#171 : Scoopers

Wow the title alone is enough of a grabber… just what in the world is Scoopers? An anime about a young couple who run an ice cream shop?… no. Maybe an anime about a  pet scooping service that goes around to the parks when your dog leaves a souvenir?… no. Wow you got me… maybe Scoopers is about journalists in a sci-fi, slightly cyberpunk universe, trying to catch the next big ‘scoop’ on guy who has been blowing up satellites and space shuttles? No way, that sounds to good to be true and yet… it so is. OK, we have the basics out of the way, lets throw that tape (or digital file) into the old dusty VCR ( or whatever your media player of choice is) and hit play!

Scoopers1A supposed Mr. X and his organization are the responsible party for the havoc of blowing up these satellites and space shuttles. Who can stop this dastardly foe but for two… reporters? Enter Yoko and Beat (BEATO!) who work for for the organization Private Eyes. “Private eyes are watching you. They see your every move.” Yoko is a strong and determined lead and Beat is a combination of things. He is a Yoko’s partner, a photographer, Yoko’s body guard and would you believe it… he’s an android too! He gains super powers when Yoko pulls out her compact and hits a couple of buttons, almost like a remote control. Talk about killer makeup! Together they track down the hide out of Mr. X at the amusement park of Techno Land, but what lays in store for them is more than any roller coaster ride.

Scoopers2Scoopers is one of those 80s OVAs you find at the very bottom of the undiscovered bin of lost oddities. It resembles a lot of retro action properties of the time, City Hunter, Space Adventure Cobra, Dirty Pair and Lupin III in terms of style, color and attitude. It just lacks staying power and being a one off OVA may be part of the issue. The concept of guerilla journalists who are more like crime fighters is a fun concept and the sci-fi high technology is a nice touch. Nothing like the element of fantasy of what we thought the future might be like from the perspective of the 1980s. And speaking of hi-tech, check out those computer graphics interspersed with the cel drawn animation. For the time that was high end stuff, but it is kind of laughable now.

Scoopers3Can I return back to Lupin III? It seems that Scoopers and Lupin III have something in common; are kind of related… perhaps siblings? When watching the credits one name jumped out at me and made me go, oh wow! Does the name, or I should say pen name of Monkey Punch ring a bell for any of you? He is the original creator of everyone’s jacket wearing thief, Lupin III and he also is responsible for Scoopers as well. Nice to see some of his other work. The character designs and some of the behaviors favor a Lupin style with Beat being similar to Lupin and Yoko being an alternate to Fujiko. Wait!… Monkey Punch, why not have a crossover of Lupin with Scoopers?

Scoopers4Scoopers is a lot of fun and finding off the wall, weird, bizarre, or out of this world older anime is the joy of combing through the lost archives of what Japan released way back yonder. This is what being a classic anime fan is all about because just when you think you have seen everything, something else shows up and say, “Um, you missed one!” I  am glad Scoopers founds it’s way into my viewing experience, although the ending… yeah we need to talk about that… kind of a let down and makes you want, or hope there is a second installment in some form. And yet in the end, we have to make due with what see, which is an aircraft flying off into the distance carrying an escaped Mr. X. What’s his final fate, will he get to some sort of trial? Will justice prevail? And will the story and photos from Yoko and Beat make the top headline? Your guess is as good as mine.

I want to give a special thanks to Kingmenu Subs for their work on Scoopers. Thank you and keep up the good work!

#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.”

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.

#155 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Space Chapter

YSC_1The distances between stars or planets can be compared to some of the relationships we have with the closest people we see on a daily basis; many times it can be vast and wide. How well do we really know each other by way of how each of us truly feels about each other? A more intriguing thought, what secrets do we conceal, or what elements from our past do we struggle with that haunt us and affect our current relationships? The final production of Madhouse’s adaptations of Osamu Tezuka’s collective Phoenix manga, The Space Chapter, would leave historic Japan behind for the far future and outer space and would deal with these issues of inner space head on. The lessons of karma, duty and fate are yet again front and center stage.

YSC_2Bias here, this is my personal favorite of the three as this is the most psychological, the darkest and the most passionate in terms of relationship dynamics. As an OVA set in the far future, in deep outer space and with highly advanced technology you would think the clothes of science fiction would overtake the content of the the story’s relationship dynamics with spectacle and fantasy. The Space Chapter is a great example of science fiction done very well by integrating both and pushing the intensity even higher. Outer space can be a place where much contemplation can be observed and where isolation, or being alone, can bring out the best and worst in all of us. If Ingmar Bergman borrowed the set from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to make a movie, I think this would be the product… except in this case it is animated and not live action.

YSC_3Four passengers on an interstellar spaceship are suddenly awoken from stasis to realize that the ship they are traveling on has been hit by a meteor, or something similar. In haste they rush to find their fifth comrade who was piloting and watching over the ship had mysteriously died during their sleep. Realizing the damage is beyond repair, they all decide to all abandon ship in separate escape capsules. Now adrift in space alone with limited air and food, the situation becomes one of survival and opening up about their mysterious fifth crew member. Everyone had a different story to tell. He was rumored to be immortal and forever young. He also seemed to be an android from medical examinations. There were even romantic feelings between him and the lone female crew member. His last words left in the ships log struck a note of fear in the others, someone was out to kill him. Who could it be?

YSC_4To add more drama to our story a mysterious fifth capsule appears and catches up with the other four belonging to the fallen mystery man, including signs of a passenger. One by one the original four members would be reduced to two leaving the remaining duo to land on a mysterious planet. From here the story’s mysteries begin to twist even more with the ultimate truths coming out. … and what of our friend the phoenix? She is most definitely here and is a very integral part of the story as she has a very special relationship with our mysterious crew member. The lessons of karma and balance abound with his past as we see the corruption of what was a good innocent man showing a side of evil that we wish did not exist in humanity.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll), the inclusion of his personal touch is seen throughout the OVA, minus the super heavy action he is often noted for. The stylized character designs add a layer of maturity to Tezuka’s originals and mixed with Madhouse’s signature heavy use of limited color (blue for this OVA) in the capsule scenes and stark lighting add to this production’s intensity. While this may have been the final outing for Phoenix in the 1980s it would not be the last overall (the 13 episode TV series from the early 2000s is great!). Osamu Tezuka’s work is key and essential for all of us who regard ourselves as fans of Japanese animation. This trilogy as a whole (Karma Chapter and Yamato Chapter) is one of the best examples of the output from the 1980s and is finally now a part of the Classic Anime Museum. It has been a long time coming.

#154 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Yamato Chapter

PYC_1We continue our journey through the Phoenix trilogy from the 1980s with the second part, an adaptation of the Yamato Chapter. Debuting as a followup to the previous year’s film Karma Chapter, 1987 would bring the Yamato Chapter as a direct to home video OVA release. The issues of karma, fate and destiny would be told once again in another historic era from Japan’s history. And riding along side for the ride to make sure that order and fate are in good hands is that beautiful bird of fire herself, that avian goddess, the hi no tori, the firebird, the phoenix.

PYC_2From some quick guerilla research, the Yamato Chapter is loosely based (very loosely) on the famous traditional legend of Yamato Takeru, a name not known very well to us in the west. From time to time and from watching various anime, we may come across and hear this very name… Yamato Takeru No Mikoto… Oh lord not Garzey’s Wing. Yet beyond the experiences we have may hearing this name from oddly dubbed projects we come to learn about the Arthurian qualities of this mythological tale and figure and it’s importance to Japan. … reason #1 to watch anime: you subtly learn more about Japanese culture!… How ironic that historically both king Arthur and Yamato Takeru are from very similar eras in time and even though a great distance existed between both heroes in terms of worldly distance, they arrived concurrently in time. Could this be the work of our friend the phoenix? Hmm… Onward now and back to the Yamato Chapter

PYC_3Tezuka’s reimagined version begins with a pastoral scene featuring a traveling youth, Oguna. While walking along one day he gets shot in the arm by the bow of a beautiful young maiden, Kajika. Too bad this was not cupid’s arrow instead, because from the beginning these two had sparks in their eyes; love at first sight defined. This developing relationship will become the cornerstone, the pillar, the axis, from which the entire story centers itself. Star crossed lovers who share a common destiny. While treating Oguna’s wound, Kajika would introduce her brother, Takeru, leading to a moment of hesitation in the eyes of Oguna. This is a familiar name, but why? Soon Oguna begins to enjoy his stay with the rustic Kumaso tribe and begins to have strong feelings about wanting to join their ranks and marry Kajika. Except there is something that is biting at him. Oguna is actually part of the rival Yamato clan and he has a particular vendetta towards Takeru.

PYC_4A tale of love vs. duty, fate vs. freewill and justice vs. mercy, the Yamato Chapter can be likened to a drama where at the beginning we begin in ignorance and slowly as the plot progresses we move into clarity and truth. Each layer slowly reveals itself to twist the plot in a slightly different direction that finally concludes with a slow tragic tale of love, sacrifice and redemption. The Yamato Chapter becomes at the end of the movie a romance that shows the power of humanity, compassion and trust. The legacy that Oguna and Kajika share together at the end shakes the established order and calls for change, yet it must come in the face of martyrdom; such was their fates. Never think one small step, or sacrifice, towards progress and bringing clarity to all of us is too small as we all have our parts to play in this game of life. Only the phoenix knows what and when our roles have been fulfilled, so keep giving it your best attempt.

Adapting Osamu Tezuka’s original manga was again Madhouse. A double combination of high quality presenting a rare gem of mature genius. As I have said before in regards to any of Tezuka’s Phoenix adaptations, I view these anime productions as one of my sources for spiritual pondering. How many times do we turn to a religion, or spiritual philosophy to find answers to the complexities of life? I know I have and still do yet there is ironically an alternate source via Japanese animation from the pen of anime’s ultimate grandfather. To Osamu Tezuka… I greatly thank you for sharing these stories with us and I hope I can be one source of I don’t know how many to continue your legacy. Peace be with you my friend.

#25j : Robot Carnival : Closing

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCj_1The time has come as the show is over and as much as the anime Robot Carnival has to come to an end, the behemoth vehicle of destructive entertainment, Robot Carnival, also has to find a place to retire. The second bookend to the Robot Carnival anthology begins with the ever awesome machine giving everything it has to climb a sand dune with all it’s shear power. In the process of straining the engines beyond their limits, the once mighty Robot Carnival destroys itself in a blaze of glory. The end, peace in the land at last as the mighty beast has fallen… yet it’s not quite over. Katsuhiro Otomo still has a little more to tell, but first the credits so everyone can get their name in lights.

Now for the encore… with the destruction of Robot Carnival there is much in the way of debris. Some of it is quite appealing like a shining gem in the dirt, so thinks a traveling nomad who picks up a metallic sphere to give to his children. Once home they all stare in amazement at this ball as it opens to reveal a beautiful doll of a dancing ballerina. Hold on, have we seen this before? BOOM! Yup, that’s what I thought. Until next time… “That’s all folks!”

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#25i : Robot Carnival : Chicken Man and Red Neck

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

Something’s lurking in the streets tonight. Almost like the dead rising from their graves, except this time round it’s machinery and raw building materials being drawn up from a superior power and taking on their own lives. And it was such a quiet pleasant day just a couple minutes ago. Enter the world of Chicken Man and Red Neck. An odd title for a comedic action horror anime, does Japan know what we in the U.S. refer to as a redneck?Streamline Pictures renaming to Nightmare was a good solution when the film came out here in the west way back in the 1990s. The original title refers to the two main characters, one a robotic spirit who looks like a hooded scarecrow and the other a salaryman with a long neck and rubbery movements who is just running scared.

RCi_1And I can’t say I blame him. Imagine waking up seeing all kinds of odd robotic type monsters walking all over and invading your home of Tokyo feeling like there is absolutely no escape. You gotta run! Director Takashi Nakamura has cited the Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia as an inspiration, but I also see Chicken Man and Red Neck more in line with another classic from Disney, their telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. An endless chase that can only resolve itself from the rays of the morning sun. How typical, even spirit infested robots seem not to like the glory of solar exposure. Perhaps an allergy to vitamin D?

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending