#226 : Giant Gorg

You know, sometimes there is nothing better than a show about a young boy and his giant mechanical companion. Mix that with a mysterious island in the South Pacific, natives, a corporate organization bent on owning the secrets of the island, a rogue criminal outfit, a small group of friends and the possibility of an ancient alien civilization. This sounds like one stiff cocktail to drink, care for a taste? I like this basic premise as I believe this could be a winner of a TV series. Let’s look now at a show that did mecha a little differently way back in 1984 by harkening back in a way to how mecha used to be. Have you ever seen Giant Gorg?

Thirteen year old Yuu Tagami is in for a big adventure. After the passing of his father he travels to New York City to meet one of his father’s colleagues Dr. Wave. He also meets Dr. Waves sister Doris and their Great Dane Argos. We begin to learn about the mysterious Austral Island, a place where Drs. Tagami and Wave both did research on, when all of a sudden they are attacked! Fleeing for their lives and also making headway towards Austral Island, they meet the Skipper who acts as their strongman of the group. They trek their way across America and eventually the Pacific where they sail the rest of the way to Austral Island. Again they are attacked leaving Yuu separated from his comrades when soon he encounters a new friend. This is someone much taller and more metallic whose size is threatening, but whose eyes and outreached hand shows a very compassionate demeanor.

Imagine this… if Hayao Miyazaki could have made a mecha series, Giant Gorg would have been a close possibility… and I mean close. Released in 1984, Miyazaki was busy working on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Giant Gorg on the other hand was created, directed and designed by the one and only YAS. That’s Yoshikazu Yasuhiko folks, the guy who designed the characters for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the director of the Crusher Joe and Venus Wars movies and the manga artist and overall director of the OVA adaptation of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Yeah that guy! Giant Gorg is a unique part of YAS’ portfolio as this was his lone auteur project produced for television. As stated earlier Yasuhiko had a hat and say in many areas, but it was definitely not created by him alone… or was it? Either way what you get is one sharp looking, well polished release from a studio well known to many of us, Sunrise.

Giant Gorg may remind me in many ways of Miyazaki, but this 26 episode TV series belongs totally to YAS. Certain elements appearing in Giant Gorg would never appear in a Miyazaki production. Yet my reference of Miyazaki for Giant Gorg is due to the fact that Gorg reminds me so much of Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan. A boy on a quest in the South Pacific joined by friends and going up against adversaries are similar to both shows. Maybe YAS also drew some inspiration from his work on Brave Reideen, a series from a decade earlier? This was a show that featured a found artifact type of mecha from an unexplainable origin. Yet in reality we have to go back to the giant robot origins appearing in the 1950s and 60s where the robot was more of a guardian for a kid than a piloted machine. No matter the influence, Giant Gorg was a modern retelling of classic ideas brought forth into a 1980s aesthetic.

There is that old saying that a dog is man’s best friend. In terms of Giant Gorg I think we could say that a guardian like giant robot is a boy’s, or girl’s, best friend. A metallic angel strong and brave with eyes as kind as a warm hug could be the best friend we all wished we ever had. Giant Gorg brought many of the elements of classic mecha tropes back into circulation that were left in the dust years prior. I must say… I like the change. There is something magical about Giant Gorg, almost wholesome in a way, that appealed to me from the start among other things including ending every episode on a cliffhanger… Tune in to the next, The same Gorg time, The Same Gorg Channel.

#219 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia

What is it about this beautiful cosmic sailing vessel? Captain Harlock’s ship the Arcadia is more than just a space battleship, it is a symbolic representation of many things. It is a call for freedom, a freedom that is beyond what we believe that definitive concept is. It is also an oasis for those who don’t belong in greater society. It is a symbol of pure moral compassion that is disconnected from profit or power mongering disguised as a fighting machine that stands up for truth, the exact equal to Captain Harlock himself. Yet the Arcadia is also the soul of a man who put his blood, sweat and genius, as well as love, into creating this piece of art, Harlock’s friend and sidekick Tochiro Oyama. All this and more is on display in a miniature feature film released during the original 1978 TV series and four years before the epic Arcadia of My Youth known simply as Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia.

… that’s a long title? …

H_MotA_1Rather than tell a new story, Mystery of the Arcadia would base its plot on an adaptation of the 13th episode of Space Pirate Captain Harlock known as Witch Castle in the Sea of Death, or The Castle of Evil in the Sea of Death (whichever translation you prefer). This is stated over many areas of the internet and I did check to see if this was true by pulling the TV series DVD set off of my shelf… yes, it is a variation for sure. Harlock is very pensive, unsure what course of action to take next until the distant echoes of an ocarina can be heard from the Earth all the way out in space. I love the imagination of Leiji Matsumoto in how it breaks the so called reality of our universe. The Arcadia seems to know for sure that this ocarina is from young Mayu and alters course immediately on its own accord. Just what is this ship doing? Eventually we meet up with little Mayu on Earth where the appearance of her guardian, Harlock, brings a welcome smile to her face.

H_MotA_2Temporarily Mayu boards the Arcadia bringing a sense of comfort to the great space battleship. Just what is going on with this ship? It’s as if it is tied to Mayu in some way and has a mind of it’s own… a real… mystery. She returns to Earth which leads to the crew of the Arcadia picking up a transmission that looks similar to other Mazone signals that Harlock and crew have been chasing. The Mazone by the way is the alien antagonist regime in the TV series, in case you did not know.. Located in the Sargasso Sea, Bermuda Triangle territory in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arcadia heads out to investigate. During a run in with Commander Kiruta’s forces (main Earth antagonist) the Arcadia comes into contact with a ghost ship as well that fires on both Kiruta and the Arcadia. Now we have another mystery, a third wheel in the equation… ghost ships… WWII battleships in fact (typical of Matsumoto)… this calls for even more investigation in the area.

H_MotA_3Consider this movie as filler if you have already seen the 1978 TV series as this really tells nothing new, but as a die hard Harlock fan I consider it essential watching, though you may disagree. I love the animation style that Toei and director Rintaro created for this rendition of Harlock (both the 1978 TV series and this movie) so I am a little partial towards it. If you have never seen the original TV series this movie would be a good minor introduction, though it does slightly spoil a plot element later revealed in the series (if you can figure it out). Toei used to make many short films based on TV franchises during the 1970s and show these ‘specials’ in theaters, usually in a cornucopia styled grouping. This was of course well before OVAs (home video was in its infancy during this time) and even the internet, so this was an alternative to watching your favorite shows again, except on the BIG screen. Oh how times have changed, but the legacy of Captain Harlock, then or now, stands as eternal.

#211 : Arei no Kagami: Way to the Virgin Space

Do you believe the universe has an edge where beyond that boundary is untouched, pure… virginal?. If space and the universe are infinite, how can there be an edge? We now are about to enter the realm of imaginative sci-fi space fantasy… rules and reason, yeah let’s leave that at the door. Ever hear of Arei no Kagami: Way to the Virgin Space? Like many obscure titles from the 1980s this was an unknown for me as well, but something about Arei no Kagami invited me in with something very familiar.

AnK_1Upon quick glance of the characters one who is in the know would easily recognize that Arei no Kagami is a part of Leiji Matsumoto’s portfolio of work. His hallmark style surrounds the visual appeal of the likes such as Galaxy Express 999 and Queen Millennia, amongst many others, but Arei no Kagami has many other similarities. A young boy in the company of a beautiful blonde woman on a sci-fi themed journey is a common theme expressed in the other two Matsumoto productions, but for Arei no Kagami we see a variation with an auburn female lead instead, Maya. Along with her is the young Meguru and both of them escape a planet torn apart by war to search for the promised land, the edge of the universe, Arei. Onboard as well is a stowaway android, Zero, who also yearns to find this special zone.

AnK_2Created specifically for Expo ’85, The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, 1985, Arei no Kagami would fit into the future oriented theme of the event. And while progress and the hope of things to come were the main focus, Arei no Kagami would also question much about humanity’s past actions. The dark side of war, hatred and mistreatment towards the environment and other humans would be brought forth to our trio of space explorers who must defend the human race’s more redeeming qualities. Architecture, the arts and advancements in science and philosophies would be presented as a counterpoint. Yet the entry into the virgin space of the universe demands the most noble of hearts… can these three characters pass the test of showing that the human race is far more than our past sins?

AnK_3Matsumoto’s Arei no Kagami was a fellow classmate to his former Yamato partner Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (Oh! ODEEN!). And as different as both men are (artist vs. businessman literally), both productions are literally… light years apart in many ways. Arei no Kagami is short (20–25 minutes), a concise story and has a feeling of conclusion. You feel in many ways you made it to the final destination intended. Odin is two plus hours long, confusing, over complicated and end ups going nowhere. I am still “Searching for Odin my love” like many of us. Matsumoto was always the stronger storyteller of the two and while Arei no Kagami is very simple and kind of generic, it does what it does well with a limited time span.