#49 : Kimagure Orange Road: Shonen Jump Special

KORSJ_1Kimagure Orange Road has been a back burner title for me for about the past decade and a half. As I am currently making my way through the TV series I came to a thought about a little piece of KOR that I watched a couple years ago for one of my panels. The pilot episode/film from 1985. While it had been two years I played the 25 minute piece again recently and before I can speak about the 1987 TV series as a whole, I can at least give a little of a thought on this short piece. My only question is why did I wait so long to get around to Kimagure Orange Road? Who knows?

KORSJ_2Upon going back to this little rarity I am happy to have the familiarity of the basic premise and character names as when I first watched this two years ago I went in completely blind of everything that is KOR. The basic premise is our cast enjoying some sort of getaway to Okinawa and in typical Kimagure fashion there are follies and comediac fun mixed in with the sun and surf atmosphere. Kyosuke really likes Madoka, a whole lot, and they are both friends with Hikaru and she has an open crush on Kyosuke. Add in Yuusaku, who is really likes Hikaru and has serious jealously towards Kyosuke, and Kyosuke’s cousin Kazuya, who is a little bit of a stinker. If you are familiar with the manga or the main anime this is old hat information, but this love polygon is the main plot element. Plus, Kyosuke and his family have esper abilities… say what? And the nice thing is that those supernatural parts only compliment the story as the more subtle comedy is the real thing to behold.

KORSJ_3Was this a promo piece for the manga that ran in Shonen Jump or… wait… Shonen Jump like the magazine that ran fighting series such as Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, or Saint Seiya? Yeah, seems there was more variety back in the yonder days of the 1980s. Anyway promo or movie is a bit of information that I don’t know for sure. Perhaps die hard fans know more and in time I am sure the information will fall in my lap like a ton of bricks. It looks similar to the anime though they look a couple years younger from the designs (my opinion) and the usual voice cast of the TV series is also absent. Which is no biggie, but I do miss hearing Tōru Furuya as Kyosuke.

As I work my way to the finish of the TV series I will make a comment on it because I really am liking the show. But until then, check out this short title. I mean seriously it is only a half hour. It’s an easy investment 🙂

#45 : Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Whether in the afterworld or someplace else, the soul that used to inhabit this cold shell is probably not at peace. And further out there is a green planet… ” … I love that intro and yes I love this show. While I often think you can never go beyond an original, this is a big exception. This is not a sequel, nor a followup to Mobile Suit GundamMobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a melancholic ride of intensity that can never be topped.

ZG_1For me Zeta Gundam is the pinnacle of Gundam. I have not seen every Gundam series and to be honest I don’t know how I can. This show left a mark on me that I cannot shake even now. At it’s best it might be the most brutal and passionate tale of epic space opera mecha. The aftermath of ZZ Gundam and then Char’s Counterattack left me disappointed as I felt the story had no where else to go, or just didn’t go anywhere. Zeta Gundam, for me, was the top of what mecha once was and became. Even watching mecha related shows from later decades that take on the direct seriousness and drama, for me, are more cookie cutter or fall flat with being a bit too much for what it is (Evangelion is an exception, but that is it’s own brillance).

ZG_2When I first watched Zeta I had no idea what was going on and this was due to the fact that I had zero exposure to the Universal Century timeline. I watched almost a third of the show and proclaimed I had to go back a little further to make some sense of all this. Once I got around to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and digested all there was I was in much better shape. I would come back to Zeta and digested the first half this time with glee and joy. I would eventually purchase the second half and, no lie, watched the final 25 episodes in what was possibly one of the greatest endurance runs of my life. In the span of a day and a half I would finish that second half and my life was never the same.

ZG_3Zeta takes place about eight years after the original series and for me the real draw is our new protagonist. I love Kamille Bidan. Some say he is troubled, maybe autistic. It may be that, but his confusion and angst mixed with raw ability hit very close to almost looking in the mirror. I get this guy, totally get this guy. Also with the reintroductions of Char Aznable… I mean Quattro Bajenna (love those shades dude), Amuro Ray (who I still find it hard to believe had a back seat role in this chapter), Bright Noa (welcome back captain) and most of the other members of the White Base crew makes everything proper and tidy. And with a plethora of many more new characters in this series as well, it is sad to say that a minority live to the end. Many tears have I shed over and over again over the loss of so many folks including the troubled Four Murasume and the brilliant Emma Sheen.

ZG_4Now I want to discuss the ending. How do you describe it… kind of like a car accident? All that heavy action and movement, which breaks to a moment of reflection and confusion which seems to stand still. Where am I, why do I feel in shock that I can’t even talk, what just happened? How sad to watch our protagonist, Kamille, once filled with such passion and drive become nothing more than a confused shell. And that is our finale. Cut… done. That’s it? Yup and somehow even though many call it a downer and open ended ending, I find it beyond satisfying. This is not some wrapped up in a bow Hollywood every one wins and smiles at the end kind of ending. This is a close the book, take a breathe and sighing out type of ending. You have to take some time to process what has just occurred and not just only the ending, but the whole show as an entirety. And because of the need of this processing, it stays with you. LIKE GLUE!

Zeta Gundam… a product of it’s time, a pinnacle of a generation and a classic for all time. One of my all time favorites now and forever.

#43 : Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D is plain and simple, a horror movie… NO… a western. True there are no cowboys, etc. like in a traditional western, but it has all the elements and style of a these films. Only claiming this movie is a horror flick is completely untrue. Yes there are vampires and beasts and lots of gothic references, but still it’s a classic western in the style of Shane where our hero comes in to town to do the business of saving the innocent and has to leave because his destiny is the road less traveled. The road of the one and only… Vampire Hunter D.

VHD_1D himself is an interesting character. Tall, dark and handsome with a glint of danger in his eyes that also show a humanity that is rare to come by. Kind of like Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star or maybe Captain Harlock, D is an example of restraint. Your Clint Eastwood or Gary Cooper type, where being on the road is your destined life. And that destiny is difficult as he is a mixed breed, the dhampir, or the mix of the vampire with a human. Not only is he an outcast, but he hunts down his vampire lineage. So the title is self explanatory, he is ‘Vampire Hunter D’. And while on this road he meets a girl who requires a hunter due to the fact that she was a victim of a vampire, one Count Magnus Lee. In a soft spoken fashion, he agrees to help.

VHD_2This simple farm girl named Doris Lang lives on a farm with her brother Dan and the news of her being bitten by something so ‘unholy’ and ‘unclean’ makes her not to popular in town. The only exception is the playboy son of the mayor Greco, what a douchebag. But with D by Doris’ side she feels a strong sense of security. And the security is needed as the Count sends his daughter Lamika and the fighter Rei Ginsei right of the bat. The action begins and more monsters and adventure awaits. But D also has a partner… in his left hand. One of the creepiest and odd characters I have ever seen, but so cool. Although I would not want some face looking thing in my hand. just my preference.

VHD_3Let me return yet again to Fist of the North Star. The director for both that series and film and this movie is Mr. Toyoo Ashida. His sweeter character designs can be seen in both, though D and a majority of the characters definitely take after the originals of Yoshitaka Amano’s gothic androgyny. The plots for both series are similar and well they can both be a little bit violent. Though the violence in both I agree to be a part of the situation at hand and the story and are not just for pure disgust and shock, like say Violence Jack or M.D. Geist. D is after all a vampire hunter and that job is not one that is clean and tidy. Overall as a movie it is good and entertaining, but far from perfect. As a favorite during the old days of VHS, this was a part of the limited diet of consumption that we had here in the west. It’s still worth a watch, but don’t let nostalgia blind you. But as a popcorn action flick, it’s a gem. And that cheesy English dub from Streamline Pictures has merit and character.

VHD_4If there is one theme ever present… well maybe two that kind of go hand in hand are romance and sexuality. This is a vampire flick and the concept of these blood suckers deals with the ideas of sexual desire and gratification. Both of which the Count and D both possess, but in different ways. The Count feeds on these desires, like a rabid animal he is never satisfied and craves more and more. D, as the definition of restraint, painfully represses his tendencies and desires, which makes even simple intimacy difficult. He after all has to be above the desires for lust and conquest because his human half gives him a conscience. But that conscience and higher calling of morality sacrifices true love as Doris would soon see. She loves D and D loves her, but he can’t fall victim to the lower instinct of sexual liaison as mere conquest. He shows affection through loyalty instead.

Vampire Hunter D is unique in it’s setting and environment. And as I have said before, think of it like a western and question why we don’t have more tales like this with a horror post apocalyptic bend instead of the usual ‘cowboy’ movie. My only advice is to watch out for anything that may go bump in the night. Don’t get bit now, unless that is your thing 😉

#39 : Night on the Galactic Railroad

notgr_1I lay awake at night and often think and wonder. A child’s question of, “Mommy, what happens to us when we die?” Or, “Why do we have to suffer?” come to mind. Deep questions, but very important to have a sense of knowing that death is not an end and that life’s lessons can be hard, but beneficial for growth. In the end we all have to make sacrifice and when that sacrifice is to better another for no reason beyond providing a moment of respect, then that is unconditional love and true friendship. This is my friend, who I love, Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_2Childhood can be a difficult time when you are a small and quiet child. Particularly when you grow up as a boy as you can be an easy target for bullying from other children. This is even more true when you are not involved with your fellow peers. Giovanni is such a child. He often falls asleep in class, not because he is a slacker, but because he has to sacrifice for his family. With an absent father and sick mother, young Giovanni has to work to help the family unit. He is essentially alone in the world around him, but his life is about to be turned upside down. On a quiet night he is welcomed to join an incredible journey as a locomotive arrives in a field he is laying in out of no where. And like in Galaxy Express 999, this train does not run on tracks, but flies through out the expanse of outer space… the only way to travel.

Aboard this train he meets his classmate, Campanella, who has always shown compassion towards Giovanni and the two of them enjoy a travel to the stars and beyond. Along the way they meet other travelers and discover the beauty of what the universe has to hold. Each circumstance brings it’s own experience or story as Giovanni and Campanella both enjoy their voyage. Is this all a dream? Could it be the line between life and death? Why are these two boys on this train ride into the great vastness of the universe?

notgr_3Let us look at the concept of sacrifice once again as we all know you can’t get something for nothing or achieve without giving up something in return. The basic law of compensation. The ‘Flame of Scorpio’, which may be my favorite bit of dialogue in the whole movie, I think wraps up the whole idea of giving for a greater cause. Of any ‘children’s story’ I have come across, this has to be the most spiritual, deep and melancholy. As C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So true for Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_4Plus, this movie has anamorphic cats for it’s main cast. I’m a cat person, so there is a little bias, but from early on the production crew wanted to portray our main cast as other than obvious humans. After all a cat can have a human experience too, as they have a particular sense of their own consciousness. Mix that with the references of Miyazawa’s Buddhist ideals and a sprinkle of Christian symbolism makes this a film that can be understood no matter your beliefs. Faith and spirit always return back to the one source. And that source is the beauty of the darkness and space and the reality of the material and closeness of the cosmos and our own Earth. Night on the Galactic Railroad reminds us about the joy and terror of the unknown as that unknown brings exponential rewards.

How does one describe such subtle beauty? In the vastness of the dark of space, or on our planet Earth, we can often feel out of place or alone. But in all the space between most of us there is always someone who will want to share a moment of time with you? And some of those moments might be the best and/or the last time another may share only with you and you alone. Never underestimate the power of those who love you or, the power of the universe itself or… the power of this movie.

#35 : Dancougar

dan_1I often wonder how I would have felt about Dancougar if I had acquainted myself with this series much earlier? But alas I did not watch this show until 2014/2015 and by that time I had seen a multitude of mecha shows. All of those left certain expectations, tropes and to be honest a little favoritism to certain production. The designs and attitude of Dancougar scream 1980s to a tee that it has very few rivals, particularly Sara Yuki’s hair. WORK IT GIRL! But… but, I don’t know. Something seemed a little wrong when I finished. Almost like an awkward date that from the surface looked like a good combination, but in the end left me going… that’s it?

dan_2Now I don’t hate this show, it had a lot of potential. And that potential was never used to full effect. Kind of like watching a lot of cartoons from youth that did not have an overall plot and left so much left to speculation when the series was over. I mean you had a guy who backstabbed the Earth to join the invading alien force, Shapiro, and the same time left his girlfriend, Sara, who ends up becoming a his enemy. And by the way those aliens are some ugly motherf$%^*&s. You also had a pretty good hot headed lead guy in Shinobu. The Dancougar robot is a solid piece of machinery and we didn’t get to see it fully formed until a ways into the series. I give big props for this decision, because at least that was different. How many mecha shows can you name off hand that need to have the uniting all the pieces together sequence to sell a couple more toys to the kids from the very beginning? Too many…

dan_3In the end most of the plot structure is resolved, but that meant most of the episode count in between the start and end was perhaps… filler? My high point was watching Sara smack Shapiro for leaving her and the Earth behind. I wanted to see some more of this because that backstabber deserved a couple more. And the tension between Ms. Sara and Shinobu, come on, show me some more romantic sparks. So much lost potential. Now for as for the music, oh I love you many times over Dancougar. In particular the first opening Ai Faraway (Faraway Love) and the first closing, Burning Love are top 40 potential in every right. How can you have such great bookends to fill it with just a lot of… filler? Again lost potential.

dan_4It was 1985 after all and in a way mecha was having it’s initial swansong. Zeta Gundam, which came out the same year, capped off the era with a bang and with the incoming season of Shonen Jump fare like Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, time was running out for big bot adventures in space. At least for the old school classic fare in my regard; I guess you can’t continue an idea into infinity. But, here is the real mystery. How did the entirety of this show get released here in the U.S. in the VHS era? Don’t get me wrong I would love to own it (VHS addiction), but how did this happen? To Software Sculptors and Central Park Media, I give you a gold star for being so bold, but I think they got it in with a licensing deal for other Ashi Production shows. But, don’t quote me on that.

To be fair I think Dancougar will deserve a re-watch eventually as maybe I am wrong, but I have seen others who have had similar results, so I am not too crazy? Maybe. But, don’t quote me on that. If anything I will just want to admire Sara’s hair once again…

#24 : Area 88

area88_1Circumstances often bring us into situations that may not always be the most ideal. Shin Kazama is a young pilot who just graduated from a flight academy in Paris. His future looks certain; he is optimistic, has a job lined up with Yamato airlines and his beautiful girlfriend is the daughter of the president of the company. All his dreams are about to come true except for the fact that he decided to join his best friend on a drunken night on the town which ended up with the naive and very impaired Shin signing a paper without really reading over it. The following morning he comes to find out he has a new destiny and that destiny is in the foreign legion air force of Arslan. Shin Kazama’s future now belongs to Area 88.

Area 88, released in 1985, is an example of an early masterpiece for the then new direct to video format, the OVA. Produced by Studio Pierrot, the same company that released the first OVA release in late 1983 (Dallos), Area 88 showed a growing maturity in a short span of time. Based off of the original manga, this pocket sized three episode (two if you have an alternate release) was one of the first productions I experienced in the beginning of my journey into the deep dive of being a hard core older otaku who was looking for options to play catch up as it were. Megazone 23 Part 1 and Area 88 (episode 1 at the time) were my homework almost a decade ago and needless to say I was happy to find alternate material to compliment the usual material I had up to that point.

area88_2Let’s look at nature vs. nurture in regards to our hero Shin Kazama. True there is the debate of are things predestined or learned all across the map, but in regards to Shin I have to point to the nurture aspect, or more precisely environmental influence. Shin’s initial nature is a gentile soul whose life has become flipped upside down. He is depressed, he is desparate. More than anything he wants to return to Japan to go back to his former life. But over time from being in the battlefield and around battle scared pilots he begins to morph into a cold blooded mercenary as it is the only way for him to survive. The only life he can conceive is being trapped in a fighter plane trying to earn enough credits to qualify for an honorable discharge. Of course he can serve three years or desert (which he tried earlier in his career) as well.

area88_3Shin is a victim of circumstance, NO! He accepted his current condition instead of holding on to his genuine truth, but war does strange things to everyone involved. The love of his life Ryoko is now being approached by the friend who sold him out, Kanzaki. As Kanzaki weasels his way up the corporate ladder and enforce his love to Ryoko he can never escape the ghost of his old friend Shin. Often times their paths cross even though they may not be looking at each other in the face. Talk about a soap opera and a half and I am eating it all up with a bucket of popcorn (I need a refill!). Much of this story can be seen in many of the mecha series of the time, as I see this as shonen-esque type show, but Area 88 is a bit more down to earth dealing with actual war machinery and a more contemporary setting (be it the late 70s/early 80s). It’s kind of like, what I read somewhere, a more realistic G.I. Joe. Very true in that observation, but I still seeArea 88 as a tale of a man who lost his faith in himself.

area88_4Another avenue I often look at with the lens of Area 88 is the concept of the war draft. Growing up a decade after the ending of the Vietnam war, the shadow of being told to go to war without question or reason was around. This was my parents’ generation and of course it was reflected in films such as Apocalyse Now and Platoon. Much like those films, Area 88 shows a young man’s life change due to the circumstance of being taken away from his environment and his dreams. The spoils of war often silence many young people who had drive and ambition. If you feel it is your duty to serve you are more than able, but we should never force anyone to do what they may not feel is truly right.

Truly a gold standard of the OVA, Area 88 tells it’s story with the right pacing and production value. Without any question it is required viewing for anyone interested in classic Japanese animation. Just one word of parting advice… never sign anything when you have been drinking alcohol. You never know what misfortunes can arise from being careless.

#21 : Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive

Recall the Disney version of Robin Hood. You have your traveling minstrel rooster, saying the animal kingdom has their own version of the story and might I add it is “what really happened in Sherwood Forest” at least according to our journeyman friend. When you often say the three words ‘Love Live Alive’… now is it ‘Live’ like I want to live through this or I saw that awesome band ‘Live’? Sorry… you think of an attempt on Harmony Gold to squeeze a couple more bucks from the Robotech name. But this blogger has another version of this story and this is what really happened. In 1985, same year that Robotech aired ironically, this little OVA was released in Japan. Here is the real story of Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive (thats a long title, eh?). Oh de Lally Golly What a Day!

mlla_1I know the Robotech version emphases ‘Live’ as I want to live through this, but I may be wrong and I don’t care because I read ‘Live’ as I saw that awesome band ‘Live’. And speaking of music, that is the backbone to the OVA as we follow the ‘Lonely Soldier Boy’ Yellow Belmont and what he has been up to after the Inbit invasion war. He still rides his blue Mospeada bike, bends gender better than anyone and performs his music all over. A soldier he may have been, but his heart belongs to fashion and the stage. And it is the career that he deserves as he recalls memories of his recent past. But what about the music as the backbone to this story?

mlla_2Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive is a simple love letter. Did you love the show from a couple years back? The staff at Tatsunoko studios have a little something for you to reminisce. The music mentioned earlier that is either recorded or performed live by Yellow splices between flashbacks of his old companion’s adventures that recall the nostalgia in period correct MTV style. This was not in the Robotech version (grr!), but what of this music anyway? Who actually wrote these songs? How about Jo Hisashi! All you Studio Ghibli fans should know that name. That’s right, Jo has a back catalog of various musical contributions including this OVA and the original TV series. The grand orchestral sounds of the Ghibli films though are not present. Here we have Jo’s sensibility in the flavors of rock and pop. Midnight Rider is my favorite track followed by Mind Tree in case you have the soundtrack handy.

mlla_3I honestly don’t know how popular Genesis Climber Mospeada was in Japan and really it does not matter. Be it the Robotech or original version of the 25 episode show, I liked it very much for the small rebel bandit unit and morphing motorcycle armor, so badass. But again in my book, it is the characters I love most. Yellow was my favorite character from the show anyway and having a video about him makes Love Live Alive double special. Besides being creatively talented and often the strong voice of reason in the group, Yellow was the first individual in my life that I recognized as gender non-conforming, though I did not know what that concept was for years to come. Again, how this OVA got made about a character from yet another scifi mecha show is beyond me? I should not ask and just accep,t after all it was the 1980s in Japan, all kinds of productions got green lighted.

As a fan of either telling of this show I appreciate this short direct to video one off.  I can’t say much more since it is what it is, a string of music videos spliced between moments of Yellow’s current life told in about a span of an hour. …and like what wise people say about cover songs, nothing beats hearing the original. Live on Yellow and rock on!