#180 : The Death Lullaby / Lullaby to the Big Sleep

There are obscure titles in the anime pile of forgetfulness that are fondly remembered. Some titles are often condemned, or criticized and then there are some titles that go beyond any convention. The Death Lullaby, or Lullaby to the Big Sleep is perhaps the most uncompromising piece of animation I have ever seen from Japan. This was not created for entertainment, or broad mass appeal, but instead to make a statement. Much like a piece of post modern abstract art in a museum, we are asked to look, to think, to feel and to question many issues within ourselves and the consequences of how it reflects into our environment.

DL_1Violence. So much violence, hatred and destruction are depicted in Lullaby. Hard to watch and very grotesque and raw at times, these depictions are to educate us through discomfort. Scenes of a child with protruding bottom teeth and his constant abuse and bullying are contrast with business men and politicians optimistic propaganda showing their enforced single minded agendas. See this fancy bullet train, these great buildings. Look at how fat our wallets are getting by bulldozing habitats unspoiled by nature, or more importantly, former places of residency where tenants are forced into eviction where in their opinions, degeneracy once existed. This price of progress reminds me of the great quote from Patlabor 2: The Movie in regards to… a just war versus an unjust peace, an unjust war verses a just peace.

DL_2The abused boy mentioned earlier has primary focus in this short film and can be seen as a mascot, or figurehead. Similar in ways to Tetsuo from Akira, we see a boy with much promise and potential through constant mistreatment and negativity transform from a weak victim into a true monster bent on vengeance. Beyond his disfigurement, he is no threat, but many people like to judge what they either fear, or don’t like. Or, like Shinji from Evangelion, we see the self destructive tendencies from constant depression and internalized anger. This youth is of no concern to his peers, watches horrors at home and has no light, or thought in his consciousness to point him out of his situation.

DL_3I have read from a source that this may have been a protest film in regards to many urbanization projects that were present during the mid 1980s. Whether it is or not, this is a film that is much more like an artist’s expression of social commentary than standard animated entertainment. The issues are universal and stand up today beyond it’s extremely low budget look; I believe it was shot on 8mm film, which for film stock will be very rough looking. If you can find Hiroshi Hirada’s The Death Lullaby it is worth a watch, but I can’t recommend it for everyone. Years ago I had never heard of this, but became acquainted with it during my research for my 1985 panel during 2014 to 2015. This is the first time I have rewatchedWhile a powerful film in it’s own right, it shows that we in humanity have so much more to do in regards to learning about fear and compassion.

#176 : Fight! Iczer-One

One could argue that Fight! Iczer-One could possibly pass as a modern anime besides the fact that it was all analog cel drawn animation. Fight! Iczer-One fits strongly into an action fan service styled affair that was a little unique for 1985. Perhaps this is one of the predecessors to this kind of genre that is popular to certain fans? When it comes to very early action OVAs Fight! Iczer-One is one of the better known titles and it’s fun to watch, but  I will be the first to admit that it is not on my go to list. Needless to say I salute those of you who are diehard fans, because after all it’s these little eccentric titles that we attached ourselves to that round out our fandom beyond the obvious big name titles.

FI1_1Fight! Iczer-One has it’s followers and fanbase and is part of what is the yuri (girl’s love) sub genre, inserted with a lot of high octane action. As an action OVA it does a great job and is equal parts ecchi fantasy of pretty girls either kicking the crap out of each other, or having crushes and romantic fascinations, Lovecraftian horror elements and super robot mecha plot lines standards. Truly, a creative and different mix of ideas. I wonder if Fight! Iczer-One possibly had an early incarnation of going towards hentai/porn before before settling into it’s current guise? Project A-Ko, though not exactly similar, but kind of similiar to Fight! Iczer-One followed this, but in a more playful way. And according to research, yes, Fight! Iczer-One does have ties with the Cream Lemon hentai series. Fight! Iczer-One on the other hand is dark, really dark (and I usually like dark stuff?), and borrows the previously mentioned H.P. Lovecraft down to the naming of the invading aliens, the Cthulhu. From another angle, this has early LGBT themes expressed in anime and that is a positive!

FI1_2The call of the hero to join the fight is strong with Fight! Iczer-One. The previously mentioned Cthulhu are searching for a new home world. They are also in the process of stopping the renegade Iczer-One from gaining contact with her perfect partner on Earth, Nagisa. Iczer-One is Earth’s only hope and her tracking down of her partner is vital to the proper workings of the Iczer-Robo. Nagisa of course is just your typical school girl where all life is perfect until one dark day when she begins to be harassed by the Cthulhu’s invading monsters. Add to this her chance meetings with Iczer-One seem awkward. “Who is this girl in the funny outfit following me all the time”, I can imagine Nagisa saying? Things change when the Cthulhu invade Nagisa’s parents and it takes her a while to get over the crybaby phase of, “Why do I have to fight? Why did this happen to me?”

FI1_3My favorite part of Fight! Iczer-One is director and character designer Toshihiro Hirano. I love his work as a whole with titles like Megazone 23 (pt. 1) (character designs only), Dangaioh, Vampire Princess Miyu and Magic Knight Rayearth (CLAMP!) standing out as personal favorites. His designs for women in particular are very appealing in a doll like way… maybe it’s in the eyes? Hirano ranks up their to Haruhiko Mikimoto and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (and others that are not coming to mind at the moment) in my book for character designs in anime. The budget had to have been good for Fight! Iczer-One because the production looks very good in terms of detail and drawing. Many of the early OVAs and even movies from the 1980s that had the budget and care given to them were what made us go, “DAMN! Where have these cartoons been all our lives?”

FI1_4Fun, unique and a whole lot of ‘kick-ass’, Fight! Iczer-One is a standard for the early OVA market of the mid 1980s. Maybe not my favorite by a long shot, I do give Fight! Iczer-One all the respect it deserves. Also being a quick trilogy makes Fight! Iczer-One easy to digest. That and who is to say it is not one of my guilty pleasures that I don’t want to admit to? Also, how many anime have guest appearances from from Zeta Gundam that’s not another Gundam series? Can you spot Kamille and Fa? I wonder if they needed the extra money and picked up Fight! Iczer-One as a side job?

 

#173 : M.A.S.K.

The old tagline once said that “Illusion is the ultimate weapon”? Can one consider M.A.S.K. to be one of the top tier of 80 cartoons? Oh YES! Now I don’t really have much nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but then again you may say otherwise. I have been with this show and watched it over the 35+ year history. I have it on DVD, I used to have some of the toys and I love making and remaking the vehicles out of LEGO. I love this show (obvious), so you might say I have strong nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but I prefer to see this relationship like a marriage. This is not part of my past, but a continual place within my present moment. M.A.S.K. and I, till death us do part… yeah right we’re both immortal 🙂

mask_1For the last couple of weeks while organizing my LEGO collection, I have had one show running in the background that I from time to time take a break to watch. Take a guess which show? Hmm… LEGO and M.A.S.K., is this 1985, or 2020? Does not matter in the slightest. Funny how M.A.S.K. is considered a niche property now, because I still remember it being one of the top shows of the time that we talked about at school. Of course those days are long gone (or maybe not?) and us die hard fans that still enjoy the crimefighting of the M.A.S.K. team against the conniving V.E.N.O.M. in a pseudo-mecha show. Wait a minute, there are no giant robots and the closest thing is T-Bob (yikes!), but still, you have to acknowledge piloting mechanical vehicles as a close substitute.

mask_2Matt Trakker, the blonde alternative to Batman’s Bruce Wayne, has it all. An expansive fortune that he seems to be donating to nearly everyone, a loving yet slightly mischievous son and a bunch of friends who all put on helmets with a special power and drive vehicles that transform to fight against the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. What should we call this club of crime fighters… why not M.A.S.K.? Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (Yes! Command with a ‘K’). You know, it would have been nice to have some back story in one of the episodes of how this all came about! There were some mini-comics that came with some of the toys to fill that void… and I have never read them as I don’t know where to find them. But everything else listed is what M.A.S.K. is all about. “M.A.S.K. crusaders working overtime fighting crime.” The theme song alone is all the backstory you really need anyway.

mask_3M.A.S.K. is in essence two shows in one. Season one is what a majority of us love and is basically described above. For the shortened season 2, the direction moved into more of a Speed Racer like racing series that seriously “jumped the shark”. Hey what happened? Those episodes are watchable, but are awkward… seriously why break the winning formula? I stick with season one, though if you like season two more I salute you for being loyal. The credits listing has many Japanese names that helped to polish the show into action. Assembled in Japan, but designed in the U.S. and Europe via the once awesome company DiC. One such name is Shinji Aramaki, who as a mechanical designer is brilliant. Megazone 23, Genesis Climber Mospeada and Madox-01 should give you an idea of his resume. It would be nice to know which studios did actually animate this show, because some of these episodes still look really good even today.

mask_4Perhaps one could say that M.A.S.K. is a prime example of a ‘toy’ show showing a half hour of shameless promotion. Yet if one only sees M.A.S.K. in this light alone, one would be missing out on the subtleties that makes M.A.S.K. magical. Often seen as a mix of G.I. Joe, The Transformers and even the A-Team, M.A.S.K. is the ultimate combination, more than the “ultimate weapon”. Exotic locations, fun action, great humor and puns, a smaller easier to digest cast compared to the previously mentioned G.I. Joe and The Transformers and a theme song (Shuki Levy you rock!)/opening credit sequence that is jaw dropping… who could ask for anything more? A show that took itself seriously by not taking itself seriously… brilliant.

#169 : Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora

“QUESTION!” Time to dive really deep into this pile of forgotten anime titles. Let’s investigate the bottom of this bin and find something special. Ah ha ha, nice choice. Have you ever heard of an OVA trilogy by the name of Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? “QUESTION!” What happens when you combine a pretty heroine packing a sword and a shield, a goofy transforming sidekick, a handsome, yet cruel villain, space travel, fantasy and a pair magical jewels? You get the plot for the beginnings of an often under appreciated mid-1980s OVA series. OK, I think we have the makings for a good story here… time to watch. Popcorn please!

DDHF_1Let’s meet our beautiful heroine Miss Fandora (Fandora-sama), who so happens to be a bounty hunter by trade. She treks all over the galaxy with her partner Que, who happens to be a shapeshifter. And she always, seems to be short on money after each job. So far this sounds similar to Rumiko Takahashi’s Maris: The Chojo? Now’s the time to diverge. Part of her uniform is the red Jewel of Lupia, which is a prominent part of her crown like headdress. Did she borrow her fashion sense from She-Ra: Princess of Power? Drawing power from this jewel, and using it for the plight of what is good, she takes down each successive criminal using a sword and shield. Also the rays from the jewel bother Que in that he seems to sprout a tail that is quite reptilian. Dear sir, is your true identity that of a a dragon!? After the opening we find she has the eye on a very prized, yet elusive criminal, one Yogu-sogos. His bounty is the highest in the universe, yet his location and even his identity remain a mystery.

DDHF_2Based on a concept by Go Nagai, Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would bear fruit under the production and vision of a little studio by the name of Kaname Production. Kaname is a studio that I love… love!, more like obsessed?… and many of their works are featured here, so why not add one more! Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would be the second warrior maiden heroine brought to us from Kaname in 1985, the other being the Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Both have their character and are similar, but they are also very different in terms of story… and budget. Fandora could pass as the budget version of Yohko as Yohko’s OVA looks very cinematic and lush, while Fandora’s OVA could pass more for television standards. Yet this is not a fair comparison, that’s like comparing an apple with an pomegranate. Both offer nutrition and taste delicious, but one is more expensive in terms of cost. Yet, both can satisfy in their own way!

DDHF_3Each successive episode lays the groundwork for the last. The first episode can stand alone as a single entry and I wonder if that was the case in terms of production? We learn the basics of our characters, find out who Yogu-sogos is and end on a cliff hanger. The second episode brings in more character development with the introduction of a tragic couple’s ill fated relationship and a young boy by the name of Sohto/Soto. And yet even more action with Yogu-sogos and this one also ends on a cliff hanger. The third episode shows the resurrection of Fandora and introduces much of her secret back story, and Que’s as well, which leads to the climatic ending! And sorry, no cliffhanger this time round. The pacing is well done and each successful episode builds from the last, showing Fandora, Que and Yogu-sogos as a well rounded trio for our main cast by the end.

DDHF_4Truth be told, this was one Kaname Production title that I had on the back burner for some time and much like anything from that studio, I really like it. Though Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora does not hold a candle to Kaname’s masterpiece, Windaria, it is still a fun action cartoon with a strong protagonist that has those signature eyes associated with Kaname’s female characters. The only thing I scratch my head about is why is it called Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? Fandora is the heroine, a hunter is her job and dimensions are what she and Que warp through to catch crooks… where is the dream part?

#168 : Dream Hunter Rem

The world of dreams is a mysterious one. Often times we live out our greatest fantasies, or anxieties, in the dead of night when the subconscious is open to play. It is in particular that nightmares come into question for this entry as we explore an anime where our heroine works within this world of dreams. A variant of the magical girl, Dream Hunter Rem is a cult classic OVA series that beyond the cute clothing, can be quite intense and dramatic… horror and suspense at it’s best. So, what did you dream of last night? I had a vision to tell you all about Miss Rem’s stories.

DHR_1The usual case of an anime property that keeps ongoing with sequels is that it starts off really strong and them fades off, or the quality of consistency remains equal through out and when you are finished you feel a sense of satisfaction. Dream Hunter Rem is the opposite to both of these statements. This is a series that started out fair, decent if you may, and as each successful OVA was released the stakes, quality and storytelling would grow in leaps and bounds to the point that by the end of the third and final OVA I was sad to see it go. Who would have thought a half hour hentai stripped down from it’s more pornographic roots and re-released with a filler episode in a more mainstream and general style would spawn two sequels and leave behind legacy… albeit in the ranks of cult stature.

DHR_2Rem Ayanokōji has it all… an adorable cat (Alpha), a cute dog (Beta), a Colt 44 Magnum (is this a real gun?), a Honda City Turbo and a detective agency… not bad for a junior high aged girl. Oh and I forgot, teal green hair! Rem’s business is based off her gift of diving into other’s dreams and subsequently relieving evil thoughts and spirits that can possess us and give us trouble. A true exorcist who knows her trade. When all else fails call Rem! This gift robs her of having her own dreams and one of her goals is to get them back. She usually sleeps near a client, or even sometimes in the same bed. While in her dream dive when she encounters any foes that become problematic, Rem can transform into a bikini like costume and with sword in hand kick some butt! Reminiscent of another 1985 magical girl, Yohko from Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Even her cat and doggie can transform too into more fearsome examples of their breeds to help out when she is in a pinch. Wait a minute, what happened to the gun? I guess the silver bullets she uses can only go so far.

DHR_3Several characters aid in support of Rem through out the three episodes including two men who act like her unofficial partners. This includes Detective Sakaki, a surrogate father figure, and a mysterious monk, Enkō. Enkō, much like a guardian angel, protects Rem similar to the dynamics of Miyu and Larva in Vampire Princess Miyu. Their destinies are intertwined and by the third episode, which in my opinion is the great work of the episodic trilogy, we learn that they have shared many a past lives as dedicated lovers. Soulmates never die?  A common feature to all three episodes are Rem’s classroom intermissions. Need a mid-episode break? These segments introduce you to the science behind dreams and how the brain functions during our times of rest. How often do you find OVAs that are covertly educational? … if even for only five minutes.

DHR_4Always remember to never fear because Rem can protect you at night my friends. Nightmares beware and evil spirits run and hide… I know a dream hunter who will aid me in case I get an itch of fright. Sleep soundly, sleep tight and awake tomorrow to see the bright sunny light. A simple poem I dedicate to our beloved Rem, who forever will be our guardian of the nocturnal, have a good night and Amen … “Stars shining bright above you, Night breezes seem to whisper “I love you”, Birds singing in the sycamore tree, Dream a little dream of me.”

#167 : Robotech

In the year 1985, inside a basic home in a small town of the Midwestern U.S., a single television show that aired the afternoons I got home from school would alter the course of my personal history… as an anime fan to be precise. I remember very well the time was 4:00 pm and the channel on the television would land on the number 11 and for a half hour from Monday to Friday, it would be time to watch this odd show in the mix of a ton of other possibilities called Robotech.

RT_1Now I will be the first to admit that Robotech is not quote unquote official anime, it is in my own phrasing ‘adapted anime’. Eventually many of us who grew up with this show, would progress on to see and experience the original three series that made up Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada), but I have not forgotten my roots. While Robotech is often poo poo-ed in some fan circles, and I can agree with all the DVD releases being a bit excessive and Harmony Gold being very stubborn, but let’s look at this show for what it was for me as a kid, a mere budding anime fan. This was my gateway drug, a very powerful one at that for my generation. Terms like anime and otaku and large scale franchises like Studio Ghibli, Pokemon and Shonen Jump were unknowns for a little kid growing up in the mid-1980s in the Midwest of the U.S. This was most likely true for you as well if you are of a similar age as myself. This was the wild west of late Generation X where we didn’t have all the fancy terminology, conventions, or even the internet. All we had was a gut sense reaction saying… you know… I really like something about THIS show.

RT_2Often times anime that is broadcast here in the west, particularly the U.S., is often reinterpreted, adapted, or perhaps censored to a certain degree. Free speech?! Robotech changed names to more Anglican terminology, or got close in translation, or just left some of them alone, took out Japanese references like text, etc., totally changed the meaning of protoculture, shoe horned three unrelated series into a single timeline and added a fresh soundtrack. … Might I say, what a fine soundtrack it still is! … And the final product, which if you take into consideration had a short time of assemblage and production, is quite well done for the time. Carl Macek, the main producer behind the show, should be given a medal for what he did to put together Robotech. He had a job to do and did the best he could. If anyone ever bad mouth’s Carl’s work on Robotech, at Streamline Pictures, or his later works, I will ask the question, what would you do if you had these tasks?

RT_3Now let’s consider what Robotech did right, or left in tact so to speak. The concepts of interracial relationships, a transgender, or gender non-conforming character and even characters showing a side of doubt, depression, or anxiety were not seen much in terms of general television in 1980s. Yet, a “kids” show had it all and opened up a world of a more diverse human experience. Characters did not go to a hospital planet when they become mortally wounded, they died! And in terms of dialogue, Robotech never talked down to you with immature of more childish language to appeal as safe to the public. It was an anomily, lightning in a bottle and even though Robotech is far from perfect (and I ask you just what is perfect?), it is at least genuine in terms of expressing a total array of human emotion and experience through the lens of sci-fi fantasy.

As an impressionable youth in the aftermath of the original Star Wars run, barraged by other cartoons and comic book super heroes, Robotech, amongst other anime at the time would become my go to for fantasy, adventure and defining a personal sense of mythology. I owe my love of anime to Robotech and I often find it ironic that even though I see Robotech as a large epic, it is unknown to many younger, or newer fans of anime. Some older fans dismiss it, some are stuck on it as the only “anime” they know and others like myself, see it as a first step into a world of wonder that continues to grow each and every day.

… and yes, I prefer the unmastered original version 🙂

For reviews on the original anime that made up Robotech:

Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross
Genesis Climber Mospeada

#162 : Twinkle Nora Rock Me!

TNRM_1There is more Nora?! Either I am crazy to jump into the Nora pool again, or maybe I am a believer in second chances. Twinkle Nora Rock Me!… can I consider it a ‘bad’ anime? Yes, but it is so so bad that it goes into the category that I call entertaining beyond explanation. I had no expectations this time round, so I let myself go. Word of advice…sometimes the worst anime ever made can be the best to watch. I admit to this and maybe you do as well… and you love it like me. I found redeeming qualities in Twinkle Nora Rock Me! that episode one lacked and I am count these blessings. Your opinion may vary, but I am sticking with mine.

TNRM_2I have seen many poo poo this entry of Nora as well, but I enjoyed this second coming. I declare myself to be the minority here! Yes some of the animation is like a couple frames per second and looks like a limited budget show. Yes the plot is all over the place. And yes, it has dancing, but I see this as a redeeming factor. Have a good time now folks and let’s not take watching anime that seriously this time round. Have a little dance and party. Nora as a character in Twinkle Nora Rock Me! is at least interesting. No more just being some cute girl on display, Nora is a full fledged bounty hunter this time round and has esper abilities. Where was this from the first episode of Nora? No time to complain this was a welcome addition, perhaps this was part of the original manga as well? I am still interested in finding a couple chapters to read to see what was originally there…

TNRM_3Nora, a bounty hunter, goes after bad guys one by one, but she meets one who is like hulking giant and she puts him in his place. Big bad guy has a brother, another felon, who has magical and esper qualities. Nora makes a point to go after bad guy’s brother, bringing a fan along who desires to be a dancer. Nora too has the moves as well, but she has a job to do. Dance and rock out later, but first things first, capture the esper magician. And how does she do this… with magical esper abilities of her own. Who knew she had so many talents to match her beauty? With both brothers captured and subdued there is only one thing left to do… dance! “Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your booty.” Silly yes, but entertaining to a certain frame of mind!

When choosing an episode of Nora to watch, one can liken it to the Lupin III jacket color reference. Will you watch her in the green outfit (Nora) or in khaki tan outfit (Twinkle Nora Rock Me!)? You may choose neither and yes both are not even close to the level of masterpiece, but when push comes to shove I choose the khaki version. The other bonus to Twinkle Nora Rock Me! I forgot to mention is it is only a half hour instead of the first episode’s full hour. The lesser of two evils, hehe!