#98 : Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer

UY2_1Imagine living in your own dream world; anything goes! This is your ultimate utopia and if you apply any boundaries, they are of your own choosing. Who would be in this dream world with you? What would you do together? Once upon a time there was a property by the name of Urusei Yatsura that during the 1980s was one of the hottest tickets around. This show (and the manga) put Rumiko Takahashi on the map and brought a young director by the name of Mamoru Oshii into the spotlight. Before Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor and even Angel’s Egg, Oshii would showcase his signature style for the first time in Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. 

UY2_2The year was 1984 and going to the cinema was the thing to do for an otaku. I consider 1984, the anime Summer of Love. The Macross crew would release Macross: Do You Remember Love and Hayao Miyazaki wowed audiences with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Mamoru Oshii, who at the time was the director of all that was Urusei Yatsura, followed the script so to speak… and then a second film with Ataru, Lum and crew allowed Oshii’s individual style that we know so well to blossom for the first time. With both writing and directing duties, Oshii would bring his contribution of Beautiful Dreamer into the class of 1984. Oshii’s dreamworlds began to be a part of our worlds.

UY2_3I will be the first to admit that I may not be the best reference for Urusei Yatsura. I have seen the first handful of episodes and have a general idea of the plot and all the hijinks  including the lecherous main character, Ataru, and his jealous love interest/who happens to be an alien Lum. You know Lum (I hope)? The bikini clad girl with the horns on her head… a timeless design. Now, what I am familiar with is Mamoru Oshii’s artistry which he uses tastefully in Beautiful Dreamer. He adds elements of surreal imagery and circumstances and completely bends the rules to what you consider a particular property to be. Think Patlabor 2 in regards to Patlabor as a whole, or perhaps the Ghost in the Shell film in regards to the original manga. He puts his philosophical and symbolic spin into action that only Oshii does so well. Like a skilled painter, his style is his own. And where Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell can get very heavy into drama, being that this is a film is in the Urusei Yatsura universewe still retain the comedy and dynamism. Mamoru Oshii brilliant with fun and comedy? Oh definitely YES! 🙂

The plot begins with a school festival where everyone is pitching in with their own contributions, decorations and such. Many of the usual cast are putting together a cafe of sorts, which includes a tank in the middle of their particular classroom. Wait, a tank?! How did they get that upstairs? Anyway… events seem as if things are repeating themselves as various characters start to see that the reality of their surroundings keeps moving in a loop. If you travel, you end up back at the same spot and occasionally you lose contact with others. Just what is happening here? Eventually the entire world turns into a ghost town… on the back of a… turtle (it ties in with traditional Japanese mythology)? The only normality is the Moroboshi house, which becomes the safe haven for our cast since there is a constant supply of food, water and electricity for some reason. I’ll say it again, just what is going on here?

UY2_4Not being completely up to par with the Urusei Yatsura universe, I will be the first to say that I did not have much trouble following the film. Watching Beautiful Dreamer purely as an Oshii film worked well enough for me! There has been a Blu Ray release recently here in North America, but my viewing of this film came from a recent VHS find.  … Oh whatever has happened to you, oh great Urusei Yatsura? Rumiko Takahashi’s other work, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma and Inuyasha have all eclipsed this once behemoth property. Yet Urusei Yatsura you still live on be it YV series or movie adaptation in our memories… and even perhaps, our dreams…

#96 : GoShogun

If you wish it, it will come! Ever since I fell in love with an OVA from 1985 by the name of GoShogun: The Time Étranger, I had a yearning to see the original 1981 TV series. For a long time I had two options: raw episodes or the odd adaptation of Macron 1. I tried the raw and got through five episodes, but had to concede defeat. No fansubs to be found and no official releases anywhere… and then like a gift from the cosmos, perhaps it was Beamler energy (will explain later), an official release here in North America would materialize. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… ZERO! Let’s watch some Sengoku Majin GoShōgun.

Goshogun_1As stated before this has been a long time coming and if it was not for Time Étranger I doubt I would have cared to even watch this show. Although I love mecha shows from the late 70s/early 80s, my main reason to finally see this show was not the action, nor the sci-fi, nor the GoShogun robot (which by the way, is a nice looking design). My reason was the main cast of six characters I fell in love with in the OVA. And while that OVA was a dark character study steeped in suspence, the original television show is mostly light hearted fare sprinkled with times of satirical reference and the occasional moment of seriousness.

Goshogun_2Our heroes known as Good Thunder include a group of three heroes who come from unheroic circumstances. One is a spy who failed in her mission and was sentenced to death (Remy Shimada). Another is a tough guy with a warrant on his head who covered for a crime of a friend (Killy Gagley). And the last, a former soldier whose wife was killed on the day of the wedding (Shingo Hojo). These three are brought on board the Good Thunder (also the name of a ship) by way of the mysterious Professor Sabarath (absent from the OVA) to protect the ship’s precious ‘cargo’ and pilot the robot GoShogun. Not your usual group of heroes, but then again who says you need experience to pilot a super robot? Sabarath also brings on board a young boy, Kenta Senada, who’s destiny is linked with this ‘cargo’ (reminds me slightly of GaoGaiGar).

Goshogun_3Now for that  ‘cargo’, it is called Beamler energy (told you I would explain this). Beamler allows teleportation and becomes the McGuffin device for the so-called evil empire of Docouga with their three second in commands (a bishonen snob, a big lug and a pill popping pirate type). Beamler though is evolutionary and changes with time and this lays influence into the story line. Sometimes Beamler is stabile, sometimes beyond unstabile and all the time, it is a great mystery of the beautiful universe we live in. But for my money, the big attraction so to speak is always in the appearance of the GoShogun robot, or it’s three component that join with the robot to complete it. Not only do Shingo’s King Arrow, Killy’s Jack Knife and Remy’s Queen Rose have the ability to join Goshogun, but these three also unite into another robot the Try-Three. And while Shingo is the so-called main leader of this Getter Robo like trio, it is Madame Remy who gets the control board when united as the Try-Three. I bet the original toyline was fun to play with! 😀

Goshogun_4By 1982 a compilation movie would emerge and is worth tracking down to serve as a nice sip of tea into the mythology of this show and it served the purpose of a minor stopgap before taking on the whole show. Seeing the entirety of Goshogun gave me such a smile on my face, but alas, a smile is ephemeral and I must soldier on to more anime. And yet… it is such a feat to see something you yearned for so badly that became a part of your universe. The once impossible hole for viewing Goshogun is no more and I happily display the DVD with all the other Goshogun artwork and Time Étranger releases I have collected over these years. Now to find a space and time to re-watch it all over again!

‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the My world’

#93 : Galaxy Express 999 (movie)

If one must set out for a voyage to the stars, you must do it with an element of style. An ordinary spaceship will work for many, but come on now… let’s push the boundaries of imagination. What about traveling through space in a train? Hmm?… I like it… all wood grained and classic black iron, now that is classy! As well, a voyage to the stars should be something personal, a journey to not just discover what is out there, but also what is within yourself. Galaxy Express 999 is such a journey that once you ride this train line, you will never be the same.

GE999_movie1Here is an idea… let’s say you want to honor your goal to achieve immortality by adopting a mechanical body and the only way to do that would be to board a train to the stars that will take you to this fated destination. Only problem is that this train ticket is quiet expensive and sought after. Plus, you also wish to avenge your mother’s wrongful murder since you have so much spare time with all this other stuff going on. Are you in consensus with our hero Tetsuro Hoshino for a ride on the Galaxy Express 999? Great… we have a ticket for you, except you have to have the classiest lady in all of anime join you in your journey.

GE999_movie2Leiji Matsumoto’s vision of science fiction is beyond brilliant. What sets him apart is his use of tenderness and emotion. I always shed some kind of a tear due to the enduring qualities and almost simplicity of Galaxy Express 999. That almost motherly womb of nurturing I get from this movie is summed up in that lady I mentioned earlier, Maetel. Her name is derivative of mother, matter, maternal, Mary, or mare (sea/waters) at least that is my hypothesis. Beyond being a near protective saint, she has the longest blond hair I have yet to see and dresses in a Russian styled black fur coat and hat. So classy! If the story tells the meat of the experience, Maetel represents the symbolic image of this story. I hate to see her as a mascot, more like an ascended master in the form of an anime heroine.

GE999_movie3The essence, or perhaps theme of Galaxy Express 999, is beyond the awesome space operatic elements. Often we are watching a story set in the future, but the true teachings are of the present moment. Life is something to be cherished and in two ways particularly. One, the fact that we are mortal and the time that we have is precious and our presence in this very moment is precious. And two, love yourself for who you are and what you believe in; your highest dreams and aspiration. Love yourself, love the environment and welcome all opportunities, you never know who you may meet on your journey when you just go with the flow. Just ask our hero Tetsuro.

GE999_movie4Galaxy Express 999’s movie adaptation is more than just a basic re-telling of the epic TV series. True we follow Tetsuro Hoshino’s path of maturity, which is sped up and abbreviated due the compression of the mammoth length of the manga/TV series original, yet we also have the inclusion of Matsumoto’s other great sci-fi epic which ran concurrent with Galaxy Express 999. That being of course Space Pirate Captain Harlock. This movie could be the ultimate expression of the constant retelling and reimagining of all that is the Leijiverse. And not just Captain Harlock the character, crew and mythology, but also that TV series’ director, Rintaro. Always a visual feast, so typical of Rintaro, this may be his most coherent film where the story does not get lost within the presentation of powerful imagery.

Stories of the hero’s journey number in the infinite and often times we are telling the same over yet again with a slightly different veneer. The origins of Galaxy Express 999 may borrow elements of Night on the Galactic Railroad and Star Wars (or perhaps Yamato?), but in the end it is something far different. A classic among classics, a step above the rest, Galaxy Express 999 may be one of the best coming of age stories ever created. Thank you Leiji Matsumoto and Rintaro for this great gift.

#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.

#85 : Ringing Bell

RB_1Ahh! Look at the cute little lamb, I bet this is a movie that will be all heart warming and cozy and adorable. Oh hey… and this was produced by Sanrio of Hello Kitty fame too, yup heart warming, fuzzy and kawaii. And then reality sets in once you start to watch Ringing Bell. What you see before you is a cautionary children’s story with a moral to teach.  And I say children’s story in the highest regard by recalling a quote by C.S. Lewis, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So a dark tale wrapped in an unassuming adorable package; a venerable wolf in sheep’s clothing… funny how thats a fitting statement for this classic short film. Details to follow…

RB_2Let’s start with a personal question… how much does your anger control you? Are you so consumed with negative emotions that you become blind to your own ego? Mix one part Disney’s Bambi and one part the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vadar from Star Wars and you get the basic foundation of Ringing Bell. We have a story about the downfall of the innocent protagonist, who dives into the dark night of the soul and keeps on falling into the ever expanding hole of suffering. This dark night becomes the ever present defacto reality our hero lives in, until the very end when our hero learns of his misjudgments. We all suffer to a degree, but we should NEVER suffer alone, or make life altering decision in that state of being.

RB_3Our hero is a young lamb, Chirin, adorable as can be, living an idealized childhood. He laughs, he plays, he loves to eat his green clover and he is the apple of his protective mother’s eye. Life is simple, happy and almost utopian. Around young Chiron’s neck is a bell that acts as a signal, a warning, to prevent Chirin from exploring too far from safety. The line of safety in our story is a simple wooden fence. Yet as much as you can close yourself out from dangers or change, those forces will find a way to creep in. Such is life, a constant battle between light and dark that is always in a constant state of change. Chirin is told not to cross the fence since there are dangers on the other side, but what if something from the other side crosses this line of safety? One night a ‘something’ does cross that line, a wolf specifically, and changes the course of Chirin’s life forever.

RB_4The consequences of this aforementioned tragedy leads our character onto a unique journey. The old saying of if you can’t beat them join them pertains. Instead of confiding his feelings, his suffering, with his peers, Chirin instead tries to enact revenge to the wolf the best way he can. And when he realizes that he can’t beat the wolf, Chirin instead desires to become a wolf; to go against his natural tendencies. Why be a weak and timid lamb when you can be a strong wolf? Like so many of us when we are young, we eventually realize that making a decision from an ungrounded and negative stream of consciousness only feeds into the initial pain and injury. The process eventually leads us to look at ourselves in a metaphorical mirror to have only one question enter into our minds. What have I done?

Sanrio’s output of original work outside of the Hello Kitty brand are a treasure trove. Ringing Bell is one of many examples, including Sea Prince and the Fire Child and Unico. A gem for all ages and all time and a reason to show that the childhood experience goes much deeper and shapes us beyond the ephemeral moment.

#81 : Space Warrior Baldios

Baldios_11980 was an interesting year for anime. On a personal note, I turned a year old, so I don’t have much personal memory. Only from researching and back cataloging through history, I found two of the most austere mecha space opera ever conceived. Space Runaway Ideon is the first, a show directed and created by Gundam’s Yoshiyuki Tomino (the year after Gundam to be precise) that took a mature stance dealing with themes of xenophobia and the awesome power of a collective conscious deity power. The second, and the subject of this entry, was Space Warrior Baldios, a tale about time travel, unrequited love, planetary destruction and pollution. Whoa… where have you been all my life Baldios?

Baldios_2I may forever have an incomplete appreciation of all that is Baldios. I have only come across the first five episodes of the 1980 TV series with an English translation. If I grew up in Europe this would be a different story. I know on the mainland, and in particular Italy, you had this on your TV screens back in the day. A compilation film would be released in 1981 and this is my only way, as of the moment, to enjoy the story as complete whole. Although… the TV series didn’t finish on a proper note anyway and the film actually gave a more finalized finality. Hmm… kind of like the Ideon films. I see a trend here? … The Baldios film is in my hands in two forms, the first being a fansub with the original Japanese dialogue and the second, a VHS release with an English dub by an early producer William James Ross. Definitely a treasured piece in my collection.

Another time, another place. The future and a heavily polluted planet known as S-1. Scientists work diligently to find a method to clean the pollution and restore this planet to it’s former glory. Enter our hero, Marin Reigan. After years of work his father, a top rate scientist, and his team have finally come to a solution. This does not go well with the military who become the higher authorities under the control of the totalitarian General Gatler. Gatler’s solution is to leave the planet and find new a colony. Marin’s father would fall victim to the rise of the military and in revenge Marin enacts revenge on his father’s murderer. That revenge killed a man who would put Marin into an interesting relationship with a beautiful female soldier. She is Aphrodia, or Afrodia, and her brother was the man Marin killed.

Baldios_3Once Gatler leaves S-1, Marin follows in pursuit in an awesome spaceship, the Pulsar Burn. In an odd twist of fate through traveling in null space (warping), Marin would end up appearing in front of our Earth in approximately the year 2100. Upon his arrival he is brought into question about who he is and if he has anything to do with Gatler’s army who is by now attacking the Earth. Soon he would gain the trust of the Earth’s military and scientists, including Dr. Ella Quinstein (such an awesome name). Marin’s Pulsar Burn would become part of a three part machine that unites to become the warrior robot Baldios to defend the Earth.

Baldios_4And this is only the beginning… Besides all the usual mecha space opera cliches we have to turn back to Aphrodia and her relationship with Marin. There’s is a fated and yet unrequited connection of love and hatred. How odd a couple can be so perfect and yet, so flawed. If anything this is the great draw of this show in how these two play off each other. Another draw of interest is the lack of children in the cast. Most mecha shows were of the shonen variety, so usually a character of a child, usually a boy, is included to say… this can be you in the story. In Baldios, we are in a hard and adult world. And finally, I have to mention the great twist of fate at the end; talk about a surprise ending. If you know how Baldios closes, you know one of the best endings in my honest opinion.

Baldios you are a rare bird in a sea of the usual in mecha and science fiction stereotypes. Space Warrior Baldios is dark and tackles issues that pertained to the world of 1980 and even still in 2018 (the writing of this entry). Should we allow war and hatred to destroy our relationships, our culture and ultimately the environment of the planet? A cautionary tale… a classic!

#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.