#88 : Dragon’s Heaven

DH_11980s OVAs… everyone and anyone had an opportunity to create one so long as you had an idea. Similar to the burgeoning Alternative Rock scene that was starting to take hold in the west, Japan’s animation market gave opportunities for designers and animators to take up the directors chair. As an example, if M.D. Geist is one expression of a mecha designer given free reign to create a little project where that individual has total control, then Dragon’s Heaven is the alternative. For the case of M.D. Geist, Koichi Ohata created what is perhaps the greatest worst schlock-fest anime with an anti-hero villian as our protagonist. And as for Dragon’s Heaven, Makoto Kobayashi would create something a little more tender and… special.

DH_2Special?… so Dragon’s Heaven, what makes you so appealing? The first five or so minutes begin with live action footage of a stop motion model of a mech, which details the back story of a post war world before coming into full cel animation to show we are now in the present. How odd to begin our ‘cartoon’ this way, but it works; almost like a low budget Jim Henson styled intro from say the Dark Crystal. The main animated section continues afterward for a half hour and details how a sentient robot, Shaian, wakes up after a long slumber to become reunited with a new pilot. This pilot is a young girl, Ikuru, who happens to stumble upon this dinosaur, or perhaps dragon?, of a robot. Together they save the world from Shaian’s former adversary and live happily ever after. Afterwards there is about ten more minutes of live action which documents the creation of the beginning of the OVA.

DH_3Dragon’s Heaven is cute and cliche, but its one of those heart warming stories that needs to be in mecha more often. You know the type of show where your best friend is a giant robot and the both of you do everything together and watch out for each other. Not unlike a sweeter Gigantor/Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo or Giant Gorg. Dragon’s Heaven reminds me of the thesis project I would have killed to have made when I was in school. Not that I studied animation, but just the fact of the simplicity of the piece and how it was presented is very attractive. Flat bright colors and a sparse esthetic to the backgrounds add to the lo-fi atmosphere. Somehow this kind of feels a little familiar? It was only looking through Makoto Kobayashi’s resume online that it hit me. Of course, face palming myself… Birth. Oh how I love that OVA as well! So that was Kobayashi’s mecha designs on Birth… you learn something everyday. That being said, Dragon’s Heaven is a close distant cousin to Birth by way of Kobayashi? I approve.

DH_4Many anime often end up being called buried treasure, but Dragon’s Heaven is the truest definition. Made by AIC, this one gets lost in between the bigger and more epic Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis series. Released in 1988, Dragon’s Heaven had competition from high budget giant OVA productions like Gunbuster and Patlabor. This little one had to come up against many a giant back in the day and yet Dragon’s Heaven still lives on because of word of mouth. I am proud to be one of the few to continue this legacy. Dragon’s Heaven… it’s that little old anime from 1988 that you can’t help but love.

#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.