#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)

#156 : Godmars

GM_1GOD… MARS! ROKUSHIN GATTAI! I get chills every time I hear that when our hero Takeru Myojin prepares to bring together the six robots that make up the ultra cool Godmars mech. Released in 1981 during the space opera and mecha high times in the anime world, Godmars is a fine mix of the two. It’s far from a perfect mech show, or anime in general. So many anime fall into this pit trap, yet we still attach to them anyway because we found some redeeming qualities that end up resonating with us. Now strap in and get ready for one of my favorite super robot tales from way back when. This is Rokushin Gattai Godmars, often shortened to Godmars.

Godmars holds a special place in my heart in that this was the first super robot show I tackled to completion beyond the ‘Voltron’ universe (be it GoLion, Diarugger, or Voltron itself). The time had come to grow up and move beyond the usual pastures and venture forth into the lands where alternate antiquated robot shows lived. Pictures and articles at first fulfilled speculation, next came the process of tracking down media. Godmars would present itself via a VHS tape of the 1982 compilation movie. Soon the film and the entire TV show became available on the fansub circuit and became the avenue that I digested the missing parts of the Godmars storylines. … Now disc based media exists as well, an eventual purchase on the horizon… maybe?

GM_2Loosely based on an original manga (Mars) by the legendary Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Godmars turned into an epic space drama; a huge departure from it’s more Babel II-like roots. Takeru Myojin, our protagonist, is a 17 year old member of the Cosmo Crasher squad, a group dedicated to Earth’s protection during humanity’s age of heavy space exploration. This all takes places in the far off future of 1999, which for 1981 made sense, but nowadays seems a little… dated? It is 2019 when I am writing this entry and where is all the cool space travel and super hi-end technology? Back to what 1999 could have been… it seems that the Earth has encountered a race of aliens, hostile of course… why not friendly ones? An emperor named Zul, along with his Gishin empire, are determined to conquest the universe and Earth is the next stop.

GM_3It turns out Takeru is not an Earthling and is in fact originally from Gishin. He was found as a baby by his adopted father and raised on Earth… hmm… sounds like Superman. Takeru learns his true identity is Mars and that he also has ESP abilities. So he is an esper?… yet another late 70s/early 80s trope. That and he soon learns he has a guardian robot which he can pilot as well, Gaia. OK then, I wonder if he has any surviving family on Gishin? Turns out he has a twin brother, Marg. Wow, talk about a lot of elements for a run of the mill mecha series! Plus let’s not forget the big bot of Godmars as well. Takeru while piloting Gaia combines with five other robots to create this nicely designed piece of engineering. The only thing that is missing here is a romantic element… and Godmars has that as well, via the conflicted character of Rosee (pronounced Ro-zay). Lots and lots of ingredients in this stew of a series… and this is only the first of three story arcs.

GM_4It is Takeru Myojin for me that makes Godmars special. He is not the usual mecha/shonen archetypal character. Neither the funny goof ball, nor the hotshot masculine tough guy, or even the bratty complainer, Takeru is at the other end of the spectrum being more sensitive and gentle. A nice change of pace and a great way to show masculinity can have a tender side. On the other side of the fence, my only real issue with the show was that the romantic elements and sparks between Takeru and Rosee are never really flushed out. and even though this is a shonen action show, I really wanted to see at least one kiss between these two… just one! Not the end of the world, but I am a sucker for anime couples… maybe there is some fan fiction somewhere?

While it was not a gateway drug, Godmars became for me a crucial next step into my journeys into classic mecha anime. The heavy melodrama and space opera were key elements I needed at that time of my fandom as this was just the answer to my many questions needing a solution. The only thing is that from one would come many more series to watch, yet I never forgot what Godmars showed me in the beginning and I still enjoy a watch from time to time.

#152 : Salamander

Salamander_1Not very often one sees the Konami logo making an entrance before the start of an anime. Video games most definitely as Konami created many a classic for early consoles during the 1980s and 1990s, but an anime… what’s the catch? Could it be an anime based on a video game in Konami’s library? Obviously. Anime as a promotional tie in is nothing new and with Konami’s Salamander (Life Force for the NES) a three episode OVA would be commissioned to begin release in 1988. So we have an anime based off of a space ship shooter? A schmup? Work with your strengths here add some heroic characters, space opera and a little character development and you get a production that is actually pretty good.

Salamander_2While the video game of Salamander lays down the foundation of this anime with attacking an alien threat while piloting the ever well designed Vic Viper space craft, other influences would also color the anime into a more flushed out production. Why not add in references to Salamander’s fellow siblings Gradius  and Gradius II: GOFER no Yabou as well. Plus lets include veteran director Hisayuki Toriumi and Studio Pierrot for production and character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto (nice choice!) to polish off this package. Salamander is solid 1980s space opera complete with the look and feel one would expect from the era and best of all you don’t have to be a fan of video games. Now let’s see how this plot unfolds!

Salamander_3Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey we begin with mysterious black monoliths, except these look like the giant stone statues found on Easter Island. Legend states that these protect the planet Latis from a sleeping fire dragon. This dragon has ties with an invading power, the Bacterian of the planet Salamander and recently on the planet Gradius, three young heroes defeated this power. Latis’ prince Lord British (nice name) calls forth these three fighters even though the relations between Latis and Gradius are difficult at best. Arriving in Vic Vipers, our heroes Dan, Eddie and Stephanie make their entrance in front of the regal Lord British. Sounds fairly ordinary at first except Eddie and Stephanie have some baggage from the past which become major plot points. Eddie’s family has ties to the planet Latis and Stephanie mourns the loss of her father from the invasion on their home world of Gradius. Instead of being just a flash and dazzle showing of aerial acrobatics and dogfighting, we get character drama, which I can be sure was not part of the original video gaming experience.

The following two episodes bookend the opener. Episode two acts as a prequel, tying up unfinished business that was hinted at previously, and episode three delivers a subsequent sequel and finale. Being based on space ship shooters it is nice to sit back and relax for once instead of being in intense in the moment. Let the pros handle this one! And maybe it is just me, but Salamander does feel a little slow. Watching the first episode alone is enough of a story in and of itself and then adding in the final two gives more depth, but kind of repeats similar themes, characters and stories already. Maybe I am being a little too critical since I have seen my fair share and a half of space opera anime and know many of the tropes familiar with the genre. That being said, Salamander is still well above the upper end of average.

Salamander_4Cast in the same era as other space opera OVAs like Gunbuster and Dangaioh, Salamander is a worthy recommendation if you can get a hold of it. My initial draw to Salamander were the Mikimoto character designs. As a fan of his work I do my best to track down all that I can to see those tried and true sparkling eyes again and again that he is known for. I won’t lie, this OVA for me is all about the visual appeal. Ironically this anime also led me to later give Gradius a try on the NES; a fun game. As of this writing I have not tried Salamander/Life Force, maybe in the future. And just in case you are wondering… the famous ‘Konami Code’ will not work with this OVA. No free power ups, or 30 extra lives this time round.

#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!!

#25j : Robot Carnival : Closing

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCj_1The time has come as the show is over and as much as the anime Robot Carnival has to come to an end, the behemoth vehicle of destructive entertainment, Robot Carnival, also has to find a place to retire. The second bookend to the Robot Carnival anthology begins with the ever awesome machine giving everything it has to climb a sand dune with all it’s shear power. In the process of straining the engines beyond their limits, the once mighty Robot Carnival destroys itself in a blaze of glory. The end, peace in the land at last as the mighty beast has fallen… yet it’s not quite over. Katsuhiro Otomo still has a little more to tell, but first the credits so everyone can get their name in lights.

Now for the encore… with the destruction of Robot Carnival there is much in the way of debris. Some of it is quite appealing like a shining gem in the dirt, so thinks a traveling nomad who picks up a metallic sphere to give to his children. Once home they all stare in amazement at this ball as it opens to reveal a beautiful doll of a dancing ballerina. Hold on, have we seen this before? BOOM! Yup, that’s what I thought. Until next time… “That’s all folks!”

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#25i : Robot Carnival : Chicken Man and Red Neck

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

Something’s lurking in the streets tonight. Almost like the dead rising from their graves, except this time round it’s machinery and raw building materials being drawn up from a superior power and taking on their own lives. And it was such a quiet pleasant day just a couple minutes ago. Enter the world of Chicken Man and Red Neck. An odd title for a comedic action horror anime, does Japan know what we in the U.S. refer to as a redneck?Streamline Pictures renaming to Nightmare was a good solution when the film came out here in the west way back in the 1990s. The original title refers to the two main characters, one a robotic spirit who looks like a hooded scarecrow and the other a salaryman with a long neck and rubbery movements who is just running scared.

RCi_1And I can’t say I blame him. Imagine waking up seeing all kinds of odd robotic type monsters walking all over and invading your home of Tokyo feeling like there is absolutely no escape. You gotta run! Director Takashi Nakamura has cited the Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia as an inspiration, but I also see Chicken Man and Red Neck more in line with another classic from Disney, their telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. An endless chase that can only resolve itself from the rays of the morning sun. How typical, even spirit infested robots seem not to like the glory of solar exposure. Perhaps an allergy to vitamin D?

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending

#25h : Robot Carnival : Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCh_1Now this is what I call a proper parody of the classic super robot genre with the stock and trade five member sentai team. Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: The Foreigner’s Invasion (also known as A Tale of Two Robots) could have been an episode for a full TV series, yet this is another specifically created segment for Robot Carnival. And forget about high technology, space, laser beams, or mythical magic as this is the early Meiji era, or the later quarter of the 19th century, so we are limited to coal, archaic electrical power, levers and pulleys and cannons (or fireworks!). Plus, a heavy dose of slapstick humor. And while several productions of Robot Carnival have a humorous bend to the story, Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture is straight up pure comedy gold.

RCh_2Ring the bells loud and clear as there is a strange machine arising inside a busy town. Commanded by a loose lipped wild eyed foreigner, this robot begins its invasion in earnest. Now who in their right mind could stop this behemoth? Enter five brave (and perhaps crazy?) youths who built a similar machine for an upcoming town festival. Although their robotic machine was not made for combat in any way, they give it all they can, fighting the good fight for both the pride of their hometown and all of Japan. Stuck in the middle are the rest of the town folk who watch in both awe and a little frustration as the town gets its fair share of damage. As the old saying goes… in order to make an omelette, you have to break a couple eggs.

Robot Carnival entry index:

  1. Opening
  2. Franken’s Gears
  3. Deprive
  4. Presence
  5. Starlight Angel
  6. Cloud
  7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
  8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
  9. Ending