#178 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (OVA Series)

Sunrise and mecha usually equate to the ever present name Gundam. As a studio Sunrise has a long resume of mecha titles. Some have a famous pedigree and many are only known by a select few who yearn to go beyond the bigger names. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is not a new topic here at CAM. I reviewed the TV series here way back when I was getting started and SPT Layzner needs another shout out. Beyond it’s short comings and twist in plot in the middle of the series, I believe this is one of the best mecha titles of the 1980s. Early cancellation would create problems in finishing the story, but a brilliant solution was available for SPT Layzner. The year was 1986 and direct to video releases were a growing market. Blue Comet SPT Layzner would end it’s sojourn as an OVA.

LayzOVA_1I debated if it was worth the time to review this OVA version of the Layzner story as a separate entry from the TV series. So much of what is presented is a condensed retelling of what is familiar if you have seen the previous incarnation. Of the three episodes, the first two: Eiji 1996 and Le Caine 1999, could be skipped as there is really nothing new under this sun. It is the third episode, Seal 2000, where we find missing links to the rushed ending of the former TV series. Interspersed between some familiar scenes of action and drama we find the hidden passages that make this third episode a more concise and well rounded finale. Much like another Sunrise property Ideon, the TV series would be rushed at the end and would have a second chance of telling the true ending in the form of feature films. All is now complete for Layzner, no stone unturned. That being said, while there is a lot of recognizable sameness, this OVA version is in a small way original to the TV series.

LayzOVA_2Episode one tells the story of the first arc, which for my money is one of the greatest mecha story arcs I have ever seen. Too bad it was condensed heavily. The once far future of 1996, which from 1985 eyes was still a possibility, features a group of students that land on Mars. Suddenly there is an attack by unknown mechs (Layzners) featuring one renegade blue robot defending the Earthlings. Piloted by the troubled Eiji Asuka, he eventually becomes an ally to the group of students as the struggle to survive on Mars and eventually find a way back home to Earth.

LayzOVA_3Episode two recalls the second arc, which jumps the shark from space mecha action and turns into dystopian dictatorship in a cross between Blade Runner and Fist of the North Star. We rejoin our cast of heroes three years into the future. Eventually they reunite to combat the established Gradosian empire who invaded the Earth after defeat at the end of the first arc. The signature Blue Layzner also returns along with Eiji as they now continue their rebellion and solve the mystery of the new Maiden of Cuzco. A new nemesis is also introduced, Le Caine, whose ambition for power blinds his judgement. Episode three finalizes the second story arc and can act as a substitute for the final couple episodes of the TV series. Here we learn of the link between the peoples of Earth and Grados, traverse to South America, Nazca, Peru to be precise, to find the great Seal of Grados and enjoy plenty of heavy mecha action. The final showdown between Eiji and Le Caine is the pinnacle of this episode.

LayzOVA_4You can view this OVA as a shorthand version instead of diving completely into the TV series, almost like Cliff Notes. Remember that much of the drama, character development and finer details will be lost if you take the OVA path over the TV series. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is best viewed by watching the TV series first and then following up with this OVA to tie up loose ends. The shorter path sometimes is the more tempting, but often will lead to missed opportunities. … Eiji may you continue to run like Melos on your “Lonely Way”.

#176 : Fight! Iczer-One

One could argue that Fight! Iczer-One could possibly pass as a modern anime besides the fact that it was all analog cel drawn animation. Fight! Iczer-One fits strongly into an action fan service styled affair that was a little unique for 1985. Perhaps this is one of the predecessors to this kind of genre that is popular to certain fans? When it comes to very early action OVAs Fight! Iczer-One is one of the better known titles and it’s fun to watch, but  I will be the first to admit that it is not on my go to list. Needless to say I salute those of you who are diehard fans, because after all it’s these little eccentric titles that we attached ourselves to that round out our fandom beyond the obvious big name titles.

FI1_1Fight! Iczer-One has it’s followers and fanbase and is part of what is the yuri (girl’s love) sub genre, inserted with a lot of high octane action. As an action OVA it does a great job and is equal parts ecchi fantasy of pretty girls either kicking the crap out of each other, or having crushes and romantic fascinations, Lovecraftian horror elements and super robot mecha plot lines standards. Truly, a creative and different mix of ideas. I wonder if Fight! Iczer-One possibly had an early incarnation of going towards hentai/porn before before settling into it’s current guise? Project A-Ko, though not exactly similar, but kind of similiar to Fight! Iczer-One followed this, but in a more playful way. And according to research, yes, Fight! Iczer-One does have ties with the Cream Lemon hentai series. Fight! Iczer-One on the other hand is dark, really dark (and I usually like dark stuff?), and borrows the previously mentioned H.P. Lovecraft down to the naming of the invading aliens, the Cthulhu. From another angle, this has early LGBT themes expressed in anime and that is a positive!

FI1_2The call of the hero to join the fight is strong with Fight! Iczer-One. The previously mentioned Cthulhu are searching for a new home world. They are also in the process of stopping the renegade Iczer-One from gaining contact with her perfect partner on Earth, Nagisa. Iczer-One is Earth’s only hope and her tracking down of her partner is vital to the proper workings of the Iczer-Robo. Nagisa of course is just your typical school girl where all life is perfect until one dark day when she begins to be harassed by the Cthulhu’s invading monsters. Add to this her chance meetings with Iczer-One seem awkward. “Who is this girl in the funny outfit following me all the time”, I can imagine Nagisa saying? Things change when the Cthulhu invade Nagisa’s parents and it takes her a while to get over the crybaby phase of, “Why do I have to fight? Why did this happen to me?”

FI1_3My favorite part of Fight! Iczer-One is director and character designer Toshihiro Hirano. I love his work as a whole with titles like Megazone 23 (pt. 1) (character designs only), Dangaioh, Vampire Princess Miyu and Magic Knight Rayearth (CLAMP!) standing out as personal favorites. His designs for women in particular are very appealing in a doll like way… maybe it’s in the eyes? Hirano ranks up their to Haruhiko Mikimoto and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (and others that are not coming to mind at the moment) in my book for character designs in anime. The budget had to have been good for Fight! Iczer-One because the production looks very good in terms of detail and drawing. Many of the early OVAs and even movies from the 1980s that had the budget and care given to them were what made us go, “DAMN! Where have these cartoons been all our lives?”

FI1_4Fun, unique and a whole lot of ‘kick-ass’, Fight! Iczer-One is a standard for the early OVA market of the mid 1980s. Maybe not my favorite by a long shot, I do give Fight! Iczer-One all the respect it deserves. Also being a quick trilogy makes Fight! Iczer-One easy to digest. That and who is to say it is not one of my guilty pleasures that I don’t want to admit to? Also, how many anime have guest appearances from from Zeta Gundam that’s not another Gundam series? Can you spot Kamille and Fa? I wonder if they needed the extra money and picked up Fight! Iczer-One as a side job?

 

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.

Special : Streets of Fire

Hold on… have I seen this movie before? Of course I have, it’s Streets of Fire and there’s my DVD copy over there on that shelf. Yet this is not what I am asking initially. So many scenes, moments and characters all seem very familiar, yet I am not talking about Streets of Fire the movie. In the 1980s, within the framework of Japanese animation, Streets of Fire, like many other cultural emblems of the era, would find it’s way into many productions as either parody, reference, or even a total recreation of the story itself. This cult film dismissed by the mainstream would find an unexpected audience outside its native land to become an aesthetic icon that colored many anime of the mid to late 1980s.

SOF_1Truth be told I doubt I would ever watched Streets of Fire if I didn’t keep bumping into it time after time while watching classic anime. And as this is a site dedicated to anime I am not going to review this movie too much in detail. It’s labeled as a “Rock and Roll Fable”, a musical of sorts and in my eye borrows heavily from the 1950s. That is if society was a post apocalypse set in the 1980s where everything around you is from the decade of Eisenhower. And much like a western, this is a tough time where street gangs hold power that even the cops can’t deny. Streets of Fire is the prototypical story of the kidnapped princess who can only be saved by an outsider who is brave enough to stand up against this menace.

The influence of Streets of Fire can be seen in many anime from the 1980s. I can identify three that I have some first hand knowledge of, but if you have others to contribute please do. Now let us examine our three examples: Megazone 23 (Part 1), Bubblegum Crisis and Zillion: Burning Night

SOF_M23Megazone 23’s reference to Streets of Fire is an obvious one, yet it does not quote scenes from Streets of Fire at all. Early on in the OVA when protagonist Shogo Yahagi meets up with a group of friends, they go to the cinema to watch a movie. Guess which movie? It’s even labeled on the outside marquee. The scene is short and is part of a longer sequence displaying the quartet’s night out on the town. Still, Streets of Fire is ever present and must have been a favorite film at the time of production for certain crew members. This inclusion helps to solidify the time period of Tokyo for Megazone 23 , the mid-1980s, which according to the vocalic Eve Tokimatsuri, was the most peaceful time in history. Really?

SOF_BGCNext we move to Bubblegum Crisis , which by and large has a majority of influence from Blade Runner in terms of setting, story and renegade androids. Yet Streets of Fire will show its influence as well. The opening scene where we see crowds pour into a nightclub to see the band Priss and the Replicants (very Blade Runner) play has Streets of Fire written all over it. This mirror’s Streets of Fire opening where we see the concert of returning local star Ellen Aim. Even the songs from both productions have the same tempo and attitude. Take your pick which is the better song as both are great: Bubblegum Crisis’ “Konya wa Hurricane” vs. Streets of Fire’s “Going Nowhere Fast“. Priss even wears an outfit in red and black, just like Ellen Aim!

SOF_ZillionThe most unapologetic anime to cover Streets of Fire is the follow up OVA from the television series Zillion, Zillion: Burning Night. An almost complete remake from the ground up, the Burning Night OVA screams Streets of Fire more than both the original TV series, or even the Sega Master System games. Shot for shot, the plot is nearly identical from the opening concert, to the abduction of the damsel and then the subsequent rescue. Of course the story varies just slightly as we have to accommodate the cast of Zillion, including turning the alien Nohza into human characters. I had seen Burning Night prior to Streets of Fire and this was were I kept saying to myself, “Wait a minute, haven’t I seen this before.”

Three examples and possibly more as well show that a movie from another time and another place can have an impact on the animation we love. Streets of Fire is more than a cult movie, it is a close distant cousin to Japanese animation. Such is the joy of pop culture… wash, rinse, repeat and copy what works for you.

#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.

#172 : Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers

A dark cloud hovers over Tokyo cutting off power, while the population disappears. Five young men clad in modernized samurai armor, one bringing a giant white tiger, join forces with a teenage girl and a young boy to confront this dark shadow. Oh yes, I forgot to mention there is a traveling monk who wields a staff and is in many ways like a guardian angel to the four boys who seems to show up at just the right time. Together they learn to work together and embody the virtues they stand for: grace, justice, righteousness, trust and wisdom. Welcome to Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers.

ST_1At first I wanted to dismiss Samurai Troopers as a bland Saint Seiya clone, but that was before even trying this delicacy of a show. Samurai Troopers is kind of weird though. I can’t call it a straight forward fighting anime in the style of Shonen Jump. I often equate influences of live action sentai shows, or perhaps Gatchaman and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai where our five heroes come into town ready to go like in any proper samurai, or western film. There is no real aspect of extended training, or a plethora of story arcs that equate an episode count to well over 100, 200, or more. I also get a mecha vibe as well, since the armors are almost mechanical in nature. Plus the armors combine and this was a product of Sunrise, a studio known for many great mech shows including that little franchise known as Gundam. The transformation sequences make me think of henshin heroes, or even magical girls. The stock sequence of the boys transforming is enough to make any proper magical girl shout out… “hey why can’t we get one that fancy?!” Samurai Troopers just is what it is, an amalgam and a great action show in general.

ST_2As an action show characterization is in the passenger seat to the fun and fighting. The five youths that are the Samurai Troopers are very cliche in a typical sentai squad kind of way with main hero Ryo taking a majority of the screen time. Seiji, Shin, Sho and Toma have minor arcs of an episode or two, but I wish they could have had more presence. Their main adversaries the Dark Warlords are a quartet of typical badies who are quite sour in temperament… except one. Shiten from the beginning showed to be the outsider, a man of some moral character that eventually sees the light for his past actions. Shiten’s place at the end of the first arc and in the entirety of the second was a welcome surprise and solidified him as a personal favorite for me. In the end Samurai Troopers is all about saving the day, but looking ever so fashionable samurai armor… with ever greater transformation sequences.

ST_3Like many shows one can liken it to a ride at an amusement park. The most ideal would be to start at ground level and progressively move up to the finality. Very few anime ever follow this pattern and Samurai Troopers much like a roller coaster starts off building up, waning a little in the middle and then builds ups even more towards the end. Samurai Troopers follows two story arcs in the 39 episode run, though they end up tying together as one. The first arc felt as if it ended quite abruptly and then at the start of the second, at least for me, it took a little effort to get going. Yet after a handful of episodes the story came back to attention. Think of a director in a film calling cut and rethinking what has happened and saying, “hey we could have done this better!” So begins phase two and the true promise of the story of Samurai Troopers would bear fruit.

ST_4Many in the west came to know an alternate release, Ronin Warriors, which besides some name changes and some “totally” 90s slang is very faithful to the original. Impressive, plus the cast was familiar as it was accomplished via the Canadian Ocean Group, a very familiar cast who dubbed many shows in the 90s. Short and sweet, simple and straight forward, adventurous fun with action, this is what Samurai Troopers is all about. I also want to give a quick thanks to Ashley Capes from The Review Heap for requesting Samurai Troopers. Visit his site for other great reviews as well!

#171 : Scoopers

Wow the title alone is enough of a grabber… just what in the world is Scoopers? An anime about a young couple who run an ice cream shop?… no. Maybe an anime about a  pet scooping service that goes around to the parks when your dog leaves a souvenir?… no. Wow you got me… maybe Scoopers is about journalists in a sci-fi, slightly cyberpunk universe, trying to catch the next big ‘scoop’ on guy who has been blowing up satellites and space shuttles? No way, that sounds to good to be true and yet… it so is. OK, we have the basics out of the way, lets throw that tape (or digital file) into the old dusty VCR ( or whatever your media player of choice is) and hit play!

Scoopers1A supposed Mr. X and his organization are the responsible party for the havoc of blowing up these satellites and space shuttles. Who can stop this dastardly foe but for two… reporters? Enter Yoko and Beat (BEATO!) who work for for the organization Private Eyes. “Private eyes are watching you. They see your every move.” Yoko is a strong and determined lead and Beat is a combination of things. He is a Yoko’s partner, a photographer, Yoko’s bodyguard and would you believe it… he’s an android too! He gains super powers when Yoko pulls out her compact and hits a couple of buttons, almost like a remote control. Talk about killer makeup! Together they track down the hide out of Mr. X at the amusement park of Techno Land, but what lays in store for them is more than any roller coaster ride.

Scoopers2Scoopers is one of those 80s OVAs you find at the very bottom of the undiscovered bin of lost oddities. It resembles a lot of retro action properties of the time, City Hunter, Space Adventure Cobra, Dirty Pair and Lupin III in terms of style, color and attitude. It just lacks staying power and being a one off OVA may be part of the issue. The concept of guerilla journalists who are more like crime fighters is a fun concept and the sci-fi high technology is a nice touch. Nothing like the element of fantasy of what we thought the future might be like from the perspective of the 1980s. And speaking of hi-tech, check out those computer graphics interspersed with the cel drawn animation. For the time that was high end stuff, but it is kind of laughable now.

Scoopers3Can I return back to Lupin III? It seems that Scoopers and Lupin III have something in common; are kind of related… perhaps siblings? When watching the credits one name jumped out at me and made me go, oh wow! Does the name, or I should say pen name of Monkey Punch ring a bell for any of you? He is the original creator of everyone’s jacket wearing thief, Lupin III and he also is responsible for Scoopers as well. Nice to see some of his other work. The character designs and some of the behaviors favor a Lupin style with Beat being similar to Lupin and Yoko being an alternate to Fujiko. Wait!… Monkey Punch, why not have a crossover of Lupin with Scoopers?

Scoopers4Scoopers is a lot of fun and finding off the wall, weird, bizarre, or out of this world older anime is the joy of combing through the lost archives of what Japan released way back yonder. This is what being a classic anime fan is all about because just when you think you have seen everything, something else shows up and say, “Um, you missed one!” I  am glad Scoopers founds it’s way into my viewing experience, although the ending… yeah we need to talk about that… kind of a let down and makes you want, or hope there is a second installment in some form. And yet in the end, we have to make due with what see, which is an aircraft flying off into the distance carrying an escaped Mr. X. What’s his final fate, will he get to some sort of trial? Will justice prevail? And will the story and photos from Yoko and Beat make the top headline? Your guess is as good as mine.

I want to give a special thanks to Kingmenu Subs for their work on Scoopers. Thank you and keep up the good work!