#119 : The Transformers: The Headmasters

Essentially this is a matter of deciding between A or B. 1987 would be a turning point and in way an ending for the original Transformers G1 storyline that began back in 1984. In the west we had The Rebirth, a three episode finale. Only three episodes to tie up everything and… and introduce another year’s toy line!? Hey Hasbro and Sunbow, way to go for being cheap! Now in Japan, Takara and Toei would create their own alternate series, The Headmasters, with a 35 episode length, which means more space for a story. Now that is more like it! My vote will be in favor of Japan on this one so this means it’s time to… Transform HEAD ON!!!

Warriors from deep space arrive during a climatic battle on Cybertron and in time, turn the tide for the everlasting war of The Transformers. The only thing is that these Transformers are not like others that have come before. They are two in number, one being the actual Transformer itself, of about human stature that transforms into a head that connects to a vehicle or animal that becomes the body… the Transtector to be more precise. A brand new concept for The Transformers, but a subtle variation of traditional mecha anime. This is for all intensive purposes a robot and it’s pilot, but with additional play mechanics for the toys. A brilliant idea! These are The Headmasters and this was their show as these characters, amongst others as well, slowly took over from the previous well known cast of heroes and villains.

And in style these previous generations of heroes go out in style. Fans demanded to have Optimus Prime back, but that architype had it’s day in the sun and in The Headmasters they let him heroically die again sacrificing himself for the greater whole. Blaster and Soundwave both die and resurrect into Twincast and Soundblaster, Ultra Magnus would fall sadly and Galvatron gets what is deserved for an evil tyrant. Rodimus and Kup voluntarily retire… WHAT!? But don’t fret we get to keep Wheelie and Daniel and Arcee becomes an almost surrogate babysitter to these two (now thats just not right boss). … Well now, I have to take back that all our old favorites part ways for the best pastures.

Now as for this new cast of Headmaster characters (say hey to Chromedome and Cerebros/Fortress), the Headmasters show delivers one key important feature over the Rebirth… mythology. The concept of a group of smaller Transformers retreating from Cybertron to land onto a strange planet (named… Master) to begin a new life is a little more interesting than just combining with humans on a whim. Survival becomes the order of the day and the creation of the Transtector body helps to turn the tide for these miniature Autobots and Decepticons. A revolution that sparks an evolution.

I often find criticism towards the The Headmasters questionable. When I first watched this series I had a little of a knee jerk reaction as The Headmasters follows a more traditional Japanese shonen adventure pattern. At the time it would seem to be sacrilege to view the Transformers with different sensibilities toward plot and particularly humor. Yet I still found this show very entertaining, but a recent rewatch helped to reopen my curiosity. Having familiarity towards anime in general will lessen this blow, but I know some folks who have watched this show are strict diehard Transformers fans and not into anime. The ideal would be to be a fan of both as you get the best of both worlds! … And yes the Omni production English dub that floats around is quite laughable in it’s interpretation, but don’t let that stop you from following through with this series. Give it a try with the original Japanese track and subs and then decide.

The beauty of The Headmasters is that it opens up an alternative view. If you want to finish off the classic G1 Transformers you can stick with The Rebirth trilogy, but you would be missing out on another point of view. I began this posting by saying this is a choice between A or B. A… B… ah well, which one? Or perhaps why choose at all, have both! Because in the end this is not so much choosing an option… more like having the official album and the sought after bootleg at the same time. Thank you Japan, Toei and Takara for The Headmaster… “Transform Dash!”

#78 : Saint Seiya: The Movies

Saint Seiya, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways… I can forgive many of the short comings of Saint Seiya. In essence, it is a run of the mill shonen fighter, but the inclusion of Greek mythology, astrology and heavy melodrama make it a heavy favorite for me. The original TV series I love dearly, the manga was great, the Hades Arc OVAs which finished the original manga adaptation was welcomed. A couple years ago, the company Discotek released a bunch of SS materials. I bought a few of these DVDs and here is what came of that purchase.

SS_M_1I will only make comment on the four SS films that were released from 1987 to 1989. All of these were released by Discotek and fall into my blog’s concentration on anime of the 1970s and 1980s. Several other productions would appear decades later, but these four titles will be under the spotlight: Evil Goddess Eris (1987), The Heated Battle of the Gods (1988), Legend of Crimson Youth (1988) and Warriors of the Final Holy Battle (1989). All four are out of canon to the original manga and ironically The Heated Battle of the Gods is an alternative to the filler Asgard Arc from the TV series. These films are more for fun and I am sure were created to keep the SS marketing machine going.

SS_M_2All four movies are very cliche and are so formulaic that I end up predicting the whole plot before the beginning credits. Though each film has it’s own pace and variation on the so called theme, or leitmotif of the fightype formula of successive adversaries leading up to, they all kind of go like this… A great arch enemy descends and brings five subordinates. In the process Saori/Athena either gets kidnapped, or wooed away (if this enemy is oh so charming and handsome). Then our five Bronze Saints begin there quest to save their sacred leader. Usually Pegasus Seiya goes first and then gets that crap kicked out of him, but defeats the adversary. Next comes Cygnus Hyoga and the process repeats and then we get to Dragon Shiryu. He as well falls after a great fight, but Shiryu ends up having his cloth removed because we all have to witness his owe so muscular chest. Seriously, watch any SS and this always happen.

SS_M_3Next we get a double feature with Andromeda Shun, the ‘cute’ one who is more of a pacifist, also falls victim to his adversary. And that is when Shun’s brother Phoenix Ikki shows up and says, “Yo, you be messin’ with my brother? I’m gonna mess you up good!” Then Ikki puts the smack down. Seriously, always bailing out your younger brother. When will Shun learn to take care of himself? Later, Athena falls into further peril and all five of the boys, though being deeply beaten, trek towards the final showdown to take down the big bad enemy. All five boys take a stand one at a time and then like a miracle of the heavens, the Sagittarius Gold Cloth appears. Of course it chooses Seiya every time and all the boys cry out “Seiya, Seiya” and after that… Seiya reborn to perfection and full of strength draws the bow to shoot the golden arrow to save the day. Then all is happy ever after. …you can’t make this all up?

SS_M_4Of the four films, three are 45 minute shorts so it makes sense that they are not the most deep in regards for plot. You are cramming a supposed arc into less than an hour! The third film, Legend of Crimson Youth, which is over an hour long, has a plot that bends the predictive formula and has a bit more drama and… is my favorite of the four. Plus, in this film, we see the resurrection and inclusion of the five Gold Saints who fell during the Sanctuary Arc of the TV series: Gemini Saga, Cancer Deathmask, Capricorn Shura, Aquarius Camus and Pisces Aphrodite. Gold Saints forever!, they add to the plot greatly. This was also a film which celebrated the 20th anniversary of SS’s parent publisher, Shonen Jump.

So in final, I would watch these one at a time and… Nothing is ever a substitute for that original Sanctuary arc of the TV series 🙂 These are, as mentioned earlier, sideline stories that are not a part of the original plot so take these for what you will.

#70 : Dirty Pair: Project Eden

If there is one thing the Dirty Pair, I mean Lovely Angels (sorry girls), do well is that they know how to make a big explosion no matter where they go. I mean it is a part of their reputation after all. But in 1987, after a shortened TV show and a one off OVA, our girls Kei and Yuri would make a BIG comeback. First a couple OVA releases, the first to finish off the TV series and the second a ten episode new series. And then, ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between, our favorite duo would get a moment on the big screen. HOORAY!!! Welcome to the Dirty Pair Movie (Japan’s official name, really?) better known as Dirty Pair: Project Eden.

DP_PE_1Wine, women and song. This is an old saying and yet it perfectly fits the Dirty Pair’s… Ah I mean Lovely Angel’s only theatrical outing. All three of these elements have an important role in this movie. The wine, the minor McGuffin device of sorts between the two male characters (who I will mention later). Is this bottle of Chateau Laffitte 1945 ‘De Gaulle’ really worth all this trouble? Women, well that is our main duo Kei and Yuri, or duh that’s obvious. And song, this film has a great soundtrack. Find the moment where Yuri is dancing and you will see what I mean, because sometimes when the closing track Pas de Deux kicks in, I do similar moves.

DP_PE_2But how should Project Eden begin? What about a time and true standard to emulate?… James Bond of course. Lets have about five to ten minutes to introduce our scene, our characters which leads into a far out title sequence that drops in hints of danger and sex over the text. Now that’s a total homage to the legacy of 007. During the intro we are told about how mankind has invented warps drives and moved all over the expanses of outer space. And the fuel used for these warp drives is a metal called vizorium.

DP_PE_3Now vizorium is rare and sometimes brings in a criminal racket. This is how Kei and Yuri meet up with the thief Carson D. Carson, who is as handsome as he is sly. Unfortunately, Carson evades arrest, but don’t fret, we have not seen the last of him. Moving on, Kei and Yuri investigate a few of the rival vizorium mines that have been recently ransacked. Our Lovely Angels decide afterward to take a break with a nice warm bath and this is where they hilariously meet up with Carson again. The girls with Carson then take on these odd Alien vs. Predator monsters and learn from Carson about the real man behind this whole business of vizorium madness, Dr. Wattsman. Let the fun begin! And why does Wattsman have that previously mentioned bottle of Chateau Laffitte 1945 ‘De Gaulle’ and why does Carson desire is so much?

In terms of the vast amount of Dirty Pair material, Project Eden ranks as a very, very close second to my beloved Affair of Nolandia. I am in no way saying one is superior over the other, it’s just Nolandia’s darker tone just touches me that much more for repeat viewing. Both are solid productions from studio Sunrise and both feature two solid English dubs that provide an alternative to the classic Japanese casting. ADV’s attempt was more accurate in terms of translation, but Streamline’s is solid gold in terms of delivery. I have often praised that the Dirty Pair dubs from Streamline are possibly the best work they ever did and Project Eden’s dub with Lara Cody as Kei, Wendy Lee as Yuri, Kerrigan Mahan as Carson and Steve Kramer as Wattsman is perhaps Streamline’s pièce de résistance. In any case, you have options.

DP_PE_4So Project Eden… it’s the Dirty Pair at their biggest and perhaps, their finest hour. The excitement is great. The explosions are huge. The laughter cannot be contained. Plus, you get three attractive looking people in basically their underwear for a majority of the film. A killer combo. And while this is not the most artsy or serious films of the 1980s, it is without question one of the most fun. Much like Project A-Ko, or Space Adventure Cobra, Project Eden is one of the ultimate popcorn action comedies of the decade… and beyond.

#69 : Dirty Pair (OVA Series)

DPOVA_1Ladies, Gentlemen and everyone in between are you still in search of more of the Dirty Pair (I mean Lovely Angels, sorry ladies)? You have digested the TV series perhaps and maybe even the one off OVA’s (Affair of Nolandia and Flight 007 Conspiracy). And of course you have seen the movie, Project Eden? Now if you have not had your fill and your are feeling like having more you are in luck. If you are the literary type you can read the novels, but there is one more animated adventure besides the reboot: Dirty Pair Flash. How about the short run OVA series sometimes known as Original Dirty Pair, or Dirty Pair 2, or just Dirty Pair (The OVA Series).

DPOVA_2In all honesty this OVA release is just more of the same, not that is a bad thing. If you love the Dirty Pair you get ten more episodes of fun and mayhem. Though I would save these for the very end if you are wanting to digest all of the original adventures of our Lovely Angels. For me personally this is just added filler, not that it’s bad, just average. Though I have to give credit to a couple episodes as stand outs. Those would be the Halloween episode, the episode where Yuri almost gets married (say what!) and the space trucking episode (probably because I get the Deep Purple song Space Truckin’ in my head).

DPOVA_3But if this is your initial entry into the Dirty Pair all is not lost. The Dirty Pair is perhaps one of the most friendly of meta-series or franchises as it allows easy entry with any of the above mentioned options. The reason being of course is the fact that each episode, series, or movie is a stand alone piece in and of themselves. So you can skip around between everything just because the Dirty Pair grants you this power. How very giving indeed. Yet I always wondered, why or how this series came into place. Upon checking Anime News Network’s entry for Dirty Pair OVA, they state that these ten were packaged with the original 26 episodes of the TV series to act as an all-in-one release for Italian broadcast. That may be the case, but I don’t know. I don’t usually ask why certain anime are made as I accept them as they are, but I do scratch my head on this one.

DPOVA_4Also of note is the English dub, which was done at the old ADV studios. It works out well, but… but I am a fan of the Streamline dubs of DP, which only exist for the one-off releases. Just be thankful you have the option for the OVA series as the TV series is only subbed (unless you are a hardcore sub only person). I do like the Japanese cast as well and prefer watching it that way. Also. the music was different between the two tracks which happens occasionally in productions that get released outside of the native homeland. I am not going to judge if ADV came under rights issues and needed to swap, but it is always goofy to swap between the English and Japanese tracks and the music does not match up. First world problems.

I usually write more for these entries, but I think I have had my fill here. I am sure others are big fans of this OVA release, but I have my favorites elsewhere (Nolandia and Project Eden are my go to for a Dirty Pair fix). That being said, it’s worth a watch most definitely, but its not high on my rotation for rewatching.

#66 : Zillion/Red Photon Zillion

Zillion fans in the house stand tall and proud! I am one with you. A simple sci-fi shonen adventure with promotional tie-ins that never had a longterm sequel or reboot is Zillion in a nutshell. It can be cliche, sometimes cheeky and just a lot of fun in general, plus it belongs into the universe of that fallen video game giant I love so dearly… SEGA! Woohoo. Sit back, grab some snacks and chill out to that little ol’ anime from 1987, Red Photon Zillion.

Zillion_1Imagine a weapon so powerful it cannot be recreated and yet it was harnessed into three guns. These Zillion guns are in the hands of our three heroes, The White Nuts. Yeah, Nuts… after all that is the Japanese wording for Knights, think of original NES Zelda’s Dark Nuts (those Blue ones still give me nightmares on how difficult they were). The names of these three young warriors are Champ (the cool guy leader type), Apple (the tough, yet cute girl) and JJ (the main character and the clown of the outfit) and together they fight against the Nohza invaders that have come to conquer this far off planet known as Maris, the second Earth. Mix in some transforming motorcycle mechs and an aircraft that can take on extra vehicle add-ons that reminds me of the classic British marionette adventures of The Thunderbirds… are GO!

Zillion_2The origins of Zillion can call into question two sources that I am aware of, or maybe the anime was the original? Remember Lazer Tag (yes with a ‘Z’ as in Zillion… yea for puns)? That was a hot toy in the mid 80s here in the U.S. and there was an alternative in Japan that featured the Zillion name. The gun looks like the upgrade seen later in the series. That counts as possible origin #1, well what about #2? I can sum it up as one word… SEGA! Yes Zillion was featured as a video game (actually there are two) on SEGA’s then hardware the Master System or Mark III, depending on what part of the world you were in. Even former mascot Opa-Opa is a re-occuring character (I love Fantasy Zone!). And come to think of it the SEGA phaser is a dead copy to the original Zillion gun. Wait, then that means… the SEGA phaser is the ultimate weapon of the universe… take that Nintendo!

Zillion_3The production for the anime was done at an old favorite of mine, Tatsunoko Production. And ironically this show is linked with my main gateway drug of Robotech, in not one, but two ways. First much of the production design work that was going to be a part of the sequel Robotech II: The Sentinels. So recycled designs… interesting, but it works. Most likely backgrounds, mecha and maybe the Nohza themeleves, but I am only speculating. The second of course is the fact that Carl Macek, the main face behind Robotech, along with his then company of Streamline Pictures (VHS nostalgia) released the first five episodes and the OVA Burning Night. These were dubbed of course and features many of the old standard cast of Robotech. So Zillion could almost be a full circle production if you can connect the dots in a certain way.

Zillion_4Now… do yourself a favor and crank up the segments when the music plays, in particular the opening (Pure Stone) and ending themes (Push and Rock Candy) as these are very catchy tunes. Pure Stone in particular is often on repeat for me as this is a song that just makes me happy. And while many anime have great soundtracks, Zillion’s may be one of my all time favorites. Funny thing is how our cast ended up forming a band and performing in the follow-up OVA Burning Night. Catchy 80s pop-rock is cornerstone to Zillion, even the 8-bit versions on the Master System games get me singing.

While the 1980s brought us many big name franchises and singular entries that have gone into the status of legend, we have many more that even today remain cult classics. Zillion is one of these and though it may not hold the high class caliber of say certain mecha, or magical girl properties, or even Shonen Jump fighters… it has it’s place in my collection and I hope yours as well.

#64 : Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy

L3_Fuma_1This release could be the spiritual successor to a former release of Lupin III, The Castle of Cagliostro. Oh, so does that mean that this was directed by Hayao Miyazaki? No, but the head supervisor, Yasuo Otsuka, was around with Lupin since the beginning and he has worked with Miyazaki and company several times in the past. Returning to a classic green jacket as opposed to the early 80s pink jacket, Lupin returned in 1987 onto the direct to video OVA market with Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy, or Lupin III: The Plot of the Fuma Clan.

L3_Fuma_2On the other hand, The Fuma Conspiracy can be considered… well… a supposed black sheep in the long going adventures of our favorite jacket wearing, sideburn clad thief. Not so for me, or maybe other fans, but from what I have heard from so-called experts say Japan often looks at this one with an odd face. Why? Well that classic voice cast that had been with the characters since the beginning was replaced. Perhaps for budget reasons, but the choices of Toshio Furukawa (Lupin), Banjou Ginga (Gigen), Mami Koyama (Fujiko) and Kaneto Shiozawa (Goemon). I love all four of them as actors from other productions, I mean come on! But, this is like the George Lazenby cast placement when everyone expects Sean Connery (James Bond reference in case that went over your head) and b.t.w. I love the film George was in (any fans of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?).

L3_Fuma_3Also different is how this OVA starts. We see our cast at a wedding… OK, so the quartet are looking to steal something here? Maybe, but this is Goemon’s wedding. Wait! Goemon, in a romantic relationship? I thought he only followed the way of the samurai and his partner was his sword. Yeah, well… things change. Now… there is this vase that belongs to the family Goemon is marrying into and Lupin and Fujiko have interest in grabbing it. Not so much for the vase itself, but for the hidden secret to a great treasure. Now this is sounding like a Lupin caper. But don’t forget, we have another party interested in this vase and the treasure that I have not mentioned yet. And can you guess who they are? Hint… read the title again. Yup, Lupin has to go up against the Fuma clan and… and… don’t forget Inspector Zenigata is here as well.

L3_Fuma_4Back to the idea of this production being a spiritual successor to the classic The Castle of Cagliostro. As I mentioned earlier ‘oldman’ Yasuo Otsuka oversaw production at Tokyo Movie Shinsa and the green jacket was re-instated. So what else shares commonality with the 1979 Miyazaki film? Well, remember that yellow Fiat 500 with the crazy supercharger from Cagliostro? It’s back and welcomed; indeed. And it is an even larger car chase than before. Another shared Cagliostro trait is the fact that this is more of a family friendly outing for our quartet. The red and pink jacket entries from the late 70s and early 80s brought Lupin closer to how he is in the manga. Although the original green jacket series from 1971 began as a very hard edge adaptation until edits were brought into play. Ironic?

When watching the commentary on the DVD that I own, I heard references to how The Fuma Conspiracy looks more similar to western styled shows of the area. Though I agree to a point, the movement, color and environment does slightly favor something from Tiny Toon Adventures. And this is appropriate as back in the day Japanese studios did a lot of the grunt work for animation made for the western market, particularly the U.S. And for Tokyo Movie Shinsa, the studio who has worked on all the classic Lupin titles, also did the animation for… Tiny Toon Adventures. Could have been the exact same staff?

For one of the longest running franchises in Japanese animation, Lupin III has been told and retold in a number of formats. Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy represented Lupin’s first foray into the new boom of the OVA market in the mid-1980s. Though the home video market has changed, Lupin has not. This is yet another solid green jacket adventure for Lupin III… do you see this large smile on my face?

#63 : Kimagure Orange Road

I have seen what could have been my ideal youth… should have been my ideal youth… could never be my ideal youth. And that is OK as this was never to be my own story, but a story about a young man of fifteen years of age having the best time of his life (wait till you get to 30 kid!). This is a TV series I could have seen earlier… should have seen earlier… could only appreciate to it’s fullest extent seeing it recently. The 48 episodes of joy known only as Kimagure Orange Road.

KOR_1Along with Touch (1985) and Maison Ikkoku (1986), 1987’s Kimagure Orange Road solidifies a trifecta of ‘shonen’ romantic comedies. And I am quoting ‘shonen‘ since Maison Ikkoku is considered ‘seinen’, but all three tell the story from a young man’s point of view regardless of the age demographic. KOR, for the record, has two distinct differences. First, there are fantasy elements, since Kyōsuke and his family are espers and can levitate objects, teleport, or create illusions. Thankfully this is used sparingly and in good measure so it does not become too much of a cliche. The second, KOR’s original manga was shown in Weekly Shonen Jump. And for a publication known primarily for fighters, it shows the diversity that the publication can offer when it allows.

KOR_2Our story begins simply… climbing a large staircase up a parkside hill, our protagonist Kyōsuke Kasuga catches a large red hat floating in his general direction. When he reaches the top he sees a girl, with long flowing black hair and they both discuss whether the staircase has 99 or 100 steps. That girl, Madoka Ayukawa, becomes the apple to Kyōsuke’s eye almost immediately. I mean why not, she is self confident, tough, a bit aloof and yet downright feminine and gorgeous. And thats all and good, except Kyōsuke has an admirer of his own after an amazing trick shot with a basketball (using those powers again!). Cute and peppy Hikaru Hiyama is obsessed with her ‘Darling’ Kyōsuke and with conflicting feelings Kyōsuke likes Hikaru, yet deep down he knows he truly loves Madoka.

KOR_3Mix this main trio with Kyōsuke’s younger twin sisters, his father, his two friends, a jealous admirer of Hikaru (poor Yūsaku) and cool headed Master, the head of ABCB (the main hangout of the cast) and we have enough ‘Kimagure’ happening on the ‘Orange Road’. Oh yeah, don’t forget Kyōsuke’s cousin Kazuya who shows up later in the show! Now even though this show is known for comedy and the unexpected, I often felt a very cool, relaxed and laid back feel to the show. I can only take so much slapstick (maybe because I am not that fun, NOT TRUE) and much like music, it’s the silences, the rests, where the true humor. Almost as if everything builds to the punchline and when it hits you are ready, but also surprised. Sophisticated in a way and well written. Plus the romance between the main trio is almost platonic and casual since Kyōsuke, Madoka and Hikaru are all friends, classmates and a bit nervous to admit their true feelings (like many of us).

KOR_4One final thing I have to thank this show for is a great and solid ending. It takes two episodes and kind of puts everything back into full circle. For a show that is not very linear, this finale is like whipped cream with a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. I ate it all up. And for something completely different (I mean why not?)… I usually love opening sequences and themes from the 80s. The second opening for KOR, which features the song Orange Mystery, is set in a artsy MTV video setting. It’s totally rad! and it may be my favorite opening of all time as I find it satisfying beyond words. In fact I want to watch it again… hang on a second…

What started years ago as an experiment involving a couple of episodes has finally become a finished goal. Kimagure Orange Road may be a well known cult classic, but it was one of those old titles that was on my back for a long, long time. I always viewed it as one of those key shows that was important to get under my belt, at least from my eyes since it had a fairly positive reputation. So now that weight is off my back and the feelings I gained from it are now deep in my heart. Kimagure Orange Road is magic, in more ways than one.