Special : Watership Down

WD_1This is the real real world… this is nature interpreted through an artist’s particular vision and, or vernacular. A veritable John Constable, or even at times a J.M.W. Turner landscape coming to life with all the lush blues, greens and browns that echoes a quiet summer’s day with a punch of yellow and orange. An organic world of basic survival, gut instinct and presence within the moment. Except our vantage point of view is not from our familiar human senses, but from those of the animals of the wild we commonly call rabbits. This is the epic of the heroes journey set in an honest portrayal, a grand adaptation of the original source material (how often does that happen?) and a story that will last for thousands of years. This is the original animated version of Richard Adams’ Watership Down.

I am totally, totally breaking the rules with this entry. Watership Down has absolutely nothing to do with Japan in either the source material, or the production. It is British in origin, British in terms of production and vocal casting and American with director Martin Rosen. The adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel technically should not be here… yet I MUST include Watership Down on this website. I love this film and draw so much inspiration from it. It may be perhaps my all time favorite animated creation. So much so that in one of my classes in college, I used Watership Down as visual material for one of my best design projects of my academic career. Watership Down is not just any other movie, it is my personal spiritual myth, my Holy Book.

WD_2Watership Down begins with a core element that is something we must all face, that of the unexplained. Fiver’s sixth sense of impending danger and Hazel’s trust in him to go on a great journey to find a safe land, paradise, Arcadia (Captain Harlock reference) is not of the rational. I often think sometimes animals in the wild have an intelligence that a portion of humanity has lost. A true deep connection to the universe that does not question the motives behind signs, or feelings. Call it whatever you wish, but to our lapine friends they put their trust to Lord Frith. For it was Lord Frith who bestowed the gifts of swiftness and cunning to El-ahrairah, the original chief of the rabbit race. With cunning, quick decision making, or trickery and a fast stride a rabbit can and does survive. Yet often we humans lose this ability to see and feel our true essence because of the conformity structures we try to belong to. When one “Let’s go and let’s God” (God as your personal definition) we become closer to those of the wild and in essence our truest selves.

WD_3Hazel is not the only one to believe Fiver’s calling. A group of deserters join including a former Owsla (Army) officer, Bigwig, to find this special land of safety. They must traverse unknown terrain, encounter obstacles and at times lose a comrade. They must learn just who to trust and keep faith that their journey is true even when deviation becomes tempting. With a gorgeous film score, exceptional voice acting (I became a fan of John Hurt immediately) and the natural style of the artwork, both characters and backgrounds, I often feel that I am outside in the world of nature and with our little friends on their quest. Sometimes fiction looks more real than fact? Watership Down is a masterpiece that took itself seriously and is a true labor of love. This movie can’t hide from the apparent details.

WD_4Animation and in particular the traditional painted cel has always been a source of joy and a personal sanctuary for me. Watership Down is a testament to this style. After the movie, I felt obliged to buy and read the book which I have gone threw a handful of times. Either medium provides the depth and assurance I sometimes need to know that I am one with this universe and that the cycles that we all live through are worth the ups and downs. Many talk about the so called violence in this film, but they are missing the true core. This is an honest and mature look at our lives and not some flashy over dramatization to appeal to a low common denominator. To Richard Adams, Martin Rosen, Angela Morley, the cast and production crew I heartedly thank you for giving all of us such a beautiful epic.

1978… Two Words… Leiji Matsumoto

According to research on the web, the year of 1978 had just under 40 entries for new productions of animation in Japan. Minuscule by today (2019) as 40 a week (that may be pushing it, but 40 is a nice number) is more within the climate of the current constant stream of media barrage. 1978 was a simpler era, a quieter era, an era that may have emphasized quality over quantity? That of course is subject to opinion. Media was big business back in the late 1970s, but nothing compared to the BIG business of today. Still many gems survive from this calendar year, but in opinion… 1978 will forever be remembered for the quadruple legacy of one man’s work.

Let’s start with a couple heavy weights… I can’t discount the name of Hayao Miyazaki, how can you? To some of us, he is like a Greek pantheon god, high on the mountain top watching from afar. Yet in 1978 he was still an up and coming name to be reckoned with and good fortune would shine upon him with a television series directorial position. The show, an adaptation of Alexander Key’s Incredible Tide became known as Future Boy Conan. If you ever wanted to watch a Miyazaki movie with all the humor, drama and class that defined his later work all wrapped up into a television series, here is your chance! Beyond Helly Kitty fame, Sanrio at one time also created great animated films. Of the ones I have seen they are all high in quality and artistry, but one of their best was released in 1978. The tragic Ringing Bell is a story about revenge and corruption of one’s feelings and emotions. Though heartbreaking, it also serves as an allegory of understanding one’s deepest desire for resolution over pain and the consequences of taking certain actions.

1978 was also a year of reinvention and second chances. Gatchaman would return to the scene with both a movie adaptation of the original 1972 TV series and a brand new sequel creatively titled Gatchaman II… very original (wink). More shojo tennis excitement abound in Shin Ace o Nerae! (New Aim for the Ace!); put that on my to find list! Lupin III would come out of the shadows years after the original TV series to take the big screen with the The Mystery of Mamo. … Now let’s give focus towards Space Battleship Yamato. 1977 brought the battleship back to life yet again with a film adaptation of the previous TV series and with new found glory and a boost of popularity, a sequel would follow. 1978 brought Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, a moving tragic tale that was supposed to be the climatic end to the sci-fi epic. The fans and even some of the creators felt this was not fair and later in the year a second TV series would debut and retell the film’s story with an alternate ending that was more hopeful.

Now for the name of the hour, the man who in my opinion owned 1978 and is one of my favorite creators of all time, Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto was a key player for the entire Yamato franchise providing both the design aspects and the humanistic emotionalism that made Yamato appealing. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg for the quartet of projects Matsumoto had his name on in 1978. The new Yamato projects mentioned previously are the first. The second was a TV series that re-envisioned Journey to the West, in SPACE!, known as Sci-Fi West Saga Starzinger. Third is that great TV version of a journey to the stars aboard a classy train where a young boy learns about the hardships and beauty of life accompanied by the best dressed woman in all of anime (Maetel!); Galaxy Express 999, a bonafide classic. And four, need I say more than the original Space Pirate Captain Harlock; the man, the myth, the legend… how I adore this show!

Other television series of interest include: The Adventures of the Little Prince, Treasure Island and The Perrine Story (World Masterpiece Theater, love! and wanna see it!) for historical literary interests; Daimos and Daitarn 3 for your mecha interests and Captain Future, which sounds really fancy, let’s say it again children with some bravado this time, CAPTAINFUTURE! Very nice. And for magical girl interest, there is Majokko Tickle, never heard of that one! And don’t forget there was a movie adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story Thumbelina and a TV special on the life of Anne Frank, Anne Frank Monogatari: Anne no Nikki to Douwa Yori.

In truth, 1978 was much more than just Leiji Matsumoto, but how can I view the totality of 1978 as a whole without him? Without question, this was the height of his creative potentials as well as a boon period of science fiction… Star Wars came out the previous year. Matsumoto’s highly emotional and melodramatic space operas filtered though a lens of classic romanticism and adventure spoke beyond that present moment. He may have had the market share of the times, but he was only one piece in a grand puzzle of great anime. 1978… such a great year!

#131 : Gatchaman II

G2_1They’re back! My favorite sentai squad quintet of bird themed costumed, thigh high boot wearing superheroes… ee… maybe ninjas is more appropriate. Does it matter how you classify Earth’s ultimate answer to fighting the evil menace known as Galactor? As if 100+ episodes of action and adventure were not enough it seems our band of heroes get to strap on the capes yet again for another 52 episodes. Way to go! Sometimes one, or sometimes five, Science Ninja Team welcome to your sequel, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman II. Bird!… GO!!

G2_2Now here is something for you to ponder. This series is set two years later from the original Gatchaman show, which was how long series one lasted, yet it previewed on screen six years after the initial release of Gatchaman (1972 vs. 1978). Hmm? Oh well better late than never? But a sequel, really? I mean the original show ended with a number of cliffhangers: the fall of Berg Katse and even the death of the beloved tough guy, Joe the Condor being the biggest two. Where do we go from here? Well Joe makes a comeback for a start. WHAT… HOW!? Thanks to a new character by the name of Dr. Raphael, Joe is now a cyborg. Kinda like Casshan… good job Tatsunoko Studio to tie in themes from your other shows. Plus, the Gatchaman crew have new weapons (I miss the old ones!), new mechs to pilot and an all new God Phoenix with a R2D2-type robot (or maybe 7 Zark 7?), plus a new assistant in the name of Dr. Pandora. And lets not forget we need another non-binary type villain of questionable gender to accompany Leader X… enter Gel Sadra.

G2_3So with all these new changes, does anything stay the same from before? Well, Dr. Nambu still has that wicked mustache, the minion troops of Galactor still have those nasty green uniforms and Leader X still has that awesome voice, mesmerizing and menacing. Thankfully the feel of the show is very similar to the original as it was produced by the same studio, used the same voice cast and was produced in the 1970s (get funky!). So it’s just a complete carbon copy? Well… not really, but in many ways, yes. It’s been a while since I have seen series I, but wasn’t there more plot that resound around a lot of kaiju type mecha and using the Firebird Technique in the God Phoenix. HI NO TORI!!! And what about a lot of the techniques where they join together that look totally ridiculous, but we love it all because we wish we could do that. Maybe the memory is a little fuzzy… hazy more like it. But one thing I can say for sure, there was hardly any calling out of Bird GO!!! to allow the transformation process into the awesome costumes.

G2_4Yet the Science Ninja team are still the same characterizations. Ken is still honorable and cool headed, Joe is still a tough and vulnerable (yet now a cyborg… fancy!), Jun is still adorable and strong, Jinpei is still a goof ball kid (yet his voice has dropped… puberty) and Ryu is still the token big guy and perfect in his own way. The stock and trade quintet sentai squad that is the definition of sentai squads. Now drawn in a little more of a slightly more sophisticated style. The line work and designs are still the same, but comparing 1972 to 1978 shows more fluidity. A great example of my theory of anime of the 1970s, which shows the evolution from the archaic 1960s into the classical 1980s. Now remember it is only a theory and my opinion, it is ok if you disagree. So which do I prefer? Both! TV animation from the early 70s (think Ashita no Joe, Cutie Honey, Aim for the Ace) and late 70s (Rose of Versailles, Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Pirate Catain Harlock) are BOTH welcome in my house.

Gatchaman II… fun show. A great compliment to the original, but I kind of favor the original by a hair… I mean hey, it’s a classic. One thing that did get me about Gatchaman II, which was a huge surprise, was how poignant the ending was and in one case brings a tear to your eye. Such is the magic of well done anime. Now… onto Gatchaman F, or it it Gatchaman Fighter? Whenever it doubt between a choice to two, have BOTH!

#111 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock

SPCH_1Let me tell you about about a man by the name of Harlock. “Now thats a name I have not heard in a long time, a long time,”… ok, the truth is that it may have been only five minutes because this man, this character, this legend is so ingrained into my fandom that I sometimes wonder what would I be without the presence of Captain Harlock. A creation of one of my favorite manga heroes, Leiji Matsumoto, Harlock is in many ways the man I would like to become. And while there have been a multitude of instances that Harlock has been brought into the zeitgeist of the present, the original TV series of 1978 stands as a personal Bible and one of my favorite series of all time.

SPCH_2Space Pirate Captain Harlock was and still is a show that I hold near and dear to my heart. Harlock’s premise is quite interesting as our hero, Harlock, is very just and high on being a moralist of his own convictions and yet, a villain to the establishment. Many times Harlock reminds me of Alan Watts take on the outsider (Youtube link) as Harlock is not productive to what is dictated by society. He lives by his own rules and pirates because he sees the corruption and waste in the downfall that is called humanity. The human race would rather play and waste their time and resources for their own self indulgent pleasures, while taking for granted the beauty of their environment. Plus, it does not help that an alien invasion of plant like female agents known as the Mazone (Amazon variation?) are also on the scene. Yet it is Harlock in the end who saves the Earth and humanity even though he has been forsaken and branded as a criminal. How ironic?

SPCH_3While our eyed patched hero is the star of the show, it is the rest of his crew of 42 (just who is this mysterious 42nd crew member?) that give life to this sci-fi epic. It seems that everyone on the ship Arcadia has a story. Usually it’s heartbreaking, or fated, but the only place, the only solace that this group of 42 has found is with each other aboard Harlock’s beloved Arcadia. All ages, all circumstances and all walks of life are welcome to join the ship so long as you help in your own way at the appropriate time. Seems fair and easy, but it is a hard road because in the end you end up finding out more of who you really are.

I want to spend a moment more on Harlock as a character; in particular his loyalty. I have mentioned his loyalty to the Earth, but why does he fight for a planet and it’s people that refuse to welcome him? The answer lies in the strong loyalty to his deceased best friend, the architect of his ship and the best sidekick ever (maybe?), Tochiro Oyama. Harlock is guardian to Tochiro’s only daughter Maya and she still resides on the Earth. She represents the future of humanity and Harlock protects her and the Earth like they were his own children because Harlock could not forgive himself if he ever took back his loyalty and promises to his best friend. Again, how can this man be branded a criminal? Maybe they are jealous of his awesome hair (I know I am!).

SPCH_4Visually Space Pirate Captain Harlock looks the era it was created in, which is all analog and extra stylish… awesome indeed. Rintaro, Captain Harlock’s director, is known for a visual approach that exudes drama and intensity. Many of his works often get lost in the visual eye candy of each scene; the image become the focus more than the story (from my experiences with his work). This may be the case since most of his better known projects are auteur films, but Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a longer run TV series (and a job for Toei where he is not in complete control), so this provides room for story to exist with the impressive visual narrative. Rintaro’s arthouse style exponentiates the emotional space opera brilliance of Leiji Matsumoto. Watch in particular the high contrast scenes that turn a simple moment into a great happening such as the murder of Professor Daiba as an example.

As long as a Jolly Roger waves aboard that beautiful ship named Arcadia, I know I can and will live free, question authority and search for that quiet spot in myself to find my own piece of personal authenticity. This story, while set in the future of 2978, with the corruption and downfall of man, echoes of truth today. After all what is the difference between 1978, 2018, or 2978? It is all the present moment, just a different cycle. Are we in the end being true to ourselves, our environment, and/or our humanity?

Space Pirate Captain Harlock, what a man and what a show 🙂 Gohrum!

#85 : Ringing Bell

RB_1Ahh! Look at the cute little lamb, I bet this is a movie that will be all heart warming and cozy and adorable. Oh hey… and this was produced by Sanrio of Hello Kitty fame too, yup heart warming, fuzzy and kawaii. And then reality sets in once you start to watch Ringing Bell. What you see before you is a cautionary children’s story with a moral to teach.  And I say children’s story in the highest regard by recalling a quote by C.S. Lewis, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So a dark tale wrapped in an unassuming adorable package; a venerable wolf in sheep’s clothing… funny how thats a fitting statement for this classic short film. Details to follow…

RB_2Let’s start with a personal question… how much does your anger control you? Are you so consumed with negative emotions that you become blind to your own ego? Mix one part Disney’s Bambi and one part the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vadar from Star Wars and you get the basic foundation of Ringing Bell. We have a story about the downfall of the innocent protagonist, who dives into the dark night of the soul and keeps on falling into the ever expanding hole of suffering. This dark night becomes the ever present defacto reality our hero lives in, until the very end when our hero learns of his misjudgments. We all suffer to a degree, but we should NEVER suffer alone, or make life altering decision in that state of being.

RB_3Our hero is a young lamb, Chirin, adorable as can be, living an idealized childhood. He laughs, he plays, he loves to eat his green clover and he is the apple of his protective mother’s eye. Life is simple, happy and almost utopian. Around young Chiron’s neck is a bell that acts as a signal, a warning, to prevent Chirin from exploring too far from safety. The line of safety in our story is a simple wooden fence. Yet as much as you can close yourself out from dangers or change, those forces will find a way to creep in. Such is life, a constant battle between light and dark that is always in a constant state of change. Chirin is told not to cross the fence since there are dangers on the other side, but what if something from the other side crosses this line of safety? One night a ‘something’ does cross that line, a wolf specifically, and changes the course of Chirin’s life forever.

RB_4The consequences of this aforementioned tragedy leads our character onto a unique journey. The old saying of if you can’t beat them join them pertains. Instead of confiding his feelings, his suffering, with his peers, Chirin instead tries to enact revenge to the wolf the best way he can. And when he realizes that he can’t beat the wolf, Chirin instead desires to become a wolf; to go against his natural tendencies. Why be a weak and timid lamb when you can be a strong wolf? Like so many of us when we are young, we eventually realize that making a decision from an ungrounded and negative stream of consciousness only feeds into the initial pain and injury. The process eventually leads us to look at ourselves in a metaphorical mirror to have only one question enter into our minds. What have I done?

Sanrio’s output of original work outside of the Hello Kitty brand are a treasure trove. Ringing Bell is one of many examples, including Sea Prince and the Fire Child and Unico. A gem for all ages and all time and a reason to show that the childhood experience goes much deeper and shapes us beyond the ephemeral moment.

#26 : Future Boy Conan

fbc_1Time to show us what you got to prove Mr. Miyazaki because you are now in charge of a full length TV series. Having worked his way for the last several years as a key animator, episode director, storyboard artist, etc., Hayao Miyazaki finally got his hands on a project where he got to take the drivers seat. The year is 1978 and the production is a loose adaptation of a sci-fi novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key. The end product is a rarity as most know Miyazaki for his film work, but the hard work and passion is still there in this 26 episode adventure. Let us travel to the past to see the future in Future Boy Conan.

fbc_2If there is one thing I got from this series is that it is signature Miyazaki though and though. It looks like his work. It feels like his work. Maybe even smells or tastes like his work? The humor and hijinks are there with elements of drama as well. All of this on a much smaller budget compared to what he has had to work with on the big screen, but then again Miyazaki knows how to make every little detail count. The only big difference is the fact he had a longer time frame to tell this story. If only some of his film projects could have been TV series as well?

fbc_3Two of his later films always crept into my thoughts as I was making my way through the series. It might be me, but I could see later elements that would become Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. Nausicaa for the fact that we have a sci-fi fantasy adventure based on our planet and not some over the top space opera with robots or aliens and Castle for the adventure of a couple kids trying to restore a sense of order in the world. And of course there is the love of environmentalism and the possible corruptions of mankind when we think we have the technology to conquer Mother Nature. The World Masterpiece Theatre meta series, Nippon Animation’s yearly adaptation of western children’s novels, also comes to my mind. Future Boy Conan is an ‘unofficial’ cousin (muy opinion) due to the fact that this again is based on a book and the production was also done at Nippon.

fbc_4Enough of the details, who is Conan and what is this show about? In a post apocalyptic world after a major war, most of the continents have sank into the sea. On a small island two remaining survivors from an escape group live and thrive. One is our young hero Conan, the other is an older man who he calls grandfather, not sure if he is biologically related, but that is besides the point. One day as Conan, who by the way is an exceptional deep sea diver, was partaking a little revenge on a shark who had been causing trouble for the island discovers a girl on the shoreline. Her name is Lana and thus begins their journey to thwart the corruption of the so-named Industria. Along their journey they meet friends including the goofy Captain Dyce, feral child Jimsy (he loves frogs) and Lana’s long lost grandfather, Dr. Briac Lao to aid them on their quest.

Future Boy Conan is what a great kid’s show should be. It’s enjoyable for the whole family, fun and endearing, which of course is what Miyazaki specializes in. If you love Miyazaki’s work and you have not seen this show… then you have homework.