#127 : Fist of the North Star (TV Series)

fotnstv_1I often equate Fist of the North Star as a western, or maybe a modern tale of the roaming samurai. In any case, it is the same style of story, just from a different context and disguised as a shonen fighter. This is the lone wolf roaming in a world filled with chaos who makes change and restores balance by being the example to be. Fist of the North Star may be what many of us think it is, but once you watch the original 109 episode run, you may have to second guess what you thought and understand more so the feeling.

fotnstv_2The reputation of Fist of the North Star is often a slaughterfest, manly anime (MANime…face palm) and high intense action. These characteristics may hold true to a certain level, but on another, I see elements of balance, compassion and even… calmness. There is from my eyes a heavy Buddhist or Taoist influence to Fist of the North Star and it is best seen through our main protagonist Kenshiro. He possesses great strength and skill, enough to split an individual in two, or have one’s head explode. Yet he does this with very little effort, often from an acupressure point. And his stance is one of defense, he does not attack with anger or malice. Kenshiro reacts and uses his martial art abilities only when it is needed. Much like Captain Harlock, Kenshiro is an individual who is aware of the dualities of the world, yet they know how to react with composure. A true state of one who is enlightened and is in equilibrium with the masculine and the feminine.

fotnstv_3Being the progenitor, father, or maybe nowadays even the grandfather for the modern Shonen Jump styled fighting series, Fist of the North Star is a pure essence of the non-ending quest of episodes or manga volume about a hero who must fight to live. Fist of the North Star led the way to Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, then to Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Peace, Bleach, Naruto and the list goes on and on. Yet Fist of the North Star did not just come out of nowhere. Yes you can see the elements of Mad Max and Bruce Lee in the designs and environments, but Fist of the North Star also has much to owe to anime titles of the 1970s like Babel IICasshan and Devilman. Then we get to 1984 and Fist of the North Star debuts on television screens across Japan. In an industry that at the time was saturated by mecha and superheroes, the journey of Kenshiro was something fresh and some what new and yet a minor evolution as well.

fotnstv_4As a lengthy show one must be prepared to go in for the so-called long haul. Be patient and persevere through each episode. Fist of the North Star takes time to get warmed up so to speak and even though, as is the case with many of the shonen fighters, you may question is this is going anywhere? And slowly, much like an onion, layer upon layer becomes revealed and all through heavy amounts of drama and seriousness. Each episode reveals new characters, new fights and more drama and like the cycle of a day starts over again and again anew. Enemies becomes allies, fights turn deadly and important lessons to be absorbed by you the viewer are assimilated all at the same time and usually with a tissue box on hand. Fist of the North Star is a show about returning to love and sympathizing those who are flawed, yet still human.

If you want to take the shorter route, you can  immerse yourself into the 1986 motion picture version of Fist of the North Star. It has much bang for the buck, but it also is missing much of the story, characters and added drama that I fell in love with in this TV series. As is much in life as is with Fist of the North Star, the longer harder road is the path that rewards far more than the quicker fix. Just why did it all have to end with a clip episode? The answer is simple… the story has only begun… enter Fist of the North Star II. Yes folks, there is a sequel.

#126 : Magical Angel Creamy Mami

cm_1To be forever young… is it truly possible? My two cents says that without question and I will stake everything on it, that all magical girls do remain forever young. The pride and joy as well as perhaps the biggest backbone for all that is shojo in anime, the magical girl, is a genre and an archetype without peer. The 1980s witnessed a rebirth and reinvention of the magical girl and one in particular would be a leading example for one particular studio as well as a generation. In 1983, Studio Pierrot would marry magical girls into the world of the pop idol with Magical Angel Creamy Mami… thus a legend was born.

cm_2Two things hit me when I watched this show. First it’s adorable; can’t deny that. Though when you mention to people you are watching a classic title like Magical Angel Creamy Mami, especially those who are not in the know about anime in general, they may think it is some sort of porn title. IT’S NOT!!! Cream Lemon yes, Creamy Mami NO! This is a sweet wholesome show, something you can watch with the whole family… just an awkward title. And second, did Jem and the Holograms derive any influence from this show? Magic transformations and pop music idols are rampant in both shows. Maybe its a coincidence? Although to be frank both shows are completely different in approach, but I could not help but find a parallel between two shows made around the same time. Anyway on with the main program…

cm_3Miss Yuu Morisawa… our protagonist… a plain jane, average in many ways and very independent, but in a sweet way. She does not technically stand out, even to the boy that she is infatuated with (shame on you Toshio), yet behind the normality there lurks much potential. I appreciate that she is an opposite to the popular Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon). Yuu is not quote, a dumb blonde, a ditz… annoying. Perhaps this is more than likely why I have issue with watching Sailor Moon. Yuu is the type of character I can identify with, I can root for and also hold a series together. Often times a show is as good as it’s cast, story and plot can be interchangeable, with the main character acting as a bedrock, perhaps the identity of a show itself. It was you Yuu Morisawa that made me love Creamy Mami.

Blessed with magical powers from outer space (Feather Star… nice name for a planet), Yuu is given her traditional magic wand within a fancy compact and two cute mini alien cats as guardians, which aid her as she turns from a ten year old into a glamorous sixteen year old with a singing voice and purple hair. PURPLE HAIR… love it! Yet, this power is only granted for one year. Our story thus creates a dichotomy. Average school and pop princess must find a balance in both scheduling, and knowing one’s true identity. Yuu is level headed enough to know that Mami is still Yuu and not get lost into the world of celebrity as it at times can get ridiculous. Not a bad twist of fortune for the daughter of a family that runs a local crepe shop.

cm_4Underneath all the magical girl fun, the great color pallet used, the slapstick comedy and the danceable music, we have a romance. Perhaps even a love triangle, that is between two people, yet three identities. Again I have to reference Jem for that one. Yuu and Toshio are made for each other yet there are sparks that fly, but when the moments are right, there is true love. Be on watch near the middle of the episode running for a great plot twisting that will not again play out until the near end. The entire show turns upside down as the secret of Mami is revealed to a special someone.

Magical Angel Creamy Mami opened the flood gate for Studio Pierrot’s other mahou shojo shows that featured Persia (Magical Fairy Persia), Emi (Magical Star Magical Emi)  and Yumi (Magical Idol Pastel Yumi) later in the decade. But there is only one original and that is you Mami. Shine bright forever! Between you, Minmei (Macross) and Eve (Megazone 23), I have my power trio of pop idols that help keep me young… FOREVER!

#124 : Dirty Pair (TV Series)

dptv_1“Once upon time there were two little girls who went to the World Welfare Works Association academy… And they were each assigned very ‘hazardous’ duties… But I took them away from all that and now they work for me, my name is Gooley.” Hmm… hazardous duties? Have you seen the track record of these two ladies as of late? Mr. Gooley, your two trouble consultations, those Lovely Angels are creating a lot of havoc wherever they go, though they don’t mean to because as the bumper sticker says “S#!t Happens!”. These girls even have a well known nickname and have been featured in many anime back in the day including an awesome TV series with this so-called nickname. And not Gooley’s Angels mind you; more like… Dirty Pair.

dptv_2Kei and Yuri are at it yet again and this time we are in for the long haul. While a majority of the Dirty Pair releases are single release fare (Affair of Nolandia, Project Eden and Flight 005 Conspiracy) we are treated with a multitude of adventures this time around. And yes there was that 10 episode OVA quasi-sequel from 1987, but that to me is supplementary to this TV series from 1985. And what a series from the hands of Sunrise as this could be considered the ‘sister series’ (light pun?) to the other two titles being Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Blue Comet SPT Layzner. Three’s a crowd? Not this time. More like Three of a Perfect Pair (any King Crimson fans?). This is because if watching the more serious space operatic mecha of Zeta Gundam and Layzner become a little too much, chill out with the Dirty Pair for a little light hearted fun.

dptv_3Within a space of 24 episodes plus two extra supplements as direct to video OVAs, you get a total of 26 episodes of adventure with Kei and Yuri. The fun nature and space travel of the Dirty Pair TV series can be looked at as a gender inverse to Space Adventure Cobra. Instead of the bumbling Lupin-esque macho Cobra you get two ladies, both of whom are feminine and independent characters. Smart and skillful, but at times a little short on temper, particularly Kei (my favorite of the pairing!), expect something to come out of the blue at any moment. As much as the girls try to help each situation, they are so-called trouble consultants after all, they often create a little more trouble in the process. Still, the comedy and the action that often occurs within each episode becomes golden at proper moments. Who would have thought the original books by Haruka Takachiho would have grown into one of the best franchises of the 1980s?

In all honesty, compared to one-offs like Affair of Nolandia, or Project Eden, I don’t see much replay in the TV series. The TV series is worth a viewing with absolutely no question, but the quick changes of plot from episode to episode may be a little to fast for my taste. Of course it may be different for you and that is ok. Ironic as I usually prefer longer run TV series over movie/OVA adaptations, but with the Dirty Pair it is not the case… it is a case of breaking all the statistical norms… that I do appreciate! And as English is my native tongue, sometimes I do love a dub. The sub track with the Japanese is excellent, but I have a love for the early 90s Streamline dubs of the Dirty Pair, perhaps some of that companies best.

dptv_4“And then they’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun and hope that chief Gooley doesn’t take the Lovely Angel away. And then they’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun…” A variation on a classic Beach Boys song, but it completely rings true to the Dirty Pair. I often look to the TV series as phase two in one’s Dirty Pair journey. Start with one of the single outings mentioned earlier, then move to the TV series… or jump into the TV series if you want to override that prerequisite as there is no law stating ‘One should!’ The only real question is do you want a fun show? If you answer yes, then the Dirty Pair TV series will satisfy.

#123 : The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

wwoo_1“We’re off to see the wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz… ” again, yet this time round it’s a little different. Of course the 1939 MGM film is for many the de facto standard barring even the original novels. In terms of anime, I grew up with a 1982 cinema version, but wouldn’t you know there was another version of L. Frank Baum’s creation created in the same decade? Years ago I passed this alternate off as some other show that didn’t need my attention. But being older, wiser and hungry for a diet of anime produced in 1986 for a panel I did in 2016 led me to this version of the Oz saga, a TV series known as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

wwoo_2Four of the Baum books filled 52 episodes of adventure. Let us count them off… The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Marvelous Land of OzOzma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz as the credits state. This series expands beyond the well known plot of the original novel and in many ways stay very true to the essence of the books, while incorporating creative liberties as needed. Encompassing four distinct arcs, the plot moves in a much more relaxed and leisurely pace compared to that of a film. Story and character have more time to develop, but there are times when I felt there were moments of filler. Such is the nature of any longer running anime, yet the filler is not so much a waste, but supplementary.

A little girl from the farm country of Kansas circa 1900 is swept away into a magical world filled with many friends, foes, colors and imagination far beyond the plain and mundane. Sounds like a shojo standard… could the Wizard of Oz really be Japanese in disguise? Of course not, look to Alice in Wonderland as a previous example of a swept away magical adventure. Both titles mentioned previously are early western examples, but this is not a comparison of east vs. west. I would say this is more like an archetype that transcends boundary. Influence from one story teller to the next and be it as Alice in Wonderland, or Wizard of Oz, either one may have led the way to anime like Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, etc., etc. The story with ‘A Thousand Faces’ per se where imagination and fantasy have no territorial bounds.

wwoo_3The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had an early release in the west during the 1980s, perhaps on cable, and from the look of the credits emphasized the post production and dubbing done by Cinar (some of the casting was featured in Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold) more than the original animation by Panmedia. Such was kind of true back in that decade where you try to cover your tracks without having to hint that this was a ‘foreign’ production. Those were different times and may I say a little ignorant. The English dubbed version is what I know, but the first episode is also available under many sources in the original Japanese with subtitles. Both presentations are excellent, but the original Japanese opening is extremely charming and can pass as a period pop song that makes you want to dance.

wwoo_4The joy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz surrounds the fact that this production can be for all ages. Though it is more of a children’s show, it is without a doubt a great option for the whole family, especially if you want to introduce the very young with a story that is somewhat familiar. Years ago I could have sworn I caught this series on a chance Sunday morning as a rerun and as I said earlier dismissed it. But then caught up to the now and I got a second chance to give this version of the Wizard of Oz a chance and perhaps it is now my preferred go to. I just was not ready, but when the time came I was in the moment. Have fun with this one if you get a chance to experience it! 🙂

#119 : The Transformers: The Headmasters

Essentially this is a matter of deciding between A or B. 1987 would be a turning point and in way an ending for the original Transformers G1 storyline that began back in 1984. In the west we had The Rebirth, a three episode finale. Only three episodes to tie up everything and… and introduce another year’s toy line!? Hey Hasbro and Sunbow, way to go for being cheap! Now in Japan, Takara and Toei would create their own alternate series, The Headmasters, with a 35 episode length, which means more space for a story. Now that is more like it! My vote will be in favor of Japan on this one so this means it’s time to… Transform HEAD ON!!!

Warriors from deep space arrive during a climatic battle on Cybertron and in time, turn the tide for the everlasting war of The Transformers. The only thing is that these Transformers are not like others that have come before. They are two in number, one being the actual Transformer itself, of about human stature that transforms into a head that connects to a vehicle or animal that becomes the body… the Transtector to be more precise. A brand new concept for The Transformers, but a subtle variation of traditional mecha anime. This is for all intensive purposes a robot and it’s pilot, but with additional play mechanics for the toys. A brilliant idea! These are The Headmasters and this was their show as these characters, amongst others as well, slowly took over from the previous well known cast of heroes and villains.

And in style these previous generations of heroes go out in style. Fans demanded to have Optimus Prime back, but that architype had it’s day in the sun and in The Headmasters they let him heroically die again sacrificing himself for the greater whole. Blaster and Soundwave both die and resurrect into Twincast and Soundblaster, Ultra Magnus would fall sadly and Galvatron gets what is deserved for an evil tyrant. Rodimus and Kup voluntarily retire… WHAT!? But don’t fret we get to keep Wheelie and Daniel and Arcee becomes an almost surrogate babysitter to these two (now thats just not right boss). … Well now, I have to take back that all our old favorites part ways for the best pastures.

Now as for this new cast of Headmaster characters (say hey to Chromedome and Cerebros/Fortress), the Headmasters show delivers one key important feature over the Rebirth… mythology. The concept of a group of smaller Transformers retreating from Cybertron to land onto a strange planet (named… Master) to begin a new life is a little more interesting than just combining with humans on a whim. Survival becomes the order of the day and the creation of the Transtector body helps to turn the tide for these miniature Autobots and Decepticons. A revolution that sparks an evolution.

I often find criticism towards the The Headmasters questionable. When I first watched this series I had a little of a knee jerk reaction as The Headmasters follows a more traditional Japanese shonen adventure pattern. At the time it would seem to be sacrilege to view the Transformers with different sensibilities toward plot and particularly humor. Yet I still found this show very entertaining, but a recent rewatch helped to reopen my curiosity. Having familiarity towards anime in general will lessen this blow, but I know some folks who have watched this show are strict diehard Transformers fans and not into anime. The ideal would be to be a fan of both as you get the best of both worlds! … And yes the Omni production English dub that floats around is quite laughable in it’s interpretation, but don’t let that stop you from following through with this series. Give it a try with the original Japanese track and subs and then decide.

The beauty of The Headmasters is that it opens up an alternative view. If you want to finish off the classic G1 Transformers you can stick with The Rebirth trilogy, but you would be missing out on another point of view. I began this posting by saying this is a choice between A or B. A… B… ah well, which one? Or perhaps why choose at all, have both! Because in the end this is not so much choosing an option… more like having the official album and the sought after bootleg at the same time. Thank you Japan, Toei and Takara for The Headmaster… “Transform Dash!”

 

#116 : Aim for the Ace (TV series)

AftAtv_1The sun beats down as sweat drips from your forehead onto your hands. Those hands are gripping a tennis racket and as you pant for a moment of breathe you concentrate your stare upwards to your opponent. It’s your turn to serve, its match point and you are about to finish the game of your life. … (shakes head) … Wow, daydreaming really takes your mind away from where you are. Almost as if you are in the ‘game’ so to speak; the game of tennis in this instance. We are not here to discuss the actual sport itself, but an anime about a girl’s rise into the world of high school tennis. Serve, smash, volley… welcome to the original TV adaptation of Aim for the Ace.

AftAtv_2For shojo sports anime, Aim for the Ace is perhaps the grand dame of the genre. The elder spokeswoman, yet not the originator. A volleyball themed series from 1969, Attack No. 1, is from my research the first anime to show girls in the world of sport. Aim for the Ace is perhaps remembered better because of the popular and excellent film adaptation from 1979, but this entry will look at the previously released TV series of 1973. Both tell the same story with a small amount of variation to story, both were created at TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) under the direction of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) and both are hallmark titles representing the growing sophistication of anime in the 1970s. The movie may have a more technically sophisticated presentation (which is ‘SO’ important in our HD obsessed world), but the TV series has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that I found endearing.

AftAtv_3Like many sports entries, Aim for the Ace is a simple coming of age story. Our heroine Hiromi Oka, though being a complete amateur (and at times a klutz), wins a spot on the coveted varsity team at Nishi High School. Nishi’s coach Jin Munakata sees much potential in the abilities of Hiromi, which in typical shojo fashion starts a soap opera of drama between the other girls on the team. Kyoko Otawa, in particular, would loss her spot on the varsity squad, which brings out a very jealous and deceptive character. And then there is the queen herself, the best player on Nishi’s squad, Reika Ryuzaki a.k.a. Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly). At first, Rieka lives up to the sempai relationship towards Hiromi by becoming a shining example to follow. Yet when Hiromi’s skills begin to improve and challenge those of Reika’s is when we see the dark side of the beautiful butterfly. Needless to say the greater length of this TV series lends itself to more story and character development compared to the movie.

AftAtv_4Visually, Aim for the Ace is a great example of manga come to life. Gorgeous watercolor like backgrounds and rougher lines push the look of being hand made. There is a simplicity within the rawness that makes it feel honest and have a lot of heart. So while this may have been par for the course for animation back in the day, it is welcome to see a cartoon not look too overly polished and sophisticated like many productions of today. Then again this was all completed under the direction of Osamu Dezaki and I have many times commented on how much I enjoy the way he approaches animation. Dezaki knows just how to make it all look so… so… so damn good!

Much like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, Aim for the Ace was cancelled early due to low ratings (well thats what Wikipedia says!). All three series through the effort of loyal fans, reruns and eventual film adaptations would become legends. Often in our current glut of all that we have nowadays, how often does this opportunity of a second chance gets to come to a fruition. But much like many of these other shows from the 1970s, Aim for the Ace would get it’s second chance, but if you ask me, it was just right for what it had to bring to the table the first time around as well. I loved the movie, but I also loved this TV series for what it was, still is and always will be… a forerunner… a classic… a beautiful anime!

#114 : Space Runaway Ideon

Space. The universe itself is vast and beyond scope. Space opera as a genre is also larger than life, but often you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Themes and characters are bigger than life, but still relatable on some level. What if space opera could represent something even bigger than just off hand spaceship battles, or fun times trekking through the deep vastness of the beautiful great void. Can space opera encompass the function and consequences of the living universe, call it ‘God’ perhaps, depending on the actions you and your civilization make? After finalizing Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise would gives us an answer in 1980 with Space Runaway Ideon.

Ideon_1Space Runaway Ideon may be the most epic and most importantly, the most sublime sci-fi epic in existence within the realm of Japanese animation. Gundam is one thing, Legend of Galactic Heroes is another, but Ideon is it’s own animal. Ideon ventures into unique territory in terms of emotion, intensity and characterization. Known often as a series where everyone and everything dies (Kill ’em all Tomino!), the true meaning of this series is so much more. The death and sacrifices are all consequences and actions of conflict and hatred. This of course is a product of ignorance and xenophobia to an extreme that once the negativity reaches a certain point, the only option left is total and complete destruction.

Ideon_2Even with all this seriousness one must remember that Space Runaway Ideon is first and foremost a mecha show. And what a giant robot indeed (105 meters/344.5 feet for a height), the Ideon is imposing beyond belief and is one of two mechs that literally scare the $h!& out of me (the other being Giant Robo). This is not so much for the overall size or power, but more so on the presence a mecha exudes. It’s about total respect. All this from what looks like a mix of a Gundam’s GM and Gun Cannon added together on a heavy dose of steroids. Literally… as this is a robot that can split a planet in half. This is power beyond power, almost ‘God’ like, hence why I give the Ideon such respect.

Ideon_3Beyond the drama and the Ideon robot itself, Space Runaway Ideon like many of the best mecha shows is about the relationships of it’s cast. And like many Tomino shows, this cast is large. Our story concerns two factions that make contact on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Earth based humans like us have begun colonization on the planet which they call Solo. Beyond the colonization, many of the scientists and researchers have discovered several artifacts from a past civilization including three huge truck like vehicles and a buried spaceship. The second faction known as the Buff Clan (yes that is their name) are on a mission to locate the legendary power of the Ide. They come upon this same planet, which they call Logo Dau and eventually both civilizations meet. In response, both sides start a conflict showing the darkest side of human interaction towards someone or something that is unfamiliar, or different.

Sadly Space Runaway Ideon would be become a victim of cancelization, most likely due to a lack of ratings not unlike the previous year’s Mobile Suit Gundam. This left several holes in the plot and a rushed ending. All the build up of 38 episodes led to an ackward final 39th. Yet the story was not over for in 1982 two movies would be released to finish the story properly. The Ideon: A Contact would act as a review and prequel to the awesome and powerful The Ideon: Be Invoked. I highly recommend both movies if you want to get the whole story of Ideon.

Ideon_4To conclude with Space Runaway Ideon, let us examine a quote by Albert Einstein… “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” If that decision in the end is a hostile one, there is nowhere to go except toward ultimate destruction… think about it. This applies not only to anime space opera, but also our lives as well. Similar to, but not the same as Evangelion, Ideon addresses the power of how we sometimes view our environment and ourselves and what happens in regards to how we react toward it. Space Runaway Ideon was and still is a show beyond any experience I have known and I will always count it as one of my all-time favorites.