#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 🙂

#81b : Space Warrior Baldios

For my original entry for Space Warrior Baldios, click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, Space Warrior Baldios, I have a little more to say…

When I wrote the original entry for Space Warrior Baldios the only materials I had available were the first five episodes of the TV series, via fansub, and the film made from complied material with some revisioning. Then… I come to find out that the TV series would be released here in North America. Now I have an option to see Space Warrior Baldios in it’s entirety. I truly envy those of you who grew up in Europe during my youth, lets say approximately 1984 – 1990 as Baldios was available.

But one thing I have learned, never, but never ever be envious period. If you want something, be it an experience, a product, a relationship, whatever, give it space and focus. In time that something will happen, but don’t get too attached as that will sabotage your journey along the way. Persevering towards something eventually creates the greater payoff. Law of attraction? Wait a minute, this is a posting for my update on Space Warrior Baldios! Very true, let’s talk anime.

baltv_1The class of 1980 for TV mecha entries number about a handful, but I have seen two thus far to this writing. Last time I commented how Space Warrior Baldios and Space Runaway Ideon represented two of the most austere space opera robot shows to grace the small screens. I still agree with this, but after watching Baldios to completion I have to give an edge to Ideon. Baldios has it’s darker moments and elements and has a great twister of an ending, but Ideon went even deeper and I have to bow in respect as I love the dark (classic Yoshiyuki Tomino). But… but, I still I enjoyed Baldios. Ideon may be the more revolutionary show, but Baldios is for me, the evolutionary candidate.

baltv_2Ideon can be likened to the original Mobile Suit Gundam, or Zambot 3 as all three are attributed to Yoshiyuki Tomino. He has a well known style in his classic shows and he made mecha anime into a slowburn auteur exercise. Baldios on the other hand feels like the next step from the overall trend in mecha anime that was growing at the seams in the 1970s. It felt and partially looked like a show from about 1976/1977, but was created in 1980 (which honestly is not that far off). There is an element of innocence and fun that abounds in Baldios. Even the stock sequence for forming the three part Baldios robot harkens more to a 70s combination, GATTAI! Still Baldios has its moments of heaviness and drama as stated before, but the majority in terms of the overall plot of the TV series occurred more so in the beginning and ending of the episode run. Take Cowboy Bebop as a similar example.

baltv_3The in between episodes of Baldios showcase many of the minor plot elements of the characters such as reunions, unrequited loves, power struggles, trust issues and xenophobia as examples. Yet this TV series is sadly incomplete and truncated and in order to have the full story, you must watch the movie as well. Even with cancellation and necessity the one thing I can give respect to Baldios is the fact that the entirety of the story was eventually completed albeit in two forms of media. As classic mecha titles were my initial entry in anime, I am delighted to finally have the complete tale of Baldios under my belt. I shall wear Baldios like a medal with pride! Thank you time for teaching me to patiently wait all of these years to reap the greater reward.

#1b : Megazone 23 (part 1)

For my original entry for Megazone 23 (part 1), click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, the first part of Megazone 23, I have a little more to say…

m231_1This is like going all the way back to the beginning. Starting from scratch, the second time around. If you have been through this site before, I hope you have dug down enough to find the very first entry, Megazone 23 (part 1). If you are new here, then you found a great starting point. I have had for some time thought about revisiting this awesome OVA from 1985, but I like to keep only one entry per show, movie, or OVA. Know you know what this means… time to change some rules!

m231_2Have I changed my opinions much on this first Megazone 23 entry from last time. Not really. I still love it, I still hold it highly in my anime watching experience and it is an all in one package for what did get me into anime in the first place and what mostly keeps me digging up more classics. It has that certain something, perhaps its just love and devotion, I can’t say for sure. And if I could put the feeling into words, I would more than likely miss the point. The character designs from Toshihiro Hirano and Haruhiko Mikimoto may be the closest thing to words to express my feelings for Megazone 23. Such a good looking cast from two of my favorite artists.

m231_3Now, have you seen The Matrix? Do you make references, or hear them often from others, regarding society and the The Matrix? Now watch Megazone 23 and tell me if you can spot the similarities? Megazone 23 came out a good decade and change before The Matrix and in my opinion totally surpasses the live action trilogy. We have the story about a hero who finds that reality is in control of a computer program and basically reality is someone else’s fantasy and creation. And our hero finds out he is only a mere pawn in the big game and decides to rebel. Except in Megazone 23 you also have motorcycle styled mecha, a lone wolf antihero, brighter colors, a refreshing soundtrack, Flashdance styled dancing (with leg warmers) and it’s Japanese in origin. “Yeah Doc, all the best stuff is made in Japan.”  (Back to the Future strikes again) The next time someone mentions The Matrix just remember to recommend Megazone 23, or even better… shout out BAHAMUT 6!

Still I regard Megazone 23 the spiritual successor to my beloved Macross. I said it last time and I will say it again, Megazone 23 may not be Macross in name or story, but the main members who created both productions left a certain patina. Kind of like a band releasing two awesome albums in succession. I mentioned Hirano and Mikimoto earlier and there are other key figures, but the biggest was director Noboru Ishiguro. Such a professional, a gentleman and a renaissance man all rolled into one. Hayao Miyazaki, Yoshiyuki Tomino, Tomoharu Katsumata, Osamu Dezaki, Rintaro, Isao Takahata are all great directors and I love them dearly, but Ishiguro-sensei, if it was not for your work I may never have fallen in love with anime. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Bar none this is a title I still watch on a consistent basis. Repeatability is a major factor to anything great in media as there is always something new and still yet familiar to emjoy. The only question remains, ADV dub, Streamline dub, or the original Japanese track. All three have equal merit in their own way. Or, I can be adventurous and watch Robotech: The Movie. Wikipedia or Google that one if that is a title that does not ring a bell.

… and don’t forget you see a cameo of Lupin and Gigen (Lupin III) as… cops… ironic!

#127 : Fist of the North Star (TV Series)

fotnstv_1I often equate Fist of the North Star as a western, or maybe a modern tale of the roaming samurai. In any case, it is the same style of story, just from a different context and disguised as a shonen fighter. This is the lone wolf roaming in a world filled with chaos who makes change and restores balance by being the example to be. Fist of the North Star may be what many of us think it is, but once you watch the original 109 episode run, you may have to second guess what you thought and understand more so the feeling.

fotnstv_2The reputation of Fist of the North Star is often a slaughterfest, manly anime (MANime…face palm) and high intense action. These characteristics may hold true to a certain level, but on another, I see elements of balance, compassion and even… calmness. There is from my eyes a heavy Buddhist or Taoist influence to Fist of the North Star and it is best seen through our main protagonist Kenshiro. He possesses great strength and skill, enough to split an individual in two, or have one’s head explode. Yet he does this with very little effort, often from an acupressure point. And his stance is one of defense, he does not attack with anger or malice. Kenshiro reacts and uses his martial art abilities only when it is needed. Much like Captain Harlock, Kenshiro is an individual who is aware of the dualities of the world, yet they know how to react with composure. A true state of one who is enlightened and is in equilibrium with the masculine and the feminine.

fotnstv_3Being the progenitor, father, or maybe nowadays even the grandfather for the modern Shonen Jump styled fighting series, Fist of the North Star is a pure essence of the non-ending quest of episodes or manga volume about a hero who must fight to live. Fist of the North Star led the way to Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, then to Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Peace, Bleach, Naruto and the list goes on and on. Yet Fist of the North Star did not just come out of nowhere. Yes you can see the elements of Mad Max and Bruce Lee in the designs and environments, but Fist of the North Star also has much to owe to anime titles of the 1970s like Babel IICasshan and Devilman. Then we get to 1984 and Fist of the North Star debuts on television screens across Japan. In an industry that at the time was saturated by mecha and superheroes, the journey of Kenshiro was something fresh and some what new and yet a minor evolution as well.

fotnstv_4As a lengthy show one must be prepared to go in for the so-called long haul. Be patient and persevere through each episode. Fist of the North Star takes time to get warmed up so to speak and even though, as is the case with many of the shonen fighters, you may question is this is going anywhere? And slowly, much like an onion, layer upon layer becomes revealed and all through heavy amounts of drama and seriousness. Each episode reveals new characters, new fights and more drama and like the cycle of a day starts over again and again anew. Enemies becomes allies, fights turn deadly and important lessons to be absorbed by you the viewer are assimilated all at the same time and usually with a tissue box on hand. Fist of the North Star is a show about returning to love and sympathizing those who are flawed, yet still human.

If you want to take the shorter route, you can  immerse yourself into the 1986 motion picture version of Fist of the North Star. It has much bang for the buck, but it also is missing much of the story, characters and added drama that I fell in love with in this TV series. As is much in life as is with Fist of the North Star, the longer harder road is the path that rewards far more than the quicker fix. Just why did it all have to end with a clip episode? The answer is simple… the story has only begun… enter Fist of the North Star II. Yes folks, there is a sequel.

#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.

#124 : Dirty Pair (TV Series)

dptv_1“Once upon time there were two little girls who went to the World Welfare Works Association academy… And they were each assigned very ‘hazardous’ duties… But I took them away from all that and now they work for me, my name is Gooley.” Hmm… hazardous duties? Have you seen the track record of these two ladies as of late? Mr. Gooley, your two trouble consultations, those Lovely Angels are creating a lot of havoc wherever they go, though they don’t mean to because as the bumper sticker says “S#!t Happens!”. These girls even have a well known nickname and have been featured in many anime back in the day including an awesome TV series with this so-called nickname. And not Gooley’s Angels mind you; more like… Dirty Pair.

dptv_2Kei and Yuri are at it yet again and this time we are in for the long haul. While a majority of the Dirty Pair releases are single release fare (Affair of Nolandia, Project Eden and Flight 005 Conspiracy) we are treated with a multitude of adventures this time around. And yes there was that 10 episode OVA quasi-sequel from 1987, but that to me is supplementary to this TV series from 1985. And what a series from the hands of Sunrise as this could be considered the ‘sister series’ (light pun?) to the other two titles being Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Blue Comet SPT Layzner. Three’s a crowd? Not this time. More like Three of a Perfect Pair (any King Crimson fans?). This is because if watching the more serious space operatic mecha of Zeta Gundam and Layzner become a little too much, chill out with the Dirty Pair for a little light hearted fun.

dptv_3Within a space of 24 episodes plus two extra supplements as direct to video OVAs, you get a total of 26 episodes of adventure with Kei and Yuri. The fun nature and space travel of the Dirty Pair TV series can be looked at as a gender inverse to Space Adventure Cobra. Instead of the bumbling Lupin-esque macho Cobra you get two ladies, both of whom are feminine and independent characters. Smart and skillful, but at times a little short on temper, particularly Kei (my favorite of the pairing!), expect something to come out of the blue at any moment. As much as the girls try to help each situation, they are so-called trouble consultants after all, they often create a little more trouble in the process. Still, the comedy and the action that often occurs within each episode becomes golden at proper moments. Who would have thought the original books by Haruka Takachiho would have grown into one of the best franchises of the 1980s?

In all honesty, compared to one-offs like Affair of Nolandia, or Project Eden, I don’t see much replay in the TV series. The TV series is worth a viewing with absolutely no question, but the quick changes of plot from episode to episode may be a little to fast for my taste. Of course it may be different for you and that is ok. Ironic as I usually prefer longer run TV series over movie/OVA adaptations, but with the Dirty Pair it is not the case… it is a case of breaking all the statistical norms… that I do appreciate! And as English is my native tongue, sometimes I do love a dub. The sub track with the Japanese is excellent, but I have a love for the early 90s Streamline dubs of the Dirty Pair, perhaps some of that companies best.

dptv_4“And then they’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun and hope that chief Gooley doesn’t take the Lovely Angel away. And then they’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun…” A variation on a classic Beach Boys song, but it completely rings true to the Dirty Pair. I often look to the TV series as phase two in one’s Dirty Pair journey. Start with one of the single outings mentioned earlier, then move to the TV series… or jump into the TV series if you want to override that prerequisite as there is no law stating ‘One should!’ The only real question is do you want a fun show? If you answer yes, then the Dirty Pair TV series will satisfy.

#121 : Appleseed

Appleseed_1AppleseedGhost in the Shell’s often over shadowed older sibling. What comes to mind when I think of Appleseed? A nice, simple and powerful title for sure… iconic. There was all that CG material made a few years ago that I found to be dull yet flashy and fancy, but still… dull (very boring, my opinion). Thankfully I was aware that the tree that sprouted all those CG apples bore fruit a couple decades earlier in a shorter and much more analog version created for direct to video. Appleseed beyond the original manga, and those CG projects (nails on a chalkboard), is for me an OVA from 1988 that beyond the action had a theme that made me think and is the reason I come back one more time, every time.

Appleseed_2Is it me, or does this OVA smell a lot like Blade Runner (as well as concepts from ancient Greek mythology)? Many a cyber punk story often quoted Blade Runner since that movie set a standard that still holds up today. Still… Appleseed really borrows a lot from the 1982 film: the setting although it seems to have more sunlight, a particular character’s name and the idea of cybernetic technology in co-existence with mankind. We have a tale of a dystopian utopia, our possible future, or perhaps an allegory on our current circumstances. A perfect, clean environment that still has problems and issues because with all the polish and brightness, the polarity of darker forces must exist to ensure balance… all told with a lot of firepower and action. Masamune Shirow how do you do what you do so well?

Appleseed_3Olympus, the setting of Appleseed, is a great example of the utopian safety bubble showing signs of cracking and discontent. An ideal world where only good and cleanliness exist is in truth ‘unnatural’, night must follow day and winter always comes after a summer. And as much as you grip for control and authority, there will always be elements that stand to defy the status quo that slip through the veritable cracks. This is after all, a post war environment, as outside the city limits of Olympus is a perpetual no-man’s land, a literal hell. Here many humans exist on the edge of survival. If they are ‘lucky’ they get rescued and with help and rehabilitation are brought into Olympian society to exist with the main biodroid population. Biodroids are manufactured to be human in appearance and fit into the regime of the Olympian landscape. Many of these rescued humans fit into this paradigm with no issue, while others perceive and/or even fight back against what they see as a cage, or perhaps, a prison.

Appleseed_4Three of these rescued humans play the biggest roles in this drama. Our protagonists Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires (who looks more robotic than human?) work for the state as police officers, SWAT to be specific, which allows them to use their guerrilla combat skills that kept them alive in the hinterlands outside of Olympus. They have conformed for the most part into the society of Olympus. These two are perhaps an early attempt for the likes of Major Kusanagi and Batou of Ghost in the Shell… maybe? The third member is also a fellow police man, one Calon Mautholos, who unlike Deunan and Briareos, see a different reality due to the depression and eventual suicide of his wife. She saw Olympus as a cage and this leads Calon to align himself with more shady characters. Such as the terrorist A. J. Sebastian (hmm… Blade Runner again?) who believes that the society and government of Olympus is controlling and corrupting the human population and distancing themselves from their more primal behaviors. Calon joins forces with Sebastian and tries to stay one step ahead of the dynamic duo of Deunan and Briareos, who are after Sebastian when he escaped from an earlier raid.

Appleseed questions reality and duty towards a state or cause almost to the same degree as say Patlabor 2: The Movie. Though not as sophisticated as Patlabor, Appleseed does a great service for a simple one off OVA. And even though this has one of the most extreme cases of adulting up an English dub, you can always watch the original Japanese, which features some well known classic cast members. With all the love, popularity and hype for Ghost in the Shell, I seem to resonate and return to Appleseed more often. How about you?