#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.

#58 : Akira

Akira_1You my friend are like Bob Dylan. You are the spokesman (or perhaps spokes-anime?) of your generation. And such a fitting title to boot. Akira. It’s short, sweet, bold and makes you wonder what the movie is about? And for several years, if not a couple decades and change, I still ask myself this same question. And from all the viewings I have come to my own meaning since I am not all that familiar with the original manga. In any case, Akira stands as one of the quintessential definitions of what anime can become… huge, epic, thought provoking and awesome red motorcycles. For many otaku of a certain generation here in the west, it stands as one of the first anime that either: a) made us anime fans or b) solidified our love of Japanese animation to a level we had no idea that could be reached or even existed.

Akira_2Epic, sublime and down right dangerous… this is the world of Neo-Tokyo in the aftermath of a devastating war. Politicians and the military try to fight for power to control the masses and yet let the society kind of deteriorate at the process while they greedily grab cash and power at any quick moment. Remember the scene where the counsel member who tried to escape with his briefcase of money only to die in an alley from a heart attack? And it is in and on these streets that have gone to waste we find our main characters. They are street punks, juvenile delinquents, who ride motorcycles and fight rival gangs. And two of them will be our heroes so to speak. A small, quiet, insecure yet angry young man named Tetsuo and a cocky self assured leader who has quite possibly one of the most iconic motorcycles to appear on any screen, Kaneda.

Akira_3Eventually these boys will come into contact with the military authorities and their lives will be changed forever. Either through contact with what looks like old children who have esper type abilities or perhaps awakening a power within himself (could it be possible to awake this in all of us?), Tetsuo begins his journey of becoming a power beyond control as he is carried off to be examined. The struggle begins now as Tetsuo, who only wants to be left alone, is constantly being controlled. And much like school shootings of recent history in our ‘real world’, Tetsuo is a textbook example of allowing a potentially good kid go bad. He is to blame for the eventual destruction he lays out on the city, but that blame belongs to us as well as we let potential young people rot away into self pity and depression. His responsibility is ours and ours is his.

Akira_4My view of Akira is that no matter the environment or circumstances, we are the creators or destroyers of our world be it within the confines of the body or what we perceive to be the outside world. The more we try to control the outside environment, others around us or use the gifts given to us to harm or disconnect us from the natural surroundings, we are doomed to failure. But from failure and destruction much like a phoenix, there is great potential to start again. All endings are beginnings and likewise all beginnings are endings (the constant cycle of life and time). It is how we adapt to these changes that will show the results.

Go big, or go home. Such is much of the work of original creator Katsuhiro Otomo, as all hell will break loose and get out of control if we allow the weeds to permeate the garden so to speak. Akira is also a hallmark of the quality of one of the best studios in Japan, TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). You can see this as an action film, a fluid piece of animation, or an allegory to what potential we have in all of us. I cannot deny the awesome power of what Akira is for me as a fan; it is required viewing to truly appreciate the power of what anime truly can express. No matter what, I will always cheer GO! GO! Akira! 

…Now I need to find a dealership that has Kaneda’s bike. Any idea what make or model it is?

#32 : Zillion: Burning Night

Many and I mean many anime from the 1980s drew inspiration from a live action cult film, Streets of Fire (see it if you can). But how many have literally ripped it off to be a near clone? I know one… Zillion: Burning Night. The title is even a near doppleganger? This is one of my favorite odd ball OVA releases and one really does not need to have any prior knowledge of the Zillion TV series. All you need is a bucket of popcorn and an hour of time.

zbn_1Let’s give a group of favorite heroes another day in the sun. It’s the late 1980s after all and if a show was halfway successful give it a followup direct to video OVA release. Zillion was another fun sci-fi action series that had it’s fifteen minutes of fame back in 1987. Of course SEGA Master System fans do you remember the two games Zillion and Zillion II: The Triformation? They are based on this show. Hopefully you have a copy of each, just remember the jump and action buttons are reversed. So this a SEGA anime? Yes INDEED! SAY, GAH! It even featured the character Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone. But after a single season Zillion would wrap up the story, until… until the release of an OVA Zillion: Burning Night.

zbn_2So where do we start? Our heroes JJ, Champ and Apple, the White Nuts (how the Japanese term the words knights?), and friends are headed to a bar on motorcycles because what do you do after you save the world? Anyone? You form a band! Crank up the amplifiers and ready the cigarette lighter salutes folks. Not only can our heroes handle the awesome Zillion guns, they can also rock out till after midnight. And then a bunch of thugs rush in to kidnap Apple and take her away to the rough side of town. This sounds and looks a little familiar… kind of like the beginning of… Streets of Fire? Guilty as charged, but it’s an awesome near scene for scene rip-off and that is only the beginning.

zbn_3So now it is up to save Apple from the Odama Clan (originally the Nohza’s main bad guy crew, but now they are more human in appearance), but then Champ and JJ encounter an old flame of Ms. Apple, Rick (Ricks from the Japanese dub and also a former Nohza). As of writing I have yet to see the original Japanese version. The Streamline dub has some funny moments in the way they translate the script… “This must have a cast iron brain pan” is a good example. Not to knock it, I love the actors from ye old Robotech days and this was one of the first productions where I realized they were all involved in something else besides Robotech. Kind of like a comforting of reacquaintance towards nostalgia?

zbn_4When I eventually come across a release with the Japanese track and English subtitles I will need to put that into the top of my priority watch list. Truth be told this is not the most mind blowing OVA, but it makes a fantastic background companion when doing other projects. This is yet another odd treasure from my not so dusty VHS collection. I think I should get back to my shelves of tapes and review all the other oddball releases I have collected.