#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.

#111 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock

SPCH_1Let me tell you about about a man by the name of Harlock. “Now thats a name I have not heard in a long time, a long time,”… ok, the truth is that it may have been only five minutes because this man, this character, this legend is so ingrained into my fandom that I sometimes wonder what would I be without the presence of Captain Harlock. A creation of one of my favorite manga heroes, Leiji Matsumoto, Harlock is in many ways the man I would like to become. And while there have been a multitude of instances that Harlock has been brought into the zeitgeist of the present, the original TV series of 1978 stands as a personal Bible and one of my favorite series of all time.

SPCH_2Space Pirate Captain Harlock was and still is a show that I hold near and dear to my heart. Harlock’s premise is quite interesting as our hero, Harlock, is very just and high on being a moralist of his own convictions and yet, a villain to the establishment. Many times Harlock reminds me of Alan Watts take on the outsider (Youtube link) as Harlock is not productive to what is dictated by society. He lives by his own rules and pirates because he sees the corruption and waste in the downfall that is called humanity. The human race would rather play and waste their time and resources for their own self indulgent pleasures, while taking for granted the beauty of their environment. Plus, it does not help that an alien invasion of plant like female agents known as the Mazone (Amazon variation?) are also on the scene. Yet it is Harlock in the end who saves the Earth and humanity even though he has been forsaken and branded as a criminal. How ironic?

SPCH_3While our eyed patched hero is the star of the show, it is the rest of his crew of 42 (just who is this mysterious 42nd crew member?) that give life to this sci-fi epic. It seems that everyone on the ship Arcadia has a story. Usually it’s heartbreaking, or fated, but the only place, the only solace that this group of 42 has found is with each other aboard Harlock’s beloved Arcadia. All ages, all circumstances and all walks of life are welcome to join the ship so long as you help in your own way at the appropriate time. Seems fair and easy, but it is a hard road because in the end you end up finding out more of who you really are.

I want to spend a moment more on Harlock as a character; in particular his loyalty. I have mentioned his loyalty to the Earth, but why does he fight for a planet and it’s people that refuse to welcome him? The answer lies in the strong loyalty to his deceased best friend, the architect of his ship and the best sidekick ever (maybe?), Tochiro Oyama. Harlock is guardian to Tochiro’s only daughter Maya and she still resides on the Earth. She represents the future of humanity and Harlock protects her and the Earth like they were his own children because Harlock could not forgive himself if he ever took back his loyalty and promises to his best friend. Again, how can this man be branded a criminal? Maybe they are jealous of his awesome hair (I know I am!).

SPCH_4Visually Space Pirate Captain Harlock looks the era it was created in, which is all analog and extra stylish… awesome indeed. Rintaro, Captain Harlock’s director, is known for a visual approach that exudes drama and intensity. Many of his works often get lost in the visual eye candy of each scene; the image become the focus more than the story (from my experiences with his work). This may be the case since most of his better known projects are auteur films, but Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a longer run TV series (and a job for Toei where he is not in complete control), so this provides room for story to exist with the impressive visual narrative. Rintaro’s arthouse style exponentiates the emotional space opera brilliance of Leiji Matsumoto. Watch in particular the high contrast scenes that turn a simple moment into a great happening such as the murder of Professor Daiba as an example.

As long as a Jolly Roger waves aboard that beautiful ship named Arcadia, I know I can and will live free, question authority and search for that quiet spot in myself to find my own piece of personal authenticity. This story, while set in the future of 2978, with the corruption and downfall of man, echoes of truth today. After all what is the difference between 1978, 2018, or 2978? It is all the present moment, just a different cycle. Are we in the end being true to ourselves, our environment, and/or our humanity?

Space Pirate Captain Harlock, what a man and what a show 🙂 Gohrum!

#106 : Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

JWW_1Cue that magnificent rocking intro one more time… also turn up the volume and get ready to PARTY! Animated cartoons based on original toy lines were a plenty during the 1980s and sometimes those shows had more notoriety than the toys themselves. The Wheeled Warriors toy line by Mattel had really fun dynamics by changing out parts and included little pilots. But… no real story or backdrop was included as all these pilots were just generic as the sea is wet. How does one create a show from generic characters alone? You drop that concept in favor for something else, THATS HOW! Lets join the Lightning League, our hero Jayce and one of my favorite shows for both nostalgia and current viewing pleasure… OMG it’s time to share my fandom for Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

JWW_2How ironic that the love of this show came from repeated viewing of only one episode I had taped off of TV way back when (who still has their VCR recording skills?). YES, only one episode of Jayce lit a fire in me and made me a fan. That episode by the way was #15, Bloodstone. I hoped beyond hope that someday I would see the show in it’s entirety. Then came various DVD releases, first a disc with four episodes, then a single release with the first half of the show and then finally… all 65 over two sets. So my wish came true, but how did the selling point of a singular half hour turn out over the long haul of episode watching? Quite well, but like many shows in this caliber it just meanders around and does not finalize into a big ending. Even the five episode ‘Liberty Stone’ saga is kind of piecemeal. Yet I love riding around the universe with this show and certain episodes do rise to the top as great sci-fi adventures and stories to be enjoyed. And after seeing certain earlier DiC properties that came out before Jayce, I began to understand that this show was more that just a happy accident.

JWW_3I often wonder how the origins of the characters came to be in Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? After years of watching loads of pop culture you could say, yeah this show was totally ripping off Star Wars. Perhaps, but I think there is another theory and it all stems from the original creation staff at DiC. This show took the Mattel toy line and added elements from two of their earlier shows, Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold (my theory). Jayce could be a hybrid of Ulysses and Esteban in the form of a young man of about 17, Oon is Nono, Flora is a mix of Yumi and Zia (and could be an awesome magical girl possibility). Herc is Mendoza painted to look like Han Solo and Gillian is the grandfather you wish you had mixed with Obiwan Kenobi and Merlin. And then there is Brock… a giant fish… that sounds like a dog’s squeeky toy or a chirping bird… I love the imagination of cartoons. But that is your basic hero cast, a great way to recycle old ideas with a fresh concept. As for the baddies, most are just for show and the filling of space, but Saw Boss… that is one powerful and scary voice, that is so professional as well?

LWW_4If you are a true hard corps 80s cartoon nut, you appreciate this show and even know that it existed in the first place. Having a great group of actors, several writers including sci-fi legend J. Michael Straczynski and a classic Shuki Levy soundtrack (one of his best from my ears) adds to the credibility of this show. Jayce is one of the prime examples of 80s cartoons that look close enough to native Japanese product, while being a total western creation. I miss the days that Japanese studios did the animation for shows in the west and as an example watch the opening sequence again, it so could pass as an ‘anime’ opening. Do you agree? Yet why I truly love this show is because it is one of my cartoon versions of comfort food and in particular when I am needing a friend or a pick me up when I am under the weather, I always return to Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. It’s that simple… “Keep on Rollin’”.

#105 : Speed Racer

SR_1Auto racing… I love the sport. Always have, always will. Mix that love of dancing on a knife’s edge with four wheels with animation and I am one happy otaku. Speed Racer was already an established classic by the time I was first exposed to the property in the mid-1990s when it made its way to MTV and more importantly in my case, home video. My diet of Robotech and Voltron with Indycar and F1 now had a killer combination in a couple tapes I rented from the local video store. What I did not realize at the time was I was viewing a cartoon that has touched many a generation and in many ways connected me to others whose only connection to anime was this singular show. Thus is the power of Speed Racer.

1967 was a great year for motor racing. Parnelli Jones nearly won the Indy 500 with a jet turbine powered car, Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt won the 24 Hours of LeMans in a Ford GT40 (and thus was born the first champaign spray, thanks Dan!) and Team Lotus debuted the iconic Lotus 49, which featured the classic Ford Cosworth DFV engine in F1 competition. Also of note from F1 was Honda’s second victory in the hands of John Surtees at the Italian Grand Prix. But another, perhaps more subdued, victory for Japan would be the television debut of Tatsunoko’s Mach Go Go Go (well, ultimate victory for us cartoon lovers). Tatsuo Yoshida’s manga had come to life… guess it helps the fact that he is head of Tatsunoko Studios (don’t you love that seahorse logo?). Thats all fine and great, but when Mach Go Go Go’s translated/adapted version came to the west as Speed Racer in the fall of 1967, the real race truly began.

SR_2Consisting of time and true shonen standards of fun, action, adventure and friends, Speed Racer combined it all around a young man trying to become a top race car driver with one of the coolest cars ever, the Mach 5. Is it me or does the Mach 5 look like a late 1950s Ferrari Testarossa mixed with period James Bond gadgetry? Speed with his family (including everyone’s favorites Spritle and Chim-Chim?), girlfriend and friend/mechanic travel all over the globe proving his skills and many times getting into side adventures as well. Often times Speed meets up with the mysterious Racer X who is so much like an older brother to him… oh yeah, right… he is is older brother, just in disguise. Hope that doesn’t spoil the party for some of you, but it is one of those in show details you pick up on quite fast.

SR_3My greatest joy with Speed Racer is the fact that this is a series in which I can connect with people who are usually older than me. Many fans of this show may or may not be fans of Japanese animation per se, but their love and fondness for the adventures of Speed and crew cannot be denied. If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, Speed Racer was a keystone in your upbringing and to see fans still connected with this show makes me feel a little less alone in the world. Great examples of Speed Racer references include an experience from work in which I was asked about the artwork in my cube, “Are you the one with all those Speed Racer type images in your cube?” Also conversations with my dentist during appointments about animation in general. Even though he is not up to par with most anime, he did grow up with Speed Racer and still loves it. In fact both of us had to instruct the hygienist on how cool this show is. The magic of synchronicity through Speed Racer… puts a smile on my face.

SR_4This is a show that shows its age with the jerky movements, simplified shapes and that machine gun dub that makes me say they don’t make anime like they used to. I appreciate the archaic nature of Speed Racer, both in terms or visual and acting (thank you Peter Fernandez for giving us an English version). Sadly though, I don’t follow professional racing anymore due to lack of interest. And yet I have vintage races to see, AND… I still have Speed Racer amongst other car and racing related anime (Initial D as an example). All is good! …Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer Go!