#226 : Giant Gorg

You know, sometimes there is nothing better than a show about a young boy and his giant mechanical companion. Mix that with a mysterious island in the South Pacific, natives, a corporate organization bent on owning the secrets of the island, a rogue criminal outfit, a small group of friends and the possibility of an ancient alien civilization. This sounds like one stiff cocktail to drink, care for a taste? I like this basic premise as I believe this could be a winner of a TV series. Let’s look now at a show that did mecha a little differently way back in 1984 by harkening back in a way to how mecha used to be. Have you ever seen Giant Gorg?

Thirteen year old Yuu Tagami is in for a big adventure. After the passing of his father he travels to New York City to meet one of his father’s colleagues Dr. Wave. He also meets Dr. Waves sister Doris and their Great Dane Argos. We begin to learn about the mysterious Austral Island, a place where Drs. Tagami and Wave both did research on, when all of a sudden they are attacked! Fleeing for their lives and also making headway towards Austral Island, they meet the Skipper who acts as their strongman of the group. They trek their way across America and eventually the Pacific where they sail the rest of the way to Austral Island. Again they are attacked leaving Yuu separated from his comrades when soon he encounters a new friend. This is someone much taller and more metallic whose size is threatening, but whose eyes and outreached hand shows a very compassionate demeanor.

Imagine this… if Hayao Miyazaki could have made a mecha series, Giant Gorg would have been a close possibility… and I mean close. Released in 1984, Miyazaki was busy working on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Giant Gorg on the other hand was created, directed and designed by the one and only YAS. That’s Yoshikazu Yasuhiko folks, the guy who designed the characters for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the director of the Crusher Joe and Venus Wars movies and the manga artist and overall director of the OVA adaptation of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Yeah that guy! Giant Gorg is a unique part of YAS’ portfolio as this was his lone auteur project produced for television. As stated earlier Yasuhiko had a hat and say in many areas, but it was definitely not created by him alone… or was it? Either way what you get is one sharp looking, well polished release from a studio well known to many of us, Sunrise.

Giant Gorg may remind me in many ways of Miyazaki, but this 26 episode TV series belongs totally to YAS. Certain elements appearing in Giant Gorg would never appear in a Miyazaki production. Yet my reference of Miyazaki for Giant Gorg is due to the fact that Gorg reminds me so much of Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan. A boy on a quest in the South Pacific joined by friends and going up against adversaries are similar to both shows. Maybe YAS also drew some inspiration from his work on Brave Reideen, a series from a decade earlier? This was a show that featured a found artifact type of mecha from an unexplainable origin. Yet in reality we have to go back to the giant robot origins appearing in the 1950s and 60s where the robot was more of a guardian for a kid than a piloted machine. No matter the influence, Giant Gorg was a modern retelling of classic ideas brought forth into a 1980s aesthetic.

There is that old saying that a dog is man’s best friend. In terms of Giant Gorg I think we could say that a guardian like giant robot is a boy’s, or girl’s, best friend. A metallic angel strong and brave with eyes as kind as a warm hug could be the best friend we all wished we ever had. Giant Gorg brought many of the elements of classic mecha tropes back into circulation that were left in the dust years prior. I must say… I like the change. There is something magical about Giant Gorg, almost wholesome in a way, that appealed to me from the start among other things including ending every episode on a cliffhanger… Tune in to the next, The same Gorg time, The Same Gorg Channel.

#221 : Starcom: The U.S. Space Force

“All Starmax and Star Wolves… Scramble!” It must be Saturday morning in 1987 and excitement is in the air from that opening statement. Do you remember Starcom: The U.S. Space Force? Oh yes, now this is what I call science fiction of the upcoming future, that may perhaps be the now(?)… how can this present day be the future promised? Part of me really wants to be a space cowboy still and yet the best I can ever get to that reality of riding in a spaceship are relegated to shows like Starcom. Yippee-ki-yay buckaroos and strap on your helmets because I’m off to the stars for this one!

Starcom_1Starcom represented one of the best toy ideas from the 1980s, regardless of gender stereotyping. While it did not have the big budget punch of say The Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, or LEGO, Starcom did have a certain niche that makes it still today a cult favorite. Space exploration, day to day general working equipment and also military combat all wrapped up in an almost Star Trek like future, or maybe more like Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Such a great toy line, one that I often held to what the future could become, and one that I did not have… which is ok. Motorized in strategic places and including magnets in others (including the figures’ feet!), Starcom had a lot of play value… plus no need for batteries!?!. Amazing. The only time I remember playing with these toys was at a house that belonged to a related cousin of my dad. I got along well with the two sons and on the floor was a ton of Starcom. The image is a little fuzzy, but that memory I vaguely remember was a good one.

Starcom_2Now then this is not a site about toys, what about the cartoon? As a show Starcom: The US Space Force is an interesting bird. 13 episodes in total it was a great installment for the Saturday morning lineup of the time and stood out in many ways. A large cast of characters, a broad outlook for space travel and exploration and an exciting atmosphere for what could be our future (I am still waiting!), Starcom has so much to offer. That and this is one of the best looking shows of the era and to no surprise it was animated in Japan. By TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) no less, can you see the great line work, color, lighting and events fluid movement in various camera angles? A gorgeous show… that in some ways is kind of limiting as well.

Starcom_3Now this is a personal opinion, but I think Starcom didn’t live up to it’s full potential as a cartoon. True there were only 13 episodes made, and we can take that into account, but I feel so much more could have been flushed out. The two factions of Starcom and the Shadow Force of Emperor Dark (nice hair man) never get into any real political struggles. True this was a toy show and the point was to show off all those awesome spacecrafts flying around, but really no stories depicting the a large scale drama of the two sides. The majority of the show highlights the ‘Big 3’ of Colonel’s Derringer, Griffin and Corbin (Dash, Slim and Crowbar), the three commanders of the three branches of Starcom, with only minor appearances from other Starcom members. Hey guys, share the spotlight a little… please? And then there’s the background music, which is awesome, but some of it sounds familiar to another DiC produced show. Is it me, or did DiC borrow some of the soundtrack from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? It was good once, so why not recycle it? I mean who would know? … besides hard corps Jayce nerds (LIKE ME!)

Starcom_4Please don’t think I am trashing Starcom as a show. Despite these flaws that are more personal than anything, this show is really top notch. Visually, as I said before, it’s one of the best looking shows of the era. The writing is clever, with comedic puns that never grow old (I have a bad feeling about this!) and on the other end of the spectrum a touch of sophisticated nuance. This is classic hard sci-fi, more in line with original Gundam, with plot lines that seemed a little more mature than the usual stop the bad guys narrative. Nantucket Sleighride, Caverns of Mars and Hot Enough For You? are three great episodes that really showed the bigger potential of the Starcom universe. I still wonder when we will have the chance to live and work in space just like in Starcom? As an idealist I still believe it can happen in my lifetime!

… now I have heard that the Shadow Force logo is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda’s Triforce, but I think it looks just like LEGO’s logo for the first iteration of Blacktron, except swapping yellow for red?

#147b : The Harp of Burma

[Intro: The Harp of Burma represents two episodes from the collective 1986 TV series Animated Classics of Japanese Literature.]

Could you recognize an old friend who reappears after some time like a ghost some how coming back to life in a physical body? Could you understand why a passing face that you know so well and would think that giving a simple greeting of hello would only give silence? Can you understand the emotion on someone’s face, knowing what it is like to be in their shoes? Often we look for our purpose in life, or end up believing the path we are on is our true direction. And then sometimes life happens to deliver you something else all together different out of the blue. The story of The Harp of Burma is perhaps one of the best tales of spiritual transformation affecting one individual’s life.

HoB_1World War II is winding down as we find a small Japanese unit near the Burmese border. The year is 1945 and to keep their morale high these soldiers often break into song. A young soldier by the name of Mizushima taught his comrades to sing and his musical skills would accompany them with a Burmese harp. It is this fraternal bond that holds the group together and it would be together that the news would arrive that the war these men had been fighting in for some time was now over. Captured and brought to a P.O.W. camp, they would wait until news from Japan would signal their return home. In the mean time Mizushima was asked to volunteer to join a group to alert another Japanese unit about the fact that the war was over. He would take this assignment, but in the process would not return, bringing sadness to his friends.

HoB_2The possibility of Mizushima being alive never left the spirits of his fellow compatriots. It was in a split second moment, a chance encounter with a passing Buddhist monk (priest in my sub translation) that the reality of Mizushima had indeed survived, or did he? The monk looked very much like him, but how could that be… Mizushima was a Japanese soldier, not a Buddhist monk? Who was this monk and why was he so silent and cautious towards the company of Japanese soldiers? Such is the mystery of The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp), originally a book by Michio Takeyama, which unfolds the tale of Mizushima. We follow his coming into contact with a monk’s robe and his sworn vow and duty to pay homage and respect to all his dead compatriots left behind on foreign soil.

HoB_3Animated Classics of Japanese Literature contained an interesting mix of stories from a meta-series that appears to be very plain and mundane if judged by appearance alone. Several of the episodes I came to enjoy, but The Harp of Burma really stood out; it moved me like few anime before or since. This was one of the best stories I have ever seen about both sacrifice and compassion. War and other traumatic situations always leave a scar to those who experience the event first hand, but does it also change something inside of you? Does that experience make you more apt to show kindness and gratitude, or even change your life direction at the drop of a hat? Dry eyes were non existent for me each time I saw the two episode special, particularly at the ending. So often we ask what can I do to make my life better, but how often do we ask, what can I do to ease someone else’s suffering with no expectation of anything in return?

HoB_4Well known in Japan, The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp) also exists as two live action film adaptations, both directed by Kon Ichikawa. His original version in 1956 is considered a classic and after watching the trailer I have strong interest to track down and watch this version. It reminds me of  Ingmar Bergman’s work from that era. It’s black and white, portrays serious character analysis and feels like a film made by crafted hands (no computers!): all yummy in my book. This can act as a great substitute if you can’t find the anime and of course there is always the original novel. It Is not very often I find anime like The Harp of Burma and it may not be too everyone’s liking, but in terms of expressing the human experience of transformation of the soul, The Harp of Burma is one of my all time favorites. Period!