#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.

#3 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (TV series)

I love, I really do love Blue Comet SPT Layzner. Despite it’s odd break in the so-called middle of the running that changed the show’s direction, there will always be a soft spot for it in my heart. It’s sad that when most people think of mecha and the studio Sunrise, only word comes out… Gundam. I shake my head. You have to dig deeper, because several years ago Sunrise was known for many shows, many different ideas, many that have gone off into the abyss of legend. SPT Layzner is one such series.

Layznerspt1I see SPT Layzner as a tale of two souls in one body, or perhaps two different, the first part kind of like the original Gundam, kind of, while the second is a mech show that takes many design cues from Fist of the North Star (showing the popularity of this Shonen Jump series). But at it’s genesis, SPT Layzner is a sci-fi mecha series that is told in the ‘future’, the ‘future’ of 1996. Well 1996 was the ‘future’ when the show aired in 1985. Not only that, but the Soviet Union never fell either and the Cold War continued well into the 1990s. If none of this rings a bell I suggest a quick run to your local library’s history section (we are here to talk anime my people). With high political and military tension in the air, what would be more perfect than to have an alien human race come to our solar system and attempt a take-over during all this? And guess what? We get just that.

Layznerspt2Just before this maelstrom, we begin our story with a group of students and their teacher making there way to Mars as part of an effort to foster the peace of the Earth. These students get caught up into the upcoming hell of the Gradosian invasion losing  a majority of their classmates and friends. Upon seeing so much death and destruction these kids catch a glimpse of a blue robot fighting against these invaders not really sure who this lone fighter is. And it is from this robot we meet it’s pilot, a terrified, confused, but bravely determined young man Eiji Asuka (Null Alberto) voiced by one of my fav seiyu, Kazuhiko Inoue. His warning of this invasion is met with caution and hatred as he is one of them, a Gradosian. How can he prove his authenticity and trust? Only time will tell as these students struggle to survive with this new ally.

spt-lz-00xNow I will be very, very biased here, but I think the SPT-LZ-OOX is perhaps the best mecha design ever (by the way SPT stands for Super Powered Tracer). It’s small, sleek and sexy, but very functional. Almost like a great sports car or rally racer. And it’s BLUE, beautiful blue. A Gundam, Ingram, Scopedog, Valkyrie, or your odd assortment of super robots also have their merits and are great, but the Layzner for me is personal. That is what I am looking for on the showroom floor. I wonder if you can downhill it like in Initial D? Hey… wasn’t there a guy in Initial D named Ryosuke Takahashi (Layzner’s director if you didn’t know)? Makes you wonder?

Despite a rushed ending on aired television, a second chance would come the way of releasing direct to video. A three volume OVA would retell the backstory of the two separate arcs, episodes one and two, and a third volume finished off what remained with more breathing room. So now it all comes full circle, but I will say this to you SPT Layzner… You may not be perfect and I don’t care, but I love you anyway. Now is it worth a watch despite it’s minor flaws? Oh hell yes. Plus the opening song, Melos no Lonely Way by the band Airmail over Nagasaki… awesome.