#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!

#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…

#34 : Anne of Green Gables

aogg_1Families can come in all shapes, sizes, or colors. Many times unlikely circumstances can bring about the formation of a family that may not have been planned. On another subject, how is it that Japan made some of the best adaptations of beloved western children’s novel? And another subject, the work of Isao Takahata before Studio Ghibli. Now to put together all three ingredients… and what we get is one of the trilogy of World Masterpiece Theater Series that Takahata directed. We shall look at the third and final, a beloved story around the world, 1979’s Anne of Green Gables.

aogg_2Before I begin I will say that I have yet to read the original book written by Lucy Maud Montgomery at the time of this writing. I was aware of another animated version that aired here in the U.S. on PBS as well as the famous name of this classic. But of course if a version was created for the Japanese market, in my eyes, I have to watch it. And watch I did as I have been getting into much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series and enjoying them immensely. Add in Isao Takahata’s directing vision and the skills of Nippon Animation and  you have a combination of fine pedigree. Though the first five episodes were a slow start, at least for me, it began to turn into a typical Takahata production of an investigation into the intimate lives of characters.

aogg_3The beginning of this story has Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elder pair of siblings who live in rural Canada and are in need of a child to aid in the farmwork of Matthew. Hoping for a boy they end up with a scrawny red headed girl, Anne Shirley, who has had bad luck in finding a lasting home. Marilla’s strictness, Mathew’s gentleness and Anne’s imagination and firecracker temper all seems to meld together as the three learn what it is to be a family unit. Not only does Anne grow from childhood into adulthood, but the Cuthbert siblings also evolve. Almost in a direct opposition of Takahata’s Grave of Fireflies, Anne of Green Gables shows what happens with the community and child relationship working together to create the greater whole.

aogg_4Like many of the other World Masterpiece Theater Series shows I had my moments of joy and moments of tears. Anne’s friendship with Diana is adorable and real as things are not always picture perfect… just watch out for the raspberry cordial. Anne’s temper is also a fun thing to watch, much to the dismay of Gilbert Blythe… don’t call her hair carrots! Though the ending was a little disappointing on my end personally as Anne lets go of a great opportunity, but she has her reason. And that reason was justifiable in regards to the circumstances. I wish I read more books when I was a kid, as this anime is a good example. But the benefit of watching them now is seeing them with character designs I know and love.

aogg_5Released the same year as more ‘revolutionary’ shows like the original Gundam and Rose of Versailles, Anne of Green Gables can seem like a more tame family oriented affair. It is since much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series are basically adaptations of literature, but never, ever, discount these shows. I am honored that Japan back in the day gave the attention to bring stories like Anne of Green Gables a place in the sun. Not only does it show Japan’s willingness to be open to other cultures (because anything foreign is awesome, right?), but it gives those of us in the west to see familiar stories in a different style. Anne of Green Gables you are a fine classic. Who needs Cliff Notes? But you should still read the original… and so should I.

#33 : Neo-Human Casshan

cass_1If you want to be a superhero, there is one main rule to follow. True you need to have some kind of power that makes you… super? But, even more important, you have to have a great costume. Casshan’s uniform is second to none and has left an influence onto future creations, not unlike Megaman. A helmet clad cyborg hero in a world that has flipped upside down trying to make it right again, while looking awesome in the process. I call that worth a watch! Tatsunoko redefined the concept of the superhero in the early 1970s and this was their second concept to hit the market. A reborn human, or a cyborg, better known as Neo-Human Casshan.

Say Casshan… one thing before I begin. The spelling as ‘Casshern’, what is this? Hearing the original language track and I hear something closer to ‘Cassharn’ so ‘Casshan’ is more appropriate? Enough of the being on the soapbox. …

cass_2Oddly I came to the original Tatsunoko production of 1973 not first in my journey of watching all that is Casshan, but last. I watched the 90s OVA first (I thought it was ok), then Casshern Sins (I loved it) and then the original. For some weird reason I thought the original series, before even watching a minute of it, was going to be a little bit of a brighter and more fun series. Of course I had seen the original Gatchaman, Tatsunoko’s first superhero series (and a good one), and that was a bit of a more serious affair and the same was also true for the original Casshan. My gut instinct was wrong, just don’t ask me what I ate that day to have me come to that original conclusion.

cass_3Casshan like in every other adaptation is the lone warrior, the anti-hero, the one who is unjustly given a role to make right in a world that has gone wrong. The cause of these issues was an accident that brought a robotic creation of his father’s, BK-1 or Braiking Boss, to life. Braiking Boss’s awakening corrupted his logic and function, which in turn makes him the main bad guy of the series. To counter this error, Dr. Kotaro Azuma’s son Tetsuya volunteers to be reborn as a cyborg to fight the robot army of Braiking Boss. And it is this army that has taking over humanity. Their purpose is to eradicate the human race because these robots think the only way to clean up the pollution and problems of Earth is to destroy the inhabitants that created it. Kind of like Frankenstein meets Fist of the North Star? And speaking of FotNS, Braiking Boss you sound a bit like Raoh (Kenji Utsumi voiced both roles).

cass_4Mixed with the social responsibilities are Casshan’s personal struggles of the break-up of his family and his distancing behavior of forgetting his former identity of Tetsuya Azuma. His personal angst is most apparent to his friend Luna, a long time friend and maybe a love interest. But to me the most touching moment of his troubles are his interactions with Swanee, a robotic swan who acts as a spy for Casshan, but also Swanee contains his mother’s soul or essence. The interaction between these two are the most heartfelt as Casshan, or should I say Tetsuya, really wants to reconnect with a relationship with family. And who says being a super hero is easy? With every duty comes a cost.

In terms of western story telling, Casshan reminds me of the lone cowboy, but to be eastern appropriate, Casshan is the lone samurai. Except he is not alone. Fighting along side is a re-invention of the Azuma family dog Lucky now known as Friender. And if dogs are man’s best friend, then robot should be added to the equation as well. The pairing of these two make a formidable combination and to state it again, both are great examples of design. And speaking of design, Casshan has the great look of the early Tatsunoko shows of the 1970s and perhaps 1970s anime in general. This show looks like it was made by hand with heavy emphasis on strong lines that scream pencil and ink. Beautiful and rough.

Heroes come and go, but legends never die. Thanks to a couple reinventions the name Casshan will live on longer. Much like Yamato and Gundam, remakes can sell ideas to a new generation, but never hold the honesty of the original. Neo-Human Casshan you are a one of a kind.

#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.

#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’.