#110 : Cool Cool Bye

CCB_1Tomonori Kogawa; can I see a show of hands who enjoys this man’s character designs and artwork? Or perhaps, how many of you know of this man at all? If not I hold nothing against you since he is not a well known name in the vain of say Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Amano or Gundam’s Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Kogawa was a staple of early 1980s mecha shows; ever see Southern Cross (Robotech’s Masters saga), Ideon, Dunbine, Xabungle, L-Gaim, or even Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (OH! ODINE!!!!). If you are familiar with these productions then you are framiliar with Kogawa’s particular art style, but he also worked on a couple smaller pet projects as well. One is called Greed, but let’s look at one called Cool Cool Bye for this entry.

CCB_2Cool Cool Bye. Cool Cool Bye. What does this title mean? I don’t know. Sometimes it makes me think of something that a baby would say… like Goo Goo Gah. Not saying that this OVA is for infantile intelligence (it’s not OK), but there is a fun almost child like simplicity to the art style, the dynamics of the motion and the spastic comedy which makes me think of more pompous, or perhaps ‘fancy’ terms like say surrealism, or even dada… oh great now this guy is going into early 20th century fine art… ! …make art, not war people. Cool Cool Bye is for me, kind of like the leftovers of Xabungle and Dunbine (we even have the cute fairy girl archetype again) mixed with something like Birth, or from a more modern eye, Gurren Lagann. This is the basic foundation of Cool Cool Bye and to top it off, this OVA is a manageable half hour of duration.

CCB_3Now since this is only an approximate 25 to 30 minute run, don’t expect something super deep and life changing. Giggles, laughs and ridiculousness is all that is required; popcorn can be optional. We have a basic plot here… two boys who are supposed warriors from a particular tribe are helping a little village get rid of a gigantic mecha known as the Tanguin, or Penguin (the fansub had both, perhaps it may be down to a regional dialect between the characters?) that is stealing all the women for some particular reason. And with a lack of a female population that means no continuation of future generations. Who or what would be stealing all the women… perhaps some dirty old man? AND I JUST SPOILED THE ENDING! Except I forgot to mention that the boys need to fill their stomachs first before any shenanigans can begin. Silly heroes always need to gorge food in anime, at least they won’t go into battle hungry, ya know?

CCB_4And what about the little fairy girl? At first I was like hey it’s Cham/Chum Huau from Dunbine (and whatever her name was in L-Gaim, please don’t make me revisit L-Gaim) in for a little cameo. But no, the little fairy girl transforms and changes into the pretty ‘it’ girl and very funny comic relief towards our duo of heroes. She essentially lays down the rules so to speak (don’t be no naughty boys), but also acts as the deus ex machina or McGuffin device to a pivotal moment near the end. In the ever constant of comedy and hijinks we get a singular moment of sentimentality… nice touch!

While not the most well known OVA, and perhaps there is a reason for this, Cool Cool Bye is a fun oddity of rarity. Not so much a diamond in the rough… more like a happy accident, but one that I was satisfied with. If you don’t enjoy the plot for any reason, just put Cool Cool Bye on mute and enjoy the scenery so to speak (because pretty pictures in the background makes the world a better place!), or make up another script if you are so inclined. For me though, I liked it!

#109 : The Transformers: The Movie

TF_movie_1Years before maturity and discovering talented filmmakers in the line of Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman, there was the seven, or perhaps eight year old version of me that was in love with what I considered… The Greatest Movie Ever Made! The Transformers was the hottest cartoon on TV and one of the hottest toys of the mid 1980s, but all of this fails in comparison to the awe, wonder and larger than life spectacle of the generically named The Transformers: The Movie. How do I feel about this movie after thirty plus years of watching… well, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it is still an important stepping stone and a fun experience.

TF_movie_2No matter what anyone says about The Transformers: The Movie, I admit the plot is cheesy, the characterization is generic and you can even say that it was a cheap ploy to dump the previous year’s line from toy shelves. But… you can’t deny that this film is gorgeous to look at. Vibrant colors, fluid motion and excellent drawing exudes quality. Right? Watch that introduction again with Unicron attacking the planet and tell me what you think. The TV show looked pretty good, but this film is, visually, a masterpiece. Of course it was animated at Toei and funded by Hasbro, so that is a good combination. In fact for the release date of 1986, it was a nicer looking film than the Fist of the North Star film… come on Toei, what about the local community? I suppose the American dollars from Hasbro helped… most likely.

TF_movie_3I see no reason in going over the plot as it is the simple Autobots vs. Decepticons fare, except with a new cast of characters voiced by many a famous name at the time. Does anyone remember Judd Nelson or Robert Stack? But the standout moments for me include Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime’s ascension to Autobot leadership, Megatron’s metamorphosis into Galvatron (so well animated), the introduction of the Quintessons and “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” “Don’t worry they’ll reciprocate.” Of course the big issue of this movie was the fact that characters died… brutally. Why is is that here in the west we have to hide death and impermanence from children? After all, we would be a greater society if we wouldn’t hide this stuff under the rug. STOP TELLING LIES TO CHILDREN!

TF_movie_4Now did I cry over Optimus Prime’s death? Not that I remember, but I did feel loss. I even then accepted the fact that the great leader had to sacrifice for a newer generation. I for one have nothing against Hot Rod for jumping in to help out, and some fans don’t like Roddy, but I really do like the kid… one of my all time favorite Transformers in fact (I see a bit of me in him). Optimus would have the most heroic of heroic deaths and went out with honesty and integrity, unlike his some of his fellow Autobots like Ironhide, who groveled for mercy, or Prowl, who belted out smoke and fire (yowzers). Yet nothing compares to the death of the king of backstabbers, Starscream. Perhaps one of the best characters ever in The Transformers, Starscream would get his just desserts in perhaps the most violent shooting I have ever witnessed. “Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?”

What I find ironic about this movie and even to a small extent the original G1 totality, is how much it is not recognized in the general popular culture. The Transformers are now known the world over in the guise of various re-imaginations. Every generation has ‘their’ show or movie to call ‘their’ own. But what of the original source material? Much like other subjects, you can never really know the whole truth unless you go all the way back to the beginning. Perhaps I am just settled in my ways as an old G1 fan. Still with any franchise or knowledge for that matter, you have to dig into the past to find true perspective in anything.

TF_movie_5In the end I have seen The Transformers: The Movie more times than I care to count. I am sure I will watch it again, but due to ingrained repetitions, I can recite the entire film blindfolded and with plugged ears… maybe. It is generic, slightly dated and fodder for a lot of nostalgia for some of us, but in the end again… it is a great film to look at. Hand drawn animation at one of it’s finest hours and a fun flick to share with friends, some popcorn and maybe even show a tear at times. It was the cornerstone of my childhood and a long lasting influence that exists into the present. The Transformers: The Movie still has ‘the touch‘ 🙂

“Till All Are One”

#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#107 : Cyborg 009 (1966 movie)

Cyborg 009 equals the epitome of ‘Old School’. Or, perhaps that is a mistranslation; I prefer ‘Old is Cool’. Because with age comes wisdom, or so I keep telling myself as I keep adding up solar cycles and still retain the heart and soul of my youth. A product of the 1960s, Cyborg 009 reflects the era with the rise and hope of big technology, growing social equality and Cold War politics. Cyborg 009 represents a story about brand new heroes in a (once long ago) modern age heading towards an uncertain future.

C009_movie_1Many adaptations of this Shotaro Ishinomori manga have see the light of day, but this film from 1966 was the very first time the cyborg soldiers of Professor Gilmore came to life on a screen brought to you by the great old studio, Toei Animation. The story begins simply with a young race car driver, Jo Shimamura, becoming involved in a nasty crash (knife in a tire, yikes!) and is subsequently hauled off in a mysterious ambulance. He soon awakens to find he now has incredible powers, including an ability to run extremely fast, and new clothes as well (I like the new threads man). Jo has had cybornetic enchantments and is now known as Cyborg 009 (you are the star of the show my friend, hooray), a tool for the evil counter organization Black Ghost (great name). 009 also meets eight other cyborgs, his new fellow comrades, who rebel against Black Ghost in the name of justice and freedom. An uprising ensues as the team of nine cyborgs kidnap Professor Gilmore and escape.

C009_movie_2Often Cyborg 009 can be seen as Japan’s version of the X-Men. Yet I see them as one of the great early examples of a sentai squad. Ishinmori should know that concept very well as he is the creator of the Super Sentai live action genre. But then again, I see the cyborgs as a reinvention of family. There is a tight bond between these nine individuals and even though they all come from different countries, ethnicities and backgrounds, they fight together and care for each other. Very forward thinking and yet perfect for the 1960s and even today to show that no matter who you are, or where you are from, we are all brothers and sister of the human race. It’s the formation of the greater family you can build when you embrace diversity and individuality. We all have a role and a part to play to help the greater good, it’s just all of us lack the technological enhancements of our brave nine heroes.

C009_movie_3There are a few oddities I caught from this release compared to the more popular, or better known releases of Cyborg 009. First, 009, is clad in white while the others have their uniforms in purple. All except 003, she gets to be closest to most adaptations with a pinkish shade of the standard red. And red is also the color of her hair, instead of the usual flaxen hue I am used to. Do blondes have more fun? Not this time around, it’s all about the auburn. And for some reason 007 (who is British, love the James Bond in joke) is portrayed as a kid. These characteristics are also carried into the second film, Cyborg 009: Monster Wars (on my radar to find) and the first TV series of 1968.

C009_movie_4Though the art style might be archaic to our more modern eyes and honestly this may not have been the most sophisticated film made at the time, Cyborg 009 makes up for it with pure fun. This feels like a period television series amped up just slightly, including cinemascope widescreen (fancy), that still retains much of the simple limited animation used during the era. Think Astro Boy and Speed Racer as a frame of reference. Yet it is a very attractive movie with bold colors and designs. If you are looking for a basic starter into Cyborg 009, this movie is a great option as it is action packed and about an hour long. Plus you’ll get to experience Cyborg 009 during the time of it’s genesis with all the hope, innocence and at times cheesiness that made the 1960s so great. For without the likes of Cyborg 009Speed Racer, or Astro Boy, we would not have the fruits of all the great animation that we treasure today. Thank you Cyborg 009 and thank you Shotaro Ishinomori.

#106 : Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

JWW_1Cue that magnificent rocking intro one more time… also turn up the volume and get ready to PARTY! Animated cartoons based on original toy lines were a plenty during the 1980s and sometimes those shows had more notoriety than the toys themselves. The Wheeled Warriors toy line by Mattel had really fun dynamics by changing out parts and included little pilots. But… no real story or backdrop was included as all these pilots were just generic as the sea is wet. How does one create a show from generic characters alone? You drop that concept in favor for something else, THATS HOW! Lets join the Lightning League, our hero Jayce and one of my favorite shows for both nostalgia and current viewing pleasure… OMG it’s time to share my fandom for Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

JWW_2How ironic that the love of this show came from repeated viewing of only one episode I had taped off of TV way back when (who still has their VCR recording skills?). YES, only one episode of Jayce lit a fire in me and made me a fan. That episode by the way was #15, Bloodstone. I hoped beyond hope that someday I would see the show in it’s entirety. Then came various DVD releases, first a disc with four episodes, then a single release with the first half of the show and then finally… all 65 over two sets. So my wish came true, but how did the selling point of a singular half hour turn out over the long haul of episode watching? Quite well, but like many shows in this caliber it just meanders around and does not finalize into a big ending. Even the five episode ‘Liberty Stone’ saga is kind of piecemeal. Yet I love riding around the universe with this show and certain episodes do rise to the top as great sci-fi adventures and stories to be enjoyed. And after seeing certain earlier DiC properties that came out before Jayce, I began to understand that this show was more that just a happy accident.

JWW_3I often wonder how the origins of the characters came to be in Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? After years of watching loads of pop culture you could say, yeah this show was totally ripping off Star Wars. Perhaps, but I think there is another theory and it all stems from the original creation staff at DiC. This show took the Mattel toy line and added elements from two of their earlier shows, Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold (my theory). Jayce could be a hybrid of Ulysses and Esteban in the form of a young man of about 17, Oon is Nono, Flora is a mix of Yumi and Zia (and could be an awesome magical girl possibility). Herc is Mendoza painted to look like Han Solo and Gillian is the grandfather you wish you had mixed with Obiwan Kenobi and Merlin. And then there is Brock… a giant fish… that sounds like a dog’s squeeky toy or a chirping bird… I love the imagination of cartoons. But that is your basic hero cast, a great way to recycle old ideas with a fresh concept. As for the baddies, most are just for show and the filling of space, but Saw Boss… that is one powerful and scary voice, that is so professional as well?

LWW_4If you are a true hard corps 80s cartoon nut, you appreciate this show and even know that it existed in the first place. Having a great group of actors, several writers including sci-fi legend J. Michael Straczynski and a classic Shuki Levy soundtrack (one of his best from my ears) adds to the credibility of this show. Jayce is one of the prime examples of 80s cartoons that look close enough to native Japanese product, while being a total western creation. I miss the days that Japanese studios did the animation for shows in the west and as an example watch the opening sequence again, it so could pass as an ‘anime’ opening. Do you agree? Yet why I truly love this show is because it is one of my cartoon versions of comfort food and in particular when I am needing a friend or a pick me up when I am under the weather, I always return to Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. It’s that simple… “Keep on Rollin’”.

#105 : Speed Racer

SR_1Auto racing… I love the sport. Always have, always will. Mix that love of dancing on a knife’s edge with four wheels with animation and I am one happy otaku. Speed Racer was already an established classic by the time I was first exposed to the property in the mid-1990s when it made its way to MTV and more importantly in my case, home video. My diet of Robotech and Voltron with Indycar and F1 now had a killer combination in a couple tapes I rented from the local video store. What I did not realize at the time was I was viewing a cartoon that has touched many a generation and in many ways connected me to others whose only connection to anime was this singular show. Thus is the power of Speed Racer.

1967 was a great year for motor racing. Parnelli Jones nearly won the Indy 500 with a jet turbine powered car, Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt won the 24 Hours of LeMans in a Ford GT40 (and thus was born the first champaign spray, thanks Dan!) and Team Lotus debuted the iconic Lotus 49, which featured the classic Ford Cosworth DFV engine in F1 competition. Also of note from F1 was Honda’s second victory in the hands of John Surtees at the Italian Grand Prix. But another, perhaps more subdued, victory for Japan would be the television debut of Tatsunoko’s Mach Go Go Go (well, ultimate victory for us cartoon lovers). Tatsuo Yoshida’s manga had come to life… guess it helps the fact that he is head of Tatsunoko Studios (don’t you love that seahorse logo?). Thats all fine and great, but when Mach Go Go Go’s translated/adapted version came to the west as Speed Racer in the fall of 1967, the real race truly began.

SR_2Consisting of time and true shonen standards of fun, action, adventure and friends, Speed Racer combined it all around a young man trying to become a top race car driver with one of the coolest cars ever, the Mach 5. Is it me or does the Mach 5 look like a late 1950s Ferrari Testarossa mixed with period James Bond gadgetry? Speed with his family (including everyone’s favorites Spritle and Chim-Chim?), girlfriend and friend/mechanic travel all over the globe proving his skills and many times getting into side adventures as well. Often times Speed meets up with the mysterious Racer X who is so much like an older brother to him… oh yeah, right… he is is older brother, just in disguise. Hope that doesn’t spoil the party for some of you, but it is one of those in show details you pick up on quite fast.

SR_3My greatest joy with Speed Racer is the fact that this is a series in which I can connect with people who are usually older than me. Many fans of this show may or may not be fans of Japanese animation per se, but their love and fondness for the adventures of Speed and crew cannot be denied. If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, Speed Racer was a keystone in your upbringing and to see fans still connected with this show makes me feel a little less alone in the world. Great examples of Speed Racer references include an experience from work in which I was asked about the artwork in my cube, “Are you the one with all those Speed Racer type images in your cube?” Also conversations with my dentist during appointments about animation in general. Even though he is not up to par with most anime, he did grow up with Speed Racer and still loves it. In fact both of us had to instruct the hygienist on how cool this show is. The magic of synchronicity through Speed Racer… puts a smile on my face.

SR_4This is a show that shows its age with the jerky movements, simplified shapes and that machine gun dub that makes me say they don’t make anime like they used to. I appreciate the archaic nature of Speed Racer, both in terms or visual and acting (thank you Peter Fernandez for giving us an English version). Sadly though, I don’t follow professional racing anymore due to lack of interest. And yet I have vintage races to see, AND… I still have Speed Racer amongst other car and racing related anime (Initial D as an example). All is good! …Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer Go!

#104 : Aim for the Ace (movie)

AftA_movie1I often find that the older I get, an interest in professional sports and following a team, or such, is not something to aspire towards. Yet I respect sport and competition and my love for anime is strong, if only there were anime about sports… oh, yeah there IS! And LOTS of them too. There are several I have enjoyed and are quite good as well. And then there are entries that are legendary, hall of famers so to speak. Aim for the Ace is part of that higher echelon of sports legends. As I make my way through the original 1973 Aim for the Ace TV series I had to stop and take a break to revisit the cinema version of 1979.

AftA_movie2The influence of this movie is epic and goes well beyond the sport of tennis and sports anime itself. I am sure Studio Gainax and a young Hideaki Anno loved this story because Aim for the Ace is written all over Gainax’s first OVA release and Anno’s directorial debut Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. The name totally gives away the influence, but also the story in and of itself is a close facsimile except tennis was swapped out for a sci-fi world with mechs. Still in both stories the concept of aiming to be your best! And not just the best in your own frame of reference, but also to your fellow peers and most importantly, to a mentor who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself. It’s a type of story that never gets old because don’t we all need a reminder to pick ourselves up and try again if we stumble?

AftA_movie3Aim for the Ace’s story begins with it’s starry eyed protagonist Hiromi Oka, a new student at Nishi High School. She and her best friend Maki join the illustrious and highly noted tennis club and soon she has her eyes on two particular individuals. The first being the all-star of the girl’s varsity team, the amazingly talented, most beautiful and girl with perhaps the best hair in all of anime (seriously where do you get all that volume and curls?), Reika Ryuzaki better known as Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly, so fitting). The second is Nishi’s new coach, Jin Munakata, a former champion, who is a tough yet fair mentor whose presence brings out a little fear and sweat. His first objective is to test the team, to see which of the hundred or so members are most fit to play on the school’s varsity squad. Hiromi is still very much a rookie and when her time comes to test her skills, she connects with one ball that impresses the coach in more ways than one. So much so that she lands a spot on the varsity team… wha, say what? Now the drama, no, more like soap opera begins!

AftA_movie4While watching the original TV series concurrently with this film, I could not help but notice the jump in animation quality and complexity. The fluidity of the film is a quantum leap from the TV series and could be down to a number of factors. First, the idea that you go from TV to movie is obvious since there is often a budget increase. The second is the six year gap between TV to the movie. This second reason is a strong point to a theory I have about how the 1970s is perhaps the most important decade in all of Japanese animation. Stories grew into more sophistication, many traditions and cliches settled themselves during this time and drawing and animation began to mature and become more complex. Such an awesome decade and Aim for the Ace is a great example of the growth of anime during this era. Ah to be born in the ‘70s… wait I was born then… 1979 no less… so that means I am the same age as this movie… interesting!

Now for the final wrap up… Aim for the Ace, is based on a great shojo manga (check!), was made at the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsha (check!), was directed by the creative and artistic Osamu Dezaki (check!), and it still stands the test of time (double and triple check!). Aim for the Ace wins in straight sets!