#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…

#31 : Arcadia of My Youth

aomy_1“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.

aomy_2Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.

aomy_3As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.

aomy_4The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.

In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.

 

#29 : Lupin III (Series 1)

No anime collection is proper without the adventures of Lupan San Sei, Lupin III. A product of the late 1960s counterculture in style and attitude, only one production of the famous thief can claim to be the closest to Monkey Punch’s original manga… sort of. The original Lupin III TV series of 1971, the ‘The Green Jacket’ series, is a study of two different visions in regards to production and outlook. Beyond that, this is the series that is official swinging 60s cool.

liii_s1_1The two visions in question look at being authentic to the original source material and a softened version by following the source material’s source material. The original concept of the show was directed by Masaaki Osumi and followed the approach of Monkey Punch’s manga. That being said, for approximately the first third of the show, the direction was hard boiled and mature. Adult oriented programming is often taken for granted today as normal, but for the early 1970s, this was untested ground. Ratings suffered and Osumi was soon shown the door to be replaced by the young and hungry Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Not overly enthusiastic, they took the job and followed the marching orders to clean up the show and make it appeal more for families and children. At first there were a handful of transitional episodes that became out and out fun and non-offensive adventures of the week.

liii_s1_2And due to the split nature of Lupin III, I have a love/hate, well more disappointed than hate as I can’t hate this show. As famous as Miyazaki and Takahata are and as well produced and fun the later episodes are, I really love the original vision of Masaaki Osumi. The attitude and grittier look are just brilliant. Lupin is not as much of backstabbing bastard as the manga, but he is still a bit of a scoundrel. And this kind of goes for the so called team of four: Lupin, Jigen, Goemon and Fujiko. It seems all four of them will one up each other to be on top (maybe not so much Jigen?) and that is a nice thing to see as it is four egos on a rampage. Particularly Fujiko, who I think suffers the most during the change. The big haired bombshell who would shoot Lupin in the back and have him in the sack as well gets a hair cut and her hemlines extended. Fujiko is a strong, independent and sexy woman who may be the most cutthroat of the bunch becomes almost a backup figure. Big mistake. Let Fujiko be Fujiko.

liii_s1_3So with all the grit and angst of the original one third of episodes, it should be a dark show with nothing funny. OH NO! Funny is the word of this show from the word go. My favorite episode, One Chance to Breakout, is comedic genius. After all what would happen if Lupin gets caught by Zenigata? He stays put and acts like a crazy man for months and months and months until he decides to leave. And poor Fujiko tries to break him out and every single time Jigen pulls her back to say let Lupin do his thing. It’s mature comedy, smart comedy that if you love Monty Python or Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb you will get it and in spades. Funny and bit bizarre on the side of being experimental. It is a shame they left the original intention behind, but at least that much got through the system.

liii_s1_4Also to make a small comparison to the Patlabor OVA to Patlabor 2: The Movie, we see a couple storylines in the Lupin III TV Series that ended up being used… again! After all episodes six and seven of the Patlabor OVA are similar to the plot of Patlabor 2: The Movie (similar yes, same no, Patlabor 2 is beyond perfect). As for Lupin III, you have an episode with a guy who makes counterfeit money with a clock tower/mountain and another featuring an odd guy named Mamo. I think these sound like a couple movies that featured Lupin a couple years later? Recycling done right.

Beyond the matter the of vision or production, the adventures of Lupin have always been about style. Cool style baby, YEAH! And that style looks damn good with a green jacket, a good addition over the red (not saying one is better, but from style preference, I like green). And I give the original Lupin III credit for the audacity to push animation into a more mature waters. After all, grown up kiddies still need cartoons too.