For Marbles and Shadow…

MarblesThe last few months for me have been difficult as I have lost two of my precious cats, one of them, Marbles, this past weekend (picture on the right). Shadow lived to about 20 and Marbles 17; both enjoyed long happy lives and brought joy to my household for being perhaps two of the most talkative cats I have ever had.

I want to dedicate this scene from Night on the Galactic Railroad, my favorite scene from the film by the way, to both Marbles and Shadow. Thank you both for being two of my best friends and for enjoying many moments watching anime, listening to music and many other moments to name together. You will always be loved.

– Josh

#118 : Cosmo Police Justy

Justy_1Say hey there Space Cowboy, catch any outlaws today? … Who says the wild west ended during the time of covered wagons, cowboys and revolver pistols. I say let’s give this genre a sci-fi coat of paint. Why? … just because! And what do we get? A futuristic yet retro tale of Heroes and Villains. “Heroes and villains, Just see what you’ve done, Ba Ba Ba…” … ah yes, Beach Boys lyrics! (great band) … Back on track now, our entry this time round was one of the original direct to video releases, a pioneer (nice wild west pun!). A product of my beloved home base year of 1985 made by that talented group known simply as Studio Pierrot. A gem of an OVA, Cosmo Police Justy.

Justy_2Cosmo Police Justy was a release I became infatuated with just from viewing only still shots. Almost like love at first sight where one could not wait to have the date. When I was in the beginning of finding more obscure classic titles I set about certain parameters as a starting point and Cosmo Police Justy fit in quite nicely. The game was to find titles primarily from the middle part of the 1980s, usually sci-fi or space opera in flavor and then I left it all to my gut reaction determine if it would be a match. For Justy the character’s had a similar quality to Macross, though not as sophisticated as Mikimoto’s, and this was a big plus on my end (plus Justy has great hair, me oh so jealous). Also here in the U.S. a portion of the manga came out via Viz in their once comic sized format which aided the fansub release of the anime.

Justy_3The story consists of a basic good guy vs. bad guy premise, but also has a lot going on under the surface that shapes the overall plot. Revenge is the name of the game as the gang of the fallen criminal Magnum Vega plans to get their just desserts onto the well renowned Cosmo Police agent, Justy Kaizard. Justy’s reputation and super human esper skills brought down the venerable Magnum Vega, but doing so left much controversy and damage. Vega’s gang felt it in one way, but Vega’s daughter Astalis (Astaris) would take the situation in an entirely different way simply because the big bad Magnum Vega was not a criminal in her eyes, but simply dad. Enraged she would vow revenge on Justy when she would get to be big and strong. And then… she would from the power of anger, grow and mature in a matter of seconds… behold the power of science fiction.

As much as she would try, Astalis just could not take down Justy and in the process knocks herself out. Feeling troubled by what happened, Justy and his ‘sister’ Jerna (Jelna) would adopt Astalis and take care of her like family. Thankfully the shock of the fight between Justy and Astalis would give Astalis amnesia about the entire incident. Astalis, though looking like a teenager, has the innocence and mind of a young child and the only thing she knows is that she has two loving adopted siblings, Justy and Jerna. Will this peace and harmony between these three characters last forever? Or, is there something else bubbling under the surface that will shake this stable union?

Justy_4As mentioned earlier Cosmo Police Justy was a project from Studio Pierrot and because of this belongs to a select family. Pierrot would release the first OVA in late 1983, Dallos which would continue into 1984. By 1985 Pierrot would grow their direct to video releases to include several Creamy Mami titles, the great Area 88,  and the sentimental Fire Tripper, Plus lets add all the Urusei Yatsura madness that was ever so popular on both the small and cinematic screens. Cosmo Police Justy was a fellow sibling among these titles… now that’s a proper family!… I hate to play on the Pokemon catch phrase, but you should catch them all! Or as many as you can attempt.

The time to justify this piece of Japanese animation is now. Cosmo Police Justy justifiably is a legend, though more on the side of being a dark horse. Give this anime some of justice it deserves. No further adjustment is needed. … Does anyone else have more suggestions of using the word ‘just’ to help end this entry?

#117 : Cosmos Pink Shock

CPS_1“Well she was just 17. You know what I mean…” I love when I can get a Beatles reference in and yes it holds a purpose for this little half hour rarity from way back in 1986. So called one hit wonder OVAs, or perhaps one off or one shot is a better description, from the 1980s are a genre unto themselves. Combing through dustbins of fansubs and long forgotten VHS tapes one name often sticks out, Cosmos Pink Shock. Now that’s a title, but what is this? Cosmos Pink Shock sounds more like a weird offhand band, or an interesting name for a drink, but no it’s an anime. Just a simple anime

CPS_2Mitsuko Hayami (Micchi), a redhead of 17 years (see told ya the Beatles fit in here!), is on a quest and nothing and/or nobody will get in her way. She interrupts a championship baseball game, gets into the middle of battle skirmishes which have vague impressions of Macross (talk of culture, music, a mustachioed captain and bridge bunnies) and draws the attention of a bishonen (Gatsby/Gatsupi) who is cynical towards women and yet is beloved by a fanclub of girls, ironic. Maybe if Micchi could just politely give notice of her arrival towards each situation? Kind of like, “Hey all passing through here, PARDON ME!” Well… that wouldn’t be fun 🙂 … just don’t forget to check that fuel gauge from time to time so as to not run out at an odd moment.

CPS_3What everyone does not know is that all this speeding around is for a special reason. Micchi is on a mission… a very personal mission. And what of this mission? What would make a girl steal a spaceship and go through the cosmos like a bat out of hell? Why love of course! Micchi is on a mission to find her truest love, her betrothed, the boy who she keeps a picture of in her locket Hiro-chan who was abducted 13 years ago. Wait a second, 13 years ago… 17-13=4… Hiro was kidnapped at four year old? Micchi you are without question a loyal one, but falling in love and betrothing to someone at four years old? Only in anime. At the heart of a fun space adventure is nothing more than a pure love story. Some might see this as cheesy, but it exudes… cute. Case in point if you view the Pink Shock ship from the front it looks like the face of a teddy bear as an example.

By the end Micchi’s reputation comes full circle as all those that she once annoyed soon turn face to realize that she is doing all this for a just cause; in the name of love. This includes a fan club with membership dues and everything! Psst… I’m even a member because after all Micchi is a good kid at heart. That and she is designed by one of my favorite character designers Toshihiro Hirano (Megazone 23 (part 1) and Dangaioh) and Micchi definitely has that classic look of his character designs.

Cosmos Pink Shock is space adventure, a parody, not to be taken seriously and is due for a better quality transfer for my collection. Group this with a couple episodes from Space Adventure CobraDirty Pair: Project Eden and Maris the Chojo and you have a fun lineup of 1980s space comedy for a night in. “Now I’ll never dance with another, Oh, when I saw her standing there.”

#116 : Aim for the Ace (TV series)

AftAtv_1The sun beats down as sweat drips from your forehead onto your hands. Those hands are gripping a tennis racket and as you pant for a moment of breathe you concentrate your stare upwards to your opponent. It’s your turn to serve, its match point and you are about to finish the game of your life. … (shakes head) … Wow, daydreaming really takes your mind away from where you are. Almost as if you are in the ‘game’ so to speak; the game of tennis in this instance. We are not here to discuss the actual sport itself, but an anime about a girl’s rise into the world of high school tennis. Serve, smash, volley… welcome to the original TV adaptation of Aim for the Ace.

AftAtv_2For shojo sports anime, Aim for the Ace is perhaps the grand dame of the genre. The elder spokeswoman, yet not the originator. A volleyball themed series from 1969, Attack No. 1, is from my research the first anime to show girls in the world of sport. Aim for the Ace is perhaps remembered better because of the popular and excellent film adaptation from 1979, but this entry will look at the previously released TV series of 1973. Both tell the same story with a small amount of variation to story, both were created at TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) under the direction of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) and both are hallmark titles representing the growing sophistication of anime in the 1970s. The movie may have a more technically sophisticated presentation (which is ‘SO’ important in our HD obsessed world), but the TV series has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that I found endearing.

AftAtv_3Like many sports entries, Aim for the Ace is a simple coming of age story. Our heroine Hiromi Oka, though being a complete amateur (and at times a klutz), wins a spot on the coveted varsity team at Nishi High School. Nishi’s coach Jin Munakata sees much potential in the abilities of Hiromi, which in typical shojo fashion starts a soap opera of drama between the other girls on the team. Kyoko Otawa, in particular, would loss her spot on the varsity squad, which brings out a very jealous and deceptive character. And then there is the queen herself, the best player on Nishi’s squad, Reika Ryuzaki a.k.a. Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly). At first, Rieka lives up to the sempai relationship towards Hiromi by becoming a shining example to follow. Yet when Hiromi’s skills begin to improve and challenge those of Reika’s is when we see the dark side of the beautiful butterfly. Needless to say the greater length of this TV series lends itself to more story and character development compared to the movie.

AftAtv_4Visually, Aim for the Ace is a great example of manga come to life. Gorgeous watercolor like backgrounds and rougher lines push the look of being hand made. There is a simplicity within the rawness that makes it feel honest and have a lot of heart. So while this may have been par for the course for animation back in the day, it is welcome to see a cartoon not look too overly polished and sophisticated like many productions of today. Then again this was all completed under the direction of Osamu Dezaki and I have many times commented on how much I enjoy the way he approaches animation. Dezaki knows just how to make it all look so… so… so damn good!

Much like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, Aim for the Ace was cancelled early due to low ratings (well thats what Wikipedia says!). All three series through the effort of loyal fans, reruns and eventual film adaptations would become legends. Often in our current glut of all that we have nowadays, how often does this opportunity of a second chance gets to come to a fruition. But much like many of these other shows from the 1970s, Aim for the Ace would get it’s second chance, but if you ask me, it was just right for what it had to bring to the table the first time around as well. I loved the movie, but I also loved this TV series for what it was, still is and always will be… a forerunner… a classic… a beautiful anime!

#115 : Project A-Ko

PAK_1Who needs Prozac when instead you can have Project A-Ko instead. You will have zero side effects, except having a big smile on your face and laughing most of the time. Now that’s a prescription we can all agree on. An 80s otaku’s wet dream of self referential parody fit into a sci-fi school comedy that has a plot so big and out of left field that it could only be… well, brilliant. A staple for any collection, the one, the only, the Project A-Ko.

PAK_2If ever an anime encapsulates the decade of the 1980s (well at least up to 1986 at least), it was Project A-Ko. Rising from the ashes of a failed pornographic project (odd start, eh?), Project A-Ko would turn into a self referential love fest for 80s otaku culture. And in case you miss the references to classics such as Macross, Captain Harlock, Fist of the North Star and Creamy Mami just to name a few, you are still in good hands. A joke is a joke and humor knows no boundary, but if you get the reference, you laugh twice as hard 🙂 Also of note is that we have another level of parody. Wait… more? OH YES! Heard of Jackie Chan? He had a movie out at this time known as Project A and this as well crept it’s way into the film in no minor way by of the title itself.

PAK_3The plot of Project A-Ko encapsulates around a triangular relationship. Super-heroic (literally) A-Ko/Eiko is the best friend of perhaps the queen of all crybabies, C-Ko/Shiiko. They laugh, walk to school and go shopping together. Plus, they are in the same class; talk about being tied to the hip! This does not bode well with another fellow classmate, the snobby rich girl B-Ko/Biko. She wants C-Ko for her own and jealousy exudes on to how she can foil the impressive A-Ko with various nefarious plots including using her posse, building mechs and finally making a powered suit that leaves little to the imagination. This suit and the final fight she starts with A-Ko to claim her supremacy becomes the center point of climactic action and in my opinion the cornerstone of this film. Beyond a normal high school cat fight, this altercation between A-Ko and B-Ko is more like a beautiful dance than an all out brawl.

PAK_4And if that wasn’t enough for a plot, let’s also add in some humanoid aliens who are in search of their long lost princess… C-Ko. Bizarre beyond definition is why everyone, and I mean everyone has something for C-Ko? She is one annoying character don’t you think? To each there own I suppose. Loud, immature and lacking in cooking skills (scary bento lunches) and as I said before the chronic crybaby. I am not here to judge, but I must call into question the rationality for begrudged rich girls and alcohol infused alien ship captains. Then again, rationality and this film are distant cousins six times removed.

Outside the plot, there is another memorable piece that is special to Project A-Ko, namely the soundtrack. Not because it fits the movie so well and encapsulates the era, but because it represents rarity back in ye olden days of anime. The soundtrack was outsourced to a couple young musicians, Joey Carbone and Richie Zito, in the Los Angeles area. This Japanese product used American music sensibilities to spice it up it’s presentation. The East met and collaborated with the West on a project decades before it became commonplace to our zeitgeist. Besides the instrumental tracks written and performed by the boys, there were three stand out songs sung by three different ladies. One of whom was none other than Samantha Newark, better known as Jem of Jem and the Holograms. Samantha of course was the speaking voice of Jem, but this movie showcased the fact that her voice acting wasn’t her only talent. She is a diva of a singer as well.

Project A-Ko is simply too much fun. An entertaining movie that never takes itself too seriously. The exception though would be in the drawing department. Project A-Ko is an animation playhouse created by individuals who expressed their joys and talents into a project that may just be the best goofy action movie ever made.

#114 : Space Runaway Ideon

Space. The universe itself is vast and beyond scope. Space opera as a genre is also larger than life, but often you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Themes and characters are bigger than life, but still relatable on some level. What if space opera could represent something even bigger than just off hand spaceship battles, or fun times trekking through the deep vastness of the beautiful great void. Can space opera encompass the function and consequences of the living universe, call it ‘God’ perhaps, depending on the actions you and your civilization make? After finalizing Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise would gives us an answer in 1980 with Space Runaway Ideon.

Ideon_1Space Runaway Ideon may be the most epic and most importantly, the most sublime sci-fi epic in existence within the realm of Japanese animation. Gundam is one thing, Legend of Galactic Heroes is another, but Ideon is it’s own animal. Ideon ventures into unique territory in terms of emotion, intensity and characterization. Known often as a series where everyone and everything dies (Kill ’em all Tomino!), the true meaning of this series is so much more. The death and sacrifices are all consequences and actions of conflict and hatred. This of course is a product of ignorance and xenophobia to an extreme that once the negativity reaches a certain point, the only option left is total and complete destruction.

Ideon_2Even with all this seriousness one must remember that Space Runaway Ideon is first and foremost a mecha show. And what a giant robot indeed (105 meters/344.5 feet for a height), the Ideon is imposing beyond belief and is one of two mechs that literally scare the $h!& out of me (the other being Giant Robo). This is not so much for the overall size or power, but more so on the presence a mecha exudes. It’s about total respect. All this from what looks like a mix of a Gundam’s GM and Gun Cannon added together on a heavy dose of steroids. Literally… as this is a robot that can split a planet in half. This is power beyond power, almost ‘God’ like, hence why I give the Ideon such respect.

Ideon_3Beyond the drama and the Ideon robot itself, Space Runaway Ideon like many of the best mecha shows is about the relationships of it’s cast. And like many Tomino shows, this cast is large. Our story concerns two factions that make contact on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Earth based humans like us have begun colonization on the planet which they call Solo. Beyond the colonization, many of the scientists and researchers have discovered several artifacts from a past civilization including three huge truck like vehicles and a buried spaceship. The second faction known as the Buff Clan (yes that is their name) are on a mission to locate the legendary power of the Ide. They come upon this same planet, which they call Logo Dau and eventually both civilizations meet. In response, both sides start a conflict showing the darkest side of human interaction towards someone or something that is unfamiliar, or different.

Sadly Space Runaway Ideon would be become a victim of cancelization, most likely due to a lack of ratings not unlike the previous year’s Mobile Suit Gundam. This left several holes in the plot and a rushed ending. All the build up of 38 episodes led to an ackward final 39th. Yet the story was not over for in 1982 two movies would be released to finish the story properly. The Ideon: A Contact would act as a review and prequel to the awesome and powerful The Ideon: Be Invoked. I highly recommend both movies if you want to get the whole story of Ideon.

Ideon_4To conclude with Space Runaway Ideon, let us examine a quote by Albert Einstein… “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” If that decision in the end is a hostile one, there is nowhere to go except toward ultimate destruction… think about it. This applies not only to anime space opera, but also our lives as well. Similar to, but not the same as Evangelion, Ideon addresses the power of how we sometimes view our environment and ourselves and what happens in regards to how we react toward it. Space Runaway Ideon was and still is a show beyond any experience I have known and I will always count it as one of my all-time favorites.

#113 : California Crisis: Gun Salvo

CCGS_1Dude, this anime is so indie. It smells like vintage vinyl in a dusty record store. SNIFF… Whoo! They sure don’t make stuff like this anymore and to be honest how could you. California Crisis: Gun Salvo is a rare gem of an OVA that looks like nothing else, feels like nothing else and smells like nothing else… Smells? Am I going crazy? (shakes head) Far from it… “I’m California Dreamin’” on this anime.

CCGS_2How does one describe California Crisis? It’s  utopian fantasy set in that fantasyland of California. It’s also a romantic tale about being young and free. And it’s like an art house styled road trip movie with a sci-fi twist where the government is chasing two young protagonists who have a mysterious alien orb of a crystal ball that is the focus of everyone’s desire. “My precious.” All this chasing and mystery over what could just be an ultra shiny bowling ball. STRIKE! Sadly it is not a bowling ball. BOO! … California Crisis, from all descriptions, could fit itself into the realm of a live action film territory. And this could be the case, but it wouldn’t look or feel as good as a well animated film (my opinion). And California Crisis looks really good; I mean really, really good… in a mid 1980s sort of way.

CCGS_3Visually California Crisis stands on it’s own in the pantheon of Japanese animation. I have yet to see any other production look like California Crisis and trust me, I am still looking. The basic line work and character designs are of a typical style for the era… very recognizable here. The use of shading and color variation to produce these tones and the inclusion of flat colors in the background give California Crisis it’s distinctive look. Usually you see simple gradations to skin or cloth, but the approach here is to accentuate the colors and shadows to an extreme. Check out the outlining of the shadow and highlight areas. This reminds me of 1960s Pop Art, inline with say Andy Warhol, or Roy Lichtenstein, mixed with a dash of Psychedelia. California Crisis, is one of those rare examples of anime as art for art’s sake clothed in the ordinary.

CCGS_4The indie vibe of California Crisis can be traced to the studio that created it. A little studio by the name of Unicorn, Studio Unicorn to be precise. Several little startups were around in the 1980s and like many bands of popular music would release a couple projects and perhaps even give backup aid on other productions only to break up before hitting the big time. Studio Unicorn was one of these little studios, or perhaps an artist collective, that tried to make it and go against the odds with the established studio houses. As far as who they were and where they came from, well… those answers are beyond me. But I am than thankful for their contribution to the Japanese animation continuum.

Released in 1986 amongst a wealth of one-off OVA titles including M.D. Geist (yes I know a sequel came out a decade later), The Humanoid and Wanna-Be’sCalifornia Crisis stands out like a red headed step child. It looks different, it feels different and no matter what makes California Crisis different, I love it just the same. Being unique and individual always makes one special.