#41 : The Wizard of Oz

Alright now… how many of you have seen the movie The Wizard of Oz? WHOA, lots of hands as I expected as this is a cornerstone for a lot of us who grew up since it’s release on 1939. Now I got one for you… how many have seen an anime version of The Wizard of Oz? Oh yes they exist and from the looks of it I see a couple hands, OK. This interpretation I will be looking at was something I saw way back when I was a little munchkin. And I from what I remember my mom taped it off TV for my sister and I to watch and to be honest I am sure mom wanted to see it too. This is the theatrical version (an alternate TV series was made later) of that little book written by L Frank Baum.

wooz_1Oddly this was released here in the west before Japan, kind of like the original Transformers: The Movie. I wonder if this was a production that was made for us over here first and eventually Japan pulled it off the shelf to give it a go in their market? I can’t say for sure as that is not my area of expertise. What I do know is that it is a product of it’s time, particularly the dub which features Aileen Quinn (remember Annie?) as Dorothy and long time Hollywood alum Lorne Greene (Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica) as the Wizard. Both are well known names of the time, but today… anyone remember these two? And yes this dub is cheesy, like melted cheddar, maybe limburger, ok actually Velveeta, but you know what… who cares.

wooz_2As for the Japanese version I have never seen it. And with something this odd finding the original track in this section of the globe could be a little close to improbable. I don’t say impossible, because in many ways the impossible has proven to be possible in regards to coming across classic anime. In time all things come to your collection, you have to work for it a little more. And from a little research it seems Jo Hisaishi did the music in that version (the English track I doubt is his music as it does not sound like Jo, or it could be a redo on the lyrics?). And I forgot to mention the animation was done by that little studio called Topcraft. You know they did Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Miyazaki hired up a bunch of their best talent to make Studio Ghibli. This was also the studio that made many classic Rankin Bass cartoons like The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit and Flight of Dragons amongst others.

wooz_3Now… I am sure you know this story… Kansas girl with her puppy gets swept up by a tornado in her house and lands in a strange land. And she gets some fancy shoes by killing an evil witch with this house and she has to walk a yellow bricked road to meet The Wizard of Oz himself to get her back home. Kind of like Escaflowne, Rayearth, or Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, except this story goes way back to the early 20th century and our heroine gets those fancy shoes. Ruby slippers that seem to fit her perfectly like she hit the clearance rack and struck gold finding a pair of designer brand pumps for next to nothing. What a vacation find! And of course Miss Dorothy has golden locks instead of the familiar brown of the Hollywood classic. Some sources say the original is blonde, but I leave that up to you.

wooz_4As a movie I liked it then and I still like it now… with some caveats. Could be nostalgia, but it is simple and charming. And also far from perfect. But it works and that’s all that matters. But what about a younger generation’s opinion of this 1982 version? I have shown it to my niece and she liked it though she is not the big anime fan except for Pokemon… but then again Pokemon is beyond anime itself. But someday… I will some how, some way, get her to love anime as well. It all comes down to finding the right show or movie. But if you have children yourself or work with children I would say give this one a chance as an alternate because the work needs to watch more animation… PERIOD!

In the end we have a cheesy rendition of a classic western tale, mixed with a little singing, decent character designs and one scary Wicked Witch of the West. So toast up some bread, melt that cheese, eat that grilled cheese sandwich and have a “Wizard of a day…”.

#38 : Space Adventure Cobra (movie)

For most of us, and long before the newer releases, we had two avenues to see Cobra. You either started with the movie being discussed here, or the TV series. And though it is the same character and surroundings, both options are very different. For me I went with the TV series first. When I got to the movie I thought… wait a minute, this is kind of… not the same. Almost like watching the Ghost in the Shell movie compared to the GiTS: Stand Alone Complex series, there is something a little not unlike the other here.

sac_m1As stated earlier the setting, characters and feel are still very much like the TV show, but Cobra the movie, is much more surreal. Surreal to the point of being psychedelic? And perhaps I dare to say slightly darker tone. Wait, how can Cobra be dark? This is Cobra, one of the heights of fun space adventure science fiction. But, if you see the film you will understand. Even the look, going back to the surreal and psychedelia, wraps itself into the movie. It’s director Osamu Dezaki’s vision through and through filled with vivid color and odd moments of spectacle. Without question it is one of the most visually appealing films of the 1980s. You can watch this film on silent and still have an experience you will have a hard time to explain with mere words. And as this is a space sci-fi movie, the experimentation of techniques used here are… far out, but not lost in a mess.

sac_m2The story is a reimagined tale of the first arc of the Cobra TV series and manga. Cobra gets caught up with the beauty triplets of Jane, Catherine and then Dominique as they try to search for the lost treasure… no wait that was dropped… they are searching for love? Well the girls are and guess who is the one who is loved? It’s Cobra himself; I wonder if Lady Armaroid is jealous (Cobra’s female robot sidekick). But, love? I said that the TV series was sexy and this movie is in a way as well, but it’s a more monogamous, perhaps tri-gamous, as Cobra is not being the usual ladies man. How can he? We have to keep to a tight schedule on this movie and only the sisters are for him to admire. It works.

sac_m3Of course the crew are aided with advice from Professor Topolov/Toporo… and where did this guy come from? He is always floating in a bubble and he is kinda creepy. Almost like a chaperone for Jane and the girls… who thought up this guy? And then Cobra has to duel it out with the classic villain of no compare, Crystal Boy/Bowie! That dude is creepy no matter where he is presented, be it TV or movie. Pure genesis having a naked crystal clear man as your antagonist (very,  very bold).

sac_m4My only gripe is that the Japanese voice cast for the film is not the same as the TV show. It’s well done, but it is odd who a television series and a movie made the same year could not share the same cast? A little disappointing, but hey the English dub is not too bad. So I can watch Cobra in English? OK, plus it’s Dan Woren’s voice as Cobra. It’s no substitute for the TV series, but it is equal in it’s own way. You have to see both to understand. But what makes either version great, and in particular this movie, is the production quality. Tokyo Movie Shinsa back in the day always had a great look and with Dezaki as director, it shines even brighter.

A toast to Space Adventure Cobra… and maybe be like Cobra and enjoy a cigar, or maybe not as it is not healthy.

#37 : The Mysterious Cities of Gold

mcog_1I had no idea my childhood was incomplete. Years ago I kept running into this show that a lot of people said was one of the best 80s cartoons. How can that be, I have seen the really big ones… or so I thought. And to my gleeful astonishment, it counts as an anime as well. A co-production of DiC (many favorite memories from this company) and Studio Pierrot, this 1982 show aired in France and Japan, on the NHK no less. Later it would be dubbed in English and shown in England and North America, but alas I did not have Nickelodeon (no cable TV at my house). I may have missed my chance back then, but thanks to the internet and DVD I would get to travel back to the 16th century to discover the awesomeness of The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

mcog_2Que that classic soundtrack by Shuki Levy (the Mozart of 80s cartoon themes) because we are about to embark on a great adventure. Young Esteban, an orphan boy in the care of a Spanish priesthood, who has this mysterious power to bring about the sun, stows away on a ship bound for the ‘new world’ of South America. Envious of the sailor’s travels, Esteban learns his family lineage is from this area of the world. Aided by Mendoza, a man who saved Esteban from drowning years ago while in the Atlantic Ocean, Esteban begins his quest for adventure. While on board he would meet an Incan girl named Zia, who is held prisoner as she is said to know how to find the illustrious cities of gold. Eventually the ship is wrecked and Esteban, Mendoza, Zia with Mendoza’s lackies Sancho and Pedro wash up on shore to eventually meet a native boy of the Hiva (or Mu) people, Tao. Together they search the vast expanse of South and Central America searching for these ‘mysterious’ cities of gold, evading the Spanish, meet natives, try to locate the missing family members of Esteban and Zia and find two great treasures: an awesome sailing ship and a golden condor. I want to sign up for this trip!

mcog_3How did I miss out on this? I loved many of DiC’s productions (and for many I still do). A majority of them were tied to toy lines, but not this one. Based loosely on Scott O’Dells’ The King’s Fifth, the only thing this show had to sell was the story. Getting back to DiC, I see many similarities between The Mysterious Cities of Gold and other shows. Esteban looks like a miniature Jayce from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (one of my all time favorites). His hair is similar (missing the white streak), he wears a medallion and his costume is very close. And Mendoza looks very similar to Herc from Jayce as well. Also the group dynamic is similar to again Jayce and another early collaboration with Japan, Ulysses 31, but each show has their own chemistry. So we have a new take on a familiar formula. I like it.

mcog_4My only gripe is that as the show progresses, it goes from a period piece to a more sci-fi affair, particularly with the appearance of the Olmecs. Since when are the Olmecs bad guys, I mean we don’t know much about this ancient group. Why turn them in alien like trolls? Besides this minor issue (and trust me it is only minor), it is a solid paced serial adventure that grows each episode as you continue on. Will our cast find all the cities of gold? Can Mendoza be trusted? Is the abundance of gold the real treasure? And how come this ‘new world’ is more ancient than the ‘old world’ of Europe and such? Atlantis perhaps? That remains to be seen. Also don’t forget to catch the the mini documentaries that aired at the end of each episode. WAIT, we have an educational element as well? How many more boxes can this show check off on the list of being ‘most awesome’?

Shows come and go, but legends never die. And shows that depict historical setting are more interesting than the real thing… occasionally. For The Mysterious Cities of Gold this rule can apply…“Goodbye, till next time”