#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#99 : The Guyver: Out of Control

GOoC_1Do you know The Guyver? Sure you may be aware of the epic 12-episode OVA that was released from 1989, or that more recent version of 2005, or the manga, or even those very interesting (often characterized as bad) live acton B-movies. But there is another Guyver, a simpler Guyver, a one and done OVA kind of Guyver. It dates from 1986 and it is so rad and tubular (sorry I am going back to my 80s slang days), so ‘out of control’ (it’s in the name of the title after all) and kind of forgotten as well that I wonder if this is a legitimate entry for all that is The Guyver? Of course it is! This may be a dust gathering artifact from the golden age of the genesis of 80s OVAs, but it still counts! This was and is and always shall be The Guyver: Out of Control.

GOoC_2To date, this is the only Guyver that I have seen. I want to change this, not that I was impressed beyond belief with Guyver, but I feel it is worthy to see a more flushed out version of this story. The Guyver: Out of Control is just under an hour and it works very well as a one stop shop for an all out action extravaganza. Similar to Baoh, except our hero was not a test subject run amuck. Sho Fukamachi, our hero, after seeing an explosion from a battle in the distance comes into contact with an odd circular metallic object that he has to pick up and hold. After all being an average high school student, this is different and kind of cool… you got to pick it up… and then you pay the price.

This disc like object ends up turning Sho into one of the most streamlined, and perhaps very dangerous looking, superhero/fighter by having all these coils wrap around him. Ewww… just like tentacles, what the…? This is not weird fetish porn! This is proper action anime here! … At least Sho was not stripped of his clothes. Oh and look, now those guys from the previous battle from afar become the focus of Sho and steal his girlfriend. Bad idea! Now Sho has to fight up against the so called Chronos Corporation and yet another Guyver unit, who started out life as a beautiful redhead and in the process rescue his beloved lady. It’s so cheesy, but you got to love it anyway.

GOoC_3The irony of The Guyver: Out of Control is due to the fact that ‘don’t let the cover determine how you read the book.’ Case in point, the character designs of Toyoo Ashida with their large round eyes (isn’t that what everyone says about anime anyway?) don’t really show just how… violent… this OVA is. But then again, Ashida directed the Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D movies (Hiroshi Watanabe directed this one), so perhaps these designs were a good choice? But seeing the promo materials makes me think initially of Minky Momo or Vifam (both in Ashida’s portfolio) and that this will be kind of a cute production. No Luck Chuck! This is like Fist of the North Star, Vampire Hunter D, or even… M.D. Geist (Eee!) type of violence. Wait a minute… I just mentioned Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D twice (actually three!) … ok, then these character designs are fitting. Maybe? I like them anyway! Next paragraph…

GOoC_4Do you remember a time when anime was promoted as violent, mature and all that jazz? Yeah, those VHS days of the 90s only pigeonholed anime as a singular focused medium, kind of like Seattle music and Grunge. Of course we know much better now as to the variety of what there is in anime. And thank goodness, except The Guyver: Out of Control is actually a decent story, has a plot and some moral sense. It’s not mindless action and violence without a purpose.

… by the way, and this is a quote from the story, Guyver means out of control. … so then this title is simply doubling itself? Maybe it should have been called Guyver-squared?

#95 : Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin

SF_1Often times shonen fighters are a time tested formula much like a twelve bar blues. Everyone has their rendition of the young boy setting out into the world and in the process makes friends, fights adversaries, then make friends of former adversaries and get involved in lots of training. Now for this time round let’s drop the whole idea of our hero being a human being. How about a tale from the animal world and in particular the world of our canine friends? A shonen fighter about dogs? This is Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin).

SF_2Here is a mashup for you… let’s combine some older more serious Shonen Jump properties like say Fist of the North Star and Saint Seiya, add a little bit of the classic adventures of famed writer Jack London (White Fang and The Call of the Wild comes to mind) and for good measure lets also add a little bit of Watership Down. This is how I interpret Silver Fang in a basic tidy package. The presence of dogs are nothing new to anime, examples include: Casshan’s cybernetic Friender, the large mecha-like Yatter-Wan from Yatterman (I need to see more of this show!) and Ein in Cowboy Bebop. All three of these examples show the dog as a sidekick, a minor character, but to have the dogs themselves be the main attraction and more ‘human’ like with a complex structure of language, society and free will is a nice change (hence the Watership Down reference). Living life, having the human experience in the guise of a dog.

SF_3Gin’s origins trace him to a family of hunting dogs. His father, Riki, accompanies his master in the hunting of the great super villian, Akakabuto (an insane giant bear). Dogs versus bears… interesting. During this hunt Riki goes missing and is presumed to be dead. In the meantime Gin’s birth occured and would be soon he would be reared under a little boy named Daisuke. A boy and his dog, so cute! This sort of childhood for Gin would end once Daisuke’s grandfather, the hunter mentioned earlier, begins to train and toughen up little Gin to become a bear hunter. Again dogs versus bears, amazing. Gin’s time in the wilderness would get him acquainted with another hunting dog who eventually tells Gin about a colony of dogs who have gone wild to fight Akakabuto. Gin tastes the ‘call of the wild’ and sets off onto the hero’s journey. And on this journey he will meet many a sempai who helps him grow up, but one question remains. Who is the leader of this group of dogs and what actually did happen to Gin’s father, Riki?

SF_4For a Shonen Jump manga that ran for 28 volumes can you imagine how many episodes made it into final production? Perhaps 100 or so… no. OK, maybe 52… ah nope. 26!? The correct answer is 19. Wow, thats not many for back in the day, but let’s look a little deeper. Silver Fang debuted in 1986 under the shadow of two other higher profile Shonen Jump brothers and all three of these were animated at Toei. The siblings Silver Fang had competition with was none other than Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya; David vs. two Goliaths in a nut shell. And yet in the shorter span of story telling you get what you need, so not much filler. Kind of a relief in a way, yet with the longer run of the manga I wonder how much was cut to make this production?

Shonen Jump celebrates 50 years this year (2018). The big names will get another day in the sun; Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto will most likely have lots of exposure. But, I say why remember and stay with the nostalgia of familiar properties when you can try another show you may not have seen before. Being that 2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac, I nominate Gin as the mascot for this year. All the more reason to give Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin a chance in your playlist.

… lions and tigers and DOGS versus BEARS, oh my!

#90 : Twinkle Heart

TH_1What this world needs is not more cowbell (thanks Christopher Walken), but… more super cute stuffed animals that come to life. Mmm hmm. You got to love them and hug them and this anime has that and room to spare. Even killer giant stuffed animals… can this be for real? If you want high brow you better run and hide, because Twinkle Heart is about two things, simplicity and all things adorable. KAWAII!!!

TH_2So apparently God has a couple of daughters and they have a very important assignment. Their names are Lemon, the sweet one (lemon’s are sweet?), Cherry, the loose cannon (token redhead 🙂 ), and their posh guardian Miss Berry. Together they are in search to find the ultimate love in the universe that has apparently become lost. Now hold on, are you telling me God has lost the ultimate treasure of love? Dude you are not keeping up your end of the bargain, who voted for this guy anyway… I miss the other God, he at least remembers love… OK enough of all that. The three girls end up getting a signal on a distant planet and proceed to go, except Cherry waits for Lemon and Berry to get changed before going into warp. Lemon gets her bra strap stuck on her sweater. COME ON! We got a mission to attend to.

TH_3Once our merry band of ladies arrive to their destination they discover the source of this lost love and it is contained in two totally cute stuffed animals. One a bear named Shimy Shimy (this one is shy just so you know) and a bat named Cream Puff Bat (and this one loved cream puffs so much that eating several turned it white). Both of these adorable ‘toys’ are being harassed by a few bratty little boys. The girls try to stop the bullying and in doing so end up going crazy because you should never, ever… ever… call a girl a flat chested pig. That’s a direct quote! Cherry being the sensible one lays down the law in an almost psychotic way. Once free of the so-called brats, Berry begins to ‘communicate’ with our cute stuffed friends.

TH_4And then… this dude in a scarf and nicely combed hair shows up to steal these stuffed animals because that is his job, a treasure hunter (and not a pirate). Lemon seems to think he is some guy she met on Earth. Her heart is going pitter pat because he looks exactly like that oh so cute guy that showed her how to drink a milk properly without swallowing the marble in the bottle. … I may have done enough damage as to describe practically half of this 45 minute one-off OVA. Well I can provide on more spoiler… guess what the name of the guy who invented the toys is named? Geppetto; nice reference to Pinocchio. It may not be for everyone, but you can at least have a sense of humor and enjoy what it is. I found it a funny release, but I would not consider this high on any priority list.

Oh how I want a piece of ham and bread to go with this cheesy anime. Twinkle Heart is often considered a pointless anime, not bad, just pointless. Still something seems to be missing. One absolute remains… in the title screen it said that this was volume one. Are you telling me there is, or was a volume two? A second installment never made it into production, but it makes you wonder what if it did? I’ll be honest… I would watch it!

#89 : Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos

MRRoC_1I want more robot fun like classic Transformers! Not all these reboots, or rebrands. Just give me some good old fashioned G1 thank you. Japan would produce three further series and a one off OVA under the Transformers banner after we here in the west decide to drop the robot toy show like a forced divorce. OK, we have options here, but lets be a spoiled child and say… NO! I want more! I remember that other toyline/show from way back when… Challenge of the GoBots. But I want an anime! Was there a Japanese domestic market afternative version of the GoBots? The original toyline, also an import like Transformers, was named Machine Robo and the heavens speak, “Yes, you have an option.” Oh really? BOOM! Oh hey… look what showed up on our laps this time round. Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos has come over today to play.

MRRoC_2This show is so freakin’ entertaining, cliche and goofy. Just a whole barrel of FUN! Machine Robo embrace’s everything… sentient transforming robots, humanoid non-transforming robots, power-up super robots and the Devil Satan 6. Devil Satan 6? These kids are the usual bad guys you see every week from the Gyandlar Empire doing all the dirty work and going up against our band of heroes who live on the planet of Chronos. Ah hence the name of the title. These heroes include Rom Stol (our main hero and kind of like Casshan, or Megaman), his sister Reina, Blue Jet (who is actually red and a badass swordsman), Rod Drill (nice name, is that a drill in your pocket, or…?) and Jim (Reina’s bodyguard/ride). Who came up with the names of this cast? Now this pertains to the first half of the show, then things change and we get even more characters, a redemptive villain and a more serious plot. Just one question remains… what is this Hyribead everyone is looking for? I leave that for you to find out.

MRRoC_3Now all of the stated above sounds interesting enough, but this did not solidify my interest in this show. One big, HUGE!, factor sold me on this anime and that was the way Rom Stol made an entrance. These are never at the beginning of the show, but instead occur somewhere in the middle or near the end when Rom is about to open up a can of whoop ass. First we have to take a cue from spaghetti western’s and throw in some mariachi music with emphasis on the guitar and trumpet. Next we need to see our villains as stunned and confused. Then we need Rom to recite some over the top philosophical speech, lets use the one from episode two as an example , “What keeps you from bending to evil’s violent ways, the spirit of justice one uses to fight fear is what people call freedom.” Then the baddies reply with, “Who are you?” or “Who said that?” Rom’s only response before jumping in to attack is, “You don’t deserve to know my name.” I eat it up every single time.

Now what about that opening credit sequence? It can rival any Shonen Jump or mecha show combined. After all this minute and a half sequence is selling us on a hybrid of Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, Transformers and super robots. If only it had magical girls and big hair as well then it would maybe be the greatest average anime of all time. And finally that ending theme… woo yeah that’s a great dance track, “Sweet dreams forever…”. Come on you know you want to shake your booty at the end of every episode. 😉

MRRoC_4Toy shows often have the reputation of being a dime a dozen. They are throwaway, disposable and serve the purpose for quick marketing hype. Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos is guilty as charged in regards to these characteristics, but it is worth my dime every single time. I think we look pretty good together and you think our shoes are of leather (actually we got canvas, Converse style)… sorry, but I had to throw in some of the The Who’s Substitute lyrics because… when it comes to a substitute for G1 TransformersMachine Robo: Revenge of Chronos is a winner!

#87 : Maison Ikkoku

MI_1The tale of being young and finding your way in the world will never grow old. So many people believe their best years were in high school… my only word of advice… run from these people because so much of life is ahead of you. Every person and collective generation desires to create their own life outside of their families and root communities. We have a burning desire to aspire to certain goals, such as getting into college and graduating into a profession and become laser eyed focused to this type of a singular standard. And then for example, crazy neighbors cause a lot of distractions that break concentration. And then… just by chance the most attractive person you have ever seen enters your life. Hmm… this is starting to sound like Maison Ikkoku.

MI_2Rumiko Takahashi’s work is beloved the world over. Many of her ‘epic length’ series are standards for fans… any Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha fan reading? But what of Maison Ikkoku? The middle child between Urusei Yatsura and Ranma keeps the comedy Takahashi is known for and yet, it stands on it’s own. Instead of fantasy and science fiction we get a story set in a world we can all relate to. I don’t want to say the ‘real’ world, because ‘real’ and ‘reality’ are all derivative to our points of view, but perhaps the natural mundane world is a better fit. Oh the joys of being young and hungry for success and life in general. Maison Ikkoku is an awesome romantic comedy in line with others from that well remembered decade, including: Kimagure Orange Road and Touch.

MI_3Maison Ikkoku is at it’s core the story of one young man who is very ambitious. Yusaku Godai may not be the brightest light bulb in the batch, but he is quite determined to get into a university and become a school teacher. Yet studying is a little difficult while living at Maison Ikkoku. Godai has rowdy neighbors who often get drunk, yell and party all  throughout the night hours. Among them we have a bar hostess who often wears sexy lingerie when at home, an average house wife who has a penchant for alcohol and some guy who sneaks into rooms through open passages and is a complete mystery. No one knows what he does for a living, or does he even work at all? Godai quickly decides that enough is enough. His future should not revolve around these goofballs and he resolves to move out immediately. Then… fate happens. Out of nowhere and right before he is ready to step out the door a new manager arrives with her huge fluffy dog.

MI_4Say hello to Kyoko Otonashi, a young widower looking for a new start. She is a goddess in the eyes of Godai and so completely unavailable from his perspective. Kyoko is a little older, seems more mature and is… gulp… just to pretty to confess his love. Maybe, just maybe, if young Godai can get into a decent college and finish that teaching degree he may have a chance to show he can be a great partner. Poor Godai, you just do not have the confidence to confess your love to Kyoko. Just be yourself my friend, or get a little drunk to take the edge off. Hey wait a minute… that did happen in this show… one of the funniest moments in my book. Of course these pesky neighbors are in on the act as well and make things a little more difficult for our love sick hero. Also of mention is the eventual arrival of a rival suitor who comes from a well to do family and is a tennis instructor. Yusaku Godai, Kyoko Otonashi and Shun Mitaka… one of the best love triangles in all of anime.

Why does romance have to be so complicated? Often times it is due to the lack of communication between those who only desire is to be honest between themselves. We laugh at the silly mishaps between these characters because we have all be in similar circumstance… admit it. It is best to laugh at ourselves through an outside perspective to know that in the end we are only human. Maison Ikkoku is more than just a 1980s romantic comedy anime, it’s a story about you and me.

#83 : The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

Space western… isn’t that kind of oxymoronic. But if steampunk works, then space westerns do as well. Outlaws, cowboys, the wild frontier and spaceships with warp drives are a killer combination. The time has come to highlight some animated shows that are one foot in Japan and the other in the west. I have one of my favorites of that bygone era that competed with Filmation’s Bravestarr and Saber Ryder and the Star Sheriffs (an adaptation of Star Musketeer Bismarck) for the definition of an 80s cartoon space western. That show is The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.

GR_1Though not an anime outright since this series was conceptualized and sold to the west, it can be what I call an example of a half-anime or perhaps a second cousin once removed. Galaxy Rangers was a collaboration with the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsa (TMS) studio via American producer Robert Mandell. Mandell’s vision was to create a western infused space opera that appealed to a more mature audience, mix it with the elements of anime he liked while working in Japan and do it all without an already existing merchandise license. Sounds par for the course today, but in 1986 this was a new frontier. The economy of that time allowed the west to use Japan’s studios for production often in animation, but collaborations were rare. This was the ‘Wild West’ so to speak (how fitting).

GR_2I could mention much about the plot of Galaxy Rangers, but I should introduce our quartet of heroes and how they fit into the show. First we have the leader, Zachary Foxx, the straight man and also the father and husband who has a mission to rescue his family back from the Crown Empire. Shane Gooseman, a former Supertrooper (kind of like the X-Men or Cyborg 009), is the bad-boy of the group. Niko, the token pretty girl, has brilliant intuition, knowledge of archeology and gorgeous hair. And finally ‘Doc’ Walter Hartford, the essential computer geek. All four work as a collective unit, or separately, on various jobs requiring their help. So kind of like a sentai squad like Gatchaman crossed with the Dirty Pair.

GR_3Now… Galaxy Rangers, what makes you so special? How do you rock our universe? How about the music for a start! We have no synth pop or cheesy songs on this soundtrack. We get arena hair-band hard rock. WHOA! Last time I jammed this hard was Transformers: The Movie. And what about influences from Japan? The character designs and colors are closer to ‘anime’ of the time. In fact Shane Gooseman resembles M.D. Geist from my eye, though he takes after a blonde Clint Eastwood to be honest. Zachary Foxx has an arm that acts like a laser blaster, very similar to a space pirate named Cobra. Plus, how many cartoons featured the late TV and Broadway actor Jerry Orbach? OK, on research I found he was also in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as well, but to me he will always be Zachary Foxx. Finally I have to give a nod to Speed Racer: Peter Fernandez worked on production and Corinne Orr played the Queen of the Crown.

GR_4Now being that I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed seven year old in 1986, I bet you thought I saw this show everyday after school. Well… I had no knowledge of this show back then. Very true indeed as my watch list that year was Transformers, Silverhawks, Robotech and at times Jem. It wasn’t until about 2011/12 and finding a review of the DVD sets that an itch began to arise that needed a scratch. How did I not know about this show at the time? Again I remind myself that as a kid cowboys and westerns were not my cup of tea, plus I never heard any classmates talk about it. If you remember, I mentioned that this show began without any merchandising. So their was no alternative way to get your interest to see this show. But like anything, time will cross the paths of destiny in whatever schedule is set before it.

While most 65 episode 80s shows of my youth can often be stained with nostalgia perfection, upon viewing with more mature eyes apparent flaws are often present. If you isolate the best 26 or so episodes of Galaxy Rangers when the show was running on all cylinders, you have a solid production; a fine hybrid. Rangers are Forever!