#194 : Okubyo na Venus

Pop idols are plentiful in terms of anime. Creamy Mami, Lynn Minmei (Macross) and Eve Tokimatsuri (Megazone 23) are three that come to my mind from the 1980s and depending on the audience are mostly, fairly well known names. Then there was Yumiko Kirita… now that is a name one does not hear everyday. Simply put she is a lost one hit wonder of sorts for her only appearance was in an obscure OVA from 1986, Okubyo no Venus.

OnV_1This time round the explanation with be quite short for Okubyo na Venus (sometimes spelled Okubyou na Venus) simply put because this OVA is only about 20 minutes in length. Very short and easy to digest. Yumiko Kirita was apparently one of the many pop idols in anime during the 1980s who had only a few hit songs. This OVA is the only document we have left of her career as far as I know. Four songs cover the entirety of this compilation of sorts (one gets repeated at the end by the way) that is styled after the then current MTV music videos of the time. Maybe this is her lone surviving EPK (electronic press kit)?

OnV_2Dialog is absent throughout the production and each of the segments are small individual statements where only the songs, as well as the visuals, tell the story. This vaguely reminds me of Robot Carnival, though Robot Carnival was much larger in scale and concept, a true work of art. I have seen the anime Cipher also linked to Okubyo na Venus in terms of a similar style, need to check this one out eventually (update… I have seen it!). So then, these are the segments in a nutshell, hope this does not spoil things: the first follows a day in Yumiko’s life of singing, shopping and practicing; the second pays many an homage to classic movies and characters; the third is a slower more artsy collection of still shots and relaxed moments over a ballad and the final is a scene from a concert of hers.

OnV_3Okubyo na Venus is not your usual 1980s OVA. While the facade of idol signer Yumiko Kirita is flashed everywhere, there is after all a flesh and blood human being who brought her singing voice to life that also needs recognition. Her name is Maiko Okamoto and she as well needs to be recognized in this posting. Without her singing ability and the animation talents of those involved, this little oddity of an OVA production would have never seen the light of day. A simple, charming title, Okubyo na Venus without question belongs with the pantheon of our more usual 80s anime favorites. I shall now reserve a spot on the shelf just for you!

#193 : Armored Trooper Votoms: Big Battle

Hey did you hear there’s going to be a big fight between an ex-Red Shoulder with his friends going up against a fortress like transport? This doesn’t happen very often; good time to place your bets! The stakes are high this time round for Chirico and friends as they attempt to rescue Fyana and stop an up and coming Balarant Army PS (Perfect Soldier) who seems a ‘tad’ on the psychopathic spectrum. Enter now yet another tale from the Astragius Galaxy, the world of Armored Trooper Votoms. Presenting now the second OVA released after the conclusion of the TV series, 1986’s Armored Trooper Votoms: Big Battle.

VBB_1Searching for the elusive energy substance jijirium to feed Fyana, Chirico and Gotho, along with Coconna, Vanilla and Shaka, travel to A’koba settling near a gladiatorial battle arena that is being used by the Balarant Army to test their prototype mecha for use against Gilgamesh. Harkening back to the early episodes TV series episodes in Uoodo City, Gotho tries to get Chirico involved in the battling competitions. Balarant’s star battler, Niva, while in the heat of competition recognizes Chirico as a former Red Shoulder. Niva, who has severe anger issues and a ‘touch’ of the insane in his personality sees only revenge. Outside the arena, Chirico would rather work in the world of stealth and focuses on getting the jijirium for Fyana. That all changes when she is kidnapped by Niva and the Balarant, which brings out the dormant Red Shoulder in Chirico once again.

VBB_2Taking place during the final episode after the climatic showdown against Wiseman and before Chirico and Fyana are jettisoned away to live in peace and solitude, Big Battle does not so much fill in any holes in the plot, but instead adds to the previously laid foundations. The usual mystery and attitude that surrounds the world of Armored Trooper Votoms are here, but Big Battle is a rare treat in that it is mainly an all out action showdown… at least for the last quarter of the OVA’s running. Chirico’s piloting magic in a Scopedog are on full display as he, along with his friends, challenge Niva in both the fortress like transport and Niva’s own mech.

VBB_3As a product of the 1980s, just like the emerging direct to video OVA boom, Armored Trooper Votoms would ride this home video trend with great results. Three releases would emerge in the decade: The Last Red Shoulder (I love this one), Big Battle and The Roots of Ambition (still need to see!). Instead of previous compilations, the easy way out, Sunrise and Ryosuke Takahashi would introduce original stories for the Votoms universe. Big Battle, or more precisely Battle of the Heterogeneous Species (odd title… I prefer the shortened version) is for me the most fun entry I have seen in all of Votoms. While this does not dive into Chirico’s past as a Red Shoulder, or develops much in terms of character, or plot development, Big Battle is pure fan service (no not that kind!) giving fans a fun ride with the familiar cast and settings.

VBB_4Armored Trooper Votoms was ground breaking for a mecha TV series in that it brought military grit and a heavier mature sci-fi attitude that was not seen before. Piloted robots mixed with Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner became a hit combination that stills draws fans in. Votoms is a series that we don’t grow out of, but grow into as we age; much like a fine wine. If you have watched the TV series, you have only completed the first stage. If you are prepared to move on to stage two, then Big Battle is one of several great choices.

#191 : Garaga

Is it over yet? No. How about now? No. Now!? Still no. … Mediocrity is my keyword for Garaga, or to be more precise, Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga. Might as well give the full title and dress this anime up in it’s Sunday best because at least to me and many others this movie ain’t looking too good. Lop this title in with the others on the ‘bad’, or ‘pointless’ list. Spacey sci-fi titles by 1989 were getting a little stale in the face of more contemporary cyberpunk stories and quality standards for animation had grown leaps and bounds since the decade began. Alas Garaga was retreading old territory and not presenting itself very well.

Gar_1Many anime titles are a joy to write for, but this time round I have to do my job and get on with it. Garaga began as a manga like many anime and would eventually makes it’s way into the hands of animation studios. May we return to the late 1980s, a time of great abundance in Japan where in particular direct to video OVAs were being made like food at a short order diner. Some OVAs looked very polished in terms of story and presentation, while some looked cheap and on a budget either because it was a small independent production, or perhaps funding got tight. Garaga began on the OVA route on the cheaper end, but would eventually get expanded into a full feature film by 1989.  This meant it was placed next to titles like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Patlabor: The Movie and Venus Wars as examples. Not to be mean, but Garaga looked like an eyesore compared to these three examples.

Gar_2Beyond what was said previously, let’s investigate Garaga’s plot, which jumps around too much between so many dull characters. First we begin as the ship XeBeC leaves station with a crew more competent than it’s captain. By the way they are carrying special cargo, two life capsules. Then they evacuate in an escape shuttle to some mysterious planet, Garaga, and wake up the two ladies who were sleeping in the capsules. Then it turns into Planet of the Apes… where did these apemen come from? Then some psychic lady shows up. And then the crew all reveal that they are military and have a mission on this planet. What!? Oh yeah I forgot to mention some military commander wanting to control Garaga who is actually a pawn for some cyborg who wants to eradicate everyone, be it the Earth humans, the native psychics who look like humans and the apemen. Is it over yet? NO!! We still have half the movie to go… sigh. Please make it stop.

Gar_3Let’s propose something here? I want to leave something of a point of praise for Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga, though I am finding it quite difficult. The title itself could have been great for a mecha TV show, or OVA. And if it could have been that way then make it a really cheesy super robot show at that. From another perspective when watching Garaga I felt like I was watching a possible Saturday morning cartoon, except the violence is a bit heavier than something shown here in the west. Certain character designs I could see as action figures such as Jay, or Farla and even the apemen. Would you buy these toys? As this was released in 1989, the year Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted here in the west, Garaga would have been a competitor that would have lost out big to Turtle’s popularity. … You know, maybe it’s best to let Garaga just be and move on?

Gar_4Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga won’t be a title I will be re-watching for a while, maybe if ever again. When cataloguing a vast collection, or even doing menial work, sometimes we have to grit our teeth to get things done. Not every piece of anime is a gem, some are quite a drudge in fact. Yet even these less than interesting titles are also a part of this vast family of anime classics; yet I can’t call Garaga a classic in the traditional sense. At least this one is over and I can move on now. … So in my own personal opinion just how bad was Garaga? Honestly, I would rather watch Odin!

#190 : Riding Bean

Know this name of Kenichi Sonada. In terms of 1980s anime, his character designs are a staple, in particular sci-fi and action titles associated with the studio AIC. Bubblegum Crisis, Gall Force and Wanna-Be’s are examples of his work during this tenure, but another side of Kenichi Sonoda was his work as a manga artist creating his own original titles. In the 1990s would come the release of a fan favorite, Gunsmith Cats, but in 1989 another one of his creations would bring Sonoda’s personal vision to anime for the first time. A distant cousin, side story, or alternate tale  of the Gunsmith Cats universe, that actually came first… may we look into Riding Bean.

RB_1The style of Kenichi Sonoda can be summed up in few words: action, fire arms, fast cars (in particular the Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang) and Chicago. Sweet Home Chicago home of Sears Tower, The Blues Brothers, deep dish pizza and a rogue individual by the name of Bean Bandit. Who is this man Bean Bandit? He’s tough, he’s bulletproof (in particular his jacket and headband) and he can drive fast. Not fast like professional race car drivers on pavement, but more like the ‘good ol’ boys’ of the past who ran moonshine throughout the southern United States, or perhaps professional rally drivers. He can’t wake up from a taser to the neck, but a hot frying pan to the face does the trick. Bean is a brick… Chuck Norris you have met your match!

RB_2Bean’s profession is that of a hired driver who for a price will get you out of dodge better than anyone. His ride is the famous Roadbuster. … Gunbuster? … no, no wrong anime. A customized ride that looks like the offspring of a Porsche 959 and a Ferrari F40, but with the engine up front. Of course Roadbuster could symbolize Bean himself as well since car and driver are essentially one when both elements come together. Along for the ride is a familiar Sonoda name from Gunsmith Cats, Rally Vincent. Her skills as a sharp shooter are still there, but the appearance is different… blonde hair over the dark. Together as a team aboard the Roadbuster, Bean and Rally out run the Chicago Police Department time and time again.

RB_3Never will I proclaim any anime to be the best at anything and if I have in the past then I repeal that notion, but Riding Bean may be the best one off action OVA ever made. At only 40–45 minutes it is never boring, dull, or badly done in terms of story, characters, or animation quality. Though the violence does at times get brutal, it is not the focus of this OVA. Riding Bean is a comedic wild ride that expresses the absolute obsessions of it’s creator Kenichi Sonoda. Not one of my favorite picks on any list, Riding Bean is an anime that I do enjoy nonetheless when I do see it and many of you out there are die hard fans of this OVA. Get onboard and take a ride with Bean!

#188: Dallos

“And if the band your in starts playing different tunes… I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” There is tension in the air… on the moon of all places, which has no breathable air except for the enclosed colonies where the inhabitants live. These colonists who mine resources to feed the Earth are beginning to find their social treatment and political conditions unbearable. Beyond these tensions on the dark side of the moon is an odd mystery. A gigantic mechanical device that many of the inhabitants revere as a deity sits in utter silence. The name of this mysterious giant as well as the production that features it is a landmark title in the history of anime, Dallos.

Dallos is known for two distinctions in the general knowledge category of anime. The first was the fact that it was the original direct to video release, known better as the OVA. The second was it was directed by Mamoru Oshii (Angel’s Egg, Ghost in the Shell), which is partially true. Also directing was a quiet legend, mostly unknown here in the west, Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman, Salamander, Lily C.A.T.), who as the senior of the two should honestly be listed first. As the first OVA release, Dallos broke ground in terms of distribution of anime at the time. Within a couple years the category became a viable market for projects that may have had the budget, subject matter, or space for creative freedom to afford itself to be either on television or the cinematic big screen. Long before the internet, or digital sharing, the OVA was a gray area to work in as an in between, a place Dallos fit into very well.

With a slick presentation, Dallos does perform in terms of the action sequences in terms of detail and fluidity, but the story is something that still leaves me questioning. Though we do have a good cast of characters, no one really stood out in this hard sci-fi dystopia as the major focal point. The young, slightly angsty Shun Nomomura is our obvious protagonist, yet the overall collective and environment felt like the star of this show. Dallos is an anime about society under Orwellian social control, an anime about the status quo bourgeoisie versus the working class proletariat, an anime about native Earth born humans versus spacenoids (Gundam?), an anime about the varying opinions of generations. All great themes, but unfortunately with all this great drama, it never focused itself into a cohesive narrative that went anywhere, or answered to any conclusions.

Mixed with the underdeveloped story is the concept of the supposed deity like machine Dallos itself. A giant mechanized mystery on the far side of the moon that looks like a face has no real mythology beyond the respect by the original moon settlers. This older generation, well into the twilight of their lives, try to explain this to the younger elements with little acceptance. Such is youth to take life into their own hands, but they to will soon learn. Autonomously Dallos defends itself  during the uprising tensions, but as to any explanation as to what the mechanical behemoth stands for, or even it’s purpose for existence is a pure mystery.

The DVD copy that I own also contained a retrospective containing interviews with many members of the crew from Studio Pierrot including Oshii. Even though this was not an episode of the OVA series it was my favorite part of the whole viewing process. Perhaps the inclusion of two directors for one project weakened the possibilities of what could have been? The discussion of doing a hard sci-fi production with no promotional material, like toys or model kits, and having heavy subject matter was a great idea, but needed more time for polishing the final product. Dallos had so much potential, but is nothing more than an experiment that just did not fall completely into place. A visual treat for sure, but a disappointment in terms final explanation. A longer narrative run could have helped? Although Studio Pierrot’s upcoming OVA for 1985, Area 88, performed flawlessly as a short run episode count series as well. Area 88 by the way was directed by Toriumi.

#187 : Magnos the Robot

If this is the best I can do for a substitute for Magne Robo Gakeen, I may just stop right here. Magnos the Robot is a condensed localization I found my via a bargain bin DVD, though I am sure it may exist as well online as well as this seems to be a public domain type of thing. I am not going to give up hope in eventually seeing the original and I look forward to the opportunity, but it may end up being on the lower end of my priority list.

Magnos_1The story is very typical mid 1970s super robot anime having a small group of humans fight against an alien invading force to protect the Earth and it’s inhabitance. Super robot mecha was the de facto go to for shonen type stories during these times due to mainly toy promotion and often each series had it’s own schtick. Magnos is piloted by a male and female pair representing polar opposite charges like a magnet. Magnetically both do one of the most bizarre unifying sequences I have ever seen in a mech show, much like aerial summersaults, that bring all the pieces of Magnos together with the precision locking of LEGO bricks. This alone makes the show worth a watch. In fact I could watch the launch and combining sequences on repeat all day.

Magnos_2Can I please say that this is an ugly show? The editing to make this version is very spastic and abrupt shifting from scene to scene with no real direction of where the direction is going except we have another monster of the week to fight in ten more minutes. I am sure the original has a more flushed out story? The designs for the Magnos robot, Magnon and Magneta (two supporting robots piloted by our heroes) are not very aesthetically pleasing either. Compared to period alternatives like Getter Robo, Combattler V, or Voltus V, Magnos, or Gakeen just did not do it for me. And then the invading aliens, very bizarre like left over sea creatures morphed into humanoid form with garishly complimentary color schemes. I often think of Go Nagai villians as being on the bizarre end of the spectrum, but they have some class and style about them. These opinions are mine of course, but all these factors really made it hard to watch.

Magnos_3“Now it’s up to you!” to decide on whether this is worth your time. Another production complied by the same folks as Magnos, Super Grand Prix, was more pleasing to my taste palette, but it may not be the same for all of you. Yet there is a rule of thumb I always go by… better to watch ‘bad’ anime than an average live action production. Even if it is so ‘bad’ I can’t help but take in these little ones as well. All classic anime deserves a home and a chance. I only pray that the original Magne Robo Gakeen, when it does come my way, can fill in the necessary gaps that are missing in Magnos, because I do love the launch and transformation sequences too much to throw off the whole production for an awkward re-edit.

#186 : Super Grand Prix

For the time being I have to settle for a substitute. Arrow Emblem: Hawk of the Grand Prix was a 1977 TV series produced by Toei about auto racing and I have interest in seeing this show. One, because it’s an old show… wow didn’t see that one coming as I seem to watch anything made before the millennium. Two, I like auto racing as a subject matter as I used to be a big fan of it. And finally three, it was directed by Rintaro. I like his work. In fact this was his gig before doing the Captain Harlock tv series the next year. Yet sadly nothing exists in English in terms of a subtitled entry as far as I know. This leaves me with a condensed adaptation called Super Grand Prix. Let’s give it a try?

SGP_1Thanks to a bargain bin dvd I can watch Super Grand Prix, though I am sure I have seen it online in places as well. It’s a typical shonen type of story about a young man wanting to become a professional race car driver and the ups and downs through that journey. The renamed protagonist Sean Corrigan is our hero who seems to have the worst luck in getting ahead. Soon enters a masked man… no not Char Aznable, or any other Gundam character that followed that archetype. This mystery man often talks of the great champion Niki Lauda, who by the way was a real F1 champion, three times in fact, who suffered severe burns from a crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix that almost cost his life. Through determination he would return though badly scarred. Could this masked man be Mr. Lauda in disguise?

SGP_2Sean gets hooked up with the right people via this masked man after an initial set back and always through out the story seems to have divine intervention on his side. Of course he still continues to make mistakes, which means in this universe it’s better to mess up than be perfect as long as you have the masked man behind your back. Talk about a guardian angel! Slightly reminiscent of Speed Racer to a certain extent in terms of setting, the look of the show is a typical 1970s/early 80s Toei stock presentation, particularly the characters. Fans of particularly mecha shows during that time will know what I mean.

SGP_3Entertaining in it’s own way with the localized dub and restructuring, I found Sean’s journey in Super Grand Prix very watchable unlike another similar re-edit, Magnos the Robot. It’s a simple cartoon with basic archetypes that does not get pompous like later anime productions that take themselves over seriously; these too have their place as well, but sometimes a simple story is necessary to weed out the cobwebs of expectations. The question of how much of this condensed version was cut from the original forty four  episode is in question until I see the original version, but I know for sure that the journey has only begun in terms of our heroes journey to racing stardom.