#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 🙂

 

#19 : Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko

One thing hits my mind when I begin each watch of Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko… Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The gentle piano music that Yohko plays, at least to me, sounds very similar to the dreamy and romantic Debussy classic. Our young heroine is in love and is totally crushing on a boy she wants to share her feelings with. As she plays on, she says that this music reflects the love in her heart and will give her the strength she needs to expose her affection. What a way to start an anime!

leda1With music in hand via a recording being played on tape via a Walkman (ah nostalgia) Yohko walks down a road to see her beau. And as they both approach the anxiety builds. They both pass by and all is silent. In disappointment our heroine sighs, she just couldn’t say it. OK now we need something exciting… how about we do a shojo cliche? The surface begins to melt away and she is soon sucked into a weird teleportation where she confronts an evil looking bishounen asking for Leda’s heart. She refuses and cries out to vanish and then soon appear in a strange surreal land where her greatest adventure is about to begin. Sound familiar? Much like Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, or a number of other productions our heroine is about to have a sublime experience.

leda2An experience where she encounters baddies, a short friend, a cool mech that looks kind of like something from Castle in the Sky, Mr. bishounen again and she transforms to gain powers and a sword while rocking her red hair in a side ponytail (ah nostalgia… again). Oh and a talking dog too. I mean come on, who hasn’t seen a talking dog? Yohko never has apparently (note: if you never seen this, it is one of the funniest moments). I mean my cats, they talk, so what is the big deal? 😉 Sounds like a lot of magical girl standards and yet there is no magic wand and gibberish spoken within a stock transformation sequence. In the end what we have is a coming of age story mixed with the concepts of love, music, over coming fear and being honest to yourself. And… it’s a fun ride in the process.

leda3A production of my beloved Kaname Production, 1985’s Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko is one the studio’s best and is a hallmark of quality classic shojo (my opinion). Though it is a stock and trade story of the average high school school wisked away to become the ultimate hero in a foreign land, Yohko leaves it mark and is a favorite of my collection. Only released here in the U.S. on that good old format of VHS, I am honored that two copies of this rare release have found their way to me, sub and dub. In fact the dub was done by the same company and actors that did Macross: Do You Remember Love, if anyone has info on this company or actors please send it my way. I will be able to sleep better at night knowing this 😉 (strange, yet true?)

leda4What I find is how productions like Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko can get lost in the classic anime shuffle, but then again during ye olden days of fandom most fans were predominately male and I am sure if Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko was up against say Akira I am sure most of the ‘boys’ would have picked Akira (maybe?). Which is a shame because back then in regards to my personal exposure, when I thought of anime from the 1980s, shojo was not even on my radar. Times and circumstances have changed and now I have a treasure trove of stories that are not testosterone driven. And now with each new experience with older shojo titles I have something magical and fresh. Maybe I am saying something about myself? Even so, I love a strong female protagonist who is strong, independent and still feminine. Girl power for the win!

So now I will sum up Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko with only one word… ADORABLE 🙂

afterthought: Hey Gurren Laggan fans! I wonder where Gainax got the idea for a bikini clad redhead named Yoko? Though missing an ‘h’ in the spelling the resemblance is close enough. What do you think?

#18 : Space Adventure Cobra (TV)

Is that a psycho gun in your left arm or are you just happy to see me? Mr. Cobra… I am always happy to see you. Science fiction and space opera often fall to the hands of being serious and thought provoking. But then you have the other side of the coin where it is all about just plain and simple good time entertainment. Space Adventure Cobra is enjoyment at it’s best and maybe the best at adding ‘Pulp’ elements into science fiction ever?

cobratv1Here is a weird thing I often do. I am not a fan of top 10 lists as really how can you ONLY have 10 qualify as qualifiable. Case in point from time to time I think of a 1980s anime top 10 and when I look at it. 99% of the time I don’t include the Cobra TV series. And then I scratch my head… WHY? Cobra may have been one of the easiest shows I have ever watched and why is that? It’s fun. Really, really, really, really, really… fun. The official meal of watching Cobra should be a big tub of popcorn and a soft drink. This is a simple straight forward and fairly short show that when finished makes me want more, a whole lot more.

cobratv2Cobra is in the spirit of the original Star Wars movie with all the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers action and entertainment. But, it has more… sex appeal, a lot more. Odd how this was a manga that ran in Shonen Jump because this more than a boy’s fantasy. Grown men often lust after wild adventures like Cobra and I would say the ladies do as well. All we need to do is add in some Barbarella and James Bond. And with all this influence we have beautiful women galore, including his android sidekick, and Cobra as a buff stud of a man. This show is just too sexy for it’s own good, but it is all within good taste. After all the sci-fi and sexiness are only two parts to this equation. The other is the comedy. And now I have to pull in Lupin III. Cobra the man is a bit like Lupin; he’s a rogue, a ladies man and a screwy goofball. Maybe even a bigger goofball than Lupin. The most reassuring moment I have had was during an interview with the creator of Cobra, Buichi Terasawa. Looking at our hero Cobra, I saw influence of Steve McQueen and one Jean-Paul Belmondo. And when I heard Terasawa pulled Belmondo as an influence from that interview I jumped off the couch in glee. KNEW IT! He has his nose after all.

cobratv3I mentioned earlier that the original manga ran in Shonen Jump. This adaptation for the most part follows the stories of the printed page. At least that is from what I could tell from the manga that was released by VIZ in comic sized single issues  (I am sure this was an unfinished partial release?). The movie of course takes greater liberty and is almost at time psychedelic, but I reserve that for it’s own posting. For me what makes Cobra really shine is two separate yet similar factors. One is the studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). They always have done great work and I often felt like they had a polish and color palette that was unrivaled at the time. The other is the director, a long time employee of TMS. Osamu Dezaki’s signature fluidity, triple take shots and pastel freeze frames are all present. The man was a genius and for my money had the best handling for making anime look and feel like manga come to life. If you are in the know, you know what I am saying, but if Dezaki is new to you, check his other work as well (Ashita no Joe, Aim for the Ace, the second half of Rose of Versailles and The Professional: Golgo 13 to name a few).

cobratv4So for Space Adventure Cobra the only thing I have to leave you with is WATCH IT!!! Now or maybe tomorrow, but don’t let this one slide away. I don’t have to wrap this up with an over convoluted message, so I will leave this. Are you ready to have a great time?

And as a personal note to myself… don’t forget to include Cobra on those top 10 lists!

#17 : Armored Fleet Diarugger XV

There are times in one’s life that things just seem to come full circle. There are moments where you feel you have heard, or experienced part of the story and you have to know more, or know it all. One must experience the full totality of a tale when one is ready to understand it… or in this case, when an anime gets released on DVD. I have had a few of these moments in regards to adapted shows of my youth and this is one of them. Let’s look at Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_1Voltron was a cornerstone of my youth and to my early experiences with animation from Japan. Voltron was hugely popular and had it’s fifteen minutes of exposure during the mid 1980s. I was along for the ride as I was at the right age bracket to get swept up. We all loved the five heroes in the robot lions battling it out against the likes of the bad guys of Planet Doom (I wonder if anyone is nice from there?). But, Voltron was originally setup to be a trilogy, showcasing three unique super robot shows from Toei. In reality we ended up with the adaptation of Beast King GoLion, an original follow up to GoLion and the odd step child, the adaptation of Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_2I have always liked the Vehicle series, Diarugger’s western treatment, and by no means am I saying it is better than the Lions, it was just… different. Something about it spoke to me. A harder edged space opera, mixed with a little political intrique. No matter what the adaptation tried to either cover up or present, I had a feeling that something more was going on in the background. And by the time I came across the officially released DVDs (a little advice: GET a release when it feels like the time right to avoid the over priced markup when they go out of print) that we had here in the U.S. I had a mission and it was simple. That mission was to see what actually this show was really telling. And after the first couple episodes, I knew my hunch was correct.

Dairugger_3.jpgGone is the knowledge that the crew of the Rugger Guard knew of the Galveston (Drule) Empire ahead of time. Gone is the fact that every episode seemed to be on a different planet when often it looked like they were at a location for a couple episodes. Gone are the existence of the ‘hospital planet’ or ‘escape pods’. (because after all no body really dies, right?) And yes ‘Chip’ is really not ‘Pidge’s’ brother (different show and timeline). What we do have is a 52 episode journey that slowly unfolds, builds and grows where the emphasis from my eye, is more on the overarching story than individual characters. And yes, there are many characters (I will discuss this in the next paragraph). It’s kind of like the original Star Trek updated to the 1980s with a heavier plotline and a big robot added for good measure (got to sell those toys after all, and what a toy it was). My personal favorite is episode 13 The Enemy Within the Mind, an episode with a lot of suspense and where no laser blast, sword swing or punch is thrown. Different? I though so.

I know some people give flack to the show for having the fifteen manned mech. “It’s too many characters… ” Or is it? Macross and the Gundams have larger casts. Or how about Legend of Galactic Heroes? Now there is large cast. So the team that forms the big bot is fifteen strong, who cares. True we don’t get to know all of them intimately, but still it works. After all the it breaks the mold of the usual one, two, three or five manned teams. I give kudos for being different. The origin for fifteen lays in the name Diarugger, the rugger part. A rugby team comprises of suprise, fifteen people. And later in the show we see an actual game of rugby. How about them apples?

dairugger_4So the circle has now been complete and the smile on my face is large indeed. Diarugger is without question a dark horse entry into the ginormous field of mecha shows made during it’s era. The ending is one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen as I felt true closure unlike the tie a bow on it Voltron version (I still love you Voltron, but seriously I need a solid ending). A true diamond in the rough that has always been under our noses since the days of innocent childhood. To badly quote a John Lennon lyric… “All I am saying, is give Diarugger a chance.”

#16 : Dominion Tank Police

With the buzz and in some cases dismay for the live action interpretation of Ghost in the Shell it makes me think back… it has been a virtual cash cow for the original manga creator Masamune Shirow. Ghost in the Shell this, Ghost in the Shell that… yes the Major is a sexy assassin and there is all the political drama, but really… Over Kill! Appleseed has had it’s moment as well, too bad I was sleeping through the boredom of the CG movie (the old OVA is not perfect, but watchable to me). What ever happened to Dominion Tank Police? “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo.”

dtp1Acting as a prelude to the manga, we follow young Leona Ozaki as she transfers away from the motorcycle division into the “very professional” tank police and see her transform from an innocent girl wanting to do the right thing, into a tank obsessed lunatic. Oh them boys really corrupted her. She may be the naughtiest of the lot? But then again how can she not be an obsessed tank otaku when she has the sleek and little Bonaparte to ride in. If ever a tank was “cute”, this would be it. If you dare as scratch him you are in for reaming.

dtp2Now as for other characters, you have an assorted lot, but here are my top picks: Al, who may be the straightest arrow; the Chief, who is always one moment away from cardiac arrest and the ever epitome of male/macho bravado Lt. Charles Brenten, the guy who makes me laugh harder than anyone. And then of course you have bad boy Buaku and his team of cat girls, Anna and Umi Puma. Those Puma Twins, ever famous from the striptease (which may be the most famous scene in the OVA), are possibly one of if not the biggest sex symbols of 80s anime. But you know, I always liked the scene where they were goofing off and acting like rich debutants.

Going beyond the comedy and characters, we have a world of serious consequences. The setting of Newport City is quite dire due to heavy pollution. If you want to breathe that lovely outside air, you better have a gas mask. An environmental message mixed in with slapstick comedy? Very crafty indeed. But the other message of heavier consequence confronts our main badguy, Buaku, coming to terms with his creation and life purpose. Interesting in the second half we see a sensitivity and humane gentile nature from Buaku, of all people. And from a piece of ‘artwork’ that he considers his existence.

dtp3The one odd thing about the comedic aspect of this OVA is the fact that you have law enforcement that is a rag tag group of goof balls and in some cases, insane lunatics, using military grade weaponry to deal with day to day criminal activity. Funny in the 80s, but when I think about certain events that have happened more of recent where our ‘real’ police are using very similar equipment I get a bit of a shudder. What kind of messed up world does the police need tanks? Newport City with Leona and Brenten is acceptable, but keep these heavy duty war machines off my roads and everyone else’s as well. It makes Dominion almost prophetic to the real “future” of today. SCARY!

dtp4I have not forgotten thee. How could I? As of the material I have seen based on Shirow’s work, Dominion Tank Police is my personal favorite. Maybe because for a couple reasons I could ramble on about, but in all honesty… it’s completely un-politically correct and at least for me…hilariously funny. Imagine adding Dave Chapelle to the mix? Maybe add some Chuck Jones Looney Tunes direction. Nah, leave it as is because it works, SO DON’T FIX IT! Then the second half gets a bit sentimental as mentioned before. I know some are not big on this part, but hey we get to have some sympathy with the antagonist. Also Dominion Tank Police defines for me watching good old anime on that good old format, VHS (maybe because the out of print DVD is a bit pricey and VHS copies are like a dime a dozen). But Dominion Tank Police on VHS is like the Beatles on vinyl… good times. And please, watch the English dub, it’s beyond priceless.

Just remember… “Love your tank like a brother no matter what!”… “Love your tank like a brother?”

#15 : Touch

touch1A one hundred episode plus series is no small feat, in both the production and the stamina for one to stay the course in finishing it. Some series continue on and on and on and on (I can think of many a Shonen Jump title) with no real end and then, keep on going due to the fact that the popularity and economic factors are ever strong. Then other series have set endings and go on to a cult like status of being crowned the “greatest anime ever made” (Legend of the Galactic Heroes, great yes, greatest depends on one’s point of view). And then there was one show from 1985 based off of manga by Mitsuru Adachi that told a story over a four year time span that was one of the most beloved and popular series of it’s time; it could even still hold its viewer records today, kind of like M.A.S.H. I now present my favorite long runner, at a total of 101 episodes, Touch.

touch2Touch has nothing fancy to show. The designs are flat and plain. The setting is mundane and ordinary. What you see is what you get and what you get comes up to the surface so strong that it shows where the real value stands in the characters, story and pacing. Touch is a coming of age high school series concentrated on the Usegi twins: Kazuya (soft spoken, hard working, popular and determined) and Tatsuya (aloof, insecure, not popular and a slacker with hidden talents he shies away from with a mask of bravado) and their best friend who has lived next door since child birth, Minami Asakura, who both boys love dearly. And baseball as the glue that holds it all together. The supporting cast is just as strong although I wished you got to know more of the players on the Meisei High School team a little better. A few get spotlighted, but again they are the backing to the the twin boys. A shonen series without rivals would not be much and you get a good cross section including: goofy Terishima, chivalrous Nitta, jealous Yoshida and the cruel Coach Kashiwaba. And then you have Punch, the funniest, most mischieveous dog ever (my opinion, never knew dogs could laugh so well)? But none hold a candle to the gentle giant Harada. True he may look like a tough guy, but his real skill is being a therapist to the unsure Tatsuya (future Psych major?).

touch3Gameplay when shown is intense, the character relationships are honest, the sad moments bring massive tears and the ending, though a little open ended as of course the characters lives will go on, is solid to close this chapter on the lives of our heroes’ youth. If only all our youths were this ideal and in almost in a way… perfect? But nothing in truth is perfect. Sometimes we lose those we love, we questions our abilities, we wonder if we will ever be brave enough to face loving another, or we just are not sure what we are doing. All of this is in Touch and the trio of our main cast I could see in myself when I look in a mirror. When a show becomes so personal as if it is family, you know you have encountered something rare. Some series you watch because you want to, and then there are those which make you wonder what took you so long to get around to it? But when the time comes time to taste the flavors of something slow, gentile and personal, it can almost feel like being in love with someone special. And for me Touch was and still is beyond special.

Touch also reaffirmed another love I have and that is for the game of baseball itself. Not following a MLB franchise and being a jock-like individual, but the fact that it is a great game with dynamics and strategy that gets lost in the tribal mentality of many fans. Touch reminds me of, but is not completely similar to the movie Field of Dreams. Again a story using baseball as the glue that holds the narrative of several characters redeeming their talents or relationships. We all deserve that one time in the sun, be it in the case of Field of Dreams: a chance to bat once as a professional, re-pursuing your writing, or the reconnection and understanding between a father and son. For Touch, it is Tatsuya getting his time to show that he is not without possibility, untalented, or unloved. Sometimes passion takes time, a little guidance and a moment to just give in to fate. I for one know that to be true in regards to areas of my life.

touch4.jpgI cannot not recommend this show to anyone. I truly do love this show and loved watching it from one to 101. It took me a long time to get around to it, but presenting the anime of 1985 in a panel gave me the opportunity. It is one of those shows that for me, reaffirms my love of anime and shows that you have yet to see all the really good stuff. And as an older fan sometimes I get tired of all the flash and dazzle of fantasy, sci-fi and/or high production values. Sometimes I want a show like a glass of lemonade on a hot day or a hug from mom, real comfort food. Because sometimes, after all, simple is best.

#14 : The Little Mermaid

This movie has been with me for a long, long time. Believe it or not, this was one of my foundation anime that began everything that has led me to this point. To be honest at the time of this writing, I am dealing with a lot of unresolved issues throughout my life and I need something to help me give a good cry. Forget Grave of Fireflies, if I have a bad day and require to curl up in bed with a warm blanket and a lot of homemade popcorn and need some ‘comfort food’ I pull The Little Mermaid. True I can go with Windaria, or Farewell Space Battleship Yamato, but to be honest… the nostalgia runs very deep and when you have a feeling of being wounded, nostalgia feels beautiful.

lm1Lots of love always goes to Disney’s version. I remember when it was brand new in the theaters and eventually home video, rocking the VCR. Ariel defined a generation as Disney came back strong after years of releasing films that did not attach significantly with audiences. And that’s because films need to make a lot of money to be successful? In any case my sister was all over the Disney release. And I though now wait a minute, didn’t we see this years earlier? And it looked a lot better (anime art style bias on my part). That and Ariel gets to, in the end, win? WIN! Life happily ever after? Uh, Disney, did you read the source material at all? Did Hans Christian Andersen ever write a happy story? I am sure he did, but every one I have read sure goes with the standard I know well.

LM2.jpgI often think about how much trauma I was subjected to as a child from entertainment. Trauma may not be the right word, maybe a dose of reality outside of a rose tinted fantasy that we all at some time must face the tragic. Watership Down, the death of Optimus Prime and Marina’s final moment all left their mark or memory, but Marina’s is personal. To sacrifice one’s own life knowing that you can never make the other person return the love that one has for another is quite moving. Not to the same extent, but sacrifice is very powerful theme that I love in other anime: Night on the Galactic Railroad, Mawaru Penguindrum and even the end of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam with Kamille’s loss of sanity.

A few years ago when the death announcement of Kirsten Bishop was all over the news in the anime world, most every one were mourning one of the original dub actors for that mega-hit show known as Sailor Moon. I was also in a state of melancholy, but not for Sailor Moon, but for the movie you are reading about. Kirsten voiced Marina during her teens and that innocent quality of her voice added so much for the character. The dub is not perfect, but her performance for me is pure gold. Kirsten from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

LM3.jpgTruth, in time, can never be hidden. Facing one’s own issues and honoring another’s decision is often painful, but a critical part of growing up. Death is never an answer, but often the experiences we know we can never fulfill end up in a way killing a part of  us inside. Accepting these events, though necessary, is never easy. Such is the value of what many consider only simple a ‘fairy tale’ or ‘children’s story’.