#141 : The Dagger of Kamui

You love ninja and samurai stories, I love ninja and samurai stories… we all love a good ninja or samurai story. Here in the west we have the epics of ancient Europe and the American western to delight our tastes in mythology, but for some of us there is a draw from an alternate source, the native myths of the East. Anime’s representation of a skilled man (or woman) is numerous: Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll just to name a few. But what if we can marry the samurai genre with the western genre into a film? Yup, that’s been done before… ever heard of 1985’s The Dagger of Kamui?

DoK_1Even if one is not much into action, ninja skills, or sword mastery, The Dagger of Kamui can still be a worthy watch; even if only just once! The Dagger of Kamui equates the definition of the big epic expensive action film, with an art house twist. Big… no no no… more like say, HUGE! Take a break my friends because this is one of those long journeys that spans Japan, Russia and then the wild west of America. Now that is quite a tour! You even get to meet historic figures like Geronimo and Mark Twain too. What?! And this is still considered a ninja, or samurai film? Or perhaps the ultimate shonen fighter? That may be stretching it, but does it matter? Nah, not at all. Just remember, to tell a large epic journey will take some time and this film is long, two plus hours long. And no intermission either (except the pause button, shh! it’s a secret), so be prepared.

DoK_2The Dagger of Kamui is a great example of ‘the hero’s journey’. The Hero with a Thousand Faces has now reached 1,001; a quick nod to you Joseph Campbell! Our hero is Jiro who is in no better terms, a bastard. He is an illegitimate child adopted into a loving family and also an individual whose heritage is partly Ainu, the native culture of Japan that was once frowned upon. Needless to say the kid is not well liked, or respected for no fault of his own except the ignorance of those around him. These elements don’t help when Jiro returns home to find his mother and sister murdered. Take a guess who gets the blame with no due process? With a dagger in hand that will unlock many clues of his origins and destiny, Jiro goes on the run to at first find the murderer of his family and then… well, that’s the beauty of being on a quest… it’s open to discovery beyond imagination.

DoK_3The story may be huge, the music is funky, with electric guitar and traditional Japanese drumming, but the visuals are a sight to behold. This is one gorgeous movie. Backgrounds are lush. Motion is fluid. Colors are bold. The fight scenes are like expressionist paintings that have come to life that could easily pass as a psychedelic experience. No surprise really as this was made at Madhouse, a studio which seems to have two quality settings in the visual department… amazing and fantastic. That and with a director like Rintaro, the ocular experience triples if not quadruples with his use of editing, color and dynamics. Let me go back to the fight scenes again. They are not like the usual brawl. Think more in terms of a well choreographed dance in a lucid dream you can only have at midnight where all around is magic and wonder to behold and see. Conflict becomes poetic art; danger becomes beautiful.

DoK_480s anime cinema has many standout choices. Many originate from well known directors, franchises, or are just at the right place at the right time. The Dagger of Kamui can fall into line with say the Fist of the North Star film for being a big action epic where our hero has to face up against a his major arch rival in the end, but The Dagger of Kamui is a completely different beast altogether. Some action films are just that, an action film. But there are those action films that are blessed to have been created by an auteur studio and an auteur director as well. There is something special about these movies, even though they can be a little long winded. The Dagger of Kamui is one wild ride!

#139 : The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots

WWoPnP_1Once upon a time there was this very cool cat who had a killer pair of boots and a very fashionable hat. He met a young man stuck in a muck and brilliantly the cat thought of a way to change his luck. A prince you shall be, to impress a princess from yonder away though there is a another suitor who is big, strong and the token bad guy… this just is not our lucky day. Never fear, rescue her you shall with our friends the mice, while I dodge a helpless trio devoted to capturing me as I feed you great advice. Sounds like a tale so classic filled with adventure and folly that it can only be The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots, I am feeling oh so jolly!

WWoPnP_2Let’s first talk about mascots in anime. They number in plenty from Pikachu (Pokémon) to Totoro (Studio Ghibli) to Mokona (CLAMP) and even Astro Boy (Osamu Tezuka or just anime in general). But what of one of the oldest studios in Japan that has entertained generations going back to the 1950s, Toei? That smiling cat in the hat… just who is that? And no this is not some Dr. Seuss riddle? … oh how I love me some green eggs and ham … That fine feline is none other than Pero (why not Pierrot?). Pero? Yeah Pero from the 1969 classic The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots. A fairly popular film in it’s day, it eventually led to two sequels in fact. But I hypothesis the popularity also because why would a studio choose a character to be a mascot, if not a veritable logo, from a film that did not reach a certain level of recognition? The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots is a film that defines Toei’s classic cinematic style.

WWoPnP_3Puss ’n Boots is light hearted, witty and fun for the whole family. Though to be fair the film was geared towards children, as is most animation, you can’t say it does not have humor and sophistication to draw in adult fans as well. After all many of us anime or animation fans are just ‘kids’ disguised as ‘adults’ 🙂 … I know I am! Often when one thinks of these early anime titles from what we term as the modern era, mostly the 1960s to be precise, we often equate Disney’s influence as they were the biggest animation standard during the day. But I want to include Warner Brothers for this movie. I have no idea if this was an influence, but the humor, action and even the artwork reminds me of Chuck Jones masterpieces like What’s Opera, Doc? and The Scarlet PumpernickelTouché; great ideas from animation can be borrowed from anywhere! We artists are not creators, we be pirates, argh, lol.

WWoPnP_4Speaking of borrowing, when reading the back of the DVD case I noticed that Puss ’n Boots’ director also directed the film Swan Lake. Hey!, I know that movie and come to think of it. the dynamics and even the character designs for Pierre, Rose and Lucifer (PnB) are very similar to those of Siegfried, Odette and Rothbart (SW). Even the climatic battle scenes at the evil castles are even similar. Not a bad nod, or reference to previous anime! Especially when you worked on both. 😉 And some of these scenes are so well animated that I thought, hey this part reminds me of say The Castle of Cagliostro? And maybe Future Boy Conan as well? Again the action scenes at the castle and the design of Princess Rose (the essence is all in her face) looks oh so Hayao Miyazaki. Well I don’t know what parts, or sections he worked on but yes, Miyazaki did work as a key animator on this movie. A portrait of an artist as a young man…

The 1960s would be the decade when Japan’s animation industry became a big business, serious in approach and growing ever professionally. The Wonderful World of Puss ’n Boots stems from the tail end of that decade and it’s influence would continue into the next decade and beyond. Some of Toei’s early films look cheap or grow dull quickly, but examples like Puss ’n Boots and even Horus: Prince of the Sun set standards that we need to honor today. Oh great Puss ’n Boots I bow before thee, bless u all your great legacy evermore.

#138 : Gall Force: Eternal Story

What ever happened to our old friend Gall Force? Debuting in 1986 with a feature film that spun off into a pairing of direct single release OVA sequels and then a couple more larger arc OVA series, Gall Force seemed to become a major player in anime. Then quiet arose over the landscape and Gall Force faded away into the sunset. It’s time to come out of retirement ladies, we miss you! To get a foot hold and get reacquainted with this series as a whole we have to start from the very beginning. Let us return once again to the maiden voyage to the 9th star system with Gall Force: Eternal Story.

GFES_1All is war in the galaxy. It has been for a long, long, long time. Two factions fight it out to the death with their huge armadas of spaceships that fire laser beams that take up half the real estate of your viewing screen. This is the story of the Solenoids vs. the Paranoids. Wound coil magnets vs. people who are extremely afraid, or perhaps Black Sabbath fans? … “Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind, People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time” … Not exactly, but seriously, where do you kids come up with this stuff? No, this is more like… the battle of the sexes… in DEEP SPACE! The Paranoids (ugly parasitic monstrosities of aliens), being the masculine and the Solenoids (a race of women that look very ‘familiar’?), the feminine.

GFES_2Gall Force: Eternal Story is not my favorite anime of all time by a long shot, but it is one I enjoy watching for the fun of it. This was one of those titles that was part of the steady diet of titles that solidified my love for Japanese animation. It’s a sci-fi homage of everything we loved about space and adventuring through the galaxies all thrown into one. This is a film that borrows much from earlier titles in anime, but also live action references such as: Star Wars, Alien, 2001 and Star Trek. It’s a film that defines all that is generic and cheesy, but pulls it off so well that it’s classic. Even the English dub gives the movie so much character. Gall Force: Eternal Story is a film where everything falls apart in order to give birth to something new and fresh. One trial after another hits our heroines and slowly one by one they eventually bite the dust. And yet would you believe that this movie does ends on a happier note?

GFES_3Our protagonists are a group of seven Solenoid soldiers whose mission is to pilot their vessel, the Star Leaf, to the 9th system to defend a new world for colonization from the Paranoids, Chaos. Along the journey Eluza, Rabby, Lufy (my fav!), Catty, Pony, Patty, and Rumy run into several obstacles including repairing a part of the ship to activate the warp drive (which also meant a scary trek into the belly of space), a battle with the Paranoids, fighting a stow away monster and eventually… childbirth! An interesting voyage isn’t it? I mentioned earlier how the girls all look very ‘familiar’, this is due to the fact that they were designed by Kenichi Sonoda. These seven girls all prototypical examples of his character stylings, which were also featured in Wanna-Be’s and Bubblegum Crisis, both being early work Sonoda did at AIC along with the Gall Force series.

GFES_4I have a weird theory about Gall Force: Eternal Story… maybe it’s… maybe it’s… our true origin story? This will make sense when you see the film in whole and make it all the way to the end. To put this into perspective, a child is born from the mating of the Paranoids and the Solenoids and that child along with one of the girls are the sole survivors to start a whole new evolution. A whole new race, a new beginning. Kind of like Adam and Eve? Maybe Gall Force: Eternal Story is the opening parts of Genesis from the Bible? … In the beginning there was void and war and laser blasts covered the deep of space. And then God spoke and said, “Cut out the fighting kids and have a baby instead!” … I dunno, it makes sense to me, what do you think?

#135 : Crusher Joe (movie)

CJm_1Say Joe, what do you know? … How does it feel to be the literary older sibling of the Dirty Pair? Maybe a little jealous as Kei and Yuri often get a lot of love and fan mail, but some of us out there in old time otaku land remember you too my old friend. Space adventure and science fiction were really hot in the early 1980s and a 1983 film by the name of Crusher Joe set itself perfectly into the zeitgeist of the moment. Let’s step back in time to experience the future, grab some popcorn and cut the lights… we’re watching this movie! 

CJm_2Does Crusher Joe remind you of say, Cowboy Bebop? The character dynamics are there: Young heroic guy, the big tough veteran, the pretty girl and a nerdy kid. What!… no cute Welsh Corgi!? Crusher Joe is sci-fi fun similar to say Star Wars, or maybe Buck Rogers, or perhaps Flash Gordon. What about Space Dandy? Or in contemporary anime terms of about 1983… Space Adventure Cobra meets Gatchaman that looks a lot like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Oh and one big difference to Cowboy Bebop… no swinging jazz. What!? No flat fifths, or 7th #9 chords interspersed in hand drawn loveliness? Ah shucks! Alas Crusher Joe is sci-fi the way we hoped for the future to be in the 1980s. Lots of warp drives, high collared tailored jumpsuits and dancing at the discotheques. I don’t know about you, but I am still waiting for this dated version of the future to come to fruition. Am I alone on this one?

So what exactly are Crushers anyway? You got a job, any job? You got money? Then a Crusher has got you covered, except keep it clean and legit as this keeps the paperwork easier to file. Joe, Alfin, Talos and Ricky have a new job of transporting a mysterious cargo with no questions asked to a specific destination. Sounds simple enough, but then again be careful what contracts you sign your name on. On a trek through hyperspace a ‘little’ accident occurs with this cargo on board. Ever have a bomb go off in the middle of a warp? Its not very pretty. After coming back to consciousness, Joe and crew quickly evaluate the situation and discover the cargo has gone missing. Ah oh, what else could go wrong? Maybe a run in with the authorities and finding out your cargo was a princess who was cryogenically frozen and now you are charged with kidnapping. Talk about a good time to call a lawyer. Now the question becomes who set up Joe and how do they get this princess back safe and sound?

CJm_3Let me return to the Mobile Suit Gundam reference again… this movie really, really looks like the iconic mecha series in terms of it’s characters. This is NO!! accident. The character designs, script, and storyboards were mainly at the helm of Gundam’s character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. ‘YAS’ even helmed the directors chair. He literally owned this movie, maybe even more so than original creator Haruka Takachiho. Besides the obvious stylings of YAS, Crusher Joe also shares his sense of humor and fun action, which ties back to Takachiho’s source material quite nicely. Add in some mecha designs from a young up and coming Shoji Kawamori, hot off of the original Macross (LOVE!), and the fire power of Studio Sunrise, you have one of the best stand alone sci-fi movies of the decade. In fact Crusher Joe was Sunrise’s first original movie outside of TV show adaptations, in case you wanted to know (it’s common knowledge on the internet?).

CJm_4Once upon a time we had grand and fun swash buckling adventures told through the medium of intergalactic outer space fantasies. True they still exist in some form today, they don’t hold the same romanticism as their analog counterparts of yesteryear… or perhaps I am just being biased. Crusher Joe is a film that defines what made 1980s anime appealing and fun, even into the present. Plus as an added bonus… guess who makes a brief cameo for their first appearance ever in an anime? Kei and Yuri… the Dirty Pair… ah… Lovely Angels 🙂 They always seem to hog the spotlight in some form or another… can you blame them?

#133 : Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami

MMvCM1The ultimate magical girl showdown of the 1980s. A crossover that much like lightning in a bottom, flashes and then disappears. In the span of three short minutes all will be decided as who should be crowned the ultimate 1980s magical girl. In the left corner, debuting in 1982 and representing Ashi Production we have Minky Momo! (CHEERS!) And in the right corner, debuting in 1983 and representing Studio Pierrot we have Creamy Mami! (CHEERS!) Ladies, gentlemen, undecided, non-binaries and every other designation of beautiful people I present to you Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami! Alright now let’s keep it clean girls… no hitting below the belt… GO!

MMvCM2The year was 1985 and the fairly new direct to video format of the OVA was in full swing. Several new properties would be introduced on this format, but there was another side to creating anime for this market. Previously created properties, in particular television series that had successful, or moderately successful runs, would get new breathes of life from this format. For the two iconic early 80s magical girl shows Fairy Princess Minky Momo and Magical Angel Creamy Mami, this would be the case. Two all new, almost feature length productions, would debut. For Minky Momo there was La Ronde in my Dream and for Creamy Mami there was Long Goodbye.

MMvCM3Occasionally OVAs would have a theatrical screening, which more than likely, was to promote the videos themselves. Plus! You can see these video on the big screen… WOW! I And this is where Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami comes into the scene. From my research, these two videos were shown as a double header and this short video was like a teaser, a welcome, a short introduction. There is not much to review, or describe, as the two girls meet, shake hands and then… fight it out in an over the top style that recalls much to say Project A-Ko. It’s fun, quick, cute and easy to find on Youtube. What more can you ask for? Chocolate cake maybe?

So the question becomes who wins the match… Minky Momo, or Creamy Mami? I say neither as it all ends in a draw. The real winners are those of us who watch and cheer and get all obsessed over these awesome cartoons. Minky Momo vs. Creamy Mami is what being a fan of anime is all about!

#132 : Vampire Princess Miyu

I love the dark! It’s not scary at all. Many consider it like a tomb, the idea of death and nothingness. I say perhaps consider the dark more akin to the womb as a place of safety, that is also undefinable. Many times there are things that go bump in the night, or the dark, and they are not so much there to scare you, but instead to cast aside all those oddities (shinma) that bring out panic and fright and return them to where they belong. I know of one such entity, a girl who is destined to aid mankind from all the shinma and evils of the world. Yet she also is of the shinma as she is herself a vampire, care to be kissed? Her name is Miyu, better known as Vampire Princess Miyu.

VPM_1More often then not, much of the original OVA market seemed to have a heavier emphasis towards a masculine audience, in particular for those of us who were around in the VHS days of the 1990s in the west. Too much one sided marketing… I am glad times have changed. Shojo OVAs did of course exist and many found there way over early on, you just didn’t know it at the time. Vampire Princess Miyu presents much with action and gothic horror elements and has direction and character designs from one Toshihiro Hirano (I love his designs!). That alone could sell the show to a particular audience, but it is balanced with beautiful characters, relationship dynamics and inner psychological struggles. And lots of dark!

VPM_2I often think off Vampire Hunter D, or even early CLAMP titles like Tokyo Babylon and X (which are kind of the same story?) when I reflect on Vampire Princess Miyu. Much of shojo, but not always, has a certain color pop and often gets stereotypically pastel shades to the maximum. Vampire Princess Miyu is darker, more subdued with an emphasis on maybe one particular color… RED! While this may break the usual gender enforced stereotypes, going dark actually brings an anime like Vampire Princess Miyu into the realm of the divine feminine; the yin of yin and yang. The black, the infinite, intuitive, nocturnal, the total unknown and most importantly the source of everything that is actually nothing. Miyu can be likened to the dark goddess archetype.

VPM_3Miyu is also a bit of an outcast who has to hunt her own kind. This is the parallel I draw to Vampire Hunter D. Her only friend is her servant, Larva (though sometimes I hear Lover? I have goofy ears) who is be-masked and is much like a dark guardian angel. This leaves Miyu basically alone in her mission to fight the shinma, as well as in her overall life, which leaves no room for love or connection. The only so-called connection she can give to humanity is to grant them an eternal gift in exchange for the human blood she needs to sustain her existence. And she is picky as she is not here to ravage everyone’s necks. If she thinks your attractive and suffering, you are more than likely on her hit list. Over the course of the four episode run we are also joined by Himiko, a spiritualist, who is after Miyu to try to stop her from biting her victims. She soon realizes that her destiny is tied to Miyu from the past and comes to have compassion for the princess vampire.

VPM_4The year was 1988, and while big and exciting mecha OVAs in the name of Gunbuster and Patlabor were all the flash and dazzle and had awesome production value, they lacked something essential… the dark. Sometimes you need the dark to find out who you really are. Hence why many of us have an affinity towards… the dark. Vampire Princess Miyu presents the dark with horror and monster elements in an extremely tasteful way, which by the end of the episode run becomes a fine character study of both Miyu and even Himiko. That being said I do love Gunbuster and Patlabor for all that they embody, but I also enjoy Vampire Princess Miyu. Why? Oh come now you know why… I love the DARK!

#131 : Gatchaman II

G2_1They’re back! My favorite sentai squad quintet of bird themed costumed, thigh high boot wearing superheroes… ee… maybe ninjas is more appropriate. Does it matter how you classify Earth’s ultimate answer to fighting the evil menace known as Galactor? As if 100+ episodes of action and adventure were not enough it seems our band of heroes get to strap on the capes yet again for another 52 episodes. Way to go! Sometimes one, or sometimes five, Science Ninja Team welcome to your sequel, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman II. Bird!… GO!!

G2_2Now here is something for you to ponder. This series is set two years later from the original Gatchaman show, which was how long series one lasted, yet it previewed on screen six years after the initial release of Gatchaman (1972 vs. 1978). Hmm? Oh well better late than never? But a sequel, really? I mean the original show ended with a number of cliffhangers: the fall of Berg Katse and even the death of the beloved tough guy, Joe the Condor being the biggest two. Where do we go from here? Well Joe makes a comeback for a start. WHAT… HOW!? Thanks to a new character by the name of Dr. Raphael, Joe is now a cyborg. Kinda like Casshan… good job Tatsunoko Studio to tie in themes from your other shows. Plus, the Gatchaman crew have new weapons (I miss the old ones!), new mechs to pilot and an all new God Phoenix with a R2D2-type robot (or maybe 7 Zark 7?), plus a new assistant in the name of Dr. Pandora. And lets not forget we need another non-binary type villain of questionable gender to accompany Leader X… enter Gel Sadra.

G2_3So with all these new changes, does anything stay the same from before? Well, Dr. Nambu still has that wicked mustache, the minion troops of Galactor still have those nasty green uniforms and Leader X still has that awesome voice, mesmerizing and menacing. Thankfully the feel of the show is very similar to the original as it was produced by the same studio, used the same voice cast and was produced in the 1970s (get funky!). So it’s just a complete carbon copy? Well… not really, but in many ways, yes. It’s been a while since I have seen series I, but wasn’t there more plot that resound around a lot of kaiju type mecha and using the Firebird Technique in the God Phoenix. HI NO TORI!!! And what about a lot of the techniques where they join together that look totally ridiculous, but we love it all because we wish we could do that. Maybe the memory is a little fuzzy… hazy more like it. But one thing I can say for sure, there was hardly any calling out of Bird GO!!! to allow the transformation process into the awesome costumes.

G2_4Yet the Science Ninja team are still the same characterizations. Ken is still honorable and cool headed, Joe is still a tough and vulnerable (yet now a cyborg… fancy!), Jun is still adorable and strong, Jinpei is still a goof ball kid (yet his voice has dropped… puberty) and Ryu is still the token big guy and perfect in his own way. The stock and trade quintet sentai squad that is the definition of sentai squads. Now drawn in a little more of a slightly more sophisticated style. The line work and designs are still the same, but comparing 1972 to 1978 shows more fluidity. A great example of my theory of anime of the 1970s, which shows the evolution from the archaic 1960s into the classical 1980s. Now remember it is only a theory and my opinion, it is ok if you disagree. So which do I prefer? Both! TV animation from the early 70s (think Ashita no Joe, Cutie Honey, Aim for the Ace) and late 70s (Rose of Versailles, Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Pirate Catain Harlock) are BOTH welcome in my house.

Gatchaman II… fun show. A great compliment to the original, but I kind of favor the original by a hair… I mean hey, it’s a classic. One thing that did get me about Gatchaman II, which was a huge surprise, was how poignant the ending was and in one case brings a tear to your eye. Such is the magic of well done anime. Now… onto Gatchaman F, or it it Gatchaman Fighter? Whenever it doubt between a choice to two, have BOTH!