#120 : Belladonna of Sadness

BoS_1On the surface you may think Belladonna of Sadness is some pornographic psychedelic fest of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Hedonism at it’s height and yet far from it. Yes this is an erotic movie, very sexual indeed at certain parts, though much of what is brought out through the sexual act is not pleasurable or idealized. With pleasure comes pain, much like any responsibility, including love. Belladonna of Sadness is a title for ‘mature’ adult audiences, told partially through an erotic perspective, with so much more going on that to dismiss this film as simply a wild psychedelic skin flick would be an injustice.

BoS_2Mix elements of The Beatles Yellow Submarine, Gustav Klimt, the Ryder Waite tarot deck (or maybe even Yoshitaka Amano’s deck… I use this one) and beautiful organic line work accented by watercolor fills and you get a general idea of the look of a tale of a Medieval maiden by the name of Jeanne (is it me or does she remind you of Fujiko Mine from Lupin III?). Recently married to her beloved Jean (a perfect pair of opposites/polarity?) the honeymoon is completely spoiled due to the kings need for taxes. When Jean is unable to pay the fees it is up to Jeanne to come up with a solution. Selling her soul to the Devil and exploring the dark night of the soul via sex and witchcraft, Jeanne soon becomes targeted as a witch. Yet she admired by the townspeople as she brings help to the suffering via her femininity and the use of belladonna, a nightshade that can be a medicine, hallucinogen, or poison depending on the dose. Now for the ultimate question, are Jeanne’s methods and new role, both of which exist outside the established patriarchal order, considered methods of evil, or balance?

BoS_3Belladonna of Sadness may be an anime, but it does not follow or accept the traditional look typical of Japanese animation as stated previously. The look is more akin to western sensibilities, yet I doubt any western studio would dare to give life to a project like Belladonna of Sadness. I give thanks and respect to Mushi Production and studio head Osamu Tezuka for creating such an uncompromising piece of art. The animation most of the time is sparse and at times is nonexistent in sections where the only movement was the action of scrolling long still collage images. Is this animation, or fine art passing as a film? Still shots could pass as canvased paintings much more so than just painted acetate cels. Much akin perhaps to Angel’s Egg, Belladonna of Sadness could belong in an art gallery setting instead of the usual theater venue.

BoS_4The original source material, a novel by Jules Michelet named La Sorcière (The Witch, though the title is better known as Satanism and Witchcraft) is unknown to me, but this did not block my own interpretations. Much of the themes reflect the history of the subjugation of the divine feminine and the fear of our more ancient principles and primal desires. The aspects of the darker subconscious, raw sexuality, the use of psychedelic substances as a way of altering ones consciousness and the worship of the feminine as supreme Goddess. Is the Goddess a witch, or a savior? …think Lilith, the untamed feminine. Reminds me of the Hindu goddess Kali… just what is God? SHE is darkness, the void, wild and terrifying beyond compare. The polar opposite to the Abrahamic ‘father’ image. In medieval European society and even still in our ‘modern’ cultures, much of what is listed above was and is still at times considered heresy. Yet this is only because that is what we have been told. Where is truth? How can such darkness be natural? And just what, or who is the Devil really?

Like any hallucination that takes the your mind, your ego, your essence into a different sphere of consciousness, viewing Belladonna of Sadness changes your perception of anime and perhaps even a part of yourself. Be gentle when viewing this film as mind blowing adventures always leaves something behind that you must take full responsibility for as it is now a part of your experience. Belladonna of Sadness is more than a movie, it’s a full blown awakening.

#119 : The Transformers: The Headmasters

Essentially this is a matter of deciding between A or B. 1987 would be a turning point and in way an ending for the original Transformers G1 storyline that began back in 1984. In the west we had The Rebirth, a three episode finale. Only three episodes to tie up everything and… and introduce another year’s toy line!? Hey Hasbro and Sunbow, way to go for being cheap! Now in Japan, Takara and Toei would create their own alternate series, The Headmasters, with a 35 episode length, which means more space for a story. Now that is more like it! My vote will be in favor of Japan on this one so this means it’s time to… Transform HEAD ON!!!

Warriors from deep space arrive during a climatic battle on Cybertron and in time, turn the tide for the everlasting war of The Transformers. The only thing is that these Transformers are not like others that have come before. They are two in number, one being the actual Transformer itself, of about human stature that transforms into a head that connects to a vehicle or animal that becomes the body… the Transtector to be more precise. A brand new concept for The Transformers, but a subtle variation of traditional mecha anime. This is for all intensive purposes a robot and it’s pilot, but with additional play mechanics for the toys. A brilliant idea! These are The Headmasters and this was their show as these characters, amongst others as well, slowly took over from the previous well known cast of heroes and villains.

And in style these previous generations of heroes go out in style. Fans demanded to have Optimus Prime back, but that architype had it’s day in the sun and in The Headmasters they let him heroically die again sacrificing himself for the greater whole. Blaster and Soundwave both die and resurrect into Twincast and Soundblaster, Ultra Magnus would fall sadly and Galvatron gets what is deserved for an evil tyrant. Rodimus and Kup voluntarily retire… WHAT!? But don’t fret we get to keep Wheelie and Daniel and Arcee becomes an almost surrogate babysitter to these two (now thats just not right boss). … Well now, I have to take back that all our old favorites part ways for the best pastures.

Now as for this new cast of Headmaster characters (say hey to Chromedome and Cerebros/Fortress), the Headmasters show delivers one key important feature over the Rebirth… mythology. The concept of a group of smaller Transformers retreating from Cybertron to land onto a strange planet (named… Master) to begin a new life is a little more interesting than just combining with humans on a whim. Survival becomes the order of the day and the creation of the Transtector body helps to turn the tide for these miniature Autobots and Decepticons. A revolution that sparks an evolution.

I often find criticism towards the The Headmasters questionable. When I first watched this series I had a little of a knee jerk reaction as The Headmasters follows a more traditional Japanese shonen adventure pattern. At the time it would seem to be sacrilege to view the Transformers with different sensibilities toward plot and particularly humor. Yet I still found this show very entertaining, but a recent rewatch helped to reopen my curiosity. Having familiarity towards anime in general will lessen this blow, but I know some folks who have watched this show are strict diehard Transformers fans and not into anime. The ideal would be to be a fan of both as you get the best of both worlds! … And yes the Omni production English dub that floats around is quite laughable in it’s interpretation, but don’t let that stop you from following through with this series. Give it a try with the original Japanese track and subs and then decide.

The beauty of The Headmasters is that it opens up an alternative view. If you want to finish off the classic G1 Transformers you can stick with The Rebirth trilogy, but you would be missing out on another point of view. I began this posting by saying this is a choice between A or B. A… B… ah well, which one? Or perhaps why choose at all, have both! Because in the end this is not so much choosing an option… more like having the official album and the sought after bootleg at the same time. Thank you Japan, Toei and Takara for The Headmaster… “Transform Dash!”

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 just simply being there. 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.