#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.

#25 : Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival is phenomenal… beautiful. Nine short films of pure genius. Much like picking up a package of new crayons, there is a color or two or maybe even nine that appeal to you? I have my favorites for sure, which I will disclose in time. There are many omnibus or collective productions that have come over from Japan, but Robot Carnival to me trumps them all. It is art for art’s sake and for all the directors who were a part of the production I am sure this was the assignment… ok you have about 10–15 minutes to tell a story and include some aspect of robots… have fun!

I have always enjoyed Japan’s view of what a robot is or can be. It is not some machine to be used for comedic entertainment or a scary monster that shows the darker side of technology. A robot can be a great force or nature, a superhero, a vehicle that has be piloted by someone, your best friend, but above all else a robot can also be as human as you or me. After all are we not organic machines that have emotional connection, the same can be said of something that is inorganic. Mixed with the free interpretation of what a robot can be allowed a large range of creative expression shown in Robot Carnival. No two pieces look or feel the same. But the one constant is the great music. Most of the shorts have no dialogue so in a way they are kind of like music videos. And guess who wrote the music for all of these shorts except one of them? That Jo Hisashi guy! Yes, Mr. Jo has a backlog of other soundtracks beyond the Studio Ghibli canon.

rc_1Robot Carnival begins and ends with it’s most well known creator’s vision of the “Robot Carnival” coming into town spreading it’s joy and fun. Katsuhiro Otomo (the Akira guy) shows his usual style by having this gargantuan transport vehicle partying it up as it travels through a barren landscape. The only thing is this party is laying waste and destruction in the wake of the vehicle’s journey (so Otomo). But hey look at music festivals and such after everyone leaves, it’s a major mess and trashed. Rock on the rolling Robot Carnival… ee maybe Carn-evil?

Alright I am going to go over the next grouping that I consider my also rans and then I will go in backwards order of my favorites from there. Not saying these are bad or they may not be a favorite of your’s, it is just that my tastes favor the shorts I will anounce later. Franken’s Gears is darkly funny and a complete rehash of Shelley’s FrankensteinStrange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion is funny and over the top. And Chicken Man and Redneck or Nightmare is one that I often look over and too be honest if I can give it another go I would probably favor it more. Now for my favorite four, the our seasons, fab four, the Beatles… 

Number 4… Presence: If any of the shorts is standard stock and trade shonen action and could have been turned into a longer single release OVA, this is it. Heavy action, driving music and awesome hair. Girl gets kidnapped, hero saves the day and a whole lot of fun… and awesome hair!

rc_2Number 3… Starlight Angel: Two girls having fun at an amusement park and one sees her beau being friendly to her friend (creep deserves a SLAP!) and girl gets mad, loses necklace and a robot in the park tries to return it. Then again some over the top stuff where a big bad robot takes her away and the robot mentioned previously turns into a handsome guy and saves the day… and then they fall in love. I love shojo and the work of Hiroyuke Kitazume and Starlight Angel has both. This one always reminds me of my niece and the times we (and my sister) had fun times at Six Flags and also her love of going to Disney World. To me she is the “Starlight Angel”.

rc_3Number 2… Presence: Loss, regret, can I be loved? This one could be the pièce de résistance of the whole collection for the production quality alone. Not that the other works are a slouch, but the detail work particularly with clothing and motion show a true strength of the old paint and cel technique. The story is about a man who basically is lost in his life. His marriage is dull, his wife seems to be more successful than him and all the usual responsibilities of being a man seems to have drained the life from him. He creates a female robotic companion, but when she comes to life she asserts her independence and again he becomes frustrated. This one is often looked at as an erotic piece, but I have to disagree as it is a much more metaphorical tale of looking to connect in a genuine relationship.

rc_4Number 1… Cloud: Yes, Cloud! But it’s slow and boring and doesn’t do anything. It’s basically a kid walking with minimal background changes and piano or synth music… SHUT IT. Yes it is in a ‘way’, but it is not slow, or boring, or bad, or stupid, it’s BEAUTIFUL! It is perhaps the most relaxing animation I have ever experienced, almost the equivalent of ambient music (Brian Eno anyone?). And the music makes it that more magical and this is the only production that does not feature notes from Jo Hisaishi. That, and I really like the wandering kid. He reminds me of myself as someone who is a daydreamer on a quest. So yeah, Cloud is my numero uno.

Lightning in a bottle. That saying comes to mind when I think of Robot Carnival. It may only happen once and when it does be thankful that you had the opportunity. Besides the older otaku culture who raves over this collection it can be in many ways a gateway drug to introduce Japanese animation to anyone who may not be warm to it. The limited dialog and shorter lengths makes easy digestion. But for those of us who love Robot Carnival, it is almost a religion. I am a proud fan of this one and glad to still keep my old laserdisc release even though we got a DVD release (Discotek, you made a miracle come true) as this is one of the reasons why anime is so much more than just the term anime.

#24 : Area 88

area88_1Circumstances often bring us into situations that may not always be the most ideal. Shin Kazama is a young pilot who just graduated from a flight academy in Paris. His future looks certain; he is optimistic, has a job lined up with Yamato airlines and his beautiful girlfriend is the daughter of the president of the company. All his dreams are about to come true except for the fact that he decided to join his best friend on a drunken night on the town which ended up with the naive and very impaired Shin signing a paper without really reading over it. The following morning he comes to find out he has a new destiny and that destiny is in the foreign legion air force of Arslan. Shin Kazama’s future now belongs to Area 88.

Area 88, released in 1985, is an example of an early masterpiece for the then new direct to video format, the OVA. Produced by Studio Pierrot, the same company that released the first OVA release in late 1983 (Dallos), Area 88 showed a growing maturity in a short span of time. Based off of the original manga, this pocket sized three episode (two if you have an alternate release) was one of the first productions I experienced in the beginning of my journey into the deep dive of being a hard core older otaku who was looking for options to play catch up as it were. Megazone 23 Part 1 and Area 88 (episode 1 at the time) were my homework almost a decade ago and needless to say I was happy to find alternate material to compliment the usual material I had up to that point.

area88_2Let’s look at nature vs. nurture in regards to our hero Shin Kazama. True there is the debate of are things predestined or learned all across the map, but in regards to Shin I have to point to the nurture aspect, or more precisely environmental influence. Shin’s initial nature is a gentile soul whose life has become flipped upside down. He is depressed, he is desparate. More than anything he wants to return to Japan to go back to his former life. But over time from being in the battlefield and around battle scared pilots he begins to morph into a cold blooded mercenary as it is the only way for him to survive. The only life he can conceive is being trapped in a fighter plane trying to earn enough credits to qualify for an honorable discharge. Of course he can serve three years or desert (which he tried earlier in his career) as well.

area88_3Shin is a victim of circumstance, NO! He accepted his current condition instead of holding on to his genuine truth, but war does strange things to everyone involved. The love of his life Ryoko is now being approached by the friend who sold him out, Kanzaki. As Kanzaki weasels his way up the corporate ladder and enforce his love to Ryoko he can never escape the ghost of his old friend Shin. Often times their paths cross even though they may not be looking at each other in the face. Talk about a soap opera and a half and I am eating it all up with a bucket of popcorn (I need a refill!). Much of this story can be seen in many of the mecha series of the time, as I see this as shonen-esque type show, but Area 88 is a bit more down to earth dealing with actual war machinery and a more contemporary setting (be it the late 70s/early 80s). It’s kind of like, what I read somewhere, a more realistic G.I. Joe. Very true in that observation, but I still seeArea 88 as a tale of a man who lost his faith in himself.

area88_4Another avenue I often look at with the lens of Area 88 is the concept of the war draft. Growing up a decade after the ending of the Vietnam war, the shadow of being told to go to war without question or reason was around. This was my parents’ generation and of course it was reflected in films such as Apocalyse Now and Platoon. Much like those films, Area 88 shows a young man’s life change due to the circumstance of being taken away from his environment and his dreams. The spoils of war often silence many young people who had drive and ambition. If you feel it is your duty to serve you are more than able, but we should never force anyone to do what they may not feel is truly right.

Truly a gold standard of the OVA, Area 88 tells it’s story with the right pacing and production value. Without any question it is required viewing for anyone interested in classic Japanese animation. Just one word of parting advice… never sign anything when you have been drinking alcohol. You never know what misfortunes can arise from being careless.

#23 : The Ideon: A Contact/Be Invoked

How often do we get to have a second chance? Have you ever had an idea, a story or a project that was meant for a bigger promise and an even bigger finale? Often times some stories, be it anime or otherwise, get a premature conclusion. This would be the second production in a row where Yoshiyuki Tomino would go back and retell his story again after early cancellation. The first was that little show he did a season previously called Mobile Suit Gundam, though that was more a refinement of the overall story. For Space Runaway Ideon, the ending was completely cut and rushed leaving a universe of questioning what just happened? Two years later the missing pieces and a proper ending would emerge in the theaters as The Ideon: A Contact and The Ideon: Be Invoked.

idem_1For my money Ideon is the ultimate super robot tale, maybe even the most amazing space opera I have experienced as well. Tackling issues of xenophobia and higher cosmic metaphysics around a large cast of characters that go through beyond the sublime. The Ideon robot, for me, is the most terrifying machine… EVER! The Ideon is not so much a robot and the Ide energy is more than spiritual mumbo jumbo. These are acts of nature, an act of whatever name you want to call the deity, or the ultimate power of the universe. Perhaps the embodiment of the universe itself as neither good nor bad, it just is. Perhaps the energies to keep the cycles of life and evolution flowing, continuing and growing. All of this from the origins of a simple toy sponsored show with funky disco derived fashions. Truly a concept beyond it’s physical package.

idem_2First let’s look at A Contact. There is nothing new here if you are already familiar with the TV series. Retelling the first two thirds of the series in a condensed structure makes the movie move quite fast, but I would still recommend viewing it as there is nothing wrong with reviewing the events leading up to Be Invoked. Though for those of you who have yet to see the Ideon TV series I would highly recommend diving into the 39 episodes that were produced as you get a little more background. There is nothing wrong with cutting out the fat so they say, but when you cut into the meat as well it can leave you a little hungry.

idem_3Now for Be Invoked. I really, really, really and truly love this movie and what it did for me. After watching the TV series, then A Contact I would move to Be Invoked and felt a sense of satisfaction that this journey was worth the work. The masterpiece was at the end, much like the final movement of a great symphony. The same thing happened to me with Patlabor. The original OVA, to the first movie and then Patlabor 2: The Movie as a finale was like being bathed in something words can never describe. I have seen the promised land and but it truly moved me. It’s moments like this that make me most happy. Many have said that the Ideon movies are much like the Evangelion movie duo, Death and Rebirth and End of… , but I disagree. True, Gainax was yet again paying tribute by following a formula, but the Eva movies presented an alternate ending kind of like ‘top this if you didn’t like how the TV series ended’ because we gave you the end and you thought it was not enough. But where both franchises are similar in their movie adaptation is the fact that they end BIG!

idem_4But what about Be Invoked makes it so worthwhile personally. Ideon for me is one of if not the darkest sci-fi space opera I have witnessed. Yoshiyuki Tomino would let it all out with the plot revolving around two civilizations who can only fight each other. When characters die, they die and tragically, not unlike Zeta Gundam and Aura Battler Dunbine. And in Ideon everyone pays the final price, kind of like and old saying I heard as how serious is life, you won’t get out of it alive. If this spoils things I am sorry, but Ideon is known as the show where everyone and everything dies. But, from the movie I have gained a new perspective on the concept of death. The floating spirits being reborn to a higher consciousness is a welcome concept. It is not over when the physical organism is done, you continue on although not in the same state of mind or body. That and the wisdom of Alan Watts stating that death is like going to sleep without waking up, or being born is awakening without a memory of falling asleep. So instead of death it is rebirth and as I have often said in the end, we will all die and live happily ever after.

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s one of Sunrise’s best robot franchises ever. Would I ever want to see a remake? Well much like Citizen Kane, how do you top perfection done right the first time? Particularly with that great orchestral score (I love those soundtracks). Oh Ideon, how you rocked my world.

 

 

 

#22 : The Grave of the Fireflies

I often find many people remark about how The Grave of the Fireflies may be one of the best anti-war films of all time. True the story takes places during the final stages of World War II in Japan, but this film has nothing to do with war as we usually think of it. No where do we see soldiers in trenches or the politicians sitting high and pretty. But I must say, this is a war film. A war between the individual and society, a war between compassion and ignorance and a war of distrust and survival. This is my personal take on one of Studio Ghibli’s most un-Ghibli films (if that can be the case?). May I present Isao Takahata’s The Grave of the Fireflies.

gof_1One of the biggest misgivings about reviewing or researching information is the fact that in many cases we end up adopting what others say or have said and in return we regurgitate that same information. The ability to create one’s own unique experience can become lost. Such is the times we live in, but if you go in with very little expectation and your own perspectives often times you come up with a unique point of view since you are not obliged to meet another’s standard. When I first witnessed The Grave of the Fireflies the only things I knew was it was told through the eyes of two children during World War II and it is noted as one of anime’s most tragic tales. That first viewing I was with my mom as I had corrupted her into becoming a fan of anime as well. At the end we both had the wind knocked out of us and our faces were wet from tears.

gof_2For me The Grave of the Fireflies is the loss of potential. Young Seita and Setsuko, have to survive on their own merit because they have no choice, or do they? True they have lost their mother, their aunt was cruel and unkind and the doctor was nonchalant about treating their physical ailments. No one showed interest in helping the children, but what if perhaps they tried yet another person? Maybe that next person could have been the break through that was needed. But for adults to shove away children for any reason instead of helping them achieve everything that they can become is a crime beyond criminal. Though in times of war there can be difficulties, but to ignore another individual’s cry for help is extremely uncalled for. It shows that adults are often not the wise hopeful teachers that we often have been led to believe. Sometimes adults become self obsessed to a point where the humanity that they once possessed has been sold off for a bit of false prestige. But this is not true of every adult.

But part of the blame has to be on Seita as well. Being too stubborn to admit he needed more help than what is led to be believed can for anyone lead to downfall. Often we all get to a point were we go enough is enough and we just keep sliding along thinking it will get better because ‘I’ can do this. ‘I’ often needs to be, or more truthfully has to be, a ‘we’ in times of desperation. No one can carry the weight of the world when you don’t have the understanding that it does not have to be your burden alone. Life can be hard, but making it more difficult by not opening up to change is infinitely more dangerous.

gof_3My only message from all this is to learn from this movie. If a child needs help, help them. If an animal is starving, feed it. If a friend, loved one or stranger you encounter needs a moment of aid, give it as it can change someone’s life. And if you are in need and no one is helping you, you have to take the initiative to say enough is enough. I need help either from a phone call, therapist or trusted advisory figure. Don’t let the fireflies burn out in all of us because there is enough light in us all to make the world shine even brighter.

“War is over if you want it” – John Lennon and Yoko Ono

#21 : Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive

Recall the Disney version of Robin Hood. You have your traveling minstrel rooster, saying the animal kingdom has their own version of the story and might I add it is “what really happened in Sherwood Forest” at least according to our journeyman friend. When you often say the three words ‘Love Live Alive’… now is it ‘Live’ like I want to live through this or I saw that awesome band ‘Live’? Sorry… you think of an attempt on Harmony Gold to squeeze a couple more bucks from the Robotech name. But this blogger has another version of this story and this is what really happened. In 1985, same year that Robotech aired ironically, this little OVA was released in Japan. Here is the real story of Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive (thats a long title, eh?). Oh de Lally Golly What a Day!

mlla_1I know the Robotech version emphases ‘Live’ as I want to live through this, but I may be wrong and I don’t care because I read ‘Live’ as I saw that awesome band ‘Live’. And speaking of music, that is the backbone to the OVA as we follow the ‘Lonely Soldier Boy’ Yellow Belmont and what he has been up to after the Inbit invasion war. He still rides his blue Mospeada bike, bends gender better than anyone and performs his music all over. A soldier he may have been, but his heart belongs to fashion and the stage. And it is the career that he deserves as he recalls memories of his recent past. But what about the music as the backbone to this story?

mlla_2Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive is a simple love letter. Did you love the show from a couple years back? The staff at Tatsunoko studios have a little something for you to reminisce. The music mentioned earlier that is either recorded or performed live by Yellow splices between flashbacks of his old companion’s adventures that recall the nostalgia in period correct MTV style. This was not in the Robotech version (grr!), but what of this music anyway? Who actually wrote these songs? How about Jo Hisashi! All you Studio Ghibli fans should know that name. That’s right, Jo has a back catalog of various musical contributions including this OVA and the original TV series. The grand orchestral sounds of the Ghibli films though are not present. Here we have Jo’s sensibility in the flavors of rock and pop. Midnight Rider is my favorite track followed by Mind Tree in case you have the soundtrack handy.

mlla_3I honestly don’t know how popular Genesis Climber Mospeada was in Japan and really it does not matter. Be it the Robotech or original version of the 25 episode show, I liked it very much for the small rebel bandit unit and morphing motorcycle armor, so badass. But again in my book, it is the characters I love most. Yellow was my favorite character from the show anyway and having a video about him makes Love Live Alive double special. Besides being creatively talented and often the strong voice of reason in the group, Yellow was the first individual in my life that I recognized as gender non-conforming, though I did not know what that concept was for years to come. Again, how this OVA got made about a character from yet another scifi mecha show is beyond me? I should not ask and just accep,t after all it was the 1980s in Japan, all kinds of productions got green lighted.

As a fan of either telling of this show I appreciate this short direct to video one off.  I can’t say much more since it is what it is, a string of music videos spliced between moments of Yellow’s current life told in about a span of an hour. …and like what wise people say about cover songs, nothing beats hearing the original. Live on Yellow and rock on!

#20 : Grey: Digital Target

Imagine life as a constant war and your main ambition is twofold. The first is just basic survival. And the second being that after all of the struggle you are guaranteed citizenship in an utopian city. Kill or be killed, trust no one and above all else get out alive. This is the world of Grey and this is his movie. An adaptation from the original manga by Yoshihisa Tagami, welcome to Grey: Digital Target.

grey1The world of Grey is a cruel one where people volunteer to join their town militia and fight those who live in the other towns. Along the way you acquire the money to live and the credits to advance up the ladder of rank to obtain citizenship in the city where you will be free to live as you please. No one has ever seen this supposed city, only rumors fly as to what it is like. Each town is run by a computer and that computer is connected to the main computer, Big Mama, that sways influence over the entire world. Imagine the Matrix crossbred with the Hunger Games with an 1980s attitude; you pretty much you have Grey: Digital Target. It is possibly my favorite post apocalyptic science fiction war drama and I am here to spread the word on this under appreciated dark horse.

grey2But more about this man Grey. Often nicknamed ‘Grey Death’, our protagonist (can’t say ‘hero’ because he is a total anti-hero type) is known for being cold, distant and only out for himself. Rumors abound he sells out his teammates and takes in all the glory. Perhaps, but Grey is also hungry for vengeance and retribution. Underneath the stoic face and facade is a man with a piece of his past missing, that being his girlfriend Lips (yes that is her name). She became a trooper herself and before her death, Grey was not so ambitious or callous. After the fact, he has become a man to be reckoned with, but humanity still remains in his heart that has yet to be rediscovered. And as for his iconic helmet, it used to be belong to Lips and he wears it as a memento, but you would think a red helmet would be easily noticed? But it looks cool and that is what truly matters… it’s all about style.

grey3Why I really love this movie is due to the fact is gritty. Nihilist, punk rock type grit. Color, flash and dazzle are always fun, but when you are dealing with war, you have to keep it rough and dirty. Also you have to view life in the world of Grey: Digital Target as almost an allegory for contemporary life. Maybe not so much being physically at war, but how often do you or did you fight for something that you heard others tell you was the ultimate goal that turned out to be a let down for you personally? Sometimes the greater gifts of life are from what we trust in ourselves or discover on the way. Life is much more than what the so called ‘mother computer’ of culture dictates to us. So question the status quo!

If you are in the States and collect VHS this is one of those rarities that was only available on tape only (not sure for my friends in Europe did you all get this one?), though it is around digitally as well. Also check the manga too as the ending is a bit different and dire compared to the heroic open end of the anime. Plus, as the credits roll you get a really catchy pop song, Love is Heart. Why do I still hunt for, watch and continue watching older anime, because you find gems in the garden like this one. Time to get back to digging in the dirt.

… also the studio that made this production was Magic Bus and every time I see that name I always get The Who’s Magic Bus going off in my head. Yeah I’m a dork 🙂