#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.

#4 : Birth

I have seen many opinions in regards to this one off. Some like it, some think it’s too weird, some think it’s garbage. I LOVE this OVA and I am out and proud of it. True it is an acquired taste, but I think I may know what turns off some, but also what turn’s me on to this oddity. What is it? Well that little ol’ production from 1984… Birth.

birth1Birth was a title I was lucky to come across very cheaply. Remember when you could get a brand new title off of Amazon for under $4.00? I believe I spent around $3.50 (the glory days of $2.99 shipping). I see it as one of the best return on investments I have ever put into any DVD, because I have watched Birth time after time after time and loved it more each time. And just what is it about Birth that I love so much? I mean it is basically a long chase scene and treasure hunt that ends with the whole universe… whoa wait, don’t want to spoil the ending now. Now… I present my reasons, so read on.

An animator’s playhouse: As someone who has a background, education and interest in art and design I often view certain anime a little differently. In this case I see this property as a fun time for all the animators and staff who worked on it. Very creative, but not serious and artsy fartsy (if you want to go that route try Angel’s Egg). If I could get a gig like this, I would say yes in a heartbeat.  Plus Yoshinori Kaneda had a big hand in it’s conception (see recommendations below). So expect lots and lots of motion. Plus, it was animated by one of my favorite, now defunct, smaller animation houses, Kaname Production. Also, Hideaki Anno (Mr. Evangelion) had a hand as well as an up and coming animator.

birth2Characters and their design: The design and animation of Birth is very much in contrast to almost a majority of what came out in Japan in the 1980s. The characters are very organic and blob like, maybe a touch liquidy. Is that is why the planet is called Aqualoid? Plus our main cast is a rag tag group. Our main duo, Rasa and Nam, are either brother and sister or boyfriend/girlfriend, in any case they are close and watch out for each other. Boa is a goof ball space trader who has a lolita complex for Rasa. His business partner, Kim, is often the voice of reason in their partnership. Plus you have your array of minor character including the Inorganics, other humans and these blob type things, one of whom belongs to Rasa and is named Monga. MONGA! MONGA!!!

birth4Humor: I find Birth to be amazingly funny. True some of the humor is ridiculous, but it works well for my tastes. I mean you have the scenes where Rasa is called out as a jiggly-butt by the Inorganic bikers or they have the comment “Just because a woman is smart does not mean she can sell a cow.” Or, the kid Inorganic hitting on Rasa and after rejection he has a scene at a beach. Or Bao just being Bao. All in all it is weird, spastic and goofy.

birth3A higher reason: Now how can Birth be deep? Well, the notion of the spirit like Arlia (hey she’s a pretty ghost according to Nam) explaining the universe is made up of several levels and that the Organics and Inorganics are both a product of the same source makes you think twice, what am I really watching here? Even goofy cartoons can add a like mind bend. Plus at the ending… oh yeah can’t spoil it if you have not seen it.

Music: And finally… the soundtrack… composed by the one and only… Mr. Joe Hisashi. Oh yeah, Miyazaki’s favorite composer did this one too. It has a similar vibe to what he did on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Not very orchestral and more synthesizer and pop/rock in it’s approach.

This is one that I think needs to be viewed in order to have a proper frame of reference. Or having the option of viewing it with someone who is familiar to the property to point things out or hear them chuckle at certain times. As I mentioned above this is an acquired taste, so take what you will from it. If anything this showed the freedom of the era it was produced because we just don’t see this kind of odd ball stuff being released as often anymore, unless there is a huge marketing campaign behind it. As for me if I need to make a top 10 of 80s anime, this is one I would include (honest).

#3 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner

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.

#2 : Bobby’s Girl/Bobby’s in Deep

Some people say they don’t make ’em like they used to. Often times this is a grossly exaggerated lament to lost youth thinking that what is out today will always be inferior to your own great days of youth. And with anime, yes in some ways it is not like how it used to be. Gone are hand drawn cels, the old men from previous generations, the freshness of ideas or brands not being recycled and the use of longer drawn out stories particularly on television. But for one production, Bobby’s Girl, it will never be like it was, be it before or since.

BG4Bobby’s Girl could just be another OVA from 1985 and if you believe that you need to see this production again. Much like Angel’s Egg or Robot Carnival, Bobby’s Girl is an arthouse masterpiece of the era. But where the previous two are like fine art hanging in a gallery, Bobby’s Girl speaks to something more primal, raw and emotional. I can only attune it to a well played blues song. It’s a lament, a statement of feeling only the likes that a great musician can pour from his or her chosen instrument. You feel it in your soul and if you have a dry eye at the end, I have to question your humanity especially when the cover of the Marcie Blane song also named Bobby’s Girl plays over the end credits.

BG2The motorcycle has always been a symbol of rebellion. And why not, more often than not it is usually built for  one individual to ride. It becomes an extension of it’s rider and that rider can fly like the wind on only two wheels. Very similar to the lone anti-hero on a horse in a western. And Bobby (Akihito Nomura is his real name) is our lone anti-hero and his only only passion is riding motorcycles. He does not get along with his family, his father in particular is very hard on him being a bit of a “slacker”. But instead of being a cocked and loaded loudmouth Bobby is very aloof. His only drive is to just follow his interest, which he does to the chagrin of his family leading him to being kicked out of his home. Thus, he is left to fend for his own survival. Also highlighted in the story is an article from a magazine that featured our protagonist. He receives letters because of this article from a certain young lady who has a keen attraction towards him. Our hero has a fan, an admirer, maybe a potential love interest who likes him for him. But as a “freebird” does he really realize that he has someone who is watching out for him?

BG3The story is only one element of this production. The artwork, on the other hand, can almost be seen as the true star.  Mishmashing brief moments of teenage culture that can be seen in American Graffiti with the Pop Art movement of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, or high quality pencil sketches, into the current culture of 1980s Japan. Not that the entire production is experimental, it is those moments that break from the usual that make it special. This experimental nature makes this one of the many productions that can be considered an animators playhouse and a part of a handful of unique productions of the era that I stated before. Madhouse has always created quality work, but this one… wow. Thank you all for something beautiful.

This is one that is not very easy to come across, nor is it mentioned much in conversation. You have to track down this one, but unfortunately the only source I have found has video quality that is a little subpar. But like Citizen Kane on VHS vs. a generic big budget popcorn flick on 4K/HDR/Bluray/Hi-hi-hi definition, which is the better movie or experience? Quality always shines through limitation, but will you give it a try?

#1 : Megazone 23 (part 1)

Megazone 23 could be my favorite one off OVA of all time. True there are two other parts, well three since part three is a two-parter. Megazone 23, the first one, the original, is in my mind enough of a self contained story in and of itself. After all “there can be only one!” It is a quintessential time capsule of the era (1985). Plus, to me, the open ended ending is priceless. If ever there was a production that had everything, and I mean pretty close to everything I look for in an anime, this is one of a select few I draw from my collection without a second glance.

Megazone 23 is far from the first anime I was exposed to, but I can say for sure it was the first that solidified me as an otaku. Before Megazone 23 I had a good working knowledge of well known titles at the time and that I was aware of: Robotech, Gundam Wing, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Record of Lodoss War… you get the picture. Mostly well known popular stuff, quasi-casual may be a better term. I needed to locate more niche material. So I landed on Megazone 23 and Area 88, not a bad combination if I say so.

grab018277.pngBegun as a so called follow-up to a show most Robotech fans should be familiar with, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23 had an interesting start. I often consider this show to be the true sequel to Macross (another nod to Robotech), if not in name, as it shares a majority of it’s key staff including director Noboru Ishiguro and character designers Toshihiro/Toshiki Hirano and Haruhiko Mikimoto (three men I have the highest of respect for). I won’t get into the historic details too much, but the production started off as a TV series with various working titles until the main sponsor pulled the plug. No money, big problem, what to do? Release it direct to video since that is a growing market and thankfully, that is what happened. Who knows how much of the plot was cut to fit it into an approximate 80 minute running time? But in the end who cares, it worked.

As for the story we have a young man (Shogo) who loves motorcycles, living in the world on his own who meets a girl (Yui) and then ends up meeting the mecha (Garland) and then a nemesis (B.D.) and then a 1980s equivalent to Hatsune Miku (Eve, Kumi Miyasato’s songs are great). Then all hell breaks loose as things begin to unravel much like a peeling onion. I often think of Megazone 23 as the ultimate growing up story where everything you have learned about life and reality is ripped from right under your feet.

6a7abe908923891d76f7a1ac5c7596c81436012095_fullBeing the fact that this production was released direct to video, it gave those who grew up with mecha as their preferred genre an even more “realistic” grown up story following the growing sophistication of epics like Gundam, Macross and Votoms. Of course the growing popularity of the fighting genre (Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya) signaled an end to the television dominance of mecha. Zeta Gundam, also a 1985 release, is in my mind the capstone to an era in television where mecha grew in sophistication and serious subject matter that did not come back again until possibly Evangelion. Many of those who grew up in the 70s/early 80s now needed a new avenue to find material and in many cases material to match their growing maturity. Megazone 23 was in the perfect place at the perfect time.

And as for release in North America, there would be three attempts. First as part of Robotech: the Movie, which did not last long (even Carl Macek disowned it). Then came Streamline Pictures (Carl’s official release and a solid one) and finally ADV (the dub is totally rad man, hear it to believe it, but it is also a good effort). Both the Streamline and ADV release saw DVD releases, but are out of print.

Also is in some ways Megazone 23 can be considered an early cyber-punk release. Of course American cinema like Blade Runner and Streets of Fire were the bigger influences, but from Megazone 23 we would grow into the likes of Bubblegum Crisis, Akira and the early Masamune Shirow adaptations (Black Magic M-66, Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police) later in the decade. Speaking of Streets of Fire, released in 1984, the cast see it in the cinema during the story, talk about paying homage.

If there is one thing that bothers me about Megazone 23, it is how much another “Hollywood” property gets a lot of the credit for the concept of living in a manufactured society run by a computer, even though Megazone 23 told the story first, sort of. Director Noburo Ishiguro has mentioned how the concept is very similar to a couple of Robert Heinlein’s short stories, so Megazone 23 may not have been the first either. All told The Matrix may have sold the idea in a large scale both culturally and financially, but Megazone 23 will always be my tale for a controlled manufactured society.