#78 : Saint Seiya: The Movies

Saint Seiya, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways… I can forgive many of the short comings of Saint Seiya. In essence, it is a run of the mill shonen fighter, but the inclusion of Greek mythology, astrology and heavy melodrama make it a heavy favorite for me. The original TV series I love dearly, the manga was great, the Hades Arc OVAs which finished the original manga adaptation was welcomed. A couple years ago, the company Discotek released a bunch of SS materials. I bought a few of these DVDs and here is what came of that purchase.

SS_M_1I will only make comment on the four SS films that were released from 1987 to 1989. All of these were released by Discotek and fall into my blog’s concentration on anime of the 1970s and 1980s. Several other productions would appear decades later, but these four titles will be under the spotlight: Evil Goddess Eris (1987), The Heated Battle of the Gods (1988), Legend of Crimson Youth (1988) and Warriors of the Final Holy Battle (1989). All four are out of canon to the original manga and ironically The Heated Battle of the Gods is an alternative to the filler Asgard Arc from the TV series. These films are more for fun and I am sure were created to keep the SS marketing machine going.

SS_M_2All four movies are very cliche and are so formulaic that I end up predicting the whole plot before the beginning credits. Though each film has it’s own pace and variation on the so called theme, or leitmotif of the fightype formula of successive adversaries leading up to, they all kind of go like this… A great arch enemy descends and brings five subordinates. In the process Saori/Athena either gets kidnapped, or wooed away (if this enemy is oh so charming and handsome). Then our five Bronze Saints begin there quest to save their sacred leader. Usually Pegasus Seiya goes first and then gets that crap kicked out of him, but defeats the adversary. Next comes Cygnus Hyoga and the process repeats and then we get to Dragon Shiryu. He as well falls after a great fight, but Shiryu ends up having his cloth removed because we all have to witness his owe so muscular chest. Seriously, watch any SS and this always happen.

SS_M_3Next we get a double feature with Andromeda Shun, the ‘cute’ one who is more of a pacifist, also falls victim to his adversary. And that is when Shun’s brother Phoenix Ikki shows up and says, “Yo, you be messin’ with my brother? I’m gonna mess you up good!” Then Ikki puts the smack down. Seriously, always bailing out your younger brother. When will Shun learn to take care of himself? Later, Athena falls into further peril and all five of the boys, though being deeply beaten, trek towards the final showdown to take down the big bad enemy. All five boys take a stand one at a time and then like a miracle of the heavens, the Sagittarius Gold Cloth appears. Of course it chooses Seiya every time and all the boys cry out “Seiya, Seiya” and after that… Seiya reborn to perfection and full of strength draws the bow to shoot the golden arrow to save the day. Then all is happy ever after. …you can’t make this all up?

SS_M_4Of the four films, three are 45 minute shorts so it makes sense that they are not the most deep in regards for plot. You are cramming a supposed arc into less than an hour! The third film, Legend of Crimson Youth, which is over an hour long, has a plot that bends the predictive formula and has a bit more drama and… is my favorite of the four. Plus, in this film, we see the resurrection and inclusion of the five Gold Saints who fell during the Sanctuary Arc of the TV series: Gemini Saga, Cancer Deathmask, Capricorn Shura, Aquarius Camus and Pisces Aphrodite. Gold Saints forever!, they add to the plot greatly. This was also a film which celebrated the 20th anniversary of SS’s parent publisher, Shonen Jump.

So in final, I would watch these one at a time and… Nothing is ever a substitute for that original Sanctuary arc of the TV series 🙂 These are, as mentioned earlier, sideline stories that are not a part of the original plot so take these for what you will.

#77 : Toward the Terra

I love science fiction, can’t help it because a). it’s in my DNA to be into the future and far out subject matter and b). I was born into a generation where there was a flood of it. Right place at the right time indeed. In my early days of searching for more of the grandiose tales of the future and outer space I would come across a tale of social dissatisfaction, totalitarian government, social order and the rise of the individual and evolutionary diversity that can’t be ignored. This was the pride of 1980, the promise of a decade to come, the beautiful and austere Toward the Terra.

TtT_1Often we think of science fiction as a grandiose showing of space battles and action, but the real focus of great science fiction is in the commentary of the social condition of the now. These are the great myths and stories of our contemporary age told to criticize actions that need to be addressed right now. It is about our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. The Toei produced film adaptation of Keiko Takemiya’s manga, To Terra, is one of my favorite tales of social critique. Kind of like The Matrix meets Star Wars mixed with the mood and the finding of one’s humanity of Blade Runner. Why do I watch anime, cartoons, or whatever you want to call this stuff? Toward the Terra is one of my best answers.

TtT_2In a society where children are born of test tubes and raised by foster parents until the age of awakening, 14 years, there are those who don’t fit into the criteria. Jomy Marcus Shin is one of these children. He acts impulsively, has odd nightmares and a strong sense of individuality. The government has their eyes on him, because he may be one of the Mu, an advanced form of humanity with esper powers that is a threat to the conformity of the current status quo. The system must hold it’s population in check to keep humanity from making the mistakes of the past that destroyed the great planet of Terra, Earth. Individuality is the enemy, being special is the enemy, being different is the enemy, being who ‘YOU’ really are is the enemy.

TtT_3Along with Jomy are two other important characters, the first being the leader of the Mu, Soldier Blue, who is looking for his successor. Despite his youthful appearance he knows his advanced age is creeping up on him. And the second is the mysterious Keith Anyan, one of the system’s elite who was literally, born and prepped for his position in life. Keith much like Roy Batty in Blade Runner has to come to terms with his existence and what is right not for the system, or government, but for the greater of the human race. These are not our only characters, an understudy of Jomy named Tony will also appear later in the story that spans over the lifetime of this generation. Much like a Legend of the Galactic Heroes kind of epic with all the characters and drama, but without all the military tactics.

TtT_4As I have said earlier this may be a tale of the future, but this is a tale of the now be it 1980, or 2017 (the writing of this blog). How much do we lose as we grow up? How much of yourself is really you? Are you really honest with who you really are? Are you happy, I mean really happy? These are questions asked in the film, but are also questions we ask ourselves not in some far of distant galaxy far, far away. Seriously, we all have asked these questions. And why can’t more science fiction follow this format? This was what made sci-fi oh so awesome back in the days of yore, but alas they are a little more rare in these days… or are they?

For those of you who are more into the modern style of contemporary anime, you are in luck as there is another adaptation, a TV series, of Toward the Terra that was released in 2007. The manga is available as well, but of the three options I prefer the film that I have been writing about. We all have a choice and I respect your decision, but this movie moved me the most, made me feel the most and as of recent upon re-watching this movie, I connected on yet another level. I can’t explain it in words, I only hope you enjoy this wonderful story as well.

#76 : Fist of the North Star (movie)

Do you think you know Fist of the North Star? I thought I did from all the reputation of the so called ‘manliness’. Manliness… HAHAHA!… this is a Shonen Jump adaptation, COME ON! Nothing wrong with SJ titles though. I was thinking this was another slaughterfest and testosterone showoff for masculinity. And yet, the movie adaptation could be viewed that way, but look a little closer… and what can be seen… I found an honorable hero, a struggle between pairs of opposites and a story of redemption. Fist of the North Star turned out for me to be the ultimate journey of the hero, the spiritual quest fulfilled and a pretty good film.

FotNS_1It all started with a single second hand VHS tape. I had bought a load of anime on tape during a low time in my life, I was between jobs. The universe gifted me all these $1 deals. Fist of the North Star, the old Streamline dub release, was among this grouping. So now I had a copy of this famed movie and upon getting home it would find it’s way into my VCR. As I said earlier, I was expecting an all out unemotional gore fest similar to M.D. Geist or Violence Jack. And yet the film begins talking about the balance of the universe and that there are two schools of self defense that symbolize this balance. These schools can never fight each other because if they do, the world will be at a mess. I shook my head… this is all Eastern spiritual practice. This is deep and up my alley… well then I am interested in continuing this story.

FotNS_2Let’s now talk about our main protagonist, Kenshiro. Muscle clad and buff beyond belief… and yet, quiet and gentile. A man who holds the power to make a head explode via knowledge of pressure points in the body with any other personality would be insanity. Much like Captain Harlock, he is the stoic figure and an island of calm in a world that is out of control. Maybe Kenshiro is karma in human form? And as much as he can inflict damage, his hands can also heal. Creation and destruction often go hand in hand and in the hands of Kenshiro, they meet perfectly. The first time I had acupuncture I mentioned this anime to my Chinese Medicine practitioner and he found the concept fascinating. Both FotNS and acupuncture are about opening up energy sections on particular points of the body… so they go hand in hand (that saying again?). I still get acupuncture to this day with the same practitioner because it’s so awesome.

FotNS_3Now I know I said that FotNS is more than just a fighting anime, but… yeah, it is maybe the complete definition of a fighting anime. While Dragon Ball and DBZ may hold the crown, it cannot neglect it’s older brother. FotNS follows more hand in hand with say Saint Seiya (loves this one) with being more serious and intense. And I love a heavy melodrama, but where FotNS beats out both DB or SS it there is no safety net in regards if you are mortally wounded, you are done… no second chances. But, FotNS and Kenshiro may get a lot of credit being the first shonen fighter, but I shake my head at this. Shows from the 70s like Casshan or Babel II would lay the real ground work in my opinion.

FotNS_4Two big thumbs up for this is film adaptation. First the artwork is beautiful, almost like that movie that Toei also worked on for the west, the original Transformers: The Movie. Strong color and fluid motion that is an improvement over the TV series. Also, its a one shot run. Compared to the long TV series… which is good, but for me really, really dragged on and on. That being said the quicker pace of the movie might make you go, whoa we are at this part already? You have to cut some of the fat out and certain areas like smaller main antagonists and Kenshiro’s brother Toki I miss the most.

I often put this movie in the same pedigree as the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Bloodsport. They kind of go hand in hand (had to say it once more for good measure), being fighting movies that take’s themselves so seriously with a certain bit of 1980s style that they become very entertaining. Plus, you have to love that theme song Heart of Madness ‘for a long, long time’ to sing along with. Fist of the North Star is a unique animal and is one of the go to anime from the 1980s that needs to be experienced at least once. After all, how do you end a film between two brawny guys fighting each other to the death? Have a little girl come between them to say that all the fighting in humanity is pointless. Priceless!

#75 : Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Mention the name Hayao Miyazaki today and you will be told he is the king of the world in regards to anime. Now imagine mentioning Hayao Miyazaki’s name in the spring of 1984 and the otaku world would say that this guy is the new rocket in town and he has his sights set on the stars and the infinite beyond. The film adaptation of his manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, did more than move the masses and set the ground work for the future of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki would present us with one of cinema’s greatest and most honorable heroes.

Nau_1Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind cemented Hayao Miyazaki into super stardom and led to the formation of Studio Ghibli. He had been in the anime business for almost a couple decades by this point, but this one film changed everything overnight. So am I saying that Nausicaa is that powerful? That this is a film that can change destiny? Uh huh! And why is this? Two reasons. One, Nausicaa grounded fantasy and sci-fi so to speak (as did Fist of the North Star, also 1984). This is not about spaceships, or laser blasters. It’s about our Earth’s environment, the aftermath of great devastation and the corruption of those who don’t work in accord with their natural environment and within themselves. Which to be honest, is one and the same; as above so below. But more importantly, it’s about the heart. Miyazaki can pull your heart strings like few others and Nausicaa represents a spirit more often needed in anime or entertainment in general. This movie was ready at the right time.

Nau_2Now… what about our hero, Miss Nausicaa? How can you not love her? She is a role model for everyone who has a way with animals, an understanding of nature and a love of flight and freedom (so Miyazaki). Her powers can tame the wildest of beasts, build a garden from what many consider poisonous plants and fly a glider like a bird. Yet she is vulnerable as well because she is surrounded by factions that want to shake her standing on what she believes in and what is right to her. Despite these controversies she holds her ground and stays honest to herself and she knows how to get her hands dirty when needed. A princess and yet a tomboy who follows her heart… so noble. She would be the first in a line of strong female characters that Miyazaki would bless us with. Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), San (Princess Mononoke) and Chihiro (Spirited Away) are all representative of the Miyazaki heroine archetype.

Nau_3Miyazaki has always been the showman compared to his partner in crime, Isao Takahata. Yet when Miyazaki goes into a more serious direction, he does not slouch. Even at this early stage of his career, he still showed the ultra professionalism that oozes from his work. This was a time where fame and fortune was just around the corner and he was hungry to prove himself as an auteur and while he did direct the awesome Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa would be his first total vision. But he needed help and various names are linked with this film. Takahata produced, a young Joe Hisaishi provided the epic score (which reminds me of his then current work on Mospeada and Birth) and Hideaki Anno, years before his time at Gainax, would be a key animator during one of the climactic scenes (I am not saying which one 😉 ).

Nau_4Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is more than just another anime title, or even one of Miyazaki’s best films, it is required viewing. You call yourself a fan of anime? Let me see that you have seen this movie? Yeah I figured you have 🙂 as my readers have good taste. A timeless classic worthy to be in any collection, unless it is the Warriors of the Wind release (I have never seen that one). To Hayao Miyazaki, I thank you for making this movie that has made generations of fans cheer, cry and believe in a greater good. While many productions in the 1980s mark the times that they were made in, few can be considered eternal classics. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is and always will be a permanent classic.

#74 : Hikari no Densetsu

HnD_1More anime needs an emphasis on rhythmic gymnastics. And I am being serious here folks. I never in my mind would have thought that before I watched Hikaru no Densetsu, a simple sports shojo anime about this graceful and elegant sport that I would be smiling gleefully from ear to ear. And in a short 19 episode run I would be crying for just a little more. Sometimes you find diamonds in the rough and sometimes you find perfectly polished gems ready to reflect the light of the sun so clearly. Hikaru no Densetsu (Legend of Hikari) shines beautifully.

HnD_2When I gave a panel on the anime of 1986 a couple years ago, I knew I had many well known titles to talk about. 1986 is in my eyes an all-star year and with names like Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Maison Ikkoku, Castle in the Sky, M.D. Geist and many more all have a large reputation that cement my standing for the year. And then there was this little show on my list of ‘to watch’ anime, which was headlined by Hikaru no Densetsu. I had at that point no knowledge of this show and no serious expectations either. I found out quickly that it was about a young girl named Hikari and it centered around her school days and her talent as an up and coming rhythmic gymnast. Once I began the show I could not stop, I got the Hikari bug very quickly. Perhaps because Hikaru no Densetsu filled a void that I needed filling from my 1985 panel the year before. That void was left by Touch and the need for a quality romantic sports anime was fulfilled.

HnD_3Each episode opens with the same intro sequence, and I will say I am a sucker for that theme song. Many themes are often exciting, fun, or danceable, but Hikari’s theme is a ballad. A soft, gentile and relaxing song; what a nice change pace. Beyond the intro we learn of our main heroine Hikari Kamijo, a student who has a dream of being a great rhythmic gymnast much like the fictional champion Diana Gueorguiva. Hikari is a part of her school’s team where she is one of the many junior members under star standout Hazuki Shiina. Add to this Takaaki Ooishi, one of the two male leads, who is also a gymnast and a romantic interest for both Hikari and Hazuki. And the other male lead, who is kind of a bit of an odd ball as he is a rock musician and not a gymnast. Mao Natsukawa, who is Hikari’s neighbor, may be out of place with the rest of the cast, but he did compose one of the pieces Hikari used in her routines and also has some romantic feelings for Hikari as well. Now that’s a solid quartet.

HnD_4I have to give a salute to Tatsunoko Production, not for being a great classic studio (which you are and you know it), but for the quality of the fluidity of the movement during the gymnast routines. If it took extra effort or budget to pull this off then my hat is off in appreciation. You didn’t cheap out when the moment was needed and for that you get yet another gold star from me because I love you anyway! And I have to give a salute to those of you in Europe. You got to watch this show, amongst many other, way back in the day. LUCKY! And from some light research, both Italy and France in particular had a very warm reception towards the show. Just how popular Hikari was I can’t say for sure, but I have found many fan sites in regard to their local adaptations. Even the English fansubs I got a hold of had the French dub as well with the usual Japanese track. Very nice.

The lessons I have learned from Hikari no Densetsu… watch more sports anime, watch more shojo anime, just keep watching more anime as you don’t know what you will find. Hikari will eventual become the champion she desires to be and Hikari no Densetsu the show, deserves a trophy for being what it is. Nothing more than a simple little show that puts a smile on your face. A true winner!

 

#73 : Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?

DYRL_1Wait, wait, this is my favorite part… This is an often quoted statement when watching a movie you love. The thing for me is that for Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? (jeez thats a long title) I say this throughout the whole film, or I have to shut people up so I can listen to each line of dialog. Wait a minute… I usually watch this film by myself… anyway… Do I remember Macross? I do. Do I remember love? I do. Do I love Macross? I most definitely do. Do I remember and love that most awesome movie adaptation Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? I DO!

DYRL_2This sounds like a marriage ceremony with all these I dos, but in truth I am married metaphorically speaking to the original Macross. I don’t have a ring to prove it, so you have to trust me and as a mega fan of the original show, what is my take on the remake that was made for theaters in that magical summer of 1984? Well… it’s hard to be biased and/or objective, but it’s a masterpiece and a half. After all just look at it, no really look at it! NOW! That line work, the quality and care, the special effects and the fluidity of movement are some of the best of the decade. That and Haruhiko Mikimoto’s character design work is at it’s pinnacle here. Some have called it a labor of love as in my mind Macross was the first series made by otaku that ended up being for otaku at the time. It’s the ultimate space opera, mecha and romance story ever told wrapped in the prettiest of packages.

DYRL_3Now here’s a story, ‘do I remember’ (pun! on the title) seeing this the first time? Thankfully I do. Back in the days of VHS and being a bored teenager at the mall I stumbled into a Suncoast store and a tape caught my eye. Now mind you, my knowledge of anime was limited as I was a small town kid in the early 1990s here. I knew of and loved Robotech very much and when out of the blue I saw a tape labeled Clash of the Bionoids, I scratched my head. It looked like Robotech, it had the SDF-1 on the cover and some pictures in the back with Rick and Minmei. I was impressed and bought it. Upon watching it, three things happened. One, this was not Robotech. Two, the drawings looked much better than TV series. And three, it had this weird dub and everyone had different names? With no material to tell me anything I took a guess that this was the original Japanese Macross. I was right.

DYRL_4The plot is similar to the TV series except we start en media res with the Macross already in space and the sprawl of the shopping mall like city already installed. Minmei is in concert, Misa is with Claudia and Captain Global in the Macross’ bridge and Hikaru, Max and Roy are out in space doing their fighter jock best in those classic Valkyrie fighters going up against the Zentraedi armada. OK, par for the course, but what is different besides the already mentioned artistry? First, we get a glimpse of this possible Protoculture civilization, although it is in ruins. Perhaps it is the fabled Lemurian continent often quoted in many anime? And what is found there? A simple love song. A song that would eventually turn the tides of the battle, an established staple of Macross. Second, the budding romance between Hikaru and Misa is more poignant in this movie. The first serious kiss between these two when they were on Earth always makes me giddy. And third, going back to music, and even more epic soundtrack. Macross and music have always gone hand in hand, but this film takes it up a notch or two, ok three… actually four, lol.

DYRL_5On the flip side, I can see how dated this film is in some respects and often cries back to me a lost summer in the sun. The fashion and hair are of the period, but doesn’t it look good anyway? After all there was a quote I once read that the 80s was when anime and real life fashion and hair were one and the same. The inside of the Macross reminds me of how a shopping mall used to look like and in particular at the Holiday Season. Colorful, exciting and full of life. Malls nowadays look like badly branded race cars with corporate logos all over the place, run down and tired. Even with all this, the magic is still there as the optimism I remember growing up that the 21st century was just around the corner and new exciting things were on that horizon. I’m still patiently waiting for space travel and robots.

If ever an anime is to the likes of the biggest celebration, championship or awards ceremony where people say that this is the BIGGEST show in town and matters to the point that you have to be a part of it no matter the circumstances, then Macross DYRL is that anime to me. It’s an apex to my fandom, to a property that I would either marry on the spot, or take a bullet for. It’s the flag I wave proudly and it’s the movie that symbolizes what anime can be and what it once was and yet can still be again. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but I don’t care. It belongs to me and hopefully to you as well.

#72 : Fairy Princess Minky Momo: La Ronde in my Dream

LRinD_1Fairy Princess Minky Momo, the TV series, is one of those backlog shows that I have been wanting to see for quite a while. Alas, I have only come across the first episode with English subtitles up to the writing of this review, but the follow up OVA of 1985, La Ronda in My Dream, is easier to obtain. So I suppose I will start my foray into Minky Mono-land with this production. This reminds me in a way to GoShogun, a mecha series from 1981, where my only exposure has been to the Goshogun: The Movie (a recap) and GoShogun: The Time Etranger (one of my all time favorite anime). And the irony, in two points, both shows are from the studio Ashi Production and the main female protagonists (Minky Momo and Remy Shimada in Goshogun) are voiced by Mami Koyama (again a favorite). Could be coincidence, but maybe not?

LRinD_2The story begins by giving an overall plot overview, which then cuts into a concert that Minky’s parents are attending. She of course is backstage helping perhaps one of the performers, or even a patron’s pet cat (Minky Momo and family have a pet shop and vet clinic). The promoter soon rushes in to announce that the main star of the show will not be appearing and Minky Momo has an idea and tells him she knows somebody. Now since this is a magical girl show, it’s time to reveal Minky Momo’s transformational powers. She can turn from her usual 10 year old self (I am guessing her age) into a variety of heroic versions of herself (kind of like Cutie Honey), but at about the age of say 18-19. So the star of tonight’s show will be none other than Minky Momo herself, though no one really knows her secret (well except her three animal friends). And much like the magical girls of Studio Pierrot, Minky Momo is now a musical idol, if only for this song.

LRinD_3The musical number was a hit and now comes the drawing for a couple’s vacation to the South Pole. How romantic, more like ironic (too cold for romance, but then again you can be close to each other for warmth?). And low and behold, Minky Momo’s parents win! What a surprise, so it’s time to pack up because our magical girl is going to have the house to herself. PARTY!!! But wait… when all seems to be going good, except you burnt your breakfast Momo, the TV announces that the plane with Momo’s parent had crashed over an island that has been having some weird issues as of late. In no time, Momo and her animal crew get into the Gourmet Pop (car and trailer combo that can FLY!) and head out to find what has happened. So begins the fun! Just be ready to meet an island of children and their leader… Peter Pan! And no Captain Hook or Tinkerbell, fyi.

LRinD_4Interesting is that this OVA was brought over to the west eons ago from Harmony Gold (yes they did more than Robotech) and known as Gigi and the Fountain of Youth. It’s a solid adaptation, but in terms of the 80s I am sure Gigi would have gotten lost to bigger names like Care Bears, My Little Pony, or Rainbow Brite on this end of the world. I never heard of this version until recently, but I am sure some of you out there may have had this on VHS. And speaking of Rainbow Brite, Minky Momo reminds me of the star sprinkle carrying cherub faced creation of the Hallmark Company. Both girls try to spread joy and happiness and use magic and though they are a little different, they are both welcome to help me on a tough day. The 80s, bright colors and magical girls… I miss my early youth.

I want a slice of fun with an accent on the cute; I get my cake and I eat it too! Minky Momo, girl, you need more presence, more love, more in general. After all, you brought the magical girl genre into the 1980s and along with the likes of Creamy Mami, evolved it into a more modern context well before the behemoth of Sailor Moon. Ms. Momo, you will always have my deepest respect and La Ronde in my Dream is an honorable and solid title needed for any collection.