#161 : Nora

Nora_1Why in my right mind did I obsessively want to see this OVA? As a product of 1985, a year I love so much in terms of anime, Nora was on one of my watching bucket lists. Or perhaps it was the design of Nora herself, who is adorable and pretty… I’m jealous of her hair! My hope is that the original manga is way better in terms of story, plot, and even character development because this OVA adaptation of Nora is… eh… bland. Please universe grant me a chance to read a chapter, or two of the manga to prove my hypothesis wrong by stating that Nora is an example of what we refer to as a… Bad Anime! If blonde jokes were true, and of course they are not (Blonde = Genius!), then Nora would be the poster child, or the dictionary definition of that stereotype even though she is not dumb at all. Just very bubbly, goofy and ever popular… but kind of ditzy.

Nora_2Nora Scholar is on her way to a space town, or if this were Gundam, a colony, to take a vacation. I believe it was called Frontier, but please don’t make me rewatch this again to see if that is correct. While on her flight she meets a middle aged bald guy who is a well known professor and they become very good friends… creepy; not so attractive middle aged men and young ladies always screams red flag in my book. Add to that we also gain a third wheel, another old fart who is supposed to be a genius, but is just a cynical drunk. Why not have some handsome young stud of a man accompany Nora? But then again, I think this was a seinen production, so I am sure Nora would be the ideal fantasy girl for older guys who would want to chase someone younger. Sigh! I feel for you Nora.

Nora_3The high IQ drunk invented a computer, Artfiend (nice name?), to take over the functions of the town, or maybe it is the computer that runs the town and it has run amuck… whatever! Bad stuff starts to happen, the gravity stops working as an example because this computer has an issue with the human race. Who can stop this wild menace, but our triple threat of characters with Nora at the helm. She kindly talks to ‘Artie’ and reprograms him much like a mother talks to a child about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Bad Artie, bad! You be nice now, OK! … and that is basically… the story. Stopping a renegade computer from wrecking up the entire place… I dunno… I am sure there are better options with a similar story. I vote for the opening episode of the Dirty Pair “How to Kill a Computer.” Better yet can the WWWA hire Nora and at least salvage something from this OVA? Hence forth we have the Dirty Trio (that sounds totally wrong, lol). Is Nora worth a rewatch? Not this time as I’d rather rewatch Odin first.

#160 : Mobile Police Patlabor (OVA series)

PatOVA_1PATLABOR! Veni Vidi Vici… and then… retirement. Yes there have been reboots of more recent for Patlabor, but in essence like Space Battleship Yamato, or even the Beatles… well maybe the Stone Roses as we are talking the late 1980s here, Patlabor would have it’s time in the sun with the original ‘band line-up‘ in tact for only a minute period of time. A manga, TV series, two films (I am not going to count WXIII as a third) and a follow-up OVA would be born from a little seven episode OVA created by a partnership in 1988. What happens when super talented folks in the anime industry unite for a project? They make a classic. … now then, can we get the old band back together?

patova_2One of the greatest mecha shows that is also a comedy, a drama, a showcase for parody and a cop show all rolled into one nice neat seven episode package. Very tidy and an example of bringing together talented minds to make something original and special. The main creative group behind Patlabor, known as Headgear, consisted of manga artist Masami Yuki, mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi, writer Kazunori Itō, character designer Akemi Takada and director Mamoru Oshii. I leave it to you to look up their resumes. The direct to video OVA had proven itself as an affective medium to distribute anime for almost half a decade and the diversity of projects showcased that this was a free for all medium. When Patlabor was released in 1988, it was positioned at a good place and time. Independent and smaller focused projects were abundant and ranged from well done productions to experimental eccentricities to the laughably bad. Yet as fans we love them all! 1988 would kick up the notch with several releases that elevated the OVA into a format that became a viable art form including Patlabor, Gunbuster and the behemoth Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

PatOVA_3Patlabor as a mecha show speaks to those who were fans of giant robot animation as children and still are even as adults… myself included. Watch the opening credits and feel all that enthusiasm from both past and present collide… “nothing’s impossible.” The aspect of going to work and fulfilling a role in society is something many of us understand well and is a main contributor to the storyline of Patlabor. The cast of Special Vehicles Section 2 are not super heroes, nor space pilots, they are your average everyday police officers… who pilot, or work with mechs while solving a case. The whole concept of mecha in Patlabor is perhaps the most extreme portrayal of giant robots as standard everyday equipment. a real “Real Robot”… no pun intended. Yet the mascot like patrol labors, the Ingrams, are not the be all end all of this show.

PatOVA_4The true stars are the cast and what a mixed bag indeed: an aloof, but genius captain; an enthusiastic tomboy who names her Ingram after her dog; a cynical rich kid; a gun crazed lunatic; a nerdy husband, a gentile giant and an American transfer round out the crew of SV2. The dynamics between each personality is what fuels Patlabor. The episodes are a mixed bag of ideas, some of which come out of left field. You get your introductory episode, a bomb defusing episode, a Godzilla inspired episode, a summer camp murder mystery episode and even a two parter that vaguely reminds me of a prototype for the future film Patlabor 2: The Movie. References galore pop up time and again, but in clever and funny ways that makes the comedy of Patlabor pure gold. One example that left me laughing… “What do you think your piloting? Great Mazinger? Dangaioh?”

Who would have thought that this little project would grow into a massive success? And the beauty of it all is that as Patlabor grew it seemed to have gotten better… perhaps because we get hungry for more adventure of the SV2. Traditional mecha anime, piloted robots, by this time had waned in popularity on TV in terms of younger fans except for a few exceptions. All of us seasoned fans, perhaps a little bent on nostalgia, welcomed the initial Patlabor OVA that filled a need to those of us who may have grown and taken on additional roles into society, but are at heart are still enthusiastic fans of animation. We all may have jobs now, even our heroes, but were still at the root of it all the same. Now, time to go to work!

#158 : Crusher Joe (OVA series)

CJOVA_1Joe is back and our favorite Crushers have a couple more stories to tell! Two to be exact: The Ice Prison and The Final Weapon Ash (These titles have a few translated variations). The 1983 Crusher Joe movie was an enjoyable ride of a great time, but this 1989 OVA set may even be better. With shorter run times, fluid animation, great pacing and lots more fun, fun, fun, both episodes (I prefer to call them mini movies) of the Crusher Joe OVA series may be some of the best (if not the best?) sci-fi action anime produced in the decade of the 1980s. While Haruka Takachiho’s other creation, The Dirty Pair, may get more attention, those of us in the know really love Joe.

CJOVA_2The joy of Crusher Joe has always been there are no strings attached. You don’t have to have to learn a lot of back story, or get fully involved into the property. Much like a well made platformer, or an arcade title (in regards to video games), or a classic board game like Monopoly, all you have to do is just play it. This is the process of getting oneself into the game and learn the rules as you go, or as the old saying goes, “it’s easy to pickup, but can take a lifetime to master.” This is true of any craft, or hobby as well and I only point out games because Crusher Joe is all about fun and pure enjoyment. Crusher Joe is often quoted as a prototype, or influence for Cowboy Bebop, so it is easily accessible in terms of hitting a chord towards a common denominator for sci-fi action. While the Crusher Joe movie does this well, the OVA does this even better as it gets you into the mode and feel of what Crusher Joe is all about faster. From my own opinion, watch the OVAs first and then watch the movie.

CJOVA_3Both The Ice Prison and The Final Weapon Ash are stories about rescue operations. I hope Crushers get paid well, because it seems like they always get hired to do the dirtiest of work and it ruins one’s vacations on the shortest of notice. The Ice Prison has Joe, Alfin, Talos and Ricky hired by a corrupt government looking to change the course of an asteroid that has gone into free fall towards their planet. This asteroid also happens to house political prisoners as well who mine it for natural resources. An added bonus for this job is the fact that the Crushers are asked to make an attempt, and I use this word wisely, at rescuing these prisoners. Once the job starts the truth becomes apparent that all is not what it appears to be. Why does the government want to rescue rival political dissidents? My gut senses something is not right here.

CJOVA_4For many fans, including myself, The Final Weapon Ash is the crown jewel of the two episodes if not the cream of the crop for all that is Crusher Joe. An ultimate weapon, the Ash (named because it can turn everything to… ash), is under the care of a female officer who is captured by a rival political faction wanting to harness it’s ultimate power. Hijacking a ship and committing mutiny, the rebel faction with the female officer crash onto a planet known to have a nasty population of killer robots, the Cloakers. Our favorite Crushers are thus hired and brought in to rescue her and return the Ash to safe hands. A twist of irony is that with all the power the Ash has and represents, it is compactly contained into a mere briefcase. Talk about a big punch in a very small package! Do you want a great MacGuffin device story?

Could Crusher Joe represent sci-fi anime from the 1980s as a whole? The movie and this OVA bookend a time for most of us that defined outer space oriented sci-fi and adventure. And why I chose Crusher Joe out of the many options is because it remains in the 1980s since no remakes, or other sequels have been created past these two productions (as of the writing of this entry). Crusher Joe will forever live on as an unspoiled archetype of fun, friends, flying spaceships, having cool hair and rocking colorful jumpsuits… who could as for anything more! One final question will always remain, “Can I get a drink of water?” (watch The Final Weapon Ash to find out)

#155 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Space Chapter

YSC_1The distances between stars or planets can be compared to some of the relationships we have with the closest people we see on a daily basis; many times it can be vast and wide. How well do we really know each other by way of how each of us truly feels about each other? A more intriguing thought, what secrets do we conceal, or what elements from our past do we struggle with that haunt us and affect our current relationships? The final production of Madhouse’s adaptations of Osamu Tezuka’s collective Phoenix manga, The Space Chapter, would leave historic Japan behind for the far future and outer space and would deal with these issues of inner space head on. The lessons of karma, duty and fate are yet again front and center stage.

YSC_2Bias here, this is my personal favorite of the three as this is the most psychological, the darkest and the most passionate in terms of relationship dynamics. As an OVA set in the far future, in deep outer space and with highly advanced technology you would think the clothes of science fiction would overtake the content of the the story’s relationship dynamics with spectacle and fantasy. The Space Chapter is a great example of science fiction done very well by integrating both and pushing the intensity even higher. Outer space can be a place where much contemplation can be observed and where isolation, or being alone, can bring out the best and worst in all of us. If Ingmar Bergman borrowed the set from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to make a movie, I think this would be the product… except in this case it is animated and not live action.

YSC_3Four passengers on an interstellar spaceship are suddenly awoken from stasis to realize that the ship they are traveling on has been hit by a meteor, or something similar. In haste they rush to find their fifth comrade who was piloting and watching over the ship had mysteriously died during their sleep. Realizing the damage is beyond repair, they all decide to all abandon ship in separate escape capsules. Now adrift in space alone with limited air and food, the situation becomes one of survival and opening up about their mysterious fifth crew member. Everyone had a different story to tell. He was rumored to be immortal and forever young. He also seemed to be an android from medical examinations. There were even romantic feelings between him and the lone female crew member. His last words left in the ships log struck a note of fear in the others, someone was out to kill him. Who could it be?

YSC_4To add more drama to our story a mysterious fifth capsule appears and catches up with the other four belonging to the fallen mystery man, including signs of a passenger. One by one the original four members would be reduced to two leaving the remaining duo to land on a mysterious planet. From here the story’s mysteries begin to twist even more with the ultimate truths coming out. … and what of our friend the phoenix? She is most definitely here and is a very integral part of the story as she has a very special relationship with our mysterious crew member. The lessons of karma and balance abound with his past as we see the corruption of what was a good innocent man showing a side of evil that we wish did not exist in humanity.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll), the inclusion of his personal touch is seen throughout the OVA, minus the super heavy action he is often noted for. The stylized character designs add a layer of maturity to Tezuka’s originals and mixed with Madhouse’s signature heavy use of limited color (blue for this OVA) in the capsule scenes and stark lighting add to this production’s intensity. While this may have been the final outing for Phoenix in the 1980s it would not be the last overall (the 13 episode TV series from the early 2000s is great!). Osamu Tezuka’s work is key and essential for all of us who regard ourselves as fans of Japanese animation. This trilogy as a whole (Karma Chapter and Yamato Chapter) is one of the best examples of the output from the 1980s and is finally now a part of the Classic Anime Museum. It has been a long time coming.

#154 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Yamato Chapter

PYC_1We continue our journey through the Phoenix trilogy from the 1980s with the second part, an adaptation of the Yamato Chapter. Debuting as a followup to the previous year’s film Karma Chapter, 1987 would bring the Yamato Chapter as a direct to home video OVA release. The issues of karma, fate and destiny would be told once again in another historic era from Japan’s history. And riding along side for the ride to make sure that order and fate are in good hands is that beautiful bird of fire herself, that avian goddess, the hi no tori, the firebird, the phoenix.

PYC_2From some quick guerilla research, the Yamato Chapter is loosely based (very loosely) on the famous traditional legend of Yamato Takeru, a name not known very well to us in the west. From time to time and from watching various anime, we may come across and hear this very name… Yamato Takeru No Mikoto… Oh lord not Garzey’s Wing. Yet beyond the experiences we have may hearing this name from oddly dubbed projects we come to learn about the Arthurian qualities of this mythological tale and figure and it’s importance to Japan. … reason #1 to watch anime: you subtly learn more about Japanese culture!… How ironic that historically both king Arthur and Yamato Takeru are from very similar eras in time and even though a great distance existed between both heroes in terms of worldly distance, they arrived concurrently in time. Could this be the work of our friend the phoenix? Hmm… Onward now and back to the Yamato Chapter

PYC_3Tezuka’s reimagined version begins with a pastoral scene featuring a traveling youth, Oguna. While walking along one day he gets shot in the arm by the bow of a beautiful young maiden, Kajika. Too bad this was not cupid’s arrow instead, because from the beginning these two had sparks in their eyes; love at first sight defined. This developing relationship will become the cornerstone, the pillar, the axis, from which the entire story centers itself. Star crossed lovers who share a common destiny. While treating Oguna’s wound, Kajika would introduce her brother, Takeru, leading to a moment of hesitation in the eyes of Oguna. This is a familiar name, but why? Soon Oguna begins to enjoy his stay with the rustic Kumaso tribe and begins to have strong feelings about wanting to join their ranks and marry Kajika. Except there is something that is biting at him. Oguna is actually part of the rival Yamato clan and he has a particular vendetta towards Takeru.

PYC_4A tale of love vs. duty, fate vs. freewill and justice vs. mercy, the Yamato Chapter can be likened to a drama where at the beginning we begin in ignorance and slowly as the plot progresses we move into clarity and truth. Each layer slowly reveals itself to twist the plot in a slightly different direction that finally concludes with a slow tragic tale of love, sacrifice and redemption. The Yamato Chapter becomes at the end of the movie a romance that shows the power of humanity, compassion and trust. The legacy that Oguna and Kajika share together at the end shakes the established order and calls for change, yet it must come in the face of martyrdom; such was their fates. Never think one small step, or sacrifice, towards progress and bringing clarity to all of us is too small as we all have our parts to play in this game of life. Only the phoenix knows what and when our roles have been fulfilled, so keep giving it your best attempt.

Adapting Osamu Tezuka’s original manga was again Madhouse. A double combination of high quality presenting a rare gem of mature genius. As I have said before in regards to any of Tezuka’s Phoenix adaptations, I view these anime productions as one of my sources for spiritual pondering. How many times do we turn to a religion, or spiritual philosophy to find answers to the complexities of life? I know I have and still do yet there is ironically an alternate source via Japanese animation from the pen of anime’s ultimate grandfather. To Osamu Tezuka… I greatly thank you for sharing these stories with us and I hope I can be one source of I don’t know how many to continue your legacy. Peace be with you my friend.

#152 : Salamander

Salamander_1Not very often one sees the Konami logo making an entrance before the start of an anime. Video games most definitely as Konami created many a classic for early consoles during the 1980s and 1990s, but an anime… what’s the catch? Could it be an anime based on a video game in Konami’s library? Obviously. Anime as a promotional tie in is nothing new and with Konami’s Salamander (Life Force for the NES) a three episode OVA would be commissioned to begin release in 1988. So we have an anime based off of a space ship shooter? A schmup? Work with your strengths here add some heroic characters, space opera and a little character development and you get a production that is actually pretty good.

Salamander_2While the video game of Salamander lays down the foundation of this anime with attacking an alien threat while piloting the ever well designed Vic Viper space craft, other influences would also color the anime into a more flushed out production. Why not add in references to Salamander’s fellow siblings Gradius  and Gradius II: GOFER no Yabou as well. Plus lets include veteran director Hisayuki Toriumi and Studio Pierrot for production and character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto (nice choice!) to polish off this package. Salamander is solid 1980s space opera complete with the look and feel one would expect from the era and best of all you don’t have to be a fan of video games. Now let’s see how this plot unfolds!

Salamander_3Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey we begin with mysterious black monoliths, except these look like the giant stone statues found on Easter Island. Legend states that these protect the planet Latis from a sleeping fire dragon. This dragon has ties with an invading power, the Bacterian of the planet Salamander and recently on the planet Gradius, three young heroes defeated this power. Latis’ prince Lord British (nice name) calls forth these three fighters even though the relations between Latis and Gradius are difficult at best. Arriving in Vic Vipers, our heroes Dan, Eddie and Stephanie make their entrance in front of the regal Lord British. Sounds fairly ordinary at first except Eddie and Stephanie have some baggage from the past which become major plot points. Eddie’s family has ties to the planet Latis and Stephanie mourns the loss of her father from the invasion on their home world of Gradius. Instead of being just a flash and dazzle showing of aerial acrobatics and dogfighting, we get character drama, which I can be sure was not part of the original video gaming experience.

The following two episodes bookend the opener. Episode two acts as a prequel, tying up unfinished business that was hinted at previously, and episode three delivers a subsequent sequel and finale. Being based on space ship shooters it is nice to sit back and relax for once instead of being in intense in the moment. Let the pros handle this one! And maybe it is just me, but Salamander does feel a little slow. Watching the first episode alone is enough of a story in and of itself and then adding in the final two gives more depth, but kind of repeats similar themes, characters and stories already. Maybe I am being a little too critical since I have seen my fair share and a half of space opera anime and know many of the tropes familiar with the genre. That being said, Salamander is still well above the upper end of average.

Salamander_4Cast in the same era as other space opera OVAs like Gunbuster and Dangaioh, Salamander is a worthy recommendation if you can get a hold of it. My initial draw to Salamander were the Mikimoto character designs. As a fan of his work I do my best to track down all that I can to see those tried and true sparkling eyes again and again that he is known for. I won’t lie, this OVA for me is all about the visual appeal. Ironically this anime also led me to later give Gradius a try on the NES; a fun game. As of this writing I have not tried Salamander/Life Force, maybe in the future. And just in case you are wondering… the famous ‘Konami Code’ will not work with this OVA. No free power ups, or 30 extra lives this time round.

#25j : Robot Carnival : Closing

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCj_1The time has come as the show is over and as much as the anime Robot Carnival has to come to an end, the behemoth vehicle of destructive entertainment, Robot Carnival, also has to find a place to retire. The second bookend to the Robot Carnival anthology begins with the ever awesome machine giving everything it has to climb a sand dune with all it’s shear power. In the process of straining the engines beyond their limits, the once mighty Robot Carnival destroys itself in a blaze of glory. The end, peace in the land at last as the mighty beast has fallen… yet it’s not quite over. Katsuhiro Otomo still has a little more to tell, but first the credits so everyone can get their name in lights.

Now for the encore… with the destruction of Robot Carnival there is much in the way of debris. Some of it is quite appealing like a shining gem in the dirt, so thinks a traveling nomad who picks up a metallic sphere to give to his children. Once home they all stare in amazement at this ball as it opens to reveal a beautiful doll of a dancing ballerina. Hold on, have we seen this before? BOOM! Yup, that’s what I thought. Until next time… “That’s all folks!”

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending