#212 : Superbook (Series 1)

Can one judge a book by its cover? An old saying and yeah we know that answer, but it’s worth stating. This time round I want to talk about not just any old book, but in fact one known as Superbook. Wait a minute I have heard of that book? It talks and tells stories and transports you into the stories like magic. And yes Superbook does have an alternate name that is more familiar to many of us, ever hear of The Bible? Many titles are often considered gateway drugs that got us into anime. For some of you, depending on your upbringing, Superbook may have been that very series. So where do we begin? Well, let’s start at the house down the street and around the corner!

SB_1Biblical tales have been represented many times in terms of presentation outside of The Bible itself. Live action movies and TV shows, books, brochures, games, various western animated titles and even… anime? Well why not, Japan has adapted almost everything into an animated product including The Bible. Now how did our example of Superbook come about? A joint production between Tatsunoko studios and the American Christian Broadcasting Network, Superbook would serve it’s function on both sides of the Pacific with respective dubs. In America, Superbook would be amongst the many other CBN programs in the lineup while in Japan it was CBN’s hope that this show would be an avenue of introducing the Christian faith towards the population.

SB_2Many of the familiar biblical names appear in Superbook: Jonah, Noah, Joshua… even Jesus. Yet I don’t recall Chris Peeper, his friend Joy and his crusader toy robot that comes to life, Gizmo (Gremlins influence?). Meet our trio of children who through the magic of Superbook get to transport back into time to actually live through The Bible. So that’s the excuse you two kids have for spending so much time in Chris’ bedroom? Hmm? Each episode introduces a new scenario and individual to highlight, mostly Old Testament stories in this batch of 26 episodes. Chris and Joy could have been ripped from one of Tatsunoko’s Time Bokan series, but the biblical characters more often than not end up looking different and often subpar. Maybe budget constraints or creative expression? I mean some of them look kind of funky. Besides that each episode is entertaining and usually has some merit of the dramatic. Just don’t forget to wind up the key in the back of Gizmo! Oh my spring.

SB_3Beyond your choice of faith, belief system, or non-belief in anything, The Bible may have something to teach you. I myself do not prescribe one particular faith, though I consult Buddhist, Native American and Ancient Greek wisdom often, I also find value in The Bible through esoteric and metaphorical meaning. After all these stories have been told numerous times under different names from various cultures in some form or another. Much like the Hero With a Thousand Faces, thank you Joseph Campbell, I find that The Bible does speak of universal and human truths that even though being thousands of years old, are still relevant in whatever fashion you deem to interpret. Superbook takes these usual narratives in a much more simplified approach as an anime for children and while there may be a little of the cheese factor, it’s kinda cute when you get into it.

SB_4Many titles are often credited as early attempts at bringing anime to the West before 1990. Speed Racer, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Voltron and Robotech are a handful of usual suspects, but over there in the corner was Superbook as well. While this is “technically” a “Christian” series, it is also a fantasy story, an adventure, a fun and slightly cheesy cartoon, an anime. Why all the labels because of specific subject matter? Superbook is in my mind no different than say Ulysses 31, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as examples in terms of adventure, fantasy and fun. Again why all the labels? All anime no matter your color, creed, belief or popularity status are welcome under this roof at my house. …which by the way is not so much down the street, or around the corner.

#209 : SilverHawks

Now this may just be me, but these pre-intro trailers really spoil the plot of each episode! … Are you a hardcore 80s cartoon fan? Several 80s creations have had life outside the decade either by nostalgia, reinvention, or a combination or the two. Many more exist as rumors, or more like a secret code that big kids like us never grow tired of. I pull a couple DVDs off the shelf and after gazing at the covers remember many things, but will they still hold up in terms of entertainment? Fun, adventure and deep space science fiction on today’s episode of The Classic Anime Museum… with… SilverHawks.

SH_11986… September 8, a Monday afternoon… If I am doing my math right I was in the beginning stages of the second grade in my elementary school years when a new cartoon would catch my eye. If memory serves me correctly I had anticipated the arrival of the SilverHawks for a couple of weeks knowing that it was created by the same folks behind ThunderCats and it was set in space this time. Seven year old me was drooling at the mouth as SilverHawks would become one of my favorite shows at the time hitting crucial buttons of joy. Cyborg soldiers, “partly metal, partly real” who act like the new sheriffs in town who take on the criminal gang of Mon-Star. And those SilverHawks were buff as all hell, true hard bodies. Do you remember the workout videos featuring Tamilee Webb? Buns of Steel, Abs of Steel, etc.…Yeah that sounds like the SilverHawks to me!

SH_2Sci-fi obsessed as we were in the 1980s, SilverHawks was very typical of depicting a future with high technology, space travel and alien encounters. Star Wars looked to be a huge influence, but also the American comic book hero character. Though based on a toyline, SilverHawks exudes the Marvel and DC type of characters who work as a team: X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Justice League. And while I am sure anime influence may not have been top on the listing I can compare the SilverHawks to sentai groups like Gatchaman, or more appropriately to the cyborgs of Cyborg 009. Once completely human both the cyborg soldiers of Cyborg 009 and the SilverHawks have been enhanced to become the ultimate fighting machines. Of course for Cyborg 009 this was done outside the characters’ wills for a criminal organization. These nine would rebel to fight against their creator. SilverHawks featured volunteers who fight for justice and peace and all the usual American apple pie sort of things that in reality is not always the picture perfect truth.

SH_3Every show needs some sort of identity markers from logo and typography, toys, characters, plot points and even a mascot at times. For SilverHawks the concept of mascot became legendary with the cybernetic enhanced Tally-Hawk. How many times did I want his talons to grip my forearm as I stare into his eyes; such a beautiful bird. Hawks and birds of prey in general have always been a personal favorite for me. The elegant grace, power and intensity of these birds are truly beautiful. While SilverHawks featured many characters from the heroic, to the diabolical, to the sly and even the goofy, none compare to Tally-Hawk whose only dialogue was a screech that said more than the length of a Russian novel. If Tally-Hawk was a Pokemon, I choose you!

SH_4Like many other Rankin/Bass titles, the design and pre-production was done in the U.S. while the heavy lifting of paint and pen ended up with a Japanese studio. In the case of the mid-1980s this was Pacific Animation Corporation. Though this show may not technically be anime in name it is certainly in spirit. Watch the opening credit sequence as an example. With ThunderCats lightning struck in a bottle in terms of success and in many ways SilverHawks would ride that wave as a sort of phase two. Does this show still hold up for me today? Yes and no. The early episodes still hold merit in my fandom, but the overall mythology lacks the breadth of ThunderCats and often times SilverHawks is a one trick pony that repeats itself. Yet as a single ride pony show it still is fun, in short bursts… “Ya know what I mean.” … a little nod to you Seymour 😉

#208 : Super Dimension Century Orguss

The opening theme says it all, “Where are you going, when are you coming home?” … Atomic, biological and chemical weapons are all heavy duty in terms of destructive power… but this pales in comparison to dimensional weaponry. For a young and carefree pilot who ends up completing the arming sequence for a space time oscillation bomb, the consequences of dimensional weaponry would alter not only his life, but affect the entire structure of the Earth itself. Anything was up for grabs for this stranger in a strange land, yet how much of a sacrifice must he yield himself towards in order to return the world to equilibrium. It all began in the future of 2062, but we remember this tale from a mecha anime from 1983… Super Dimension Century Orguss.

Orguss_1Following up the success of 1982’s Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Big West advertising and Studio Nue would strike out again the following year with Orguss. Retaining much of the staff from the previous year including director Noburo Ishiguro, character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto and music composer Kentaro Haneda to name a few, Orguss would despite similarities adapt to change. Shoji Kawamori did not stay and the services of Tatsunoko, who did the heavy lifting of animating Macross, would be supplanted by Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Thus we have a slightly different product. As a Macross fan I am often jealous of Orguss as TMS in general always has a certain patina that cries quality in terms of line work and color palette. Orguss is for that time (and even now!) an attractive looking show, but what about the bigger issue? What of the story and the characters?

Orguss_2Speaking of characters, let’s start with our protagonist Kei Katsuragi. Fighter pilot, happy go lucky and the biggest ladies man I have ever seen, Kei is a complete 180 from Macross’ Hikaru Ichijo. He eyes all those who are cute to his ocular perceptions, but in the end he is ever faithful to the ones he is truly in love with. The series begins with him in an intimate moment with his girlfriend at the time, quite bold, which is interrupted by her father barging in with a shotgun. Not many times I have seen that to open a piloted robot show. And like Lupin III, he escaped unscathed to be picked up by his best friend and fellow pilot Olson (or is it Orson?). Together they are part of a mission to use the previously mentioned space time oscillation bomb in order to get rid of a space elevator. The mission goes awry, but Kei feels it is only right that the mission

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Arriving in a parallel alternative Earth, which at the time he does not know, Kei is thrust 20 years into the future into a world born of his consequences. Here he meets friendly nomadic traders known as the Emaan, who oddly have tentacle like antennae coming out of the back of their heads, the aggressive Chiram, a militaristic society and Jabbi (I’ll let you figure out who he is!). All parties involved have interest in capturing, or obtaining Kei… why? Because he is the chosen one, or in more precise language the singularity (or, differentiated idioblast… what did you call me?) This makes him quite valuable on the market. So what are the issues that the Earth is facing in Orguss? First it is suffering from excessive heating, global warming to the extreme. And second, the mixing of races and landscapes on Earth are appearing from different dimensions due to the explosion of the previously mentioned space time oscillation bomb. Space and time are unstable and guess who is the one who can right these events? A little hint, he’s a womanizer fighter jock who happens to be named Kei! Now I know that name from somewhere? (sarcasm)

Orguss_4Oh Kei, look what you have done! Orguss is an interesting show in that we have a character that has to come to terms with fixing past issues that resonate with the present. Call it karma, fate, or what have you, Orguss is a show that strikes a chord as a mech show for a more mature audience looking for an alternative to the usual space opera of the time. Like Macross, we again have transforming mechs and a heavy romantic subplot which makes Orguss ever more enjoyable. Just be ready for the final climactic moment, as the scene appears to be very open ended, but from my eye brought in an element of the tragic, which really left me surprised… and a little teary eyed.