#179 : One Pound Gospel

Romance and Rumiko Takahashi, a beautiful combination that always equals success. Even though the popular long epics of Takahashi are usually at the tips of our tongues in regards to personal favorites (Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha), it is the shorter productions, some of them one-offs, that at least for me top lists of my favorite work by the ‘Queen of Manga’. All the great laughs and stories without any added filler that make a nice neat package. There is one example that is a true one-two punch, no pun intended… or is it intended? Boxing, faith and a bad case of the munchies… may I present One Pound Gospel.

OPG_1Kosaku Hatanaka is a hungry young up and coming boxing talent that has promise, but a major flaw. His punch delivery is brilliant, but he desires for something else. Becoming a boxing champion is not so much it, though he wants to perform well. Kosaku is obsessed with eating food almost all the time, which presents problems for keeping him at his class weight maximum. Can you blame him though? Being half starved, he often gorges a meal in secret, which either keeps his weight too high, or worse, throws up in the ring… gross. A recent binge meal came from a chance encounter with a young nun who felt sorry for the young man’s condition of monitored starvation. She feels guilty and from this chance encounter blossoms a relationship that I would have never thought could have existed… a boxer and a nun… now that’s different.

OPG_2Owing up to his ‘sins’, Kosaku begins to train harder. He even takes to the streets where he runs and shadow boxes, often times with comedic outcomes… watch out for that right jab! Soon a rival comes forth to challenge this hopeful talent. Can Kosaku stay the course and commit to his talents? Nope… temptation is always around the corner and much like any addict he begs one of his gym mates for ¥500, or even ¥1,500 just to satisfy his cravings for ramen, or kabobs. His coach is aghast and offers a barbeque meal and suggests he should retire so he can pig out when ever he wants. All the while Sister Angela, the ever faithful nun, still believes in him, but is angered that he can’t see his flaws are hurting himself and those around him.

OPG_3Though the roles of boxer and nun are a unique combination, the underlying character archetypes are ever present in a romantic comedy. Kosaku is not stupid, but naive and a little immature, while Angela is strong willed, yet tender. She is faithful to what is good inside Kosaku, though it does push her buttons from time to time. Such is true in any relationship, it is the learning for accepting flaws both inside us and with a significant other that allows us to grow and prosper as human beings. After all to learn more about yourself don’t look in a mirror, just see how the dynamics in your relationships play out, be it love or friendship. Often times where we screw up is where we learn our biggest lessons. … Kosaku, put down those snacks! Will the boy ever learn?

OPG_4Another point to remember with One Pound Gospel is to look at the director, Osamu Dezaki. Known for his creative use of still shots and lighting, he let’s most of his signature skills take a back seat to support Rumiko Takahashi’s original look… though he does from time to time fit in the Dezaki magic! Boxing is nothing new for Dezaki as he directed the influential Ashita no Joe, a true classic. That being said, Dezaki and Takahashi make a great combination that delivers action, comedy and sincerity. One Pound Gospel is more than a knockout of a great romantic comedy, it’s a real winner.

#172 : Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers

A dark cloud hovers over Tokyo cutting off power, while the population disappears. Five young men clad in modernized samurai armor, one bringing a giant white tiger, join forces with a teenage girl and a young boy to confront this dark shadow. Oh yes, I forgot to mention there is a traveling monk who wields a staff and is in many ways like a guardian angel to the four boys who seems to show up at just the right time. Together they learn to work together and embody the virtues they stand for: grace, justice, righteousness, trust and wisdom. Welcome to Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers.

ST_1At first I wanted to dismiss Samurai Troopers as a bland Saint Seiya clone, but that was before even trying this delicacy of a show. Samurai Troopers is kind of weird though. I can’t call it a straight forward fighting anime in the style of Shonen Jump. I often equate influences of live action sentai shows, or perhaps Gatchaman and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai where our five heroes come into town ready to go like in any proper samurai, or western film. There is no real aspect of extended training, or a plethora of story arcs that equate an episode count to well over 100, 200, or more. I also get a mecha vibe as well, since the armors are almost mechanical in nature. Plus the armors combine and this was a product of Sunrise, a studio known for many great mech shows including that little franchise known as Gundam. The transformation sequences make me think of henshin heroes, or even magical girls. The stock sequence of the boys transforming is enough to make any proper magical girl shout out… “hey why can’t we get one that fancy?!” Samurai Troopers just is what it is, an amalgam and a great action show in general.

ST_2As an action show characterization is in the passenger seat to the fun and fighting. The five youths that are the Samurai Troopers are very cliche in a typical sentai squad kind of way with main hero Ryo taking a majority of the screen time. Seiji, Shin, Sho and Toma have minor arcs of an episode or two, but I wish they could have had more presence. Their main adversaries the Dark Warlords are a quartet of typical badies who are quite sour in temperament… except one. Shiten from the beginning showed to be the outsider, a man of some moral character that eventually sees the light for his past actions. Shiten’s place at the end of the first arc and in the entirety of the second was a welcome surprise and solidified him as a personal favorite for me. In the end Samurai Troopers is all about saving the day, but looking ever so fashionable samurai armor… with ever greater transformation sequences.

ST_3Like many shows one can liken it to a ride at an amusement park. The most ideal would be to start at ground level and progressively move up to the finality. Very few anime ever follow this pattern and Samurai Troopers much like a roller coaster starts off building up, waning a little in the middle and then builds ups even more towards the end. Samurai Troopers follows two story arcs in the 39 episode run, though they end up tying together as one. The first arc felt as if it ended quite abruptly and then at the start of the second, at least for me, it took a little effort to get going. Yet after a handful of episodes the story came back to attention. Think of a director in a film calling cut and rethinking what has happened and saying, “hey we could have done this better!” So begins phase two and the true promise of the story of Samurai Troopers would bear fruit.

ST_4Many in the west came to know an alternate release, Ronin Warriors, which besides some name changes and some “totally” 90s slang is very faithful to the original. Impressive, plus the cast was familiar as it was accomplished via the Canadian Ocean Group, a very familiar cast who dubbed many shows in the 90s. Short and sweet, simple and straight forward, adventurous fun with action, this is what Samurai Troopers is all about. I also want to give a quick thanks to Ashley Capes from The Review Heap for requesting Samurai Troopers. Visit his site for other great reviews as well!

#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!

My Favorite Anime Movies from the 1980s

I am usually not one for Top 10 listings to be honest. It’s all subjective and a matter of opinion. Why limit the variety of beautiful things in the world to a select number? Still making a list can be a good exercise and I decided to do this in regards to the animated films Japan created during the 1980s. To be fair, I am going to make two listings here. Why? Many of my favorite choices are a bit on the rare, or esoteric side of the fence and many of the better known, or easier to obtain films deserve a voice as well.

For my favorite listing I will use the following criteria… first, it has to be a film that I genuinely love and am proud to stand up for, anytime and anywhere… second, the movie has to be one that I replay and, or think about often. That’s IT! Keep it simple. For the second listing I will include as many of the films from the 80s that left an impact on me. Now on with the show…

I hope some of these resonate with you and by all means… list your favorites.

 

My 12 Favorites

(in alphabetical order)

ae-ud

Angel’s Egg (1985)
A visual poem that is dark, gothic, symbolic, mysterious and directed Mamoru Oshii. A true piece of fine art that belongs in a museum. To learn more click here.


aomy_4

Arcadia of My Youth (1982)
Captain Harlock on the big screen well before the CG movie. A tale of stoic heroism, honor and following one’s definition of being free. To learn more click here.


ctb_2

Chie the Brat (1981)
An endearing tale about a working class girl, her dysfunctional yet lovable family and the town she lives in. Directed by Isao Takahata. To learn more click here.


DiS_3

The Door into Summer (1981)
There is usually one year, or one summer, that defines us in our journey out of childhood and into adulthood. Once beyond that threshold, there is no return. To learn more click here.


grey3

Grey Digital Target (1986)
A story in a dystopian wasteland where in order to survive and thrive, one must earn their way through fighting and war. To learn more click here.


idem_1

The Ideon: Be Invoked (1982)
The epic conclusion to the Ideon saga. One of the darkest mecha space opera of all time and a powerfully sublime ending as well. To learn more click here.


notgr_4

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)
Friendship, sacrifice and the beauty of all that is life all wrapped up though a voyage to the stars on a train. To learn more click here.


Nau_1

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
The movie that made Hayao Miyazaki a household name about a righteous heroine in a post nuclear world in search of ecological balance. To learn more click here.


DYRL_5

Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984)
Space opera, mecha, romance, aliens and remembering love through a lost culture. Take the original Macross series and multiply it by 100! To learn more click here.


TW11_3

They Were 11 (1986)
A defining tale about trust, growing up and identity for a group of students wanting to pass their final exam onboard a spaceship. To learn more click here.


TtT_2

Toward the Terra (1980)
In the future children are born and raised to become perfect citizens. A new race of evolved humanity contradicts this and declare their individuality. To learn more click here.


Windaria_5

Windaria (1986)
A tale of love and war through the eyes of two young couple showing the price of following what one is expected to due over listening to one’s heart. To learn more click here.

 

The Honorable Listing

(in alphabetical order)

Akira (1988)
Barefoot Gen (1983)
Castle in the Sky (1986)
Crusher Joe (1983)
Dirty Pair: Project Eden (1987)
Fist of the North Star (1986)
Gauche the Cellist (1982)
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Mobile Suit Gundam: Movie Trilogy (1980/1981)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
The Professional: Golgo 13 (1983)
Project A-Ko (1986)
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)
Space Adventure Cobra (1982)
Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
Vampire Hunter D (1985)