#188: Dallos

“And if the band your in starts playing different tunes… I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” There is tension in the air… on the moon of all places, which has no breathable air except for the enclosed colonies where the inhabitants live. These colonists who mine resources to feed the Earth are beginning to find their social treatment and political conditions unbearable. Beyond these tensions on the dark side of the moon is an odd mystery. A gigantic mechanical device that many of the inhabitants revere as a deity sits in utter silence. The name of this mysterious giant as well as the production that features it is a landmark title in the history of anime, Dallos.

Dallos is known for two distinctions in the general knowledge category of anime. The first was the fact that it was the original direct to video release, known better as the OVA. The second was it was directed by Mamoru Oshii (Angel’s Egg, Ghost in the Shell), which is partially true. Also directing was a quiet legend, mostly unknown here in the west, Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman, Salamander, Lily C.A.T.), who as the senior of the two should honestly be listed first. As the first OVA release, Dallos broke ground in terms of distribution of anime at the time. Within a couple years the category became a viable market for projects that may have had the budget, subject matter, or space for creative freedom to afford itself to be either on television or the cinematic big screen. Long before the internet, or digital sharing, the OVA was a gray area to work in as an in between, a place Dallos fit into very well.

With a slick presentation, Dallos does perform in terms of the action sequences in terms of detail and fluidity, but the story is something that still leaves me questioning. Though we do have a good cast of characters, no one really stood out in this hard sci-fi dystopia as the major focal point. The young, slightly angsty Shun Nomomura is our obvious protagonist, yet the overall collective and environment felt like the star of this show. Dallos is an anime about society under Orwellian social control, an anime about the status quo bourgeoisie versus the working class proletariat, an anime about native Earth born humans versus spacenoids (Gundam?), an anime about the varying opinions of generations. All great themes, but unfortunately with all this great drama, it never focused itself into a cohesive narrative that went anywhere, or answered to any conclusions.

Mixed with the underdeveloped story is the concept of the supposed deity like machine Dallos itself. A giant mechanized mystery on the far side of the moon that looks like a face has no real mythology beyond the respect by the original moon settlers. This older generation, well into the twilight of their lives, try to explain this to the younger elements with little acceptance. Such is youth to take life into their own hands, but they to will soon learn. Autonomously Dallos defends itself  during the uprising tensions, but as to any explanation as to what the mechanical behemoth stands for, or even it’s purpose for existence is a pure mystery.

The DVD copy that I own also contained a retrospective containing interviews with many members of the crew from Studio Pierrot including Oshii. Even though this was not an episode of the OVA series it was my favorite part of the whole viewing process. Perhaps the inclusion of two directors for one project weakened the possibilities of what could have been? The discussion of doing a hard sci-fi production with no promotional material, like toys or model kits, and having heavy subject matter was a great idea, but needed more time for polishing the final product. Dallos had so much potential, but is nothing more than an experiment that just did not fall completely into place. A visual treat for sure, but a disappointment in terms final explanation. A longer narrative run could have helped? Although Studio Pierrot’s upcoming OVA for 1985, Area 88, performed flawlessly as a short run episode count series as well. Area 88 by the way was directed by Toriumi.

#187 : Magnos the Robot

If this is the best I can do for a substitute for Magne Robo Gakeen, I may just stop right here. Magnos the Robot is a condensed localization I found my via a bargain bin DVD, though I am sure it may exist as well online as well as this seems to be a public domain type of thing. I am not going to give up hope in eventually seeing the original and I look forward to the opportunity, but it may end up being on the lower end of my priority list.

Magnos_1The story is very typical mid 1970s super robot anime having a small group of humans fight against an alien invading force to protect the Earth and it’s inhabitance. Super robot mecha was the de facto go to for shonen type stories during these times due to mainly toy promotion and often each series had it’s own schtick. Magnos is piloted by a male and female pair representing polar opposite charges like a magnet. Magnetically both do one of the most bizarre unifying sequences I have ever seen in a mech show, much like aerial summersaults, that bring all the pieces of Magnos together with the precision locking of LEGO bricks. This alone makes the show worth a watch. In fact I could watch the launch and combining sequences on repeat all day.

Magnos_2Can I please say that this is an ugly show? The editing to make this version is very spastic and abrupt shifting from scene to scene with no real direction of where the direction is going except we have another monster of the week to fight in ten more minutes. I am sure the original has a more flushed out story? The designs for the Magnos robot, Magnon and Magneta (two supporting robots piloted by our heroes) are not very aesthetically pleasing either. Compared to period alternatives like Getter Robo, Combattler V, or Voltus V, Magnos, or Gakeen just did not do it for me. And then the invading aliens, very bizarre like left over sea creatures morphed into humanoid form with garishly complimentary color schemes. I often think of Go Nagai villians as being on the bizarre end of the spectrum, but they have some class and style about them. These opinions are mine of course, but all these factors really made it hard to watch.

Magnos_3“Now it’s up to you!” to decide on whether this is worth your time. Another production complied by the same folks as Magnos, Super Grand Prix, was more pleasing to my taste palette, but it may not be the same for all of you. Yet there is a rule of thumb I always go by… better to watch ‘bad’ anime than an average live action production. Even if it is so ‘bad’ I can’t help but take in these little ones as well. All classic anime deserves a home and a chance. I only pray that the original Magne Robo Gakeen, when it does come my way, can fill in the necessary gaps that are missing in Magnos, because I do love the launch and transformation sequences too much to throw off the whole production for an awkward re-edit.

#186 : Super Grand Prix

For the time being I have to settle for a substitute. Arrow Emblem: Hawk of the Grand Prix was a 1977 TV series produced by Toei about auto racing and I have interest in seeing this show. One, because it’s an old show… wow didn’t see that one coming as I seem to watch anything made before the millennium. Two, I like auto racing as a subject matter as I used to be a big fan of it. And finally three, it was directed by Rintaro. I like his work. In fact this was his gig before doing the Captain Harlock tv series the next year. Yet sadly nothing exists in English in terms of a subtitled entry as far as I know. This leaves me with a condensed adaptation called Super Grand Prix. Let’s give it a try?

SGP_1Thanks to a bargain bin dvd I can watch Super Grand Prix, though I am sure I have seen it online in places as well. It’s a typical shonen type of story about a young man wanting to become a professional race car driver and the ups and downs through that journey. The renamed protagonist Sean Corrigan is our hero who seems to have the worst luck in getting ahead. Soon enters a masked man… no not Char Aznable, or any other Gundam character that followed that archetype. This mystery man often talks of the great champion Niki Lauda, who by the way was a real F1 champion, three times in fact, who suffered severe burns from a crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix that almost cost his life. Through determination he would return though badly scarred. Could this masked man be Mr. Lauda in disguise?

SGP_2Sean gets hooked up with the right people via this masked man after an initial set back and always through out the story seems to have divine intervention on his side. Of course he still continues to make mistakes, which means in this universe it’s better to mess up than be perfect as long as you have the masked man behind your back. Talk about a guardian angel! Slightly reminiscent of Speed Racer to a certain extent in terms of setting, the look of the show is a typical 1970s/early 80s Toei stock presentation, particularly the characters. Fans of particularly mecha shows during that time will know what I mean.

SGP_3Entertaining in it’s own way with the localized dub and restructuring, I found Sean’s journey in Super Grand Prix very watchable unlike another similar re-edit, Magnos the Robot. It’s a simple cartoon with basic archetypes that does not get pompous like later anime productions that take themselves over seriously; these too have their place as well, but sometimes a simple story is necessary to weed out the cobwebs of expectations. The question of how much of this condensed version was cut from the original forty four  episode is in question until I see the original version, but I know for sure that the journey has only begun in terms of our heroes journey to racing stardom.

#185 : Aura Battler Dunbine

“Fortunate are those who remember the tales of Byston Well… ,” to quote the text that began many of the opening episodes for the 1983 mecha series Aura Battler Dunbine. Most fortunate are those that learn the lessons from the hardship of war, the downfall of power for selfish gain and the balancing act of dealing with emotional turbulence. Based on an adaptation of a concept from Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino that has been reinterpreted several times (Garzey’s Wing, Wings of Rean), Aura Battler Dunbine is a show that one never forgets.

ABD_1Often times I end up in tears when watching certain anime. I often expect this from really great work that brings you into the story. This can either be from something very sentimental between characters, or more often, the death of someone dear to the cast and plot of the show. During the last two episodes of Dunbine, I cried… very hard. The brutality of the war and watching one by one heroes and even sometimes antagonists go down was as painful as many of the largest loses of my life. Dunbine may be Tomino’s most brutal series in terms of his “Kill ’em all” trademark? I would say even more so than the likes of Ideon and Zeta Gundam, two series I truly love. Yet Dunbine is not all dark and gloom, there is a lot of light and at times comedy, but it’s the finale that often defines how a series feels for me in the end.

ABD_2The medieval European influence of Byston Well’s environment was a different take on the usual far future, outer space and/or alien invasion themes so prevalent to traditional mecha anime. Mixed with a form of fantasy laden technology and pagan mythological wonder, Dunbine would include insect like mecha designs (Aura Battlers), psychic powers and even fairy like characters that have a number of translated variations in English. This is a world where individuals like you and me are transported via the Aura Road to Byston Well from Upper Earth to play out in a struggle between power hungry despots, moral crusaders and nature priestesses that control the balance of Byston Well in their hands. A hopeful motorcycle enthusiast, Sho/Show Zama, is one of these select few who lands in Byston Well and learns quickly of the power games and ambitions of one local lord Drake Luft. Sho/Show eventually defects with his acquired Dunbine (his Aura Battler) to the opposing side and eventually earns the trust, as well as admiration of another Upper Earth exile, Miss Marvel Frozen, one of the best female mech pilots of all time. And to top things off Sho/Show acquires a sidekick (maybe cheerleader is a better term?), one of the Ferario (the fairies I mentioned earlier), Cham Huau, one of my favorite characters from Dunbine.

ABD_3Byston Well and the concepts of aura power could relate heavily to our subconscious, both individual and collective. Byston Well was noted for being a place between sea and shore, a land where our souls come to rest after death, or perhaps even before birth. A world of dreams that in one aspect is outside our human existence, yet also running concurrently with it. The use of aura power reminds me of Ideon’s Ide power and Gundam’s newtype abilities. These are latent powers that are within us, where a select few learn to channel them, or awaken to them, like a Gundam newtype. Or perhaps it is the collective energies of our emotions, either peaceful, or destructive that shapes how we correspond with the universe much like Ideon’s Ide. Aura power also makes me think of the concepts: ‘thoughts create things’ and ‘the words we speak create our reality and actions’. Out of the subconscious comes forth our conscious reality.

ABD_4Currently I have watched Dunbine in total twice and I will say like many of Tominos’s shows, it is best to have multiple viewings to gain as much perspective as possible. Tomino can tell a good story, but he does not always give the information in an expected manner. Lastly I can’t dismiss the character designs of Tomonori Kogawa as perhaps my favorite from his vast resume (Ideon, Southern Cross, Cool Cool Bye, Xabungle as examples). As part of a unique trilogy of mecha series created by Sunrise in 1983, including Armored Trooper Votoms and Galactic Drifter Vifam, Aura Battler Dunbine is mecha anime at it’s best featuring a world of fantasy with reality, joy with hardship and spiritual power with technology.

… and let’s not forget Dunbine has some of the most bizarre names ever to be featured in anime. How would you feel to be named Shot Weapon?

#166 : Stop!! Hibari-kun!

Be on the lookout for white alligators! … In essence Stop!! Hibari-kun! is like many screwball high school romance, or family comedies that can be easily overlooked. And with it being a Shonen Jump property, I am sure Stop!! Hibari-kun! goes more with High School Kimengumi in the overlooked pile being it is a sibling to more popular heavy weights like Dragon Ball, or more fitting Kimagure Orange Road (romcom over action). Gender identity, yakuzas, family and comedic sequences that stretch the boundaries of believed reality and science are what makes this 1983 TV series a laugh out loud insane asylum, though there is one joke I don’t see as all that funny, but I take it in stride.

SHk_1Every show of this category has it’s niche that defines the comical plot and undertones that define other characters actions. Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! has two with the first being that Hibari is an early example of an openly honest transgender character in anime. Through she is often referred to as he, or a crossdresser, or sometimes… a… ‘pervert’? For real? Men who decide to wear women’s clothes, women who like to be more masculine, or those beautiful souls who identify as trans are not perverts! Hibari as a strong willed character defends her identity with ease because she knows she is awesome at everything… literally, she is a prodigy at almost anything! Many others do not grow up as confident, and also identify somewhere different on the gender spectrum and that word of ‘pervert’ only creates internalized shame and guilt. Times may have changed, but we are still only in the beginnings of gender acceptance

SHk_2The running joke of the cute ‘girl’ is really a ‘boy’… transwoman!… creates havoc on Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! other main protagonist Kosaku Sakamoto. After his mothers death he comes under the care of the Obari family, who happen to be yakuza, yet another layer to add to the plotline. Kosaku notices that old man Obari has only daughters and eyes onto Hibari… and then the secret gets out and this creates tension within Kosaku. Wow, she is adorable, but she is… this can’t be right… oh Kosaku… you know you want her! All the other boys at school are jealous that she likes you, but they see her as any other cis-girl. As even the opening credits says, color TVs have many shades of color and the same thing applies to boys and girls. If only Stop!! Hibari-kun! came out more recently instead of 1983, Kosaku may be more open to a relationship outside the cis-normative binary.

SHk_3Beyond the upsetting of traditional gender roles and stereotyping, the majority of Stop!! Hibari-kun! is the loaded with stock and trade high school, family and yes even yakuza antics that can ring true no matter the show… you have to laugh because this show is very funny. This of course includes the entire cast, which by show’s end must contain the entire population of the world of Stop!! Hibari-kun. The comedy, action and even certain characters go into levels of campiness and surreal insanity that kept me wanting each successive episode. What will happen next time?, top that?, or boundaries?… limits?… let‘s break them up! This is the advantage of using animation as a medium for comedy as why be subtle when anything, and I mean anything can be possible. Yet the most poignant moment of the show was Hibari meeting someone else who is also transgender, using the term newhalf. It gave her a sense of grounding and me as well that despite all the silliness, white alligators and insanity, we can also have a sparse moment that recognizes we are not alone even if we feel a little different.

SHk_4My biggest complaint beyond the use of the word ‘pervert’ was that Stop!! Hibari-kun ran far too short in the episode count. Just 35? I was getting warmed up, but alas certain show runs are often limited; I am fortunate we got we have that is available. This was a welcome entry both as a comedy and also as a show depicting someone who is transgender. I often wonder what happened to Hibari? Did she fully transition, or does she live fluidly, or something else? Maybe the manga has more to say on this… it often does usually. Don’t Stop! Hibari-kun!

Side note… the actors who played Kosaku and Hibari… Tohru Furuya and Satomi Majima respectively are husband and wife!

#151 : Inspector Gadget

I have a call on my secret hotline phone. Be right back … “Oh hey Chief (wait?… I have a boss?)… what… you’re where?… Wow Chief! I didn’t recognize you.”

“Here’s your assignment Classic Anime Museum.”

“This time review Inspector Gadget, as this was quite a popular cartoon during the 1980s and has spun off into several reboots. Of course focus on the original here as it was animated in Japan even though it was created for the Western market and watch out for M.A.D. agents. … This message will self destruct.”

“Got that Classic Anime Museum?”

“Sure thing. The Classic Anime Museum is always on duty. Oh by the way here is your note back.”

BOOM!!!… Now cue up that theme song that borrows themes from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and let’s get started! Go Gadget Go!

IG_1Ah yes, I remember Inspector Gadget very well. Who didn’t? OK some people who watched cartoons as a kid in the 1980s may not have had the opportunity, but I think that would be a rarity with this show. Inspector Gadget was huge and is one of those shows that is beautiful in being very neutral in presentation. Thank you for not shoehorning specific demographic requirements DiC. The only requirement is the asking of, “do you want a funny show, a very silly show?” Simple. Now then, Inspector Gadget may not have been my top pick for a cartoon as a kid (say what?), but I did enjoy it and remember it very fondly. Maybe because it had a weird time slot and it often was on when I was still in school (can I skip class?) and the only opportunity to watch the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ was on days off (hello summer break!). Thank goodness for today’s DVD releases and streaming sources. Needless to say, 80s cartoons without Inspector Gadget is like cereal without milk, peanut butter with out jelly… you get the idea.

IG_2Our hero, this man Gadget, is either the world’s greatest police officer, or just plain clueless. I vote for the later. He always solves his cases, but seems to have hidden help from his pet dog Brain and his niece Penny, a.k.a. the real problem solver. In truth, Penny is the true hero of this show and Uncle Gadget is the comic relief, as well as the star of the show. So the question that begs to be asked is how did these cases end up getting solved? Answer… fantastical 80s sci-fi style technology! Penny uses a computer book to find or calculate out all her answers and theories to learn what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents are up to. Who needs a MacBook Pro? That and her well mannered intuition compliments Gadget’s total lack of analysis. If you have to do a job right, give it to a kid, they are smarter than you think!

IG_3Each episode, or case if you will, is much like a 12-bar blues song and follows an almost strict formula. See enough episodes in a row and you begin to almost predict the next move, or scene strategically like in a game of chess. Just don’t over do it, one need never to get bored of Inspector Gadget. The concept of the show is partly a parody, or maybe more so an homage to the spy and police genres as a whole. Mix together one part Get Smart, one part James Bond, one part Mission Impossible and one part the The Pink Panther. Shake with a little French, Canadian and American pre-production via the legendary company DiC and finally garnish with stellar production animation from the Japanese Studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and you get Inspector Gadget. Also adding in the iconic voice work of Don Adams for Gadget does not hurt either. This of course draws on his former work in Get Smart, but I often think what if Peter Sellers had a shot at the role? Recalling the references to The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, this could have been up Sellers’ alley, though I would want him to keep his native British accent. This is total bias from a Sellers fan so… let’s continue on shall we (where’s my copy of Dr. Strangelove?).

IG_4Inspector Gadget… never fear as our hero is always on duty. I do fear for those poor M.A.D. agents who end up finding Gadget is more harm than help in regards to solving a case. I hope M.A.D. has a good insurance package. That being said I am glad Gadget is on our side, but it begs the follow question, since the original release back in 1983, is Gadget still fighting crime today? Are Penny and Brain still around? Does Penny use a Macbook Pro now? Could Gadget be near retirement? Will we ever see Dr. Claw’s face? One will never know. GO GO GADGET FOREVER!!

#135 : Crusher Joe (movie)

CJm_1Say Joe, what do you know? … How does it feel to be the literary older sibling of the Dirty Pair? Maybe a little jealous as Kei and Yuri often get a lot of love and fan mail, but some of us out there in old time otaku land remember you too my old friend. Space adventure and science fiction were really hot in the early 1980s and a 1983 film by the name of Crusher Joe set itself perfectly into the zeitgeist of the moment. Let’s step back in time to experience the future, grab some popcorn and cut the lights… we’re watching this movie! 

CJm_2Does Crusher Joe remind you of say, Cowboy Bebop? The character dynamics are there: Young heroic guy, the big tough veteran, the pretty girl and a nerdy kid. What!… no cute Welsh Corgi!? Crusher Joe is sci-fi fun similar to say Star Wars, or maybe Buck Rogers, or perhaps Flash Gordon. What about Space Dandy? Or in contemporary anime terms of about 1983… Space Adventure Cobra meets Gatchaman that looks a lot like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Oh and one big difference to Cowboy Bebop… no swinging jazz. What!? No flat fifths, or 7th #9 chords interspersed in hand drawn loveliness? Ah shucks! Alas Crusher Joe is sci-fi the way we hoped for the future to be in the 1980s. Lots of warp drives, high collared tailored jumpsuits and dancing at the discotheques. I don’t know about you, but I am still waiting for this dated version of the future to come to fruition. Am I alone on this one?

So what exactly are Crushers anyway? You got a job, any job? You got money? Then a Crusher has got you covered, except keep it clean and legit as this keeps the paperwork easier to file. Joe, Alfin, Talos and Ricky have a new job of transporting a mysterious cargo with no questions asked to a specific destination. Sounds simple enough, but then again be careful what contracts you sign your name on. On a trek through hyperspace a ‘little’ accident occurs with this cargo on board. Ever have a bomb go off in the middle of a warp? Its not very pretty. After coming back to consciousness, Joe and crew quickly evaluate the situation and discover the cargo has gone missing. Ah oh, what else could go wrong? Maybe a run in with the authorities and finding out your cargo was a princess who was cryogenically frozen and now you are charged with kidnapping. Talk about a good time to call a lawyer. Now the question becomes who set up Joe and how do they get this princess back safe and sound?

CJm_3Let me return to the Mobile Suit Gundam reference again… this movie really, really looks like the iconic mecha series in terms of it’s characters. This is NO!! accident. The character designs, script, and storyboards were mainly at the helm of Gundam’s character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. ‘YAS’ even helmed the directors chair. He literally owned this movie, maybe even more so than original creator Haruka Takachiho. Besides the obvious stylings of YAS, Crusher Joe also shares his sense of humor and fun action, which ties back to Takachiho’s source material quite nicely. Add in some mecha designs from a young up and coming Shoji Kawamori, hot off of the original Macross (LOVE!), and the fire power of Studio Sunrise, you have one of the best stand alone sci-fi movies of the decade. In fact Crusher Joe was Sunrise’s first original movie outside of TV show adaptations, in case you wanted to know (it’s common knowledge on the internet?).

CJm_4Once upon a time we had grand and fun swash buckling adventures told through the medium of intergalactic outer space fantasies. True they still exist in some form today, they don’t hold the same romanticism as their analog counterparts of yesteryear… or perhaps I am just being biased. Crusher Joe is a film that defines what made 1980s anime appealing and fun, even into the present. Plus as an added bonus… guess who makes a brief cameo for their first appearance ever in an anime? Kei and Yuri… the Dirty Pair… ah… Lovely Angels 🙂 They always seem to hog the spotlight in some form or another… can you blame them?