#204 : Cipher

Wow, an anime that opens with a Phil Collins song! Against All Odds to be exact, except it’s not Phil’s singing voice, perhaps due to licensing. It really sets the mood during the opening credits and wouldn’t you know it, it closes the film too. Here we have an odd OVA of a shojo manga adaptation that combines 80s era MTV styled music videos, off the cuff interviews and promotional commercials. Interesting and would you believe it’s in English too. What? Like a dub? No no, that was the original audio track. Interesting. All of this combined becomes an exploration into the lives of twin boys that focus into one identity. This was Cipher.

Before diving into Cipher the Video, the proper name for this anime, I had to look into the definition of cipher itself. Basic dictionary definitions point to a secret code and even the number zero. How about a cipher in terms of a person, an individual? I found this description at Quick and Dirty Tips that spoke to me immediately…

A cipher can also be a person, often a fictional character, who is a blank slate—and that’s how I used the word when talking with my husband. A cipher has so little personality—is such a nothing—that the readers or viewers can project their own ideas and values onto the character.

… now we are onto something. I think we can look into the anime now.

Cipher_1What I found interesting about Cipher was how shallow and fake everything appeared. And yet you find a depth within this void of plasticity, which sounds ironic, but then again view this OVA like an art exhibit more so than a piece of entertainment. Everything looks polished, perfect, well dressed and it all comes out very dull and preprogrammed. Listen to the voice acting in particular, is it badly acted or oddly phrased? The English language dialogue is an odd choice, but the story is set in New York, so the creators wanted to be authentic to the native vernacular. And not just the dialogue, even the setting was drawn from scouted photography of New York City for authenticity. Obsession with American culture cannot be questioned as all this is outlined in a documentary that follow the main feature OVA.

Cipher_2Our characters don’t have much back story in the anime and one will have to reference the manga, or some basic research to find out who these twins of Cipher are. Jake and Roy Rang are former child stars who exude blond teenage heartthrob eye candy that lead not a double life, but a life single life in two bodies. A persona of Siva, and at one point see a statue of the Hindu god Shiva, is played by both boys and this role serves as an actor and student in greater society. Yet outside this role, who are these boys? While there is a lot of fun and happiness portrayed, I return back to that opening segment which feels a little lonely and sad. Beyond the man made role, are these boys their own individual, or only a manufactured personality that is split into two? There is often a close bond between twins where we can’t tell one from the other and for one female friend this is the case as she is the only one who seems to know the truth of Siva. Or, is she their girlfriend?

Cipher_3Often who we portray in public may vary greatly from our genuine selves. I question if we are all a cipher to one degree or another? Look at social media, or TV and movies and even anime as well, it’s all a camera angle behind a distorted reality. Some may find Cipher as a bland 80s stream of music plastered on top of unrelated events. Yet I see this as an exploration of identity, or maybe our lack of a genuine sense of self in a world that is mostly unreal. This anime may have been more of a promotion for the manga than an actual story in and of itself, but it spoke to me in a profound fashion. I think the cover of the Phil Collins song Against All Odds says it all…

How can I just let you walk away, just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you, ooh
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me,
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cause we’ve shared the laughter and the pain and even shared the tears
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, oh there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face
Ooh take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds and that’s what I’ve got to face

I wish I could just make you turn around,
Turn around and see me cry
There’s so much I need to say to you,
So many reasons why
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face
Now take a look at me now, cause there’s just an empty space

But to wait for you, is all I can do and that’s what I’ve got to face
Take a good look at me now, cause I’ll still be standing here
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It’s the chance I’ve gotta take

Take a look at me now

#203 : Cherry no Manma

Maybe someone can fill me in and my beautiful audience with a bit of trivia… what is the shortest anime ever made? Or maybe a more precise question is what is the shortest OVA title ever made? I can throw a possibility into the ring with this entry, Cherry no Manma, as this one off was only ten minutes long. 10 MINUTES! And that includes the opening and closing credits, so with the law of averages in play this anime is more like eight minutes long. That’s like… uh… well… I’m not expecting much out of this one.

CnM_1Based on the manga of the same name, Cherry no Manma at only ten minutes, got to reintegrate that again, is I hope a very condensed version of the overall plot line. Because if it isn’t… shaking my head. Apparently a young girl, Kanoko, lives with what other sources have said are two housemaids. Both of whom are boys and since it is a shojo comedy verging on the romantic, they are both on the scale of being handsome. One who has a ponytail, Yuzuru, seems to be very much the gentleman and concerned with our lady’s welfare to the point of being a brown noser. Then there is Yuki, who is more of a slacker, has short hair and likes to go into Kanoko’s bedroom to stare at her panties when they are being hung out to dry after washing. What!? Ok dude, if you like to wear them that’s cool (I doubt this is this case), but staring at and admiring her underwear… well we all need a hobby.

CnM_2Kanoko catches Yuki in the act and calls him the ever popular term, ecchi, a pervert! Yuki feels odd, well duh. Then Kanoko puts all her underwear away to find a pair missing. She then blames Yuki and no, he did not take them. Wait a minute, this whole plot, that’s only ten minutes, is centered around missing panties? “Oh Lordy, trouble so hard.” I know this is a quasi comical thing, but… shaking my head. Cherry no Manma is like that one episode of That ’70s Show, “Eric’s Panties”, which was funny, or maybe a weird inverse of the old comedy Three’s Company, except Cherry no Manma… shaking my head.

CnM_3Shake no more my child as ten minutes have passed; you survived. This is far from the worst anime ever made, very, very far, and in its own way is comical, but really… missing panties. I only hope the manga has more to offer… and often the case it usually does, but I prefer animation. Now for the kicker, the punchline… once Kanoko finds her missing panties she writes an apology on them and hangs them up for Yuki to keep in his room. Now he can say he has his own panties. And guess what folks? I saved you ten minutes to watch something else. You can yhank me later 😉 But then again this is worth a watch at least once.

#78e : Saint Seiya: Warriors of the Final Holy Battle

This is one of four entries that take an in depth look into each of the Saint Seiya movies released during the 1980s. For the original overview entry, click here.

Something is happening in Sanctuary. One by one the surviving Gold Saints are taken down in the most brutal of fashion. Aries Mu, Taurus Aldebaran, Leo Aiorla, Virgo Shaka and Scorpio Milo, all murdered in cold blood. Who could be so cruel to kill the likes of Athena’s elite guard? Who could cause so much havoc and hatred in Sanctuary destroying much of the beautiful art and architecture as well; the giant statue of Athena being beheaded as an example? Only one name can be this vicious… ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between let me introduce Lucifer and the final Saint Seiya film from the 1980s tetralogy, Warriors of the Final Holy Battle.

SSWarriorsFinal_1Lucifer! Like from The Bible? The angel who was most high and exalted, beloved by God, and then fell from grace? Yeah that guy. Oh no, the devil… eh, I don’t see it that way. I follow a more esoteric study of the myth but my apologies I digressed. Back to Saint Seiya… Distraught and in tears over the death and destruction, Saori along with the Bronze Saints are soon visited by Lucifer himself. Before us is not a dark, shadowy, or menacing figure, but instead a very androgynous, bishonen type that has a touch of the gothic. Maybe he’s the original goth kid? Hmm. His return has been initiated from the anger of many fallen adversaries: Eris (Evil Goddess Eris), Abel (Legend of the Crimson Youth) and Poseidon (Poseidon Arc from TV series). Even if one is defeated and presumably dead, revenge in the heart can still be strong.

SSWarriorsFinal_2Now then, the title says this was the final battle and depending on interpretation could be the be all end all with Saint Seiya as a franchise. In some ways yes, but… well… I have to say this is more like a maybe, if not a no. I can find four possibilities: this film, the final episode of the TV series (which really was not much of an end if you know the manga), the ending of the later released Hades Chapter OVAs (which finish the manga’s story line, the most ‘canon’), or even the later released film that is supposed to take place after the Hades Chapter OVAs, The Heaven Chapter: Overture. A quartet of endings and yet with side stories and prequels, Saint Seiya even if it did once, twice, three, or four times finish, or finalize, is far from over. Let us then return to the beginning instead and the introduction for Warriors of the Final Holy Battle, a widescreen version of the TV opening featuring the rockin’ song Soldier Dream. Ending, beginnings, does it really matter, Saint Seiya is forever immortal, eternal.

Saint Seiya 80s film index:

    1. Evil Goddess Eris
    2. The Heated Battle of the Gods
    3. Legend of Crimson Youth
    4. Warriors of the Final Holy Battle

#196 : Cybernetics Guardian

A dystopian future, rapid scientific advancements, hidden secret societies, high intense action and the coming of a savior of darkness to cleanse the world… yeah that sounds fun, but what else have you got to offer? Well how about massive lion’s mane hair? Oh yes, now we are talking. A possessed beast with massive hair that defies gravity, yeah I don’t care how bad the plot is, or is not, I think we have here a hit for an OVA. But then a familiar name appears, Koichi Ohata. Oh no, not M.D. Geist… again! Never fear, this time we have something different. This time we’ll dive into Cybernetics Guardian.

CG_1Meet now our protagonist. This John Stocker fellow has a bright future ahead of him. His job is to test out a mech suit made of astenite, a metal that draws in transformative psychic energy and has been used variously in many medical applications to great success. All goes well until a test accident awakens hidden powers inside Mr. Stalker. A demonic presence named Saldo begins to emerge which heightens even more so after John Stalker’s body is kidnapped by a masked and robed figure. He is taken back to his childhood home, the slums of the city known as Cancer. There evil priests revive in process this beastly creature that was once John Stalker to lay ravage onto the city of Cyber-wood.

CG_2Simple and basic, this story is a generic tale seen in many comic book scenarios… “Unleash the beast within”, or “OMG, what has happened to me, I’m possessed!” Except this time our protagonist gets the ultimate coif… it has to be a weave! Cybernetics Guardian is definitely anime and has the feel we expect from Japanese hands, yet I can’t help but witness a more Western influence. The characters look more Caucasian than usual, which of course is subjective to my eye, but even the setting feels like Los Angeles from Blade Runner, which of course borrowed many Eastern elements. So perhaps we have a draw of sorts with no real side taken between East or West? Visually in terms of color and mood there just is something different in the palette that draws more into the more indie or underground American style. Maybe it’s just me?

CG_3For being a short one off production and a product of Koichi Ohata, Cybernetics Guardian is actually decent to watch. Nothing against Ohata, but many of his productions have a schlock feel too them with a touch of the ultra violent. Cyberbetics Guardian has a little of this as well, but there is also some substance under the showing off of hyper active macho gore. M.D. Geist I liked, though it is a bit on the ridiculous (so bad it’s entertaining), and Genocyber I could never get through a whole watching (just not my thing). Yet Cybernetics Guardian is a happy medium and can function well as there is humanity in the John Stocker character, unlike say Geist. By no means a top of the line OVA release Cyberbetics Guardian is well executed in terms of paint and pen and has enough of of an okay story to watch through, just not very often. It might be the crown jewel of Ohata’s early work?

#191 : Garaga

Is it over yet? No. How about now? No. Now!? Still no. … Mediocrity is my keyword for Garaga, or to be more precise, Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga. Might as well give the full title and dress this anime up in it’s Sunday best because at least to me and many others this movie ain’t looking too good. Lop this title in with the others on the ‘bad’, or ‘pointless’ list. Spacey sci-fi titles by 1989 were getting a little stale in the face of more contemporary cyberpunk stories and quality standards for animation had grown leaps and bounds since the decade began. Alas Garaga was retreading old territory and not presenting itself very well.

Gar_1Many anime titles are a joy to write for, but this time round I have to do my job and get on with it. Garaga began as a manga like many anime and would eventually makes it’s way into the hands of animation studios. May we return to the late 1980s, a time of great abundance in Japan where in particular direct to video OVAs were being made like food at a short order diner. Some OVAs looked very polished in terms of story and presentation, while some looked cheap and on a budget either because it was a small independent production, or perhaps funding got tight. Garaga began on the OVA route on the cheaper end, but would eventually get expanded into a full feature film by 1989.  This meant it was placed next to titles like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Patlabor: The Movie and Venus Wars as examples. Not to be mean, but Garaga looked like an eyesore compared to these three examples.

Gar_2Beyond what was said previously, let’s investigate Garaga’s plot, which jumps around too much between so many dull characters. First we begin as the ship XeBeC leaves station with a crew more competent than it’s captain. By the way they are carrying special cargo, two life capsules. Then they evacuate in an escape shuttle to some mysterious planet, Garaga, and wake up the two ladies who were sleeping in the capsules. Then it turns into Planet of the Apes… where did these apemen come from? Then some psychic lady shows up. And then the crew all reveal that they are military and have a mission on this planet. What!? Oh yeah I forgot to mention some military commander wanting to control Garaga who is actually a pawn for some cyborg who wants to eradicate everyone, be it the Earth humans, the native psychics who look like humans and the apemen. Is it over yet? NO!! We still have half the movie to go… sigh. Please make it stop.

Gar_3Let’s propose something here? I want to leave something of a point of praise for Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga, though I am finding it quite difficult. The title itself could have been great for a mecha TV show, or OVA. And if it could have been that way then make it a really cheesy super robot show at that. From another perspective when watching Garaga I felt like I was watching a possible Saturday morning cartoon, except the violence is a bit heavier than something shown here in the west. Certain character designs I could see as action figures such as Jay, or Farla and even the apemen. Would you buy these toys? As this was released in 1989, the year Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted here in the west, Garaga would have been a competitor that would have lost out big to Turtle’s popularity. … You know, maybe it’s best to let Garaga just be and move on?

Gar_4Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga won’t be a title I will be re-watching for a while, maybe if ever again. When cataloguing a vast collection, or even doing menial work, sometimes we have to grit our teeth to get things done. Not every piece of anime is a gem, some are quite a drudge in fact. Yet even these less than interesting titles are also a part of this vast family of anime classics; yet I can’t call Garaga a classic in the traditional sense. At least this one is over and I can move on now. … So in my own personal opinion just how bad was Garaga? Honestly, I would rather watch Odin!

#190 : Riding Bean

Know this name of Kenichi Sonada. In terms of 1980s anime, his character designs are a staple, in particular sci-fi and action titles associated with the studio AIC. Bubblegum Crisis, Gall Force and Wanna-Be’s are examples of his work during this tenure, but another side of Kenichi Sonoda was his work as a manga artist creating his own original titles. In the 1990s would come the release of a fan favorite, Gunsmith Cats, but in 1989 another one of his creations would bring Sonoda’s personal vision to anime for the first time. A distant cousin, side story, or alternate tale  of the Gunsmith Cats universe, that actually came first… may we look into Riding Bean.

RB_1The style of Kenichi Sonoda can be summed up in few words: action, fire arms, fast cars (in particular the Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang) and Chicago. Sweet Home Chicago home of Sears Tower, The Blues Brothers, deep dish pizza and a rogue individual by the name of Bean Bandit. Who is this man Bean Bandit? He’s tough, he’s bulletproof (in particular his jacket and headband) and he can drive fast. Not fast like professional race car drivers on pavement, but more like the ‘good ol’ boys’ of the past who ran moonshine throughout the southern United States, or perhaps professional rally drivers. He can’t wake up from a taser to the neck, but a hot frying pan to the face does the trick. Bean is a brick… Chuck Norris you have met your match!

RB_2Bean’s profession is that of a hired driver who for a price will get you out of dodge better than anyone. His ride is the famous Roadbuster. … Gunbuster? … no, no wrong anime. A customized ride that looks like the offspring of a Porsche 959 and a Ferrari F40, but with the engine up front. Of course Roadbuster could symbolize Bean himself as well since car and driver are essentially one when both elements come together. Along for the ride is a familiar Sonoda name from Gunsmith Cats, Rally Vincent. Her skills as a sharp shooter are still there, but the appearance is different… blonde hair over the dark. Together as a team aboard the Roadbuster, Bean and Rally out run the Chicago Police Department time and time again.

RB_3Never will I proclaim any anime to be the best at anything and if I have in the past then I repeal that notion, but Riding Bean may be the best one off action OVA ever made. At only 40–45 minutes it is never boring, dull, or badly done in terms of story, characters, or animation quality. Though the violence does at times get brutal, it is not the focus of this OVA. Riding Bean is a comedic wild ride that expresses the absolute obsessions of it’s creator Kenichi Sonoda. Not one of my favorite picks on any list, Riding Bean is an anime that I do enjoy nonetheless when I do see it and many of you out there are die hard fans of this OVA. Get onboard and take a ride with Bean!

#158 : Crusher Joe (OVA series)

CJOVA_1Joe is back and our favorite Crushers have a couple more stories to tell! Two to be exact: The Ice Prison and The Final Weapon Ash (These titles have a few translated variations). The 1983 Crusher Joe movie was an enjoyable ride of a great time, but this 1989 OVA set may even be better. With shorter run times, fluid animation, great pacing and lots more fun, fun, fun, both episodes (I prefer to call them mini movies) of the Crusher Joe OVA series may be some of the best (if not the best?) sci-fi action anime produced in the decade of the 1980s. While Haruka Takachiho’s other creation, The Dirty Pair, may get more attention, those of us in the know really love Joe.

CJOVA_2The joy of Crusher Joe has always been there are no strings attached. You don’t have to have to learn a lot of back story, or get fully involved into the property. Much like a well made platformer, or an arcade title (in regards to video games), or a classic board game like Monopoly, all you have to do is just play it. This is the process of getting oneself into the game and learn the rules as you go, or as the old saying goes, “it’s easy to pickup, but can take a lifetime to master.” This is true of any craft, or hobby as well and I only point out games because Crusher Joe is all about fun and pure enjoyment. Crusher Joe is often quoted as a prototype, or influence for Cowboy Bebop, so it is easily accessible in terms of hitting a chord towards a common denominator for sci-fi action. While the Crusher Joe movie does this well, the OVA does this even better as it gets you into the mode and feel of what Crusher Joe is all about faster. From my own opinion, watch the OVAs first and then watch the movie.

CJOVA_3Both The Ice Prison and The Final Weapon Ash are stories about rescue operations. I hope Crushers get paid well, because it seems like they always get hired to do the dirtiest of work and it ruins one’s vacations on the shortest of notice. The Ice Prison has Joe, Alfin, Talos and Ricky hired by a corrupt government looking to change the course of an asteroid that has gone into free fall towards their planet. This asteroid also happens to house political prisoners as well who mine it for natural resources. An added bonus for this job is the fact that the Crushers are asked to make an attempt, and I use this word wisely, at rescuing these prisoners. Once the job starts the truth becomes apparent that all is not what it appears to be. Why does the government want to rescue rival political dissidents? My gut senses something is not right here.

CJOVA_4For many fans, including myself, The Final Weapon Ash is the crown jewel of the two episodes if not the cream of the crop for all that is Crusher Joe. An ultimate weapon, the Ash (named because it can turn everything to… ash), is under the care of a female officer who is captured by a rival political faction wanting to harness it’s ultimate power. Hijacking a ship and committing mutiny, the rebel faction with the female officer crash onto a planet known to have a nasty population of killer robots, the Cloakers. Our favorite Crushers are thus hired and brought in to rescue her and return the Ash to safe hands. A twist of irony is that with all the power the Ash has and represents, it is compactly contained into a mere briefcase. Talk about a big punch in a very small package! Do you want a great MacGuffin device story?

Could Crusher Joe represent sci-fi anime from the 1980s as a whole? The movie and this OVA bookend a time for most of us that defined outer space oriented sci-fi and adventure. And why I chose Crusher Joe out of the many options is because it remains in the 1980s since no remakes, or other sequels have been created past these two productions (as of the writing of this entry). Crusher Joe will forever live on as an unspoiled archetype of fun, friends, flying spaceships, having cool hair and rocking colorful jumpsuits… who could as for anything more! One final question will always remain, “Can I get a drink of water?” (watch The Final Weapon Ash to find out)