#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.

#150 : Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

I remember an old trailer for this movie from the VHS era… “Another time, another land, another chance…” … a very generic and perhaps simple saying, but in terms of the 1987 film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (long title?), it fits perfectly. This movie is very familiar, very foreign, very optimistic, very nostalgic and very, very well done in terms of craft from the writing to the drawing and even the animation itself. A highlight and perhaps one of the top tier examples of Japan’s output from the 1980s… Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise is still a classic among classics.

WoH_1Before the likes of Gurren Lagann, FLCL, some little franchise by the name of Evangelion and even Gunbuster (GUNBUSTA!), a studio by the name of Gainax was a group of young upstart animators, artists and otakus who had the entrepreneurial spirit to make anime there own way. They earned their reputation from creating several short films made at conventions which exuded the love and obsession for all that was anime and science fiction that permeated their youths. Certain early OVAs would feature these young artists and often times the Chocolate Panic Picture Show is sited as their first commercial project. Maybe, or maybe not? Yet the production that cemented Gainax as a studio and gave birth to the studio we know today was Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Enter a time when a bunch of upstarts could coax funds from the likes of Bandai and create something completely out of left field. Anything is possible!

WoH_2Many titles from the 1980s are often significant of the era, they are time capsules and in many ways are dated to that particular present moment. Not a bad thing, but very true in many cases. Then you have a select group that go beyond the convention of being stuck in time. This is the truest definition of what a classic is, something that transcends time. The act of being timeless, not bound to the past, but instead relevant and presentable in the present. The Wings of Honnêamise does this by the fact that it is it’s own world, a creation onto itself that looks one part old, some parts new, a little East, a little West, very familiar and unlimitedly foreign. Is this even Earth? Perhaps during the time of Atlantis, or Lemuria, or maybe an alternate dimension of time and space that could be now? If ever there is strength to storytelling is the world building that surrounds the plot and the characters. The world of The Wings of Honnêamise is second to none, in terms of setting, artistic detail, color and even sound (including the musical soundtrack). This is a fully functional organism that is complete.

WoH_3The story tells the rise of a young man, Shiro Lhadatt, who comes from ordinary and plain beginnings. He is nothing special, not too smart, or super heroic. His only passion is to fly jet aircraft and with his average, if not lackluster credentials, he ends up instead in the Space Force, who for the time being are just a rag tag group of men who don’t fit into standard military zeitgeist. Luck would change for Shiro when he meets a fundamentalist girl handing out religious pamphlets. Shiro, who being a red blooded young man, has more interest in the girl than her philosophies, but this soon changes. He soon finds purpose, both from the girl’s literature, but also the hardships she faces as well. He wants to achieve something, become a greater human being and this leads him to volunteer to become the first astronaut.

WoH_4In between insane training, a growing celebrity personalty, assignation attempts, the rumors that war may break out and a bowing to personal desires Shiro partakes one night with the girl he likes, he matures and grows his perspective in regards to what he is doing both as an astronaut, but also as a member of the human race. Combined with the high quality artistry, Shiro’s journey to space is a critical high point for anime, though not the most commercially successful. The Wings of Honnêamise is a large scale film that climaxes on the launch of Shiro into the upper and outer atmospheres, yet that does not eclipse the plot. Shiro’s monologue while in orbit becomes the capstone, the nice ribbon to tie up the package and gives us hope that someday we can go beyond our physical ties of our lives and reach for a goal that may be one part crazy and one part inspiring.

The Wings of Honnêamise is beloved by many and I give it the highest respect if only for the visual presentation, yet there is so much more as well. Due to the fact that I don’t have the love to repeatedly rewatch this film I still give it the highest marks for being what could have been a perfect moment for the Japanese animation industry. Gainax would continue on and create many popular and well known productions, but never again would they make anything as close to Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.

Special : Watership Down

WD_1This is the real real world… this is nature interpreted through an artist’s particular vision and, or vernacular. A veritable John Constable, or even at times a J.M.W. Turner landscape coming to life with all the lush blues, greens and browns that echoes a quiet summer’s day with a punch of yellow and orange. An organic world of basic survival, gut instinct and presence within the moment. Except our vantage point of view is not from our familiar human senses, but from those of the animals of the wild we commonly call rabbits. This is the epic of the heroes journey set in an honest portrayal, a grand adaptation of the original source material (how often does that happen?) and a story that will last for thousands of years. This is the original animated version of Richard Adams’ Watership Down.

I am totally, totally breaking the rules with this entry. Watership Down has absolutely nothing to do with Japan in either the source material, or the production. It is British in origin, British in terms of production and vocal casting and American with director Martin Rosen. The adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel technically should not be here… yet I MUST include Watership Down on this website. I love this film and draw so much inspiration from it. It may be perhaps my all time favorite animated creation. So much so that in one of my classes in college, I used Watership Down as visual material for one of my best design projects of my academic career. Watership Down is not just any other movie, it is my personal spiritual myth, my Holy Book.

WD_2Watership Down begins with a core element that is something we must all face, that of the unexplained. Fiver’s sixth sense of impending danger and Hazel’s trust in him to go on a great journey to find a safe land, paradise, Arcadia (Captain Harlock reference) is not of the rational. I often think sometimes animals in the wild have an intelligence that a portion of humanity has lost. A true deep connection to the universe that does not question the motives behind signs, or feelings. Call it whatever you wish, but to our lapine friends they put their trust to Lord Frith. For it was Lord Frith who bestowed the gifts of swiftness and cunning to El-ahrairah, the original chief of the rabbit race. With cunning, quick decision making, or trickery and a fast stride a rabbit can and does survive. Yet often we humans lose this ability to see and feel our true essence because of the conformity structures we try to belong to. When one “Let’s go and let’s God” (God as your personal definition) we become closer to those of the wild and in essence our truest selves.

WD_3Hazel is not the only one to believe Fiver’s calling. A group of deserters join including a former Owsla (Army) officer, Bigwig, to find this special land of safety. They must traverse unknown terrain, encounter obstacles and at times lose a comrade. They must learn just who to trust and keep faith that their journey is true even when deviation becomes tempting. With a gorgeous film score, exceptional voice acting (I became a fan of John Hurt immediately) and the natural style of the artwork, both characters and backgrounds, I often feel that I am outside in the world of nature and with our little friends on their quest. Sometimes fiction looks more real than fact? Watership Down is a masterpiece that took itself seriously and is a true labor of love. This movie can’t hide from the apparent details.

WD_4Animation and in particular the traditional painted cel has always been a source of joy and a personal sanctuary for me. Watership Down is a testament to this style. After the movie, I felt obliged to buy and read the book which I have gone threw a handful of times. Either medium provides the depth and assurance I sometimes need to know that I am one with this universe and that the cycles that we all live through are worth the ups and downs. Many talk about the so called violence in this film, but they are missing the true core. This is an honest and mature look at our lives and not some flashy over dramatization to appeal to a low common denominator. To Richard Adams, Martin Rosen, Angela Morley, the cast and production crew I heartedly thank you for giving all of us such a beautiful epic.

#141 : The Dagger of Kamui

You love ninja and samurai stories, I love ninja and samurai stories… we all love a good ninja or samurai story. Here in the west we have the epics of ancient Europe and the American western to delight our tastes in mythology, but for some of us there is a draw from an alternate source, the native myths of the East. Anime’s representation of a skilled man (or woman) is numerous: Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll just to name a few. But what if we can marry the samurai genre with the western genre into a film? Yup, that’s been done before… ever heard of 1985’s The Dagger of Kamui?

DoK_1Even if one is not much into action, ninja skills, or sword mastery, The Dagger of Kamui can still be a worthy watch; even if only just once! The Dagger of Kamui equates the definition of the big epic expensive action film, with an art house twist. Big… no no no… more like say, HUGE! Take a break my friends because this is one of those long journeys that spans Japan, Russia and then the wild west of America. Now that is quite a tour! You even get to meet historic figures like Geronimo and Mark Twain too. What?! And this is still considered a ninja, or samurai film? Or perhaps the ultimate shonen fighter? That may be stretching it, but does it matter? Nah, not at all. Just remember, to tell a large epic journey will take some time and this film is long, two plus hours long. And no intermission either (except the pause button, shh! it’s a secret), so be prepared.

DoK_2The Dagger of Kamui is a great example of ‘the hero’s journey’. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has now reached 1,001; a quick nod to you Joseph Campbell! Our hero is Jiro who is in no better terms, a bastard. He is an illegitimate child adopted into a loving family and also an individual whose heritage is partly Ainu, the native culture of Japan that was once frowned upon. Needless to say the kid is not well liked, or respected for no fault of his own except the ignorance of those around him. These elements don’t help when Jiro returns home to find his mother and sister murdered. Take a guess who gets the blame with no due process? With a dagger in hand that will unlock many clues of his origins and destiny, Jiro goes on the run to at first find the murderer of his family and then… well, that’s the beauty of being on a quest… it’s open to discovery beyond imagination.

DoK_3The story may be huge, the music is funky, with electric guitar and traditional Japanese drumming, but the visuals are a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous movie. Backgrounds are lush. Motion is fluid. Colors are bold. The fight scenes are like expressionist paintings that have come to life that could easily pass as a psychedelic experience. No surprise really as this was made at Madhouse, a studio which seems to have two quality settings in the visual department… amazing and fantastic. That and with a director like Rintaro, the ocular experience triples if not quadruples with his use of editing, color and dynamics. Let me go back to the fight scenes again. They are not like the usual brawl. Think more in terms of a well choreographed dance in a lucid dream you can only have at midnight where all around is magic and wonder to behold and see. Conflict becomes poetic art; danger becomes beautiful.

DoK_480s anime cinema has many standout choices. Many originate from well known directors, franchises, or are just at the right place at the right time. The Dagger of Kamui can fall into line with say the Fist of the North Star film for being a big action epic where our hero has to face up against a his major arch rival in the end, but The Dagger of Kamui is a completely different beast altogether. Some action films are just that, an action film. But there are those action films that are blessed to have been created by an auteur studio and an auteur director as well. There is something special about these movies, even though they can be a little long winded. The Dagger of Kamui is one wild ride!

#140 : The Wild Swans

WS_1I love the work of Hans Christian Andersen. His stories are often dark in tone, filled with allegory and meaning and are considered essential myths that we continue to have a need for… even in today’s climate. Yet some stories pass by us unnoticed until just the right time. Until a week ago I had never heard of the Wild Swans, but when I found that this story was adapted into a feature film created by Toei I had to see it immediately. I must also state that there is also another story collected by the Brothers Grimm that is very similar and from general reading it seems their tale, The Six Swans, has more the influence on this movie. I had only one thing to say… Hi, can I be your friend? And as usual, seems always the case with anime, we got along splendidly. Let me tell you about our date together!

WS_2Much like another story many of us know very well by Andersen, The Little Mermaid, there is much that is similar, yet also different. Both stories were animated by Toei in the mid 1970s, The Little Mermaid in 1975 and The Wild Swans in 1977, and share the basic style and form of the era. Both stories deal with prolonged sacrifice and hardship in the form of being away from loved ones and not being able to communicate vocally. In the case of The Little Mermaid, Marina could not speak due to giving up her voice, and tail as well, to be amongst the human world and be with her prince. As for the Wild Swans, our protagonist Elisa does not loose her voice at all. She takes a personal vow of complete silence as part of her cross to bear. Though she can speak, she promises not to.

The story begins on a happy note as we meet a lost man on horseback in a forest. He is greeted by a witch who promises him a way back home if he can grant a wish for her daughter. The attractive young lady asks to become his betrothed as she has learned that his wife has passed recently. He accepts and returns to tell his children the good news. Wow, saying yes to a woman you just met without even a date or anything? Some men are quite desperate! And you know, “some beautiful roses have wicked thorns.” But I digress, he uses a magical ball of yarn to open the location where his children are to give the news of their new mother. Everyone is happy, except that conniving woman. She is jealous of the children (what a surprise!) and plans a trap by stealing the ball of yarn and meeting the children herself.

WS_3Upon their meeting miss jealous pants bestows gifts, which the six boys accept without hesitation. These garments that are given turn them into swans and when the seventh child, a daughter, Elisa arrives she sees the damage that has occurred and stands against the evil woman. Yet all is not lost, at night time the boys return to human form and comfort Elisa. Hmm, sounds like Swan Lake? Then, much like swans born naturally, they migrate away when the proper season beckons. During this time Elisa learns she can make six garments out of nettles that will return her brothers to their natural human state. The only reservations are that she cannot show any disdain, or complaint during the process and that she has a limited amount of time. Because of this she shuts herself off from the rest of the world and vows a life of silence. Now we know why Elisa losses her ability to communicate.

WS_4For an emotionally riveting plot that seems to point towards total tragedy, The Wild Swans does end up having an optimistic outcome. This was a surprise for me and even though I was ready for an all out cry fest ready to see something sad, I still had a little tear in my eye for witnessing a happy ending. A true tale of love and sacrifice that I can put on par with Night on the Galactic Railroad, The Wild Swans shows that a dedication to love will pay off with rewards unimaginable. And if this movie borrows from either Hans Christian Andersen, or the Brothers Grimm, or both at the same time, it does not matter. It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling and that is all one needs in a great anime.