#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.

#164 : Locke: The Superman

LtS_1Never mind the fact that Locke is a superhero’s superhero and an esper beyond all espers. You know what I think makes Locke really cool? His hair! Anime hairspray is the best in the whole world as it can hold up any fancy stylized coiffure. An after thought film from 1984, a year which featured three blockbuster films that defined the 1980s, Locke: The Superman is a title that exudes cult status, a true outsider. It is not a title one often runs across everyday in terms of classic anime, but I am sure it will pop up from time to time for all of us if we are on searches for new or familiar titles. And yet in a way I am sure the character of Locke may find a little joy in being in a film that is not as well recognized. It fits well with his own private character.

LtS_2The history of Locke fascinates me as a quick search shows that he has origins all the way back to the 1960s as a manga franchise. Locke has been around a long time (and it is still in publication!), but he is not as common a name like say Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, Lupin III, or even Golgo 13. Much work exists, but Locke fits more into a niche category. Yet their is nothing niche about Locke: The Superman beyond being the one who gets picked last at recess. He is a mystery, a young looking man who has lived longer than many of us, who mostly lives a peaceful secluded life as often as he can. He is very wise, not big on violence and possesses great psycho-kenetic abilities that make him an enigma to some. He could rule or control the universe if he so chooses. Yet he knows he holds great esper powers and uses them only when necessary, kind of similar to Fist of the North Star’s Ken (though Ken is a martial artist). This is Locke’s fate, his karma, his knowing that true power requires responsibility.

LtS_3A young officer, Ryū Yamaki, has great interest in the hermetic Locke at the beginning of the film. He hopes to convince Locke to return to the service to help in investigating and eventually stopping one Lady Kahn from creating a great esper empire, the Millennium, a group that Lady Kahn once persuaded Locke to join some time ago. Locke of course refused, preferring the life of a sheep herder. Amongst the many training espers of Lady Kahn is a young girl named Jessica, who has both great potential as a soldier and a shadowy past where she believes Locke was the murderer of her parents. This of course was fabricated so that she could be the ultimate weapon against the powerful Locke and in many ways I feel she is as much the main protagonist as Locke. Jessica receives training from one Miss Cornelia Prim (I love that name!) and eventually meets up with Yamaki during a bought of amnesia. Que the song… “Strangers in the night, exchanging glaces…”, you get the idea? Why not add romance into an already complicated plot line of mystery, intrigue and esper superpower action? And don’t forget, awesome hair! All the great writing, and plot twists will mean nothing if one does not show off incredible locks held up with vast amount of anime hairspray! 🙂

LtS_4Locke: The Superman is a product of Nippon Animation, a studio I am more familiar with stories of history and coming of age adventures (the World Masterpiece Theater shows as examples), yet Locke is total sci-fi action. A nice showing of a diverse portfolio for a studio that I had pigeon holed into only one category. Compared to bigger films of that era, Locke feels smaller in scale in terms of art and editing. Looking a couple years out of date, or perhaps similar to a TV series in terms of production, don’t let this detract you as this is still a fine movie. Perhaps the budget may not have been as high as a Nausicaa or Macross: DYRL, but it serves its purpose very well. I see nothing wrong with adding a film showing a little grit to go against all the other highly polished options.

 

#159 : Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight

Odin_1Oh, Oh, Ohh, Oh Deen!!! Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight, or is it Odin: Starlight Mutiny? May I call you Odin for short? Ever wondered how a laser powered sailing vessel would fair in the vastness of outer space? We all know that old battleships (Space Battleship Yamato) and trains (Galaxy Express 999 and Night on the Galactic Railroad) can tackle the great void of the cosmos, but a ship with sails… is it possible? In anime anything is possible… ANYTHING! Anime and the imagine can be ever expansive, yet it has to finally materialize into some substance to achieve true satisfaction. With Odin, we spend a long time traveling around, but do we ever get anywhere? Not really, but we get to head bang to heavy metal along the way.

Odin_2Many will say from the word go that Odin is a bad anime, a bad movie period. I am not here to judge one way or another, but I will say as a fact that it took me three attempts to get through this movie to finish it the first time eons ago. Why three times? I fell asleep the first two times. Odin, the alternative to melatonin. From past watchings I was under the spell from others who painted this as one of the greatest monstrosities ever created by Japan’s animation history. In many ways there is merit to this hypothesis, yet a recent rewatch has changed my tune slightly. One thing that I kept in mind this time round was to treat Odin as a large scale blockbuster action film with lots of action on a huge scale, but limited in terms of being a blockbuster. Also everything has it’s flaws… focus on what is working.

Odin_3My main issue with Odin is that it is the embodiment of excess gone wrong… ego and arrogance to the Nth degree. A true poster child of 1980s overabundance in one extreme direction. This is a big budget movie with lots of ideas and yet not enough follow through at the end product stage. What may have worked before in another guise and time may not always catch hold with the public at that current moment. Yoshinobu Nishizaki, the producer and anime exec responsible for Space Battleship Yamato, thought otherwise. If resurrecting the sunken battleship Yamato and turning it into a space epic with heroes and glory could yield success, then maybe Nishizaki could do something similar again. By the time of Yamato’s retirement in 1983 with the release of Final Yamato, perhaps the concept of epic space opera romanticism had runs it’s course?

Odin_4The story as a whole makes sense, but it gets scattered easily from the bombast and spectacle. A group of young men board the Starlight to become the main crew and run in abundant enthusiasm accompanied with heavy metal. GO!! Once on the bridge they meet their more mature superiors who want to follow everything by the books because they are after all in charge. A clash of generations? While on their maiden flight they answer an S.O.S., rescue a mysterious girl and discover alien artifacts. They learn of the civilization Odin and somehow the girl has memories of this civilization, even being able to read the language. The old men want to go home, but the boys want to go discover this new find. Enter mutiny and locking up the old men. Now we set sail for Odin, whatever it is. Could they be a mechanical civilization? Why is the Odin race very warlike? The Starlight crew find an Odin outlying base and subsequently attack it. Then the old men die leaving the ship in the boy’s hands. So should the boys go home? No way, they have to go to Odin! The End… or should I say to be continued, yet there is no more story to tell.

If Odin had life as a TV series maybe the story could have worked out. All the possibilities were there: the budget, the voice cast, the art and designs, but sadly they could not fully come to fruition as a whole. You could watch the abridged version at 90 minutes as a substitute, but the longer cut, well over two hours, has the full story; just pace yourself. The greatest reward if you finish the longer cut is a metal ballad music video that runs over the credits… “Searching for Odin my love…”  … Arguably the best part of the movie?

#157 : A Journey Through Fairyland / Fairy Florence

AJTFL_1May I present the love child between Disney’s Fantasia and the Isao Takahata directed Gauche the Cellist. Classical music framed around animation is nothing new, but how many can fall under the banner of Sanrio? The quintessential company of cute is so much more than Hello Kitty and for a time Sanrio released full length animated features. Released in 1985 A Journey Through Fairyland, originally titled Fairy Florence, would be the final film of the original lineage of Sanrio produced cinema treasures and it would go out in grand style and cement a legacy that is often over looked in anime. Join us as we celebrate a true ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ under this ‘Moonlight Sonata’.

AJTFL_2Our protagonist Michael is an aspiring oboe player and attends a very posh conservatory. Fancy! Music is very much Michael’s passion… yet not his only joy. It seems he also has a way with plants, a true green thumb. Music and botany… an interesting combination, just don’t forget about occasional allergies. This balancing act of interests has Michael in the green house caring for the flora and fauna often, so he is often late for rehearsals and may not be practicing enough to keep up with the rest of the orchestra. His teacher seems to agree and is concerned as the boy has a great talent that may be going to waste. After one particular practice Michael finds an abandoned flower in the campus courtyard and rescues it by taking it back to the nursery. Saving the flower’s life he discovers the flower fairy Florence who invites him on a journey he will never forget.

AJTFL_3As Michael’s quest begins we can start to see the similarities to the two films mentioned previously, Fantasia and Gauche the Cellist. My my, you look so much like your parents! Fantasia’s open visual interpretations are very obvious when Michael begins his quest with Florence. With wild colors, crazy creatures and a little dancing, I think we have ourselves a party! The basic story however is akin to Gauche the Cellist. Hmm, sounds familiar… a musician having trouble playing their instrument and needing some encouragement and support in getting their groove back… sure sounds similar to Gauche the Cellist. Except where is the tanuki this time round, or Indian Tiger Hunting? As for both films influencing A Journey Through Fairyland, I don’t consider it cheating or stealing. Maybe more like ‘borrowing‘ these ideas? “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” (Thank you GoShogunThe Time Étranger)

AJTFL_4While light and easy in plot development, A Journey Through Fairyland more than makes up for this in terms of visual presentation. It’s just pretty… no wait… purrty. And with a fine cross section of western compositional classics from Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Tchaikovsky (wait a minute… no Satie!) to color one’s ear drums, the pastel visuals become the frosting on the cake for your auditory and ocular pleasures; its easy to get lost in these unfolding visuals. Can one have a visual version of a sweet tooth? Perhaps A Journey Through Fairyland could be considered psychedelic to a certain degree? Or better yet, A Journey Through Fairyland is like being wrapped up a big fluffy oversized warm blanket that makes you feel all safe, warm and super cozy. Very soft, gentle and easy to relax with so just breath in and chill out. A Journey Through Fairyland, a meditative family film. Or, perhaps the anime equivalent to microfiber, or memory foam?

A Journey Through Fairyland is unequivocally true fantasy with no need for boundaries. Limitations… yeah they can be checked in at the door, but they are not allowed in. There is no gravity here to tie down ones’s imagination, or creativity so sit back, get comfy and enjoy the ride. A Journey Through Fairyland is a pure example of what I call an animator’s playhouse where anything goes. This movie helps us remember that there is magic in the world and all around us. See that tree, magic… see that flower, magic… hearing the distant sounds of music, magic… and even watching classic anime… now that’s definitely a special kind of magic, but you already knew that. 🙂

#156 : Godmars

GM_1GOD… MARS! ROKUSHIN GATTAI! I get chills every time I hear that when our hero Takeru Myojin prepares to bring together the six robots that make up the ultra cool Godmars mech. Released in 1981 during the space opera and mecha high times in the anime world, Godmars is a fine mix of the two. It’s far from a perfect mech show, or anime in general. So many anime fall into this pit trap, yet we still attach to them anyway because we found some redeeming qualities that end up resonating with us. Now strap in and get ready for one of my favorite super robot tales from way back when. This is Rokushin Gattai Godmars, often shortened to Godmars.

Godmars holds a special place in my heart in that this was the first super robot show I tackled to completion beyond the ‘Voltron’ universe (be it GoLion, Diarugger, or Voltron itself). The time had come to grow up and move beyond the usual pastures and venture forth into the lands where alternate antiquated robot shows lived. Pictures and articles at first fulfilled speculation, next came the process of tracking down media. Godmars would present itself via a VHS tape of the 1982 compilation movie. Soon the film and the entire TV show became available on the fansub circuit and became the avenue that I digested the missing parts of the Godmars storylines. … Now disc based media exists as well, an eventual purchase on the horizon… maybe?

GM_2Loosely based on an original manga (Mars) by the legendary Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Godmars turned into an epic space drama; a huge departure from it’s more Babel II-like roots. Takeru Myojin, our protagonist, is a 17 year old member of the Cosmo Crasher squad, a group dedicated to Earth’s protection during humanity’s age of heavy space exploration. This all takes places in the far off future of 1999, which for 1981 made sense, but nowadays seems a little… dated? It is 2019 when I am writing this entry and where is all the cool space travel and super hi-end technology? Back to what 1999 could have been… it seems that the Earth has encountered a race of aliens, hostile of course… why not friendly ones? An emperor named Zul, along with his Gishin empire, are determined to conquest the universe and Earth is the next stop.

GM_3It turns out Takeru is not an Earthling and is in fact originally from Gishin. He was found as a baby by his adopted father and raised on Earth… hmm… sounds like Superman. Takeru learns his true identity is Mars and that he also has ESP abilities. So he is an esper?… yet another late 70s/early 80s trope. That and he soon learns he has a guardian robot which he can pilot as well, Gaia. OK then, I wonder if he has any surviving family on Gishin? Turns out he has a twin brother, Marg. Wow, talk about a lot of elements for a run of the mill mecha series! Plus let’s not forget the big bot of Godmars as well. Takeru while piloting Gaia combines with five other robots to create this nicely designed piece of engineering. The only thing that is missing here is a romantic element… and Godmars has that as well, via the conflicted character of Rosee (pronounced Ro-zay). Lots and lots of ingredients in this stew of a series… and this is only the first of three story arcs.

GM_4It is Takeru Myojin for me that makes Godmars special. He is not the usual mecha/shonen archetypal character. Neither the funny goof ball, nor the hotshot masculine tough guy, or even the bratty complainer, Takeru is at the other end of the spectrum being more sensitive and gentle. A nice change of pace and a great way to show masculinity can have a tender side. On the other side of the fence, my only real issue with the show was that the romantic elements and sparks between Takeru and Rosee are never really flushed out. and even though this is a shonen action show, I really wanted to see at least one kiss between these two… just one! Not the end of the world, but I am a sucker for anime couples… maybe there is some fan fiction somewhere?

While it was not a gateway drug, Godmars became for me a crucial next step into my journeys into classic mecha anime. The heavy melodrama and space opera were key elements I needed at that time of my fandom as this was just the answer to my many questions needing a solution. The only thing is that from one would come many more series to watch, yet I never forgot what Godmars showed me in the beginning and I still enjoy a watch from time to time.

#153 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Karma Chapter

PKC_1The Vedas, The Popul Vuh, The Bible, Hesiod’s Theogony… cultures from around the world have created texts and mythologies explaining the sacred within our universe. All point to similar conclusions since universal order, structure and the balance of harmony are at an essence both in terms of our lives as humans, but also, the grand scope of the cosmos itself. Anime has in my opinion an epic collection of stories as well that show the greater answers to questions we often ponder as we live within the cycles of time and nature. Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix saga is considered his magmum opus, his life’s work and perhaps his most important creation. Several adaptations have been created, but a trilogy made in the mid 1980s will be the focus of this session. In particular, the 1986 film of Hi no Tori: Houou-hen/Phoenix: Karma Chapter.

PKC_2Karma can at times be a difficult subject to fully grasp. We often think the actions put out into the universe will come back to us or others as either good or bad depending on the circumstances. We think also that we control the scheduling of karma and the precise payment for any particular action. In truth… not exactly. We think there is equal justice, divine retribution and free will, but what of predestined fate, or unsuspected surprises? The more I delve into Buddhist philosophies and The Law of Attraction, the more I begin to see that self and other, good and bad, fate and free will are interconnected. The more I see that what I do and what happens to me are in essence one and the same. Tezuka’s Phoenix stories are all about these heavy themes, but for the Karma Chapter, this is played out between the lives of two men, who at two points in their lives meet and share a fate that seems predetermined.

PKC_3One man, Akanemaru, is a sculptor who has a passion for finding a legendary bird to grant him immortal life, the Phoenix. He hopes someday to be recognized for his talents to the point that the need for success and status blinds his humanity. The other man named Gao, is a one armed mass killer with no real goal except to enact his rage. He thinks nothing of causing harm, except for one brief instance where he saves the life of a ladybug. One particular victim would eventually change his perceptions and lead Gao to find a way to atone for his sins. He is a man who is trying to redeem his humanity. Twists of fate for both men as they try on the roles that feed lustful power and compassion. Who is the villain here? Neither as this is a story that draws the line to show that as humans we are both good and evil. All who are good have an essence of evil and the most vile and evil individual also has somewhere a heart that is wounded and wanting love.

PKC_4A grand sculpting competition will eventually settle the fates of both of these men for better or worse and watching alongside is that beautiful bird herself, the phoenix. Is she the great deity of the universe, or a messenger for the gods? We may never know, much like most of the magic of what is life and the totality of the universe. More like a peacock than the usual flaming avian many of us are used to in the west, Tezuka’s phoenix exudes an element of grace and beauty not seen in too many characters of the anime world. Her appearances in every adaptation of Tezuka’s mega epic including the other two chapters of this trilogy (Yamato and Space Chapters), the 1980 film Phoenix 2772 and the 2004 Phoenix TV series are paramount towards the plots for each particular chapter. (I recommend them all if you can find them!)

Telling Tezuka’s grand myth was accomplished via the help of Studio Madhouse along with the directing talent of Rintaro. Adding up three heavyweights should yield a high quality product and without question Phoenix: Karma Chapter is just that. On par with the likes of early Studio Ghibli, Tezuka’s original vision would have a proper presentation in the flashy and colorful 1980s. For many of us, anime titles often become favorites of ours, or fun excursions from reality, but how many become spiritual guidance posts? Tezuka created many classic characters, shows and movies, but for me anything that rings of Phoenix is a holy book deserved to be read and studied.