#212 : Superbook (Series 1)

Can one judge a book by its cover? An old saying and yeah we know that answer, but it’s worth stating. This time round I want to talk about not just any old book, but in fact one known as Superbook. Wait a minute I have heard of that book? It talks and tells stories and transports you into the stories like magic. And yes Superbook does have an alternate name that is more familiar to many of us, ever hear of The Bible? Many titles are often considered gateway drugs that got us into anime. For some of you, depending on your upbringing, Superbook may have been that very series. So where do we begin? Well, let’s start at the house down the street and around the corner!

SB_1Biblical tales have been represented many times in terms of presentation outside of The Bible itself. Live action movies and TV shows, books, brochures, games, various western animated titles and even… anime? Well why not, Japan has adapted almost everything into an animated product including The Bible. Now how did our example of Superbook come about? A joint production between Tatsunoko studios and the American Christian Broadcasting Network, Superbook would serve it’s function on both sides of the Pacific with respective dubs. In America, Superbook would be amongst the many other CBN programs in the lineup while in Japan it was CBN’s hope that this show would be an avenue of introducing the Christian faith towards the population.

SB_2Many of the familiar biblical names appear in Superbook: Jonah, Noah, Joshua… even Jesus. Yet I don’t recall Chris Peeper, his friend Joy and his crusader toy robot that comes to life, Gizmo (Gremlins influence?). Meet our trio of children who through the magic of Superbook get to transport back into time to actually live through The Bible. So that’s the excuse you two kids have for spending so much time in Chris’ bedroom? Hmm? Each episode introduces a new scenario and individual to highlight, mostly Old Testament stories in this batch of 26 episodes. Chris and Joy could have been ripped from one of Tatsunoko’s Time Bokan series, but the biblical characters more often than not end up looking different and often subpar. Maybe budget constraints or creative expression? I mean some of them look kind of funky. Besides that each episode is entertaining and usually has some merit of the dramatic. Just don’t forget to wind up the key in the back of Gizmo! Oh my spring.

SB_3Beyond your choice of faith, belief system, or non-belief in anything, The Bible may have something to teach you. I myself do not prescribe one particular faith, though I consult Buddhist, Native American and Ancient Greek wisdom often, I also find value in The Bible through esoteric and metaphorical meaning. After all these stories have been told numerous times under different names from various cultures in some form or another. Much like the Hero With a Thousand Faces, thank you Joseph Campbell, I find that The Bible does speak of universal and human truths that even though being thousands of years old, are still relevant in whatever fashion you deem to interpret. Superbook takes these usual narratives in a much more simplified approach as an anime for children and while there may be a little of the cheese factor, it’s kinda cute when you get into it.

SB_4Many titles are often credited as early attempts at bringing anime to the West before 1990. Speed Racer, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Voltron and Robotech are a handful of usual suspects, but over there in the corner was Superbook as well. While this is “technically” a “Christian” series, it is also a fantasy story, an adventure, a fun and slightly cheesy cartoon, an anime. Why all the labels because of specific subject matter? Superbook is in my mind no different than say Ulysses 31, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as examples in terms of adventure, fantasy and fun. Again why all the labels? All anime no matter your color, creed, belief or popularity status are welcome under this roof at my house. …which by the way is not so much down the street, or around the corner.

#207 : The Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Take one… Sanrio… a company known for all that is ‘kawaii’, cute… the home of the beloved feline, Hello Kitty. Sanrio was also at one time a film production company, which created at least one animated feature film a year during the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. They created anime that was very much on the side of the previously mentioned cute factor, anime for children and families to share and anime that also featured a twist of heartbreak. Take two… Osamu Tezuka… the “God of Manga” (much respect to you sensei) and the father of many beloved titles and characters. Take three… Unico, a creation of his from the 1970s, would be published in a Sanrio shojo magazine that by 1981 was ready for the animation world. Add these three elements together and we get The Fantastic Adventures of Unico.

FAoU_1The story of Unico is perhaps one of the most unfair tales of exile that makes me look into the mirror, both personally and collectively. Why are those who are humane, pure and a giver of love and joy often the ones who are a target to those in authority? Simple, they are a solution to the problems that these authorities have either created, or promise to handle if you give up your freedom. Yet these innocent ones when pushed will fight back and defend because they are those who are not corrupted, those who have a heart of pure love to give… those who only want the best for everyone. A baby unicorn named Unico is one of these unsung heroes that because he was born different has a destiny that may be on the side of unfair, but also rewarding to those who meet him.

FAoU_2After angering the Gods, the West Wind is called forth to take little Unico away. What’s his crime? Besides being adorable… he makes everyone happy, he gives love and he will be your friend no matter who you are. He sees the essence inside of each of us and loves us for that and that alone. Talk about a criminal? I guess they feel the same way with Rainbow Brite too? Here’s a theory, maybe Unico is LGBT and the Gods are bigots? I mean he looks a little gender non-conforming and is open to love anyone no matter their gender. Maybe… but then again, he is a little kid who has not been corrupted by adults, or culture. Instead of taking little Unico away, the West Wind decides to hide him in a remote area… at least until he is spoted again and she must find yet another place of refuge for the baby unicorn. The question remains if Unico will ever have a place of permanent residence.

FAoU_3Unico’s journeys has him meet a little devil who has no friends and eventually a cat who wants to be a witch. While light on plot, this film could have gotten away with a shorter run time (maybe by half/45 minutes?). The story of the cat, who becomes a girl becomes the major focus of the movie and could have been the entire plot in its own right. Some make too much of a mention of the creepy baron who seduces the girl, the one who was a cat, by getting her drunk. Hard to believe that much of the themes and situations in The Fantastic Adventures of Unico would label this as a family movie, but then again this was made in a different time. Back in the 70s and 80s animated films had a little more edge and danger and showcased to us at the time that not all the world was squeaky clean and perfect, i.e. The Transformers: The Movie and Watership Down.

FAoU_4Most Sanrio films leave me crying a little on the inside. Inside?! Come on now, I shed tears outside as well since the emotions can be so great. Tezuka as well is a genius at bringing out the feelings with the universally moral messages we all can relate too. You never forget a story that touches your heart. Even at the end of The Fantastic Adventure of Unico Unico is once again swept away with the West Wind to another place to secure his safety and longevity. This in a way is a gift wrapped in silver lining. Unico will still be alive another day, will still spread love to another lonely soul and leaves a trail of influence to all those he has met already to live their lives with a little more joy. Maybe one day he will meet you as well?

… one more thing… did you see the Hello Kitty cameo!?

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.