#78 : Saint Seiya: The Movies

Saint Seiya, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways… I can forgive many of the short comings of Saint Seiya. In essence, it is a run of the mill shonen fighter, but the inclusion of Greek mythology, astrology and heavy melodrama make it a heavy favorite for me. The original TV series I love dearly, the manga was great, the Hades Arc OVAs which finished the original manga adaptation was welcomed. A couple years ago, the company Discotek released a bunch of SS materials. I bought a few of these DVDs and here is what came of that purchase.

SS_M_1I will only make comment on the four SS films that were released from 1987 to 1989. All of these were released by Discotek and fall into my blog’s concentration on anime of the 1970s and 1980s. Several other productions would appear decades later, but these four titles will be under the spotlight: Evil Goddess Eris (1987), The Heated Battle of the Gods (1988), Legend of Crimson Youth (1988) and Warriors of the Final Holy Battle (1989). All four are out of canon to the original manga and ironically The Heated Battle of the Gods is an alternative to the filler Asgard Arc from the TV series. These films are more for fun and I am sure were created to keep the SS marketing machine going.

SS_M_2All four movies are very cliche and are so formulaic that I end up predicting the whole plot before the beginning credits. Though each film has it’s own pace and variation on the so called theme, or leitmotif of the fightype formula of successive adversaries leading up to, they all kind of go like this… A great arch enemy descends and brings five subordinates. In the process Saori/Athena either gets kidnapped, or wooed away (if this enemy is oh so charming and handsome). Then our five Bronze Saints begin there quest to save their sacred leader. Usually Pegasus Seiya goes first and then gets that crap kicked out of him, but defeats the adversary. Next comes Cygnus Hyoga and the process repeats and then we get to Dragon Shiryu. He as well falls after a great fight, but Shiryu ends up having his cloth removed because we all have to witness his owe so muscular chest. Seriously, watch any SS and this always happen.

SS_M_3Next we get a double feature with Andromeda Shun, the ‘cute’ one who is more of a pacifist, also falls victim to his adversary. And that is when Shun’s brother Phoenix Ikki shows up and says, “Yo, you be messin’ with my brother? I’m gonna mess you up good!” Then Ikki puts the smack down. Seriously, always bailing out your younger brother. When will Shun learn to take care of himself? Later, Athena falls into further peril and all five of the boys, though being deeply beaten, trek towards the final showdown to take down the big bad enemy. All five boys take a stand one at a time and then like a miracle of the heavens, the Sagittarius Gold Cloth appears. Of course it chooses Seiya every time and all the boys cry out “Seiya, Seiya” and after that… Seiya reborn to perfection and full of strength draws the bow to shoot the golden arrow to save the day. Then all is happy ever after. …you can’t make this all up?

SS_M_4Of the four films, three are 45 minute shorts so it makes sense that they are not the most deep in regards for plot. You are cramming a supposed arc into less than an hour! The third film, Legend of Crimson Youth, which is over an hour long, has a plot that bends the predictive formula and has a bit more drama and… is my favorite of the four. Plus, in this film, we see the resurrection and inclusion of the five Gold Saints who fell during the Sanctuary Arc of the TV series: Gemini Saga, Cancer Deathmask, Capricorn Shura, Aquarius Camus and Pisces Aphrodite. Gold Saints forever!, they add to the plot greatly. This was also a film which celebrated the 20th anniversary of SS’s parent publisher, Shonen Jump.

So in final, I would watch these one at a time and… Nothing is ever a substitute for that original Sanctuary arc of the TV series 🙂 These are, as mentioned earlier, sideline stories that are not a part of the original plot so take these for what you will.

#60 : Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period

Japan, the feudal era of approximately the early 1580s, is where we find a demon lord that has come to power… He is looking to unite the country all for himself… There is a legend of a comet splitting the sky telling of his coming, but also of a legend of three weapons that have the power to take this dictator down. These three weapons: a long sword, a halberd and a short sword. That legend is Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period.

Yoto_1Is it me, or does Yotoden feel like a 90s production (it was originally released in 1987)? Almost like mixing up Ninja Scroll, Record of Lodoss War and the more serious elements of Rurouni Kenshin? Maybe? Or, maybe not, but for me it showed the direction where a certain branch of OVAs were heading towards in the next decade. Much like Lodoss War, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, or even the original Heroic Legend of Arislan (Arslan), Yotoden is an epic. A BIG EPIC! And yet it is contained into a small amount of space (just three episodes). Yet, that space gives enough to show off our main cast of heroes: Ayanosuke, or Ayame, the tough pretty girl, who has the short sword; Sakon, the quiet rebel wielding the long sword (he could be a proto-Kenshin with that red hair) and Ryoma, the big guy with heart, who has the halberd.

Yoto_2Much in the tradition of shonen action, our heroes have to fight through foes before getting to the final big boss. Except… we have no gratuitous filler; we have a tight schedule to keep here. These foes are the seven Oboro ninja and the boss is known as Nobunaga Oda or could it be his henchman Ranmaru Mori? And much like other shonen adventures, there is a heavy, heavy emphasis on… action, yes, but the supernatural, even more so. Monsters, demons and omens written in the stars make a huge chunk of what ties the whole story together. Maybe if the original novel by Takeshi Narumi was more focused on direct realism it would have been say more like Legend of Galactic Heroes in approach, but this is me on a soapbox. It’s a fine fantasy story, with great drama and even the little tinge of a possible romantic feelings between Ayame and Sakon. Not a bad combination of elements if I say so. I mean why tell history the way we think we thought it was instead of making it into what you want it to be?

Yoto_3Two versions have been released of this early J.C. Staff creation. The first, the original 1987 three part OVA of approximately 45 minutes each, which bear the name of the title of this writing (though only on VHS here in the west). The second is a collected movie version from 1989 called Wrath of the Ninja (DVD is available in the west with an optional dub) and was a minor staple on cable television during the late 1990s. Pick your poison as both are action heavy and move at an even pace. I like the original three parter since it goes a little more in depth (I am partial to the episodic format), much like my relationship with one of my favorite 90s OVAs, Macross Plus.

Yoto_4Now I will be the first to admit that I am no expert in Japanese history, or the so-called historic or samurai genres which number in the plenty. But, what I have seen, has been a good watch. It may not be the most natural cup of tea for me in particular, but the flavor is a welcome experience. I like Yotoden enough to give it a watch every couple years, but I doubt it will ever be top ten or twenty in my book. I like it and it should be a hidden gem recommendation that often does not see enough time in the sun. Fight on fine warriors of the magical blades and bring about the prophecy of justice.

And whoever did the character designs… nice job my friend. (According to Anime News Network it was Kenichi Ohnuki… I leave it up to you to check his resume)

#55 : Venus Wars

VW_1You and me go back quite a ways, eh Venus Wars? True story… I introduced a couple of my friends in high school to Robotech and eventually they would become a little bitten with the anime bug. I can’t say for sure of where they are today as I have not seen them in quite a while, but one of them ended up getting Venus Wars on that old standard we all loved a long time ago called, VHS. I remembered it as a good film and oddly enough it would be one of those properties that acted as a bridge between my early years of initiation and my later years of being a hard corps classic otaku. I just got a copy on Blu-Ray and re-watched it for the first time in HD. Do I still find Venus Wars enjoyable?

VW_2So apparently in the future (2003 ah what a year) a comet collides with Venus and over a short period of time. The second planet from the sun becomes habitable, though life is difficult. Farms don’t yield the prospects that politicians promised and in due time tensions heighten between the nations of Aphrodia and Ishtar. Now enter our main cast… the first being a group of young bike racers and their entourage called the Killer Commandoes who compete in a sport mixing traditional racing with more contact and rough house like Roller Derby and the second, a spunky reporter arriving from Earth to get the scoop on an impending war. And just like that Ishtar invades invades Aphrodia exciting our reporter, Miss Susan Summers, and shocking our bikers and crew: Hiro, Maggie, Will, Jack, Miranda (I love you Miranda!) and the grizzled team manager Gary. Soon Miss Summers will come into contact with the Commandoes and there first order of business is to get rid of one of Ishtar’s tanks at their beloved stadium.

VW_3So… let me sum up the rest of Venus Wars with one name, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Venus Wars looks like a YAZ show, it acts like a YAZ show, so I have to love it (Yeah for YAZ!). The director and character designer of the likes of Crusher Joe, Giant Gorg and Arion (and don’t forget he was character designer of the original Gundam), Venus Wars would be his final work within the frame of animation until the adaptation of his recent more manga, Gundam: The Origin. This film is based off of his manga (no surprise), which from peaking at a couple of chapters, seems to be a little different. Hmm? No problem though. Venus Wars is kind of a mix of Gundam with Akira. Hiro, our main protagonist, is similar to Amuro Ray, though I have to give more credit to his ‘character’ to that of Zeta Gundam’s Kamille Bidan. He has a major chip on his shoulder.

My only gripe on this movie is that it ends oddly for me. Our hero Hiro (is that a pun?) is active in the deciding battle and from what I can tell this was the only battle he was in? Then he gets honored by his unit and is let go to find his friends (which ends up with him reuniting with girlfriend Maggie) all the while enjoying a music sequence of him riding around. To be honest, I should get off my high horse, but it just seemed like a bit of an elongated finish after the climax that seemed to have come a little too soon. I will now retreat from the soapbox.

VW_4As I mentioned earlier my first exposure to this movie was at a friends house back when on VHS. A few years later when I was in a small town stopping at a video rental store (do you remember these?) I came across a used copy of the original DVD release by Central Park Media. It had been a while since I saw the movie and it was on my mind for some reason. Then lo and behold it was in front of me. Fast forward to a month ago and purchasing the new Blu-Ray release and wow how it looks pretty. Maybe no where near say an Akira, Wings of Honneamise, or Patlabor: The Movie, but it is very fine indeed for a fun action flick. Look at all the pretty colors 🙂 Nothing beats hand drawn animation!

You and me have been together quite a while, eh Venus Wars. Motorcycles, war, young people coming of age, action and all on the planet Venus to top it off. You may not be the best movie of all time, but who cares, you are a fun ride still today as ever. Venus Wars, you have been a loyal companion, may we ride again in the future.

…also to all my Studio Ghibli fans… you know Joe Hishaishi right? Well the soundtrack to Venus Wars was composed by none other than him. How about them apples?