#97 : Armored Trooper Votoms

Votoms_1Armored Trooper Votoms in a certain frame of reference may be the greatest mecha anime of all time. And I say that again as a certain frame of reference since this may not be everyone’s idea of where mecha shows should tread. Several shows before and since have dived deep into realms of gritty military life and, or psychological science fiction, but nothing equals Votoms in terms of it’s presentation of both. This is a tale about a singular battle scared man coming to terms with his life and humanity in the dire of constant combat, but Votoms is also, perhaps, one of the most underrated love stories as well.

Votoms_2The year of 1983 brought many classic mecha shows to us and in particular the so-called real robot aspect of the genre. Sunrise would produce three gems: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s (Gundam dude) Aura Battler Dunbine, Takeyuki Kanda’s Galactic Drifter Vifam and Ryosuke’s Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms. Mecha shows by this time had grown into a wealth of expression and many of the best had strong leanings towards space opera. Examples such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Yamato and Gundam all left influence on many shows in the early 1980s. These are prime examples of classic heroism and this is definitely not the world Armored Trooper Votoms. Votoms is more akin to the noir drama of Blade Runner, the esoteric sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Vietnam War grit of Apocalypse Now. Votoms is a story of the hunted outcast searching for his purpose, not that of a perfect hero.

Sergeant Chirico Cuvie, a former member of the deadly Red Shoulder brigade, is a man on the run. Despite his stint in Gilgamesh’s Melkian army during the great war of the Astragius galaxy against the Balarant, Chirico finds life on the run just as difficult. During a mysterious last minute final assignment, Chirico becomes aware of a great secret. After interrogation and being left for dead, Chirico runs to find peace and safety. The only problem is everywhere he goes he can’t escape the proverbial battlefield. All Chirico wants to know is what the secret operation he was involved in was all about, who the secret organization behind the operation is, to have both Gilgamesh and Balarant off his back and… most importantly… who this mysterious beautiful woman that is so linked to his destiny is and why is it that he feels so attracted to her (Duh!… she is pretty and loyal to you).

Votoms_3The grit of militarism exudes not just in the story and politics, but also in the designs of the mechs themselves. The AT Scopedog is a timeless design for not being flashy, cool, or futuristic. The Scopedog is a basic run of the mill tank or army Jeep brought into the world of piloted robots. Clunky, functional and a nasty shade of green, the Scopedog is an antithesis to say a Gundam, or Valkyrie fighter (Macross). Ironically, the simple build quality of Scopedogs are fitting within the culture of model building since Chirico himself many times during the show either rebuilds, or modifies, several mechs. Yet there is one characteristic of a Scopedog that is distinctive… those roller skate type feet which allow them to roll on the ground. Of course this helped in production of the animation by keeping the drawing minimal at times, but still… it’s kind of fun!

Votoms_4The structure of the show is in four successive stages, or arcs and each one builds on the previous. The DVDs I have separate neatly into these so called movements: we begin in the streets of Uoodo (very Blade Runner), move into the jungles of Kummen (Apocalypse Now), and finish with the planets Sunsa and Quent (2001). Like an onion you slowly peel away the drama and suspense and end up in a world you never thought was possible when you first started. Uoodo was fun, Kummen was intense, Sunsa is my favorite for how dark and psychological it became and Quent turns everything on it’s head and then some.

Many times I write about anime from memory alone, or after I seeing something ‘new’ to me, I have to speak about it within a quick turnaround. Then there are times when the urge to dive back into the entirety of a show is most necessary. Votoms needed a re-watch and having seeing it with half fresh eyes, I can’t discount this masterpiece. After all… I am comparing this show to two live action movies that I highly respect and love, 2001 and Blade Runner. Perhaps I needed to grow into this show and now was the time to recognize Votoms brilliance.

… this could be Grey Digital Target’s soul brother and I love that movie too.

#91 : Cat’s Eye

There should be honor among thieves. After all, and I am quoting from another anime, “It isn’t stolen, merely borrowed without the benefit of paperwork” (GoShogun: The Time Étranger). Some thieves acquire for greed, others for survival and others for getting back what is rightfully their own property. As this particular story goes, we have three sisters in Japan with a mission to collect artwork that was created by their estranged father. Always one step ahead of the cops and another step ahead of our hearts, lets meet the Kisugi sisters, better known as Cat’s Eye.

CE_1Mix three parts Lupin III, one part Dirty Pair, one part Charlie’s Angels and a dash of Shonen JumpShonen Jump? For real? Indeed, one of the few examples of SJ anime with female lead characters I can think of. Cat’s Eye was created by the same dude, Tsukasa Hojo, that did City Hunter (also SJ); both shows look similar in approach. Earlier it sounded like I was making some fancy schmancy coffee a lot of you folks drink from Starbucks. Funny to throw in that reference because the Cat’s Eye girls own a coffee shop… named Cat’s Eye. Way to state the obvious ladies without getting caught; you three get bonus points from me. What a combination, these girls are skilled with stealth, athletic ability and can make a mean cup of joe (helps out if you have to pull an all nighter?).

CE_2Enough of these intros, we need to meet the Kisugi sisters. Let’s start with kid sister Ai, she is the tech geek and yet still in high school. Then there is older sister Rui with long curly hair, beauty mark and red lipstick (she may be my favorite). Finally, we have middle sister and our main protagonist, Hitomi who does a majority of the  thievery. Often times she herself is considered Cat’s Eye, kind of like Ken the Eagle in Gatchaman. Now for a great twist in regards to who Hitomi’s boyfriend is. He is Toshio ‘Toshi’ Utsumi and he works across the street from the Cat’s Eye coffee shop and he is a cop and his main assignment is the capture of Cat’s Eye. The poor guy must not be very bright knowing his beloved is also his biggest nemesis.

CE_3As stated before, our girls only steal artwork that belongs in the collection of their artist father, Michael Heinz. Wait I thought Cat’s Eye were the Kisugi sisters and this guy’s last name is Heinz? Perhaps its a nickname or the girls took their mother’s maiden name? At any rate, these girls are honest and always leave a calling card stating when and where they will strike next. These are usually business card sized and they are delivered ninja style like shurikens, very bold. Speaking of ninja skills I often thought these girls honored that tradition with their abilities of stealth and agility. Except this was all set in the 1980s, so they have to wear tight leotards. The era of aerobics left influence in both the girl’s costumes and both ending credit sequences. Flashdance anyone?

CE_4How odd that both Cat’s Eye and Lupin III were made at TMS (awesome studio). Talk about a great crossover possibility… that never happened. Also odd is how this show leads you on with the plot. Do we ever find the whereabouts of Michael Heinz? Spoiler, but no. At the end of the first season it seemed that the next half of the show would focus on this plot point and it did… vaguely. Almost as if it was just filler material. Hmm… Shonen Jump adaptations and filler episodes, yea like that never happens? Needless to say I was disappointed once I got to the end, but I had a good time getting there anyway. Plus, Toshi never catches Hitomi in the act. And while it is true that a few episodes flirted with the possibility of discovering the truth, Cat’s Eye ends it all in a stalemate. Maybe I am being too hard on this show?

A final word of warning if you have any of Michael Heinz’s artwork! Be prepared if one of Cat’s Eye’s calling cards appears because these girls always get the goods. Cat’s Eye the group may steal art, but Cat’s Eye the show stole my heart. An ode to my favorite holiday gift from 2017, good times! Why didn’t I see this show sooner?

#68 : Galactic Drifter Vifam

“Wipe away all your tears, together we will conquer fear, come and give us a hand, in search of a new land, I wonder where you are my friend, tell us what is left in the end…”

Vifam_11983 was a grand year for mecha. In particular, let us take a look at what was made at Sunrise. Yoshiyuki Tomino made Aura Battler Dunbine. Ryusuke Takahashi released his crown jewel, Armored Trooper Votoms. And that other guy known as Takeyuki Kanda took an original idea from Tomino based loosely on Jules Verne’s Two Years’ Vacation (a story that influenced Adrift in the Pacific and Infinite Ryvius) and made one of my ALL-TIME favorite shows. The brilliant, fun, and at times adorable Galactic Drifter Vifam or Round Vernian Vifam.

Vifam_2For me Vifam is one of those shows I would recommend in a heart beat, even to those of you who are not into robots at all. Much like My Neighbor Totoro, Vifam touches the joy and innocence of being a kid and growing up, just in a more sci-fi adventure kind of way. This cast of kids is one of the best ensembles ever conceived (my opinion) and they range from the early teens down to almost being out of diapers. That and having Toyoo Ashida as your main character designer only adds to their appeal. The story begins with these 13 kids on board a starship with a group of adults as guardians. Soon the tides will shift when our cast of youngsters have to go it alone. Now if you think this will be like Lord of the Flies, fret not, these kids are responsible and end up working together sharing every emotion from joys to sorrows on a voyage of a lifetime.

Vifam_3Escaping from an alien force and adrift in space trying to return home to find their parents, our cast of young survivors would happen upon and learn how to pilot a few robots known as Round Vernians. One of them, the Vifam, will become the main hero and under the piloting hands of our main hero, Roddy Shuffle, a force to be dealt with. Now if this sounds far fetched… hey, it’s anime. The other element of this show that has to be highlighted is the concept of xenophobia. Katue Pearson, a young girl with the Earth children, looks a little different and it comes to show later that she is one of the alien Astrogaters (odd name?). How will this affect the relationships of our young cast to know one of their own, in a way is not, but at heart is still very much a part of the group?

Does this kind of remind you a little of the original Gundam? Yes? However, Vifam has it’s own elements to be original in it’s own way. Vifam was created at a time when mecha anime was still king of the shonen market and still had great stories to tell. As I said earlier, 1983 was a great year for mecha in the overall, but I have to give all the credit to Sunrise. Before Gundam took over as the flagship brand of Sunrise anime, you had shows like Vifam and many others.

Vifam_4And that robot, that Round Vernian known as Vifam, with that number seven being proudly displayed, is my second all time favorite. The SPT Layzner from it’s own eponymously named show still takes the top spot for me. But the Vifam is a very functional looking piece of machinery, yet has an aesthetic flavor that is inviting. What do you think? And… and as for that epic theme song, that for some reason reminds me of something Pete Townshend of the Who would write, it’s in English! TAO’s Hello Vifam may be the first theme song to be completely recorded in English and if you have sources to back this up I would appreciate it. This would have been ready made to bring over to the West back in the day, all you needed was a dub and like magic… an instant hit for all us kids. Just don’t forget all the toys and merchandise!

Vifam is such a joy and I look forward to when I can get another round of watching this show again. Never underestimate the power that children can accomplish… if only adults could put kids in charge. And if you are still young, or young at heart, don’t surrender anything!

… and for fans of Eureka Seven. Compare Roddy Shuffle and Katue Pearson to the designs of Renton Thurston and Eureka. See any similarities?

 

#59 : The Professional: Golgo 13

Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13, you sir are one tough motherf$@%&#.

G13_1To preface the premise of Golgo 13, think James Bond, more like Daniel Craig or Timothy Dalton’s portrayals, but even more sinister. Also think of Lupin III, but a Lupin who has no sense of humor. Golgo 13 is the definition of a hired hitman, or perhaps maybe a programmed machine. He is more humane than say M.D. Geist (I still don’t get that dude, but I have written about that already), but Golgo 13 is still a very stoic and pragmatic individual. His life is a series of contract hits to frag spliced between getting into bed with one glamorous woman after another. To some The Professional: Golgo 13 may be the ultimate action flick, but this film displays other aspects that make it a visually artistic classic.

G13_2One name makes me think of this movie and it’s not the original creator, Takao Saito. The man I am thinking of is in my opinion one of the greatest directors from Japan, one of studio Tokyo Movie Shinsa’s (TMS) best, the one and only, Osamu Dezaki. His style of rough thick lines, triples takes, dramatic lighting and pastel still shots add a level of film noir, style and sex appeal that transforms the story of a dry hitman into perhaps the best pulp noir comic come to life I have seen to date. It looks un-mistakingly hand made, with the exception of the early CG footage in the titles and the goofy helicopter sequence (why did they not just hand draw it?). In my honest opinion it may be the best adaptation of Dezaki’s visual style. Sex and violence never looks so… stylish?

G13_3The plot meanders around various segments, but there is a singular tie that holds everything together. Tycoon Leonard Dawson on the day of his retirement is about to hand over his empire to his beloved son Robert until… until young Robert is murdered in cold blood. Enter the melodrama. Leonard Dawson throughout the film in a psychotic rage has only one passion and that is to get the man who took away his son. And guess who shot Robert? None other than Golgo 13 himself. So why would Golgo 13 shoot young Robert? Because that was his job, his contract to fulfill and I will not reveal who it was who hired Golgo 13, but it definitely makes the movie a very interesting experience. One great plot twist that makes the ending completely difference than what you expected.

G13_4I want to come back to the element of style for this movie. Though it was produced in 1983 and the original manga began in the late 1960s, this movie to me feels very 1970s. Give me the wood grain finish on anything, or everything in any scene’s room. Show me those funky clothes, the nasty smell of Golgo 13’s choice of cigarettes (Parliaments no less), the Farrah Fawcett styled hair from character designer Akio Sugino (I swear all his women could have been one the cover of Cosmopolitan back in the day) and the showcase of classic cars.

Another way I can look at this movie is to compare it to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. While both films are wild rides and have a similar look, at least from my eye, I find The Professional: Golgo 13 to be less romanticized or idealized, maybe even fun. Both films deal with the story of a hitman, but in typical style from Japan, Golgo 13 is not Hollywood-like and thank goodness for that. I often wonder when this film originally was produced if it could have been created for the Western market as a possible export. This is one of the few films I can show my dad, who is not into anime at all. But, he likes mob and tough guy movies and Golgo 13 hits that mark very well.

The Professional: Golgo 13 may not be everyones cup of tea in regards for story, but I have to highly recommend watching this film at least once to see the style of Dezaki’s work in action. The Space Adventure Cobra movie is another possibility, but it does not hold a candle to Golgo 13 in terms of mood and visual story telling. Lastly, I hope you are never on his hit list and just in case if you are… “I pray for you. Pray for you (enter the whaling guitars).”

#56 : Genesis Climber Mospeada

mospeada_1Long ago, and yet supposedly set in the early 21st century, a band of six individuals bonded together out of fate to be a resistance squad to fight against an alien invasion. And what a rag tag group as it shows you never know who your friends will be. But at it’s heart Genesis Climber Mospeada is a mecha show with a unique transforming concept. And like the name of Mospeada being a type of motorcycle, this show has been around with me for a long, long ride. Strap on your helmets, we are about to head out on the open road.

mospeada_2As for the unique concept mentioned earlier, I have always enjoyed the gimmick of the motorcycle becoming wearable mecha armor. IT’S SO TOTALLY COOL! I remember the first time I saw the so-called transformation way back when and I said in awe, “Whoa… that’s different… I LIKE IT!” Of course this may not be the first time it happened in anime, I have no proof of what was first, but the idea would repeat itself in Megazone 23 (another favorite of mine). Of course both of these shows featured the mech designs of Shinji Aramaki, who would later become a director of a couple CGI movie adaptations that fell flat for me.

mospeada_3Our story begins with Stick (I liked the mistranslated Stig as well) Bernard, a young pilot coming from Mars who is part of a military unit intent on reclaiming Earth after the invasion of the Inbit. Tragically after being shot down by the Inbit’s insect like mechs, Stick finds himself alone as the lone survivor of the failed mission. In typical military fashion, he continues on to find the Inbit’s main headquarters of Reflex Point. But along the way he would gain allies: a desert rat scrounger (Ray), a crybaby kid (Mint), a hot shot blonde with skills (Houquet), a cowardly, but dependable mechanic (Jim) and a lounge singer who turns out to be a soldier who uses the singing act as a matter of hiding out from the Inbit (Yellow, the first individual I ever saw who pushed gender stereotypes). These six gain camaraderie by pursuing Stick’s goal of finding Reflex Point and finding others who are willing to fight for the cause.

mospeada_4One aspect that makes this show great is the fact that to me at least it feels like a western. Our cast are like strangers that come into a town every episode and while each episode is it’s own story it builds towards the whole of the totality. It’s one of those solid series that works for me on a personal level and is one of those shows that has three distinct reasons that make it shine. One is that it is a product of that fabled studio known as Tatsunoko, you got to love the tradition (Speed Racer to Gatchaman, to production on Macross and Evangelion). Two, the character designer Yoshitaka Amano. Not the lilting gothic look most of us are used to, but still the same quality. And of course the music is by old Joe… Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack is more rock and jazz compared to his grand work with Hayao Miyazaki’s films, but still memorable.

mospeada_5Now to compare to Robotech: The New Generation, I actually have a slight favoritism toward the Americanized adaptation (let me explain). Not saying it is better by any means and I am not flying a flag on stating the original is the measuring stick to follow either. Some of the story development I just preferred in the Robotech version and I can point to two direct points. One, Yellow Belmont (Lancer) was voiced by only one person, a male. True he has the dual gender identity, but keep it honest with the singular voice, just slightly changed. Yellow can rock a dress, but he is an androgynous man , ‘The Lonely Solider Boy’ (just better consistenancy). And two, the character and saga of Rainy Boy (Dusty Ayres). His revenge story in Robotech seemed more interesting than just being a mercenary working along with the Inbit to win back his freedom. Definitely one of my favorite anti-hero characters of all time; tragic, yet powerful.

I often think that the initial anime you are exposed to leaves the most indelible marks on you as you progress into fandom. Some you may out grow due to aging or peer pressure, some you may continue to grow into your first experiences and some you end up trying it on again to find it still works the same as before. Mospeada has always been a strong contender in my book and I am sticking with you till the sun sets in the west for the final time. Long may you run Mospeada… long may you run.