#27 : The Rose of Versailles

rov1I’ve got my cake and I am eating it too! The French Revolution was a time of insanity. Political overthrow, bloodshed and ideals permeated the landscape of 18th century France. Fast forward to 1970s Japan, mangaka Riyoko Ikeda would pen a story of love, politics and gender identity into this historic environment. Historically accurate, hardly, but a passionate soap operatic historic shojo masterpiece, indeed. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité live on forever and ever in The Rose of Versailles.

rov2The house of de Jarjayes is expecting a child. This military family of the commander of the Royal Guard expects, no, demands a son, but alas a beautiful baby girl is delivered instead. In haste General de Jarjayes demands that this child be raised as a boy instead, after all a male heir is crucial. This child christened Oscar Francois de Jarjayes (say it three times fast, isn’t French a sexy language? L’amour!) is our heroine and by the time she comes of age she becomes the guard for a future future queen of France, Marie Antoniette (a.k.a. spoiled brat). Who says being born into nobility or privilege is an advantage? There is always a price.

rov3Oscar without question has too be one of, if not the most honored, strongest and most well rounded female characters in anime or otherwise. And beautiful as well… flaunt that hair. And with issues as well, being forced to be a man, when she is definitely a woman and has natural feminine tendencies that cannot be repressed. Trans peeps you know what I am talking about! One of my favorite moments that highlight this idea was when Oscar went to a ball and rid herself of the military uniform to wear a gorgeous gown and have all her hair done up. She looked damn good, I remember cheering at the top of my lungs… Go girl go! And she stole the show at the ball and yet no one knew it was Oscar. After all Oscar is just a boyish soldier… yeah hardly.

rov4And of course there has to be love interests. The first being her childhood friend, a commoner, André. Now these two are one good looking couple, imagine the children if things could have been. Andre is genuine, honest and always supportive to the woman he loves. Contrast this to ‘Mr. Captain von Handsome’ himself (I need to trademark that), the blonde Swede aristocrat who also has feelings for Madame Oscar as well, Hans Axel von Ferson (actually a real person as well). He is also a decent soul, but the dude needs to decide Oscar or Ms. Antoniette (brat). Of course he has pedigree over André, but where does Oscar stand? You going with the nice country boy or the sophisticated suave dude?

rov5Production was done by the awesome TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and two directors held the high post of being in charge. Tadao Nagahama, who is noted for the Robot Romance Trilogy (great mecha!), began the series and in traditional fashion told a very straight forward and emotional story. Sadly at about half way through production, he would succumb to a fatal case of hepatitis leaving the director’s chair to go to one of the masters, Osamu Dezaki. With more intense lighting, triple takes and pastel stills in hand (all signature to Dezaki) the show became even more dramatic all the way to the tragic ending.  Osamu Dezaki equals genius (can you tell I am a fan?). From start to finish it is 40 episodes of win; a soap opera turned up to 11. All those who are nice get a little pushed over by those who are a bit too arrogant. Madame du Barry I am looking at you! I looked up bitch in the dictionary and there was a portrait of her… no surprise 😉

For those of you in Europe I am envious that you got this show amongst many others as well back in ye olden days. Icon may be the best word to describe The Rose of Versailles. But also yardstick as well. No show can equal it before or after and true there have been elements borrowed in other shows, but it’s not The Rose of Versailles. Great shojo or otherwise have to measure up to this gem. The Rose of Versailles est très belle et magnifique. J’temps beaucoups!

#26 : Future Boy Conan

fbc_1Time to show us what you got to prove Mr. Miyazaki because you are now in charge of a full length TV series. Having worked his way for the last several years as a key animator, episode director, storyboard artist, etc., Hayao Miyazaki finally got his hands on a project where he got to take the drivers seat. The year is 1978 and the production is a loose adaptation of a sci-fi novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key. The end product is a rarity as most know Miyazaki for his film work, but the hard work and passion is still there in this 26 episode adventure. Let us travel to the past to see the future in Future Boy Conan.

fbc_2If there is one thing I got from this series is that it is signature Miyazaki though and though. It looks like his work. It feels like his work. Maybe even smells or tastes like his work? The humor and hijinks are there with elements of drama as well. All of this on a much smaller budget compared to what he has had to work with on the big screen, but then again Miyazaki knows how to make every little detail count. The only big difference is the fact he had a longer time frame to tell this story. If only some of his film projects could have been TV series as well?

fbc_3Two of his later films always crept into my thoughts as I was making my way through the series. It might be me, but I could see later elements that would become Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. Nausicaa for the fact that we have a sci-fi fantasy adventure based on our planet and not some over the top space opera with robots or aliens and Castle for the adventure of a couple kids trying to restore a sense of order in the world. And of course there is the love of environmentalism and the possible corruptions of mankind when we think we have the technology to conquer Mother Nature. The World Masterpiece Theatre meta series, Nippon Animation’s yearly adaptation of western children’s novels, also comes to my mind. Future Boy Conan is an ‘unofficial’ cousin (muy opinion) due to the fact that this again is based on a book and the production was also done at Nippon.

fbc_4Enough of the details, who is Conan and what is this show about? In a post apocalyptic world after a major war, most of the continents have sank into the sea. On a small island two remaining survivors from an escape group live and thrive. One is our young hero Conan, the other is an older man who he calls grandfather, not sure if he is biologically related, but that is besides the point. One day as Conan, who by the way is an exceptional deep sea diver, was partaking a little revenge on a shark who had been causing trouble for the island discovers a girl on the shoreline. Her name is Lana and thus begins their journey to thwart the corruption of the so-named Industria. Along their journey they meet friends including the goofy Captain Dyce, feral child Jimsy (he loves frogs) and Lana’s long lost grandfather, Dr. Briac Lao to aid them on their quest.

Future Boy Conan is what a great kid’s show should be. It’s enjoyable for the whole family, fun and endearing, which of course is what Miyazaki specializes in. If you love Miyazaki’s work and you have not seen this show… then you have homework.

#17 : Armored Fleet Diarugger XV

There are times in one’s life that things just seem to come full circle. There are moments where you feel you have heard, or experienced part of the story and you have to know more, or know it all. One must experience the full totality of a tale when one is ready to understand it… or in this case, when an anime gets released on DVD. I have had a few of these moments in regards to adapted shows of my youth and this is one of them. Let’s look at Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_1Voltron was a cornerstone of my youth and to my early experiences with animation from Japan. Voltron was hugely popular and had it’s fifteen minutes of exposure during the mid 1980s. I was along for the ride as I was at the right age bracket to get swept up. We all loved the five heroes in the robot lions battling it out against the likes of the bad guys of Planet Doom (I wonder if anyone is nice from there?). But, Voltron was originally setup to be a trilogy, showcasing three unique super robot shows from Toei. In reality we ended up with the adaptation of Beast King GoLion, an original follow up to GoLion and the odd step child, the adaptation of Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_2I have always liked the Vehicle series, Diarugger’s western treatment, and by no means am I saying it is better than the Lions, it was just… different. Something about it spoke to me. A harder edged space opera, mixed with a little political intrique. No matter what the adaptation tried to either cover up or present, I had a feeling that something more was going on in the background. And by the time I came across the officially released DVDs (a little advice: GET a release when it feels like the time right to avoid the over priced markup when they go out of print) that we had here in the U.S. I had a mission and it was simple. That mission was to see what actually this show was really telling. And after the first couple episodes, I knew my hunch was correct.

Dairugger_3.jpgGone is the knowledge that the crew of the Rugger Guard knew of the Galveston (Drule) Empire ahead of time. Gone is the fact that every episode seemed to be on a different planet when often it looked like they were at a location for a couple episodes. Gone are the existence of the ‘hospital planet’ or ‘escape pods’. (because after all no body really dies, right?) And yes ‘Chip’ is really not ‘Pidge’s’ brother (different show and timeline). What we do have is a 52 episode journey that slowly unfolds, builds and grows where the emphasis from my eye, is more on the overarching story than individual characters. And yes, there are many characters (I will discuss this in the next paragraph). It’s kind of like the original Star Trek updated to the 1980s with a heavier plotline and a big robot added for good measure (got to sell those toys after all, and what a toy it was). My personal favorite is episode 13 The Enemy Within the Mind, an episode with a lot of suspense and where no laser blast, sword swing or punch is thrown. Different? I though so.

I know some people give flack to the show for having the fifteen manned mech. “It’s too many characters… ” Or is it? Macross and the Gundams have larger casts. Or how about Legend of Galactic Heroes? Now there is large cast. So the team that forms the big bot is fifteen strong, who cares. True we don’t get to know all of them intimately, but still it works. After all the it breaks the mold of the usual one, two, three or five manned teams. I give kudos for being different. The origin for fifteen lays in the name Diarugger, the rugger part. A rugby team comprises of suprise, fifteen people. And later in the show we see an actual game of rugby. How about them apples?

dairugger_4So the circle has now been complete and the smile on my face is large indeed. Diarugger is without question a dark horse entry into the ginormous field of mecha shows made during it’s era. The ending is one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen as I felt true closure unlike the tie a bow on it Voltron version (I still love you Voltron, but seriously I need a solid ending). A true diamond in the rough that has always been under our noses since the days of innocent childhood. To badly quote a John Lennon lyric… “All I am saying, is give Diarugger a chance.”

#15 : Touch

touch1A one hundred episode plus series is no small feat, in both the production and the stamina for one to stay the course in finishing it. Some series continue on and on and on and on (I can think of many a Shonen Jump title) with no real end and then, keep on going due to the fact that the popularity and economic factors are ever strong. Then other series have set endings and go on to a cult like status of being crowned the “greatest anime ever made” (Legend of the Galactic Heroes, great yes, greatest depends on one’s point of view). And then there was one show from 1985 based off of manga by Mitsuru Adachi that told a story over a four year time span that was one of the most beloved and popular series of it’s time; it could even still hold its viewer records today, kind of like M.A.S.H. I now present my favorite long runner, at a total of 101 episodes, Touch.

touch2Touch has nothing fancy to show. The designs are flat and plain. The setting is mundane and ordinary. What you see is what you get and what you get comes up to the surface so strong that it shows where the real value stands in the characters, story and pacing. Touch is a coming of age high school series concentrated on the Usegi twins: Kazuya (soft spoken, hard working, popular and determined) and Tatsuya (aloof, insecure, not popular and a slacker with hidden talents he shies away from with a mask of bravado) and their best friend who has lived next door since child birth, Minami Asakura, who both boys love dearly. And baseball as the glue that holds it all together. The supporting cast is just as strong although I wished you got to know more of the players on the Meisei High School team a little better. A few get spotlighted, but again they are the backing to the the twin boys. A shonen series without rivals would not be much and you get a good cross section including: goofy Terishima, chivalrous Nitta, jealous Yoshida and the cruel Coach Kashiwaba. And then you have Punch, the funniest, most mischieveous dog ever (my opinion, never knew dogs could laugh so well)? But none hold a candle to the gentle giant Harada. True he may look like a tough guy, but his real skill is being a therapist to the unsure Tatsuya (future Psych major?).

touch3Gameplay when shown is intense, the character relationships are honest, the sad moments bring massive tears and the ending, though a little open ended as of course the characters lives will go on, is solid to close this chapter on the lives of our heroes’ youth. If only all our youths were this ideal and in almost in a way… perfect? But nothing in truth is perfect. Sometimes we lose those we love, we questions our abilities, we wonder if we will ever be brave enough to face loving another, or we just are not sure what we are doing. All of this is in Touch and the trio of our main cast I could see in myself when I look in a mirror. When a show becomes so personal as if it is family, you know you have encountered something rare. Some series you watch because you want to, and then there are those which make you wonder what took you so long to get around to it? But when the time comes time to taste the flavors of something slow, gentile and personal, it can almost feel like being in love with someone special. And for me Touch was and still is beyond special.

Touch also reaffirmed another love I have and that is for the game of baseball itself. Not following a MLB franchise and being a jock-like individual, but the fact that it is a great game with dynamics and strategy that gets lost in the tribal mentality of many fans. Touch reminds me of, but is not completely similar to the movie Field of Dreams. Again a story using baseball as the glue that holds the narrative of several characters redeeming their talents or relationships. We all deserve that one time in the sun, be it in the case of Field of Dreams: a chance to bat once as a professional, re-pursuing your writing, or the reconnection and understanding between a father and son. For Touch, it is Tatsuya getting his time to show that he is not without possibility, untalented, or unloved. Sometimes passion takes time, a little guidance and a moment to just give in to fate. I for one know that to be true in regards to areas of my life.

touch4.jpgI cannot not recommend this show to anyone. I truly do love this show and loved watching it from one to 101. It took me a long time to get around to it, but presenting the anime of 1985 in a panel gave me the opportunity. It is one of those shows that for me, reaffirms my love of anime and shows that you have yet to see all the really good stuff. And as an older fan sometimes I get tired of all the flash and dazzle of fantasy, sci-fi and/or high production values. Sometimes I want a show like a glass of lemonade on a hot day or a hug from mom, real comfort food. Because sometimes, after all, simple is best.

#12 : Tokimeki Tonight

The great thing about doing panels about years of the 1980s is that I end up finding out that I have barely scratched the surface in regards to classic anime. For 2017, I am working on a panel for 1982 which features classics like Space Adventure Cobra, Arcadia of my Youth, and the original Macross (yeah for Macross). And in the process I find undiscovered gems, at least for me, like Tokimeki Tonight (Heart Throbbing Tonight), which I just finished recently finished and enjoyed very much. So what is this shojo comedy all about?

tmt1Ranze Eto is much like your typical teenage girl. She is totally into the boy she sits next to in class, Shun Makable (she always calls him Makable-kun, I thought it was cute), and she has to deal with a rival, the ‘thick eyebrowed’ and conniving Yoko Kamiya. But there is more than meets the eye because Ranze comes from a family of monsters. I mean she does not look like a monster, but ask her parents who are a vampire (her father) and a werewolf (her  mother). And when these two fight, wow, they go way off the wall, but they do love each other and their family. And plain looking Ranze, in time, discovers she has a vampire-like ability where if she bites anything or anyone she transforms into the victim. And don’t worry, no harm is done to any humans or animals as they end up passing out for a while. To transform back, she has to sneeze… pepper please!

tmt3Similar in a way to the Shonen Jump classic Kimagure Orange Road, as this has a prototypical  love triangle of one boy being fought over by two young ladies (the simple days before harem) and super natural elements, this one is a bit different. First of course it being a shojo, the ‘target audience’ leans the story telling a little different, but the big difference is the elements of horror and mythology. And it works quite well with all these odd elements, but that is just the surface. The real essence is the comedy. And I will give my two cents, I had moments where I was laughing a lot, A LOT! Going in cold on this one, I was surprised with the all out lunacy. Such a funny show. Although I felt after watching episode 26 it got a bit heavy with filler episodes. Episode 26 was such a great climax, but maybe that could be due to popularity extending the series, maybe (it ended after 34 episodes in case you are wondering)? Just my hypothesis. Funny thing this show ended well before the end of the manga, yeah never heard that before.

tmt2And then there are the opening and closing tracks, especially the closer (named Super Love Lotion… kinda kinky?) as it makes you want to dance with that electronic disco beat. Also an interesting observation from me as this show was animated in 1982 because the background artwork reminds me a lot of titles from the early 1970s like the original Lupin III. A little bit on the plain side, but then again this was animated by Group TAC (from my research as they seemed to be the main studio?) and they are also known for their 1985 classics Touch and Night on the Galactic Railroad both of which are a little sparse in the art department, but masterpieces due to the story telling.

Tokimeki Tonight you were a pleasant surprise indeed. I can never give up the faith that there is more gold left in the ground to harvest. Now the only question is… what should I watch next?

#6 : Combat Mecha Xabungle

Xabungle4During an era when mecha shows on television were beginning to grow into a new form of sophistication through serious science fiction epics, which feature the titular named robot. Shows like the Xambot 3, Voltes 5, the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon and Baldios showed the way into future. But, with all this taking everything completely seriously, there were moments when these studios and creators decided to do things a little more silly and spastic. Combat Mecha Xabungle would fit this alternate idea perfectly.

Xabungle2Ask many fans to say if they have heard of Yoshiyuki Tomino and usually two responses comes out: one, he is the guy who created Gundam and/or he is the guy who made horrid garbage like Garvey’s Wing. Of course there is middle ground in his career and Xabungle fits in quite nicely towards the better quality end. Known for his dark serious stories, which usually entail a large scale of character deaths. Now, would it surprise you that Mr. Tomino and staff can actually have a sense of humor? It goes to show that his popular reputation may not be completely true, though it is true he can be a bit of a cranky old man like Miyazaki (Hey kids get off my lawn!).

Xabungle is set in the future on the planet Zola, but this future takes it’s cues from the American Wild West. Though I would say it is not completely is this subject as there are themes that do not match up to the western genre, but the attitude is there. You do have cowboys, can-can dancers and towns in the desert, but you also have large land gunships, a caste system where the ruling class live in domed cities and other sci-fi concepts like brainwashing and large robots (yeah for giant robots). Also, on this planet there is basically one law, if you wish to seek revenge you have three days to accomplish your task. After that you should forgive what has been done and for our hero Jiron Amos, this is a law worth breaking. After all Timp Sharon, a guy who looks a lot like Clint Eastwood, murdered his parents. And would you take that standing down? No, but of course in the spirit of this show you have to trip, hover in the air, try to run back and fall down in the process.

Xabungle3I was surprised how well the comedy actually fit into the story. It is possible there may have been influence from the currently running Urusei Yatsura, famous for it’s hijinks, and maybe even the previous year’s parody filled GoShogun. I am sure this may have been partial to the fact as well to attract younger viewers, as this show was based on toys and not a model kit line, like that of Gundam. And in the tradition of Tomino character naming, we get some odd ones like Rag, Elchi, Blume and Chill (who has to be one of the best kid sidekick characters I have every seen) to name a few. But nothing tops Fatman, yeah Fat-o-man is more the appropriate pronunciation, but he is a muscle hulking quiet guy, not so much a fat man (still nothing tops Shot Weapon from Dunbine). But certain times there is some crafty writing such as Jiron saying, ‘I am the main character here’, or the comment when five of the characters end up in the Xabungle (by the way, it was built for two) and the comment came up, ‘hey why are there five in the Xabungle?’ ‘Well thats what you usually do in mech shows.’ EXACTLY! Let’s form Voltron, right?

Also, how many mecha series do you know where the robots, or should I say “Walker Machines”, run on ordinary pump gasoline, the same stuff you put into your car? The Xabungle does this, even the controls are a car’s steering wheel. And as for the titular blue bot, it’s not a bad design and it grew on me, but it’s replacement the Gallier never excited me. But the crown and glory is the Iron Gear, the heroes main land ship that turns into a giant robot (but no where near as impressive as the mighty Macross).

Xabungle1Xabungle never blew my mind, but I was not expecting a masterpiece. This show is a fun, silly time. It’s good, not great and I can’t call  it a classic, but it is one of those buried oddities that gets forgotten each passing year. In some ways I almost feel this show kind of harkens back to the simpler robot shows of the 1970s, though having a more complex plot structure without taking itself too seriously. If you have seen Xabungle, I salute you.

#5 : Saint Seiya

SS05Doing a Shonen Jump title? Oh yeah. This is Masami Kurumada’s Saint Seiya for crying out loud; my favorite Shonen Jump title period, bar none (well… I love Cobra too). Fist of the North Star laid the ground work, Saint Seiya’s 1986 fellow classmate Dragon Ball went globally huge and beyond and every show in between Rurouni Kenshin to Naruto and beyond owe a debt to this show. Don’t ask me how cool this show is because you can feel it from the opening credits sequence songs, first Pegasus Fantasy and then Soldier Dream. Air guitar time baby.

SS01The draw to this show was a natural given for me. Combining a free interpretation of Greek mythology, with an astrological bend of how a constellation provides power and how unlocking the inner cosmos in you makes you a stronger individual. All all it I love and hold a strong belief in. “As Above, So Below” defines this show. And also, what a heavy use of melodrama, unlike that of Dragon Ball, which of course is a very fun show, but does not hold a candle to the seriousness of Saint Seiya. Interesting as both of these productions came to air in 1986, a year that kind of kicked television mecha to the floor (something that I still need therapy for). In 1985 we had Zeta Gundam, then 1986’s ZZ Gundam. And to be honest as a huge fan of Zeta (intense drama), seeing ZZ (goofy comedy) was a bit of a let down. And Saint Seiya, at least for me, filled that void (not that I saw the show live in ‘86, but you know what I mean).

SS02Like many Shonen Jump styled fighters the basic plot is pretty simple and very formulaic (though that is not a bad thing). You got your heroes defending justice and the goddess incarnate Athena/Saori (the devine feminine for the win), you got your baddies (many end up seeing the light and change sides), they tangle and in the end our heroes triumph, though they get a bit beat up. And in Saint Seiya, they get their asses KICKED (I will never forget episode one with Seiya fighting the giant Cassius as an example). But that’s ok, our bishonen-like quintet wear armor to protect them, although it takes as much of a beating as our heroes. And who are our heroes, the Bronze Saints? We have our main man the headstrong Seiya, rational and moSS03mma obsessed Hyoga, Shiryu who ends up fighting bare chested because he is cool like that (or gouges his eyes out! DUDE?), pretty boy and gentile Shun (popular with the ladies) and then Shun’s older brother Ikki who learns to overcome his anger and hatred to become possibly the most powerful of the group (that is when he is around). A good mix of personality for this “sentai” squad, but they are only the just the tip of the iceberg. Add in the minor characters, baddies and the just as awesome Gold Saints and we got ourselves one hell of a ride.

SS04For a long time I thought that Shonen Jump derived shows were too ‘casual’ or not for me (the snobby mecha sci-fi otaku that I am). I tried a few Shonen Jump shows and liked some of them, but none of them really clicked. Then I thought, why not, Saint Seiya is a classic for many around our globe and it has several themes that I love. So I gave it a big chance (114 episodes for this original series is no small feat). The one thing that I could identify is that Saint Seiya reminds me of what I loved about classic sci-fi or mecha anime, many from the same animation studio the powerhouse of Toei, heavy melodrama. Kind of like Japanese styled tragedy with Greek tragedy and it worked oh so well. It goes to show, you never know if you will truly like or not like something until you give it a chance. And I am glad I did, though I now like to call out the signature fight moves all the time like… PEGASUS RYU SEI KEN! or DIAMOND DUST! or NEBULA CHAIN! The joys of being an otaku.