#160 : Mobile Police Patlabor (OVA series)

PatOVA_1PATLABOR! Veni Vidi Vici… and then… retirement. Yes there have been reboots of more recent for Patlabor, but in essence like Space Battleship Yamato, or even the Beatles… well maybe the Stone Roses as we are talking the late 1980s here, Patlabor would have it’s time in the sun with the original ‘band line-up‘ in tact for only a minute period of time. A manga, TV series, two films (I am not going to count WXIII as a third) and a follow-up OVA would be born from a little seven episode OVA created by a partnership in 1988. What happens when super talented folks in the anime industry unite for a project? They make a classic. … now then, can we get the old band back together?

patova_2One of the greatest mecha shows that is also a comedy, a drama, a showcase for parody and a cop show all rolled into one nice neat seven episode package. Very tidy and an example of bringing together talented minds to make something original and special. The main creative group behind Patlabor, known as Headgear, consisted of manga artist Masami Yuki, mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi, writer Kazunori Itō, character designer Akemi Takada and director Mamoru Oshii. I leave it to you to look up their resumes. The direct to video OVA had proven itself as an affective medium to distribute anime for almost half a decade and the diversity of projects showcased that this was a free for all medium. When Patlabor was released in 1988, it was positioned at a good place and time. Independent and smaller focused projects were abundant and ranged from well done productions to experimental eccentricities to the laughably bad. Yet as fans we love them all! 1988 would kick up the notch with several releases that elevated the OVA into a format that became a viable art form including Patlabor, Gunbuster and the behemoth Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

PatOVA_3Patlabor as a mecha show speaks to those who were fans of giant robot animation as children and still are even as adults… myself included. Watch the opening credits and feel all that enthusiasm from both past and present collide… “nothing’s impossible.” The aspect of going to work and fulfilling a role in society is something many of us understand well and is a main contributor to the storyline of Patlabor. The cast of Special Vehicles Section 2 are not super heroes, nor space pilots, they are your average everyday police officers… who pilot, or work with mechs while solving a case. The whole concept of mecha in Patlabor is perhaps the most extreme portrayal of giant robots as standard everyday equipment. a real “Real Robot”… no pun intended. Yet the mascot like patrol labors, the Ingrams, are not the be all end all of this show.

PatOVA_4The true stars are the cast and what a mixed bag indeed: an aloof, but genius captain; an enthusiastic tomboy who names her Ingram after her dog; a cynical rich kid; a gun crazed lunatic; a nerdy husband, a gentile giant and an American transfer round out the crew of SV2. The dynamics between each personality is what fuels Patlabor. The episodes are a mixed bag of ideas, some of which come out of left field. You get your introductory episode, a bomb defusing episode, a Godzilla inspired episode, a summer camp murder mystery episode and even a two parter that vaguely reminds me of a prototype for the future film Patlabor 2: The Movie. References galore pop up time and again, but in clever and funny ways that makes the comedy of Patlabor pure gold. One example that left me laughing… “What do you think your piloting? Great Mazinger? Dangaioh?”

Who would have thought that this little project would grow into a massive success? And the beauty of it all is that as Patlabor grew it seemed to have gotten better… perhaps because we get hungry for more adventure of the SV2. Traditional mecha anime, piloted robots, by this time had waned in popularity on TV in terms of younger fans except for a few exceptions. All of us seasoned fans, perhaps a little bent on nostalgia, welcomed the initial Patlabor OVA that filled a need to those of us who may have grown and taken on additional roles into society, but are at heart are still enthusiastic fans of animation. We all may have jobs now, even our heroes, but were still at the root of it all the same. Now, time to go to work!

#152 : Salamander

Salamander_1Not very often one sees the Konami logo making an entrance before the start of an anime. Video games most definitely as Konami created many a classic for early consoles during the 1980s and 1990s, but an anime… what’s the catch? Could it be an anime based on a video game in Konami’s library? Obviously. Anime as a promotional tie in is nothing new and with Konami’s Salamander (Life Force for the NES) a three episode OVA would be commissioned to begin release in 1988. So we have an anime based off of a space ship shooter? A schmup? Work with your strengths here add some heroic characters, space opera and a little character development and you get a production that is actually pretty good.

Salamander_2While the video game of Salamander lays down the foundation of this anime with attacking an alien threat while piloting the ever well designed Vic Viper space craft, other influences would also color the anime into a more flushed out production. Why not add in references to Salamander’s fellow siblings Gradius  and Gradius II: GOFER no Yabou as well. Plus lets include veteran director Hisayuki Toriumi and Studio Pierrot for production and character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto (nice choice!) to polish off this package. Salamander is solid 1980s space opera complete with the look and feel one would expect from the era and best of all you don’t have to be a fan of video games. Now let’s see how this plot unfolds!

Salamander_3Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey we begin with mysterious black monoliths, except these look like the giant stone statues found on Easter Island. Legend states that these protect the planet Latis from a sleeping fire dragon. This dragon has ties with an invading power, the Bacterian of the planet Salamander and recently on the planet Gradius, three young heroes defeated this power. Latis’ prince Lord British (nice name) calls forth these three fighters even though the relations between Latis and Gradius are difficult at best. Arriving in Vic Vipers, our heroes Dan, Eddie and Stephanie make their entrance in front of the regal Lord British. Sounds fairly ordinary at first except Eddie and Stephanie have some baggage from the past which become major plot points. Eddie’s family has ties to the planet Latis and Stephanie mourns the loss of her father from the invasion on their home world of Gradius. Instead of being just a flash and dazzle showing of aerial acrobatics and dogfighting, we get character drama, which I can be sure was not part of the original video gaming experience.

The following two episodes bookend the opener. Episode two acts as a prequel, tying up unfinished business that was hinted at previously, and episode three delivers a subsequent sequel and finale. Being based on space ship shooters it is nice to sit back and relax for once instead of being in intense in the moment. Let the pros handle this one! And maybe it is just me, but Salamander does feel a little slow. Watching the first episode alone is enough of a story in and of itself and then adding in the final two gives more depth, but kind of repeats similar themes, characters and stories already. Maybe I am being a little too critical since I have seen my fair share and a half of space opera anime and know many of the tropes familiar with the genre. That being said, Salamander is still well above the upper end of average.

Salamander_4Cast in the same era as other space opera OVAs like Gunbuster and Dangaioh, Salamander is a worthy recommendation if you can get a hold of it. My initial draw to Salamander were the Mikimoto character designs. As a fan of his work I do my best to track down all that I can to see those tried and true sparkling eyes again and again that he is known for. I won’t lie, this OVA for me is all about the visual appeal. Ironically this anime also led me to later give Gradius a try on the NES; a fun game. As of this writing I have not tried Salamander/Life Force, maybe in the future. And just in case you are wondering… the famous ‘Konami Code’ will not work with this OVA. No free power ups, or 30 extra lives this time round.

#145 : Crying Freeman

CF_1Crying Freeman… sex and violence… sexy people and intense fighting… bare naked bodies with tattoos and death on the par with Fist of the North Star. If action movies could be infused with cheesy late night erotic dramas they would come out as Crying Freeman. It’s like Golgo 13 sans the James Bond references and stoicism and injected instead with yakuza culture and a protoganist who is more humane than a cold blooded killing machine. Crying Freeman: not politically correct, over the top, erotic and totally not for children… it’s the type of anime that when you were young you stayed up and waited for you parents to go to sleep so you can experience it without their knowledge of what you were doing in the wee hours of the morning. “Hey kids when are you all gonna get some shut eye?”

CF_2Don’t ask my why, but the first episode of Crying Freeman does two things for me. One, I think of the George Michael song Careless Whisper, why was this not on the soundtrack it would have been amazing? “I’m never gonna dance again, Guilty feet have got no rhythm…” And then that saxophone line hits and then it’s all over… Now number two, I laugh and laugh hard. For an OVA that takes itself so seriously on being a ridiculous ultimate fantasy of masculine cock swagger, one can’t help but chuckle at times. Crying Freeman is not a comedy, but it sure can pass as one. In a total of six episodes I can recommend the first two as it sets the foundation of the story and I leave it up to you to finish the final four. By then it becomes repetitive and a top this crazy sexual, or action moment, again and again. … If anything watch the first episode, it’s so good at being bad it’s amazingly entertaining.

CF_3So here is the basic plot… a former artist is turned into a hired killer for the 108 Dragons by means of torture, interrogation and acupuncture. The only humanity left within him appears as crying when he frags someone due to a subconscious reflex. Our hero’s only hope is wanting to be a quote free man again who also has this habit of crying… now this title makes sense. During one mission he is spotted by a beautiful lady artist, which means the poor girl, who for no luck of her own accord, has to be silenced due to being a witness. She has just turned 29 and knowing that she is to be killed has only one wish. To… not… die… a virgin! OK, this is… different. Freeman eventually shows up and she confesses that he can kill her if she can go to bed with him. He agrees and it turns out… he is a virgin… too? SAY WHAT! Two gorgeous specimens of human ideal beauty and both have never had sex? Really? Seriously? Well it could happen to the best of us? You can laugh now if you wish, because I did. In the aftermath of joining together in coitus, a committed relationship would blossom and the plot now centers around Freeman saving his lover from harm. This is only the first episode and it seems so ridiculous, but I can’t help but say that I enjoyed it; who in their right mind came up with this?

CF_4The original manga was penned by the name of Kazuo Koike, who has a reputation for the bizarre and outlandish. I give this man props for being so mind blowing on a level I can’t even comprehend. The other side of course is the man who created the illustrations and character designs, one Ryochi Ikegami. He is the key to Crying Freeman’s biggest saving grace. The man’s style is beautiful and is a much more realistic rendering approach in regards to human anatomy and very much so, facial structure. This is not the usual cartoonish look most associated with anime, Ikegami’s talent is more like great figure drawing.

So often titles fit into the term ‘Manime’ (I hate that term) and Crying Freeman is no exception. The joy of Crying Freeman is in the fact that this is B-grade, maybe even C-grade schlock, but it does have a decent story… decent?… and can always be good if you need a laugh or a WTF moment. Sadly it still does not have George Michael, sigh.

#132 : Vampire Princess Miyu

I love the dark! It’s not scary at all. Many consider it like a tomb, the idea of death and nothingness. I say perhaps consider the dark more akin to the womb as a place of safety, that is also undefinable. Many times there are things that go bump in the night, or the dark, and they are not so much there to scare you, but instead to cast aside all those oddities (shinma) that bring out panic and fright and return them to where they belong. I know of one such entity, a girl who is destined to aid mankind from all the shinma and evils of the world. Yet she also is of the shinma as she is herself a vampire, care to be kissed? Her name is Miyu, better known as Vampire Princess Miyu.

VPM_1More often then not, much of the original OVA market seemed to have a heavier emphasis towards a masculine audience, in particular for those of us who were around in the VHS days of the 1990s in the west. Too much one sided marketing… I am glad times have changed. Shojo OVAs did of course exist and many found there way over early on, you just didn’t know it at the time. Vampire Princess Miyu presents much with action and gothic horror elements and has direction and character designs from one Toshihiro Hirano (I love his designs!). That alone could sell the show to a particular audience, but it is balanced with beautiful characters, relationship dynamics and inner psychological struggles. And lots of dark!

VPM_2I often think off Vampire Hunter D, or even early CLAMP titles like Tokyo Babylon and X (which are kind of the same story?) when I reflect on Vampire Princess Miyu. Much of shojo, but not always, has a certain color pop and often gets stereotypically pastel shades to the maximum. Vampire Princess Miyu is darker, more subdued with an emphasis on maybe one particular color… RED! While this may break the usual gender enforced stereotypes, going dark actually brings an anime like Vampire Princess Miyu into the realm of the divine feminine; the yin of yin and yang. The black, the infinite, intuitive, nocturnal, the total unknown and most importantly the source of everything that is actually nothing. Miyu can be likened to the dark goddess archetype.

VPM_3Miyu is also a bit of an outcast who has to hunt her own kind. This is the parallel I draw to Vampire Hunter D. Her only friend is her servant, Larva (though sometimes I hear Lover? I have goofy ears) who is be-masked and is much like a dark guardian angel. This leaves Miyu basically alone in her mission to fight the shinma, as well as in her overall life, which leaves no room for love or connection. The only so-called connection she can give to humanity is to grant them an eternal gift in exchange for the human blood she needs to sustain her existence. And she is picky as she is not here to ravage everyone’s necks. If she thinks your attractive and suffering, you are more than likely on her hit list. Over the course of the four episode run we are also joined by Himiko, a spiritualist, who is after Miyu to try to stop her from biting her victims. She soon realizes that her destiny is tied to Miyu from the past and comes to have compassion for the princess vampire.

VPM_4The year was 1988, and while big and exciting mecha OVAs in the name of Gunbuster and Patlabor were all the flash and dazzle and had awesome production value, they lacked something essential… the dark. Sometimes you need the dark to find out who you really are. Hence why many of us have an affinity towards… the dark. Vampire Princess Miyu presents the dark with horror and monster elements in an extremely tasteful way, which by the end of the episode run becomes a fine character study of both Miyu and even Himiko. That being said I do love Gunbuster and Patlabor for all that they embody, but I also enjoy Vampire Princess Miyu. Why? Oh come now you know why… I love the DARK!

#121 : Appleseed

Appleseed_1AppleseedGhost in the Shell’s often over shadowed older sibling. What comes to mind when I think of Appleseed? A nice, simple and powerful title for sure… iconic. There was all that CG material made a few years ago that I found to be dull yet flashy and fancy, but still… dull (very boring, my opinion). Thankfully I was aware that the tree that sprouted all those CG apples bore fruit a couple decades earlier in a shorter and much more analog version created for direct to video. Appleseed beyond the original manga, and those CG projects (nails on a chalkboard), is for me an OVA from 1988 that beyond the action had a theme that made me think and is the reason I come back one more time, every time.

Appleseed_2Is it me, or does this OVA smell a lot like Blade Runner (as well as concepts from ancient Greek mythology)? Many a cyber punk story often quoted Blade Runner since that movie set a standard that still holds up today. Still… Appleseed really borrows a lot from the 1982 film: the setting although it seems to have more sunlight, a particular character’s name and the idea of cybernetic technology in co-existence with mankind. We have a tale of a dystopian utopia, our possible future, or perhaps an allegory on our current circumstances. A perfect, clean environment that still has problems and issues because with all the polish and brightness, the polarity of darker forces must exist to ensure balance… all told with a lot of firepower and action. Masamune Shirow how do you do what you do so well?

Appleseed_3Olympus, the setting of Appleseed, is a great example of the utopian safety bubble showing signs of cracking and discontent. An ideal world where only good and cleanliness exist is in truth ‘unnatural’, night must follow day and winter always comes after a summer. And as much as you grip for control and authority, there will always be elements that stand to defy the status quo that slip through the veritable cracks. This is after all, a post war environment, as outside the city limits of Olympus is a perpetual no-man’s land, a literal hell. Here many humans exist on the edge of survival. If they are ‘lucky’ they get rescued and with help and rehabilitation are brought into Olympian society to exist with the main biodroid population. Biodroids are manufactured to be human in appearance and fit into the regime of the Olympian landscape. Many of these rescued humans fit into this paradigm with no issue, while others perceive and/or even fight back against what they see as a cage, or perhaps, a prison.

Appleseed_4Three of these rescued humans play the biggest roles in this drama. Our protagonists Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires (who looks more robotic than human?) work for the state as police officers, SWAT to be specific, which allows them to use their guerrilla combat skills that kept them alive in the hinterlands outside of Olympus. They have conformed for the most part into the society of Olympus. These two are perhaps an early attempt for the likes of Major Kusanagi and Batou of Ghost in the Shell… maybe? The third member is also a fellow police man, one Calon Mautholos, who unlike Deunan and Briareos, see a different reality due to the depression and eventual suicide of his wife. She saw Olympus as a cage and this leads Calon to align himself with more shady characters. Such as the terrorist A. J. Sebastian (hmm… Blade Runner again?) who believes that the society and government of Olympus is controlling and corrupting the human population and distancing themselves from their more primal behaviors. Calon joins forces with Sebastian and tries to stay one step ahead of the dynamic duo of Deunan and Briareos, who are after Sebastian when he escaped from an earlier raid.

Appleseed questions reality and duty towards a state or cause almost to the same degree as say Patlabor 2: The Movie. Though not as sophisticated as Patlabor, Appleseed does a great service for a simple one off OVA. And even though this has one of the most extreme cases of adulting up an English dub, you can always watch the original Japanese, which features some well known classic cast members. With all the love, popularity and hype for Ghost in the Shell, I seem to resonate and return to Appleseed more often. How about you?

#88 : Dragon’s Heaven

DH_11980s OVAs… everyone and anyone had an opportunity to create one so long as you had an idea. Similar to the burgeoning Alternative Rock scene that was starting to take hold in the west, Japan’s animation market gave opportunities for designers and animators to take up the directors chair. As an example, if M.D. Geist is one expression of a mecha designer given free reign to create a little project where that individual has total control, then Dragon’s Heaven is the alternative. For the case of M.D. Geist, Koichi Ohata created what is perhaps the greatest worst schlock-fest anime with an anti-hero villian as our protagonist. And as for Dragon’s Heaven, Makoto Kobayashi would create something a little more tender and… special.

DH_2Special?… so Dragon’s Heaven, what makes you so appealing? The first five or so minutes begin with live action footage of a stop motion model of a mech, which details the back story of a post war world before coming into full cel animation to show we are now in the present. How odd to begin our ‘cartoon’ this way, but it works; almost like a low budget Jim Henson styled intro from say the Dark Crystal. The main animated section continues afterward for a half hour and details how a sentient robot, Shaian, wakes up after a long slumber to become reunited with a new pilot. This pilot is a young girl, Ikuru, who happens to stumble upon this dinosaur, or perhaps dragon?, of a robot. Together they save the world from Shaian’s former adversary and live happily ever after. Afterwards there is about ten more minutes of live action which documents the creation of the beginning of the OVA.

DH_3Dragon’s Heaven is cute and cliche, but its one of those heart warming stories that needs to be in mecha more often. You know the type of show where your best friend is a giant robot and the both of you do everything together and watch out for each other. Not unlike a sweeter Gigantor/Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo or Giant Gorg. Dragon’s Heaven reminds me of the thesis project I would have killed to have made when I was in school. Not that I studied animation, but just the fact of the simplicity of the piece and how it was presented is very attractive. Flat bright colors and a sparse esthetic to the backgrounds add to the lo-fi atmosphere. Somehow this kind of feels a little familiar? It was only looking through Makoto Kobayashi’s resume online that it hit me. Of course, face palming myself… Birth. Oh how I love that OVA as well! So that was Kobayashi’s mecha designs on Birth… you learn something everyday. That being said, Dragon’s Heaven is a close distant cousin to Birth by way of Kobayashi? I approve.

DH_4Many anime often end up being called buried treasure, but Dragon’s Heaven is the truest definition. Made by AIC, this one gets lost in between the bigger and more epic Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis series. Released in 1988, Dragon’s Heaven had competition from high budget giant OVA productions like Gunbuster and Patlabor. This little one had to come up against many a giant back in the day and yet Dragon’s Heaven still lives on because of word of mouth. I am proud to be one of the few to continue this legacy. Dragon’s Heaven… it’s that little old anime from 1988 that you can’t help but love.

#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.