1984… 35 Years (and counting) of Love / A Film Trifecta

1984… ‘Anime’s Golden Summer of Love’. And let me say first and foremost, that this statement is my personal opinion. I am of course paying homage to the famed ‘Summer of Love’ from 1967 that was the high point of the hippie counterculture. An idealistic paradise of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll during an era of intensity and danger. The anime version that I am putting a label on is nothing like 1967, but was a year of ‘Love’ in more ways than one. I was a five year old living in the U.S. during 1984, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of what actually happened in Japan. What I do know is that 1984 could be a serious contender for being a tipping point year in anime. And this is was all down to three beautiful and classic films.

The stars must have been aligned a certain way for a year that featured the directing talents of Noboru Ishiguro with Shoji Kawamori, Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki. Three plus one geniuses in terms of animation, story telling and visual presentation. A couple dozen productions made their way into theaters in 1984, but the three movies that these gentlemen directed perhaps… stole the show. One was a reimagining of a popular romantic mecha science fiction TV series, one was a sequel to a film that was part of a long running screwball comedy and the third was an adaptation to an original manga that rocketed it’s creator into superstardom. Funnily enough, only one of the films was released in the summer time, but we are taking this as a collective metaphor.

Let’s start in February of 1984, February 11 to be exact. Oh wow, personal bias… that’s my birthday. This was the release date of Mamoru Oshii’s entry, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Urusei Yatsura was Rumiko Takahashi’s first huge success and with the successful TV series and manga, films began to follow. The second is the topic of this discussion and it would be the first time that Mamoru Oshii would show his more signature approach to crafting a movie. While Urusei Yatsura was known for high school slapstick silliness, Beautiful Dreamer would show something else. Oshii’s use of the surreal, odd angles, subtlety, lighting and the sublime would be interjected into the project creating something different from the usual Urusei Yatsura fare. These approaches would eventually become his calling cards, but they began to show there potentialities with Beautiful Dreamer.

March 11, 1984. A popular manga from an anime veteran would see release into theaters. This was the work of the now famous Hayao Miyazaki and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would be his second time behind the directors chair for a film. Miyazaki’s tale of a young heroine passionate for making the world a beautiful and peaceful place struck a chord with audiences and in a BIG way. Nausicaä’s messages of environmentalism and compassion took sci-fi and fantasy down to earth literally. In an era of far out grand space epics, we are thrust to return to our immediate surroundings and confront the issues plaguing in front of us: reconnecting with and preserving nature, witnessing the corruption of power and greed and standing up for what is true and moral that is within our hearts. The film’s success would give us one of Miyazaki’s most beloved characters with Nausicaä, who would become a benchmark for many of his later creations. Miyazaki’s success and growing popularity from Nausicaä would lead him with his partner in crime, Isao Takahata, to found their famed Studio Ghibli.

We now come to summer, July in fact. Debuting on July 7 would be our final film, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love… say that three times fast. Macross was a huge hit on TV for being an amalgam of everything otaku related at the time. Mixing aliens, space opera and mecha with tenderness, romance and beautiful character designs (hooray for Haruhiko Mikimoto!), Macross would reach a large fan base and encapsulated the height of passionate sci-fi idealism of the era. A reinterpreted film would show it’s hand in 1984 bringing the characters back to life yet again after the now defunct TV series left the air. This would be an alternate retelling and helming the directors chairs would be two men, series director and long time industry veteran Noboru Ishiguro and mecha designer/sci-fi fan Shoji Kawamori. Together they resurrected the giant Macross ship for another voyage that left fans, including me, jaw dropped and spellbound.

Of course 1984 was so much more than these three films and in the future I will include a more in depth focus for the year as a whole, but these three movies are something special. This ‘Summer of Love’ came to me because of the fact for the title of the Macross film; an exercise of putting two and two together. But pondering on this title I thought ‘Love’ could stand for a labor of love. All three of these films were created during the analog era of painted cel animation, “Look mom no hands computers.” All three of these films are a testament to the sweat and effort during that era as these productions were well crafted, painstakingly detailed and hold up in terms of quality today. These are three films that I love (one more than the other two because I am an uber fan of Macross) and treasure and I hope that you do as well.

1978… Two Words… Leiji Matsumoto

According to research on the web, the year of 1978 had just under 40 entries for new productions of animation in Japan. Minuscule by today (2019) as 40 a week (that may be pushing it, but 40 is a nice number) is more within the climate of the current constant stream of media barrage. 1978 was a simpler era, a quieter era, an era that may have emphasized quality over quantity? That of course is subject to opinion. Media was big business back in the late 1970s, but nothing compared to the BIG business of today. Still many gems survive from this calendar year, but in opinion… 1978 will forever be remembered for the quadruple legacy of one man’s work.

Let’s start with a couple heavy weights… I can’t discount the name of Hayao Miyazaki, how can you? To some of us, he is like a Greek pantheon god, high on the mountain top watching from afar. Yet in 1978 he was still an up and coming name to be reckoned with and good fortune would shine upon him with a television series directorial position. The show, an adaptation of Alexander Key’s Incredible Tide became known as Future Boy Conan. If you ever wanted to watch a Miyazaki movie with all the humor, drama and class that defined his later work all wrapped up into a television series, here is your chance! Beyond Helly Kitty fame, Sanrio at one time also created great animated films. Of the ones I have seen they are all high in quality and artistry, but one of their best was released in 1978. The tragic Ringing Bell is a story about revenge and corruption of one’s feelings and emotions. Though heartbreaking, it also serves as an allegory of understanding one’s deepest desire for resolution over pain and the consequences of taking certain actions.

1978 was also a year of reinvention and second chances. Gatchaman would return to the scene with both a movie adaptation of the original 1972 TV series and a brand new sequel creatively titled Gatchaman II… very original (wink). More shojo tennis excitement abound in Shin Ace o Nerae! (New Aim for the Ace!); put that on my to find list! Lupin III would come out of the shadows years after the original TV series to take the big screen with the The Mystery of Mamo. … Now let’s give focus towards Space Battleship Yamato. 1977 brought the battleship back to life yet again with a film adaptation of the previous TV series and with new found glory and a boost of popularity, a sequel would follow. 1978 brought Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, a moving tragic tale that was supposed to be the climatic end to the sci-fi epic. The fans and even some of the creators felt this was not fair and later in the year a second TV series would debut and retell the film’s story with an alternate ending that was more hopeful.

Now for the name of the hour, the man who in my opinion owned 1978 and is one of my favorite creators of all time, Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto was a key player for the entire Yamato franchise providing both the design aspects and the humanistic emotionalism that made Yamato appealing. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg for the quartet of projects Matsumoto had his name on in 1978. The new Yamato projects mentioned previously are the first. The second was a TV series that re-envisioned Journey to the West, in SPACE!, known as Sci-Fi West Saga Starzinger. Third is that great TV version of a journey to the stars aboard a classy train where a young boy learns about the hardships and beauty of life accompanied by the best dressed woman in all of anime (Maetel!); Galaxy Express 999, a bonafide classic. And four, need I say more than the original Space Pirate Captain Harlock; the man, the myth, the legend… how I adore this show!

Other television series of interest include: The Adventures of the Little Prince, Treasure Island and The Perrine Story (World Masterpiece Theater, love! and wanna see it!) for historical literary interests; Daimos and Daitarn 3 for your mecha interests and Captain Future, which sounds really fancy, let’s say it again children with some bravado this time, CAPTAINFUTURE! Very nice. And for magical girl interest, there is Majokko Tickle, never heard of that one! And don’t forget there was a movie adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story Thumbelina and a TV special on the life of Anne Frank, Anne Frank Monogatari: Anne no Nikki to Douwa Yori.

In truth, 1978 was much more than just Leiji Matsumoto, but how can I view the totality of 1978 as a whole without him? Without question, this was the height of his creative potentials as well as a boon period of science fiction… Star Wars came out the previous year. Matsumoto’s highly emotional and melodramatic space operas filtered though a lens of classic romanticism and adventure spoke beyond that present moment. He may have had the market share of the times, but he was only one piece in a grand puzzle of great anime. 1978… such a great year!

1985… Homeward Bound

Anime and Simon & Garfunkel… now here’s a nice combination to consider…

I’m sitting in the railway station
Got a ticket to my destination
On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band
Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home where my thought’s escaping
Home where my music’s playing
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

Slightly melancholy, a yearning to go back somewhere to feel safe, warm, or protected. A return to the familiar for a short time before continuing again on your journey; sanctuary. Some of us have a series or movie that we return to that symbolizes home, for me it’s the original Macross. Yet there is one particular year that also represents a place of peace for me as well and that is 1985. Not that I want to go back to the year 1985, it’s just that there are many productions from the year that I personally love and if I had to do a top 10 listing from the 1980s, I could fill a majority of it with titles from the ole ‘85.

Before diving into titles from 1985, I have to back track with two key experiences I have had for the year. The first being the airing of Robotech, which as a child became the keystone that solidified my love for Japanese animation. Criticize, or praise the show if you wish, but for what it was for my life at that time… it was just, perfect. Also my first panel presentation I gave was about the year 1985. What a coincidence to give a presentation in 2015 and needing a topic when 30 years prior was a storehouse of awesome anime from 1985. Again… perfect. Some titles I knew well, some I got acquainted with for the first time and some I never knew existed became familiar. It was scary, but highly rewarding, as that panel gave me confidence and allowed me to share something I loved and know I was in good company.

1985 was a classic year for the direct to video OVA market. Having only existed for a year and change, 1985 would breed many classics and stand as a testament for quality productions. Titles such as Area 88, Bobby’s Girl, Cosmo Police JustyDream Dimension Hunter Fandora, Dream Hunter RemFight! Iczer-OneFire Tripper, Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko and Megazone 23 all had a place to shine outside the normal confines of cinema and television. One could create original work that may not fit into the two previous categories and be both of high quality and in some cases commercially successful. Yet the format also allowed previously created properties a chance to expand beyond their own previously created spaces. OVAs would feature titles that gave more depth, or alternate stories to Armored Trooper Votoms, Dirty Pair, Fairy Princess Minky Momo, Genesis Climber MospeadaGoShogun, Magical Angel Creamy Mami and Galactic Drifter Vifam. Of course all of these titles were released on analog formats like VHS and LaserDisc. DVD, Blu-Ray and even streaming were still far off sci-fi concepts in the mid 1980s.

And what of the big screen? Anime cinema of 1985 has quite a few options from the entertaining to the challenging to the… ee… shameful, perhaps. Action and adventure abound in the Dagger of Kamui, Vampire Hunter D and Lupin III: Legend of the Gold of Babylon (Pink jacket!). Sanrio released Fairy Florence/A Journey Through Fairyland and Mamoru Oshii challenged us with the haunting Angel’s Egg. Even more challenging was a rare film called Lullaby to the Big Sleep; a very intense psychological portrait. My favorite film from 1985 is the gentle and melancholy Night on the Galactic Railroad. Outer space, trains, cats and deep philosophy… perfect. And then there was Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight… ODIN! Some folks love it, but I often times end up falling asleep though it.

That leaves us with television for our final category. It is a good thing it is 2019 and not 1985 because I would be watching way more TV than I do now. …wait? Besides anime I don’t watch hardly any TV anymore, well except for an occasional weather report. If it were 1985 I would be wearing out a few couches watching the great mecha titles like Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Blue Comet SPT Layzner and more average titles like Dancougar and Tobikage. But then there are the shojo titles like Alpen Rose, Little Princess Sara and Pierrot’s Magical Star Magical Emi which will require another couch. And then there was the Dirty Pair, High School Kimengumi (a Shonen Jump title), Musashi no Ken and a variation of GeGeGe no Kitaro. More couches! And finally Touch. All 101 episodes of baseball, drama and romance. That may require two couches to sit in and is the title I recommend the highest for all the TV series. Touch is so, so good! Don’t take my word for it though.

Also of note for 1985 was the founding of Studio Ghibli after the runaway success of 1984’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The first fruit to bear from the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata came in 1986 with Castle in the Sky. And the rest they say, became history!

So welcome home, to my adopted home of 1985. Hope you stay long and enjoy the variety that made the year special. Of course this is but a mere sampling of the total output from 1985, but it is plenty to get one started. Now it looks like I am going to need some more couches for all these guests, especially if we watch the TV shows! What beverage suits your fancy?

Silently for me
Silently for me…
tacet

The Spirit of 1979

I have a soft spot for the anime of 1979. Why? Well, these are my ‘twin’ siblings so to speak as I was born in February of that year. This means as of 2019, we all celebrate a big 40 years of existence on this material plane. 40… people think I am 28 or something when they meet me and perhaps like my brothers and sisters of 1979, we all hold a timeless classic quality. We all still look good for our age and have matured like fine wine. Anyhow, I have not seen every production released that year, but the ones in which I have, well, they all have left an imprint onto me. My favorites include: Aim for the Ace (film version)Anne of Green Gables, the original Mobile Suit GundamRose of VersaillesGalaxy Express 999 (film version) and The Castle of Cagliostro. That’s a fine listing if I do say so myself.

I can also include Space Battleship Yamato: the New Voyage and Taro the Dragon Boy as well since I have seen them, but they did not leave near the impact on me as the titles listed above. Of course I have a wishlist of titles that I have not seen as of this writing. I am in no hurry to find these titles, but I know eventually they will crop up into my view list. The second series of Cyborg 009 and magical girl Hana no Ko Lun Lun/Flower Angel rank on the top of that listing if I can find them in their totalities. And maybe even Yamato ripoff Space Carrier Blue Noah if I so wish. Maybe. I do have the DVD set of Gatchaman Fighter so that will take precedent; I enjoyed the first two series of Gatchaman. Oh yeah I forgot, thanks Anime News Network’s encyclopedia… The Unico pilot movie was in 1979 too. I know I have that one on file.

So a big happy 40th birthday to all of us. May we continue to stay young and inspire generations in the future. KANPAI!