#41 : The Wizard of Oz

Alright now… how many of you have seen the movie The Wizard of Oz? WHOA, lots of hands as I expected as this is a cornerstone for a lot of us who grew up since it’s release on 1939. Now I got one for you… how many have seen an anime version of The Wizard of Oz? Oh yes they exist and from the looks of it I see a couple hands, OK. This interpretation I will be looking at was something I saw way back when I was a little munchkin. And I from what I remember my mom taped it off TV for my sister and I to watch and to be honest I am sure mom wanted to see it too. This is the theatrical version (an alternate TV series was made later) of that little book written by L Frank Baum.

wooz_1Oddly this was released here in the west before Japan, kind of like the original Transformers: The Movie. I wonder if this was a production that was made for us over here first and eventually Japan pulled it off the shelf to give it a go in their market? I can’t say for sure as that is not my area of expertise. What I do know is that it is a product of it’s time, particularly the dub which features Aileen Quinn (remember Annie?) as Dorothy and long time Hollywood alum Lorne Greene (Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica) as the Wizard. Both are well known names of the time, but today… anyone remember these two? And yes this dub is cheesy, like melted cheddar, maybe limburger, ok actually Velveeta, but you know what… who cares.

wooz_2As for the Japanese version I have never seen it. And with something this odd finding the original track in this section of the globe could be a little close to improbable. I don’t say impossible, because in many ways the impossible has proven to be possible in regards to coming across classic anime. In time all things come to your collection, you have to work for it a little more. And from a little research it seems Jo Hisaishi did the music in that version (the English track I doubt is his music as it does not sound like Jo, or it could be a redo on the lyrics?). And I forgot to mention the animation was done by that little studio called Topcraft. You know they did Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Miyazaki hired up a bunch of their best talent to make Studio Ghibli. This was also the studio that made many classic Rankin Bass cartoons like The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit and Flight of Dragons amongst others.

wooz_3Now… I am sure you know this story… Kansas girl with her puppy gets swept up by a tornado in her house and lands in a strange land. And she gets some fancy shoes by killing an evil witch with this house and she has to walk a yellow bricked road to meet The Wizard of Oz himself to get her back home. Kind of like Escaflowne, Rayearth, or Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, except this story goes way back to the early 20th century and our heroine gets those fancy shoes. Ruby slippers that seem to fit her perfectly like she hit the clearance rack and struck gold finding a pair of designer brand pumps for next to nothing. What a vacation find! And of course Miss Dorothy has golden locks instead of the familiar brown of the Hollywood classic. Some sources say the original is blonde, but I leave that up to you.

wooz_4As a movie I liked it then and I still like it now… with some caveats. Could be nostalgia, but it is simple and charming. And also far from perfect. But it works and that’s all that matters. But what about a younger generation’s opinion of this 1982 version? I have shown it to my niece and she liked it though she is not the big anime fan except for Pokemon… but then again Pokemon is beyond anime itself. But someday… I will some how, some way, get her to love anime as well. It all comes down to finding the right show or movie. But if you have children yourself or work with children I would say give this one a chance as an alternate because the work needs to watch more animation… PERIOD!

In the end we have a cheesy rendition of a classic western tale, mixed with a little singing, decent character designs and one scary Wicked Witch of the West. So toast up some bread, melt that cheese, eat that grilled cheese sandwich and have a “Wizard of a day…”.

 

#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.

#38 : Space Adventure Cobra (movie)

For most of us, and long before the newer releases, we had two avenues to see Cobra. You either started with the movie being discussed here, or the TV series. And though it is the same character and surroundings, both options are very different. For me I went with the TV series first. When I got to the movie I thought… wait a minute, this is kind of… not the same. Almost like watching the Ghost in the Shell movie compared to the GiTS: Stand Alone Complex series, there is something a little not unlike the other here.

sac_m1As stated earlier the setting, characters and feel are still very much like the TV show, but Cobra the movie, is much more surreal. Surreal to the point of being psychedelic? And perhaps I dare to say slightly darker tone. Wait, how can Cobra be dark? This is Cobra, one of the heights of fun space adventure science fiction. But, if you see the film you will understand. Even the look, going back to the surreal and psychedelia, wraps itself into the movie. It’s director Osamu Dezaki’s vision through and through filled with vivid color and odd moments of spectacle. Without question it is one of the most visually appealing films of the 1980s. You can watch this film on silent and still have an experience you will have a hard time to explain with mere words. And as this is a space sci-fi movie, the experimentation of techniques used here are… far out, but not lost in a mess.

sac_m2The story is a reimagined tale of the first arc of the Cobra TV series and manga. Cobra gets caught up with the beauty triplets of Jane, Catherine and then Dominique as they try to search for the lost treasure… no wait that was dropped… they are searching for love? Well the girls are and guess who is the one who is loved? It’s Cobra himself; I wonder if Lady Armaroid is jealous (Cobra’s female robot sidekick). But, love? I said that the TV series was sexy and this movie is in a way as well, but it’s a more monogamous, perhaps tri-gamous, as Cobra is not being the usual ladies man. How can he? We have to keep to a tight schedule on this movie and only the sisters are for him to admire. It works.

sac_m3Of course the crew are aided with advice from Professor Topolov/Toporo… and where did this guy come from? He is always floating in a bubble and he is kinda creepy. Almost like a chaperone for Jane and the girls… who thought up this guy? And then Cobra has to duel it out with the classic villain of no compare, Crystal Boy/Bowie! That dude is creepy no matter where he is presented, be it TV or movie. Pure genesis having a naked crystal clear man as your antagonist (very,  very bold).

sac_m4My only gripe is that the Japanese voice cast for the film is not the same as the TV show. It’s well done, but it is odd who a television series and a movie made the same year could not share the same cast? A little disappointing, but hey the English dub is not too bad. So I can watch Cobra in English? OK, plus it’s Dan Woren’s voice as Cobra. It’s no substitute for the TV series, but it is equal in it’s own way. You have to see both to understand. But what makes either version great, and in particular this movie, is the production quality. Tokyo Movie Shinsa back in the day always had a great look and with Dezaki as director, it shines even brighter.

A toast to Space Adventure Cobra… and maybe be like Cobra and enjoy a cigar, or maybe not as it is not healthy.

#37 : The Mysterious Cities of Gold

mcog_1I had no idea my childhood was incomplete. Years ago I kept running into this show that a lot of people said was one of the best 80s cartoons. How can that be, I have seen the really big ones… or so I thought. And to my gleeful astonishment, it counts as an anime as well. A co-production of DiC (many favorite memories from this company) and Studio Pierrot, this 1982 show aired in France and Japan, on the NHK no less. Later it would be dubbed in English and shown in England and North America, but alas I did not have Nickelodeon (no cable TV at my house). I may have missed my chance back then, but thanks to the internet and DVD I would get to travel back to the 16th century to discover the awesomeness of The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

mcog_2Que that classic soundtrack by Shuki Levy (the Mozart of 80s cartoon themes) because we are about to embark on a great adventure. Young Esteban, an orphan boy in the care of a Spanish priesthood, who has this mysterious power to bring about the sun, stows away on a ship bound for the ‘new world’ of South America. Envious of the sailor’s travels, Esteban learns his family lineage is from this area of the world. Aided by Mendoza, a man who saved Esteban from drowning years ago while in the Atlantic Ocean, Esteban begins his quest for adventure. While on board he would meet an Incan girl named Zia, who is held prisoner as she is said to know how to find the illustrious cities of gold. Eventually the ship is wrecked and Esteban, Mendoza, Zia with Mendoza’s lackies Sancho and Pedro wash up on shore to eventually meet a native boy of the Hiva (or Mu) people, Tao. Together they search the vast expanse of South and Central America searching for these ‘mysterious’ cities of gold, evading the Spanish, meet natives, try to locate the missing family members of Esteban and Zia and find two great treasures: an awesome sailing ship and a golden condor. I want to sign up for this trip!

mcog_3How did I miss out on this? I loved many of DiC’s productions (and for many I still do). A majority of them were tied to toy lines, but not this one. Based loosely on Scott O’Dells’ The King’s Fifth, the only thing this show had to sell was the story. Getting back to DiC, I see many similarities between The Mysterious Cities of Gold and other shows. Esteban looks like a miniature Jayce from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (one of my all time favorites). His hair is similar (missing the white streak), he wears a medallion and his costume is very close. And Mendoza looks very similar to Herc from Jayce as well. Also the group dynamic is similar to again Jayce and another early collaboration with Japan, Ulysses 31, but each show has their own chemistry. So we have a new take on a familiar formula. I like it.

mcog_4My only gripe is that as the show progresses, it goes from a period piece to a more sci-fi affair, particularly with the appearance of the Olmecs. Since when are the Olmecs bad guys, I mean we don’t know much about this ancient group. Why turn them in alien like trolls? Besides this minor issue (and trust me it is only minor), it is a solid paced serial adventure that grows each episode as you continue on. Will our cast find all the cities of gold? Can Mendoza be trusted? Is the abundance of gold the real treasure? And how come this ‘new world’ is more ancient than the ‘old world’ of Europe and such? Atlantis perhaps? That remains to be seen. Also don’t forget to catch the the mini documentaries that aired at the end of each episode. WAIT, we have an educational element as well? How many more boxes can this show check off on the list of being ‘most awesome’?

Shows come and go, but legends never die. And shows that depict historical setting are more interesting than the real thing… occasionally. For The Mysterious Cities of Gold this rule can apply…“Goodbye, till next time”

#36 : Panda Go Panda/Rainy Day Circus

pgp_1There is the old saying that ‘anime’ is not for kids. It’s oh so mature and again… not for kids. For some ‘anime’ that is very true, but for all of anime itself, no. Is Doraemon for kids? Yes. Can a lot of the shonen and shojo titles that some consider ‘not for kids’ have an appeal and are made for a younger demographic? Yes. And Studio Ghibli titles, do many have an appeal to children, i.e. Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky? Yes, yes, yes and YES! What about an early film series from Miyazaki and Takahata, like Panda Go Panda and it’s sequel Rainy Day Circus? Yup, it’s all for the kids.

pgp_2Way back in the early 1970s, after their tenure on the first Lupin III TV series, our intrepid heroes Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were looking to do a project on their very own. A good decade before opening Studio Ghibli these boys had the idea that they could make a movie themselves, by their rules. The idea was simple, let’s make a version of the western tale of Pippi Longstocking. They even went all the way to Sweden to get the rights and in the end were rejected. Now what? Well why not take this character design that Miyazaki made who looked like Pippi and insert something else that could make it sell. What about pandas? They were fairly new to the zoos in Japan. Hmm… sounds like an idea that can work… OK we have a movie!.

pgp_3Thus Panda Go Panda was born. A simple tale about a girl who befriends a large papa panda (Papapanda), who looks like a creepy version of Totoro. Don’t quote me, but that dude is kind of scary to me. And a little baby panda (Panny) joins the mix as well as our young hero Pippy… I mean Mimiko becomes the mommy? And that’s as deep as this little story and the follow up Rainy Day Circus follows the formula. Both stories are cute as they are targeted towards young children and I don’t see anything non-offensive, except that giant daddy panda. Everything to him is nice, the weather is nice, the bamboo is nice. Maybe I am overthinking a simple kid’s movie?

pgp_4These two tales are the innocent days of being four, five and six where anything can happen because your imagination was not corrupted by TV, the internet or peer groups. I want to reclaim my innocence, then I could fully appreciate these titles. Though for the time these are great looking movies and with the shorter runnings time of just over half an hour each make them more palatable than say the longer Toei movies of the time like Puss n’ Boots and Animal Treasure Island. Besides all this, the historic significance of Miyazaki and Takahata making their own project is of great importance. Miyazaki contributed designs and the story and Takahata oversaw the whole production as director. Truly the best example of proto-Studio Ghibli.

Anime is not only for adults. Never has been and never will be. True we have titles that are made for more mature eyes, but you have to have titles that can be enjoyed by those before the years of puberty. Because anime in the end are cartoons and all cartoons are are images put to video. And cartoons, be it anime or not, are not mutually exclusive to one age demographic. There are cartoons for kids and cartoons for adults. Some of it is called anime and that is stuff made in Japan for Japan that ends up getting out to the rest of the world and we all fall in love with it. If you have kids and you love Studio Ghibli, well your kids now have the perfect gateway anime Panda Go Panda and Rainy Day Circus. In the end, we all win!

#32 : Zillion: Burning Night

Many and I mean many anime from the 1980s drew inspiration from a live action cult film, Streets of Fire (see it if you can). But how many have literally ripped it off to be a near clone? I know one… Zillion: Burning Night. The title is even a near doppleganger? This is one of my favorite odd ball OVA releases and one really does not need to have any prior knowledge of the Zillion TV series. All you need is a bucket of popcorn and an hour of time.

zbn_1Let’s give a group of favorite heroes another day in the sun. It’s the late 1980s after all and if a show was halfway successful give it a followup direct to video OVA release. Zillion was another fun sci-fi action series that had it’s fifteen minutes of fame back in 1987. Of course SEGA Master System fans do you remember the two games Zillion and Zillion II: The Triformation? They are based on this show. Hopefully you have a copy of each, just remember the jump and action buttons are reversed. So this a SEGA anime? Yes INDEED! SAY, GAH! It even featured the character Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone. But after a single season Zillion would wrap up the story, until… until the release of an OVA Zillion: Burning Night.

zbn_2So where do we start? Our heroes JJ, Champ and Apple, the White Nuts (how the Japanese term the words knights?), and friends are headed to a bar on motorcycles because what do you do after you save the world? Anyone? You form a band! Crank up the amplifiers and ready the cigarette lighter salutes folks. Not only can our heroes handle the awesome Zillion guns, they can also rock out till after midnight. And then a bunch of thugs rush in to kidnap Apple and take her away to the rough side of town. This sounds and looks a little familiar… kind of like the beginning of… Streets of Fire? Guilty as charged, but it’s an awesome near scene for scene rip-off and that is only the beginning.

zbn_3So now it is up to save Apple from the Odama Clan (originally the Nohza’s main bad guy crew, but now they are more human in appearance), but then Champ and JJ encounter an old flame of Ms. Apple, Rick (Ricks from the Japanese dub and also a former Nohza). As of writing I have yet to see the original Japanese version. The Streamline dub has some funny moments in the way they translate the script… “This must have a cast iron brain pan” is a good example. Not to knock it, I love the actors from ye old Robotech days and this was one of the first productions where I realized they were all involved in something else besides Robotech. Kind of like a comforting of reacquaintance towards nostalgia?

zbn_4When I eventually come across a release with the Japanese track and English subtitles I will need to put that into the top of my priority watch list. Truth be told this is not the most mind blowing OVA, but it makes a fantastic background companion when doing other projects. This is yet another odd treasure from my not so dusty VHS collection. I think I should get back to my shelves of tapes and review all the other oddball releases I have collected.

#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.