#214 : Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy

A great power, an energy source has been discovered that can be the panacea to Earth’s energy. And yet there is always a catch in finding or discovering any powerful MacGuffin device… the karmic baggage. Our protagonists are not the only ones who have an interest in this great source of power and it is up to them to save the Earth yet again. Except this isn’t your run of the mill gang of heroes. Our cast if a famous name in terms of anime, if not legendary. The brain child of Shotaro Ishinomori… one of the founding franchises of modern anime and manga. The beloved nine of Cyborg 009 are ready to go on yet another adventure; this time we look at the 1980 film Legend of the Super Galaxy, or Defenders of the Vortex.

C009_80_1Released during the airing of the reimagined 1979 TV series, Legend of the Super Galaxy would tell an alternate story that takes place several years later where all nine cyborgs are brought back together for a new special mission. This time the foe is not Black Ghost, nor of this Earth. This is a unique tale, a tale of heroes and villains, a tale of sacrifice, love and even the usual action all set mostly this time in outer space. Saving the the Earth from an evil organization is one thing, but encountering extraterrestrial forces outside our native homeward is another. The superhero genre is one thing, but as a space opera, it is something else.

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Cyborg 009 in the guise of a space opera? How can this be possible? The height of the genre was in full swing during the release of this film and in many ways, yeah why not give it a try? It’s like from my eye an injecting of a lot Leiji Matsumoto styled influence. Particularly Space Battleship Yamato as this was a hot sci-fi property at the time. And yet it works very well for our cyborg soldier team in terms of making them seem like a true family with the heightened melodrama… I’m such a sucker for these types of movies, how about you? The romance between 003 (Francoise) and 009 (Joe), the rescue of Princess Tamara as well as the self sacrificial act of 004 (Albert) in Legend of the Super Galaxy give this film just a little more added punch to the usual story dynamics of Cyborg 009. Even though this movie was available on VHS back in the day here in the west, dubbed of course, it was one that was never on my radar. Yet as a film seen years after the fact, this brought back the tingles of nostalgia that drew me into anime in the first place.

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Our collective nine cyborgs have always had a special place in my heart as well as other fans. More so because they don’t remind me of a team, but more so a family. Everyone has a back story and despite being from different backgrounds and ethnicities, everyone views themselves as fellow brothers and sister. This family bond is very present in Legend of the Super Galaxy. All nine work together as a team and fight together not because it is our job, but because they genuinely care for each other and also for the fate of the planet Earth. There is plenty of heart between their relationships and Legend of the Super Galaxy may perhaps be the most impactful adventure these nine go through in terms of showing that being cybernetically enhanced can never hide the true feelings of the highest form of human feeling… compassion.

C009_80_4With so much Cyborg 009 available, and with material constantly getting modern face lifts, does Legend of the Super Galaxy still hold up in more contemporary settings?. As a sibling to another Toei film from 1980, Toward the Terra, Legend of the Super Galaxy, like it’s twin, is a reflection of anime at that time. A large scale space opera that is in and of itself a fine film of action, drama and compassion (why can’t they make ’em like this anymore?); this is what drew me to anime in the first place and stills harkens me back for more. We have a showcase for a big budget franchise that has heart, soul and a plot beyond dazzle and display. I’ll keep this one on my shelf.

#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#146 : Astro Boy (1980 TV Series)

AB80_1I bow down before thee, for you Astro Boy are the head patron saint of all anime. But wait, this is not the original version from 1963 that is often considered among the first modern anime to be conceived. No, this is not that version from 2003, nor that animated movie that was… umm… yeah. This telling of Astro Boy is like the middle child of the family, a reimagined version from 1980 that was under the full direction of it’s original creator, the man himself, Osamu Tezuka. I bow yet again. For this time round we present Astro Boy in FULL COLOR!, an upgrade from the black and white of the 1960s. So fancy! Heroes we look up to and admire come in all shapes, sizes and ages, but how many have the heart of an innocent child? Or even better, is an innocent child who is curious and sensitive to himself and everyone around him? Astro Boy is this and that’s why we fans love you!

AB80_2The character of Astro Boy… he is so cute and a lot like a stuffed animal. I just want to hug him and keep him safe from harm, but more than likely he will be the one protecting me instead. A mix of Superman, Frankenstein and Pinnochio that is rolled into an idealistic hope for the future, Astro Boy tells stories with an aesthetic originating in the 1950s/60s with animation advancements from 1980. We are in an idealized utopian world of the nuclear family, school days and good always triumphing over evil. Progress, optimism and the coming of advanced technologies spearheaded with science that includes a product that defines the show, robots. One of those robots is a young boy who was a clone of a boy who was tragically killed in an auto accident. The grief and guilt from the boy’s father led to the birth of our protagonist Astro Boy, which by the way, is the plot for the opening episode.

AB80_3The joy of Astro Boy is that really and truly is a show for children. And yes, it can also be enjoyed by the whole family, or even us youth minded adult types. The storylines for each episode are mostly simple to digest and easy to follow and often times you may be asking yourself, am I too old for this? And then the truth begins to shine from underneath, as is the magic of Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka’s humanitarianism and depth are renowned in every work he created, but it is in full display in Astro Boy. The bright colors and simple designs are just a package for the drama and lessons that each episode portrays. Nothing is held back, including at times the cost of one’s life. Astro Boy is a show with a high body count and often depicts some sort of sacrifice. The difference is that there is always a moral teaching behind everything. Tezuka does not lie to children and shows that loss and even death are a part of our lives and that violence is not always the answer. Tezuka’s Unico movies are of a similar caliber.

AB80_4Each episode is self contained so there is no overarching serialized story that comes to a final conclusion. The episodes featuring arch nemesis Atlas are the closest to a having a larger narrative and offers much in terms of drama. Atlas became my favorite character and his tragic story alongside his beloved Livian, brought much in terms of maturity and personal reflection. Many times anime portrays the villain, or antagonist, as a more appealing character than the hero; Atlas belongs with this grouping of classic beloved bad boys… and girls. On another note one special episode stands out. A crossover story, which features Tezuka alums Black Jack, Rock and Sapphire; a welcome treat for those of us who are fans of the ‘God of Manga’s’ work.

I whole heartedly recommend Astro Boy as a starter anime if you have young children. And for those of you who are full grown, such as myself and I am sure you as well, the 1980 version of Astro Boy is something of an oddity to consider if it crosses your path. Relive the 1950s/60s from the perspective of the 1980s in the current moment of whatever year you consider the present. In the end it’s all the same.