#64 : Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy

L3_Fuma_1This release could be the spiritual successor to a former release of Lupin III, The Castle of Cagliostro. Oh, so does that mean that this was directed by Hayao Miyazaki? No, but the head supervisor, Yasuo Otsuka, was around with Lupin since the beginning and he has worked with Miyazaki and company several times in the past. Returning to a classic green jacket as opposed to the early 80s pink jacket, Lupin returned in 1987 onto the direct to video OVA market with Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy, or Lupin III: The Plot of the Fuma Clan.

L3_Fuma_2On the other hand, The Fuma Conspiracy can be considered… well… a supposed black sheep in the long going adventures of our favorite jacket wearing, sideburn clad thief. Not so for me, or maybe other fans, but from what I have heard from so-called experts say Japan often looks at this one with an odd face. Why? Well that classic voice cast that had been with the characters since the beginning was replaced. Perhaps for budget reasons, but the choices of Toshio Furukawa (Lupin), Banjou Ginga (Gigen), Mami Koyama (Fujiko) and Kaneto Shiozawa (Goemon). I love all four of them as actors from other productions, I mean come on! But, this is like the George Lazenby cast placement when everyone expects Sean Connery (James Bond reference in case that went over your head) and b.t.w. I love the film George was in (any fans of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?).

L3_Fuma_3Also different is how this OVA starts. We see our cast at a wedding… OK, so the quartet are looking to steal something here? Maybe, but this is Goemon’s wedding. Wait! Goemon, in a romantic relationship? I thought he only followed the way of the samurai and his partner was his sword. Yeah, well… things change. Now… there is this vase that belongs to the family Goemon is marrying into and Lupin and Fujiko have interest in grabbing it. Not so much for the vase itself, but for the hidden secret to a great treasure. Now this is sounding like a Lupin caper. But don’t forget, we have another party interested in this vase and the treasure that I have not mentioned yet. And can you guess who they are? Hint… read the title again. Yup, Lupin has to go up against the Fuma clan and… and… don’t forget Inspector Zenigata is here as well.

L3_Fuma_4Back to the idea of this production being a spiritual successor to the classic The Castle of Cagliostro. As I mentioned earlier ‘oldman’ Yasuo Otsuka oversaw production at Tokyo Movie Shinsa and the green jacket was re-instated. So what else shares commonality with the 1979 Miyazaki film? Well, remember that yellow Fiat 500 with the crazy supercharger from Cagliostro? It’s back and welcomed; indeed. And it is an even larger car chase than before. Another shared Cagliostro trait is the fact that this is more of a family friendly outing for our quartet. The red and pink jacket entries from the late 70s and early 80s brought Lupin closer to how he is in the manga. Although the original green jacket series from 1971 began as a very hard edge adaptation until edits were brought into play. Ironic?

When watching the commentary on the DVD that I own, I heard references to how The Fuma Conspiracy looks more similar to western styled shows of the area. Though I agree to a point, the movement, color and environment does slightly favor something from Tiny Toon Adventures. And this is appropriate as back in the day Japanese studios did a lot of the grunt work for animation made for the western market, particularly the U.S. And for Tokyo Movie Shinsa, the studio who has worked on all the classic Lupin titles, also did the animation for… Tiny Toon Adventures. Could have been the exact same staff?

For one of the longest running franchises in Japanese animation, Lupin III has been told and retold in a number of formats. Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy represented Lupin’s first foray into the new boom of the OVA market in the mid-1980s. Though the home video market has changed, Lupin has not. This is yet another solid green jacket adventure for Lupin III… do you see this large smile on my face?

#62 : Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

The red headed step twice removed cousin that you swear has to be adopted.  Much is said about the reputation of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ as the oddball of the original Universal Century timeline of Gundam. Now I can poo-poo all over this show too, but why? It is better to see the hidden glories inside this odd release. Let us instead look at the areas where ZZ Gundam does well as well as my areas of questioning, at least from my perspective.

ZZ_1First, it is well animated. Kind of generic, but Sunrise usually gives royal treatment to many classic series and that should not be overlooked. Also the change from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko to Hiroyuki Kiazume for lead character designer is not a bad change. Kitazume has great skills as an artist, so he is most welcome as a change. What would Judau have looked like other wise? Maybe a different eye shape perhaps? And by the way, is it me or are there like way more girls than dudes in this show? Nothing wrong with that and all of them are on the cuter side. Therefore the nickname for ZZ shall be forever known as Cute Girl Gundam (thats better than my nickname for Zeta, Bitchslap Gundam… just ask Kamille).

ZZ_2Second, patience and the 20 episode mark. When I first saw this series I watched about the first 20 episodes and was a little disappointed to say the least. In response, I did a very sensible thing… I took a break from it for about a month. Upon returning, to my surprise, the series began to change (for a short period of time) back into the older dramatic flavor of Zeta and MSG. This gave me faith to continue to the finish. And even though the show is far from perfect, I did finish it. Like anything in life, get away for five minutes to clear your perspective.

ZZ_3Third, we get resolution for Zeta’s tragic hero, Kamille Bidan. And after Zeta, I was worried beyond belief for Kamille, as he is my favorite pilot and the show just stops in a dramatic cliffhanger. Thankfully we see him get out of his shock and mental issues from the final battle of Zeta, though the price he paid for what he did may never be fully healed. The price of karma and severe PTSD on a newtype is a bitch! And… thank you Fa for standing by him.

Something else to consider… not every mecha series is, or even has to be, an epic space opera melodrama. While this may be true and can work for other shows, Xabungle and GoShogun come to mind, it is a serious jolt for my view on the classic Gundam Universe. Some may blame director Yoshiyuki Tomino since he has an interesting portfolio, but I know no anime is the sole responsibility of just one individual. Miyazaki may be the lone exception to that rule (he has his genius hands in everything) 🙂

ZZ_4Now for the main problem I have with ZZ. It is not the story, or the characters, or even the bizarre comedy. It is a more fundamental issue I have with many things in our culture. It’s that it is a product of a branding machine. The sole reason for ZZ’s existence is to continue a franchise to make more money. It’s a victim of marketing and higher ups trying to bend an already established universe and twist it around to make it appeal to someone else who would care less about Gundam. Gundam, like other properties, still continues today with constant revisiting leaving little room for originality. Perhaps mecha and Gundam perhaps are just dead concepts? Love live you beautiful giant robots.

…and also sometimes when a story is finished, it should be treated as such. Sequels after sequels are not always necessary.

So in the end we have a Gundam series that starts off with an introductory episode, the second episode features a food fight, we meet one of the missing Misfits from Jem and the Holograms and we get an episode where the boys have to dress up like girls to rescue their comrades. Not my typical definition of Gundam, but who knows, it may be more to your liking than you realize. ZZ Gundam may be far from perfect (what is perfect amyways?), but it is at least worth a view for the sake of posterity.

#61 : Baribari Densetsu

Man (or woman) and a machine working together is a beautiful thing. Not a computer, or an iPhone, but a machine that allows a human being to move at speeds beyond the capability of one’s legs. Moving at high speeds in a vehicle on a race track animated by the animation studios I love most… WE HAVE A WINNER! From a lover of finely crafted machines I present, Baribari Densetsu, translated as the Legend of Rolling Wheels, or Motorcycle Legend. And, this is way more than a story for just speed geeks. I promise.

BBD_1Our hero, Gun Koma, loves riding on his motorcycle, especially going downhill and trying to beat this rival of his who seems to have more skill than himself. Of course they both do this on public roads which makes it totally illegal and dangerous. Now what does this remind me of… Initial D maybe? …Well, well… turns out the original manga was done by the same guy, Shuichi Shigeno. How about that? Needless to say there is a heavy rivalry between Gun and the skilled Hideyoshi Hijiri (probably because he is shorter and smaller?), but there is another rider who one day showed the both of them up; their high school classmate; miss cute tomboy herself… Miyuki Ichinose, or just Mi.

BBD_2Yup, you two boys were schooled by a girl, TAKE THAT! There is good reason for this as she is the daughter of Ichinose Racing Team’s president, so racing would only come naturally presumably. Thankfully she is a generous one as she sees talent in both boys and asks if they would be interested in entering a four hour race at Suzuka racing circuit, but… Gun and Hideyoshi will have to run as a two-man team and get along. And while this race will become the big focus of the story, we have to remember that all our characters are still high school students. And as high school students the usual riffraff of trouble making bullies and romantic infatuations make appearances. Even hot headed and tough Gun has a girl crushing on him really, really bad.

BBD_3When we do get to the big race at the awesome Suzuka circuit we see how Gun and Hideyoshi grow from arch rivals into almost blood brothers. It is idealistic that they do it at one of the world’s best circuits. Seriously, watch any F1 race that was staged there or find a driving game with it included. Suzuka is demanding and fun. As for the racing animation I want to get back to Initial D for a second. One thing that Baribari does that Initial D did not, which maybe because it was the times or whatever, was show all the action as hand drawn instead of the PS2 looking CGI action. The movement is organic and smooth and all the bikes look like they are a part of the actual production instead of oddly placed.

And yet, after this big endurance race, we still have even more story to tell as Baribari Densetsu ends with a tragedy that borderlines on the unfair. Just as so much promise for the future was within sight, it all changes in the blink of an eye. Do I know any anime that features a motorcycle that does not end a little bit on the tragic side? Megazone 23, Venus Wars and Bobby’s Girl come to mind, but it goes to show that one must always be careful when taking responsibility of a two wheeled machine.

BBD_4Baribari Densetsu, for me, is a gift from the heavens. From early childhood I have always enjoyed motor racing. Not for the adrenaline thrill, but for the elegant dance of man (or woman) and a machine on a track. It takes great skill to guide either car or motorcycle at racing speeds and for that I have great respect for those who do it well. Even though I don’t follow the professional circuits anymore, I still yearn for that love only this time within another love of mine, that being anime. Classic anime’s default answer of course is Speed Racer. Then there is the rallying OVA Goddamn (which is ok) and the F1 series I would die to see, F. Is there anything else besides going to Future GPX Cyber Formula (just not interested). Then fate landed this motorcycle racing short into my lap. Thank you.

If only I had a TurboGrapx-16/PC-Engine as they had a Baribari Densetsu game. Oh well, there is always my trusted SEGA Genesis and Super Hang-On 🙂

 

#60 : Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period

Japan, the feudal era of approximately the early 1580s, is where we find a demon lord that has come to power… He is looking to unite the country all for himself… There is a legend of a comet splitting the sky telling of his coming, but also of a legend of three weapons that have the power to take this dictator down. These three weapons: a long sword, a halberd and a short sword. That legend is Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period.

Yoto_1Is it me, or does Yotoden feel like a 90s production (it was originally released in 1987)? Almost like mixing up Ninja Scroll, Record of Lodoss War and the more serious elements of Rurouni Kenshin? Maybe? Or, maybe not, but for me it showed the direction where a certain branch of OVAs were heading towards in the next decade. Much like Lodoss War, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, or even the original Heroic Legend of Arislan (Arslan), Yotoden is an epic. A BIG EPIC! And yet it is contained into a small amount of space (just three episodes). Yet, that space gives enough to show off our main cast of heroes: Ayanosuke, or Ayame, the tough pretty girl, who has the short sword; Sakon, the quiet rebel wielding the long sword (he could be a proto-Kenshin with that red hair) and Ryoma, the big guy with heart, who has the halberd.

Yoto_2Much in the tradition of shonen action, our heroes have to fight through foes before getting to the final big boss. Except… we have no gratuitous filler; we have a tight schedule to keep here. These foes are the seven Oboro ninja and the boss is known as Nobunaga Oda or could it be his henchman Ranmaru Mori? And much like other shonen adventures, there is a heavy, heavy emphasis on… action, yes, but the supernatural, even more so. Monsters, demons and omens written in the stars make a huge chunk of what ties the whole story together. Maybe if the original novel by Takeshi Narumi was more focused on direct realism it would have been say more like Legend of Galactic Heroes in approach, but this is me on a soapbox. It’s a fine fantasy story, with great drama and even the little tinge of a possible romantic feelings between Ayame and Sakon. Not a bad combination of elements if I say so. I mean why tell history the way we think we thought it was instead of making it into what you want it to be?

Yoto_3Two versions have been released of this early J.C. Staff creation. The first, the original 1987 three part OVA of approximately 45 minutes each, which bear the name of the title of this writing (though only on VHS here in the west). The second is a collected movie version from 1989 called Wrath of the Ninja (DVD is available in the west with an optional dub) and was a minor staple on cable television during the late 1990s. Pick your poison as both are action heavy and move at an even pace. I like the original three parter since it goes a little more in depth (I am partial to the episodic format), much like my relationship with one of my favorite 90s OVAs, Macross Plus.

Yoto_4Now I will be the first to admit that I am no expert in Japanese history, or the so-called historic or samurai genres which number in the plenty. But, what I have seen, has been a good watch. It may not be the most natural cup of tea for me in particular, but the flavor is a welcome experience. I like Yotoden enough to give it a watch every couple years, but I doubt it will ever be top ten or twenty in my book. I like it and it should be a hidden gem recommendation that often does not see enough time in the sun. Fight on fine warriors of the magical blades and bring about the prophecy of justice.

And whoever did the character designs… nice job my friend. (According to Anime News Network it was Kenichi Ohnuki… I leave it up to you to check his resume)

#59 : The Professional: Golgo 13

Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13, you sir are one tough motherf$@%&#.

G13_1To preface the premise of Golgo 13, think James Bond, more like Daniel Craig or Timothy Dalton’s portrayals, but even more sinister. Also think of Lupin III, but a Lupin who has no sense of humor. Golgo 13 is the definition of a hired hitman, or perhaps maybe a programmed machine. He is more humane than say M.D. Geist (I still don’t get that dude, but I have written about that already), but Golgo 13 is still a very stoic and pragmatic individual. His life is a series of contract hits to frag spliced between getting into bed with one glamorous woman after another. To some The Professional: Golgo 13 may be the ultimate action flick, but this film displays other aspects that make it a visually artistic classic.

G13_2One name makes me think of this movie and it’s not the original creator, Takao Saito. The man I am thinking of is in my opinion one of the greatest directors from Japan, one of studio Tokyo Movie Shinsa’s (TMS) best, the one and only, Osamu Dezaki. His style of rough thick lines, triples takes, dramatic lighting and pastel still shots add a level of film noir, style and sex appeal that transforms the story of a dry hitman into perhaps the best pulp noir comic come to life I have seen to date. It looks un-mistakingly hand made, with the exception of the early CG footage in the titles and the goofy helicopter sequence (why did they not just hand draw it?). In my honest opinion it may be the best adaptation of Dezaki’s visual style. Sex and violence never looks so… stylish?

G13_3The plot meanders around various segments, but there is a singular tie that holds everything together. Tycoon Leonard Dawson on the day of his retirement is about to hand over his empire to his beloved son Robert until… until young Robert is murdered in cold blood. Enter the melodrama. Leonard Dawson throughout the film in a psychotic rage has only one passion and that is to get the man who took away his son. And guess who shot Robert? None other than Golgo 13 himself. So why would Golgo 13 shoot young Robert? Because that was his job, his contract to fulfill and I will not reveal who it was who hired Golgo 13, but it definitely makes the movie a very interesting experience. One great plot twist that makes the ending completely difference than what you expected.

G13_4I want to come back to the element of style for this movie. Though it was produced in 1983 and the original manga began in the late 1960s, this movie to me feels very 1970s. Give me the wood grain finish on anything, or everything in any scene’s room. Show me those funky clothes, the nasty smell of Golgo 13’s choice of cigarettes (Parliaments no less), the Farrah Fawcett styled hair from character designer Akio Sugino (I swear all his women could have been one the cover of Cosmopolitan back in the day) and the showcase of classic cars.

Another way I can look at this movie is to compare it to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. While both films are wild rides and have a similar look, at least from my eye, I find The Professional: Golgo 13 to be less romanticized or idealized, maybe even fun. Both films deal with the story of a hitman, but in typical style from Japan, Golgo 13 is not Hollywood-like and thank goodness for that. I often wonder when this film originally was produced if it could have been created for the Western market as a possible export. This is one of the few films I can show my dad, who is not into anime at all. But, he likes mob and tough guy movies and Golgo 13 hits that mark very well.

The Professional: Golgo 13 may not be everyones cup of tea in regards for story, but I have to highly recommend watching this film at least once to see the style of Dezaki’s work in action. The Space Adventure Cobra movie is another possibility, but it does not hold a candle to Golgo 13 in terms of mood and visual story telling. Lastly, I hope you are never on his hit list and just in case if you are… “I pray for you. Pray for you (enter the whaling guitars).”

#58 : Akira

Akira_1You my friend are like Bob Dylan. You are the spokesman (or perhaps spokes-anime?) of your generation. And such a fitting title to boot. Akira. It’s short, sweet, bold and makes you wonder what the movie is about? And for several years, if not a couple decades and change, I still ask myself this same question. And from all the viewings I have come to my own meaning since I am not all that familiar with the original manga. In any case, Akira stands as one of the quintessential definitions of what anime can become… huge, epic, thought provoking and awesome red motorcycles. For many otaku of a certain generation here in the west, it stands as one of the first anime that either: a) made us anime fans or b) solidified our love of Japanese animation to a level we had no idea that could be reached or even existed.

Akira_2Epic, sublime and down right dangerous… this is the world of Neo-Tokyo in the aftermath of a devastating war. Politicians and the military try to fight for power to control the masses and yet let the society kind of deteriorate at the process while they greedily grab cash and power at any quick moment. Remember the scene where the counsel member who tried to escape with his briefcase of money only to die in an alley from a heart attack? And it is in and on these streets that have gone to waste we find our main characters. They are street punks, juvenile delinquents, who ride motorcycles and fight rival gangs. And two of them will be our heroes so to speak. A small, quiet, insecure yet angry young man named Tetsuo and a cocky self assured leader who has quite possibly one of the most iconic motorcycles to appear on any screen, Kaneda.

Akira_3Eventually these boys will come into contact with the military authorities and their lives will be changed forever. Either through contact with what looks like old children who have esper type abilities or perhaps awakening a power within himself (could it be possible to awake this in all of us?), Tetsuo begins his journey of becoming a power beyond control as he is carried off to be examined. The struggle begins now as Tetsuo, who only wants to be left alone, is constantly being controlled. And much like school shootings of recent history in our ‘real world’, Tetsuo is a textbook example of allowing a potentially good kid go bad. He is to blame for the eventual destruction he lays out on the city, but that blame belongs to us as well as we let potential young people rot away into self pity and depression. His responsibility is ours and ours is his.

Akira_4My view of Akira is that no matter the environment or circumstances, we are the creators or destroyers of our world be it within the confines of the body or what we perceive to be the outside world. The more we try to control the outside environment, others around us or use the gifts given to us to harm or disconnect us from the natural surroundings, we are doomed to failure. But from failure and destruction much like a phoenix, there is great potential to start again. All endings are beginnings and likewise all beginnings are endings (the constant cycle of life and time). It is how we adapt to these changes that will show the results.

Go big, or go home. Such is much of the work of original creator Katsuhiro Otomo, as all hell will break loose and get out of control if we allow the weeds to permeate the garden so to speak. Akira is also a hallmark of the quality of one of the best studios in Japan, TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). You can see this as an action film, a fluid piece of animation, or an allegory to what potential we have in all of us. I cannot deny the awesome power of what Akira is for me as a fan; it is required viewing to truly appreciate the power of what anime truly can express. No matter what, I will always cheer GO! GO! Akira! 

…Now I need to find a dealership that has Kaneda’s bike. Any idea what make or model it is?

#56 : Genesis Climber Mospeada

mospeada_1Long ago, and yet supposedly set in the early 21st century, a band of six individuals bonded together out of fate to be a resistance squad to fight against an alien invasion. And what a rag tag group as it shows you never know who your friends will be. But at it’s heart Genesis Climber Mospeada is a mecha show with a unique transforming concept. And like the name of Mospeada being a type of motorcycle, this show has been around with me for a long, long ride. Strap on your helmets, we are about to head out on the open road.

mospeada_2As for the unique concept mentioned earlier, I have always enjoyed the gimmick of the motorcycle becoming wearable mecha armor. IT’S SO TOTALLY COOL! I remember the first time I saw the so-called transformation way back when and I said in awe, “Whoa… that’s different… I LIKE IT!” Of course this may not be the first time it happened in anime, I have no proof of what was first, but the idea would repeat itself in Megazone 23 (another favorite of mine). Of course both of these shows featured the mech designs of Shinji Aramaki, who would later become a director of a couple CGI movie adaptations that fell flat for me.

mospeada_3Our story begins with Stick (I liked the mistranslated Stig as well) Bernard, a young pilot coming from Mars who is part of a military unit intent on reclaiming Earth after the invasion of the Inbit. Tragically after being shot down by the Inbit’s insect like mechs, Stick finds himself alone as the lone survivor of the failed mission. In typical military fashion, he continues on to find the Inbit’s main headquarters of Reflex Point. But along the way he would gain allies: a desert rat scrounger (Ray), a crybaby kid (Mint), a hot shot blonde with skills (Houquet), a cowardly, but dependable mechanic (Jim) and a lounge singer who turns out to be a soldier who uses the singing act as a matter of hiding out from the Inbit (Yellow, the first individual I ever saw who pushed gender stereotypes). These six gain camaraderie by pursuing Stick’s goal of finding Reflex Point and finding others who are willing to fight for the cause.

mospeada_4One aspect that makes this show great is the fact that to me at least it feels like a western. Our cast are like strangers that come into a town every episode and while each episode is it’s own story it builds towards the whole of the totality. It’s one of those solid series that works for me on a personal level and is one of those shows that has three distinct reasons that make it shine. One is that it is a product of that fabled studio known as Tatsunoko, you got to love the tradition (Speed Racer to Gatchaman, to production on Macross and Evangelion). Two, the character designer Yoshitaka Amano. Not the lilting gothic look most of us are used to, but still the same quality. And of course the music is by old Joe… Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack is more rock and jazz compared to his grand work with Hayao Miyazaki’s films, but still memorable.

mospeada_5Now to compare to Robotech: The New Generation, I actually have a slight favoritism toward the Americanized adaptation (let me explain). Not saying it is better by any means and I am not flying a flag on stating the original is the measuring stick to follow either. Some of the story development I just preferred in the Robotech version and I can point to two direct points. One, Yellow Belmont (Lancer) was voiced by only one person, a male. True he has the dual gender identity, but keep it honest with the singular voice, just slightly changed. Yellow can rock a dress, but he is an androgynous man , ‘The Lonely Solider Boy’ (just better consistenancy). And two, the character and saga of Rainy Boy (Dusty Ayres). His revenge story in Robotech seemed more interesting than just being a mercenary working along with the Inbit to win back his freedom. Definitely one of my favorite anti-hero characters of all time; tragic, yet powerful.

I often think that the initial anime you are exposed to leaves the most indelible marks on you as you progress into fandom. Some you may out grow due to aging or peer pressure, some you may continue to grow into your first experiences and some you end up trying it on again to find it still works the same as before. Mospeada has always been a strong contender in my book and I am sticking with you till the sun sets in the west for the final time. Long may you run Mospeada… long may you run.