#138 : Gall Force: Eternal Story

What ever happened to our old friend Gall Force? Debuting in 1986 with a feature film that spun off into a pairing of direct single release OVA sequels and then a couple more larger arc OVA series, Gall Force seemed to become a major player in anime. Then quiet arose over the landscape and Gall Force faded away into the sunset. It’s time to come out of retirement ladies, we miss you! To get a foot hold and get reacquainted with this series as a whole we have to start from the very beginning. Let us return once again to the maiden voyage to the 9th star system with Gall Force: Eternal Story.

GFES_1All is war in the galaxy. It has been for a long, long, long time. Two factions fight it out to the death with their huge armadas of spaceships that fire laser beams that take up half the real estate of your viewing screen. This is the story of the Solenoids vs. the Paranoids. Wound coil magnets vs. people who are extremely afraid, or perhaps Black Sabbath fans? … “Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind, People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time” … Not exactly, but seriously, where do you kids come up with this stuff? No, this is more like… the battle of the sexes… in DEEP SPACE! The Paranoids (ugly parasitic monstrosities of aliens), being the masculine and the Solenoids (a race of women that look very ‘familiar’?), the feminine.

GFES_2Gall Force: Eternal Story is not my favorite anime of all time by a long shot, but it is one I enjoy watching for the fun of it. This was one of those titles that was part of the steady diet of titles that solidified my love for Japanese animation. It’s a sci-fi homage of everything we loved about space and adventuring through the galaxies all thrown into one. This is a film that borrows much from earlier titles in anime, but also live action references such as: Star Wars, Alien, 2001 and Star Trek. It’s a film that defines all that is generic and cheesy, but pulls it off so well that it’s classic. Even the English dub gives the movie so much character. Gall Force: Eternal Story is a film where everything falls apart in order to give birth to something new and fresh. One trial after another hits our heroines and slowly one by one they eventually bite the dust. And yet would you believe that this movie does ends on a happier note?

GFES_3Our protagonists are a group of seven Solenoid soldiers whose mission is to pilot their vessel, the Star Leaf, to the 9th system to defend a new world for colonization from the Paranoids, Chaos. Along the journey Eluza, Rabby, Lufy (my fav!), Catty, Pony, Patty, and Rumy run into several obstacles including repairing a part of the ship to activate the warp drive (which also meant a scary trek into the belly of space), a battle with the Paranoids, fighting a stow away monster and eventually… childbirth! An interesting voyage isn’t it? I mentioned earlier how the girls all look very ‘familiar’, this is due to the fact that they were designed by Kenichi Sonoda. These seven girls all prototypical examples of his character stylings, which were also featured in Wanna-Be’s and Bubblegum Crisis, both being early work Sonoda did at AIC along with the Gall Force series.

GFES_4I have a weird theory about Gall Force: Eternal Story… maybe it’s… maybe it’s… our true origin story? This will make sense when you see the film in whole and make it all the way to the end. To put this into perspective, a child is born from the mating of the Paranoids and the Solenoids and that child along with one of the girls are the sole survivors to start a whole new evolution. A whole new race, a new beginning. Kind of like Adam and Eve? Maybe Gall Force: Eternal Story is the opening parts of Genesis from the Bible? … In the beginning there was void and war and laser blasts covered the deep of space. And then God spoke and said, “Cut out the fighting kids and have a baby instead!” … I dunno, it makes sense to me, what do you think?

#88 : Dragon’s Heaven

DH_11980s OVAs… everyone and anyone had an opportunity to create one so long as you had an idea. Similar to the burgeoning Alternative Rock scene that was starting to take hold in the west, Japan’s animation market gave opportunities for designers and animators to take up the directors chair. As an example, if M.D. Geist is one expression of a mecha designer given free reign to create a little project where that individual has total control, then Dragon’s Heaven is the alternative. For the case of M.D. Geist, Koichi Ohata created what is perhaps the greatest worst schlock-fest anime with an anti-hero villian as our protagonist. And as for Dragon’s Heaven, Makoto Kobayashi would create something a little more tender and… special.

DH_2Special?… so Dragon’s Heaven, what makes you so appealing? The first five or so minutes begin with live action footage of a stop motion model of a mech, which details the back story of a post war world before coming into full cel animation to show we are now in the present. How odd to begin our ‘cartoon’ this way, but it works; almost like a low budget Jim Henson styled intro from say the Dark Crystal. The main animated section continues afterward for a half hour and details how a sentient robot, Shaian, wakes up after a long slumber to become reunited with a new pilot. This pilot is a young girl, Ikuru, who happens to stumble upon this dinosaur, or perhaps dragon?, of a robot. Together they save the world from Shaian’s former adversary and live happily ever after. Afterwards there is about ten more minutes of live action which documents the creation of the beginning of the OVA.

DH_3Dragon’s Heaven is cute and cliche, but its one of those heart warming stories that needs to be in mecha more often. You know the type of show where your best friend is a giant robot and the both of you do everything together and watch out for each other. Not unlike a sweeter Gigantor/Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo or Giant Gorg. Dragon’s Heaven reminds me of the thesis project I would have killed to have made when I was in school. Not that I studied animation, but just the fact of the simplicity of the piece and how it was presented is very attractive. Flat bright colors and a sparse esthetic to the backgrounds add to the lo-fi atmosphere. Somehow this kind of feels a little familiar? It was only looking through Makoto Kobayashi’s resume online that it hit me. Of course, face palming myself… Birth. Oh how I love that OVA as well! So that was Kobayashi’s mecha designs on Birth… you learn something everyday. That being said, Dragon’s Heaven is a close distant cousin to Birth by way of Kobayashi? I approve.

DH_4Many anime often end up being called buried treasure, but Dragon’s Heaven is the truest definition. Made by AIC, this one gets lost in between the bigger and more epic Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis series. Released in 1988, Dragon’s Heaven had competition from high budget giant OVA productions like Gunbuster and Patlabor. This little one had to come up against many a giant back in the day and yet Dragon’s Heaven still lives on because of word of mouth. I am proud to be one of the few to continue this legacy. Dragon’s Heaven… it’s that little old anime from 1988 that you can’t help but love.

#79 : Wanna-Be’s

Wannabes_01Let’s talk a serious topic here. Professional wrestling! To be more precise, women’s professional wrestling. OK? I bet you thought I was going to say politics and religion in our current society, or perhaps in 15th century Europe. And YES, we can talk about religion and politics, but I can’t just yet, because… because… we have to talk about awesomely cheesy wrestling anime for this entry. Recently we had an option come out called Wannabe the Strongest in the World, but that’s a newer entry and I talk about older and defunct titles. Perhaps if I shorten the title… to Wanna-Be’s… and like magic I have a wrestling one off OVA from 1986… press play.

CWannabes_02ould this be just a bad clone of the Dirty Pair? Miki and Eri are close doppelgängers to Kei and Yuri respectively. Maybe it is, maybe not, I say who cares! What I can say is Wanna-Be’s is perhaps the overlooked middle child for studio AIC during their 80s run where they created anime with a focus on strong female casts. The other two productions, Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis, had a chance to expand beyond being a single entry. Incidentally, Kenichi Sonoda’s character designs are all over all three of these entries. Wanna-Be’s, poor thing, never got to be a multiple entry production. Quality over quantity perhaps? Then again, an OVA about wrestling will never be highbrow material. And again I say who cares, the production runs just under an hour so grab that popcorn and… press play.

Wannabes_03We begin our story with a tag team match between the cute and heroic Dream Team and those tough bad girls with attitude, the Foxy Ladies. The Foxy Ladies are considered the queens of the ring and how they keep that crown is by fighting dirty and rough. The Wanna-Be’s, the Dream Team’s understudies perhaps, watch from the side lines as the nice girls literally get the stuffing knocked out of them. The match goes to the Foxy Ladies and soon their sights are set on the up and coming Wanna-Be’s. Now this is where our story starts to divert from a stock and trade sports anime, but then again in professional sports this next topic is an oh so common practice. And that would be? Performance enhancement! This is interesting… press play.

Our Lovely Angels, whoops wrong anime, I mean Wanna-Be’s would rather be out having a good time at the clubs, chatting it up with cute guys, etc., but that has to end. Getting back to performance enhancement, this is a call for lots and lots of… training. In combination with lifting and practice, these girls are under the eye of the Kidou Corporation as they use a mega-steroid to get pumped up to 1). be guinea pigs for this drug (this is only the tip of the iceberg of what is behind this company) and 2). to kick the crap out of those meany Foxy Ladies. Why can’t we just fight this fair and square kids? But then again, fair and square would have made this a mediocre and formulaic mid-80s OVA. Can’t have that, because I need a reason to… press play.

Wannabes_04Wanna-Be’s has an iconic spot on my shelf, on LaserDisc no less. Mmm… 12 inch platters are so yummy. I love quality anime (just remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder), but I have a soft spot for cheesy titles that have so much entertainment value that you cannot consider them bad, even if they don’t have a lot of lasting qualities. Wanna-Be’s is like The Humanoid for me in that regard. Products of their respective generation that have moved past their sell by dates and become unique gems in hiding. If you have a copy, either digital or physical, or come across a copy of Wanna-Be’s… press play.

#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?”

#1 : Megazone 23 (part 1)

For an updated perspective on Megazone 23 (part 1), click here.

M23_1Megazone 23 could be my favorite one off OVA of all time. True there are two other parts, well three since part three is a two-parter. Megazone 23, the first one, the original, is in my mind enough of a self contained story in and of itself. After all “there can be only one!” It is a quintessential time capsule of the era (1985). Plus, to me, the open ended ending is priceless. If ever there was a production that had everything, and I mean pretty close to everything I look for in an anime, this is one of a select few I draw from my collection without a second glance.

M23_2Megazone 23 is far from the first anime I was exposed to, but I can say for sure it was the first that solidified me as an otaku. Before Megazone 23 I had a good working knowledge of well known titles at the time and that I was aware of: Robotech, Gundam Wing, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Record of Lodoss War… you get the picture. Mostly well known popular stuff, quasi-casual may be a better term. I needed to locate more niche material. So I landed on Megazone 23 and Area 88, not a bad combination if I say so.

M23_3Begun as a so called follow-up to a show most Robotech fans should be familiar with, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23 had an interesting start. I often consider this show to be the true sequel to Macross (another nod to Robotech), if not in name, as it shares a majority of it’s key staff including director Noboru Ishiguro and character designers Toshihiro/Toshiki Hirano and Haruhiko Mikimoto (three men I have the highest of respect for). I won’t get into the historic details too much, but the production started off as a TV series with various working titles until the main sponsor pulled the plug. No money, big problem, what to do? Release it direct to video since that is a growing market and thankfully, that is what happened. Who knows how much of the plot was cut to fit it into an approximate 80 minute running time? But in the end who cares, it worked.

As for the story we have a young man (Shogo) who loves motorcycles, living in the world on his own who meets a girl (Yui) and then ends up meeting the mecha (Garland) and then a nemesis (B.D.) and then a 1980s equivalent to Hatsune Miku (Eve, Kumi Miyasato’s songs are great). Then all hell breaks loose as things begin to unravel much like a peeling onion. I often think of Megazone 23 as the ultimate growing up story where everything you have learned about life and reality is ripped from right under your feet.

M23_4Being the fact that this production was released direct to video, it gave those who grew up with mecha as their preferred genre an even more “realistic” grown up story following the growing sophistication of epics like Gundam, Macross and Votoms. Of course the growing popularity of the fighting genre (Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya) signaled an end to the television dominance of mecha. Zeta Gundam, also a 1985 release, is in my mind the capstone to an era in television where mecha grew in sophistication and serious subject matter that did not come back again until possibly Evangelion. Many of those who grew up in the 70s/early 80s now needed a new avenue to find material and in many cases material to match their growing maturity. Megazone 23 was in the perfect place at the perfect time.

And as for release in North America, there would be three attempts. First as part of Robotech: the Movie, which did not last long (even Carl Macek disowned it). Then came Streamline Pictures (Carl’s official release and a solid one) and finally ADV (the dub is totally rad man, hear it to believe it, but it is also a good effort). Both the Streamline and ADV release saw DVD releases, but are out of print.

Also is in some ways Megazone 23 can be considered an early cyber-punk release. Of course American cinema like Blade Runner and Streets of Fire were the bigger influences, but from Megazone 23 we would grow into the likes of Bubblegum Crisis, Akira and the early Masamune Shirow adaptations (Black Magic M-66Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police) later in the decade. Speaking of Streets of Fire, released in 1984, the cast see it in the cinema during the story, talk about paying homage.

If there is one thing that bothers me about Megazone 23, it is how much another “Hollywood” property gets a lot of the credit for the concept of living in a manufactured society run by a computer, even though Megazone 23 told the story first, sort of. Director Noburo Ishiguro has mentioned how the concept is very similar to a couple of Robert Heinlein’s short stories, so Megazone 23 may not have been the first either. All told The Matrix may have sold the idea in a large scale both culturally and financially, but Megazone 23 will always be my tale for a controlled manufactured society.