#141 : The Dagger of Kamui

You love ninja and samurai stories, I love ninja and samurai stories… we all love a good ninja or samurai story. Here in the west we have the epics of ancient Europe and the American western to delight our tastes in mythology, but for some of us there is a draw from an alternate source, the native myths of the East. Anime’s representation of a skilled man (or woman) is numerous: Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll just to name a few. But what if we can marry the samurai genre with the western genre into a film? Yup, that’s been done before… ever heard of 1985’s The Dagger of Kamui?

DoK_1Even if one is not much into action, ninja skills, or sword mastery, The Dagger of Kamui can still be a worthy watch; even if only just once! The Dagger of Kamui equates the definition of the big epic expensive action film, with an art house twist. Big… no no no… more like say, HUGE! Take a break my friends because this is one of those long journeys that spans Japan, Russia and then the wild west of America. Now that is quite a tour! You even get to meet historic figures like Geronimo and Mark Twain too. What?! And this is still considered a ninja, or samurai film? Or perhaps the ultimate shonen fighter? That may be stretching it, but does it matter? Nah, not at all. Just remember, to tell a large epic journey will take some time and this film is long, two plus hours long. And no intermission either (except the pause button, shh! it’s a secret), so be prepared.

DoK_2The Dagger of Kamui is a great example of ‘the hero’s journey’. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has now reached 1,001; a quick nod to you Joseph Campbell! Our hero is Jiro who is in no better terms, a bastard. He is an illegitimate child adopted into a loving family and also an individual whose heritage is partly Ainu, the native culture of Japan that was once frowned upon. Needless to say the kid is not well liked, or respected for no fault of his own except the ignorance of those around him. These elements don’t help when Jiro returns home to find his mother and sister murdered. Take a guess who gets the blame with no due process? With a dagger in hand that will unlock many clues of his origins and destiny, Jiro goes on the run to at first find the murderer of his family and then… well, that’s the beauty of being on a quest… it’s open to discovery beyond imagination.

DoK_3The story may be huge, the music is funky, with electric guitar and traditional Japanese drumming, but the visuals are a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous movie. Backgrounds are lush. Motion is fluid. Colors are bold. The fight scenes are like expressionist paintings that have come to life that could easily pass as a psychedelic experience. No surprise really as this was made at Madhouse, a studio which seems to have two quality settings in the visual department… amazing and fantastic. That and with a director like Rintaro, the ocular experience triples if not quadruples with his use of editing, color and dynamics. Let me go back to the fight scenes again. They are not like the usual brawl. Think more in terms of a well choreographed dance in a lucid dream you can only have at midnight where all around is magic and wonder to behold and see. Conflict becomes poetic art; danger becomes beautiful.

DoK_480s anime cinema has many standout choices. Many originate from well known directors, franchises, or are just at the right place at the right time. The Dagger of Kamui can fall into line with say the Fist of the North Star film for being a big action epic where our hero has to face up against a his major arch rival in the end, but The Dagger of Kamui is a completely different beast altogether. Some action films are just that, an action film. But there are those action films that are blessed to have been created by an auteur studio and an auteur director as well. There is something special about these movies, even though they can be a little long winded. The Dagger of Kamui is one wild ride!

#137 : The Chocolate Panic Picture Show

CPPS_1“Let’s do the time warp agai…” Oh wait!… wrong Picture Show. This is The Chocolate Panic Picture Show. The… what? I often like to search the dusty bins of odd ball OVA titles from the 1980s and I like goofy animator playhouse styled productions that are more valuable as strict visual art than the usual story based spectacle. And what we have here is a title that fits into both categories nicely, but I really have no clue what I just watched. For some, this would be a detriment, for me it’s makes me resort to my inner five year old… Again! Play it again! Play it again!!!

CPPS_2According to research The Chocolate Panic Picture Show was based on a manga based on the old film the Gods Must Be Crazy. AT the time of writing I have yet to see it in full and am only familiar with  clips and remembering the old VHS cover; very funny from what I have seen. From my eye I see similarities to a personal favorite, Birth in terms style. Character designs, spastic comedy, fluid motion and at times flat backgrounds. Then two and two come together under the name of artist and animator Yoshinori Kanada, who was instrumental to both projects. Also one cannot discount the name of Gainax. Apparently The Chocolate Panic Picture Show was Gainax’s first professional production. Hmm? I always thought it was Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise? I stand corrected.

Now according to the entry on My Anime List, which is a direct quote from McCarthy & Clements The Anime Encyclopedia, this is what the say about The Chocolate Panic Picture Show

“Jaw-droppingly racist musical in which grossly caricatured Africans Manbo, Chinbo, and Chonbo causes chaos in civilisation despite the efforts of their pretty tour guide/bedmate to tame their zany, grass-skirted cannibal ways.”

CPPS_3Racist? Maybe, but I didn’t see that way. Cannibal ways? I saw no cannibalism. And the three main characters have names? There is a hint of that at the end with the final song going over the credits, but who knew. … Unless I am missing something from the manga, all I got out of this half hour was surreal imagery on the par with being a close shave towards hard corps psychedelia. Funky music, bright colors and no concept of gravity, or any other law of physics are what you have to work with here. Now I know I see things differently than others some of the time, but The Chocolate Panic Picture Show from where I stand is nothing like the above quote. Of course until one sees this OVA in it’s entirety how will you know what it is? Maybe like reality, The Chocolate Panic Picture Show is what you perceive out of it. Nothing is mutually exclusive.

So in the end I don’t know just what The Chocolate Panic Picture Show means. Perhaps it just is what it is and that is all it needs to be. For me it’s like a rollercoaster ride into the bizarre and sublime, beyond verbal explanation and great to watch. Or, just listen to the music and DANCE! That’s all the explaining I need 🙂

#136 : Alpen Rose

Spinning around with my bare feet on the grass at a park I begin to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of… Alpen Rose. Alpen Rose. Those red flowers. These cross shackles that hold me…” … Love and romance, adventure and suspense, mystery and amnesia and being on the run from an obsessed bishonen Count and Nazis during the eve of WWII… are you excited yet? Pack your bags because you are scheduled for a tour of Switzerland, Austria and France circa 1939/1940. All aboard!

AR_1Based off a manga and debuting on television in 1985, Honoo no Alpenrose first came into my life through a condensed two episode OVA compilation released in 1986. If only I could see  the original 20 episode TV series? I like a non-abridged version whenever possible. Thankfully this version fell into my lap and became a recent priority. So what exactly is Alpen Rose? To begin the title refers to two specific references. The first is a flower that grows in the Alps region. During winter snows and freezing temperatures this flower never loses it’s will to live and stays in full bloom. Impressive! Alpen Rose is also the title of an important piece of music toward the plot of the series. An anthem to be precise! A subtle and tender song speaking out against Nazi oppression. A song to rise up and believe in life and freedom… very fitting to be named after a flower that represents choosing life and beauty in the face of strife and hardship.

AR_2We begin after a plane crash in the heart of Switzerland. A young girl with her pet parrot returns to consciousness unsure of who she is. She is soon met by a boy her age, Lundi, who gives her the name Jeudi and helps her start a new life. By the way the parrot is named Printemps by the way (All this French! I like it!) A few years pass, Jeudi is now a teenager and is working as a nurse’s aide when she is reunited with her beloved Lundi. Then the chase begins when both characters encounter a bishonen count who has loose ties to the German Nazi’s and has an obsession with Jeudi. She is totally underage… creepy! Along the way Jeudi and Lundi meet many new friends, but the most important would become a third party, an young anti-Nazi composer prodigy, Leonhardt/Leon, perhaps my favorite character (has to be those locks of hair!). This is turning into a love quartet. OK Jeudi for whom does your heart desire for?

AR_3Alpen Rose is one of those titles where I can’t help but love, yet I do have mixed feelings. Often times an anime series starts off with a great plot line and resolves at around the half way mark. The show continues on, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Jeudi’s journey to rediscover her past identity, find her parents and solve the riddle of why the song Alpen Rose has special significance made the first half a nail biter. From there it became a prelude towards the war between the Allies and the Axis. Our cast of characters became  part of the bigger zeitgeist of the moment. Yet the second half did reveal some new twists and discoveries which provided interest. The show is solid and even paced throughout, but the ending was a little rushed… now begins WWII… the end. Hey now!

AR_4Many big names are tied with the production of Alpen Rose. Tatsunoko was the studio responsible for bringing the show to life… and they have a great track record! The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi, who would go onto super stardom scoring films for Hayao Miyazaki. In fact he already did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind the previous year! Often times when encountering shojo material I often run into magical girl shows and high school romantic comedies. Both genres have merit, but I have a soft spot for the historic romantic drama. Something a little more serious with an element of old classic style. Alpen Rose fills these qualifications fantastically and I am so thankful I finally got to see the entire TV series. I will watch this one again!

 

#133 : Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami

MMvCM1The ultimate magical girl showdown of the 1980s. A crossover that much like lightning in a bottom, flashes and then disappears. In the span of three short minutes all will be decided as who should be crowned the ultimate 1980s magical girl. In the left corner, debuting in 1982 and representing Ashi Production we have Minky Momo! (CHEERS!) And in the right corner, debuting in 1983 and representing Studio Pierrot we have Creamy Mami! (CHEERS!) Ladies, gentlemen, undecided, non-binaries and every other designation of beautiful people I present to you Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami! Alright now let’s keep it clean girls… no hitting below the belt… GO!

MMvCM2The year was 1985 and the fairly new direct to video format of the OVA was in full swing. Several new properties would be introduced on this format, but there was another side to creating anime for this market. Previously created properties, in particular television series that had successful, or moderately successful runs, would get new breathes of life from this format. For the two iconic early 80s magical girl shows Fairy Princess Minky Momo and Magical Angel Creamy Mami, this would be the case. Two all new, almost feature length productions, would debut. For Minky Momo there was La Ronde in my Dream and for Creamy Mami there was Long Goodbye.

MMvCM3Occasionally OVAs would have a theatrical screening, which more than likely, was to promote the videos themselves. Plus! You can see these video on the big screen… WOW! I And this is where Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami comes into the scene. From my research, these two videos were shown as a double header and this short video was like a teaser, a welcome, a short introduction. There is not much to review, or describe, as the two girls meet, shake hands and then… fight it out in an over the top style that recalls much to say Project A-Ko. It’s fun, quick, cute and easy to find on Youtube. What more can you ask for? Chocolate cake maybe?

So the question becomes who wins the match… Minky Momo, or Creamy Mami? I say neither as it all ends in a draw. The real winners are those of us who watch and cheer and get all obsessed over these awesome cartoons. Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami is what being a fan of anime is all about!

#10b : GoShogun: The Time Étranger

For my original entry for GoShogun: The Time Étranger, click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, GoShogun: The Time Étranger, I have a little more to say…

GTE2_1OMG! How I love this OVA, movie, story, mythos, whatever you want to call this anime. I can’t help but have bias as GoShogun: The Time Étranger means oh so much to me. Seriously!, I cry almost every time at the beginning when Remy is alone in the desert, wonders where everyone is and fires the pistol into the air. And then the five boys come out of the shadows and tell her to stay close as they are on their usual journey, which has reason, or destination except the fact that they should all stay together like a family. It does it to me every single time. In fact I feel a little teary eyed right now. What a way to start an anime! 

GTE2_2I suppose I have a bit of a thing for GoShogun? Well before I got a chance to see the TV series, I had this little gem of an oddity on my shelf and just from that alone I became obsessed with anything GoShogun. One case in point, the first Roman Album art book that I ever bought was for GoShogun: The Time Étranger. I love art books and Roman Album books are my favorite prized possessions to show off my fandom. Two, I have one of those Banpresto keychains on my backpack from the Super Robot Heroine Series with guess who? Remy Shimada of course! And in my bedroom I have an awesome framed poster of Remy and Bundle. I am kind of a fan? Yeah… kind of. The cherry that finished off the sundae though was finally seeing the original Sengoku Majin GoShogun tv series. I loved it, but GoShogun: The Time Étranger is still something I still treasure even more.

GTE2_3In truth I have to thank an old episode of Anime News Network’s podcast for finding GoShogun: The Time Étranger. An episode about top 10 lists for the 1980s and it was Justin Sevakis’ choosing of GoShogun: The Time Étranger that made me prick up my ears. I had to find a copy as soon as possible as the synopsis he gave was inviting and the comparisons to the filmic styles of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini really gave me a buzz. Thankfully in my area of the world we did have a DVD release at the time, so that became a no-brainer of a purchase. After one watch I liked it. After two viewings, I loved it. Then came three… and then it became muscle memory for both memorizing lines and pure connection. Can an anime become a good friend? I certainly think so.

GTE2_4GoShogun: The Time Étranger has action, suspense, surrealism and great drama with a cast that I fell in love with immediately. Funny how a group of people resonate with you so quickly. I put it down to fate; we were destined to meet each other! Many key cast members were absent from the OVA that were cornerstone to the TV series: Kenta Sanada, Sabarath, OVA, NeoNeros and even the GoShogun robot (unless you count the cameo as a mirror decoration in Remy’s car). Yet  the big six remain: Shingo, Killy, Bundle, Kernagul, Cuttnal and of course Madame Remy. OK, why all the attention on Remy? Am I playing favorites here? (yeah kinda, lol) GoShogun: The Time Étranger is wholly her movie, her story, her great homage that looks back at several key areas during her life where she had to face death head on and with sheer willpower and love, survives each time. A true passion to live life to the fullest. A ray of hope in a time of need and a message to never forget. This is why GoShogun: The Time Étranger is not just another anime in my collection, but is truly an honest friend.

…and also, Bundle delivers one of the best classic lines that I often throw out even though no one has a clue what it is as GoShogun: The Time Étranger is not a mainstream piece of entertainment. In regards to a motorcycle he ends up ‘borrowing’ and riding on, “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” GREAT!

1985… Homeward Bound

Anime and Simon & Garfunkel… now here’s a nice combination to consider…

I’m sitting in the railway station
Got a ticket to my destination
On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band
Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home where my thought’s escaping
Home where my music’s playing
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

Slightly melancholy, a yearning to go back somewhere to feel safe, warm, or protected. A return to the familiar for a short time before continuing again on your journey; sanctuary. Some of us have a series or movie that we return to that symbolizes home, for me it’s the original Macross. Yet there is one particular year that also represents a place of peace for me as well and that is 1985. Not that I want to go back to the year 1985, it’s just that there are many productions from the year that I personally love and if I had to do a top 10 listing from the 1980s, I could fill a majority of it with titles from the ole ‘85.

Before diving into titles from 1985, I have to back track with two key experiences I have had for the year. The first being the airing of Robotech, which as a child became the keystone that solidified my love for Japanese animation. Criticize, or praise the show if you wish, but for what it was for my life at that time… it was just, perfect. Also my first panel presentation I gave was about the year 1985. What a coincidence to give a presentation in 2015 and needing a topic when 30 years prior was a storehouse of awesome anime from 1985. Again… perfect. Some titles I knew well, some I got acquainted with for the first time and some I never knew existed became familiar. It was scary, but highly rewarding, as that panel gave me confidence and allowed me to share something I loved and know I was in good company.

1985 was a classic year for the direct to video OVA market. Having only existed for a year and change, 1985 would breed many classics and stand as a testament for quality productions. Titles such as Area 88, Bobby’s Girl, Cosmo Police JustyDream Dimension Hunter Fandora, Dream Hunter RemFight! Iczer-OneFire Tripper, Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko and Megazone 23 all had a place to shine outside the normal confines of cinema and television. One could create original work that may not fit into the two previous categories and be both of high quality and in some cases commercially successful. Yet the format also allowed previously created properties a chance to expand beyond their own previously created spaces. OVAs would feature titles that gave more depth, or alternate stories to Armored Trooper Votoms, Dirty Pair, Fairy Princess Minky Momo, Genesis Climber MospeadaGoShogun, Magical Angel Creamy Mami and Galactic Drifter Vifam. Of course all of these titles were released on analog formats like VHS and LaserDisc. DVD, Blu-Ray and even streaming were still far off sci-fi concepts in the mid 1980s.

And what of the big screen? Anime cinema of 1985 has quite a few options from the entertaining to the challenging to the… ee… shameful, perhaps. Action and adventure abound in the Dagger of Kamui, Vampire Hunter D and Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon (Pink jacket!). Sanrio released Fairy Florence/A Journey Through Fairyland and Mamoru Oshii challenged us with the haunting Angel’s Egg. Even more challenging was a rare film called Lullaby to the Big Sleep; a very intense psychological portrait. My favorite film from 1985 is the gentle and melancholy Night on the Galactic Railroad. Outer space, trains, cats and deep philosophy… perfect. And then there was Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight… ODIN! Some folks love it, but I often times end up falling asleep though it.

That leaves us with television for our final category. It is a good thing it is 2019 and not 1985 because I would be watching way more TV than I do now. …wait? Besides anime I don’t watch hardly any TV anymore, well except for an occasional weather report. If it were 1985 I would be wearing out a few couches watching the great mecha titles like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Blue Comet SPT Layzner and more average titles like Dancougar and Tobikage. But then there are the shojo titles like Alpen Rose, Little Princess Sara and Pierrot’s Magical Star Magical Emi which will require another couch. And then there was the Dirty Pair, High School Kimengumi (a Shonen Jump title), Musashi no Ken and a variation of GeGeGe no Kitaro. More couches! And finally Touch. All 101 episodes of baseball, drama and romance. That may require two couches to sit in and is the title I recommend the highest for all the TV series. Touch is so, so good! Don’t take my word for it though.

Also of note for 1985 was the founding of Studio Ghibli after the runaway success of 1984’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The first fruit to bear from the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata came in 1986 with Castle in the Sky. And the rest they say, became history!

So welcome home, to my adopted home of 1985. Hope you stay long and enjoy the variety that made the year special. Of course this is but a mere sampling of the total output from 1985, but it is plenty to get one started. Now it looks like I am going to need some more couches for all these guests, especially if we watch the TV shows! What beverage suits your fancy?

Silently for me
Silently for me…
tacet

#129 : Thundercats

I want to look at Thundercats without any nostalgia pretense. No rosy glasses and no holding the show on a pedestal because it was a part of my youth. I will most likely slip up and that is ok, but let’s see what happens. Once upon a time Thundercats was one of those cartoons that was as familiar as breathing. It was popular, major popular. It was one of my favorite shows and an enjoyment each afternoon I got back home from school. Still, can Thundercats still hold up today without any pretense? I have a one word answer, YES!

tcats_1Rankin/Bass was a production studio that defined entertainment for many of us. Many of the classic Christmas specials, movies like The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit and Flight of Dragons and various TV projects hold your definition of how Rankin/Bass has left it’s mark on you. As a six year old in 1985 and interested in sci-fi and adventure I found a little show by the name of Thundercats and this series became my definitive personal definition of Rankin/Bass. I was well aware of many of the previous examples as well, yet Thundercats struck a chord and in a sea of many new and fresh shows during the decade of the 1980s Thundercats is one of a few shows that have had staying power in my life and hopefully yours.

tcats_2So what keeps Thundercats relevant all these years later? The mythology, the world building and the characters. This was an original show, as after all this was an action, sci-fi, fantasy tale where the heroes are cat-like humans. I love CATS! Classic designs and characters. Yet Thundercats is also a great mix of what is already known and an amalgam of the ‘Heroes Journey’. A mix of 80s anime aesthetics, traditional American superhero team sensibilities, Arthurian Legend elements, a Tolkien-esque world of various life forms and terrains and one of the most powerful opening sequences demonstrate the beauty and strength of this show. It’s HUGE! It’s also organic. So why is Thundercats great? Simple. It’s a living and breathing legend that sustains itself.

tcats_3So Thundercats is the perfect cartoon then? Well, not really. It all depends on one’s attitude. Some characters can get annoying, certain plot points can be a bit over the top and with the second season there became way too many characters in my opinion. But again, this is a cartoon, so sit back and relax. One could complain about a number of other things, but a TV show should not be one. Just take what you can from the experience and you will find in the end, it all fits together. Like one big family were everyone has a particular role to play in the grand scheme of things. Plus, as the show progresses we become more aware of the mythology and history of both Thundera and Third Earth.

tcats_4With all the reboots of Thundercats of more recent times, I have not given them much consideration. The original show did it so well and with integrity that I never found a reason to watch an alternative. Thundercats was well written, voice acted brilliantly and animated beautifully. One of the best looking and consistent in regards to all forms of production for the era of the mid 1980s. There are some shows you look back on from when you were young and you can ask yourself what did I see in this? Yet Thundercats has stayed with all of us as it is simply timeless. The setting, music, vernacular, syntax and storylines used are beyond the idea of time. Besides being the great old fashioned painted cel, analog, style of animation, nothing can really paint Thundercats as being ‘old’.

On a final note, Thundercats is a ‘sexy’ show… everybody was ripped, wore skin tight costumes and were just perfect ideals like ancient Greco-Roman statues. This was a ‘kid’s’ show? Then again in the 80s, a lot of shows were ‘sexy’. Look at He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Jem and the Holograms as examples. Perhaps this is yet another reason why these shows still resonate with our adult eyes, it’s ‘sexy’. … I can’t keep a straight face anymore 🙂