#22 : The Grave of the Fireflies

I often find many people remark about how The Grave of the Fireflies may be one of the best anti-war films of all time. True the story takes places during the final stages of World War II in Japan, but this film has nothing to do with war as we usually think of it. No where do we see soldiers in trenches or the politicians sitting high and pretty. But I must say, this is a war film. A war between the individual and society, a war between compassion and ignorance and a war of distrust and survival. This is my personal take on one of Studio Ghibli’s most un-Ghibli films (if that can be the case?). May I present Isao Takahata’s The Grave of the Fireflies.

gof_1One of the biggest misgivings about reviewing or researching information is the fact that in many cases we end up adopting what others say or have said and in return we regurgitate that same information. The ability to create one’s own unique experience can become lost. Such is the times we live in, but if you go in with very little expectation and your own perspectives often times you come up with a unique point of view since you are not obliged to meet another’s standard. When I first witnessed The Grave of the Fireflies the only things I knew was it was told through the eyes of two children during World War II and it is noted as one of anime’s most tragic tales. That first viewing I was with my mom as I had corrupted her into becoming a fan of anime as well. At the end we both had the wind knocked out of us and our faces were wet from tears.

gof_2For me The Grave of the Fireflies is the loss of potential. Young Seita and Setsuko, have to survive on their own merit because they have no choice, or do they? True they have lost their mother, their aunt was cruel and unkind and the doctor was nonchalant about treating their physical ailments. No one showed interest in helping the children, but what if perhaps they tried yet another person? Maybe that next person could have been the break through that was needed. But for adults to shove away children for any reason instead of helping them achieve everything that they can become is a crime beyond criminal. Though in times of war there can be difficulties, but to ignore another individual’s cry for help is extremely uncalled for. It shows that adults are often not the wise hopeful teachers that we often have been led to believe. Sometimes adults become self obsessed to a point where the humanity that they once possessed has been sold off for a bit of false prestige. But this is not true of every adult.

But part of the blame has to be on Seita as well. Being too stubborn to admit he needed more help than what is led to be believed can for anyone lead to downfall. Often we all get to a point were we go enough is enough and we just keep sliding along thinking it will get better because ‘I’ can do this. ‘I’ often needs to be, or more truthfully has to be, a ‘we’ in times of desperation. No one can carry the weight of the world when you don’t have the understanding that it does not have to be your burden alone. Life can be hard, but making it more difficult by not opening up to change is infinitely more dangerous.

gof_3My only message from all this is to learn from this movie. If a child needs help, help them. If an animal is starving, feed it. If a friend, loved one or stranger you encounter needs a moment of aid, give it as it can change someone’s life. And if you are in need and no one is helping you, you have to take the initiative to say enough is enough. I need help either from a phone call, therapist or trusted advisory figure. Don’t let the fireflies burn out in all of us because there is enough light in us all to make the world shine even brighter.

“War is over if you want it” – John Lennon and Yoko Ono

#16 : Dominion Tank Police

With the buzz and in some cases dismay for the live action interpretation of Ghost in the Shell it makes me think back… it has been a virtual cash cow for the original manga creator Masamune Shirow. Ghost in the Shell this, Ghost in the Shell that… yes the Major is a sexy assassin and there is all the political drama, but really… Over Kill! Appleseed has had it’s moment as well, too bad I was sleeping through the boredom of the CG movie (the old OVA is not perfect, but watchable to me). What ever happened to Dominion Tank Police? “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo.”

dtp1Acting as a prelude to the manga, we follow young Leona Ozaki as she transfers away from the motorcycle division into the “very professional” tank police and see her transform from an innocent girl wanting to do the right thing, into a tank obsessed lunatic. Oh them boys really corrupted her. She may be the naughtiest of the lot? But then again how can she not be an obsessed tank otaku when she has the sleek and little Bonaparte to ride in. If ever a tank was “cute”, this would be it. If you dare as scratch him you are in for reaming.

dtp2Now as for other characters, you have an assorted lot, but here are my top picks: Al, who may be the straightest arrow; the Chief, who is always one moment away from cardiac arrest and the ever epitome of male/macho bravado Lt. Charles Brenten, the guy who makes me laugh harder than anyone. And then of course you have bad boy Buaku and his team of cat girls, Anna and Umi Puma. Those Puma Twins, ever famous from the striptease (which may be the most famous scene in the OVA), are possibly one of if not the biggest sex symbols of 80s anime. But you know, I always liked the scene where they were goofing off and acting like rich debutants.

Going beyond the comedy and characters, we have a world of serious consequences. The setting of Newport City is quite dire due to heavy pollution. If you want to breathe that lovely outside air, you better have a gas mask. An environmental message mixed in with slapstick comedy? Very crafty indeed. But the other message of heavier consequence confronts our main badguy, Buaku, coming to terms with his creation and life purpose. Interesting in the second half we see a sensitivity and humane gentile nature from Buaku, of all people. And from a piece of ‘artwork’ that he considers his existence.

dtp3The one odd thing about the comedic aspect of this OVA is the fact that you have law enforcement that is a rag tag group of goof balls and in some cases, insane lunatics, using military grade weaponry to deal with day to day criminal activity. Funny in the 80s, but when I think about certain events that have happened more of recent where our ‘real’ police are using very similar equipment I get a bit of a shudder. What kind of messed up world does the police need tanks? Newport City with Leona and Brenten is acceptable, but keep these heavy duty war machines off my roads and everyone else’s as well. It makes Dominion almost prophetic to the real “future” of today. SCARY!

dtp4I have not forgotten thee. How could I? As of the material I have seen based on Shirow’s work, Dominion Tank Police is my personal favorite. Maybe because for a couple reasons I could ramble on about, but in all honesty… it’s completely un-politically correct and at least for me…hilariously funny. Imagine adding Dave Chapelle to the mix? Maybe add some Chuck Jones Looney Tunes direction. Nah, leave it as is because it works, SO DON’T FIX IT! Then the second half gets a bit sentimental as mentioned before. I know some are not big on this part, but hey we get to have some sympathy with the antagonist. Also Dominion Tank Police defines for me watching good old anime on that good old format, VHS (maybe because the out of print DVD is a bit pricey and VHS copies are like a dime a dozen). But Dominion Tank Police on VHS is like the Beatles on vinyl… good times. And please, watch the English dub, it’s beyond priceless.

Just remember… “Love your tank like a brother no matter what!”… “Love your tank like a brother?”

#9 : Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

Igunbuster1 want to preface this with a little Pink Floyd lyric… “Remember when you were young. You shown like the sun. Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” I can take this a couple ways in regards to Gunbuster. First it is a love letter homage to an era of anime and special effects shows from the 1960s to about 1980. This is Studio Gainax remembering the beauty of discovering such fantastic visual fun in their youth. But, I have to point out our main heroine, Noriko Takaya, as the second reason. In this six episode OVA everything and everybody to some certain extent got older and or eventually left the material plane of her existence. All except Noriko, who because of traveling so much in sub-space remains forever young and in the process missed out on being with most of her peers. How many times have you felt that no matter what you did, you could not share it with certain individuals you truly loved?

gunbuster2Gunbuster begins amid much promise and joy as sixteen year old Noriko Takaya is a new student at an Okinawa high school that specializes in training space pilots. She hopes to someday be like her father (an admiral who died while serving in space), like her idol the beautiful and talented Kazumi Amano and prove herself able to the Coach Ohta (COACHEE!). Right from the word go we are essentially brought into a shojo sports anime that passes itself as a sci-fi mecha series (Aim for the Ace+Yamato+Getter Robo+Top Gun (wait that’s a Hollywood film)=GUNBUSTAA!!). Who knew one had to train in robots and run laps, do sit-ups and various other forms of exercise. I thought our heroes just climbed into mecha and magically knew how to pilot them from instinct?

Gunbuster3As stated earlier this is a love letter, the real definition of “Fan Service.” Aside from a couple shots of the usual “Fan Service” this show drips references of the many series I listed earlier and more as cues to say this show is for you or us. You loved this show, this type of character, this scene, etc.? Gainax is a studio founded by fans after all and this is them paying homage to the highest degree. It’s anime about anime. And what makes Gunbuster special is the fact that yes, there are a lot of these references, but it also tugs at you over time. Similar to Evangelion or Nadia (both directed by Hideaki Anno) we start off in fun and games and eventually step into the darker side. But Gunbuster is not so much grim as it is poignant. Young Noriko grows up learning about falling in love, reconnecting with the her lost past and maturity in general. It has a sweetness that is missing from Evangelion or Nadia. And it is this tenderness that makes it hold up still today. Plus, the artwork and animation is gorgeous and handled with the greatest of care. Even the last episode fades to that old standard of black and white. The first time I saw it I thought something was wrong with my TV.

Now Studio Gainax aside, if there is one individual who makes this OVA very special for me, it would have to be the great Haruhiko Mikimoto. I love this man’s work (I DO!, I DO!, I DO!) and for me, nothing and I mean nothing tops his character designs. The elegance and grace that is apart of his early signature style shows true form here and I rank the designs as great as the work he did for the original Macross and Orguss. “I wish they all could be Mikimoto girls”  (to the tune of Beach Boys’ California Girls). There is always a certain twinkle in the eye of those who are conceptualized by my man, right?

Gunbuster4Gunbuster may have been the second official project of Studio Gainax, and the directorial debut of Mr. Anno, but it would set a precedent that would follow for this group into the 1990s. It also reflects back to those of us who were excited about the future and the possibility of traveling through outer space like it was driving down the highway and piloting large mecha… but alas all we have are smart phones and wifi, kind of a let down when you compare it to our utopian vision of the future. Still there is a possibility if we all believe it is possible and stay young in heart and mind. Let’s raise a toast to you Gunbuster… we love you. KANPAI!!!