#48 : Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross

Oddly enough, even though The Masters section of Robotech was a little convoluted, I always loved it. It was the characters plain and simple and their relationships. Also how a rag tag bunch of odd balls, a strong trio of female protagonists and an angsty guy who wants revenge turned from a semi-fun sci-fi mecha show into an epic tragedy where there was no clear winner was a breath of fresh air (Ideon did a similar feat, but that was years down the road for me). Of course the Americanized adaptation acted as a bridge between the original Macross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, but what about Southern Cross as it’s own independent story without shoehorning the odd glue of Robotech’s definition of protoculture?

SoCr_1Humanity has expanded out towards the stars and has settled a planet (wow, never heard that one before) named Gloire. On this planet we have a group of military defenders who keep watch  (again, never heard that one before)and one of those fine soldiers is in the brig and is about to be released and taking her place is her lady killer squad leader (NOW, thats different!). Jeanne Francais, our former prisoner, is a bit of a free spirit and occasionally a trouble maker, so it makes sense she is now head of the Tactical Armored Corps 15th Squadron. I love anime logic 🙂 But of course she would be brought back into the brig again while doing what she does best, like knocking over a military police robot. And while all this fun is happening an alien fleet approaches our peaceful planet. Peace time is now over.

Amidst the fun and antics, there is an honest serious military drama with an alien invasion. These invaders, The Zor, are eager to return to Gloire as this was their former home world. A war erupts and in this show we get a unique type of robot, the Spartan. A hovering tank that transforms into a robot. Nice touch. This is the main mecha for our girl Jeanne, but how does it fair against the Zor’s main machine, the Bioroid? And in particular a ‘red’ version… wait a red one? This reminds me of Mobile Suit Gundam for some reason? Hmm?

SoCr_2Complimenting Jeanne are two more strong ladie, who are the direct opposite in personality and method. Marie Angel is a hot shot pilot and Lana Isavia is one of the military police’s strict officers. Totally new for mecha anime at the time, these girl’s set a standard for having girl power in a robot show. THANK YOU! Joining Jeanne as well are her squad mates including tech guru Louis, ‘Casanova’ Charles, grumpy Andrzej and sensitive Bowie; plus General Rolf Emerson and a mystery man who is a captured and put under the watchful eye of Jeanne, Seifriet.  And with Seifriet, the story really begins to ramp up in intensity as well as Jeanne’s fluttering heart for her crush on Mr. Longhair.

SoCr_3And now for something a little different, what of pop culture references? Oh they exist as well. Such as when the 15th Squadron elbowed their way into a downed Zor ship and eventually getting caught into a large trash reservoir. And guess what? The walls are moving together. Sounds like one of those famous scenes from Star Wars: A New Hope. Yet I liked this one a little more as Jeanne gets a little trigger happy and all her boys and her have to deal with a ricocheting laser blast. And all that background music, I wonder if that once popular band known as the Police ever heard what Japan released. True it sounds very much like the Police’s 1983 album Synchronicity, in particular the title tracks Synchronicity I and II, that I wonder if Sting himself wrote this soundtrack.

SoCr_4When the original shows that made up Robotech eventually got a domestic release, Southern Cross would be the first one I got. Perhaps it was the cheapest at the moment, or maybe I was extra curious to see how this uncut tale actually unfolded? Again it like reading the original novel to a major motion picture and you find the details you had been searching for. Some are not too keen on Southern Cross as a series, but I can’t help but enjoy it because it has been around me for so long. Plus this series has made me a fan of character designer Tomonori Kogawa’s work.

If only this show did not have a short run, who knows what could have happened. As for what we got, and in particular the ending, I am more than satisfied (Yoshiyuki Tomino did you work on this?). Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, you will always be one of my dark house favorites.

#47 : Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh

Fast fact… the opening sequence to the first episode of Dangaioh is awesome. WHOA talk about a whole lot of fun crammed into about three and a half minutes. This may be my favorite anime of what I call popcorn entertainment… sit down and have a blast with no strings attached and to be honest, no real sense of depth beyond what you see is what you get. Dangaioh takes what was fun about super robot mecha from the 1970s and early 1980s and injects it with a dose of higher octane fuel and sprinking in a little esper super hero as the topping on the cake. Be ready to “Cross Fight” because I want to talk about Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh.

Dangaioh_1It’s time to separate from the uber serious space opera and so-called real robot genere of mecha and return to something more fundamental and basic. I view Dangaioh the same way as I view punk rock in that regard. And while pomp and circumstance of “big stadium acts” or “progressive rock” like titles of say Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross, or Ideon are very much beloved by me, I also find a relief in something simpler, harder and faster. Enter Dangaioh into the mix and I go… “Yeah lets ROCK!” But keep it simple and fun without over bloating it… like say contemporary action films of Hollywood.

Dangaioh_2In the process of the intro we meet our team of heroes who will pilot the Dangaioh machine. We begin with sensitive and level headed Mia Alice, crybaby and cheerleader Lamba Nom, hot headed Pai Thunder and Roll Kran, who is basically the useless guy. Wait a minute… three girls and one dude? That may be more common today, but for the 1980s that was something new. Usually it was the reverse with only one girl in a group of boys. Needless to say these four have been enhanced with esper qualities of various difference and their main purpose is to be sold to the “Banker” a pirate named, Garimoth, much to the chagrin of the jealous Gil Berg (who eventually sells out because why not, he wants to be the king of the group after all). Needless to say our four  heroes realize they are individuals and go against this predetermined destiny. Freewill wins!

Dangaioh_3And the fun starts from there. And over a period of three episodes we enter a “bad guy of the week” type of format. Again reminiscent of early days of mecha, Go Nagai would be proud to see the pendulum swing back towards a more simple approach to mecha. But, that is not to say it is completely elementary. The story at time digs deep into character psychology and in many cases backstory since our heroes are trying to rediscover who they really are. The artwork is awesome as well. As a fan of Toshiro Hirano’s style, it oozes with his certain touch of character design as well as overall direction. Plus, this has great mecha designs and ideas from Koichi Ohata. Nice to see that man’s skills as an artist than say a director, M.D. Geist anyone?

Dangaioh_4For those of us in the U.S., Dangaioh along with Gunbuster would be the first Japanese animation released subtitled on that old glorious format of VHS. Thank you U.S. Renditions for making this happen and it is sad you are not around today still releasing anime. These three tapes are collectors items for sure for some of us, including myself, but could you imagine purchasing one episode for about $30. And on VHS to boot, not say Blu-Ray or some other high definition source. How times and the market have changed.

Could it have been more than just only the three episodes? True there was that Great Dangaioh TV series, but nothing for the original. And that is fine, because why keep milking a story to death? Seriously, sometimes a great band may release an album or two and then move on to other personal projects. Dangaioh is very much the same. Rock on forever Dangaioh as we rise our lighters to the air for you. I will love ya till the end of time.

#46 : Black Magic M-66

BMM66_1You know what I love about the OVA format? In particular, the ones that came out in the mid-1980s… besides it was an awesome time for creativity… it is the fact you would get miniature one offs that were self contained. Under an hour was all the investment you had to give, which come on everyone, that’s not much time. And these were not promotions for a bigger project. These were the real deal and short and sweet. Masamune Shirow, known well for Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, would get his first anime adaptation in 1987’s Black Magic M-66. The rest they say is history.

BMM66_2Upon watching this one-off I am sure one thing will pop up in your mind. HEY NOW! This is very reminiscent of The Terminator. I am sure I am not the first to proclaim this, but it oozes the killer machine on the run, just not with Arnold Schwarzenegger stating, “I’ll be back.” This time we have a female bodied android and she is many times more dangerous and deadly. After a military plane crashes into an unassuming forest we find that two of these M-66s have escaped. Thus the military is hot on the trail along with guerilla reporter Sybel, who is our protagonist. Eventually one of the M-66’s gets taken down, but the other would find it’s way into the big city. And it’s target… I leave that to you to find out. There is no point spoiling this story.

BMM66_3…One thing I will say, wait for the scene in the elevator with Sybel fighting off the M-66. Well maybe not fight… more like, trying to stay at least one step ahead of this robot. This OVA may not have had the biggest budget, but the effect of turning and perspective in that tight space was impressive. I give you props AIC, even though most everyone else seems to give more attention to the other sibling you also produced in 1987, something called Bubblegum Crisis. Now back to our main content…

BMM66_4I will give this OVA three things that it does very well. First, as stated previously, it’s about 45 minutes long. And while it is a clone of cheesy action sci-fi adventure, it does not overdue it with a lot of Hollywood grandeur. It is like a compact sports car; a fun ride that does not get in the way. Second, props to making our main protagonist a tough lady. And being a Shirow work, she is in top shape and can take care of herself. I actually prefer Sybel more than Ghost in the Shell’s Major Kusanagi, because she is all too human and at times makes a mistake. And as mistakes are made I come to the third reason, that of humor. This show takes itself seriously to a minor point and that point is often broken because after all, this is a fun show. The is often the case with Shirow’s manga and I think the adaptations of Ghost in the Shell in particular paint Shirow as too dark. Au contraire. I often wonder if a lot of Shirow’s work is intentional satire.

As a beloved early staple of the VHS era, Black Magic M-66 has fallen out of favor and is often like that rare first album by a band that is passed over due to higher caliber releases that followed in the wake. It’s worth at least one view and maybe a second if you browse through a collection and say, “Well… this is a quickie. Why not?”

#45 : Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Whether in the afterworld or someplace else, the soul that used to inhabit this cold shell is probably not at peace. And further out there is a green planet… ” … I love that intro and yes I love this show. While I often think you can never go beyond an original, this is a big exception. This is not a sequel, nor a followup to Mobile Suit GundamMobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a melancholic ride of intensity that can never be topped.

ZG_1For me Zeta Gundam is the pinnacle of Gundam. I have not seen every Gundam series and to be honest I don’t know how I can. This show left a mark on me that I cannot shake even now. At it’s best it might be the most brutal and passionate tale of epic space opera mecha. The aftermath of ZZ Gundam and then Char’s Counterattack left me disappointed as I felt the story had no where else to go, or just didn’t go anywhere. Zeta Gundam, for me, was the top of what mecha once was and became. Even watching mecha related shows from later decades that take on the direct seriousness and drama, for me, are more cookie cutter or fall flat with being a bit too much for what it is (Evangelion is an exception, but that is it’s own brillance).

ZG_2When I first watched Zeta I had no idea what was going on and this was due to the fact that I had zero exposure to the Universal Century timeline. I watched almost a third of the show and proclaimed I had to go back a little further to make some sense of all this. Once I got around to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and digested all there was I was in much better shape. I would come back to Zeta and digested the first half this time with glee and joy. I would eventually purchase the second half and, no lie, watched the final 25 episodes in what was possibly one of the greatest endurance runs of my life. In the span of a day and a half I would finish that second half and my life was never the same.

ZG_3Zeta takes place about eight years after the original series and for me the real draw is our new protagonist. I love Kamille Bidan. Some say he is troubled, maybe autistic. It may be that, but his confusion and angst mixed with raw ability hit very close to almost looking in the mirror. I get this guy, totally get this guy. Also with the reintroductions of Char Aznable… I mean Quattro Bajenna (love those shades dude), Amuro Ray (who I still find it hard to believe had a back seat role in this chapter), Bright Noa (welcome back captain) and most of the other members of the White Base crew makes everything proper and tidy. And with a plethora of many more new characters in this series as well, it is sad to say that a minority live to the end. Many tears have I shed over and over again over the loss of so many folks including the troubled Four Murasume and the brilliant Emma Sheen.

ZG_4Now I want to discuss the ending. How do you describe it… kind of like a car accident? All that heavy action and movement, which breaks to a moment of reflection and confusion which seems to stand still. Where am I, why do I feel in shock that I can’t even talk, what just happened? How sad to watch our protagonist, Kamille, once filled with such passion and drive become nothing more than a confused shell. And that is our finale. Cut… done. That’s it? Yup and somehow even though many call it a downer and open ended ending, I find it beyond satisfying. This is not some wrapped up in a bow Hollywood every one wins and smiles at the end kind of ending. This is a close the book, take a breathe and sighing out type of ending. You have to take some time to process what has just occurred and not just only the ending, but the whole show as an entirety. And because of the need of this processing, it stays with you. LIKE GLUE!

Zeta Gundam… a product of it’s time, a pinnacle of a generation and a classic for all time. One of my all time favorites now and forever.

#44 : M.D. Geist

Let’s see what anime I can talk about. First let’s draw out a name from this basket here and… AH HELL NO! NO NO NO! For the love of the universe, why in all the world do I have to talk about M.D. Geist? It’s universally lauded, hated by some and obsessively loved by others… I question this last group of folks. WHY? WHY? … Ya know… I quit.

… ok I can’t quit just yet, give me one second here …

MDG_1Damn this is such a bad anime. It’s totally a macho cock swaggering violence fest. It is so badly written, acted, produced etc. that once you watch it a couple times… wait a minute. I watched this crap fest a couple times? Shaking my head, oh if it’s so bad why am I watching it a couple times. That is because ladies, gentlemen and everyone else, it is so bad, so dumb, so… cheesy and entertaining that it just… works. Yeah it’s so bad and so poopy that it’s… amazing. And I don’t mean like The Humanoid, I love The Humanoid as it has class. But M.D. Geist is like one of those really bad ‘B’, no ‘D’ action movies that you have to watch because you become a better individual in the process. After all why watch something decently blah when you can fill you life watching stuff that is amazing and  on the other end of the spectrum terrible that you are laughing at it more often due to the absurdity. Never settle for the middle of ordinary with your anime.

MDG_2So how was this production made. Japan had a lot of talent and money floating around in the mid 1980s. OVAs were starting to allow artists who were more production based like designers and animators to gain the coveted role of directorship. And Koichi Ohata, a genius mecha designer and animator, was given such an opportunity. Did he deserve the shot? Perhaps, but he was among a generation of those who got the opportunity… lucky bastards. And for those of us in the west Ohata would find a fan who would raise his production into legardary status, the head of Central Park Media (rest in peace great company) John O’Donnell. Not only would O’Donnell release and re-release this OVA, but would call for a sequel, because of course everything needs a sequel… well maybe not.

MDG_3And much like the production itself, the character of Geist can’t be killed off so easily. After all he is one of the ‘most dangerous’ after all. A creation of the conflicts of the planet Jerra, a universal killing machine of a man. And not only that, but he is unlikeable, crude, self absorbed and even asexual (just ask Vaiya, the only woman ever present in the whole OVA). The total anti-hero, but no… more like the villain as protagonist. So who does Geist fight for? The Nexrum Army? Nope. The Regular Army? No… wait the Regular Army… how generic? For Vaiya? Nope, he won’t even make a pass on her. He is fighting for his own cause and that cause is… uh…who knows. As long as he can keep fighting and shedding blood, he is living. Yeah, not much of a plot, but guess what the ending is only the beginning, even Geist says so with his final line of dialogue. Maybe now I see why there became a sequel a decade later… good lord. I’m done…

MDG_4Once considered the worst anime ever made, or sometimes the second worst ever made because “no one can agree on the worst” (AWO podcast) M.D. Geist has without question, a reputation, or perhaps a legacy. When it comes to bad anime, or maybe even that silly term ‘Manime”, Geist you are truly the king of all kings. May your crown never grow heavy. If you plan on watching this, go with the original cut in Japanese and not the so called director’s cut. But if you want a laugh… director’s cut in English all the way. One of the best awful dubs ever.

… and I might be a dork here, but anyone who is a fan of the show The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers if you remember Shane Gooseman… doesn’t he look like Geist?

#43 : Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D is plain and simple, a horror movie… NO… a western. True there are no cowboys, etc. like in a traditional western, but it has all the elements and style of a these films. Only claiming this movie is a horror flick is completely untrue. Yes there are vampires and beasts and lots of gothic references, but still it’s a classic western in the style of Shane where our hero comes in to town to do the business of saving the innocent and has to leave because his destiny is the road less traveled. The road of the one and only… Vampire Hunter D.

VHD_1D himself is an interesting character. Tall, dark and handsome with a glint of danger in his eyes that also show a humanity that is rare to come by. Kind of like Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star or maybe Captain Harlock, D is an example of restraint. Your Clint Eastwood or Gary Cooper type, where being on the road is your destined life. And that destiny is difficult as he is a mixed breed, the dhampir, or the mix of the vampire with a human. Not only is he an outcast, but he hunts down his vampire lineage. So the title is self explanatory, he is ‘Vampire Hunter D’. And while on this road he meets a girl who requires a hunter due to the fact that she was a victim of a vampire, one Count Magnus Lee. In a soft spoken fashion, he agrees to help.

VHD_2This simple farm girl named Doris Lang lives on a farm with her brother Dan and the news of her being bitten by something so ‘unholy’ and ‘unclean’ makes her not to popular in town. The only exception is the playboy son of the mayor Greco, what a douchebag. But with D by Doris’ side she feels a strong sense of security. And the security is needed as the Count sends his daughter Lamika and the fighter Rei Ginsei right of the bat. The action begins and more monsters and adventure awaits. But D also has a partner… in his left hand. One of the creepiest and odd characters I have ever seen, but so cool. Although I would not want some face looking thing in my hand. just my preference.

VHD_3Let me return yet again to Fist of the North Star. The director for both that series and film and this movie is Mr. Toyoo Ashida. His sweeter character designs can be seen in both, though D and a majority of the characters definitely take after the originals of Yoshitaka Amano’s gothic androgyny. The plots for both series are similar and well they can both be a little bit violent. Though the violence in both I agree to be a part of the situation at hand and the story and are not just for pure disgust and shock, like say Violence Jack or M.D. Geist. D is after all a vampire hunter and that job is not one that is clean and tidy. Overall as a movie it is good and entertaining, but far from perfect. As a favorite during the old days of VHS, this was a part of the limited diet of consumption that we had here in the west. It’s still worth a watch, but don’t let nostalgia blind you. But as a popcorn action flick, it’s a gem. And that cheesy English dub from Streamline Pictures has merit and character.

VHD_4If there is one theme ever present… well maybe two that kind of go hand in hand are romance and sexuality. This is a vampire flick and the concept of these blood suckers deals with the ideas of sexual desire and gratification. Both of which the Count and D both possess, but in different ways. The Count feeds on these desires, like a rabid animal he is never satisfied and craves more and more. D, as the definition of restraint, painfully represses his tendencies and desires, which makes even simple intimacy difficult. He after all has to be above the desires for lust and conquest because his human half gives him a conscience. But that conscience and higher calling of morality sacrifices true love as Doris would soon see. She loves D and D loves her, but he can’t fall victim to the lower instinct of sexual liaison as mere conquest. He shows affection through loyalty instead.

Vampire Hunter D is unique in it’s setting and environment. And as I have said before, think of it like a western and question why we don’t have more tales like this with a horror post apocalyptic bend instead of the usual ‘cowboy’ movie. My only advice is to watch out for anything that may go bump in the night. Don’t get bit now, unless that is your thing 😉

#42 : Dragon Ball

Besides Pokemon and Studio Ghibli, Dragon Ball could be considered the ‘franchise’ in anime that equates a license to print money. Even me mentioning it here made Dragon Ball another $25… just because. Dragon Ball Z in particular cannot die if it tried and there were moments that Akira Toriyama tried to make it happen and FAILED! But I never got into all the testosterone over the top fighting of that series, which made me look at the original Dragon Ball for years as a passover. But, in due time I thought to myself, give that original a chance. Many folks say it is a gem of comedic action. So I purchased those blue Funimation boxes… and I must say I really… liked it. Who would have thought it.

DB1Seriously as repetitive and repetitive and repetitive it was, it was a good show. Did I mention it was repetitive because I will mention it again so watch out! Hot off the success of Dr. Slump and Arale-chan, Akira Toriyama thought he should make a rendition of the traditional tale of The Journey to the West mixed with his humor and splashes of 80s sci-fi. And it paid off… BIG TIME! Although to me the show goes something like this… our heroes go and look for the dragon balls, they collect them and make a wish and then we have a martial arts tournament and then we look for dragon balls again, collect them all and make a wish and then have another martial arts tournament. Over and over again with the final tournament taking place a few years later. Repetitive indeed, but entertaining even more so.

DB2A classmate of the 1986 season that along with it’s Shonen Jump brother Saint Seiya would bring about the revolution of what shonen, or more precisely fighting, anime would become. Heavy sci-fi and mecha began to wane and the super hero in the making journey of a hero who would have a number of adversaries became the new standard. The fighting genre though not born in 1986 became the defacto standard and it is because of Dragon Ball that the damn broke open wide to flood us with a multitude of popular series. Rurouni Kenshin, Naruto, One Piece, etc. all owe a debt to Dragon Ball. But, don’t forget ‘uncle’ Fist of the North Star as well and brother Saint Seiya (because I love Saint Seiya so I have to mention it again). But in terms of influence and staying power, Dragon Ball takes the cake.

DB3And what of our hero? Little Son Goku, the ever innocent feral child who is well… kind of adorable. I mean this kid is like the goofy clueless little brother I wish I had. And it is from Goku’s naivety that we get some of the best humor. The first arc of the series, which introduces a majority of the main cast family is a much watch. If you can’t commit to the whole series, give the first 13 episodes a go if you have yet to see Dragon Ball. If this would have been the series in and of itself it would be perfect. Kind of like an OVA, but as this was a TV series and a popular one at that it would keep going and going and again we get back to that old word… repetition. Make the formula and tweak it ever so slightly each time you have to repeat and you get a journey that could possibly never end.

DB4And eventually this original series did end, albeit  a few years later with the cast all grown up. Oh the end of childhood. After all we had to make way for the further adventures of Dragon Ball Z. So then I look back and think what were my favorite moments? Many abound such as Goku climbing to the sky to train with Korin, watching Emporer Pilaf bumble up again and again a lot like G.I. Joe’s Cobra Commander, the world’s most comfortable pair of underwear, watching Tien Shinhan turn from hard corp baddie into one of the most honorable characters, or Goku wondering why Bulma does not have a tail or ‘balls’. But then there was that visit to the Penguin Village where Arale-Chan lives. I may not want to dive into Dragon Ball Z, but Dr. Slump (which I mentioned earlier) is extremely tempting.

I must say, yes, I am a convert. Even that theme song is so catchy. And like in any proper fighting anime I have to get back to training, which for me is watching more stuff, or pulling what I can from memory. So the big question I have for all you… if you had all seven dragon balls, what would you wish for?