#112 : The Transformers: Scramble City

TFSC_1Now if that wasn’t a blatant toy commercial wrapped into the guise of an OVA, then I don’t know what is. Truth be told, I don’t mind because this OVA is for the original G1 Transformers. I grew up a fan of the transforming robot sci-fi epic and I am still loyal to ye olden tales of The Transformers (Autobot fan for life!). Yet this one off half hour entry was not on my radar screen back in the day. I had no idea it even existed, but as years passed I kept hearing about a story by the name of The Transformers: Scramble City. What makes this entry into the G1 saga so unique?

TFSC_2It is the year 1986, Hasbro In the west and Takara in Japan would unveil a new line of The Transformers for the upcoming year. The question would be how to promote this line prior to the third season of The Transformers cartoon (by the way if would be the second full season in Japan)? In America a huge blockbuster of a theatrical film was in the works and would be released in the summer. This film would not make it’s way to Japan until 1989, well past the lifespan of the first G1 timeline. Ironic since the film is crucial to the overall epic story of The Transformers. Yet Japan had another way to introduce the 1986 line. It would be a one shot direct to video release since the ever growing OVA market was blossoming.

The Transformers in Japan up to that point was only adapted material from America. The first two seasons were combined into the first series to be shown in Japan. Ironic how an original Japanese toyline would go to America, get adapted for that market and then return to it’s homeland with a different name (Diaclone and Microchange) to enjoy even greater success. Everything related to The Transformers in the realm of animation up to that point was western in origin, until Scramble CityThe Transformers are often categorized as anime, but the original G1 98 episode show technically is not. Yet Scamble City does count as anime since it was produced for the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM… any car enthusiasts out there?).

TFSC_3The story begins as a retelling of the beginning of the original TV series. Scenes from the first couple of episodes fly by into more contemporary scenes from what would be the second season. Optimus Prime and the Autobots are at a stalemate against Megatron and the Decepticons, a new strategy is needed. Now begins the original material where we see the Autobots building a large city type fortress. Now we meet a new character, Ultra Magnus, who is in charge of the construction. In essence this fortress is yet another character, remember Metroplex? Who knew that these two characters where on the scene before the plot of the movie?

TFSC_4Yet the construction of Metroplex is not the only main feature. The concept of how the toys play is also brought into the fore by the introduction to many of the famous gestalt combiners that include one robot as the body, two for arms and two for legs. A battle ensues near the end of the OVA (no surprise…) and one by one the Aerialbots, Stunticons, Protectobots and Combaticons become Superion, Menasor, Defensor and Bruticus. Sometimes certain members switched from arms to legs and at other times combined with different teams. Superion found that out the hard way! The OVA calls this ‘Scramble Power’, which is nice because we never had any cool naming conventions for the combining capabilities here in the west.

The Transformers: Scramble City was and still is a good little oddity in the G1 universe and is perhaps the most honest piece ever created for The Transformers. Just a simple toy commercial, but a very creative and longish toy commercial. Or perhaps it was a long lost episode for the second season here in America? We may never know…

#110 : Cool Cool Bye

CCB_1Tomonori Kogawa; can I see a show of hands who enjoys this man’s character designs and artwork? Or perhaps, how many of you know of this man at all? If not I hold nothing against you since he is not a well known name in the vain of say Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Amano or Gundam’s Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Kogawa was a staple of early 1980s mecha shows; ever see Southern Cross (Robotech’s Masters saga), Ideon, Dunbine, Xabungle, L-Gaim, or even Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (OH! ODINE!!!!). If you are familiar with these productions then you are framiliar with Kogawa’s particular art style, but he also worked on a couple smaller pet projects as well. One is called Greed, but let’s look at one called Cool Cool Bye for this entry.

CCB_2Cool Cool Bye. Cool Cool Bye. What does this title mean? I don’t know. Sometimes it makes me think of something that a baby would say… like Goo Goo Gah. Not saying that this OVA is for infantile intelligence (it’s not OK), but there is a fun almost child like simplicity to the art style, the dynamics of the motion and the spastic comedy which makes me think of more pompous, or perhaps ‘fancy’ terms like say surrealism, or even dada… oh great now this guy is going into early 20th century fine art… ! …make art, not war people. Cool Cool Bye is for me, kind of like the leftovers of Xabungle and Dunbine (we even have the cute fairy girl archetype again) mixed with something like Birth, or from a more modern eye, Gurren Lagann. This is the basic foundation of Cool Cool Bye and to top it off, this OVA is a manageable half hour of duration.

CCB_3Now since this is only an approximate 25 to 30 minute run, don’t expect something super deep and life changing. Giggles, laughs and ridiculousness is all that is required; popcorn can be optional. We have a basic plot here… two boys who are supposed warriors from a particular tribe are helping a little village get rid of a gigantic mecha known as the Tanguin, or Penguin (the fansub had both, perhaps it may be down to a regional dialect between the characters?) that is stealing all the women for some particular reason. And with a lack of a female population that means no continuation of future generations. Who or what would be stealing all the women… perhaps some dirty old man? AND I JUST SPOILED THE ENDING! Except I forgot to mention that the boys need to fill their stomachs first before any shenanigans can begin. Silly heroes always need to gorge food in anime, at least they won’t go into battle hungry, ya know?

CCB_4And what about the little fairy girl? At first I was like hey it’s Cham/Chum Huau from Dunbine (and whatever her name was in L-Gaim, please don’t make me revisit L-Gaim) in for a little cameo. But no, the little fairy girl transforms and changes into the pretty ‘it’ girl and very funny comic relief towards our duo of heroes. She essentially lays down the rules so to speak (don’t be no naughty boys), but also acts as the deus ex machina or McGuffin device to a pivotal moment near the end. In the ever constant of comedy and hijinks we get a singular moment of sentimentality… nice touch!

While not the most well known OVA, and perhaps there is a reason for this, Cool Cool Bye is a fun oddity of rarity. Not so much a diamond in the rough… more like a happy accident, but one that I was satisfied with. If you don’t enjoy the plot for any reason, just put Cool Cool Bye on mute and enjoy the scenery so to speak (because pretty pictures in the background makes the world a better place!), or make up another script if you are so inclined. For me though, I liked it!

#109 : The Transformers: The Movie

TF_movie_1Years before maturity and discovering talented filmmakers in the line of Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman, there was the seven, or perhaps eight year old version of me that was in love with what I considered… The Greatest Movie Ever Made! The Transformers was the hottest cartoon on TV and one of the hottest toys of the mid 1980s, but all of this fails in comparison to the awe, wonder and larger than life spectacle of the generically named The Transformers: The Movie. How do I feel about this movie after thirty plus years of watching… well, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it is still an important stepping stone and a fun experience.

TF_movie_2No matter what anyone says about The Transformers: The Movie, I admit the plot is cheesy, the characterization is generic and you can even say that it was a cheap ploy to dump the previous year’s line from toy shelves. But… you can’t deny that this film is gorgeous to look at. Vibrant colors, fluid motion and excellent drawing exudes quality. Right? Watch that introduction again with Unicron attacking the planet and tell me what you think. The TV show looked pretty good, but this film is, visually, a masterpiece. Of course it was animated at Toei and funded by Hasbro, so that is a good combination. In fact for the release date of 1986, it was a nicer looking film than the Fist of the North Star film… come on Toei, what about the local community? I suppose the American dollars from Hasbro helped… most likely.

TF_movie_3I see no reason in going over the plot as it is the simple Autobots vs. Decepticons fare, except with a new cast of characters voiced by many a famous name at the time. Does anyone remember Judd Nelson or Robert Stack? But the standout moments for me include Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime’s ascension to Autobot leadership, Megatron’s metamorphosis into Galvatron (so well animated), the introduction of the Quintessons and “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” “Don’t worry they’ll reciprocate.” Of course the big issue of this movie was the fact that characters died… brutally. Why is is that here in the west we have to hide death and impermanence from children? After all, we would be a greater society if we wouldn’t hide this stuff under the rug. STOP TELLING LIES TO CHILDREN!

TF_movie_4Now did I cry over Optimus Prime’s death? Not that I remember, but I did feel loss. I even then accepted the fact that the great leader had to sacrifice for a newer generation. I for one have nothing against Hot Rod for jumping in to help out, and some fans don’t like Roddy, but I really do like the kid… one of my all time favorite Transformers in fact (I see a bit of me in him). Optimus would have the most heroic of heroic deaths and went out with honesty and integrity, unlike his some of his fellow Autobots like Ironhide, who groveled for mercy, or Prowl, who belted out smoke and fire (yowzers). Yet nothing compares to the death of the king of backstabbers, Starscream. Perhaps one of the best characters ever in The Transformers, Starscream would get his just desserts in perhaps the most violent shooting I have ever witnessed. “Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?”

What I find ironic about this movie and even to a small extent the original G1 totality, is how much it is not recognized in the general popular culture. The Transformers are now known the world over in the guise of various re-imaginations. Every generation has ‘their’ show or movie to call ‘their’ own. But what of the original source material? Much like other subjects, you can never really know the whole truth unless you go all the way back to the beginning. Perhaps I am just settled in my ways as an old G1 fan. Still with any franchise or knowledge for that matter, you have to dig into the past to find true perspective in anything.

TF_movie_5In the end I have seen The Transformers: The Movie more times than I care to count. I am sure I will watch it again, but due to ingrained repetitions, I can recite the entire film blindfolded and with plugged ears… maybe. It is generic, slightly dated and fodder for a lot of nostalgia for some of us, but in the end again… it is a great film to look at. Hand drawn animation at one of it’s finest hours and a fun flick to share with friends, some popcorn and maybe even show a tear at times. It was the cornerstone of my childhood and a long lasting influence that exists into the present. The Transformers: The Movie still has ‘the touch‘ 🙂

“Till All Are One”

#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#99 : The Guyver: Out of Control

GOoC_1Do you know The Guyver? Sure you may be aware of the epic 12-episode OVA that was released from 1989, or that more recent version of 2005, or the manga, or even those very interesting (often characterized as bad) live acton B-movies. But there is another Guyver, a simpler Guyver, a one and done OVA kind of Guyver. It dates from 1986 and it is so rad and tubular (sorry I am going back to my 80s slang days), so ‘out of control’ (it’s in the name of the title after all) and kind of forgotten as well that I wonder if this is a legitimate entry for all that is The Guyver? Of course it is! This may be a dust gathering artifact from the golden age of the genesis of 80s OVAs, but it still counts! This was and is and always shall be The Guyver: Out of Control.

GOoC_2To date, this is the only Guyver that I have seen. I want to change this, not that I was impressed beyond belief with Guyver, but I feel it is worthy to see a more flushed out version of this story. The Guyver: Out of Control is just under an hour and it works very well as a one stop shop for an all out action extravaganza. Similar to Baoh, except our hero was not a test subject run amuck. Sho Fukamachi, our hero, after seeing an explosion from a battle in the distance comes into contact with an odd circular metallic object that he has to pick up and hold. After all being an average high school student, this is different and kind of cool… you got to pick it up… and then you pay the price.

This disc like object ends up turning Sho into one of the most streamlined, and perhaps very dangerous looking, superhero/fighter by having all these coils wrap around him. Ewww… just like tentacles, what the…? This is not weird fetish porn! This is proper action anime here! … At least Sho was not stripped of his clothes. Oh and look, now those guys from the previous battle from afar become the focus of Sho and steal his girlfriend. Bad idea! Now Sho has to fight up against the so called Chronos Corporation and yet another Guyver unit, who started out life as a beautiful redhead and in the process rescue his beloved lady. It’s so cheesy, but you got to love it anyway.

GOoC_3The irony of The Guyver: Out of Control is due to the fact that ‘don’t let the cover determine how you read the book.’ Case in point, the character designs of Toyoo Ashida with their large round eyes (isn’t that what everyone says about anime anyway?) don’t really show just how… violent… this OVA is. But then again, Ashida directed the Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D movies (Hiroshi Watanabe directed this one), so perhaps these designs were a good choice? But seeing the promo materials makes me think initially of Minky Momo or Vifam (both in Ashida’s portfolio) and that this will be kind of a cute production. No Luck Chuck! This is like Fist of the North Star, Vampire Hunter D, or even… M.D. Geist (Eee!) type of violence. Wait a minute… I just mentioned Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D twice (actually three!) … ok, then these character designs are fitting. Maybe? I like them anyway! Next paragraph…

GOoC_4Do you remember a time when anime was promoted as violent, mature and all that jazz? Yeah, those VHS days of the 90s only pigeonholed anime as a singular focused medium, kind of like Seattle music and Grunge. Of course we know much better now as to the variety of what there is in anime. And thank goodness, except The Guyver: Out of Control is actually a decent story, has a plot and some moral sense. It’s not mindless action and violence without a purpose.

… by the way, and this is a quote from the story, Guyver means out of control. … so then this title is simply doubling itself? Maybe it should have been called Guyver-squared?

#95 : Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin

SF_1Often times shonen fighters are a time tested formula much like a twelve bar blues. Everyone has their rendition of the young boy setting out into the world and in the process makes friends, fights adversaries, then make friends of former adversaries and get involved in lots of training. Now for this time round let’s drop the whole idea of our hero being a human being. How about a tale from the animal world and in particular the world of our canine friends? A shonen fighter about dogs? This is Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin).

SF_2Here is a mashup for you… let’s combine some older more serious Shonen Jump properties like say Fist of the North Star and Saint Seiya, add a little bit of the classic adventures of famed writer Jack London (White Fang and The Call of the Wild comes to mind) and for good measure lets also add a little bit of Watership Down. This is how I interpret Silver Fang in a basic tidy package. The presence of dogs are nothing new to anime, examples include: Casshan’s cybernetic Friender, the large mecha-like Yatter-Wan from Yatterman (I need to see more of this show!) and Ein in Cowboy Bebop. All three of these examples show the dog as a sidekick, a minor character, but to have the dogs themselves be the main attraction and more ‘human’ like with a complex structure of language, society and free will is a nice change (hence the Watership Down reference). Living life, having the human experience in the guise of a dog.

SF_3Gin’s origins trace him to a family of hunting dogs. His father, Riki, accompanies his master in the hunting of the great super villian, Akakabuto (an insane giant bear). Dogs versus bears… interesting. During this hunt Riki goes missing and is presumed to be dead. In the meantime Gin’s birth occured and would be soon he would be reared under a little boy named Daisuke. A boy and his dog, so cute! This sort of childhood for Gin would end once Daisuke’s grandfather, the hunter mentioned earlier, begins to train and toughen up little Gin to become a bear hunter. Again dogs versus bears, amazing. Gin’s time in the wilderness would get him acquainted with another hunting dog who eventually tells Gin about a colony of dogs who have gone wild to fight Akakabuto. Gin tastes the ‘call of the wild’ and sets off onto the hero’s journey. And on this journey he will meet many a sempai who helps him grow up, but one question remains. Who is the leader of this group of dogs and what actually did happen to Gin’s father, Riki?

SF_4For a Shonen Jump manga that ran for 28 volumes can you imagine how many episodes made it into final production? Perhaps 100 or so… no. OK, maybe 52… ah nope. 26!? The correct answer is 19. Wow, thats not many for back in the day, but let’s look a little deeper. Silver Fang debuted in 1986 under the shadow of two other higher profile Shonen Jump brothers and all three of these were animated at Toei. The siblings Silver Fang had competition with was none other than Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya; David vs. two Goliaths in a nut shell. And yet in the shorter span of story telling you get what you need, so not much filler. Kind of a relief in a way, yet with the longer run of the manga I wonder how much was cut to make this production?

Shonen Jump celebrates 50 years this year (2018). The big names will get another day in the sun; Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto will most likely have lots of exposure. But, I say why remember and stay with the nostalgia of familiar properties when you can try another show you may not have seen before. Being that 2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac, I nominate Gin as the mascot for this year. All the more reason to give Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin a chance in your playlist.

… lions and tigers and DOGS versus BEARS, oh my!

#90 : Twinkle Heart

TH_1What this world needs is not more cowbell (thanks Christopher Walken), but… more super cute stuffed animals that come to life. Mmm hmm. You got to love them and hug them and this anime has that and room to spare. Even killer giant stuffed animals… can this be for real? If you want high brow you better run and hide, because Twinkle Heart is about two things, simplicity and all things adorable. KAWAII!!!

TH_2So apparently God has a couple of daughters and they have a very important assignment. Their names are Lemon, the sweet one (lemon’s are sweet?), Cherry, the loose cannon (token redhead 🙂 ), and their posh guardian Miss Berry. Together they are in search to find the ultimate love in the universe that has apparently become lost. Now hold on, are you telling me God has lost the ultimate treasure of love? Dude you are not keeping up your end of the bargain, who voted for this guy anyway… I miss the other God, he at least remembers love… OK enough of all that. The three girls end up getting a signal on a distant planet and proceed to go, except Cherry waits for Lemon and Berry to get changed before going into warp. Lemon gets her bra strap stuck on her sweater. COME ON! We got a mission to attend to.

TH_3Once our merry band of ladies arrive to their destination they discover the source of this lost love and it is contained in two totally cute stuffed animals. One a bear named Shimy Shimy (this one is shy just so you know) and a bat named Cream Puff Bat (and this one loved cream puffs so much that eating several turned it white). Both of these adorable ‘toys’ are being harassed by a few bratty little boys. The girls try to stop the bullying and in doing so end up going crazy because you should never, ever… ever… call a girl a flat chested pig. That’s a direct quote! Cherry being the sensible one lays down the law in an almost psychotic way. Once free of the so-called brats, Berry begins to ‘communicate’ with our cute stuffed friends.

TH_4And then… this dude in a scarf and nicely combed hair shows up to steal these stuffed animals because that is his job, a treasure hunter (and not a pirate). Lemon seems to think he is some guy she met on Earth. Her heart is going pitter pat because he looks exactly like that oh so cute guy that showed her how to drink a milk properly without swallowing the marble in the bottle. … I may have done enough damage as to describe practically half of this 45 minute one-off OVA. Well I can provide on more spoiler… guess what the name of the guy who invented the toys is named? Geppetto; nice reference to Pinocchio. It may not be for everyone, but you can at least have a sense of humor and enjoy what it is. I found it a funny release, but I would not consider this high on any priority list.

Oh how I want a piece of ham and bread to go with this cheesy anime. Twinkle Heart is often considered a pointless anime, not bad, just pointless. Still something seems to be missing. One absolute remains… in the title screen it said that this was volume one. Are you telling me there is, or was a volume two? A second installment never made it into production, but it makes you wonder what if it did? I’ll be honest… I would watch it!