#25c : Robot Carnival : Franken’s Gears

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

Much of the segments of Robot Carnival don’t feature any perceivable dialogue. The 1980s was the era of the music video and many of Robot Carnival films could fit this description, but in regards to Franken’s Gears, let’s go back to the beginning of cinema itself. The Silent Era to be precise when motion, setting and even background music were key elements to tell the story instead of the spoken word. Franken’s Gears feel’s like one of those ‘old time’ movies with both the exaggerated gestures and the more sepia toned color palette. And also lets add in some German Expressionism too with exaggerated lighting as well for good measure.

RCc_1The primary influence had to have been the classic Shelley story of Frankenstein… it’s all in the title, Franken’s Gears. Our mad scientist, who looks like Doc Brown from Back of the Future, is making a mechanical creation that he wishes to bring to life. Same story for the most part as the Shelley story except this time round we get the visual genius Koji Morimoto to tell an alternate version. Amidst a nasty thunderstorm and within a laboratory of wild electricity flashing all around the big robot that lies horizontal begins to move. The mad scientist is all in glee. IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE! It’s a miracle and even though the mechanical hodge podge is not much to look at, it rises and begins to take in it’s surroundings including our scientist. All seems to be in perfect harmony except Mr. Scientist, did you check to make sure that this robot is stable and it’s weight is evenly distributed? Uh oh…

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#25b : Robot Carnival : Opening

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

A poster fragment has blown onto my legs, so I had to give it a look. Robot Carnival coming soon… let’s read this again… Robot Carnival coming… Uh oh! Better tell mom, dad, the rest of town. HEY EVERYONE! (run run run run and add some generic cartoony sounds) Hey everyone look, LOOK! The Robot Carnival is coming. All the adults look and grumble, hmm hmm… and then a rumble from the ground begins to get stronger and stronger. Oh oh! Better run a hide in the houses.

RCb_1Can mass destruction be comedic? Kind of a sick twisted sense of humor, but what do you expect from the guy who created Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo)? What if a Looney Tunes cartoon, perhaps one with the Tasmanian Devil, is turned up to a point beyond insanity? Welcome to the opening section of Robot Carnival. In the case of the intro, a massive vehicle treads over the land spreading music, happiness and folly that is mixed with ruinous damage. Look fireworks, eh more like missiles. And over there floating doll like ballerinas… more like bombs. Better to be safe and hide because in all likelihood I bet the population of the town that Robot Carnival is “visiting” has been here before. Could this have been a great entertainment spectacle from the past that has over time broken down and become a little corrupt? Could this have been created by some mad scientist or ego maniac? Who can say because the five minutes is up and we have to move along.

On with the show!…

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#150 : Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

I remember an old trailer for this movie from the VHS era… “Another time, another land, another chance…” … a very generic and perhaps simple saying, but in terms of the 1987 film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (long title?), it fits perfectly. This movie is very familiar, very foreign, very optimistic, very nostalgic and very, very well done in terms of craft from the writing to the drawing and even the animation itself. A highlight and perhaps one of the top tier examples of Japan’s output from the 1980s… Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise is still a classic among classics.

WoH_1Before the likes of Gurren Lagann, FLCL, some little franchise by the name of Evangelion and even Gunbuster (GUNBUSTA!), a studio by the name of Gainax was a group of young upstart animators, artists and otakus who had the entrepreneurial spirit to make anime there own way. They earned their reputation from creating several short films made at conventions which exuded the love and obsession for all that was anime and science fiction that permeated their youths. Certain early OVAs would feature these young artists and often times the Chocolate Panic Picture Show is sited as their first commercial project. Maybe, or maybe not? Yet the production that cemented Gainax as a studio and gave birth to the studio we know today was Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Enter a time when a bunch of upstarts could coax funds from the likes of Bandai and create something completely out of left field. Anything is possible!

WoH_2Many titles from the 1980s are often significant of the era, they are time capsules and in many ways are dated to that particular present moment. Not a bad thing, but very true in many cases. Then you have a select group that go beyond the convention of being stuck in time. This is the truest definition of what a classic is, something that transcends time. The act of being timeless, not bound to the past, but instead relevant and presentable in the present. The Wings of Honnêamise does this by the fact that it is it’s own world, a creation onto itself that looks one part old, some parts new, a little East, a little West, very familiar and unlimitedly foreign. Is this even Earth? Perhaps during the time of Atlantis, or Lemuria, or maybe an alternate dimension of time and space that could be now? If ever there is strength to storytelling is the world building that surrounds the plot and the characters. The world of The Wings of Honnêamise is second to none, in terms of setting, artistic detail, color and even sound (including the musical soundtrack). This is a fully functional organism that is complete.

WoH_3The story tells the rise of a young man, Shiro Lhadatt, who comes from ordinary and plain beginnings. He is nothing special, not too smart, or super heroic. His only passion is to fly jet aircraft and with his average, if not lackluster credentials, he ends up instead in the Space Force, who for the time being are just a rag tag group of men who don’t fit into standard military zeitgeist. Luck would change for Shiro when he meets a fundamentalist girl handing out religious pamphlets. Shiro, who being a red blooded young man, has more interest in the girl than her philosophies, but this soon changes. He soon finds purpose, both from the girl’s literature, but also the hardships she faces as well. He wants to achieve something, become a greater human being and this leads him to volunteer to become the first astronaut.

WoH_4In between insane training, a growing celebrity personalty, assignation attempts, the rumors that war may break out and a bowing to personal desires Shiro partakes one night with the girl he likes, he matures and grows his perspective in regards to what he is doing both as an astronaut, but also as a member of the human race. Combined with the high quality artistry, Shiro’s journey to space is a critical high point for anime, though not the most commercially successful. The Wings of Honnêamise is a large scale film that climaxes on the launch of Shiro into the upper and outer atmospheres, yet that does not eclipse the plot. Shiro’s monologue while in orbit becomes the capstone, the nice ribbon to tie up the package and gives us hope that someday we can go beyond our physical ties of our lives and reach for a goal that may be one part crazy and one part inspiring.

The Wings of Honnêamise is beloved by many and I give it the highest respect if only for the visual presentation, yet there is so much more as well. Due to the fact that I don’t have the love to repeatedly rewatch this film I still give it the highest marks for being what could have been a perfect moment for the Japanese animation industry. Gainax would continue on and create many popular and well known productions, but never again would they make anything as close to Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.

#149 : Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights

How hard do you like your sci-fi? Aliens, fancy costumes, or flashy warp driving all around the universe have a place, but for this entry I will to put all that into a corner for just a moment. Let instead examine something more humane, slower paced and based in a probable future reality with technology that seems just around the corner. Something more based on the likes of Issac Assimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, or Stanislav Lem. In 1987 a now rare and often over looked one off release would provide answers to the questions stated. I present you with Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights.

2001N_1What if 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Solaris (and I am talking the original Soviet version) could have their essences juiced into the form of 1980s Japanese animation? Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights is beautiful looking for a simple OVA, with those Akio Sugino characters and the craft of TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha), that speaks of science fiction for a more mature palette. Yet 2001 Nights does not hold a candle to Kubrick’s 2001 or Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but it works in a more limited space. Both of these live action films in my opinion are sublime masterpieces though also very slow and tough to swallow at times. True auteur genius at work! So an outright comparison may be unfair, but it will be a starting point. On a personal note 2001 (Kubrick’s) is still one of my all time favorite films so when I found an anime called 2001 Nights I had to give it a try. And what I found was a story about hope, ambition and struggle all guised under the moniker of the true bond of love within one’s family.

2001N_2Could this be an odd play on the story Swiss Family Robinson? The story of 2001 Nights surrounds a family named Robinson… suprise. We begin with a married couple who volunteers frozen sperm and eggs that are sent on a far intergalactic voyage to populate a new planet since Earth is in it’s closing chapters. All the eventual offspring travel aboard a spaceship tied to a comet… a very clever way to travel. One by one the children are born giving a final total of 23, that eventually is cut by one due to a contracted illness. Once the spacecraft lands these 22 children are given an unspoiled utopia of a planet, a natural sight to be seen. The Robinson’s meanwhile have one child on Earth as well and he eventually plays into the role of the plot that by the end all becomes full circle.

2001N_32001 Nights shows a true testament of faith and belief in something higher than one’s self. A spiritual essence that we are not alone and someone is always watching out for you. And not whatever you call “God”, or aliens, but something more simple. Call it just mom and dad, or big brother. All life begins with a dream and in 2001 Nights the dream of growing beyond the limitations of a polluted Earth to start again fresh and unspoiled takes the ultimate paramount. Man playing “God”? Or maybe Man as the divine image of the essence of “God”, the universe, the great creator just continuing the very process that very beganoh so long ago. A new “Genesis” perhaps in the garden of not Eden, but Ozma instead?

2001N_4Originally based on the also named manga of 2001 Nights, the anime version takes a small bite out of the much larger story. Or perhaps, this is one plot interspersed in with several more that may end up all being one story in the end? The Robinson family’s tale is among these stories and I can admit this as I have a fragment of the 2001 Nights original release from VIZ. Some say the manga is better, but if you take the time to rewatch this hour long OVA a couple times, and connect the dots from previous viewings, you will begin to see the magic unfold. 2001 Nights is a treat and a blessing to those of us who still yearn for science fiction, space travel and wondering what is out there in the big unknown darkness, but have grown to accept more mature storytelling tastes.

#148 : Call Me Tonight

CMT_1It’s Friday night (or maybe Tuesday morning?), I have nothing to do at the present moment. Hey I have this business card for a hotline to call in case one gets “bored”. Its one of those party lines… like a 900 number to call for “a good time.” (LOL) We can have a laugh, right? Anything is worth a try at least once, right? ANYWAY!… the service is so namely called Telephone Communications Madonna (maybe a reference to the famous pop star, this is an 80s OVA after all, insert a little pop culture for good measure). … Well folks, I choose not to call this time round (yes I am chicken), but I can tell you a story about a young man who did call that was quite out of the ordinary. Here is the tale of Call Me Tonight.

CMT_2This young man’s name is Ryo and he is insistent to get in touch with whoever is in charge of Telephone Communications Madonna. A girl named Rumi, who initially goes under an alias, is the head of this party line and is “the one” that Ryo is searching for. Good thinking on the alias since safety as a precaution is always smart. Ryo’s request for help in the mean time is at first odd and may just be some offhand creepy caller… SPAM ALERT… but don’t worry folks he is a sweet and genuine guy with a very disturbing issue. Now here is Ryo’s problem, every time he gets turned on or masturbates he becomes an animal literally. No literally… his clothes rip to shreds and his body changes and becomes more monster like than human. Poor boy here has one heck of a sex drive. Kind of similar to the Incredible Hulk, but instead of rage it’s all his hormones that are all out of whack. Almost as if he is possessed?… I may have spoiled the plot… nah, not too much. Rumi agrees to help and meets Ryo and the rest I leave up to you as you finish this OVA.

CMT_3Call Me Tonight could at first be dismissed as an erotic horror fantasy, or perhaps soft porn (I wouldn’t go that far) from what is described, but it is for what it is, a decent, entertaining and slightly endearing romantic production. It’s a fun horror OVA, a little bizarre. Just take everything with a grain of salt and think of Call Me Tonight more in line to what I theorize it may, or may not be about. Some of us have issues with intimacy and relationships, or perhaps how we feel about our bodies and the awkwardness that was, or perhaps is if you are of age, puberty. Call Me Tonight is like an over the top horror version of those times in our lives where we feel a little out of place bodily and sexually insecure. Leave it to oddball, rare, or forgotten anime to tell a story like this. But this is my theory, it may have some other meaning, but I am sticking with my guns on this one.

… and would you believe, Call Me Tonight has a happy ending too! So if you feel uncomfortable about yourself, reach out to someone because you often find help, support and even love when you set your insecurities, or demons, free. It worked in a short one off OVA title so that says something. Right? Yeah!!!… anime saves the day again!

#147 : Animated Classics of Japanese Literature

ACoJL_1Never judge a book by it’s cover… same goes for anything else that is packaged. Advertisers can sell you anything, so long as the branding is attractive to you. Sometimes the plainest of outer shells contain the richest and most profound inner contents; true beauty at it’s best. Let’s recap about books again for a moment, literature if you will. One of the best ways one can look at a culture is to examine the stories that they tell. These tales give the personal experiences, feelings and outlook of those who choose to write it all down and express. Anime often times gets big and over the top and strives for something newer, brighter, more exciting, etc. But what of the classic literary tales of Japan, don’t they deserve a voice as well? Of course they do and with Animated Classics of Japanese Literature you can have your cake and eat it too without ever reading a line of text.

… Of course if you don’t speak, or comprehend Japanese, you will more than likely be reading subtitles for Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, or any other anime unless you have, or choose the route of a dub in your native language. So in the end watching anime can be like reading a book… sort of. Don’t you feel smarter knowing you watch cartoons? No matter which way you slice it, you are going to be reading. …

ACoJL_2On it’s original release, Animated Classics of Japanese Literature went by another name. Sumitomo Life Insurance Youth Anime Complete Collection is the proper title as seen in Japan. The naming that I am familiar with and using in this entry, was used on the DVDs I found from the old Central Park Media catalog. An odd choice for that company back in the day, but I for one am glad that this was part of their repertoire. Similar to another Nippon Animation production, World Masterpiece Theater (Nippon animated both productions by the way), Animated Classics of Japanese Literature would translate native Japanese stories instead of the Western classics more familiar to the previous. Obviously! Except in the case of Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, these would be pocket sized entries as each episode, or two, or three, was a self contained story instead of the longer drawn out full series format. Hence we have an emphasis on the format of the short story rather than the longer novel.

ACoJL_3Even to this day I have yet to see the complete series. The long out of print DVDs released here in the U.S. only cover a dozen of the 34 total episodes. And if I remember correctly, a few more episodes were also available on VHS. With only about one third of the series under my belt I can safely give a proper analysis due to the overarching format being an omnibus collection of smaller stories. This is not for the usual otaku type searching for magical girls or giant robots. These are mundane stories, very plain and mostly ordinary. Many are very dramatic, or at times comedic, depending on the source. As a fan of World Masterpiece Theater this was a no brainer for myself as I enjoy seeing literary classics come to life from my favorite visual medium of animation. As a lover of Eastern culture and philosophy, I welcomed these stories into my home like a traveling friend. As I have grown up in the west, all of these tales are completely foreign to my native experience and serve as an appetizer to introduce me to more of Japan’s literary history. Many of these episodes were memorable, but I always seem to remember The Harp of Burma most fondly.

To finish off, let’s go back to the beginning… never judge a book by it’s cover. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature may not win awards for glorious designs or high end animation. Animated Classics of Japanese Literature is also, in many cases, not what we gravitate towards our choosing of anime subject matter. These are mostly common everyday stories, similar to many of the books we read in school, or choose to now, that pertain to our cultural definition. Often times these stories have lasting value and even with a more budget appearance, their golden centers still shine.

1984… 35 Years (and counting) of Love / A Film Trifecta

1984… ‘Anime’s Golden Summer of Love’. And let me say first and foremost, that this statement is my personal opinion. I am of course paying homage to the famed ‘Summer of Love’ from 1967 that was the high point of the hippie counterculture. An idealistic paradise of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll during an era of intensity and danger. The anime version that I am putting a label on is nothing like 1967, but was a year of ‘Love’ in more ways than one. I was a five year old living in the U.S. during 1984, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of what actually happened in Japan. What I do know is that 1984 could be a serious contender for being a tipping point year in anime. And this is was all down to three beautiful and classic films.

The stars must have been aligned a certain way for a year that featured the directing talents of Noboru Ishiguro with Shoji Kawamori, Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki. Three plus one geniuses in terms of animation, story telling and visual presentation. A couple dozen productions made their way into theaters in 1984, but the three movies that these gentlemen directed perhaps… stole the show. One was a reimagining of a popular romantic mecha science fiction TV series, one was a sequel to a film that was part of a long running screwball comedy and the third was an adaptation to an original manga that rocketed it’s creator into superstardom. Funnily enough, only one of the films was released in the summer time, but we are taking this as a collective metaphor.

Let’s start in February of 1984, February 11 to be exact. Oh wow, personal bias… that’s my birthday. This was the release date of Mamoru Oshii’s entry, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Urusei Yatsura was Rumiko Takahashi’s first huge success and with the successful TV series and manga, films began to follow. The second is the topic of this discussion and it would be the first time that Mamoru Oshii would show his more signature approach to crafting a movie. While Urusei Yatsura was known for high school slapstick silliness, Beautiful Dreamer would show something else. Oshii’s use of the surreal, odd angles, subtlety, lighting and the sublime would be interjected into the project creating something different from the usual Urusei Yatsura fare. These approaches would eventually become his calling cards, but they began to show there potentialities with Beautiful Dreamer.

March 11, 1984. A popular manga from an anime veteran would see release into theaters. This was the work of the now famous Hayao Miyazaki and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would be his second time behind the directors chair for a film. Miyazaki’s tale of a young heroine passionate for making the world a beautiful and peaceful place struck a chord with audiences and in a BIG way. Nausicaä’s messages of environmentalism and compassion took sci-fi and fantasy down to earth literally. In an era of far out grand space epics, we are thrust to return to our immediate surroundings and confront the issues plaguing in front of us: reconnecting with and preserving nature, witnessing the corruption of power and greed and standing up for what is true and moral that is within our hearts. The film’s success would give us one of Miyazaki’s most beloved characters with Nausicaä, who would become a benchmark for many of his later creations. Miyazaki’s success and growing popularity from Nausicaä would lead him with his partner in crime, Isao Takahata, to found their famed Studio Ghibli.

We now come to summer, July in fact. Debuting on July 7 would be our final film, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love… say that three times fast. Macross was a huge hit on TV for being an amalgam of everything otaku related at the time. Mixing aliens, space opera and mecha with tenderness, romance and beautiful character designs (hooray for Haruhiko Mikimoto!), Macross would reach a large fan base and encapsulated the height of passionate sci-fi idealism of the era. A reinterpreted film would show it’s hand in 1984 bringing the characters back to life yet again after the now defunct TV series left the air. This would be an alternate retelling and helming the directors chairs would be two men, series director and long time industry veteran Noboru Ishiguro and mecha designer/sci-fi fan Shoji Kawamori. Together they resurrected the giant Macross ship for another voyage that left fans, including me, jaw dropped and spellbound.

Of course 1984 was so much more than these three films and in the future I will include a more in depth focus for the year as a whole, but these three movies are something special. This ‘Summer of Love’ came to me because of the fact for the title of the Macross film; an exercise of putting two and two together. But pondering on this title I thought ‘Love’ could stand for a labor of love. All three of these films were created during the analog era of painted cel animation, “Look mom no hands computers.” All three of these films are a testament to the sweat and effort during that era as these productions were well crafted, painstakingly detailed and hold up in terms of quality today. These are three films that I love (one more than the other two because I am an uber fan of Macross) and treasure and I hope that you do as well.