#173 : M.A.S.K.

The old tagline once said that “Illusion is the ultimate weapon”? Can one consider M.A.S.K. to be one of the top tier of 80 cartoons? Oh YES! Now I don’t really have much nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but then again you may say otherwise. I have been with this show and watched it over the 35+ year history. I have it on DVD, I used to have some of the toys and I love making and remaking the vehicles out of LEGO. I love this show (obvious), so you might say I have strong nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but I prefer to see this relationship like a marriage. This is not part of my past, but a continual place within my present moment. M.A.S.K. and I, till death us do part… yeah right we’re both immortal 🙂

mask_1For the last couple of weeks while organizing my LEGO collection, I have had one show running in the background that I from time to time take a break to watch. Take a guess which show? Hmm… LEGO and M.A.S.K., is this 1985, or 2020? Does not matter in the slightest. Funny how M.A.S.K. is considered a niche property now, because I still remember it being one of the top shows of the time that we talked about at school. Of course those days are long gone (or maybe not?) and us die hard fans that still enjoy the crimefighting of the M.A.S.K. team against the conniving V.E.N.O.M. in a pseudo-mecha show. Wait a minute, there are no giant robots and the closest thing is T-Bob (yikes!), but still, you have to acknowledge piloting mechanical vehicles as a close substitute.

mask_2Matt Trakker, the blonde alternative to Batman’s Bruce Wayne, has it all. An expansive fortune that he seems to be donating to nearly everyone, a loving yet slightly mischievous son and a bunch of friends who all put on helmets with a special power and drive vehicles that transform to fight against the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. What should we call this club of crime fighters… why not M.A.S.K.? Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (Yes! Command with a ‘K’). You know, it would have been nice to have some back story in one of the episodes of how this all came about! There were some mini-comics that came with some of the toys to fill that void… and I have never read them as I don’t know where to find them. But everything else listed is what M.A.S.K. is all about. “M.A.S.K. crusaders working overtime fighting crime.” The theme song alone is all the backstory you really need anyway.

mask_3M.A.S.K. is in essence two shows in one. Season one is what a majority of us love and is basically described above. For the shortened season 2, the direction moved into more of a Speed Racer like racing series that seriously “jumped the shark”. Hey what happened? Those episodes are watchable, but are awkward… seriously why break the winning formula? I stick with season one, though if you like season two more I salute you for being loyal. The credits listing has many Japanese names that helped to polish the show into action. Assembled in Japan, but designed in the U.S. and Europe via the once awesome company DiC. One such name is Shinji Aramaki, who as a mechanical designer is brilliant. Megazone 23, Genesis Climber Mospeada and Madox-01 should give you an idea of his resume. It would be nice to know which studios did actually animate this show, because some of these episodes still look really good even today.

mask_4Perhaps one could say that M.A.S.K. is a prime example of a ‘toy’ show showing a half hour of shameless promotion. Yet if one only sees M.A.S.K. in this light alone, one would be missing out on the subtleties that makes M.A.S.K. magical. Often seen as a mix of G.I. Joe, The Transformers and even the A-Team, M.A.S.K. is the ultimate combination, more than the “ultimate weapon”. Exotic locations, fun action, great humor and puns, a smaller easier to digest cast compared to the previously mentioned G.I. Joe and The Transformers and a theme song (Shuki Levy you rock!)/opening credit sequence that is jaw dropping… who could ask for anything more? A show that took itself seriously by not taking itself seriously… brilliant.

#167 : Robotech

In the year 1985, inside a basic home in a small town of the Midwestern U.S., a single television show that aired the afternoons I got home from school would alter the course of my personal history… as an anime fan to be precise. I remember very well the time was 4:00 pm and the channel on the television would land on the number 11 and for a half hour from Monday to Friday, it would be time to watch this odd show in the mix of a ton of other possibilities called Robotech.

RT_1Now I will be the first to admit that Robotech is not quote unquote official anime, it is in my own phrasing ‘adapted anime’. Eventually many of us who grew up with this show, would progress on to see and experience the original three series that made up Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada), but I have not forgotten my roots. While Robotech is often poo poo-ed in some fan circles, and I can agree with all the DVD releases being a bit excessive and Harmony Gold being very stubborn, but let’s look at this show for what it was for me as a kid, a mere budding anime fan. This was my gateway drug, a very powerful one at that for my generation. Terms like anime and otaku and large scale franchises like Studio Ghibli, Pokemon and Shonen Jump were unknowns for a little kid growing up in the mid-1980s in the Midwest of the U.S. This was most likely true for you as well if you are of a similar age as myself. This was the wild west of late Generation X where we didn’t have all the fancy terminology, conventions, or even the internet. All we had was a gut sense reaction saying… you know… I really like something about THIS show.

RT_2Often times anime that is broadcast here in the west, particularly the U.S., is often reinterpreted, adapted, or perhaps censored to a certain degree. Free speech?! Robotech changed names to more Anglican terminology, or got close in translation, or just left some of them alone, took out Japanese references like text, etc., totally changed the meaning of protoculture, shoe horned three unrelated series into a single timeline and added a fresh soundtrack. … Might I say, what a fine soundtrack it still is! … And the final product, which if you take into consideration had a short time of assemblage and production, is quite well done for the time. Carl Macek, the main producer behind the show, should be given a medal for what he did to put together Robotech. He had a job to do and did the best he could. If anyone ever bad mouth’s Carl’s work on Robotech, at Streamline Pictures, or his later works, I will ask the question, what would you do if you had these tasks?

RT_3Now let’s consider what Robotech did right, or left in tact so to speak. The concepts of interracial relationships, a transgender, or gender non-conforming character and even characters showing a side of doubt, depression, or anxiety were not seen much in terms of general television in 1980s. Yet, a “kids” show had it all and opened up a world of a more diverse human experience. Characters did not go to a hospital planet when they become mortally wounded, they died! And in terms of dialogue, Robotech never talked down to you with immature of more childish language to appeal as safe to the public. It was an anomily, lightning in a bottle and even though Robotech is far from perfect (and I ask you just what is perfect?), it is at least genuine in terms of expressing a total array of human emotion and experience through the lens of sci-fi fantasy.

As an impressionable youth in the aftermath of the original Star Wars run, barraged by other cartoons and comic book super heroes, Robotech, amongst other anime at the time would become my go to for fantasy, adventure and defining a personal sense of mythology. I owe my love of anime to Robotech and I often find it ironic that even though I see Robotech as a large epic, it is unknown to many younger, or newer fans of anime. Some older fans dismiss it, some are stuck on it as the only “anime” they know and others like myself, see it as a first step into a world of wonder that continues to grow each and every day.

… and yes, I prefer the unmastered original version 🙂

For reviews on the original anime that made up Robotech:

Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross
Genesis Climber Mospeada

#151 : Inspector Gadget

I have a call on my secret hotline phone. Be right back … “Oh hey Chief (wait?… I have a boss?)… what… you’re where?… Wow Chief! I didn’t recognize you.”

“Here’s your assignment Classic Anime Museum.”

“This time review Inspector Gadget, as this was quite a popular cartoon during the 1980s and has spun off into several reboots. Of course focus on the original here as it was animated in Japan even though it was created for the Western market and watch out for M.A.D. agents. … This message will self destruct.”

“Got that Classic Anime Museum?”

“Sure thing. The Classic Anime Museum is always on duty. Oh by the way here is your note back.”

BOOM!!!… Now cue up that theme song that borrows themes from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and let’s get started! Go Gadget Go!

IG_1Ah yes, I remember Inspector Gadget very well. Who didn’t? OK some people who watched cartoons as a kid in the 1980s may not have had the opportunity, but I think that would be a rarity with this show. Inspector Gadget was huge and is one of those shows that is beautiful in being very neutral in presentation. Thank you for not shoehorning specific demographic requirements DiC. The only requirement is the asking of, “do you want a funny show, a very silly show?” Simple. Now then, Inspector Gadget may not have been my top pick for a cartoon as a kid (say what?), but I did enjoy it and remember it very fondly. Maybe because it had a weird time slot and it often was on when I was still in school (can I skip class?) and the only opportunity to watch the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ was on days off (hello summer break!). Thank goodness for today’s DVD releases and streaming sources. Needless to say, 80s cartoons without Inspector Gadget is like cereal without milk, peanut butter with out jelly… you get the idea.

IG_2Our hero, this man Gadget, is either the world’s greatest police officer, or just plain clueless. I vote for the later. He always solves his cases, but seems to have hidden help from his pet dog Brain and his niece Penny, a.k.a. the real problem solver. In truth, Penny is the true hero of this show and Uncle Gadget is the comic relief, as well as the star of the show. So the question that begs to be asked is how did these cases end up getting solved? Answer… fantastical 80s sci-fi style technology! Penny uses a computer book to find or calculate out all her answers and theories to learn what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents are up to. Who needs a MacBook Pro? That and her well mannered intuition compliments Gadget’s total lack of analysis. If you have to do a job right, give it to a kid, they are smarter than you think!

IG_3Each episode, or case if you will, is much like a 12-bar blues song and follows an almost strict formula. See enough episodes in a row and you begin to almost predict the next move, or scene strategically like in a game of chess. Just don’t over do it, one need never to get bored of Inspector Gadget. The concept of the show is partly a parody, or maybe more so an homage to the spy and police genres as a whole. Mix together one part Get Smart, one part James Bond, one part Mission Impossible and one part the The Pink Panther. Shake with a little French, Canadian and American pre-production via the legendary company DiC and finally garnish with stellar production animation from the Japanese Studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and you get Inspector Gadget. Also adding in the iconic voice work of Don Adams for Gadget does not hurt either. This of course draws on his former work in Get Smart, but I often think what if Peter Sellers had a shot at the role? Recalling the references to The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, this could have been up Sellers’ alley, though I would want him to keep his native British accent. This is total bias from a Sellers fan so… let’s continue on shall we (where’s my copy of Dr. Strangelove?).

IG_4Inspector Gadget… never fear as our hero is always on duty. I do fear for those poor M.A.D. agents who end up finding Gadget is more harm than help in regards to solving a case. I hope M.A.D. has a good insurance package. That being said I am glad Gadget is on our side, but it begs the follow question, since the original release back in 1983, is Gadget still fighting crime today? Are Penny and Brain still around? Does Penny use a Macbook Pro now? Could Gadget be near retirement? Will we ever see Dr. Claw’s face? One will never know. GO GO GADGET FOREVER!!

#143 : Pole Position

PP84_1“Fun and excitement are abundant today as the Pole Position team get their own entry at The Classic Anime Museum.” … now that’s how to start an episode. 😉 It feels like Saturday morning though it may only be Tuesday Afternoon… I’m looking at myself, reflections of my mind… nice Moody Blues tie in, hehe. Pole Position was for me a staple reason to get up early, grab a bowl of Cheerios, or Rice Chex and cuddle up with my favorite toys for a couple years. Based on the classic arcade game by Namco, Pole Position was and still is one of my favorite shows from my formative years. Time to buckle up again for another ride.

PP84_2Often when it comes to video game adaptations into animation you have one of two choices: be a literal copycat or completely jump the shark and turn the show into something completely unique. Pole Position easily took the later option. Seriously, how does one turn an arcade quarter muncher driving laps around Fuji Speedway? An episode can turn into a quick game over if you hit any of the objects on the track, or the other cars… instant EXPLOSION! We need to do some heavy modification here work, à la Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors as an example. DiC created both of these shows and knew how to take creative liberties to the extreme to create a cartoon. And in either case, it works… splendidly!

PP84_3Now… let’s start off this alternate version with a brother and sister stunt team who are accompanied by their even younger sister and their pet. Is it a crossbreed between a monkey and a cat, or something else altogether? Who cares, it’s Kuma and I want one and I like him. Or, it is her? Maybe their non-binary? Very forward thinking! Now for the secret… Dan and Tess Darrett are more than just your everyday stunt drivers. Like their parent were, they are secrets agents for the organization Pole Position and solve crime and mysteries. Only their boss, their uncle, knows. And instead of the fancy open wheeled Formula One racer, let’s give Tess a red vintage Ford Mustang and Dan some blue futuristic prototype each with a computer A.I. that communicates with them, Wheels and Roadie. Brilliant, brilliant, I think we have a winning entry here.

PP84_4Pole Position is a stew where we take the name of a popular arcade racer, mix in elements of Scooby Doo, Knight Rider and James Bond and end up with a 1980s version of Speed Racer. And since the show was only 13 episodes, it doesn’t grow stale. It’s almost perfect for what Saturday morning cartoons used to be. Had it been a longer run for syndication, 65 episodes, then Pole Position may end up running out of steam? Maybe? Can’t say, because like everything, Pole Position is what it is and I love it for what it is. Action and adventure, cars, futuristic technology for the mid 1980s and being animated in Japan… I call that a killer combination. Check the credits at the end and mashed between the American and French staff you discover all the animators were Japanese. Even famed mechanical designer Shinji Aramaki contributed work. Oh yeah almost forgot… this is a DiC show… you have to have a classic Shuky Levi soundtrack and theme song. Yeah… now were ready to race! … um, who has the keys?

Honestly, a Saturday morning can be any, or every new morning of your life. Perhaps even a Saturday morning can occur during the afternoon or evening? Adjust accordingly to your local timezone. We all have a reason to get up every morning to see a new day… at least I hope so. For a time there was fun entertainment before the crack of dawn, but nowadays you may hit the snooze button twice before realizing it is past noon. In the end it does not matter when you get up, or what you define as the morning as you can always watch a Saturday morning favorite, like Pole Position, either via physical media or somewhere online at anytime. How the world has changed; as a kid I would have never saw that coming.

#129 : Thundercats

I want to look at Thundercats without any nostalgia pretense. No rosy glasses and no holding the show on a pedestal because it was a part of my youth. I will most likely slip up and that is ok, but let’s see what happens. Once upon a time Thundercats was one of those cartoons that was as familiar as breathing. It was popular, major popular. It was one of my favorite shows and an enjoyment each afternoon I got back home from school. Still, can Thundercats still hold up today without any pretense? I have a one word answer, YES!

tcats_1Rankin/Bass was a production studio that defined entertainment for many of us. Many of the classic Christmas specials, movies like The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit and Flight of Dragons and various TV projects hold your definition of how Rankin/Bass has left it’s mark on you. As a six year old in 1985 and interested in sci-fi and adventure I found a little show by the name of Thundercats and this series became my definitive personal definition of Rankin/Bass. I was well aware of many of the previous examples as well, yet Thundercats struck a chord and in a sea of many new and fresh shows during the decade of the 1980s Thundercats is one of a few shows that have had staying power in my life and hopefully yours.

tcats_2So what keeps Thundercats relevant all these years later? The mythology, the world building and the characters. This was an original show, as after all this was an action, sci-fi, fantasy tale where the heroes are cat-like humans. I love CATS! Classic designs and characters. Yet Thundercats is also a great mix of what is already known and an amalgam of the ‘Heroes Journey’. A mix of 80s anime aesthetics, traditional American superhero team sensibilities, Arthurian Legend elements, a Tolkien-esque world of various life forms and terrains and one of the most powerful opening sequences demonstrate the beauty and strength of this show. It’s HUGE! It’s also organic. So why is Thundercats great? Simple. It’s a living and breathing legend that sustains itself.

tcats_3So Thundercats is the perfect cartoon then? Well, not really. It all depends on one’s attitude. Some characters can get annoying, certain plot points can be a bit over the top and with the second season there became way too many characters in my opinion. But again, this is a cartoon, so sit back and relax. One could complain about a number of other things, but a TV show should not be one. Just take what you can from the experience and you will find in the end, it all fits together. Like one big family were everyone has a particular role to play in the grand scheme of things. Plus, as the show progresses we become more aware of the mythology and history of both Thundera and Third Earth.

tcats_4With all the reboots of Thundercats of more recent times, I have not given them much consideration. The original show did it so well and with integrity that I never found a reason to watch an alternative. Thundercats was well written, voice acted brilliantly and animated beautifully. One of the best looking and consistent in regards to all forms of production for the era of the mid 1980s. There are some shows you look back on from when you were young and you can ask yourself what did I see in this? Yet Thundercats has stayed with all of us as it is simply timeless. The setting, music, vernacular, syntax and storylines used are beyond the idea of time. Besides being the great old fashioned painted cel, analog, style of animation, nothing can really paint Thundercats as being ‘old’.

On a final note, Thundercats is a ‘sexy’ show… everybody was ripped, wore skin tight costumes and were just perfect ideals like ancient Greco-Roman statues. This was a ‘kid’s’ show? Then again in the 80s, a lot of shows were ‘sexy’. Look at He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Jem and the Holograms as examples. Perhaps this is yet another reason why these shows still resonate with our adult eyes, it’s ‘sexy’. … I can’t keep a straight face anymore 🙂

#125 : The Hobbit

hobbit_1“Hello, what’s this?” One often finds unexpected treasures on unplanned journeys that alter the course of destiny. Or maybe it was all preordained? Enter the rich and full harmonics of John Huston’s voice… “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”… now thus this classic journey begins yet again. Long before Peter Jackson’s film adaptations and well before I knew the name J.R.R. Tolkien had any meaning, I enjoyed a cartoon produced by Rankin/Bass and animated by a Japanese studio named Topcraft. It is simply named The Hobbit, just like the original book, and what a grand adventure it was and still is.

hobbit_2“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead…”, or perhaps it is also what has gone before. I have always found animation when done properly, can become the modern mythology that we all need as a society. At least in my case, many of the central core myths and legends are these moving drawn pictures which have shaped my reality, philosophies and life. When animation meets a literary mythical giant, then you have the opportunity for something really special. The Hobbit is an excellent piece of evidence towards this hypothesis. As a kid I had no notion of Tolkien’s legend or reputation and even still I am not the biggest fan, but I do know when a story is more than just an ephemeral experience.

hobbit_3The Hobbit is a classic Joseph Campbell styled ‘Hero’s Journey’ were one leaves a comfortable life of safety and routine to become transformed through an unexpected event, meeting, or situation. Bilbo Baggins is a metaphor for you, or me, and his joining up with Gandalf and the company of dwarves through his adventures of Middle Earth could be yours as well, though maybe not as fantastical. What’s your favorite part of Bilbo’s journey? Meeting Elrond, Bard, or even Smaug? Perhaps the run in and troubles with trolls, or goblins? My favorite, and perhaps for you as well, was the meeting of Gollum and Bilbo’s subsequent finding a shiny ring… my precious. But not just any ring. This ring is the legendary ring of power in the forthcoming Lord of the Rings. Gollum’s voice actor in this version sets a standard in my book for being so odd, eerie, corrupt and psychotic. A brilliant performance that sends shivers down the spine and also makes one want to imitate each intonation out of respect.

hobbit_4The artwork has a storybook quality almost like when you are a kid and each page unfolds with a new image that brings surprise. Or perhaps, an unfolding medieval scroll that has the grit and organic quality that feeds into the imagination. The designs are a combination of Tolkien standard illustrations and the odd character designs that are attributed to much or Rankin/Bass’ output from the late 70s/early 80s. Think The Last Unicorn, Flight of Dragons, or The Wind in the Willows. Almost a hybrid of western and Japanese sensibilities that are grotesque, but appealing in a way. No one looks heroic or fashionable and this again gives the story a little more of a grounded appeal. Almost as if this production did come out of the dirt and rocks of a landscape, very natural.

The grunt of the animation and drawing was accomplished by a studio named Topcraft, which evolved eventually into a fairly well known studio known as Ghibli. Heard of that one, it’s fairly famous and popular? After all, Topcraft was the group that Hayao Miyazaki worked with on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. However, Rankin/Bass had been a client of Topcraft during the 1970s and 1980s and this version of The Hobbit is a prime example of that partnership. Nice work everyone!

Short (as compared to an elongated live action movie trilogy), concise, well animated and with some sing along songs that add charm, the Rankin/Bass versioning of The Hobbit is still a standard go to for many of us. For me it is an early treasure, or perhaps a discovery, from my youth that still holds value into the current day. The Hobbit is one movie that I consider as ‘precious’, yet it does not corrupt like a particular ring. It instead enriches the soul.

#109 : The Transformers: The Movie

TF_movie_1Years before maturity and discovering talented filmmakers in the line of Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman, there was the seven, or perhaps eight year old version of me that was in love with what I considered… The Greatest Movie Ever Made! The Transformers was the hottest cartoon on TV and one of the hottest toys of the mid 1980s, but all of this fails in comparison to the awe, wonder and larger than life spectacle of the generically named The Transformers: The Movie. How do I feel about this movie after thirty plus years of watching… well, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it is still an important stepping stone and a fun experience.

TF_movie_2No matter what anyone says about The Transformers: The Movie, I admit the plot is cheesy, the characterization is generic and you can even say that it was a cheap ploy to dump the previous year’s line from toy shelves. But… you can’t deny that this film is gorgeous to look at. Vibrant colors, fluid motion and excellent drawing exudes quality. Right? Watch that introduction again with Unicron attacking the planet and tell me what you think. The TV show looked pretty good, but this film is, visually, a masterpiece. Of course it was animated at Toei and funded by Hasbro, so that is a good combination. In fact for the release date of 1986, it was a nicer looking film than the Fist of the North Star film… come on Toei, what about the local community? I suppose the American dollars from Hasbro helped… most likely.

TF_movie_3I see no reason in going over the plot as it is the simple Autobots vs. Decepticons fare, except with a new cast of characters voiced by many a famous name at the time. Does anyone remember Judd Nelson or Robert Stack? But the standout moments for me include Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime’s ascension to Autobot leadership, Megatron’s metamorphosis into Galvatron (so well animated), the introduction of the Quintessons and “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” “Don’t worry they’ll reciprocate.” Of course the big issue of this movie was the fact that characters died… brutally. Why is is that here in the west we have to hide death and impermanence from children? After all, we would be a greater society if we wouldn’t hide this stuff under the rug. STOP TELLING LIES TO CHILDREN!

TF_movie_4Now did I cry over Optimus Prime’s death? Not that I remember, but I did feel loss. I even then accepted the fact that the great leader had to sacrifice for a newer generation. I for one have nothing against Hot Rod for jumping in to help out, and some fans don’t like Roddy, but I really do like the kid… one of my all time favorite Transformers in fact (I see a bit of me in him). Optimus would have the most heroic of heroic deaths and went out with honesty and integrity, unlike his some of his fellow Autobots like Ironhide, who groveled for mercy, or Prowl, who belted out smoke and fire (yowzers). Yet nothing compares to the death of the king of backstabbers, Starscream. Perhaps one of the best characters ever in The Transformers, Starscream would get his just desserts in perhaps the most violent shooting I have ever witnessed. “Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?”

What I find ironic about this movie and even to a small extent the original G1 totality, is how much it is not recognized in the general popular culture. The Transformers are now known the world over in the guise of various re-imaginations. Every generation has ‘their’ show or movie to call ‘their’ own. But what of the original source material? Much like other subjects, you can never really know the whole truth unless you go all the way back to the beginning. Perhaps I am just settled in my ways as an old G1 fan. Still with any franchise or knowledge for that matter, you have to dig into the past to find true perspective in anything.

TF_movie_5In the end I have seen The Transformers: The Movie more times than I care to count. I am sure I will watch it again, but due to ingrained repetitions, I can recite the entire film blindfolded and with plugged ears… maybe. It is generic, slightly dated and fodder for a lot of nostalgia for some of us, but in the end again… it is a great film to look at. Hand drawn animation at one of it’s finest hours and a fun flick to share with friends, some popcorn and maybe even show a tear at times. It was the cornerstone of my childhood and a long lasting influence that exists into the present. The Transformers: The Movie still has ‘the touch‘ 🙂

“Till All Are One”