#25 : Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival is phenomenal… beautiful. Nine short films of pure genius. Much like picking up a package of new crayons, there is a color or two or maybe even nine that appeal to you? I have my favorites for sure, which I will disclose in time. There are many omnibus or collective productions that have come over from Japan, but Robot Carnival to me trumps them all. It is art for art’s sake and for all the directors who were a part of the production I am sure this was the assignment… ok you have about 10–15 minutes to tell a story and include some aspect of robots… have fun!

I have always enjoyed Japan’s view of what a robot is or can be. It is not some machine to be used for comedic entertainment or a scary monster that shows the darker side of technology. A robot can be a great force or nature, a superhero, a vehicle that has be piloted by someone, your best friend, but above all else a robot can also be as human as you or me. After all are we not organic machines that have emotional connection, the same can be said of something that is inorganic. Mixed with the free interpretation of what a robot can be allowed a large range of creative expression shown in Robot Carnival. No two pieces look or feel the same. But the one constant is the great music. Most of the shorts have no dialogue so in a way they are kind of like music videos. And guess who wrote the music for all of these shorts except one of them? That Jo Hisashi guy! Yes, Mr. Jo has a backlog of other soundtracks beyond the Studio Ghibli canon.

rc_1Robot Carnival begins and ends with it’s most well known creator’s vision of the “Robot Carnival” coming into town spreading it’s joy and fun. Katsuhiro Otomo (the Akira guy) shows his usual style by having this gargantuan transport vehicle partying it up as it travels through a barren landscape. The only thing is this party is laying waste and destruction in the wake of the vehicle’s journey (so Otomo). But hey look at music festivals and such after everyone leaves, it’s a major mess and trashed. Rock on the rolling Robot Carnival… ee maybe Carn-evil?

Alright I am going to go over the next grouping that I consider my also rans and then I will go in backwards order of my favorites from there. Not saying these are bad or they may not be a favorite of your’s, it is just that my tastes favor the shorts I will anounce later. Franken’s Gears is darkly funny and a complete rehash of Shelley’s FrankensteinStrange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion is funny and over the top. And Chicken Man and Redneck or Nightmare is one that I often look over and too be honest if I can give it another go I would probably favor it more. Now for my favorite four, the our seasons, fab four, the Beatles… 

Number 4… Deprive: If any of the shorts is standard stock and trade shonen action and could have been turned into a longer single release OVA, this is it. Heavy action, driving music and awesome hair. Girl gets kidnapped, hero saves the day and a whole lot of fun… and awesome hair!

rc_2Number 3… Starlight Angel: Two girls having fun at an amusement park and one sees her beau being friendly to her friend (creep deserves a SLAP!) and girl gets mad, loses necklace and a robot in the park tries to return it. Then again some over the top stuff where a big bad robot takes her away and the robot mentioned previously turns into a handsome guy and saves the day… and then they fall in love. I love shojo and the work of Hiroyuke Kitazume and Starlight Angel has both. This one always reminds me of my niece and the times we (and my sister) had fun times at Six Flags and also her love of going to Disney World. To me she is the “Starlight Angel”.

rc_3Number 2… Presence: Loss, regret, can I be loved? This one could be the pièce de résistance of the whole collection for the production quality alone. Not that the other works are a slouch, but the detail work particularly with clothing and motion show a true strength of the old paint and cel technique. The story is about a man who basically is lost in his life. His marriage is dull, his wife seems to be more successful than him and all the usual responsibilities of being a man seems to have drained the life from him. He creates a female robotic companion, but when she comes to life she asserts her independence and again he becomes frustrated. This one is often looked at as an erotic piece, but I have to disagree as it is a much more metaphorical tale of looking to connect in a genuine relationship.

rc_4Number 1… Cloud: Yes, Cloud! But it’s slow and boring and doesn’t do anything. It’s basically a kid walking with minimal background changes and piano or synth music… SHUT IT. Yes it is in a ‘way’, but it is not slow, or boring, or bad, or stupid, it’s BEAUTIFUL! It is perhaps the most relaxing animation I have ever experienced, almost the equivalent of ambient music (Brian Eno anyone?). And the music makes it that more magical and this is the only production that does not feature notes from Jo Hisaishi. That, and I really like the wandering kid. He reminds me of myself as someone who is a daydreamer on a quest. So yeah, Cloud is my numero uno.

Lightning in a bottle. That saying comes to mind when I think of Robot Carnival. It may only happen once and when it does be thankful that you had the opportunity. Besides the older otaku culture who raves over this collection it can be in many ways a gateway drug to introduce Japanese animation to anyone who may not be warm to it. The limited dialog and shorter lengths makes easy digestion. But for those of us who love Robot Carnival, it is almost a religion. I am a proud fan of this one and glad to still keep my old laserdisc release even though we got a DVD release (Discotek, you made a miracle come true) as this is one of the reasons why anime is so much more than just the term anime.

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

#24 : Area 88

area88_1Circumstances often bring us into situations that may not always be the most ideal. Shin Kazama is a young pilot who just graduated from a flight academy in Paris. His future looks certain; he is optimistic, has a job lined up with Yamato airlines and his beautiful girlfriend is the daughter of the president of the company. All his dreams are about to come true except for the fact that he decided to join his best friend on a drunken night on the town which ended up with the naive and very impaired Shin signing a paper without really reading over it. The following morning he comes to find out he has a new destiny and that destiny is in the foreign legion air force of Arslan. Shin Kazama’s future now belongs to Area 88.

Area 88, released in 1985, is an example of an early masterpiece for the then new direct to video format, the OVA. Produced by Studio Pierrot, the same company that released the first OVA release in late 1983 (Dallos), Area 88 showed a growing maturity in a short span of time. Based off of the original manga, this pocket sized three episode (two if you have an alternate release) was one of the first productions I experienced in the beginning of my journey into the deep dive of being a hard core older otaku who was looking for options to play catch up as it were. Megazone 23 Part 1 and Area 88 (episode 1 at the time) were my homework almost a decade ago and needless to say I was happy to find alternate material to compliment the usual material I had up to that point.

area88_2Let’s look at nature vs. nurture in regards to our hero Shin Kazama. True there is the debate of are things predestined or learned all across the map, but in regards to Shin I have to point to the nurture aspect, or more precisely environmental influence. Shin’s initial nature is a gentile soul whose life has become flipped upside down. He is depressed, he is desparate. More than anything he wants to return to Japan to go back to his former life. But over time from being in the battlefield and around battle scared pilots he begins to morph into a cold blooded mercenary as it is the only way for him to survive. The only life he can conceive is being trapped in a fighter plane trying to earn enough credits to qualify for an honorable discharge. Of course he can serve three years or desert (which he tried earlier in his career) as well.

area88_3Shin is a victim of circumstance, NO! He accepted his current condition instead of holding on to his genuine truth, but war does strange things to everyone involved. The love of his life Ryoko is now being approached by the friend who sold him out, Kanzaki. As Kanzaki weasels his way up the corporate ladder and enforce his love to Ryoko he can never escape the ghost of his old friend Shin. Often times their paths cross even though they may not be looking at each other in the face. Talk about a soap opera and a half and I am eating it all up with a bucket of popcorn (I need a refill!). Much of this story can be seen in many of the mecha series of the time, as I see this as shonen-esque type show, but Area 88 is a bit more down to earth dealing with actual war machinery and a more contemporary setting (be it the late 70s/early 80s). It’s kind of like, what I read somewhere, a more realistic G.I. Joe. Very true in that observation, but I still seeArea 88 as a tale of a man who lost his faith in himself.

area88_4Another avenue I often look at with the lens of Area 88 is the concept of the war draft. Growing up a decade after the ending of the Vietnam war, the shadow of being told to go to war without question or reason was around. This was my parents’ generation and of course it was reflected in films such as Apocalyse Now and Platoon. Much like those films, Area 88 shows a young man’s life change due to the circumstance of being taken away from his environment and his dreams. The spoils of war often silence many young people who had drive and ambition. If you feel it is your duty to serve you are more than able, but we should never force anyone to do what they may not feel is truly right.

Truly a gold standard of the OVA, Area 88 tells it’s story with the right pacing and production value. Without any question it is required viewing for anyone interested in classic Japanese animation. Just one word of parting advice… never sign anything when you have been drinking alcohol. You never know what misfortunes can arise from being careless.

#21 : Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive

Recall the Disney version of Robin Hood. You have your traveling minstrel rooster, saying the animal kingdom has their own version of the story and might I add it is “what really happened in Sherwood Forest” at least according to our journeyman friend. When you often say the three words ‘Love Live Alive’… now is it ‘Live’ like I want to live through this or I saw that awesome band ‘Live’? Sorry… you think of an attempt on Harmony Gold to squeeze a couple more bucks from the Robotech name. But this blogger has another version of this story and this is what really happened. In 1985, same year that Robotech aired ironically, this little OVA was released in Japan. Here is the real story of Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive (thats a long title, eh?). Oh de Lally Golly What a Day!

mlla_1I know the Robotech version emphases ‘Live’ as I want to live through this, but I may be wrong and I don’t care because I read ‘Live’ as I saw that awesome band ‘Live’. And speaking of music, that is the backbone to the OVA as we follow the ‘Lonely Soldier Boy’ Yellow Belmont and what he has been up to after the Inbit invasion war. He still rides his blue Mospeada bike, bends gender better than anyone and performs his music all over. A soldier he may have been, but his heart belongs to fashion and the stage. And it is the career that he deserves as he recalls memories of his recent past. But what about the music as the backbone to this story?

mlla_2Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive is a simple love letter. Did you love the show from a couple years back? The staff at Tatsunoko studios have a little something for you to reminisce. The music mentioned earlier that is either recorded or performed live by Yellow splices between flashbacks of his old companion’s adventures that recall the nostalgia in period correct MTV style. This was not in the Robotech version (grr!), but what of this music anyway? Who actually wrote these songs? How about Joe Hisaishi! All you Studio Ghibli fans should know that name. That’s right, Joe has a back catalog of various musical contributions including this OVA and the original TV series. The grand orchestral sounds of the Ghibli films though are not present. Here we have Joe’s sensibility in the flavors of rock and pop. Midnight Rider is my favorite track followed by Mind Tree in case you have the soundtrack handy.

mlla_3I honestly don’t know how popular Genesis Climber Mospeada was in Japan and really it does not matter. Be it the Robotech or original version of the 25 episode show, I liked it very much for the small rebel bandit unit and morphing motorcycle armor, so badass. But again in my book, it is the characters I love most. Yellow was my favorite character from the show anyway and having a video about him makes Love Live Alive double special. Besides being creatively talented and often the strong voice of reason in the group, Yellow was the first individual in my life that I recognized as gender non-conforming, though I did not know what that concept was for years to come. Again, how this OVA got made about a character from yet another scifi mecha show is beyond me? I should not ask and just accep,t after all it was the 1980s in Japan, all kinds of productions got green lighted.

As a fan of either telling of this show I appreciate this short direct to video one off.  I can’t say much more since it is what it is, a string of music videos spliced between moments of Yellow’s current life told in about a span of an hour. …and like what wise people say about cover songs, nothing beats hearing the original. Live on Yellow and rock on!