#34 : Anne of Green Gables

aogg_1Families can come in all shapes, sizes, or colors. Many times unlikely circumstances can bring about the formation of a family that may not have been planned. On another subject, how is it that Japan made some of the best adaptations of beloved western children’s novel? And another subject, the work of Isao Takahata before Studio Ghibli. Now to put together all three ingredients… and what we get is one of the trilogy of World Masterpiece Theater Series that Takahata directed. We shall look at the third and final, a beloved story around the world, 1979’s Anne of Green Gables.

aogg_2Before I begin I will say that I have yet to read the original book written by Lucy Maud Montgomery at the time of this writing. I was aware of another animated version that aired here in the U.S. on PBS as well as the famous name of this classic. But of course if a version was created for the Japanese market, in my eyes, I have to watch it. And watch I did as I have been getting into much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series and enjoying them immensely. Add in Isao Takahata’s directing vision and the skills of Nippon Animation and  you have a combination of fine pedigree. Though the first five episodes were a slow start, at least for me, it began to turn into a typical Takahata production of an investigation into the intimate lives of characters.

aogg_3The beginning of this story has Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elder pair of siblings who live in rural Canada and are in need of a child to aid in the farmwork of Matthew. Hoping for a boy they end up with a scrawny red headed girl, Anne Shirley, who has had bad luck in finding a lasting home. Marilla’s strictness, Mathew’s gentleness and Anne’s imagination and firecracker temper all seems to meld together as the three learn what it is to be a family unit. Not only does Anne grow from childhood into adulthood, but the Cuthbert siblings also evolve. Almost in a direct opposition of Takahata’s Grave of Fireflies, Anne of Green Gables shows what happens with the community and child relationship working together to create the greater whole.

aogg_4Like many of the other World Masterpiece Theater Series shows I had my moments of joy and moments of tears. Anne’s friendship with Diana is adorable and real as things are not always picture perfect… just watch out for the raspberry cordial. Anne’s temper is also a fun thing to watch, much to the dismay of Gilbert Blythe… don’t call her hair carrots! Though the ending was a little disappointing on my end personally as Anne lets go of a great opportunity, but she has her reason. And that reason was justifiable in regards to the circumstances. I wish I read more books when I was a kid, as this anime is a good example. But the benefit of watching them now is seeing them with character designs I know and love.

aogg_5Released the same year as more ‘revolutionary’ shows like the original Gundam and Rose of Versailles, Anne of Green Gables can seem like a more tame family oriented affair. It is since much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series are basically adaptations of literature, but never, ever, discount these shows. I am honored that Japan back in the day gave the attention to bring stories like Anne of Green Gables a place in the sun. Not only does it show Japan’s willingness to be open to other cultures (because anything foreign is awesome, right?), but it gives those of us in the west to see familiar stories in a different style. Anne of Green Gables you are a fine classic. Who needs Cliff Notes? But you should still read the original… and so should I.

#33 : Neo-Human Casshan

cass_1If you want to be a superhero, there is one main rule to follow. True you need to have some kind of power that makes you… super? But, even more important, you have to have a great costume. Casshan’s uniform is second to none and has left an influence onto future creations, not unlike Megaman. A helmet clad cyborg hero in a world that has flipped upside down trying to make it right again, while looking awesome in the process. I call that worth a watch! Tatsunoko redefined the concept of the superhero in the early 1970s and this was their second concept to hit the market. A reborn human, or a cyborg, better known as Neo-Human Casshan.

Say Casshan… one thing before I begin. The spelling as ‘Casshern’, what is this? Hearing the original language track and I hear something closer to ‘Cassharn’ so ‘Casshan’ is more appropriate? Enough of the being on the soapbox. …

cass_2Oddly I came to the original Tatsunoko production of 1973 not first in my journey of watching all that is Casshan, but last. I watched the 90s OVA first (I thought it was ok), then Casshern Sins (I loved it) and then the original. For some weird reason I thought the original series, before even watching a minute of it, was going to be a little bit of a brighter and more fun series. Of course I had seen the original Gatchaman, Tatsunoko’s first superhero series (and a good one), and that was a bit of a more serious affair and the same was also true for the original Casshan. My gut instinct was wrong, just don’t ask me what I ate that day to have me come to that original conclusion.

cass_3Casshan like in every other adaptation is the lone warrior, the anti-hero, the one who is unjustly given a role to make right in a world that has gone wrong. The cause of these issues was an accident that brought a robotic creation of his father’s, BK-1 or Braiking Boss, to life. Braiking Boss’s awakening corrupted his logic and function, which in turn makes him the main bad guy of the series. To counter this error, Dr. Kotaro Azuma’s son Tetsuya volunteers to be reborn as a cyborg to fight the robot army of Braiking Boss. And it is this army that has taking over humanity. Their purpose is to eradicate the human race because these robots think the only way to clean up the pollution and problems of Earth is to destroy the inhabitants that created it. Kind of like Frankenstein meets Fist of the North Star? And speaking of FotNS, Braiking Boss you sound a bit like Raoh (Kenji Utsumi voiced both roles).

cass_4Mixed with the social responsibilities are Casshan’s personal struggles of the break-up of his family and his distancing behavior of forgetting his former identity of Tetsuya Azuma. His personal angst is most apparent to his friend Luna, a long time friend and maybe a love interest. But to me the most touching moment of his troubles are his interactions with Swanee, a robotic swan who acts as a spy for Casshan, but also Swanee contains his mother’s soul or essence. The interaction between these two are the most heartfelt as Casshan, or should I say Tetsuya, really wants to reconnect with a relationship with family. And who says being a super hero is easy? With every duty comes a cost.

In terms of western story telling, Casshan reminds me of the lone cowboy, but to be eastern appropriate, Casshan is the lone samurai. Except he is not alone. Fighting along side is a re-invention of the Azuma family dog Lucky now known as Friender. And if dogs are man’s best friend, then robot should be added to the equation as well. The pairing of these two make a formidable combination and to state it again, both are great examples of design. And speaking of design, Casshan has the great look of the early Tatsunoko shows of the 1970s and perhaps 1970s anime in general. This show looks like it was made by hand with heavy emphasis on strong lines that scream pencil and ink. Beautiful and rough.

Heroes come and go, but legends never die. Thanks to a couple reinventions the name Casshan will live on longer. Much like Yamato and Gundam, remakes can sell ideas to a new generation, but never hold the honesty of the original. Neo-Human Casshan you are a one of a kind.

#32 : Zillion: Burning Night

Many and I mean many anime from the 1980s drew inspiration from a live action cult film, Streets of Fire (see it if you can). But how many have literally ripped it off to be a near clone? I know one… Zillion: Burning Night. The title is even a near doppleganger? This is one of my favorite odd ball OVA releases and one really does not need to have any prior knowledge of the Zillion TV series. All you need is a bucket of popcorn and an hour of time.

zbn_1Let’s give a group of favorite heroes another day in the sun. It’s the late 1980s after all and if a show was halfway successful give it a followup direct to video OVA release. Zillion was another fun sci-fi action series that had it’s fifteen minutes of fame back in 1987. Of course SEGA Master System fans do you remember the two games Zillion and Zillion II: The Triformation? They are based on this show. Hopefully you have a copy of each, just remember the jump and action buttons are reversed. So this a SEGA anime? Yes INDEED! SAY, GAH! It even featured the character Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone. But after a single season Zillion would wrap up the story, until… until the release of an OVA Zillion: Burning Night.

zbn_2So where do we start? Our heroes JJ, Champ and Apple, the White Nuts (how the Japanese term the words knights?), and friends are headed to a bar on motorcycles because what do you do after you save the world? Anyone? You form a band! Crank up the amplifiers and ready the cigarette lighter salutes folks. Not only can our heroes handle the awesome Zillion guns, they can also rock out till after midnight. And then a bunch of thugs rush in to kidnap Apple and take her away to the rough side of town. This sounds and looks a little familiar… kind of like the beginning of… Streets of Fire? Guilty as charged, but it’s an awesome near scene for scene rip-off and that is only the beginning.

zbn_3So now it is up to save Apple from the Odama Clan (originally the Nohza’s main bad guy crew, but now they are more human in appearance), but then Champ and JJ encounter an old flame of Ms. Apple, Rick (Ricks from the Japanese dub and also a former Nohza). As of writing I have yet to see the original Japanese version. The Streamline dub has some funny moments in the way they translate the script… “This must have a cast iron brain pan” is a good example. Not to knock it, I love the actors from ye old Robotech days and this was one of the first productions where I realized they were all involved in something else besides Robotech. Kind of like a comforting of reacquaintance towards nostalgia?

zbn_4When I eventually come across a release with the Japanese track and English subtitles I will need to put that into the top of my priority watch list. Truth be told this is not the most mind blowing OVA, but it makes a fantastic background companion when doing other projects. This is yet another odd treasure from my not so dusty VHS collection. I think I should get back to my shelves of tapes and review all the other oddball releases I have collected.

#31 : Arcadia of My Youth

aomy_1“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.

aomy_2Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.

aomy_3As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.

aomy_4The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.

In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.

 

#30 : Mobile Suit Gundam

1979 was a breakthrough year. And Mobile Suit Gundam was a breakthrough series, or was it? I see Gundam as a continuation, an evolution and a product of it’s time expressing the then fashionable mecha genre with space opera not unlike Space Battleship Yamato or Star Wars. But where Yamato was emotional and Star Wars was heroic, Gundam was intense passion. And that passion became a franchise bigger than it’s own name, an elephant in the room that now seems to define mecha itself. But nothing compares to an original and for me when you go back  ‘the’ original, it is hard to move ahead to what seems like a copycat for cash.

msg_1The original Gundam may have broke the mold in regards to looking at the large robot as a piece of utilitarian hardware instead of this super hero deus ex machina. But, Gundam did not happen in a bubble or was a happy accident. The mecha genre had been building through the 1970s and the likes of Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam’s creator/director) and Tadao Nagahama both pushed story and character development through the later part of the decade. Two shows from 1977 deserve the place as major stepping stones leading to Gundam, Nagahama’s Voltes V and Tomino’s Zambot 3. If you love mecha and consider Gundam to be the true beginning of mecha as serious storytelling, you may have to scratch that surface again.

msg_2Why do I love the original Gundam so? Simple answer… it’s good. Damn good… no great. An epitome of the concept of the large epic space opera. Top it off for it being harder sci-fi as well. Warp drives and far out deep space are out. We are going to stay close to the Earth sphere for this story. Let’s strip out a bit of the super fantastic and make it about political ideals. A corrupt unified government, the Earth Federation, versus an even more corrupt family dictatorship, the Zeon (Jeon?) Empire that can likened to the Godfather or I Claudius. And everyone else is in between and by due fact of geography resides to one of those sides, which is where a majority of our main cast resides. Many aboard a Federation ship called White Base, which houses the Federation’s newest prototype, the RX78-02 Gundam.

msg_3And this tale has one of the greatest rivalry combinations pitting an electronics obsessed otaku kid who wants nothing to do with fighting or war against a blonde elitist pilot who must be in disguise in order to carry out his own personal revenge for the wrong done to his family. Amuro vs. Char, a combo remade too many times in each successive Gundam series that may look good on paper, but never approaches the original. In between both men are two women, Char’s distant sister Sayla Mass, who is close to Amuro, and the woman of mystery who flirts with the hearts of Amuro and Char, Lalah Sune. It is more than a rivalry of who is a better pilot, or for which side of the conflict they fight for. It is personal and full of blind angst that can’t be expressed except between two lost souls needing conflict to justify their existences. As Marshall McLuhan says “Violence as a Quest for Identity.” This is a bonafide soap opera.

msg_4And this is just another robot show? Well at least it was in 1979. Ratings were not too hot, but a certain group of fans caught on, very similar to original Yamato. And both would get a second chance in the theaters. My chance to experience original Gundam came after encounters with first Gundam Wing, which left me a little empty, and the first half of Zeta Gundam, which left me a little confused. I tried original Gundam next and I could not go back. Zeta Gundam made much more sense and I became a die hard fan of the Universal Century timeline with two conditions: first it has to be helmed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and two, it has to feature Amuro and Char. Gundam is not Gundam without these combinations for me similar to the way I see Macross as being the story of Hikaru, Misa and Minmei.

msg_5Of all the hype for Star Wars or the newest Gundam release, the original Mobile Suit Gundam will always stick out to me. Well Zeta Gundam is a love of mine as well, but there would be no Zeta Gundam without the original. Also no Macross as well, so it is to be said if Gundam never came out who would have known where or if my fandom would have occured. If you ask me where do you start with Gundam, I have only one answer. Start at the very beginning with the original Mobile Suit Gundam.

#29 : Lupin III (Series 1)

No anime collection is proper without the adventures of Lupan San Sei, Lupin III. A product of the late 1960s counterculture in style and attitude, only one production of the famous thief can claim to be the closest to Monkey Punch’s original manga… sort of. The original Lupin III TV series of 1971, the ‘The Green Jacket’ series, is a study of two different visions in regards to production and outlook. Beyond that, this is the series that is official swinging 60s cool.

liii_s1_1The two visions in question look at being authentic to the original source material and a softened version by following the source material’s source material. The original concept of the show was directed by Masaaki Osumi and followed the approach of Monkey Punch’s manga. That being said, for approximately the first third of the show, the direction was hard boiled and mature. Adult oriented programming is often taken for granted today as normal, but for the early 1970s, this was untested ground. Ratings suffered and Osumi was soon shown the door to be replaced by the young and hungry Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Not overly enthusiastic, they took the job and followed the marching orders to clean up the show and make it appeal more for families and children. At first there were a handful of transitional episodes that became out and out fun and non-offensive adventures of the week.

liii_s1_2And due to the split nature of Lupin III, I have a love/hate, well more disappointed than hate as I can’t hate this show. As famous as Miyazaki and Takahata are and as well produced and fun the later episodes are, I really love the original vision of Masaaki Osumi. The attitude and grittier look are just brilliant. Lupin is not as much of backstabbing bastard as the manga, but he is still a bit of a scoundrel. And this kind of goes for the so called team of four: Lupin, Jigen, Goemon and Fujiko. It seems all four of them will one up each other to be on top (maybe not so much Jigen?) and that is a nice thing to see as it is four egos on a rampage. Particularly Fujiko, who I think suffers the most during the change. The big haired bombshell who would shoot Lupin in the back and have him in the sack as well gets a hair cut and her hemlines extended. Fujiko is a strong, independent and sexy woman who may be the most cutthroat of the bunch becomes almost a backup figure. Big mistake. Let Fujiko be Fujiko.

liii_s1_3So with all the grit and angst of the original one third of episodes, it should be a dark show with nothing funny. OH NO! Funny is the word of this show from the word go. My favorite episode, One Chance to Breakout, is comedic genius. After all what would happen if Lupin gets caught by Zenigata? He stays put and acts like a crazy man for months and months and months until he decides to leave. And poor Fujiko tries to break him out and every single time Jigen pulls her back to say let Lupin do his thing. It’s mature comedy, smart comedy that if you love Monty Python or Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb you will get it and in spades. Funny and bit bizarre on the side of being experimental. It is a shame they left the original intention behind, but at least that much got through the system.

liii_s1_4Also to make a small comparison to the Patlabor OVA to Patlabor 2: The Movie, we see a couple storylines in the Lupin III TV Series that ended up being used… again! After all episodes six and seven of the Patlabor OVA are similar to the plot of Patlabor 2: The Movie (similar yes, same no, Patlabor 2 is beyond perfect). As for Lupin III, you have an episode with a guy who makes counterfeit money with a clock tower/mountain and another featuring an odd guy named Mamo. I think these sound like a couple movies that featured Lupin a couple years later? Recycling done right.

Beyond the matter the of vision or production, the adventures of Lupin have always been about style. Cool style baby, YEAH! And that style looks damn good with a green jacket, a good addition over the red (not saying one is better, but from style preference, I like green). And I give the original Lupin III credit for the audacity to push animation into a more mature waters. After all, grown up kiddies still need cartoons too.

#28 : Gauche the Cellist

Let’s see. What should I watch that is different? Hmm… Gauche the Cellist. What’s this? Let me see who directed this… OH! This is one of Isao Takahata’s pre-Ghibli works. And it’s based off a short story from Kenji Miyazawa, author of the original novel that became Night on the Galactic Railroad. Well, that settles that, I’m sold. Time to hit play and check this out. But first, I need some popcorn.

gtc_1You know what I love about you Isao Takahata? You are like George Harrison. Miyazaki is like Lennon/McCartney and getting a majority of the spotlight both within your group and friendship. His work is often more recognized and is often looked at as the frontman. But Takahata, when you speak up or make a film, it is a little different and you own the moment, much like Harrison. You don’t shy away from fame, you just do it your own way and with the quiet grace of a seasoned professional. 1982’s Gauche the Cellist would be the final production Takahata would produce before the founding of Studio Ghibli, along with the 1981 movie Chie the Brat.

gtc_2Our story concerns a small provincial orchestra caught in the act of practice. The music is Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the Pastoral Symphony. The group’s unity and sound is going well, except for one element. Gauche (Goshu is a more appropriate translation) on the cello is a little behind in his timing and more importantly behind in the feeling and passion of playing in the moment. The conductor spots this and makes a melodramatic statement. Needless to say, Gauche is a bit taken back, but he knows something is missing.

gtc_3Returning to his modest country home he pushes hard to get the best out of his playing. It is not working, until he encounters some strangers in the night. Almost like Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, our hero has to face himself through lessons taught by complete strangers. But, unlike A Christmas Carol, we don’t get ghosts of particular moments of time, we get an assortment of animal friends from nature. The first being a calico cat, the second a bird, third a tanuki and finally a field mouse and her child. Each lesson brings out the essence and passion that is necessary to be a great musician, though in the most bizarre and unexpected ways. Much like listening to the forces around us, or more importantly within us, we often dig up the solutions that answer the questions, or issues we often struggle to deal with in almost a moments notice when we concentrate on our problem from an alternate angle.

gtc_4Only an hour long, I wish Takahata would have stuck with this shorter format when he released Tale of Princess Kaguya. He keeps it simple and sweet and does not over embellish for the sake of self indulgence, something I feel he and Miyazaki have done a bit of in more recent works of theirs. Although the artwork is embellished in certain areas and that deserves extra points. Leave it to Takahata to be experimental at just the right times. Oh, by the way the company that worked on this was called Oh! Production. Had to play up the double Oh… kind of like James Bond, 007… OK I have gone on a tangent.

Gauche the Cellist, you sit in the back of the room without making much noise, or fuss, but your pedigree is unquestionable. Truly a hidden gem by one of the best directors in anime. And it has Beethoven too… fancy 🙂 But sadly, no George Harrison songs 😦