#127 : Fist of the North Star (TV Series)

fotnstv_1I often equate Fist of the North Star as a western, or maybe a modern tale of the roaming samurai. In any case, it is the same style of story, just from a different context and disguised as a shonen fighter. This is the lone wolf roaming in a world filled with chaos who makes change and restores balance by being the example to be. Fist of the North Star may be what many of us think it is, but once you watch the original 109 episode run, you may have to second guess what you thought and understand more so the feeling.

fotnstv_2The reputation of Fist of the North Star is often a slaughterfest, manly anime (MANime…face palm) and high intense action. These characteristics may hold true to a certain level, but on another, I see elements of balance, compassion and even… calmness. There is from my eyes a heavy Buddhist or Taoist influence to Fist of the North Star and it is best seen through our main protagonist Kenshiro. He possesses great strength and skill, enough to split an individual in two, or have one’s head explode. Yet he does this with very little effort, often from an acupressure point. And his stance is one of defense, he does not attack with anger or malice. Kenshiro reacts and uses his martial art abilities only when it is needed. Much like Captain Harlock, Kenshiro is an individual who is aware of the dualities of the world, yet they know how to react with composure. A true state of one who is enlightened and is in equilibrium with the masculine and the feminine.

fotnstv_3Being the progenitor, father, or maybe nowadays even the grandfather for the modern Shonen Jump styled fighting series, Fist of the North Star is a pure essence of the non-ending quest of episodes or manga volume about a hero who must fight to live. Fist of the North Star led the way to Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, then to Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Peace, Bleach, Naruto and the list goes on and on. Yet Fist of the North Star did not just come out of nowhere. Yes you can see the elements of Mad Max and Bruce Lee in the designs and environments, but Fist of the North Star also has much to owe to anime titles of the 1970s like Babel IICasshan and Devilman. Then we get to 1984 and Fist of the North Star debuts on television screens across Japan. In an industry that at the time was saturated by mecha and superheroes, the journey of Kenshiro was something fresh and some what new and yet a minor evolution as well.

fotnstv_4As a lengthy show one must be prepared to go in for the so-called long haul. Be patient and persevere through each episode. Fist of the North Star takes time to get warmed up so to speak and even though, as is the case with many of the shonen fighters, you may question is this is going anywhere? And slowly, much like an onion, layer upon layer becomes revealed and all through heavy amounts of drama and seriousness. Each episode reveals new characters, new fights and more drama and like the cycle of a day starts over again and again anew. Enemies becomes allies, fights turn deadly and important lessons to be absorbed by you the viewer are assimilated all at the same time and usually with a tissue box on hand. Fist of the North Star is a show about returning to love and sympathizing those who are flawed, yet still human.

If you want to take the shorter route, you can  immerse yourself into the 1986 motion picture version of Fist of the North Star. It has much bang for the buck, but it also is missing much of the story, characters and added drama that I fell in love with in this TV series. As is much in life as is with Fist of the North Star, the longer harder road is the path that rewards far more than the quicker fix. Just why did it all have to end with a clip episode? The answer is simple… the story has only begun… enter Fist of the North Star II. Yes folks, there is a sequel.

#126 : Magical Angel Creamy Mami

cm_1To be forever young… is it truly possible? My two cents says that without question and I will stake everything on it, that all magical girls do remain forever young. The pride and joy as well as perhaps the biggest backbone for all that is shojo in anime, the magical girl, is a genre and an archetype without peer. The 1980s witnessed a rebirth and reinvention of the magical girl and one in particular would be a leading example for one particular studio as well as a generation. In 1983, Studio Pierrot would marry magical girls into the world of the pop idol with Magical Angel Creamy Mami… thus a legend was born.

cm_2Two things hit me when I watched this show. First it’s adorable; can’t deny that. Though when you mention to people you are watching a classic title like Magical Angel Creamy Mami, especially those who are not in the know about anime in general, they may think it is some sort of porn title. IT’S NOT!!! Cream Lemon yes, Creamy Mami NO! This is a sweet wholesome show, something you can watch with the whole family… just an awkward title. And second, did Jem and the Holograms derive any influence from this show? Magic transformations and pop music idols are rampant in both shows. Maybe its a coincidence? Although to be frank both shows are completely different in approach, but I could not help but find a parallel between two shows made around the same time. Anyway on with the main program…

cm_3Miss Yuu Morisawa… our protagonist… a plain jane, average in many ways and very independent, but in a sweet way. She does not technically stand out, even to the boy that she is infatuated with (shame on you Toshio), yet behind the normality there lurks much potential. I appreciate that she is an opposite to the popular Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon). Yuu is not quote, a dumb blonde, a ditz… annoying. Perhaps this is more than likely why I have issue with watching Sailor Moon. Yuu is the type of character I can identify with, I can root for and also hold a series together. Often times a show is as good as it’s cast, story and plot can be interchangeable, with the main character acting as a bedrock, perhaps the identity of a show itself. It was you Yuu Morisawa that made me love Creamy Mami.

Blessed with magical powers from outer space (Feather Star… nice name for a planet), Yuu is given her traditional magic wand within a fancy compact and two cute mini alien cats as guardians, which aid her as she turns from a ten year old into a glamorous sixteen year old with a singing voice and purple hair. PURPLE HAIR… love it! Yet, this power is only granted for one year. Our story thus creates a dichotomy. Average school and pop princess must find a balance in both scheduling, and knowing one’s true identity. Yuu is level headed enough to know that Mami is still Yuu and not get lost into the world of celebrity as it at times can get ridiculous. Not a bad twist of fortune for the daughter of a family that runs a local crepe shop.

cm_4Underneath all the magical girl fun, the great color pallet used, the slapstick comedy and the danceable music, we have a romance. Perhaps even a love triangle, that is between two people, yet three identities. Again I have to reference Jem for that one. Yuu and Toshio are made for each other yet there are sparks that fly, but when the moments are right, there is true love. Be on watch near the middle of the episode running for a great plot twisting that will not again play out until the near end. The entire show turns upside down as the secret of Mami is revealed to a special someone.

Magical Angel Creamy Mami opened the flood gate for Studio Pierrot’s other mahou shojo shows that featured Persia (Magical Fairy Persia), Emi (Magical Star Magical Emi)  and Yumi (Magical Idol Pastel Yumi) later in the decade. But there is only one original and that is you Mami. Shine bright forever! Between you, Minmei (Macross) and Eve (Megazone 23), I have my power trio of pop idols that help keep me young… FOREVER!

#124 : Dirty Pair (TV Series)

dptv_1“Once upon time there were two little girls who went to the World Welfare Works Association academy… And they were each assigned very ‘hazardous’ duties… But I took them away from all that and now they work for me, my name is Gooley.” Hmm… hazardous duties? Have you seen the track record of these two ladies as of late? Mr. Gooley, your two trouble consultations, those Lovely Angels are creating a lot of havoc wherever they go, though they don’t mean to because as the bumper sticker says “S#!t Happens!”. These girls even have a well known nickname and have been featured in many anime back in the day including an awesome TV series with this so-called nickname. And not Gooley’s Angels mind you; more like… Dirty Pair.

dptv_2Kei and Yuri are at it yet again and this time we are in for the long haul. While a majority of the Dirty Pair releases are single release fare (Affair of Nolandia, Project Eden and Flight 005 Conspiracy) we are treated with a multitude of adventures this time around. And yes there was that 10 episode OVA quasi-sequel from 1987, but that to me is supplementary to this TV series from 1985. And what a series from the hands of Sunrise as this could be considered the ‘sister series’ (light pun?) to the other two titles being Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Blue Comet SPT Layzner. Three’s a crowd? Not this time. More like Three of a Perfect Pair (any King Crimson fans?). This is because if watching the more serious space operatic mecha of Zeta Gundam and Layzner become a little too much, chill out with the Dirty Pair for a little light hearted fun.

dptv_3Within a space of 24 episodes plus two extra supplements as direct to video OVAs, you get a total of 26 episodes of adventure with Kei and Yuri. The fun nature and space travel of the Dirty Pair TV series can be looked at as a gender inverse to Space Adventure Cobra. Instead of the bumbling Lupin-esque macho Cobra you get two ladies, both of whom are feminine and independent characters. Smart and skillful, but at times a little short on temper, particularly Kei (my favorite of the pairing!), expect something to come out of the blue at any moment. As much as the girls try to help each situation, they are so-called trouble consultants after all, they often create a little more trouble in the process. Still, the comedy and the action that often occurs within each episode becomes golden at proper moments. Who would have thought the original books by Haruka Takachiho would have grown into one of the best franchises of the 1980s?

In all honesty, compared to one-offs like Affair of Nolandia, or Project Eden, I don’t see much replay in the TV series. The TV series is worth a viewing with absolutely no question, but the quick changes of plot from episode to episode may be a little to fast for my taste. Of course it may be different for you and that is ok. Ironic as I usually prefer longer run TV series over movie/OVA adaptations, but with the Dirty Pair it is not the case… it is a case of breaking all the statistical norms… that I do appreciate! And as English is my native tongue, sometimes I do love a dub. The sub track with the Japanese is excellent, but I have a love for the early 90s Streamline dubs of the Dirty Pair, perhaps some of that companies best.

dptv_4“And then they’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun and hope that chief Gooley doesn’t take the Lovely Angel away. And then they’ll have Fun, Fun, Fun…” A variation on a classic Beach Boys song, but it completely rings true to the Dirty Pair. I often look to the TV series as phase two in one’s Dirty Pair journey. Start with one of the single outings mentioned earlier, then move to the TV series… or jump into the TV series if you want to override that prerequisite as there is no law stating ‘One should!’ The only real question is do you want a fun show? If you answer yes, then the Dirty Pair TV series will satisfy.

#123 : The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

wwoo_1“We’re off to see the wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz… ” again, yet this time round it’s a little different. Of course the 1939 MGM film is for many the de facto standard barring even the original novels. In terms of anime, I grew up with a 1982 cinema version, but wouldn’t you know there was another version of L. Frank Baum’s creation created in the same decade? Years ago I passed this alternate off as some other show that didn’t need my attention. But being older, wiser and hungry for a diet of anime produced in 1986 for a panel I did in 2016 led me to this version of the Oz saga, a TV series known as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

wwoo_2Four of the Baum books filled 52 episodes of adventure. Let us count them off… The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Marvelous Land of OzOzma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz as the credits state. This series expands beyond the well known plot of the original novel and in many ways stay very true to the essence of the books, while incorporating creative liberties as needed. Encompassing four distinct arcs, the plot moves in a much more relaxed and leisurely pace compared to that of a film. Story and character have more time to develop, but there are times when I felt there were moments of filler. Such is the nature of any longer running anime, yet the filler is not so much a waste, but supplementary.

A little girl from the farm country of Kansas circa 1900 is swept away into a magical world filled with many friends, foes, colors and imagination far beyond the plain and mundane. Sounds like a shojo standard… could the Wizard of Oz really be Japanese in disguise? Of course not, look to Alice in Wonderland as a previous example of a swept away magical adventure. Both titles mentioned previously are early western examples, but this is not a comparison of east vs. west. I would say this is more like an archetype that transcends boundary. Influence from one story teller to the next and be it as Alice in Wonderland, or Wizard of Oz, either one may have led the way to anime like Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, etc., etc. The story with ‘A Thousand Faces’ per se where imagination and fantasy have no territorial bounds.

wwoo_3The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had an early release in the west during the 1980s, perhaps on cable, and from the look of the credits emphasized the post production and dubbing done by Cinar (some of the casting was featured in Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold) more than the original animation by Panmedia. Such was kind of true back in that decade where you try to cover your tracks without having to hint that this was a ‘foreign’ production. Those were different times and may I say a little ignorant. The English dubbed version is what I know, but the first episode is also available under many sources in the original Japanese with subtitles. Both presentations are excellent, but the original Japanese opening is extremely charming and can pass as a period pop song that makes you want to dance.

wwoo_4The joy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz surrounds the fact that this production can be for all ages. Though it is more of a children’s show, it is without a doubt a great option for the whole family, especially if you want to introduce the very young with a story that is somewhat familiar. Years ago I could have sworn I caught this series on a chance Sunday morning as a rerun and as I said earlier dismissed it. But then caught up to the now and I got a second chance to give this version of the Wizard of Oz a chance and perhaps it is now my preferred go to. I just was not ready, but when the time came I was in the moment. Have fun with this one if you get a chance to experience it! 🙂

#122 : Swan Lake

SW_1I call to court the fact that Disney has too much of a stranglehold on the so called ‘Princess’ genre. Are there any princesses left that don’t belong to Disney? … any hands in the audience? … Oh, Miss Odette from Swan Lake, you are not part of the Disney pantheon, though Barbie has sure used your story and there is that Swan Princess movie too, but we won’t count these for the moment. Many tales of princesses, eh… lets say fairy tales, have been brought to life from the great artists of Japan, many of which came to life in the 1970s and 80s. Swan Lake is one of the many and in 1981 Toei’s adaptation would see a release in theaters.

SW_2Certain anime titles are with us since our beginnings. Swan Lake is one of the many titles that during my childhood in the 1980s became the genesis point for my love for Japanese animation. With TV series such as Voltron and Robotech and Toei’s Little Mermaid on VHS, Swan Lake would make its way into my consciousness via a chance TV broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. As a younger version of myself I recognized the character designs to be similar to many of the titles listed above and without the knowledge of what or where Swan Lake came from, I enjoyed it. Such was the era before the internet and the word anime came into our lexicon… you loved a cartoon because it resonated with you and that was all that we went on back in the day.

SW_3Based on the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, expect to see fine visuals mixed with the classic and powerful, yet refined music of Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake is a love story between two star crossed lovers, a handsome prince and a captive princess who has been enchanted to become a swan by day and a girl by night in the clutches of an evil sorcerer. …and… don’t forget the love story between a pairing of two squirrels as well. And yes those two little ones do play a part into the story beyond just being cute animal characters. This is classic romanticism, yet kind of old hat as it is about a guy rescuing a girl in captive. It’s a time and tested formula, yet it is nice to see the roles reversed. That being said I have nothing against the formula this time round as this story can also hold more esoteric meaning beyond the exoteric surface. Fairy tales and myths are filled with esoteric concepts and add a BIG reason for me to revisit these classic stories again for another frame of reference.

SW_4And what of a supposed ‘Black Swan’? Let’s throw a monkey wrench into this entry. Odette our heroine is so innocent, dressed in white, passive, blonde hair… she is the essence of clarity and purity as a symbolic figure. Hence why Rothbart, the sorcerer, finds her so attractive as she is the total opposite to his dark ways and look. A true essence of polarity. AND… he is one dirty old man for wanting a young trophy wife as a status symbol. Ecchi! A very similar dynamic to Vampire Hunter D with Count Magnus Lee and young Doris. But what of this ‘Black Swan’ mentioned earlier? Rothbart has a daughter at about the same age as Odette, Odile. She may be my favorite character as she is the ‘bad’ girl. Well not bad, just independent, dark and gothic and a little conniving. Her daddy can have Odette, though Odile thinks its odd, but that leaves her to be with that stud of a Prince. It must be his haircut that makes him so popular? Anime and romance… it’s never simple.

True unconditional love and magic under the moonlight mixed with heroic virtue and a classic soundtrack. You know you want to watch? … Swan Lake you were with me since my salad days of youth and you still hold a place in my collection and my present. If Disney ever makes claim to do a version of Swan Lake they are welcome, but I will more than likely stay with my old friend out of respect.

#121 : Appleseed

Appleseed_1AppleseedGhost in the Shell’s often over shadowed older sibling. What comes to mind when I think of Appleseed? A nice, simple and powerful title for sure… iconic. There was all that CG material made a few years ago that I found to be dull yet flashy and fancy, but still… dull (very boring, my opinion). Thankfully I was aware that the tree that sprouted all those CG apples bore fruit a couple decades earlier in a shorter and much more analog version created for direct to video. Appleseed beyond the original manga, and those CG projects (nails on a chalkboard), is for me an OVA from 1988 that beyond the action had a theme that made me think and is the reason I come back one more time, every time.

Appleseed_2Is it me, or does this OVA smell a lot like Blade Runner (as well as concepts from ancient Greek mythology)? Many a cyber punk story often quoted Blade Runner since that movie set a standard that still holds up today. Still… Appleseed really borrows a lot from the 1982 film: the setting although it seems to have more sunlight, a particular character’s name and the idea of cybernetic technology in co-existence with mankind. We have a tale of a dystopian utopia, our possible future, or perhaps an allegory on our current circumstances. A perfect, clean environment that still has problems and issues because with all the polish and brightness, the polarity of darker forces must exist to ensure balance… all told with a lot of firepower and action. Masamune Shirow how do you do what you do so well?

Appleseed_3Olympus, the setting of Appleseed, is a great example of the utopian safety bubble showing signs of cracking and discontent. An ideal world where only good and cleanliness exist is in truth ‘unnatural’, night must follow day and winter always comes after a summer. And as much as you grip for control and authority, there will always be elements that stand to defy the status quo that slip through the veritable cracks. This is after all, a post war environment, as outside the city limits of Olympus is a perpetual no-man’s land, a literal hell. Here many humans exist on the edge of survival. If they are ‘lucky’ they get rescued and with help and rehabilitation are brought into Olympian society to exist with the main biodroid population. Biodroids are manufactured to be human in appearance and fit into the regime of the Olympian landscape. Many of these rescued humans fit into this paradigm with no issue, while others perceive and/or even fight back against what they see as a cage, or perhaps, a prison.

Appleseed_4Three of these rescued humans play the biggest roles in this drama. Our protagonists Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires (who looks more robotic than human?) work for the state as police officers, SWAT to be specific, which allows them to use their guerrilla combat skills that kept them alive in the hinterlands outside of Olympus. They have conformed for the most part into the society of Olympus. These two are perhaps an early attempt for the likes of Major Kusanagi and Batou of Ghost in the Shell… maybe? The third member is also a fellow police man, one Calon Mautholos, who unlike Deunan and Briareos, see a different reality due to the depression and eventual suicide of his wife. She saw Olympus as a cage and this leads Calon to align himself with more shady characters. Such as the terrorist A. J. Sebastian (hmm… Blade Runner again?) who believes that the society and government of Olympus is controlling and corrupting the human population and distancing themselves from their more primal behaviors. Calon joins forces with Sebastian and tries to stay one step ahead of the dynamic duo of Deunan and Briareos, who are after Sebastian when he escaped from an earlier raid.

Appleseed questions reality and duty towards a state or cause almost to the same degree as say Patlabor 2: The Movie. Though not as sophisticated as Patlabor, Appleseed does a great service for a simple one off OVA. And even though this has one of the most extreme cases of adulting up an English dub, you can always watch the original Japanese, which features some well known classic cast members. With all the love, popularity and hype for Ghost in the Shell, I seem to resonate and return to Appleseed more often. How about you?

#120 : Belladonna of Sadness

BoS_1On the surface you may think Belladonna of Sadness is some pornographic psychedelic fest of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Hedonism at it’s height and yet far from it. Yes this is an erotic movie, very sexual indeed at certain parts, though much of what is brought out through the sexual act is not pleasurable or idealized. With pleasure comes pain, much like any responsibility, including love. Belladonna of Sadness is a title for ‘mature’ adult audiences, told partially through an erotic perspective, with so much more going on that to dismiss this film as simply a wild psychedelic skin flick would be an injustice.

BoS_2Mix elements of The Beatles Yellow Submarine, Gustav Klimt, the Ryder Waite tarot deck (or maybe even Yoshitaka Amano’s deck… I use this one) and beautiful organic line work accented by watercolor fills and you get a general idea of the look of a tale of a Medieval maiden by the name of Jeanne (is it me or does she remind you of Fujiko Mine from Lupin III?). Recently married to her beloved Jean (a perfect pair of opposites/polarity?) the honeymoon is completely spoiled due to the kings need for taxes. When Jean is unable to pay the fees it is up to Jeanne to come up with a solution. Selling her soul to the Devil and exploring the dark night of the soul via sex and witchcraft, Jeanne soon becomes targeted as a witch. Yet she admired by the townspeople as she brings help to the suffering via her femininity and the use of belladonna, a nightshade that can be a medicine, hallucinogen, or poison depending on the dose. Now for the ultimate question, are Jeanne’s methods and new role, both of which exist outside the established patriarchal order, considered methods of evil, or balance?

BoS_3Belladonna of Sadness may be an anime, but it does not follow or accept the traditional look typical of Japanese animation as stated previously. The look is more akin to western sensibilities, yet I doubt any western studio would dare to give life to a project like Belladonna of Sadness. I give thanks and respect to Mushi Production and studio head Osamu Tezuka for creating such an uncompromising piece of art. The animation most of the time is sparse and at times is nonexistent in sections where the only movement was the action of scrolling long still collage images. Is this animation, or fine art passing as a film? Still shots could pass as canvased paintings much more so than just painted acetate cels. Much akin perhaps to Angel’s Egg, Belladonna of Sadness could belong in an art gallery setting instead of the usual theater venue.

BoS_4The original source material, a novel by Jules Michelet named La Sorcière (The Witch, though the title is better known as Satanism and Witchcraft) is unknown to me, but this did not block my own interpretations. Much of the themes reflect the history of the subjugation of the divine feminine and the fear of our more ancient principles and primal desires. The aspects of the darker subconscious, raw sexuality, the use of psychedelic substances as a way of altering ones consciousness and the worship of the feminine as supreme Goddess. Is the Goddess a witch, or a savior? …think Lilith, the untamed feminine. Reminds me of the Hindu goddess Kali… just what is God? SHE is darkness, the void, wild and terrifying beyond compare. The polar opposite to the Abrahamic ‘father’ image. In medieval European society and even still in our ‘modern’ cultures, much of what is listed above was and is still at times considered heresy. Yet this is only because that is what we have been told. Where is truth? How can such darkness be natural? And just what, or who is the Devil really?

Like any hallucination that takes the your mind, your ego, your essence into a different sphere of consciousness, viewing Belladonna of Sadness changes your perception of anime and perhaps even a part of yourself. Be gentle when viewing this film as mind blowing adventures always leaves something behind that you must take full responsibility for as it is now a part of your experience. Belladonna of Sadness is more than a movie, it’s a full blown awakening.