#86 : Baoh

baoh_1A question to all you loyal fans of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure… who’s your daddy? Or perhaps, who is your older brother may be more precise? 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell (who here remembers East Germany?), Dragon Ball decided to add the Z and Saint Seiya would call it a day on the small screen, a lone wolf, short, direct to video release of a Hirohiko Araki manga would hit the shelves of video stores. Behold all that is Baoh.

baoh_2Now here is how to tell a story… A teenage boy caught up in an accident is taken in by a secret group and has a worm implanted into him to make him into the ultimate fighting, or perhaps, killing machine. Wait a minute a worm? Eww… that is gross man, but hey I didn’t create this story. And while he is being transported in statis he becomes awakened with the help of a psychic girl (Thanks for waking me up kid, that was one hell of a dream). Both escape for the hills so to speak and this so-called group does everything and anything in their power to get their prized experiment back. And hopefully before our hero, Ikuro Hashizawa, evolves towards his full potential. Hmm, kind of cliche…I smell elements of Black Magic M-66, or even maybe M.D. Geist (maybe?), but who said those are original ideas either. And if Baoh is cliche, then it does cliche oh so much better.

baoh_3Now this may be the shortest anime based off a Shonen Jump manga? Don’t quote me on this, but in a sea of triple digit episode TV adaptations a single release OVA, that does not even span an hour, is quite the welcome rarity. There is no room for filler here kids, in fact there is hardly any room to give any back story or character development. And yet we do get some… amazing. We start this story in media res and don’t stop till you cry out… NO, I want more. And then you play it again and perhaps again after that as well. Just don’t forget to put the TV on mute and crank up your old Van Halen albums (David Lee Roth era) just in case you run out of ideas of how to make Baoh even more fun! I personally recommend Atomic Punk from the first VH album. “I am a victim of the science age, a child of the storm, whoa yes!”

baoh_4I recently commented on how Blue Sonnet was a fun ride from start to finish and that was accomplished in a very short period of time, just five episodes… count ’em. Baoh is the equivalent of two of those… yeah… TWO! And for that short space, it does one thing so well… and that is… be awesome. I usually write more for these entries, but I don’t want to spoil Baoh in case you have not seen it yet. Seriously, describing the whole plot is pointless as you must see it to believe it. Baoh, you were and are a fine definition of action entertainment from the closing of that fine decade of the past; 1980s forever. Cigarette lighters take to the air and salute.

afterthought … maybe now is the time to finally give JoJo’s a try.

#84 : Blue Sonnet

BS_1Say shojo and often words like romance and magical girls become the defacto answer. Of course this is only stereotyping and not the complete truth. As an example, CLAMP creates shojo material and it is anything but light fun and flowers. More like some of the best dark and psychological material ever made. But, what if a shojo title was more like say Fist of the North Star in it’s level of action and even at times… gore. Hang on a minute… got to thumb through these old LaserDiscs here… AH HA found it! Let’s rap about a little OVA from 1989 called Blue Sonnet.

BS_2For an OVA that is five episodes in length, Blue Sonnet hits you fast and hard from the beginning with intense fervor as we dive into the opening credits. That theme song, “What is love?”… such a favorite of mine. Interspersed between the rockin’ guitars and gritty vocals we see the back story of our anti-hero Sonnet Barge. She is a teenage esper who seems to have come from the rough streets of New York and awakens her latent powers during uncomfortable circumstances, which brings more confusion into her life. After the credits we fast forward to find Sonnet showing her skills in a training example, against tanks no less (damn girl!), which highlights the cyborg enhancements she has received from a group known as Talon. She also has this weird tiara like headpiece that becomes a funky visor… stylish! From here she becomes focused on her new mission, to find Red Fang… and go to a Japanese high school as well.

BS_3Now onto our other main character and perhaps the true hero of this anime… wait… Blue Sonnet is not all about Sonnet? The original manga title was Red Fang Blue Sonnet, so either the producers or the English translation dropped out Red Fang. In a way this works out because Lan Komatsuzaki doesn’t have a clue she is Red Fang, a super esper from an ancient lineage. She is just an average high school student… yeah we have all heard that one before. Come on Lan, you can move objects and mentally sense things at a higher level than most of us. All kidding aside, her eventual meeting with Sonnet becomes fated, confusing and dangerous. Lan’s questioning of why the new girl in class has it out to get her mixed with emerging powers will turn her life upside down. Plus, she is beginning her menstrual cycle as well. When it rains, it pours.

Over the course of these five half hours, more characters become involved (including two more super powered espers!), the story gets darker and the action explodes. Almost like a video game with five levels, will you be ready for the final boss at level five? Just watch out for that tank thats called a Tarantula. Or, perhaps on another view, like an organism Blue Sonnet just keeps multiplying out of the shear reason of existence. The plot is fairly run of the mill 80s sci-fi and action, but it does it so well that it doesn’t matter. Much like punk rock, this OVA is a more simplified approach in art style and attitude, but loud and big in presence.

BS_4Let’s return to our girl Sonnet. She is after all a tool for the Talon organization and eventually she comes to question what is right and just for herself. She questions what is her true enemy and is it right that she should commit these violent acts in the name of a group that brought her out from her troubled past. Will she ever learn, as the opening credits say, What is love? And maybe more appropriate, what is my own truth for me? By the end we get a little glimpse of a vulnerability from Sonnet, but because this is a short OVA, its glanced over very quickly. Could we get an episode six to finish this off instead of all of this being up in the air? I mean there are romantic tendencies here, but I leave that to you to view as to with whom.

So on a final note… Blue Sonnet you kick ass oh so well. Now I need to re-listen/watch those opening credits yet again just because 🙂

#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.

#60 : Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period

Japan, the feudal era of approximately the early 1580s, is where we find a demon lord that has come to power… He is looking to unite the country all for himself… There is a legend of a comet splitting the sky telling of his coming, but also of a legend of three weapons that have the power to take this dictator down. These three weapons: a long sword, a halberd and a short sword. That legend is Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period.

Yoto_1Is it me, or does Yotoden feel like a 90s production (it was originally released in 1987)? Almost like mixing up Ninja Scroll, Record of Lodoss War and the more serious elements of Rurouni Kenshin? Maybe? Or, maybe not, but for me it showed the direction where a certain branch of OVAs were heading towards in the next decade. Much like Lodoss War, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, or even the original Heroic Legend of Arislan (Arslan), Yotoden is an epic. A BIG EPIC! And yet it is contained into a small amount of space (just three episodes). Yet, that space gives enough to show off our main cast of heroes: Ayanosuke, or Ayame, the tough pretty girl, who has the short sword; Sakon, the quiet rebel wielding the long sword (he could be a proto-Kenshin with that red hair) and Ryoma, the big guy with heart, who has the halberd.

Yoto_2Much in the tradition of shonen action, our heroes have to fight through foes before getting to the final big boss. Except… we have no gratuitous filler; we have a tight schedule to keep here. These foes are the seven Oboro ninja and the boss is known as Nobunaga Oda or could it be his henchman Ranmaru Mori? And much like other shonen adventures, there is a heavy, heavy emphasis on… action, yes, but the supernatural, even more so. Monsters, demons and omens written in the stars make a huge chunk of what ties the whole story together. Maybe if the original novel by Takeshi Narumi was more focused on direct realism it would have been say more like Legend of Galactic Heroes in approach, but this is me on a soapbox. It’s a fine fantasy story, with great drama and even the little tinge of a possible romantic feelings between Ayame and Sakon. Not a bad combination of elements if I say so. I mean why tell history the way we think we thought it was instead of making it into what you want it to be?

Yoto_3Two versions have been released of this early J.C. Staff creation. The first, the original 1987 three part OVA of approximately 45 minutes each, which bear the name of the title of this writing (though only on VHS here in the west). The second is a collected movie version from 1989 called Wrath of the Ninja (DVD is available in the west with an optional dub) and was a minor staple on cable television during the late 1990s. Pick your poison as both are action heavy and move at an even pace. I like the original three parter since it goes a little more in depth (I am partial to the episodic format), much like my relationship with one of my favorite 90s OVAs, Macross Plus.

Yoto_4Now I will be the first to admit that I am no expert in Japanese history, or the so-called historic or samurai genres which number in the plenty. But, what I have seen, has been a good watch. It may not be the most natural cup of tea for me in particular, but the flavor is a welcome experience. I like Yotoden enough to give it a watch every couple years, but I doubt it will ever be top ten or twenty in my book. I like it and it should be a hidden gem recommendation that often does not see enough time in the sun. Fight on fine warriors of the magical blades and bring about the prophecy of justice.

And whoever did the character designs… nice job my friend. (According to Anime News Network it was Kenichi Ohnuki… I leave it up to you to check his resume)

#55 : Venus Wars

VW_1You and me go back quite a ways, eh Venus Wars? True story… I introduced a couple of my friends in high school to Robotech and eventually they would become a little bitten with the anime bug. I can’t say for sure of where they are today as I have not seen them in quite a while, but one of them ended up getting Venus Wars on that old standard we all loved a long time ago called, VHS. I remembered it as a good film and oddly enough it would be one of those properties that acted as a bridge between my early years of initiation and my later years of being a hard corps classic otaku. I just got a copy on Blu-Ray and re-watched it for the first time in HD. Do I still find Venus Wars enjoyable?

VW_2So apparently in the future (2003 ah what a year) a comet collides with Venus and over a short period of time. The second planet from the sun becomes habitable, though life is difficult. Farms don’t yield the prospects that politicians promised and in due time tensions heighten between the nations of Aphrodia and Ishtar. Now enter our main cast… the first being a group of young bike racers and their entourage called the Killer Commandoes who compete in a sport mixing traditional racing with more contact and rough house like Roller Derby and the second, a spunky reporter arriving from Earth to get the scoop on an impending war. And just like that Ishtar invades invades Aphrodia exciting our reporter, Miss Susan Summers, and shocking our bikers and crew: Hiro, Maggie, Will, Jack, Miranda (I love you Miranda!) and the grizzled team manager Gary. Soon Miss Summers will come into contact with the Commandoes and there first order of business is to get rid of one of Ishtar’s tanks at their beloved stadium.

VW_3So… let me sum up the rest of Venus Wars with one name, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Venus Wars looks like a YAZ show, it acts like a YAZ show, so I have to love it (Yeah for YAZ!). The director and character designer of the likes of Crusher Joe, Giant Gorg and Arion (and don’t forget he was character designer of the original Gundam), Venus Wars would be his final work within the frame of animation until the adaptation of his recent more manga, Gundam: The Origin. This film is based off of his manga (no surprise), which from peaking at a couple of chapters, seems to be a little different. Hmm? No problem though. Venus Wars is kind of a mix of Gundam with Akira. Hiro, our main protagonist, is similar to Amuro Ray, though I have to give more credit to his ‘character’ to that of Zeta Gundam’s Kamille Bidan. He has a major chip on his shoulder.

My only gripe on this movie is that it ends oddly for me. Our hero Hiro (is that a pun?) is active in the deciding battle and from what I can tell this was the only battle he was in? Then he gets honored by his unit and is let go to find his friends (which ends up with him reuniting with girlfriend Maggie) all the while enjoying a music sequence of him riding around. To be honest, I should get off my high horse, but it just seemed like a bit of an elongated finish after the climax that seemed to have come a little too soon. I will now retreat from the soapbox.

VW_4As I mentioned earlier my first exposure to this movie was at a friends house back when on VHS. A few years later when I was in a small town stopping at a video rental store (do you remember these?) I came across a used copy of the original DVD release by Central Park Media. It had been a while since I saw the movie and it was on my mind for some reason. Then lo and behold it was in front of me. Fast forward to a month ago and purchasing the new Blu-Ray release and wow how it looks pretty. Maybe no where near say an Akira, Wings of Honneamise, or Patlabor: The Movie, but it is very fine indeed for a fun action flick. Look at all the pretty colors 🙂 Nothing beats hand drawn animation!

You and me have been together quite a while, eh Venus Wars. Motorcycles, war, young people coming of age, action and all on the planet Venus to top it off. You may not be the best movie of all time, but who cares, you are a fun ride still today as ever. Venus Wars, you have been a loyal companion, may we ride again in the future.

…also to all my Studio Ghibli fans… you know Joe Hishashi right? Well the soundtrack to Venus Wars was composed by none other than him. How about them apples?