#220 : Harmagedon

“That’s great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, and aeroplanes… Lenny Bruce is not afraid”… ? … hold on a minute, is this like the end of the world as we know it, the end times, the apocalypse? Kind of and do I feel fine?… I don’t think so if that’s the case and yet from all endings throughout time they are also become new beginnings. Combine the ultimate disaster scenario with an invading evil presence from the far side of the universe and what do you get?, BIG trouble. In the year of 1983 I could sum this up with the title of a movie that was a box office hit in Japan. Let me guess is it Total Armageddon? Nope, more like Harmagedon.

Harma_1aHeroes unite! The evil Genma has made his way through the universe, bringing terror and destruction to every world he touches. Not bad for a large cloud like red skull? He is now set on Earth to claim as his own except he runs into a little problem. He has to face a squad of people who hail from all around the world, from different backgrounds, nationalities and races who happen to have psionic powers… almost sounds like a variation of Cyborg 009 in a way. And it should as the original source material, and title of the film, was known as Genma Taisen (The Great Battle, or War of Genma) a cooperative effort between Kazumasa Hirai and Shotaro Ishinomori (009’s creator). Genma Taisen even had it’s origins in the 1960s too! The first half of Harmagedon, and it’s a long half, showcases only a trio of our heroic cast: a psychic princess from Transylvania (really!), a resurrected robot warrior and our main protagonist, a young Japanese man named, Jo, who is having a very bad day. First he finds out he is not on the baseball team, then he gets dumped by his girlfriend and finally he ends up being chased by some strange robot in an alley that keeps shooting at him. Talk about a rough day!

Harma_2Another take on ‘Heroes unite!’ as we now look at another group of people, those who were responsible for the making of this mammoth of a film. First is Haruki Kadakawa who is not a name I often equate with anime often, except when I see his name plastered at the beginning of any opening credit sequence with that beautiful phoenix like logo. He was the executive producer and a high roller at that who made it loud and clear that he was the one funding this project! Let us next move to the powerhouse studio known as Madhouse and one of it’s best directors, the amazing Rintaro. Love him or hate him, his work is monumentally visual which sometimes looses a little depth in terms of story, or character. Next in line is our character designer who was a young manga artist that would get his first shot in the anime world. He would become ultra famous for a movie from 1988 known as Akira, but in 1983 he was just plain and simple Katsuhiro Otomo. And finally we need some music, so who could fill this roll? We need someone big, bombastic and different! How about Keith Emerson? Whoa really like from Emerson, Lake, Palmer? The guy who brought a massive Moog synthesizer on tour and had a reputation for stabbing knives into Hammond organs, amongst other things. Yeah we’ll take him! “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”

Harma_3Many often poo poo Harmagedon as a film, particularly here in the west. In Japan it was a huge blockbuster at the theaters and popular. Did you see the reference in Project A-Ko for instance? We of course did not have much exposure to the original Genma Taisen sources that had been around for decades in Japan. That and the over emphasis of action and the visuals make Harmagedon a feast for the eyes, but awkward in terms of plot. You really have to know and have a passion for Genma Taisen to really love it, or just see Harmagedon as an example of an arthouse action film. And anyway, aren’t many blockbuster action films just visual spectacle. Yes, but not on the level of artistic beauty that Harmagedon exudes. Plus the emphasis of more realistic designs for both Tokyo and Otomo’s characters, as well as Rintaro’s touch, gives Harmagedon an edgy look that was not seen often in anime at that time. Don’t quote me on that, I heard this from many sources and they are so right!

Harma_4Several themes are brought to the surface, but one that draws a good amount of attention is some very open racism, which eventually resolves itself from understanding and compassion. Compassion is a great word to use I would say as an overall theme of this movie as we as humans need to respect the diversity of who we are and take care of this beautiful green world we live on which is not separate from us, but is a part of us. Our protagonist Jo also has his own feelings to resolve, all stemming from anger towards himself, the death of loved ones and even getting dumped and feeling not up to playing for the high school baseball team. Transforming anger into compassion, hate into love and believing in yourself is for me the major theme of Harmagedon. I understand this very well as this is a core issue I have been dealing with personally. And as of this writing in 2020, who can not say there is a lot of anger and frustration in our collective world? Jo would rise above his hate and is it me, or does this film also remind you in a way to Otomo’s Akira? In that movie we see the destructive power of personal hatred affecting each and every one of us. Both films end in total destruction and yet in both films there is a glimmer of hope that we can start again because being with people you love and that in turn believe in you, no matter the circumstances, can show a way toward one’s next season in life.

… I apologize as this one went a little longer than normal, but then again this movie’s running time feels like it runs longer than normal… maybe it was destined to be this way?

#208 : Super Dimension Century Orguss

The opening theme says it all, “Where are you going, when are you coming home?” … Atomic, biological and chemical weapons are all heavy duty in terms of destructive power… but this pales in comparison to dimensional weaponry. For a young and carefree pilot who ends up completing the arming sequence for a space time oscillation bomb, the consequences of dimensional weaponry would alter not only his life, but affect the entire structure of the Earth itself. Anything was up for grabs for this stranger in a strange land, yet how much of a sacrifice must he yield himself towards in order to return the world to equilibrium. It all began in the future of 2062, but we remember this tale from a mecha anime from 1983… Super Dimension Century Orguss.

Orguss_1Following up the success of 1982’s Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Big West advertising and Studio Nue would strike out again the following year with Orguss. Retaining much of the staff from the previous year including director Noburo Ishiguro, character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto and music composer Kentaro Haneda to name a few, Orguss would despite similarities adapt to change. Shoji Kawamori did not stay and the services of Tatsunoko, who did the heavy lifting of animating Macross, would be supplanted by Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Thus we have a slightly different product. As a Macross fan I am often jealous of Orguss as TMS in general always has a certain patina that cries quality in terms of line work and color palette. Orguss is for that time (and even now!) an attractive looking show, but what about the bigger issue? What of the story and the characters?

Orguss_2Speaking of characters, let’s start with our protagonist Kei Katsuragi. Fighter pilot, happy go lucky and the biggest ladies man I have ever seen, Kei is a complete 180 from Macross’ Hikaru Ichijo. He eyes all those who are cute to his ocular perceptions, but in the end he is ever faithful to the ones he is truly in love with. The series begins with him in an intimate moment with his girlfriend at the time, quite bold, which is interrupted by her father barging in with a shotgun. Not many times I have seen that to open a piloted robot show. And like Lupin III, he escaped unscathed to be picked up by his best friend and fellow pilot Olson (or is it Orson?). Together they are part of a mission to use the previously mentioned space time oscillation bomb in order to get rid of a space elevator. The mission goes awry, but Kei feels it is only right that the mission

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Arriving in a parallel alternative Earth, which at the time he does not know, Kei is thrust 20 years into the future into a world born of his consequences. Here he meets friendly nomadic traders known as the Emaan, who oddly have tentacle like antennae coming out of the back of their heads, the aggressive Chiram, a militaristic society and Jabbi (I’ll let you figure out who he is!). All parties involved have interest in capturing, or obtaining Kei… why? Because he is the chosen one, or in more precise language the singularity (or, differentiated idioblast… what did you call me?) This makes him quite valuable on the market. So what are the issues that the Earth is facing in Orguss? First it is suffering from excessive heating, global warming to the extreme. And second, the mixing of races and landscapes on Earth are appearing from different dimensions due to the explosion of the previously mentioned space time oscillation bomb. Space and time are unstable and guess who is the one who can right these events? A little hint, he’s a womanizer fighter jock who happens to be named Kei! Now I know that name from somewhere? (sarcasm)

Orguss_4Oh Kei, look what you have done! Orguss is an interesting show in that we have a character that has to come to terms with fixing past issues that resonate with the present. Call it karma, fate, or what have you, Orguss is a show that strikes a chord as a mech show for a more mature audience looking for an alternative to the usual space opera of the time. Like Macross, we again have transforming mechs and a heavy romantic subplot which makes Orguss ever more enjoyable. Just be ready for the final climactic moment, as the scene appears to be very open ended, but from my eye brought in an element of the tragic, which really left me surprised… and a little teary eyed.

#188 : Dallos

“And if the band your in starts playing different tunes… I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” There is tension in the air… on the moon of all places, which has no breathable air except for the enclosed colonies where the inhabitants live. These colonists who mine resources to feed the Earth are beginning to find their social treatment and political conditions unbearable. Beyond these tensions on the dark side of the moon is an odd mystery. A gigantic mechanical device that many of the inhabitants revere as a deity sits in utter silence. The name of this mysterious giant as well as the production that features it is a landmark title in the history of anime, Dallos.

Dallos is known for two distinctions in the general knowledge category of anime. The first was the fact that it was the original direct to video release, known better as the OVA. The second was it was directed by Mamoru Oshii (Angel’s Egg, Ghost in the Shell), which is partially true. Also directing was a quiet legend, mostly unknown here in the west, Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman, Salamander, Lily C.A.T.), who as the senior of the two should honestly be listed first. As the first OVA release, Dallos broke ground in terms of distribution of anime at the time. Within a couple years the category became a viable market for projects that may have had the budget, subject matter, or space for creative freedom to afford itself to be either on television or the cinematic big screen. Long before the internet, or digital sharing, the OVA was a gray area to work in as an in between, a place Dallos fit into very well.

With a slick presentation, Dallos does perform in terms of the action sequences in terms of detail and fluidity, but the story is something that still leaves me questioning. Though we do have a good cast of characters, no one really stood out in this hard sci-fi dystopia as the major focal point. The young, slightly angsty Shun Nomomura is our obvious protagonist, yet the overall collective and environment felt like the star of this show. Dallos is an anime about society under Orwellian social control, an anime about the status quo bourgeoisie versus the working class proletariat, an anime about native Earth born humans versus spacenoids (Gundam?), an anime about the varying opinions of generations. All great themes, but unfortunately with all this great drama, it never focused itself into a cohesive narrative that went anywhere, or answered to any conclusions.

Mixed with the underdeveloped story is the concept of the supposed deity like machine Dallos itself. A giant mechanized mystery on the far side of the moon that looks like a face has no real mythology beyond the respect by the original moon settlers. This older generation, well into the twilight of their lives, try to explain this to the younger elements with little acceptance. Such is youth to take life into their own hands, but they to will soon learn. Autonomously Dallos defends itself  during the uprising tensions, but as to any explanation as to what the mechanical behemoth stands for, or even it’s purpose for existence is a pure mystery.

The DVD copy that I own also contained a retrospective containing interviews with many members of the crew from Studio Pierrot including Oshii. Even though this was not an episode of the OVA series it was my favorite part of the whole viewing process. Perhaps the inclusion of two directors for one project weakened the possibilities of what could have been? The discussion of doing a hard sci-fi production with no promotional material, like toys or model kits, and having heavy subject matter was a great idea, but needed more time for polishing the final product. Dallos had so much potential, but is nothing more than an experiment that just did not fall completely into place. A visual treat for sure, but a disappointment in terms final explanation. A longer narrative run could have helped? Although Studio Pierrot’s upcoming OVA for 1985, Area 88, performed flawlessly as a short run episode count series as well. Area 88 by the way was directed by Toriumi.