeling he is the one with the cross to bear the heavy load. Oh yeah… and can you believe it… Lin has a twin sister too?

FotNS2_3I have remarked in the past how I appreciate the type of protagonist Kenshiro is. He may be ripped and very masculine, but his quiet and caring demeanor (towards those who are just and kind) and ability to move, or fight, when the time is right is more an aspect of the feminine. He is well balanced, the definition of yin and yang in harmony, but there is more that makes Fist of the North Star appealing outside of the fighting. While Mad Max and Bruce Lee are obvious visual influences there were a couple others that I noticed watching this sequel series in particular. Fist of the North Star is the ultimate lone wolf samurai story, or put another way, perhaps the best Western ever told not in the Wild West. This is totally a Spaghetti Western in every way, but for the fact that Fist of the North Star is a Japanese cartoon about the martial arts. I prefer the cartoons (obviously) 😉 … Who needs cowboys anyway?

… and then wouldn’t you know it, about halfway through the series we do encounter cowboys.

FotNS2_4You can have too much of a good thing. I enjoy Fist of the North Star overall, but in all honesty I was getting a little tired getting through this second series. It’s a great sequel, but like many shonen fighters I often wonder when they will ever end. This second series in many ways can be considered like Dragon Ball Z to the original Dragon Ball in that for both franchises we are just moving into an evolved portion of the plot that takes place years later. After all these years I will be the first to say that after all this fighting, Ken please consider retiring. You must be tired and you have earned your time to relax my friend. But Ken as he is will most likely never retire as he is always on some sort of a journey.

By the way… even though the opening sequence said everyone was fightin’ and livin’ in the 90s… Fist of the North Star 2 didn’t look much like the 90s that I remember. Oh well, maybe I was not livin’ I guess. 😉