#173 : M.A.S.K.

The old tagline once said that “Illusion is the ultimate weapon”? Can one consider M.A.S.K. to be one of the top tier of 80 cartoons? Oh YES! Now I don’t really have much nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but then again you may say otherwise. I have been with this show and watched it over the 35+ year history. I have it on DVD, I used to have some of the toys and I love making and remaking the vehicles out of LEGO. I love this show (obvious), so you might say I have strong nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but I prefer to see this relationship like a marriage. This is not part of my past, but a continual place within my present moment. M.A.S.K. and I, till death us do part… yeah right we’re both immortal 🙂

mask_1For the last couple of weeks while organizing my LEGO collection, I have had one show running in the background that I from time to time take a break to watch. Take a guess which show? Hmm… LEGO and M.A.S.K., is this 1985, or 2020? Does not matter in the slightest. Funny how M.A.S.K. is considered a niche property now, because I still remember it being one of the top shows of the time that we talked about at school. Of course those days are long gone (or maybe not?) and us die hard fans that still enjoy the crimefighting of the M.A.S.K. team against the conniving V.E.N.O.M. in a pseudo-mecha show. Wait a minute, there are no giant robots and the closest thing is T-Bob (yikes!), but still, you have to acknowledge piloting mechanical vehicles as a close substitute.

mask_2Matt Trakker, the blonde alternative to Batman’s Bruce Wayne, has it all. An expansive fortune that he seems to be donating to nearly everyone, a loving yet slightly mischievous son and a bunch of friends who all put on helmets with a special power and drive vehicles that transform to fight against the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. What should we call this club of crime fighters… why not M.A.S.K.? Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (Yes! Command with a ‘K’). You know, it would have been nice to have some back story in one of the episodes of how this all came about! There were some mini-comics that came with some of the toys to fill that void… and I have never read them as I don’t know where to find them. But everything else listed is what M.A.S.K. is all about. “M.A.S.K. crusaders working overtime fighting crime.” The theme song alone is all the backstory you really need anyway.

mask_3M.A.S.K. is in essence two shows in one. Season one is what a majority of us love and is basically described above. For the shortened season 2, the direction moved into more of a Speed Racer like racing series that seriously “jumped the shark”. Hey what happened? Those episodes are watchable, but are awkward… seriously why break the winning formula? I stick with season one, though if you like season two more I salute you for being loyal. The credits listing has many Japanese names that helped to polish the show into action. Assembled in Japan, but designed in the U.S. and Europe via the once awesome company DiC. One such name is Shinji Aramaki, who as a mechanical designer is brilliant. Megazone 23, Genesis Climber Mospeada and Madox-01 should give you an idea of his resume. It would be nice to know which studios did actually animate this show, because some of these episodes still look really good even today.

mask_4Perhaps one could say that M.A.S.K. is a prime example of a ‘toy’ show showing a half hour of shameless promotion. Yet if one only sees M.A.S.K. in this light alone, one would be missing out on the subtleties that makes M.A.S.K. magical. Often seen as a mix of G.I. Joe, The Transformers and even the A-Team, M.A.S.K. is the ultimate combination, more than the “ultimate weapon”. Exotic locations, fun action, great humor and puns, a smaller easier to digest cast compared to the previously mentioned G.I. Joe and The Transformers and a theme song (Shuki Levy you rock!)/opening credit sequence that is jaw dropping… who could ask for anything more? A show that took itself seriously by not taking itself seriously… brilliant.

#172 : Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers

A dark cloud hovers over Tokyo cutting off power, while the population disappears. Five young men clad in modernized samurai armor, one bringing a giant white tiger, join forces with a teenage girl and a young boy to confront this dark shadow. Oh yes, I forgot to mention there is a traveling monk who wields a staff and is in many ways like a guardian angel to the four boys who seems to show up at just the right time. Together they learn to work together and embody the virtues they stand for: grace, justice, righteousness, trust and wisdom. Welcome to Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers.

ST_1At first I wanted to dismiss Samurai Troopers as a bland Saint Seiya clone, but that was before even trying this delicacy of a show. Samurai Troopers is kind of weird though. I can’t call it a straight forward fighting anime in the style of Shonen Jump. I often equate influences of live action sentai shows, or perhaps Gatchaman and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai where our five heroes come into town ready to go like in any proper samurai, or western film. There is no real aspect of extended training, or a plethora of story arcs that equate an episode count to well over 100, 200, or more. I also get a mecha vibe as well, since the armors are almost mechanical in nature. Plus the armors combine and this was a product of Sunrise, a studio known for many great mech shows including that little franchise known as Gundam. The transformation sequences make me think of henshin heroes, or even magical girls. The stock sequence of the boys transforming is enough to make any proper magical girl shout out… “hey why can’t we get one that fancy?!” Samurai Troopers just is what it is, an amalgam and a great action show in general.

ST_2As an action show characterization is in the passenger seat to the fun and fighting. The five youths that are the Samurai Troopers are very cliche in a typical sentai squad kind of way with main hero Ryo taking a majority of the screen time. Seiji, Shin, Sho and Toma have minor arcs of an episode or two, but I wish they could have had more presence. Their main adversaries the Dark Warlords are a quartet of typical badies who are quite sour in temperament… except one. Shiten from the beginning showed to be the outsider, a man of some moral character that eventually sees the light for his past actions. Shiten’s place at the end of the first arc and in the entirety of the second was a welcome surprise and solidified him as a personal favorite for me. In the end Samurai Troopers is all about saving the day, but looking ever so fashionable samurai armor… with ever greater transformation sequences.

ST_3Like many shows one can liken it to a ride at an amusement park. The most ideal would be to start at ground level and progressively move up to the finality. Very few anime ever follow this pattern and Samurai Troopers much like a roller coaster starts off building up, waning a little in the middle and then builds ups even more towards the end. Samurai Troopers follows two story arcs in the 39 episode run, though they end up tying together as one. The first arc felt as if it ended quite abruptly and then at the start of the second, at least for me, it took a little effort to get going. Yet after a handful of episodes the story came back to attention. Think of a director in a film calling cut and rethinking what has happened and saying, “hey we could have done this better!” So begins phase two and the true promise of the story of Samurai Troopers would bear fruit.

ST_4Many in the west came to know an alternate release, Ronin Warriors, which besides some name changes and some “totally” 90s slang is very faithful to the original. Impressive, plus the cast was familiar as it was accomplished via the Canadian Ocean Group, a very familiar cast who dubbed many shows in the 90s. Short and sweet, simple and straight forward, adventurous fun with action, this is what Samurai Troopers is all about. I also want to give a quick thanks to Ashley Capes from The Review Heap for requesting Samurai Troopers. Visit his site for other great reviews as well!

#167 : Robotech

In the year 1985, inside a basic home in a small town of the Midwestern U.S., a single television show that aired the afternoons I got home from school would alter the course of my personal history… as an anime fan to be precise. I remember very well the time was 4:00 pm and the channel on the television would land on the number 11 and for a half hour from Monday to Friday, it would be time to watch this odd show in the mix of a ton of other possibilities called Robotech.

RT_1Now I will be the first to admit that Robotech is not quote unquote official anime, it is in my own phrasing ‘adapted anime’. Eventually many of us who grew up with this show, would progress on to see and experience the original three series that made up Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada), but I have not forgotten my roots. While Robotech is often poo poo-ed in some fan circles, and I can agree with all the DVD releases being a bit excessive and Harmony Gold being very stubborn, but let’s look at this show for what it was for me as a kid, a mere budding anime fan. This was my gateway drug, a very powerful one at that for my generation. Terms like anime and otaku and large scale franchises like Studio Ghibli, Pokemon and Shonen Jump were unknowns for a little kid growing up in the mid-1980s in the Midwest of the U.S. This was most likely true for you as well if you are of a similar age as myself. This was the wild west of late Generation X where we didn’t have all the fancy terminology, conventions, or even the internet. All we had was a gut sense reaction saying… you know… I really like something about THIS show.

RT_2Often times anime that is broadcast here in the west, particularly the U.S., is often reinterpreted, adapted, or perhaps censored to a certain degree. Free speech?! Robotech changed names to more Anglican terminology, or got close in translation, or just left some of them alone, took out Japanese references like text, etc., totally changed the meaning of protoculture, shoe horned three unrelated series into a single timeline and added a fresh soundtrack. … Might I say, what a fine soundtrack it still is! … And the final product, which if you take into consideration had a short time of assemblage and production, is quite well done for the time. Carl Macek, the main producer behind the show, should be given a medal for what he did to put together Robotech. He had a job to do and did the best he could. If anyone ever bad mouth’s Carl’s work on Robotech, at Streamline Pictures, or his later works, I will ask the question, what would you do if you had these tasks?

RT_3Now let’s consider what Robotech did right, or left in tact so to speak. The concepts of interracial relationships, a transgender, or gender non-conforming character and even characters showing a side of doubt, depression, or anxiety were not seen much in terms of general television in 1980s. Yet, a “kids” show had it all and opened up a world of a more diverse human experience. Characters did not go to a hospital planet when they become mortally wounded, they died! And in terms of dialogue, Robotech never talked down to you with immature of more childish language to appeal as safe to the public. It was an anomily, lightning in a bottle and even though Robotech is far from perfect (and I ask you just what is perfect?), it is at least genuine in terms of expressing a total array of human emotion and experience through the lens of sci-fi fantasy.

As an impressionable youth in the aftermath of the original Star Wars run, barraged by other cartoons and comic book super heroes, Robotech, amongst other anime at the time would become my go to for fantasy, adventure and defining a personal sense of mythology. I owe my love of anime to Robotech and I often find it ironic that even though I see Robotech as a large epic, it is unknown to many younger, or newer fans of anime. Some older fans dismiss it, some are stuck on it as the only “anime” they know and others like myself, see it as a first step into a world of wonder that continues to grow each and every day.

… and yes, I prefer the unmastered original version 🙂

For reviews on the original anime that made up Robotech:

Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross
Genesis Climber Mospeada

#166 : Stop!! Hibari-kun!

Be on the lookout for white alligators! … In essence Stop!! Hibari-kun! is like many screwball high school romance, or family comedies that can be easily overlooked. And with it being a Shonen Jump property, I am sure Stop!! Hibari-kun! goes more with High School Kimengumi in the overlooked pile being it is a sibling to more popular heavy weights like Dragon Ball, or more fitting Kimagure Orange Road (romcom over action). Gender identity, yakuzas, family and comedic sequences that stretch the boundaries of believed reality and science are what makes this 1983 TV series a laugh out loud insane asylum, though there is one joke I don’t see as all that funny, but I take it in stride.

SHk_1Every show of this category has it’s niche that defines the comical plot and undertones that define other characters actions. Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! has two with the first being that Hibari is an early example of an openly honest transgender character in anime. Through she is often referred to as he, or a crossdresser, or sometimes… a… ‘pervert’? For real? Men who decide to wear women’s clothes, women who like to be more masculine, or those beautiful souls who identify as trans are not perverts! Hibari as a strong willed character defends her identity with ease because she knows she is awesome at everything… literally, she is a prodigy at almost anything! Yet as someone who grew up not as confident, and also identifies somewhere different on the gender spectrum, ‘pervert’ was a word I often associated with myself for years and even decades out of shame and guilt. Times and attitudes may be changing, but sometimes personally, we all have to catch up to ourselves to a certain degree.

SHk_2The running joke of the cute ‘girl’ is really a ‘boy’… transwoman!… creates havoc on Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! other main protagonist Kosaku Sakamoto. After his mothers death he comes under the care of the Obari family, who happen to be yakuza, yet another layer to add to the plotline. Kosaku notices that old man Obari has only daughters and eyes onto Hibari… and then the secret gets out and this creates tension within Kosaku. Wow, she is adorable, but she is… this can’t be right… oh Kosaku… you know you want her! All the other boys at school are jealous that she likes you, but they see her as any other cis-girl. As even the opening credits says, color TVs have many shades of color and the same thing applies to boys and girls. If only Stop!! Hibari-kun! came out more recently instead of 1983, Kosaku may be more open to a relationship outside the cis-normative binary.

SHk_3Beyond the upsetting of traditional gender roles and stereotyping, the majority of Stop!! Hibari-kun! is the loaded with stock and trade high school, family and yes even yakuza antics that can ring true no matter the show… you have to laugh because this show is very funny. This of course includes the entire cast, which by show’s end must contain the entire population of the world of Stop!! Hibari-kun. The comedy, action and even certain characters go into levels of campiness and surreal insanity that kept me wanting each successive episode. What will happen next time?, top that?, or boundaries?… limits?… let‘s break them up! This is the advantage of using animation as a medium for comedy as why be subtle when anything, and I mean anything can be possible. Yet the most poignant moment of the show was Hibari meeting someone else who is also transgender, using the term newhalf. It gave her a sense of grounding and me as well that despite all the silliness, white alligators and insanity, we can also have a sparse moment that recognizes we are not alone even if we feel a little different.

SHk_4My biggest complaint beyond the use of the word ‘pervert’ was that Stop!! Hibari-kun ran far too short in the episode count. Just 35? I was getting warmed up, but alas certain show runs are often limited; I am fortunate we got we have that is available. This was a welcome entry both as a comedy and also as a show depicting someone who is transgender. I often wonder what happened to Hibari? Did she fully transition, or does she live fluidly, or something else? Maybe the manga has more to say on this… it often does usually. Don’t Stop! Hibari-kun!

Side note… the actors who played Kosaku and Hibari… Tohru Furuya and Satomi Majima respectively are husband and wife!

#156 : Godmars

GM_1GOD… MARS! ROKUSHIN GATTAI! I get chills every time I hear that when our hero Takeru Myojin prepares to bring together the six robots that make up the ultra cool Godmars mech. Released in 1981 during the space opera and mecha high times in the anime world, Godmars is a fine mix of the two. It’s far from a perfect mech show, or anime in general. So many anime fall into this pit trap, yet we still attach to them anyway because we found some redeeming qualities that end up resonating with us. Now strap in and get ready for one of my favorite super robot tales from way back when. This is Rokushin Gattai Godmars, often shortened to Godmars.

Godmars holds a special place in my heart in that this was the first super robot show I tackled to completion beyond the ‘Voltron’ universe (be it GoLion, Diarugger, or Voltron itself). The time had come to grow up and move beyond the usual pastures and venture forth into the lands where alternate antiquated robot shows lived. Pictures and articles at first fulfilled speculation, next came the process of tracking down media. Godmars would present itself via a VHS tape of the 1982 compilation movie. Soon the film and the entire TV show became available on the fansub circuit and became the avenue that I digested the missing parts of the Godmars storylines. … Now disc based media exists as well, an eventual purchase on the horizon… maybe?

GM_2Loosely based on an original manga (Mars) by the legendary Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Godmars turned into an epic space drama; a huge departure from it’s more Babel II-like roots. Takeru Myojin, our protagonist, is a 17 year old member of the Cosmo Crasher squad, a group dedicated to Earth’s protection during humanity’s age of heavy space exploration. This all takes places in the far off future of 1999, which for 1981 made sense, but nowadays seems a little… dated? It is 2019 when I am writing this entry and where is all the cool space travel and super hi-end technology? Back to what 1999 could have been… it seems that the Earth has encountered a race of aliens, hostile of course… why not friendly ones? An emperor named Zul, along with his Gishin empire, are determined to conquest the universe and Earth is the next stop.

GM_3It turns out Takeru is not an Earthling and is in fact originally from Gishin. He was found as a baby by his adopted father and raised on Earth… hmm… sounds like Superman. Takeru learns his true identity is Mars and that he also has ESP abilities. So he is an esper?… yet another late 70s/early 80s trope. That and he soon learns he has a guardian robot which he can pilot as well, Gaia. OK then, I wonder if he has any surviving family on Gishin? Turns out he has a twin brother, Marg. Wow, talk about a lot of elements for a run of the mill mecha series! Plus let’s not forget the big bot of Godmars as well. Takeru while piloting Gaia combines with five other robots to create this nicely designed piece of engineering. The only thing that is missing here is a romantic element… and Godmars has that as well, via the conflicted character of Rosee (pronounced Ro-zay). Lots and lots of ingredients in this stew of a series… and this is only the first of three story arcs.

GM_4It is Takeru Myojin for me that makes Godmars special. He is not the usual mecha/shonen archetypal character. Neither the funny goof ball, nor the hotshot masculine tough guy, or even the bratty complainer, Takeru is at the other end of the spectrum being more sensitive and gentle. A nice change of pace and a great way to show masculinity can have a tender side. On the other side of the fence, my only real issue with the show was that the romantic elements and sparks between Takeru and Rosee are never really flushed out. and even though this is a shonen action show, I really wanted to see at least one kiss between these two… just one! Not the end of the world, but I am a sucker for anime couples… maybe there is some fan fiction somewhere?

While it was not a gateway drug, Godmars became for me a crucial next step into my journeys into classic mecha anime. The heavy melodrama and space opera were key elements I needed at that time of my fandom as this was just the answer to my many questions needing a solution. The only thing is that from one would come many more series to watch, yet I never forgot what Godmars showed me in the beginning and I still enjoy a watch from time to time.

#151 : Inspector Gadget

I have a call on my secret hotline phone. Be right back … “Oh hey Chief (wait?… I have a boss?)… what… you’re where?… Wow Chief! I didn’t recognize you.”

“Here’s your assignment Classic Anime Museum.”

“This time review Inspector Gadget, as this was quite a popular cartoon during the 1980s and has spun off into several reboots. Of course focus on the original here as it was animated in Japan even though it was created for the Western market and watch out for M.A.D. agents. … This message will self destruct.”

“Got that Classic Anime Museum?”

“Sure thing. The Classic Anime Museum is always on duty. Oh by the way here is your note back.”

BOOM!!!… Now cue up that theme song that borrows themes from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and let’s get started! Go Gadget Go!

IG_1Ah yes, I remember Inspector Gadget very well. Who didn’t? OK some people who watched cartoons as a kid in the 1980s may not have had the opportunity, but I think that would be a rarity with this show. Inspector Gadget was huge and is one of those shows that is beautiful in being very neutral in presentation. Thank you for not shoehorning specific demographic requirements DiC. The only requirement is the asking of, “do you want a funny show, a very silly show?” Simple. Now then, Inspector Gadget may not have been my top pick for a cartoon as a kid (say what?), but I did enjoy it and remember it very fondly. Maybe because it had a weird time slot and it often was on when I was still in school (can I skip class?) and the only opportunity to watch the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ was on days off (hello summer break!). Thank goodness for today’s DVD releases and streaming sources. Needless to say, 80s cartoons without Inspector Gadget is like cereal without milk, peanut butter with out jelly… you get the idea.

IG_2Our hero, this man Gadget, is either the world’s greatest police officer, or just plain clueless. I vote for the later. He always solves his cases, but seems to have hidden help from his pet dog Brain and his niece Penny, a.k.a. the real problem solver. In truth, Penny is the true hero of this show and Uncle Gadget is the comic relief, as well as the star of the show. So the question that begs to be asked is how did these cases end up getting solved? Answer… fantastical 80s sci-fi style technology! Penny uses a computer book to find or calculate out all her answers and theories to learn what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents are up to. Who needs a MacBook Pro? That and her well mannered intuition compliments Gadget’s total lack of analysis. If you have to do a job right, give it to a kid, they are smarter than you think!

IG_3Each episode, or case if you will, is much like a 12-bar blues song and follows an almost strict formula. See enough episodes in a row and you begin to almost predict the next move, or scene strategically like in a game of chess. Just don’t over do it, one need never to get bored of Inspector Gadget. The concept of the show is partly a parody, or maybe more so an homage to the spy and police genres as a whole. Mix together one part Get Smart, one part James Bond, one part Mission Impossible and one part the The Pink Panther. Shake with a little French, Canadian and American pre-production via the legendary company DiC and finally garnish with stellar production animation from the Japanese Studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and you get Inspector Gadget. Also adding in the iconic voice work of Don Adams for Gadget does not hurt either. This of course draws on his former work in Get Smart, but I often think what if Peter Sellers had a shot at the role? Recalling the references to The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, this could have been up Sellers’ alley, though I would want him to keep his native British accent. This is total bias from a Sellers fan so… let’s continue on shall we (where’s my copy of Dr. Strangelove?).

IG_4Inspector Gadget… never fear as our hero is always on duty. I do fear for those poor M.A.D. agents who end up finding Gadget is more harm than help in regards to solving a case. I hope M.A.D. has a good insurance package. That being said I am glad Gadget is on our side, but it begs the follow question, since the original release back in 1983, is Gadget still fighting crime today? Are Penny and Brain still around? Does Penny use a Macbook Pro now? Could Gadget be near retirement? Will we ever see Dr. Claw’s face? One will never know. GO GO GADGET FOREVER!!

#147 : Animated Classics of Japanese Literature

ACoJL_1Never judge a book by it’s cover… same goes for anything else that is packaged. Advertisers can sell you anything, so long as the branding is attractive to you. Sometimes the plainest of outer shells contain the richest and most profound inner contents; true beauty at it’s best. Let’s recap about books again for a moment, literature if you will. One of the best ways one can look at a culture is to examine the stories that they tell. These tales give the personal experiences, feelings and outlook of those who choose to write it all down and express. Anime often times gets big and over the top and strives for something newer, brighter, more exciting, etc. But what of the classic literary tales of Japan, don’t they deserve a voice as well? Of course they do and with Animated Classics of Japanese Literature you can have your cake and eat it too without ever reading a line of text.

… Of course if you don’t speak, or comprehend Japanese, you will more than likely be reading subtitles for Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, or any other anime unless you have, or choose the route of a dub in your native language. So in the end watching anime can be like reading a book… sort of. Don’t you feel smarter knowing you watch cartoons? No matter which way you slice it, you are going to be reading. …

ACoJL_2On it’s original release, Animated Classics of Japanese Literature went by another name. Sumitomo Life Insurance Youth Anime Complete Collection is the proper title as seen in Japan. The naming that I am familiar with and using in this entry, was used on the DVDs I found from the old Central Park Media catalog. An odd choice for that company back in the day, but I for one am glad that this was part of their repertoire. Similar to another Nippon Animation production, World Masterpiece Theater (Nippon animated both productions by the way), Animated Classics of Japanese Literature would translate native Japanese stories instead of the Western classics more familiar to the previous. Obviously! Except in the case of Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, these would be pocket sized entries as each episode, or two, or three, was a self contained story instead of the longer drawn out full series format. Hence we have an emphasis on the format of the short story rather than the longer novel.

ACoJL_3Even to this day I have yet to see the complete series. The long out of print DVDs released here in the U.S. only cover a dozen of the 34 total episodes. And if I remember correctly, a few more episodes were also available on VHS. With only about one third of the series under my belt I can safely give a proper analysis due to the overarching format being an omnibus collection of smaller stories. This is not for the usual otaku type searching for magical girls or giant robots. These are mundane stories, very plain and mostly ordinary. Many are very dramatic, or at times comedic, depending on the source. As a fan of World Masterpiece Theater this was a no brainer for myself as I enjoy seeing literary classics come to life from my favorite visual medium of animation. As a lover of Eastern culture and philosophy, I welcomed these stories into my home like a traveling friend. As I have grown up in the west, all of these tales are completely foreign to my native experience and serve as an appetizer to introduce me to more of Japan’s literary history. Many of these episodes were memorable, but I always seem to remember The Harp of Burma most fondly.

To finish off, let’s go back to the beginning… never judge a book by it’s cover. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature may not win awards for glorious designs or high end animation. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature is also, in many cases, not what we gravitate towards our choosing of anime subject matter. These are mostly common everyday stories, similar to many of the books we read in school, or choose to now, that pertain to our cultural definition. Often times these stories have lasting value and even with a more budget appearance, their golden centers still shine.