#180 : The Death Lullaby / Lullaby to the Big Sleep

There are obscure titles in the anime pile of forgetfulness that are fondly remembered. Some titles are often condemned, or criticized and then there are some titles that go beyond any convention. The Death Lullaby, or Lullaby to the Big Sleep is perhaps the most uncompromising piece of animation I have ever seen from Japan. This was not created for entertainment, or broad mass appeal, but instead to make a statement. Much like a piece of post modern abstract art in a museum, we are asked to look, to think, to feel and to question many issues within ourselves and the consequences of how it reflects into our environment.

DL_1Violence. So much violence, hatred and destruction are depicted in Lullaby. Hard to watch and very grotesque and raw at times, these depictions are to educate us through discomfort. Scenes of a child with protruding bottom teeth and his constant abuse and bullying are contrast with business men and politicians optimistic propaganda showing their enforced single minded agendas. See this fancy bullet train, these great buildings. Look at how fat our wallets are getting by bulldozing habitats unspoiled by nature, or more importantly, former places of residency where tenants are forced into eviction where in their opinions, degeneracy once existed. This price of progress reminds me of the great quote from Patlabor 2: The Movie in regards to… a just war versus an unjust peace, an unjust war verses a just peace.

DL_2The abused boy mentioned earlier has primary focus in this short film and can be seen as a mascot, or figurehead. Similar in ways to Tetsuo from Akira, we see a boy with much promise and potential through constant mistreatment and negativity transform from a weak victim into a true monster bent on vengeance. Beyond his disfigurement, he is no threat, but many people like to judge what they either fear, or don’t like. Or, like Shinji from Evangelion, we see the self destructive tendencies from constant depression and internalized anger. This youth is of no concern to his peers, watches horrors at home and has no light, or thought in his consciousness to point him out of his situation.

DL_3I have read from a source that this may have been a protest film in regards to many urbanization projects that were present during the mid 1980s. Whether it is or not, this is a film that is much more like an artist’s expression of social commentary than standard animated entertainment. The issues are universal and stand up today beyond it’s extremely low budget look; I believe it was shot on 8mm film, which for film stock will be very rough looking. If you can find Hiroshi Hirada’s The Death Lullaby it is worth a watch, but I can’t recommend it for everyone. Years ago I had never heard of this, but became acquainted with it during my research for my 1985 panel during 2014 to 2015. This is the first time I have rewatchedWhile a powerful film in it’s own right, it shows that we in humanity have so much more to do in regards to learning about fear and compassion.

#179 : One Pound Gospel

Romance and Rumiko Takahashi, a beautiful combination that always equals success. Even though the popular long epics of Takahashi are usually at the tips of our tongues in regards to personal favorites (Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha), it is the shorter productions, some of them one-offs, that at least for me top lists of my favorite work by the ‘Queen of Manga’. All the great laughs and stories without any added filler that make a nice neat package. There is one example that is a true one-two punch, no pun intended… or is it intended? Boxing, faith and a bad case of the munchies… may I present One Pound Gospel.

OPG_1Kosaku Hatanaka is a hungry young up and coming boxing talent that has promise, but a major flaw. His punch delivery is brilliant, but he desires for something else. Becoming a boxing champion is not so much it, though he wants to perform well. Kosaku is obsessed with eating food almost all the time, which presents problems for keeping him at his class weight maximum. Can you blame him though? Being half starved, he often gorges a meal in secret, which either keeps his weight too high, or worse, throws up in the ring… gross. A recent binge meal came from a chance encounter with a young nun who felt sorry for the young man’s condition of monitored starvation. She feels guilty and from this chance encounter blossoms a relationship that I would have never thought could have existed… a boxer and a nun… now that’s different.

OPG_2Owing up to his ‘sins’, Kosaku begins to train harder. He even takes to the streets where he runs and shadow boxes, often times with comedic outcomes… watch out for that right jab! Soon a rival comes forth to challenge this hopeful talent. Can Kosaku stay the course and commit to his talents? Nope… temptation is always around the corner and much like any addict he begs one of his gym mates for ¥500, or even ¥1,500 just to satisfy his cravings for ramen, or kabobs. His coach is aghast and offers a barbeque meal and suggests he should retire so he can pig out when ever he wants. All the while Sister Angela, the ever faithful nun, still believes in him, but is angered that he can’t see his flaws are hurting himself and those around him.

OPG_3Though the roles of boxer and nun are a unique combination, the underlying character archetypes are ever present in a romantic comedy. Kosaku is not stupid, but naive and a little immature, while Angela is strong willed, yet tender. She is faithful to what is good inside Kosaku, though it does push her buttons from time to time. Such is true in any relationship, it is the learning for accepting flaws both inside us and with a significant other that allows us to grow and prosper as human beings. After all to learn more about yourself don’t look in a mirror, just see how the dynamics in your relationships play out, be it love or friendship. Often times where we screw up is where we learn our biggest lessons. … Kosaku, put down those snacks! Will the boy ever learn?

OPG_4Another point to remember with One Pound Gospel is to look at the director, Osamu Dezaki. Known for his creative use of still shots and lighting, he let’s most of his signature skills take a back seat to support Rumiko Takahashi’s original look… though he does from time to time fit in the Dezaki magic! Boxing is nothing new for Dezaki as he directed the influential Ashita no Joe, a true classic. That being said, Dezaki and Takahashi make a great combination that delivers action, comedy and sincerity. One Pound Gospel is more than a knockout of a great romantic comedy, it’s a real winner.

#178 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (OVA Series)

Sunrise and mecha usually equate to the ever present name Gundam. As a studio Sunrise has a long resume of mecha titles. Some have a famous pedigree and many are only known by a select few who yearn to go beyond the bigger names. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is not a new topic here at CAM. I reviewed the TV series here way back when I was getting started and SPT Layzner needs another shout out. Beyond it’s short comings and twist in plot in the middle of the series, I believe this is one of the best mecha titles of the 1980s. Early cancellation would create problems in finishing the story, but a brilliant solution was available for SPT Layzner. The year was 1986 and direct to video releases were a growing market. Blue Comet SPT Layzner would end it’s sojourn as an OVA.

LayzOVA_1I debated if it was worth the time to review this OVA version of the Layzner story as a separate entry from the TV series. So much of what is presented is a condensed retelling of what is familiar if you have seen the previous incarnation. Of the three episodes, the first two: Eiji 1996 and Le Caine 1999, could be skipped as there is really nothing new under this sun. It is the third episode, Seal 2000, where we find missing links to the rushed ending of the former TV series. Interspersed between some familiar scenes of action and drama we find the hidden passages that make this third episode a more concise and well rounded finale. Much like another Sunrise property Ideon, the TV series would be rushed at the end and would have a second chance of telling the true ending in the form of feature films. All is now complete for Layzner, no stone unturned. That being said, while there is a lot of recognizable sameness, this OVA version is in a small way original to the TV series.

LayzOVA_2Episode one tells the story of the first arc, which for my money is one of the greatest mecha story arcs I have ever seen. Too bad it was condensed heavily. The once far future of 1996, which from 1985 eyes was still a possibility, features a group of students that land on Mars. Suddenly there is an attack by unknown mechs (Layzners) featuring one renegade blue robot defending the Earthlings. Piloted by the troubled Eiji Asuka, he eventually becomes an ally to the group of students as the struggle to survive on Mars and eventually find a way back home to Earth.

LayzOVA_3Episode two recalls the second arc, which jumps the shark from space mecha action and turns into dystopian dictatorship in a cross between Blade Runner and Fist of the North Star. We rejoin our cast of heroes three years into the future. Eventually they reunite to combat the established Gradosian empire who invaded the Earth after defeat at the end of the first arc. The signature Blue Layzner also returns along with Eiji as they now continue their rebellion and solve the mystery of the new Maiden of Cuzco. A new nemesis is also introduced, Le Caine, whose ambition for power blinds his judgement. Episode three finalizes the second story arc and can act as a substitute for the final couple episodes of the TV series. Here we learn of the link between the peoples of Earth and Grados, traverse to South America, Nazca, Peru to be precise, to find the great Seal of Grados and enjoy plenty of heavy mecha action. The final showdown between Eiji and Le Caine is the pinnacle of this episode.

LayzOVA_4You can view this OVA as a shorthand version instead of diving completely into the TV series, almost like Cliff Notes. Remember that much of the drama, character development and finer details will be lost if you take the OVA path over the TV series. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is best viewed by watching the TV series first and then following up with this OVA to tie up loose ends. The shorter path sometimes is the more tempting, but often will lead to missed opportunities. … Eiji may you continue to run like Melos on your “Lonely Way”.

#177 : Dancougar: Requiem for the Victims

Hold on! Thirty eight episodes and this story I have been watching for some time is not over yet!? … Often times a series has a proper ending, or some kind of closure that can be taken care of in terms of a follow-up movie, or OVA to iron out details that seemed odd or rushed. Yet not for the 1985 mecha series Dancougar. Maybe the show was cancelled, or perhaps there was a need for more creative freedom to allow for the final installment to eventually surface as an episode length OVA? The story is far from over, for we must now tie up all these loose ends from the previous 38 episodes to conclude with Dancougar: Requiem for the Victims.

Dan_Req_1Save the final boss fights for last and make it really good! The television series had a lot of potential and I tried to be fair towards it in my initial review, but seeing a lot of mecha anime, I felt this has a lot of super robot re-hatching that had been in place since the mid 1970s that by 1985 was a little derivative. The look of the show is very spot on for the period, still I personally recommend other mech titles from 1985 in terms of watching priority: Zeta Gundam and SPT Layzner. Still, Dancougar had an attitude that was appealing, nice character designs and a fine robot that would have made a great toy to promote. Now after 38 episodes of story we find the Cyber Beast Force with two remaining obstacles to complete before a proper ending could be declared. Shinobu, Sara (still has awesome hair!), Ryo and Masato have to take down long time arch rival Death Gaia and Emperor Muge himself to rid the Earth of the tyranny of the Zorbados Empire.

Dan_Req_2The choice of ending the show as a single shot OVA is an interesting one. Perhaps the creative freedom I mentioned before was a strong reason for this decision. Not being tied to the restrictions, or standards of content for television allowed a greater amount of creativity. Also the possibility of having a higher budget could yield a more polished product… this is a nice looking production. Yet again, this was the mid 1980s and the OVA market was a new and fresh, as well as lucrative market to release animation to the public. You can watch the initial episode run for free, but for the finale, you’ll have to pay for it. For great mecha action, it’s worth the price.

Dan_Req_3It has been some time since seeing the TV series and watching Requiem for the Victims was a breathe of fresh air that reminded me of what I enjoyed in Dancougar proper beyond any personal issues. Also Requiem for the Victims accomplished what it set out to do, which was finish the Dancougar story in a very dramatic fashion… just who were the real victors in this war? As always in war, both sides lose to a certain degree even if one side declares a triumphant declaration. Ironically though, Requiem for the Victims would would not be the final finish for Dancougar as a franchise; out of endings come new beginnings.

#176 : Fight! Iczer-One

One could argue that Fight! Iczer-One could possibly pass as a modern anime besides the fact that it was all analog cel drawn animation. Fight! Iczer-One fits strongly into an action fan service styled affair that was a little unique for 1985. Perhaps this is one of the predecessors to this kind of genre that is popular to certain fans? When it comes to very early action OVAs Fight! Iczer-One is one of the better known titles and it’s fun to watch, but  I will be the first to admit that it is not on my go to list. Needless to say I salute those of you who are diehard fans, because after all it’s these little eccentric titles that we attached ourselves to that round out our fandom beyond the obvious big name titles.

FI1_1Fight! Iczer-One has it’s followers and fanbase and is part of what is the yuri (girl’s love) sub genre, inserted with a lot of high octane action. As an action OVA it does a great job and is equal parts ecchi fantasy of pretty girls either kicking the crap out of each other, or having crushes and romantic fascinations, Lovecraftian horror elements and super robot mecha plot lines standards. Truly, a creative and different mix of ideas. I wonder if Fight! Iczer-One possibly had an early incarnation of going towards hentai/porn before before settling into it’s current guise? Project A-Ko, though not exactly similar, but kind of similiar to Fight! Iczer-One followed this, but in a more playful way. And according to research, yes, Fight! Iczer-One does have ties with the Cream Lemon hentai series. Fight! Iczer-One on the other hand is dark, really dark (and I usually like dark stuff?), and borrows the previously mentioned H.P. Lovecraft down to the naming of the invading aliens, the Cthulhu. From another angle, this has early LGBT themes expressed in anime and that is a positive!

FI1_2The call of the hero to join the fight is strong with Fight! Iczer-One. The previously mentioned Cthulhu are searching for a new home world. They are also in the process of stopping the renegade Iczer-One from gaining contact with her perfect partner on Earth, Nagisa. Iczer-One is Earth’s only hope and her tracking down of her partner is vital to the proper workings of the Iczer-Robo. Nagisa of course is just your typical school girl where all life is perfect until one dark day when she begins to be harassed by the Cthulhu’s invading monsters. Add to this her chance meetings with Iczer-One seem awkward. “Who is this girl in the funny outfit following me all the time”, I can imagine Nagisa saying? Things change when the Cthulhu invade Nagisa’s parents and it takes her a while to get over the crybaby phase of, “Why do I have to fight? Why did this happen to me?”

FI1_3My favorite part of Fight! Iczer-One is director and character designer Toshihiro Hirano. I love his work as a whole with titles like Megazone 23 (pt. 1) (character designs only), Dangaioh, Vampire Princess Miyu and Magic Knight Rayearth (CLAMP!) standing out as personal favorites. His designs for women in particular are very appealing in a doll like way… maybe it’s in the eyes? Hirano ranks up their to Haruhiko Mikimoto and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (and others that are not coming to mind at the moment) in my book for character designs in anime. The budget had to have been good for Fight! Iczer-One because the production looks very good in terms of detail and drawing. Many of the early OVAs and even movies from the 1980s that had the budget and care given to them were what made us go, “DAMN! Where have these cartoons been all our lives?”

FI1_4Fun, unique and a whole lot of ‘kick-ass’, Fight! Iczer-One is a standard for the early OVA market of the mid 1980s. Maybe not my favorite by a long shot, I do give Fight! Iczer-One all the respect it deserves. Also being a quick trilogy makes Fight! Iczer-One easy to digest. That and who is to say it is not one of my guilty pleasures that I don’t want to admit to? Also, how many anime have guest appearances from from Zeta Gundam that’s not another Gundam series? Can you spot Kamille and Fa? I wonder if they needed the extra money and picked up Fight! Iczer-One as a side job?

 

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.

Capturing the Wind: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata Before Studio Ghibli

Up until recently I had given panels at my local anime convention, a run of about five years from 2015–2019. My most successful panel, and one I gave for three years in a row because of the evergreen content, was Capturing the Wind: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata Before Studio Ghibli. Obviously it was a popular event for an hour of time and witnessing Studio Ghibli panels from the past and noticing the audience turnout, I knew I had to do one, yet I had to do it my own way within the framework of my definition of ‘classic anime’. Reason being, talking about anime from the 1980s, let alone the 1960s and 1970s can be a very niche category. Most fans are younger than me, or have a frame of reference that is the most zeitgeist of properties available. By the way I was born in 1979 in case you want to do the math. That being said, how do I do a panel discussing the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, two men I respect, within the confines of my focus of study?

CtW_1And then it happened… of course, talk about their work before Studio Ghibli’s foundation. These two gentlemen cut their teeth on a lot of movies and television series, all of this before the year of 1985, the year of Studio Ghibli’s birth. I had my content! Of course I focused on their major projects, mostly when they had the directors chair, because I could run a laundry list of doing key animation for this one episode of this series, or assists with whatever task was available for that movie. Ten productions would make the cut, each with video clip, but for here it will all be in the written word. Studio Ghibli fans, who is here to learn and experience some lost, or perhaps not so lost if one has familiarity, treasures of the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata? Don’t be surprised that what you love about the work of these two gentlemen also shows up in their earlier works as well; good habits and styles never change once they solidify.

Beginning with directorial debuts for a feature film, then leading to initial collaborative efforts, I would continue with two final categories: television work, because we often equate Miyazaki and Takahata with their cinematic presence and finally a quartet of final projects from the early 1980s that directly preceded the founding of Studio Ghibli. I will not explain in detail each of the productions here, but with link them to my other posts where you can read more in depth on each particular production. Of course this panel only covered what I had seen at that particular moment. Even now I am still filling in gaps by watching other anime not available at the time where I could have had opportunities to showcase more material. But then again I only had one hour and what I had to work with was enough of a fun show.

Here were the following anime that I focused on for the panel Capturing the Wind: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata Before Studio Ghibli:

My initial goal was to showcase to Studio Ghibli fans that the names of Miyazaki and Takahata go well beyond the familiar movies we have watched time and time again. Did I succeed? I think so, but now that legacy can live here online and reach a wider audience. Of course there are a couple more anime that I wish I could have included, but at the time I had no access to the show or movie, Heidi: Girl of the Alps being the best example (watching that one now!). If you love Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, their collective work at Studio Ghibli is only the beginning to a world of many treasures which featured their creative talents. Before capturing the wind of Ghibli, we can witness the emerging portraits of these two artists as young men… a little nod to you James Joyce 🙂

CtW_2Many a thank you to the work you both did. We love you!