#229 : Tobira o Akete / Open the Door

Once the door has been open, you will never be the same. So true when certain circumstances happen in our lives it can feel as if one has entered through a gateway, a portal if you will, that signals that life will never be the same again. Enter the fantasy genre which is full of stories of entering into parallel worlds where your once ordinary existence is flipped upside down. Humble little old you is actually a hero in disguise and all you had to do was go through the door… literally. A case in point, lets watch a movie from 1986 named Tobira o Akete, or Open the Door. … the title says it all!

ToA_1Protagonist, Miyako Negishi, or Neko, is a literature major at a private university… whoa, an anime about a college student?! I mean I know they exist, but talk about something different from the usual high school, or junior high standard. She is quite the distant type who at times sits by herself in lecture classes and does not have any interest in hanging out with classmates, or meeting any boys. She garners a secret, which only a select few know about and that she keeps hidden due to past troubles with this hidden trait. Neko can apparently do magic, though I prefer to see her as an esper with psionic abilities. She does have confidants to share these abilities with and with them she comes to life. They include Haruka Saiki, a friendly flirt (though he likes to be called a city boy) who can teleport and a newcomer, one of Neko’s classmates, Keichiirou Yamagishi.

ToA_2Upon a full moon meetup all three of our cast members soon gets whisked away into an alternate dimension transporting them into a medieval like society where Neko is heralded as the much exalted hero as foretold from prophecy. Here she is given the name of Neryulla who was once the heroic princess who vowed to return to avenge her fallen people at a later date. So the other second coming? The welcomed stranger in a strange land is nothing new to fantasy anime, it’s often labeled as Isekai, but really… another one of these? Why not? Sword and sorcery mixed with a coming of age story is a good combination, particularly if coming to terms with one’s level of comfort in terms of romantic relationships. Neko is asked “Do you believe love always fails?” And her expression is something that hit close to home with me.

ToA_3Tobira o Akete was one of several releases from the Magic Bus studio in 1986. I know three of them at this moment including this movie as well as Grey: Digital Target and They Were 11. This trio is a choice grouping in terms of well made animated features that are not on the top of the well known charts. A nice selection of dark horse choices for 80s recommendations. Visually Magic Bus aways delivers sharp looking quality so nothing new here. Yet again it is the story and characters that draw me in and in particular our heroine Neko who is quite unsure of herself. And yes she begins to grow as a character and marches forth to save the day by the end, which we have seen many, many times, but this time round it felt a little different. I can’t explain how so, but this is quite an appealing fantasy adventure story.

ToA_4Now we come to the moment where we pick which door to look behind to see which prize we are going to win! This is no game show here and really there is only one choice because well… there is only one choice. Often there is too much selection and deciding which anime to watch next can be a shot in the dark, but this not a new experience for me. I initially watching Tobira o Akete several years ago when I gave a panel on 1986 in 2016 and it was one of those productions I rushed through, but now I am glad I gave it more space to be in my viewing experience this second time around. Tobira o Akete, Open the Door, the title says it all… it’s a simple invitation.

#223 : Amon Saga

Can you survive the test to join the army of Valhiss? Do you wish to ride the giant turtle that features a city on top of the shell? … A giant turtle? That’s different. … Welcome to a minor introductory for the fantasy adventure known as Amon Saga, a 1986 OVA that made its way over here in the west on physical media somehow. Interesting choice and not my first pick if I was shopping for releases, but hey a $5 DVD is worth a try at least. I have had enough of all this futuristic sci-fi as of late, I want something more grounded, but mystical as well. Classic sword and sorcery are in order this time!

Amon_1Right off from the start I found something appealing about Amon Saga. Many often label it as a very generic fantasy OVA, maybe more on the lower end of the spectrum, but to be honest from my eye it’s good, but don’t expect a miracle. The production in terms of the visuals are strong and make up for the more run of the mill plot line of personal revenge for the death of a family member. Plus don’t forget to add in saving a princess and fighting fearsome monsters. The characters themselves are fairly average, but this is an action flick after all and could pass as a medieval Fist of the North Star featuring the swords and magic over martial arts. Or maybe this reminds me more of Vampire Hunter D?

Amon_2Picture now a post apocalyptic wasteland and a young man wandering on horseback coming to a cantina for a rest and a drink. His name is Amon and soon he catches the eye of the rough clientele and even befriends one in a bar room brawl. Soon that previously mentioned giant turtle makes its way into town. This is the fortress of Emperor Valhiss and his subordinates announce a call to invite nine men to join the ranks of Valhiss. Amon would qualify, as he should as he is the hero of this tale, for the coveted ninth position. His motives are not completely clear as of yet, but trust me, he has his eyes on revenge. Valhiss murdered Amon’s mother in front of his eyes and this is his reason to join up in the Valhiss army. While making a first attempt to slay Valhiss he would fail, but in turn would meet another alley, a captured princess no less, Princess Lichia. How very cliche.

Amon_3Let’s now look into the character designs as they have a familiar and inviting look to them. This grouping belong to the handiwork of one Yoshitaka Amano. Many of us have seen his designs ranging from the classic Tatsunoko superheroes of the 1970s (Gatchaman and Casshan as examples), the casts of Genesis Climber Mospeada (Robotech: The New Generation), Angel’s Egg, the previously mentioned Vampire Hunter D and even artwork for the Final Fantasy games. He even created a tarot deck that really differs from the usual Ryder Waite designs. With all this in mind I can see him being a good choice for Amon Saga and his artistry more than carries any weaknesses, or cliches, in the production.

Amon_4Amon Saga for me is a good popcorn flick and a decent OVA release. It’s a simple story, runs just over an hour in length and comes across well polished to my eye. This was worth a re-watch as often times I trust the judgment of others as to how I see certain anime releases. I liked Amon Saga, but I didn’t hold it to any high standards. While this is not on the level of say Record of Lodoss War, Amon Saga is a smaller and more compact package that doesn’t go over its head. Swords, magic, princesses, a menacing emperor, a Valley of Gold and a giant turtle, who could ask for anything more?

#147b : The Harp of Burma

[Intro: The Harp of Burma represents two episodes from the collective 1986 TV series Animated Classics of Japanese Literature.]

Could you recognize an old friend who reappears after some time like a ghost some how coming back to life in a physical body? Could you understand why a passing face that you know so well and would think that giving a simple greeting of hello would only give silence? Can you understand the emotion on someone’s face, knowing what it is like to be in their shoes? Often we look for our purpose in life, or end up believing the path we are on is our true direction. And then sometimes life happens to deliver you something else all together different out of the blue. The story of The Harp of Burma is perhaps one of the best tales of spiritual transformation affecting one individual’s life.

HoB_1World War II is winding down as we find a small Japanese unit near the Burmese border. The year is 1945 and to keep their morale high these soldiers often break into song. A young soldier by the name of Mizushima taught his comrades to sing and his musical skills would accompany them with a Burmese harp. It is this fraternal bond that holds the group together and it would be together that the news would arrive that the war these men had been fighting in for some time was now over. Captured and brought to a P.O.W. camp, they would wait until news from Japan would signal their return home. In the mean time Mizushima was asked to volunteer to join a group to alert another Japanese unit about the fact that the war was over. He would take this assignment, but in the process would not return, bringing sadness to his friends.

HoB_2The possibility of Mizushima being alive never left the spirits of his fellow compatriots. It was in a split second moment, a chance encounter with a passing Buddhist monk (priest in my sub translation) that the reality of Mizushima had indeed survived, or did he? The monk looked very much like him, but how could that be… Mizushima was a Japanese soldier, not a Buddhist monk? Who was this monk and why was he so silent and cautious towards the company of Japanese soldiers? Such is the mystery of The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp), originally a book by Michio Takeyama, which unfolds the tale of Mizushima. We follow his coming into contact with a monk’s robe and his sworn vow and duty to pay homage and respect to all his dead compatriots left behind on foreign soil.

HoB_3Animated Classics of Japanese Literature contained an interesting mix of stories from a meta-series that appears to be very plain and mundane if judged by appearance alone. Several of the episodes I came to enjoy, but The Harp of Burma really stood out; it moved me like few anime before or since. This was one of the best stories I have ever seen about both sacrifice and compassion. War and other traumatic situations always leave a scar to those who experience the event first hand, but does it also change something inside of you? Does that experience make you more apt to show kindness and gratitude, or even change your life direction at the drop of a hat? Dry eyes were non existent for me each time I saw the two episode special, particularly at the ending. So often we ask what can I do to make my life better, but how often do we ask, what can I do to ease someone else’s suffering with no expectation of anything in return?

HoB_4Well known in Japan, The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp) also exists as two live action film adaptations, both directed by Kon Ichikawa. His original version in 1956 is considered a classic and after watching the trailer I have strong interest to track down and watch this version. It reminds me of  Ingmar Bergman’s work from that era. It’s black and white, portrays serious character analysis and feels like a film made by crafted hands (no computers!): all yummy in my book. This can act as a great substitute if you can’t find the anime and of course there is always the original novel. It Is not very often I find anime like The Harp of Burma and it may not be too everyone’s liking, but in terms of expressing the human experience of transformation of the soul, The Harp of Burma is one of my all time favorites. Period!