#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

#25h : Robot Carnival : Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion

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.

RCh_1Now this is what I call a proper parody of the classic super robot genre with the stock and trade five member sentai team. Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Foreigner’s Invasion (also known as A Tale of Two Robots) could have been an episode for a full TV series, yet this is another specifically created segment for Robot Carnival. And forget about high technology, space, laser beams, or mythical magic as this is the early Meiji era, or the later quarter of the 19th century, so we are limited to coal, archaic electrical power, levers and pulleys and cannons (or fireworks!). Plus, a heavy dose of slapstick humor. And while several productions of Robot Carnival have a humorous bend to the story, Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture is straight up pure comedy gold.

RCh_2Ring the bells loud and clear as there is a strange machine arising inside a busy town. Commanded by a loose lipped wild eyed foreigner, this robot begins its invasion in earnest. Now who in their right mind could stop this behemoth? Enter five brave (and perhaps crazy?) youths who built a similar machine for an upcoming town festival. Although their robotic machine was not made for combat in any way, they give it all they can, fighting the good fight for both the pride of their hometown and all of Japan. Stuck in the middle are the rest of the town folk who watch in both awe and a little frustration as the town gets its fair share of damage. As the old saying goes… in order to make an omelette, you have to break a couple eggs.

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

#25g : Robot Carnival : Cloud

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.

RCg_1Cloud is perhaps the most controversial of the Robot Carnival collection. Now for a little personal bias, Cloud is my favorite segment. Yet why is Cloud controversial? Mainly due to the strict minimalism of this short. Cloud exists as flashes of images and scenes that drift by (kind of like clouds?) while a little boy is just walking along. There is no plot per se, no story, just images set to music. Some may say Cloud to be boring and even skip over it in the process. Yet I ask you to look again. View cloud in one of two ways. First it is the most art for art’s sake production of Robot Carnival. Treat it more as a piece of fine art, to be looked at, questioned and absorb one’s self into the imagination of creator Mao Lamdo (Manabu Ōhashi). And second, view this as an example of meditation. Sit back, relax and take in what is being seen and go with it.

RCg_2The imagery and the entirety of Cloud could be seen as an innocent dream of a young boy out one day just looking up at the clouds and giving into the wonder. While steeped in a very simple format, the artwork is very fluid and organic with a great sense of care given to the line work. So much in entertainment asks us to go on a wild ride, get into a fast paced mood and expect the images themselves to be just ephemeral ghosts that fly by not to be held in one’s hand or heart for more than a blink of an eye. Cloud asks us to slow down, observe, take in and view life and our world with our senses without any judgements.

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

#25f : Robot Carnival : Starlight Angel

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.

RCf_1You know what Robot Carnival needs? A simple little shojo story. And we have it with Hiroyuki Kitazume’s Starlight Angel. One of the more popular and familiar segments, Starlight Angel brings a breath of fresh air with a lighter, more innocent story. In a Disney World like theme park (Robot World?) two girls are having a good old time one evening… seeing the sights, riding rides, having a snack and enjoying a goofy photo opportunity or two. In the process of all the fun, she drops a star shaped pendant, which is found by a robot who works at the park. Comically he does his best to return it to her.

As the main girl continues to run all throughout the park, the robot mentioned earlier continues chase. As best as he can he shows kindness in the face of her heartbreak and confusion. Then out of nowhere we get a segment with a fight featuring a giant robot… now where did that come from? The original robot fights and protects the girl as the metal armor falls off to revealing a young man… PLOT TWIST! Who would have known that this robot is her true shining knight in armor instead of that blonde guy who showed up earlier with the toothy grin? Yeah, I couldn’t trust him either! The sweetness of Starlight Angel is what draws us back as fans and evens out most of the other segments that are either very serious, darker in humor, or just abstract in concept. If one needs to start with any of the segments, Starlight Angel is the most accessible and inviting to anyone no matter your background.

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