#104 : Aim for the Ace (movie)

AftA_movie1I often find that the older I get, an interest in professional sports and following a team, or such, is not something to aspire towards. Yet I respect sport and competition and my love for anime is strong, if only there were anime about sports… oh, yeah there IS! And LOTS of them too. There are several I have enjoyed and are quite good as well. And then there are entries that are legendary, hall of famers so to speak. Aim for the Ace is part of that higher echelon of sports legends. As I make my way through the original 1973 Aim for the Ace TV series I had to stop and take a break to revisit the cinema version of 1979.

AftA_movie2The influence of this movie is epic and goes well beyond the sport of tennis and sports anime itself. I am sure Studio Gainax and a young Hideaki Anno loved this story because Aim for the Ace is written all over Gainax’s first OVA release and Anno’s directorial debut Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. The name totally gives away the influence, but also the story in and of itself is a close facsimile except tennis was swapped out for a sci-fi world with mechs. Still in both stories the concept of aiming to be your best! And not just the best in your own frame of reference, but also to your fellow peers and most importantly, to a mentor who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself. It’s a type of story that never gets old because don’t we all need a reminder to pick ourselves up and try again if we stumble?

AftA_movie3Aim for the Ace’s story begins with it’s starry eyed protagonist Hiromi Oka, a new student at Nishi High School. She and her best friend Maki join the illustrious and highly noted tennis club and soon she has her eyes on two particular individuals. The first being the all-star of the girl’s varsity team, the amazingly talented, most beautiful and girl with perhaps the best hair in all of anime (seriously where do you get all that volume and curls?), Reika Ryuzaki better known as Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly, so fitting). The second is Nishi’s new coach, Jin Munakata, a former champion, who is a tough yet fair mentor whose presence brings out a little fear and sweat. His first objective is to test the team, to see which of the hundred or so members are most fit to play on the school’s varsity squad. Hiromi is still very much a rookie and when her time comes to test her skills, she connects with one ball that impresses the coach in more ways than one. So much so that she lands a spot on the varsity team… wha, say what? Now the drama, no, more like soap opera begins!

AftA_movie4While watching the original TV series concurrently with this film, I could not help but notice the jump in animation quality and complexity. The fluidity of the film is a quantum leap from the TV series and could be down to a number of factors. First, the idea that you go from TV to movie is obvious since there is often a budget increase. The second is the six year gap between TV to the movie. This second reason is a strong point to a theory I have about how the 1970s is perhaps the most important decade in all of Japanese animation. Stories grew into more sophistication, many traditions and cliches settled themselves during this time and drawing and animation began to mature and become more complex. Such an awesome decade and Aim for the Ace is a great example of the growth of anime during this era. Ah to be born in the ‘70s… wait I was born then… 1979 no less… so that means I am the same age as this movie… interesting!

Now for the final wrap up… Aim for the Ace, is based on a great shojo manga (check!), was made at the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsha (check!), was directed by the creative and artistic Osamu Dezaki (check!), and it still stands the test of time (double and triple check!). Aim for the Ace wins in straight sets!

#93 : Galaxy Express 999 (movie)

If one must set out for a voyage to the stars, you must do it with an element of style. An ordinary spaceship will work for many, but come on now… let’s push the boundaries of imagination. What about traveling through space in a train? Hmm?… I like it… all wood grained and classic black iron, now that is classy! As well, a voyage to the stars should be something personal, a journey to not just discover what is out there, but also what is within yourself. Galaxy Express 999 is such a journey that once you ride this train line, you will never be the same.

GE999_movie1Here is an idea… let’s say you want to honor your goal to achieve immortality by adopting a mechanical body and the only way to do that would be to board a train to the stars that will take you to this fated destination. Only problem is that this train ticket is quiet expensive and sought after. Plus, you also wish to avenge your mother’s wrongful murder since you have so much spare time with all this other stuff going on. Are you in consensus with our hero Tetsuro Hoshino for a ride on the Galaxy Express 999? Great… we have a ticket for you, except you have to have the classiest lady in all of anime join you in your journey.

GE999_movie2Leiji Matsumoto’s vision of science fiction is beyond brilliant. What sets him apart is his use of tenderness and emotion. I always shed some kind of a tear due to the enduring qualities and almost simplicity of Galaxy Express 999. That almost motherly womb of nurturing I get from this movie is summed up in that lady I mentioned earlier, Maetel. Her name is derivative of mother, matter, maternal, Mary, or mare (sea/waters) at least that is my hypothesis. Beyond being a near protective saint, she has the longest blond hair I have yet to see and dresses in a Russian styled black fur coat and hat. So classy! If the story tells the meat of the experience, Maetel represents the symbolic image of this story. I hate to see her as a mascot, more like an ascended master in the form of an anime heroine.

GE999_movie3The essence, or perhaps theme of Galaxy Express 999, is beyond the awesome space operatic elements. Often we are watching a story set in the future, but the true teachings are of the present moment. Life is something to be cherished and in two ways particularly. One, the fact that we are mortal and the time that we have is precious and our presence in this very moment is precious. And two, love yourself for who you are and what you believe in; your highest dreams and aspiration. Love yourself, love the environment and welcome all opportunities, you never know who you may meet on your journey when you just go with the flow. Just ask our hero Tetsuro.

GE999_movie4Galaxy Express 999’s movie adaptation is more than just a basic re-telling of the epic TV series. True we follow Tetsuro Hoshino’s path of maturity, which is sped up and abbreviated due the compression of the mammoth length of the manga/TV series original, yet we also have the inclusion of Matsumoto’s other great sci-fi epic which ran concurrent with Galaxy Express 999. That being of course Space Pirate Captain Harlock. This movie could be the ultimate expression of the constant retelling and reimagining of all that is the Leijiverse. And not just Captain Harlock the character, crew and mythology, but also that TV series’ director, Rintaro. Always a visual feast, so typical of Rintaro, this may be his most coherent film where the story does not get lost within the presentation of powerful imagery.

Stories of the hero’s journey number in the infinite and often times we are telling the same over yet again with a slightly different veneer. The origins of Galaxy Express 999 may borrow elements of Night on the Galactic Railroad and Star Wars (or perhaps Yamato?), but in the end it is something far different. A classic among classics, a step above the rest, Galaxy Express 999 may be one of the best coming of age stories ever created. Thank you Leiji Matsumoto and Rintaro for this great gift.

#40 : The Castle of Cagliostro

There is one truth to this movie… it is magical. It is such a refined piece of work that has one name written all over it. That name is Hayao Miyazaki and this was his rookie outing as a director of a feature film. And he did it well. Just look at the care and precision and you would think this guy would go on to make and define the concept of what many consider top quality anime. And that would be the case. Hot off the press from his time working on Future Boy Conan, Miyazaki would leave his swan song for the 1970s with that little Lupin III movie that could, The Castle of Cagliostro.

coc_1I often wonder how many people know about this film? Definitely diehard Miyazaki fans and older fans who have been around for a while we know all and love it (at least I hope you all love it?). But, this is a true story, I wonder about younger or casual audiences. Once at my local anime shop they had a Jeopardy game going and the final question was… What was Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut? I was out of the competition, but I was all over it. The room was mostly those in their teens and early 20s and they could not come up with The Castle of Cagliostro. Being well into my 30s I blurted out the answer and one person asked how did I know? My answer… I’m old (wah wah wahhhh…)

coc_2In all seriousness I am not old, just classic. Just the same as The Castle of Cagliostro. This is a fine film and Lupin in this film is honored more like the original Arsène Lupin of Maurice Leblanc than that of the manga of Monkey Punch; he a true gentleman. And as much as I prefer the harder edged Lupin character, I can’t help but love this version of the master thief. In a similar way I look at this film kind of like my love of James Bond movies. I prefer the harder Bond be it George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig. But sometimes the films of Sean Connery or Roger Moore carry the character so well that I can allow a little more chivalry. Plus, Lupin has that awesome green jacket. I love that green jacket.

coc_3Besides all the Lupin-ness that is Castle of Cagliostro, this movie is pure Miyazaki. The look, the movement, the comedy is what we all have come to expect from the great director himself. From the word go Lupin and Jigen rob a casino and get away only to realize all the fortune that they heisted is plain and simple… fake. Counterfeit. And in a crazy fashion they cast the cash to the wind and we get into the titles with that beautiful ballad Fire Treasure. What a start! And then you get into one of the greatest car chases ever, antics working with and against Lupin’s rival Inspector Zenigata and a clock tower fight with the Count of Cagilostro that has been referenced in various forms from The Great Mouse Detective to Batman: The Animated Series. Funny thing in regards to The Great Mouse Detective is that Disney had to animate it with CG because it was difficult, yet almost a decade earlier the crew at TMS who made this whole movie did it all by hand in less than a year. Props to you Japan, I love ya for not denying the fact that stuff can get done!

coc_4Now some thing that came to me as I am an astrology buff. Yes I find weird connections to astrology because I am a dork. Isn’t it funny as how the seal of the Count of Cagilostro is a goat-fish… Capricorn. He is after all power ambitious, reserved and a little kinky (chasing after Clarisse). All descriptive of a Capricorn. Capricorn is also the sun sign of our director Miyazaki-sama as well. Too many connections. Though I am not saying Miyazaki is like the Count. Because that Count is a dirty old scoundrel of a man and Miyazaki is the premier definition of a taskmaster professional.

It’s not my place to say anyone should see a particular anime. We have our own unique tastes, BUT… Castle of Cagliostro is a very big exception. Watch it, own it, download it, spread it on toasted bread if that is your fancy as I don’t care how you appreciate this movie. I only care that you do appreciate this movie.

#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.

#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.

#27 : The Rose of Versailles

rov1I’ve got my cake and I am eating it too! The French Revolution was a time of insanity. Political overthrow, bloodshed and ideals permeated the landscape of 18th century France. Fast forward to 1970s Japan, mangaka Riyoko Ikeda would pen a story of love, politics and gender identity into this historic environment. Historically accurate, hardly, but a passionate soap operatic historic shojo masterpiece, indeed. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité live on forever and ever in The Rose of Versailles.

rov2The house of de Jarjayes is expecting a child. This military family of the commander of the Royal Guard expects, no, demands a son, but alas a beautiful baby girl is delivered instead. In haste General de Jarjayes demands that this child be raised as a boy instead, after all a male heir is crucial. This child christened Oscar Francois de Jarjayes (say it three times fast, isn’t French a sexy language? L’amour!) is our heroine and by the time she comes of age she becomes the guard for a future future queen of France, Marie Antoniette (a.k.a. spoiled brat). Who says being born into nobility or privilege is an advantage? There is always a price.

rov3Oscar without question has too be one of, if not the most honored, strongest and most well rounded female characters in anime or otherwise. And beautiful as well… flaunt that hair. And with issues as well, being forced to be a man, when she is definitely a woman and has natural feminine tendencies that cannot be repressed. Trans peeps you know what I am talking about! One of my favorite moments that highlight this idea was when Oscar went to a ball and rid herself of the military uniform to wear a gorgeous gown and have all her hair done up. She looked damn good, I remember cheering at the top of my lungs… Go girl go! And she stole the show at the ball and yet no one knew it was Oscar. After all Oscar is just a boyish soldier… yeah hardly.

rov4And of course there has to be love interests. The first being her childhood friend, a commoner, André. Now these two are one good looking couple, imagine the children if things could have been. Andre is genuine, honest and always supportive to the woman he loves. Contrast this to ‘Mr. Captain von Handsome’ himself (I need to trademark that), the blonde Swede aristocrat who also has feelings for Madame Oscar as well, Hans Axel von Ferson (actually a real person as well). He is also a decent soul, but the dude needs to decide Oscar or Ms. Antoniette (brat). Of course he has pedigree over André, but where does Oscar stand? You going with the nice country boy or the sophisticated suave dude?

rov5Production was done by the awesome TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and two directors held the high post of being in charge. Tadao Nagahama, who is noted for the Robot Romance Trilogy (great mecha!), began the series and in traditional fashion told a very straight forward and emotional story. Sadly at about half way through production, he would succumb to a fatal case of hepatitis leaving the director’s chair to go to one of the masters, Osamu Dezaki. With more intense lighting, triple takes and pastel stills in hand (all signature to Dezaki) the show became even more dramatic all the way to the tragic ending.  Osamu Dezaki equals genius (can you tell I am a fan?). From start to finish it is 40 episodes of win; a soap opera turned up to 11. All those who are nice get a little pushed over by those who are a bit too arrogant. Madame du Barry I am looking at you! I looked up bitch in the dictionary and there was a portrait of her… no surprise 😉

For those of you in Europe I am envious that you got this show amongst many others as well back in ye olden days. Icon may be the best word to describe The Rose of Versailles. But also yardstick as well. No show can equal it before or after and true there have been elements borrowed in other shows, but it’s not The Rose of Versailles. Great shojo or otherwise have to measure up to this gem. The Rose of Versailles est très belle et magnifique. J’temps beaucoups!