#215b : The Transformers (Season 1)

Nothing screams a genesis point for The Transformers like the first season of the original G1 TV series. Before the live action movies, the AllSpark, all the reinvented, or updated animated series and even before the Matrix of Leadership, the Quentessons, Vector Sigma and Alpha Trion was a blank slate of a mythology for the population of the planet Cybertron. Transforming sentient robots divided into two factions in a never ending war, that’s all we knew in the mid 1980s when we first exposed ourselves to this 16 episode beginning of what was named The Transformers. Hasbro, Sunbow Production and Marvel Comic’s reimagining of imported toys from Japan would turn into one of the most popular icons of animation for the 1980s… and as for me, perhaps my favorite, or most influential show as a kid.

TF_S1_11984 would be the year of this first season for The Transformers, though in all honesty I was not exposed to our robot heroes and villains until the next year when season one was combined with season two to fill the 65 episodes count for syndicated release. The first season is like a nice tidy package… basic and compact. Autobots versus Decepticons… Optimus Prime versus Megatron… Cybertron and Earth… all the basic elements for a show about an eternal war that now has come to a stalemate. Energy is needed on both sides to strengthen their reserves as Cybertron is now depleted. A search mission is initiated which leads to The Transformers crashing onto Earth. Four million years later our robotic friends awaken to the then modern world of the mid-1980s, which means that giant transforming robots now exist among us. Exciting!

TF_S1_2What I love most about season one is the simplicity. We get a basic grouping of Autobots and Decepticons at the beginning adding in a few more as the season progresses. Everyone has a moment to shine in some fashion and for the most part reveal their character. That is a strength which was lacking somewhat in later seasons. While yes, many new faces down the line got to be seen and enjoyed as the show progressed, some others just got brief cameos. We get to know everyone here like a family, despite faction, which makes you ending up having certain preferences to favorite characters, including those of the human faction as well. Now what makes our characters so great as well? They are drawn mostly well in this first season, everything was sent to Toei for animation purposes. No I see, or perhaps hear, another factor. I proclaim this honor belongs to the voice acting talent. We got to know many of Los Angeles’ talent pool at the time who voiced a lot of other shows as well, but came together like a fine recipe with The Transformers.

TF_S1_3Imagine if this would have been the only episodes of The Transformers. Does the original 16 still stand up on their own as a stand alone? Absolutely. Fortunately, The Transformers would continue on for a long time… four seasons and 98 episodes, plus an animated feature film. Very impressive for what some might see as basic half hour toy presentation material for marketing purposes. In terms of mythologies, The Transformers was one of the creations during the 1980s that left an impact for many of us and showcased another storyline to enjoy. After all how many times has The Transformers been reinvented? Too many? Yet the fact it has shows the longevity of the basic mythology… but from this and stalwart, nothing and I am mean NOTHING(!) ever replaces this original series. …and it all started way back in 1984… who knew?

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4

Special : Streets of Fire

Hold on… have I seen this movie before? Of course I have, it’s Streets of Fire and there’s my DVD copy over there on that shelf. Yet this is not what I am asking initially. So many scenes, moments and characters all seem very familiar, yet I am not talking about Streets of Fire the movie. In the 1980s, within the framework of Japanese animation, Streets of Fire, like many other cultural emblems of the era, would find it’s way into many productions as either parody, reference, or even a total recreation of the story itself. This cult film dismissed by the mainstream would find an unexpected audience outside its native land to become an aesthetic icon that colored many anime of the mid to late 1980s.

SOF_1Truth be told I doubt I would ever watched Streets of Fire if I didn’t keep bumping into it time after time while watching classic anime. And as this is a site dedicated to anime I am not going to review this movie too much in detail. It’s labeled as a “Rock and Roll Fable”, a musical of sorts and in my eye borrows heavily from the 1950s. That is if society was a post apocalypse set in the 1980s where everything around you is from the decade of Eisenhower. And much like a western, this is a tough time where street gangs hold power that even the cops can’t deny. Streets of Fire is the prototypical story of the kidnapped princess who can only be saved by an outsider who is brave enough to stand up against this menace.

The influence of Streets of Fire can be seen in many anime from the 1980s. I can identify three that I have some first hand knowledge of, but if you have others to contribute please do. Now let us examine our three examples: Megazone 23 (Part 1), Bubblegum Crisis and Zillion: Burning Night

SOF_M23Megazone 23’s reference to Streets of Fire is an obvious one, yet it does not quote scenes from Streets of Fire at all. Early on in the OVA when protagonist Shogo Yahagi meets up with a group of friends, they go to the cinema to watch a movie. Guess which movie? It’s even labeled on the outside marquee. The scene is short and is part of a longer sequence displaying the quartet’s night out on the town. Still, Streets of Fire is ever present and must have been a favorite film at the time of production for certain crew members. This inclusion helps to solidify the time period of Tokyo for Megazone 23 , the mid-1980s, which according to the vocalic Eve Tokimatsuri, was the most peaceful time in history. Really?

SOF_BGCNext we move to Bubblegum Crisis , which by and large has a majority of influence from Blade Runner in terms of setting, story and renegade androids. Yet Streets of Fire will show its influence as well. The opening scene where we see crowds pour into a nightclub to see the band Priss and the Replicants (very Blade Runner) play has Streets of Fire written all over it. This mirror’s Streets of Fire opening where we see the concert of returning local star Ellen Aim. Even the songs from both productions have the same tempo and attitude. Take your pick which is the better song as both are great: Bubblegum Crisis’ “Konya wa Hurricane” vs. Streets of Fire’s “Going Nowhere Fast“. Priss even wears an outfit in red and black, just like Ellen Aim!

SOF_ZillionThe most unapologetic anime to cover Streets of Fire is the follow up OVA from the television series Zillion, Zillion: Burning Night. An almost complete remake from the ground up, the Burning Night OVA screams Streets of Fire more than both the original TV series, or even the Sega Master System games. Shot for shot, the plot is nearly identical from the opening concert, to the abduction of the damsel and then the subsequent rescue. Of course the story varies just slightly as we have to accommodate the cast of Zillion, including turning the alien Nohza into human characters. I had seen Burning Night prior to Streets of Fire and this was were I kept saying to myself, “Wait a minute, haven’t I seen this before.”

Three examples and possibly more as well show that a movie from another time and another place can have an impact on the animation we love. Streets of Fire is more than a cult movie, it is a close distant cousin to Japanese animation. Such is the joy of pop culture… wash, rinse, repeat and copy what works for you.

#164 : Locke: The Superman

LtS_1Never mind the fact that Locke is a superhero’s superhero and an esper beyond all espers. You know what I think makes Locke really cool? His hair! Anime hairspray is the best in the whole world as it can hold up any fancy stylized coiffure. An after thought film from 1984, a year which featured three blockbuster films that defined the 1980s, Locke: The Superman is a title that exudes cult status, a true outsider. It is not a title one often runs across everyday in terms of classic anime, but I am sure it will pop up from time to time for all of us if we are on searches for new or familiar titles. And yet in a way I am sure the character of Locke may find a little joy in being in a film that is not as well recognized. It fits well with his own private character.

LtS_2The history of Locke fascinates me as a quick search shows that he has origins all the way back to the 1960s as a manga franchise. Locke has been around a long time (and it is still in publication!), but he is not as common a name like say Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, Lupin III, or even Golgo 13. Much work exists, but Locke fits more into a niche category. Yet their is nothing niche about Locke: The Superman beyond being the one who gets picked last at recess. He is a mystery, a young looking man who has lived longer than many of us, who mostly lives a peaceful secluded life as often as he can. He is very wise, not big on violence and possesses great psycho-kenetic abilities that make him an enigma to some. He could rule or control the universe if he so chooses. Yet he knows he holds great esper powers and uses them only when necessary, kind of similar to Fist of the North Star’s Ken (though Ken is a martial artist). This is Locke’s fate, his karma, his knowing that true power requires responsibility.

LtS_3A young officer, Ryū Yamaki, has great interest in the hermetic Locke at the beginning of the film. He hopes to convince Locke to return to the service to help in investigating and eventually stopping one Lady Kahn from creating a great esper empire, the Millennium, a group that Lady Kahn once persuaded Locke to join some time ago. Locke of course refused, preferring the life of a sheep herder. Amongst the many training espers of Lady Kahn is a young girl named Jessica, who has both great potential as a soldier and a shadowy past where she believes Locke was the murderer of her parents. This of course was fabricated so that she could be the ultimate weapon against the powerful Locke and in many ways I feel she is as much the main protagonist as Locke. Jessica receives training from one Miss Cornelia Prim (I love that name!) and eventually meets up with Yamaki during a bought of amnesia. Que the song… “Strangers in the night, exchanging glaces…”, you get the idea? Why not add romance into an already complicated plot line of mystery, intrigue and esper superpower action? And don’t forget, awesome hair! All the great writing, and plot twists will mean nothing if one does not show off incredible locks held up with vast amount of anime hairspray! 🙂

LtS_4Locke: The Superman is a product of Nippon Animation, a studio I am more familiar with stories of history and coming of age adventures (the World Masterpiece Theater shows as examples), yet Locke is total sci-fi action. A nice showing of a diverse portfolio for a studio that I had pigeon holed into only one category. Compared to bigger films of that era, Locke feels smaller in scale in terms of art and editing. Looking a couple years out of date, or perhaps similar to a TV series in terms of production, don’t let this detract you as this is still a fine movie. Perhaps the budget may not have been as high as a Nausicaa or Macross: DYRL, but it serves its purpose very well. I see nothing wrong with adding a film showing a little grit to go against all the other highly polished options.