#223 : Amon Saga

Can you survive the test to join the army of Valhiss? Do you wish to ride the giant turtle that features a city on top of the shell? … A giant turtle? That’s different. … Welcome to a minor introductory for the fantasy adventure known as Amon Saga, a 1986 OVA that made its way over here in the west on physical media somehow. Interesting choice and not my first pick if I was shopping for releases, but hey a $5 DVD is worth a try at least. I have had enough of all this futuristic sci-fi as of late, I want something more grounded, but mystical as well. Classic sword and sorcery are in order this time!

Amon_1Right off from the start I found something appealing about Amon Saga. Many often label it as a very generic fantasy OVA, maybe more on the lower end of the spectrum, but to be honest from my eye it’s good, but don’t expect a miracle. The production in terms of the visuals are strong and make up for the more run of the mill plot line of personal revenge for the death of a family member. Plus don’t forget to add in saving a princess and fighting fearsome monsters. The characters themselves are fairly average, but this is an action flick after all and could pass as a medieval Fist of the North Star featuring the swords and magic over martial arts. Or maybe this reminds me more of Vampire Hunter D?

Amon_2Picture now a post apocalyptic wasteland and a young man wandering on horseback coming to a cantina for a rest and a drink. His name is Amon and soon he catches the eye of the rough clientele and even befriends one in a bar room brawl. Soon that previously mentioned giant turtle makes its way into town. This is the fortress of Emperor Valhiss and his subordinates announce a call to invite nine men to join the ranks of Valhiss. Amon would qualify, as he should as he is the hero of this tale, for the coveted ninth position. His motives are not completely clear as of yet, but trust me, he has his eyes on revenge. Valhiss murdered Amon’s mother in front of his eyes and this is his reason to join up in the Valhiss army. While making a first attempt to slay Valhiss he would fail, but in turn would meet another alley, a captured princess no less, Princess Lichia. How very cliche.

Amon_3Let’s now look into the character designs as they have a familiar and inviting look to them. This grouping belong to the handiwork of one Yoshitaka Amano. Many of us have seen his designs ranging from the classic Tatsunoko superheroes of the 1970s (Gatchaman and Casshan as examples), the casts of Genesis Climber Mospeada (Robotech: The New Generation), Angel’s Egg, the previously mentioned Vampire Hunter D and even artwork for the Final Fantasy games. He even created a tarot deck that really differs from the usual Ryder Waite designs. With all this in mind I can see him being a good choice for Amon Saga and his artistry more than carries any weaknesses, or cliches, in the production.

Amon_4Amon Saga for me is a good popcorn flick and a decent OVA release. It’s a simple story, runs just over an hour in length and comes across well polished to my eye. This was worth a re-watch as often times I trust the judgment of others as to how I see certain anime releases. I liked Amon Saga, but I didn’t hold it to any high standards. While this is not on the level of say Record of Lodoss War, Amon Saga is a smaller and more compact package that doesn’t go over its head. Swords, magic, princesses, a menacing emperor, a Valley of Gold and a giant turtle, who could ask for anything more?

#147b : The Harp of Burma

[Intro: The Harp of Burma represents two episodes from the collective 1986 TV series Animated Classics of Japanese Literature.]

Could you recognize an old friend who reappears after some time like a ghost some how coming back to life in a physical body? Could you understand why a passing face that you know so well and would think that giving a simple greeting of hello would only give silence? Can you understand the emotion on someone’s face, knowing what it is like to be in their shoes? Often we look for our purpose in life, or end up believing the path we are on is our true direction. And then sometimes life happens to deliver you something else all together different out of the blue. The story of The Harp of Burma is perhaps one of the best tales of spiritual transformation affecting one individual’s life.

HoB_1World War II is winding down as we find a small Japanese unit near the Burmese border. The year is 1945 and to keep their morale high these soldiers often break into song. A young soldier by the name of Mizushima taught his comrades to sing and his musical skills would accompany them with a Burmese harp. It is this fraternal bond that holds the group together and it would be together that the news would arrive that the war these men had been fighting in for some time was now over. Captured and brought to a P.O.W. camp, they would wait until news from Japan would signal their return home. In the mean time Mizushima was asked to volunteer to join a group to alert another Japanese unit about the fact that the war was over. He would take this assignment, but in the process would not return, bringing sadness to his friends.

HoB_2The possibility of Mizushima being alive never left the spirits of his fellow compatriots. It was in a split second moment, a chance encounter with a passing Buddhist monk (priest in my sub translation) that the reality of Mizushima had indeed survived, or did he? The monk looked very much like him, but how could that be… Mizushima was a Japanese soldier, not a Buddhist monk? Who was this monk and why was he so silent and cautious towards the company of Japanese soldiers? Such is the mystery of The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp), originally a book by Michio Takeyama, which unfolds the tale of Mizushima. We follow his coming into contact with a monk’s robe and his sworn vow and duty to pay homage and respect to all his dead compatriots left behind on foreign soil.

HoB_3Animated Classics of Japanese Literature contained an interesting mix of stories from a meta-series that appears to be very plain and mundane if judged by appearance alone. Several of the episodes I came to enjoy, but The Harp of Burma really stood out; it moved me like few anime before or since. This was one of the best stories I have ever seen about both sacrifice and compassion. War and other traumatic situations always leave a scar to those who experience the event first hand, but does it also change something inside of you? Does that experience make you more apt to show kindness and gratitude, or even change your life direction at the drop of a hat? Dry eyes were non existent for me each time I saw the two episode special, particularly at the ending. So often we ask what can I do to make my life better, but how often do we ask, what can I do to ease someone else’s suffering with no expectation of anything in return?

HoB_4Well known in Japan, The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp) also exists as two live action film adaptations, both directed by Kon Ichikawa. His original version in 1956 is considered a classic and after watching the trailer I have strong interest to track down and watch this version. It reminds me of  Ingmar Bergman’s work from that era. It’s black and white, portrays serious character analysis and feels like a film made by crafted hands (no computers!): all yummy in my book. This can act as a great substitute if you can’t find the anime and of course there is always the original novel. It Is not very often I find anime like The Harp of Burma and it may not be too everyone’s liking, but in terms of expressing the human experience of transformation of the soul, The Harp of Burma is one of my all time favorites. Period!

#218 : Magical Angel Creamy Mami: Curtain Call

Magical Angel Creamy Mami and music video styled OVAs, haven’t we seen this before? 1985 would see the release of the Lovely Serenade OVA and it must have done fairly decently because the following year we would get yet another packaged collection. 1986’s Curtain Call is in some ways more of the same, but there are some differences for sure this time around.

CMCC_1Beginning with new animation, which incorporates occasional collage techniques for backgrounds, we join Yuu/Mami in the usual light styled pop music that when no one notices I am sure you get up to dance along to… I do sometimes. After that we continue with loads of random clips from previous incarnations of Creamy Mami interspersed over music again, very cliche. Except this time the emphasis is on instrumentals. This could work well for karaoke, if only the lyrics were available for the singing. … Honestly though, I miss hearing the character’s singing voices.

CMCC_2This changes midway through where we find not Mami in the studio laying down a track, but her rival Megumi instead. Now that’s a nice touch of gratitude. True she may be a little selfish and hot headed at times, but Megumi is also a talented chanteuse. We return back again to the instrumental route including a funny montage of Megumi slapping scenes towards Shingo, her love interest and the record producer for both her and Mami. That poor boy has had a hand in the face way too many times… one of the best running gags from Creamy Mami.

CMCC_3Pen-ultimately we lead to a live concert featuring both Mami and Megumi doing a duet with many of the other main characters playing the instruments… since when did Toshio learn guitar and Midori the drums? Does not matter in the slightest, this is a great showing both in terms of spectacle and solidarity between both of the pop princesses. Mami even sheds the magic to allow her true self, Yuu, enjoy some love from the fans and show the talent is within her no matter her guise.

If you are looking for a plot here, forget it. Remember, this is all about the music, not a story, so you will have to find another Creamy Mami OVA that has that in focus (Long Goodbye is a good choice and I still need to see that one!). Honestly I preferred Lovely Serenade more for that fact that it included singing, but in truth both that OVA and Curtain Call can function more as display material at a store, or even a convention then say general home viewing. But what Curtain Call has that makes it a recommended title in the end is that awesome final concert scene. That was a welcome surprise!