#52 : Ai City

“Everything today is a bargain sale of imitations. That’s why they’re after something real.”

I have an odd attraction to something that leans a little to the bizarre and artsy in anime. I love classics like Angel’s Egg and more modern fair like Mawaru Penguindrum. I also love psychedelia music, art and film be it the original stuff from the 1960s or works that draw from it’s influence from decades later. But what I really like is a). style and b). expression. And Ai City is all of this and something more and to be honest the ending still makes me scratch my head. I LIKE IT!

AC_1Let us consider a cyberpunk atmosphere that could be the future and yet looks like the present moment, whatever that present may be when you are reading this. Kind of like Akira, but instead of the Blade Runner-esque darkness and political intrique… well leave a little of that in for good measure… we need something a little more lets say 1980s and fun. Lets add in a discotheque feel and bright colors that invade into this dark climate. Now we are prepared for this 1986 film. And of course, throw in the fact that a majority of our main cast are espers with powers referred to in that catchy awesome song A Psychik Man. It says… “he’s got super psychic powers.”

AC_2The film begins with a chase between a bike gang who is headed by a pretty lady known as K2. They are chasing our main group of heroes in a car with our main man K driving (he gave the awesome quote at the beginning). His passengers are Ai, or is it I?, who apparently is a clone of K’s former girlfriend, but is younger in age and calls K Papa (?). And in the back seat we have a bumbling drunk detective named Raiden (comic relief) and a big old fluffy cat. Yeah for cats! Needless to say K and K2 meet up and we see how these two espers, or headmeters, charge up and fight. Not so much super saiyan style like in Dragon Ball Z, but they have these gauges in their head that change number amounts. Just watch out if they reach infinity.

AC_3K and Ai have escaped from the confines of an organization named Fraud and K2 is one of their lackeys. After the confrontation between K and K2, K2 disappears and comes back with a state of amnesia and she ends up wearing a Playboy bunny type costume and goes gaga over ohjisama Raiden. No lie to that, its that off the hook! The leader of Fraud, the menacing Lee (this dude reminds me of some offhand villain from Space Adventure Cobra) is having none of it and dispenses more lackays, one a bishounen named Mr. J to recapture Ai. And I will leave it at that because this is a movie that needs to be seen to believe. I have only describes the first third or so so just when you are about to get near the end be ready for an all-out artsy fartsy, off the wall, psychedelic experiences put to celluloid. Everything can and will fall apart. Now see what happens afterward.

AC_4The title itself makes me wonder… which one is my correct assumption for what it means? Of course one of the character names is Ai, which in Japanese means love. So ‘love city’ and could this girl named Ai/‘love‘ be the ultimate meaning of this movie? The idea that love and manifesting one’s happiness and not forgetting that primal emotion could be the key to all of life. Also, and I am no scholar in this area, but in that little book known as the Bible, in the Book of Joshua, there is a city that is captured and destroyed named Ai. And yes, at the end of the film, literally, all hell breaks loose. Or, could it mean Ai as in I, like your ego and watching that come crumbling down to rebuild a new self in case you have a faulty view of yourself and the world? These are a few of my interpretations and many are kind of deep. Maybe I should watch it again because I could be still missing something.

Fluid animation, a fun soundtrack and a stellar lineup of voice actors make this oddity a huge winner in my book. That and once you get to the ending. guess what? We basically start all over again from the beginning. For real? … yeah. Ai City may be out there and different, but it is never, ever boring. And to get back to the beginning, you remember that quote? Ai City ain’t no imitation, it’s FOR REAL!

#47 : Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh

Fast fact… the opening sequence to the first episode of Dangaioh is awesome. WHOA talk about a whole lot of fun crammed into about three and a half minutes. This may be my favorite anime of what I call popcorn entertainment… sit down and have a blast with no strings attached and to be honest, no real sense of depth beyond what you see is what you get. Dangaioh takes what was fun about super robot mecha from the 1970s and early 1980s and injects it with a dose of higher octane fuel and sprinking in a little esper super hero as the topping on the cake. Be ready to “Cross Fight” because I want to talk about Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh.

Dangaioh_1It’s time to separate from the uber serious space opera and so-called real robot genere of mecha and return to something more fundamental and basic. I view Dangaioh the same way as I view punk rock in that regard. And while pomp and circumstance of “big stadium acts” or “progressive rock” like titles of say Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross, or Ideon are very much beloved by me, I also find a relief in something simpler, harder and faster. Enter Dangaioh into the mix and I go… “Yeah lets ROCK!” But keep it simple and fun without over bloating it… like say contemporary action films of Hollywood.

Dangaioh_2In the process of the intro we meet our team of heroes who will pilot the Dangaioh machine. We begin with sensitive and level headed Mia Alice, crybaby and cheerleader Lamba Nom, hot headed Pai Thunder and Roll Kran, who is basically the useless guy. Wait a minute… three girls and one dude? That may be more common today, but for the 1980s that was something new. Usually it was the reverse with only one girl in a group of boys. Needless to say these four have been enhanced with esper qualities of various difference and their main purpose is to be sold to the “Banker” a pirate named, Garimoth, much to the chagrin of the jealous Gil Berg (who eventually sells out because why not, he wants to be the king of the group after all). Needless to say our four  heroes realize they are individuals and go against this predetermined destiny. Freewill wins!

Dangaioh_3And the fun starts from there. And over a period of three episodes we enter a “bad guy of the week” type of format. Again reminiscent of early days of mecha, Go Nagai would be proud to see the pendulum swing back towards a more simple approach to mecha. But, that is not to say it is completely elementary. The story at time digs deep into character psychology and in many cases backstory since our heroes are trying to rediscover who they really are. The artwork is awesome as well. As a fan of Toshiro Hirano’s style, it oozes with his certain touch of character design as well as overall direction. Plus, this has great mecha designs and ideas from Koichi Ohata. Nice to see that man’s skills as an artist than say a director, M.D. Geist anyone?

Dangaioh_4For those of us in the U.S., Dangaioh along with Gunbuster would be the first Japanese animation released subtitled on that old glorious format of VHS. Thank you U.S. Renditions for making this happen and it is sad you are not around today still releasing anime. These three tapes are collectors items for sure for some of us, including myself, but could you imagine purchasing one episode for about $30. And on VHS to boot, not say Blu-Ray or some other high definition source. How times and the market have changed.

Could it have been more than just only the three episodes? True there was that Great Dangaioh TV series, but nothing for the original. And that is fine, because why keep milking a story to death? Seriously, sometimes a great band may release an album or two and then move on to other personal projects. Dangaioh is very much the same. Rock on forever Dangaioh as we rise our lighters to the air for you. I will love ya till the end of time.

#46 : Black Magic M-66

BMM66_1You know what I love about the OVA format? In particular, the ones that came out in the mid-1980s… besides it was an awesome time for creativity… it is the fact you would get miniature one offs that were self contained. Under an hour was all the investment you had to give, which come on everyone, that’s not much time. And these were not promotions for a bigger project. These were the real deal and short and sweet. Masamune Shirow, known well for Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, would get his first anime adaptation in 1987’s Black Magic M-66. The rest they say is history.

BMM66_2Upon watching this one-off I am sure one thing will pop up in your mind. HEY NOW! This is very reminiscent of The Terminator. I am sure I am not the first to proclaim this, but it oozes the killer machine on the run, just not with Arnold Schwarzenegger stating, “I’ll be back.” This time we have a female bodied android and she is many times more dangerous and deadly. After a military plane crashes into an unassuming forest we find that two of these M-66s have escaped. Thus the military is hot on the trail along with guerilla reporter Sybel, who is our protagonist. Eventually one of the M-66’s gets taken down, but the other would find it’s way into the big city. And it’s target… I leave that to you to find out. There is no point spoiling this story.

BMM66_3…One thing I will say, wait for the scene in the elevator with Sybel fighting off the M-66. Well maybe not fight… more like, trying to stay at least one step ahead of this robot. This OVA may not have had the biggest budget, but the effect of turning and perspective in that tight space was impressive. I give you props AIC, even though most everyone else seems to give more attention to the other sibling you also produced in 1987, something called Bubblegum Crisis. Now back to our main content…

BMM66_4I will give this OVA three things that it does very well. First, as stated previously, it’s about 45 minutes long. And while it is a clone of cheesy action sci-fi adventure, it does not overdue it with a lot of Hollywood grandeur. It is like a compact sports car; a fun ride that does not get in the way. Second, props to making our main protagonist a tough lady. And being a Shirow work, she is in top shape and can take care of herself. I actually prefer Sybel more than Ghost in the Shell’s Major Kusanagi, because she is all too human and at times makes a mistake. And as mistakes are made I come to the third reason, that of humor. This show takes itself seriously to a minor point and that point is often broken because after all, this is a fun show. The is often the case with Shirow’s manga and I think the adaptations of Ghost in the Shell in particular paint Shirow as too dark. Au contraire. I often wonder if a lot of Shirow’s work is intentional satire.

As a beloved early staple of the VHS era, Black Magic M-66 has fallen out of favor and is often like that rare first album by a band that is passed over due to higher caliber releases that followed in the wake. It’s worth at least one view and maybe a second if you browse through a collection and say, “Well… this is a quickie. Why not?”

#45 : Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Whether in the afterworld or someplace else, the soul that used to inhabit this cold shell is probably not at peace. And further out there is a green planet… ” … I love that intro and yes I love this show. While I often think you can never go beyond an original, this is a big exception. This is not a sequel, nor a followup to Mobile Suit GundamMobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a melancholic ride of intensity that can never be topped.

ZG_1For me Zeta Gundam is the pinnacle of Gundam. I have not seen every Gundam series and to be honest I don’t know how I can. This show left a mark on me that I cannot shake even now. At it’s best it might be the most brutal and passionate tale of epic space opera mecha. The aftermath of ZZ Gundam and then Char’s Counterattack left me disappointed as I felt the story had no where else to go, or just didn’t go anywhere. Zeta Gundam, for me, was the top of what mecha once was and became. Even watching mecha related shows from later decades that take on the direct seriousness and drama, for me, are more cookie cutter or fall flat with being a bit too much for what it is (Evangelion is an exception, but that is it’s own brillance).

ZG_2When I first watched Zeta I had no idea what was going on and this was due to the fact that I had zero exposure to the Universal Century timeline. I watched almost a third of the show and proclaimed I had to go back a little further to make some sense of all this. Once I got around to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and digested all there was I was in much better shape. I would come back to Zeta and digested the first half this time with glee and joy. I would eventually purchase the second half and, no lie, watched the final 25 episodes in what was possibly one of the greatest endurance runs of my life. In the span of a day and a half I would finish that second half and my life was never the same.

ZG_3Zeta takes place about eight years after the original series and for me the real draw is our new protagonist. I love Kamille Bidan. Some say he is troubled, maybe autistic. It may be that, but his confusion and angst mixed with raw ability hit very close to almost looking in the mirror. I get this guy, totally get this guy. Also with the reintroductions of Char Aznable… I mean Quattro Bajenna (love those shades dude), Amuro Ray (who I still find it hard to believe had a back seat role in this chapter), Bright Noa (welcome back captain) and most of the other members of the White Base crew makes everything proper and tidy. And with a plethora of many more new characters in this series as well, it is sad to say that a minority live to the end. Many tears have I shed over and over again over the loss of so many folks including the troubled Four Murasume and the brilliant Emma Sheen.

ZG_4Now I want to discuss the ending. How do you describe it… kind of like a car accident? All that heavy action and movement, which breaks to a moment of reflection and confusion which seems to stand still. Where am I, why do I feel in shock that I can’t even talk, what just happened? How sad to watch our protagonist, Kamille, once filled with such passion and drive become nothing more than a confused shell. And that is our finale. Cut… done. That’s it? Yup and somehow even though many call it a downer and open ended ending, I find it beyond satisfying. This is not some wrapped up in a bow Hollywood every one wins and smiles at the end kind of ending. This is a close the book, take a breathe and sighing out type of ending. You have to take some time to process what has just occurred and not just only the ending, but the whole show as an entirety. And because of the need of this processing, it stays with you. LIKE GLUE!

Zeta Gundam… a product of it’s time, a pinnacle of a generation and a classic for all time. One of my all time favorites now and forever.

#44 : M.D. Geist

Let’s see what anime I can talk about. First let’s draw out a name from this basket here and… AH HELL NO! NO NO NO! For the love of the universe, why in all the world do I have to talk about M.D. Geist? It’s universally lauded, hated by some and obsessively loved by others… I question this last group of folks. WHY? WHY? … Ya know… I quit.

… ok I can’t quit just yet, give me one second here …

MDG_1Damn this is such a bad anime. It’s totally a macho cock swaggering violence fest. It is so badly written, acted, produced etc. that once you watch it a couple times… wait a minute. I watched this crap fest a couple times? Shaking my head, oh if it’s so bad why am I watching it a couple times. That is because ladies, gentlemen and everyone else, it is so bad, so dumb, so… cheesy and entertaining that it just… works. Yeah it’s so bad and so poopy that it’s… amazing. And I don’t mean like The Humanoid, I love The Humanoid as it has class. But M.D. Geist is like one of those really bad ‘B’, no ‘D’ action movies that you have to watch because you become a better individual in the process. After all why watch something decently blah when you can fill you life watching stuff that is amazing and  on the other end of the spectrum terrible that you are laughing at it more often due to the absurdity. Never settle for the middle of ordinary with your anime.

MDG_2So how was this production made. Japan had a lot of talent and money floating around in the mid 1980s. OVAs were starting to allow artists who were more production based like designers and animators to gain the coveted role of directorship. And Koichi Ohata, a genius mecha designer and animator, was given such an opportunity. Did he deserve the shot? Perhaps, but he was among a generation of those who got the opportunity… lucky bastards. And for those of us in the west Ohata would find a fan who would raise his production into legardary status, the head of Central Park Media (rest in peace great company) John O’Donnell. Not only would O’Donnell release and re-release this OVA, but would call for a sequel, because of course everything needs a sequel… well maybe not.

MDG_3And much like the production itself, the character of Geist can’t be killed off so easily. After all he is one of the ‘most dangerous’ after all. A creation of the conflicts of the planet Jerra, a universal killing machine of a man. And not only that, but he is unlikeable, crude, self absorbed and even asexual (just ask Vaiya, the only woman ever present in the whole OVA). The total anti-hero, but no… more like the villain as protagonist. So who does Geist fight for? The Nexrum Army? Nope. The Regular Army? No… wait the Regular Army… how generic? For Vaiya? Nope, he won’t even make a pass on her. He is fighting for his own cause and that cause is… uh…who knows. As long as he can keep fighting and shedding blood, he is living. Yeah, not much of a plot, but guess what the ending is only the beginning, even Geist says so with his final line of dialogue. Maybe now I see why there became a sequel a decade later… good lord. I’m done…

MDG_4Once considered the worst anime ever made, or sometimes the second worst ever made because “no one can agree on the worst” (AWO podcast) M.D. Geist has without question, a reputation, or perhaps a legacy. When it comes to bad anime, or maybe even that silly term ‘Manime”, Geist you are truly the king of all kings. May your crown never grow heavy. If you plan on watching this, go with the original cut in Japanese and not the so called director’s cut. But if you want a laugh… director’s cut in English all the way. One of the best awful dubs ever.

… and I might be a dork here, but anyone who is a fan of the show The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers if you remember Shane Gooseman… doesn’t he look like Geist?

#40 : The Castle of Cagliostro

There is one truth to this movie… it is magical. It is such a refined piece of work that has one name written all over it. That name is Hayao Miyazaki and this was his rookie outing as a director of a feature film. And he did it well. Just look at the care and precision and you would think this guy would go on to make and define the concept of what many consider top quality anime. And that would be the case. Hot off the press from his time working on Future Boy Conan, Miyazaki would leave his swan song for the 1970s with that little Lupin III movie that could, The Castle of Cagliostro.

coc_1I often wonder how many people know about this film? Definitely diehard Miyazaki fans and older fans who have been around for a while we know all and love it (at least I hope you all love it?). But, this is a true story, I wonder about younger or casual audiences. Once at my local anime shop they had a Jeopardy game going and the final question was… What was Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut? I was out of the competition, but I was all over it. The room was mostly those in their teens and early 20s and they could not come up with The Castle of Cagliostro. Being well into my 30s I blurted out the answer and one person asked how did I know? My answer… I’m old (wah wah wahhhh…)

coc_2In all seriousness I am not old, just classic. Just the same as The Castle of Cagliostro. This is a fine film and Lupin in this film is honored more like the original Arsène Lupin of Maurice Leblanc than that of the manga of Monkey Punch; he a true gentleman. And as much as I prefer the harder edged Lupin character, I can’t help but love this version of the master thief. In a similar way I look at this film kind of like my love of James Bond movies. I prefer the harder Bond be it George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig. But sometimes the films of Sean Connery or Roger Moore carry the character so well that I can allow a little more chivalry. Plus, Lupin has that awesome green jacket. I love that green jacket.

coc_3Besides all the Lupin-ness that is Castle of Cagliostro, this movie is pure Miyazaki. The look, the movement, the comedy is what we all have come to expect from the great director himself. From the word go Lupin and Jigen rob a casino and get away only to realize all the fortune that they heisted is plain and simple… fake. Counterfeit. And in a crazy fashion they cast the cash to the wind and we get into the titles with that beautiful ballad Fire Treasure. What a start! And then you get into one of the greatest car chases ever, antics working with and against Lupin’s rival Inspector Zenigata and a clock tower fight with the Count of Cagilostro that has been referenced in various forms from The Great Mouse Detective to Batman: The Animated Series. Funny thing in regards to The Great Mouse Detective is that Disney had to animate it with CG because it was difficult, yet almost a decade earlier the crew at TMS who made this whole movie did it all by hand in less than a year. Props to you Japan, I love ya for not denying the fact that stuff can get done!

coc_4Now some thing that came to me as I am an astrology buff. Yes I find weird connections to astrology because I am a dork. Isn’t it funny as how the seal of the Count of Cagilostro is a goat-fish… Capricorn. He is after all power ambitious, reserved and a little kinky (chasing after Clarisse). All descriptive of a Capricorn. Capricorn is also the sun sign of our director Miyazaki-sama as well. Too many connections. Though I am not saying Miyazaki is like the Count. Because that Count is a dirty old scoundrel of a man and Miyazaki is the premier definition of a taskmaster professional.

It’s not my place to say anyone should see a particular anime. We have our own unique tastes, BUT… Castle of Cagliostro is a very big exception. Watch it, own it, download it, spread it on toasted bread if that is your fancy as I don’t care how you appreciate this movie. I only care that you do appreciate this movie.

#35 : Dancougar

dan_1I often wonder how I would have felt about Dancougar if I had acquainted myself with this series much earlier? But alas I did not watch this show until 2014/2015 and by that time I had seen a multitude of mecha shows. All of those left certain expectations, tropes and to be honest a little favoritism to certain production. The designs and attitude of Dancougar scream 1980s to a tee that it has very few rivals, particularly Sara Yuki’s hair. WORK IT GIRL! But… but, I don’t know. Something seemed a little wrong when I finished. Almost like an awkward date that from the surface looked like a good combination, but in the end left me going… that’s it?

dan_2Now I don’t hate this show, it had a lot of potential. And that potential was never used to full effect. Kind of like watching a lot of cartoons from youth that did not have an overall plot and left so much left to speculation when the series was over. I mean you had a guy who backstabbed the Earth to join the invading alien force, Shapiro, and the same time left his girlfriend, Sara, who ends up becoming a his enemy. And by the way those aliens are some ugly motherf$%^*&s. You also had a pretty good hot headed lead guy in Shinobu. The Dancougar robot is a solid piece of machinery and we didn’t get to see it fully formed until a ways into the series. I give big props for this decision, because at least that was different. How many mecha shows can you name off hand that need to have the uniting all the pieces together sequence to sell a couple more toys to the kids from the very beginning? Too many…

dan_3In the end most of the plot structure is resolved, but that meant most of the episode count in between the start and end was perhaps… filler? My high point was watching Sara smack Shapiro for leaving her and the Earth behind. I wanted to see some more of this because that backstabber deserved a couple more. And the tension between Ms. Sara and Shinobu, come on, show me some more romantic sparks. So much lost potential. Now for as for the music, oh I love you many times over Dancougar. In particular the first opening Ai Faraway (Faraway Love) and the first closing, Burning Love are top 40 potential in every right. How can you have such great bookends to fill it with just a lot of… filler? Again lost potential.

dan_4It was 1985 after all and in a way mecha was having it’s initial swansong. Zeta Gundam, which came out the same year, capped off the era with a bang and with the incoming season of Shonen Jump fare like Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, time was running out for big bot adventures in space. At least for the old school classic fare in my regard; I guess you can’t continue an idea into infinity. But, here is the real mystery. How did the entirety of this show get released here in the U.S. in the VHS era? Don’t get me wrong I would love to own it (VHS addiction), but how did this happen? To Software Sculptors and Central Park Media, I give you a gold star for being so bold, but I think they got it in with a licensing deal for other Ashi Production shows. But, don’t quote me on that.

To be fair I think Dancougar will deserve a re-watch eventually as maybe I am wrong, but I have seen others who have had similar results, so I am not too crazy? Maybe. But, don’t quote me on that. If anything I will just want to admire Sara’s hair once again…