#179 : One Pound Gospel

Romance and Rumiko Takahashi, a beautiful combination that always equals success. Even though the popular long epics of Takahashi are usually at the tips of our tongues in regards to personal favorites (Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha), it is the shorter productions, some of them one-offs, that at least for me top lists of my favorite work by the ‘Queen of Manga’. All the great laughs and stories without any added filler that make a nice neat package. There is one example that is a true one-two punch, no pun intended… or is it intended? Boxing, faith and a bad case of the munchies… may I present One Pound Gospel.

OPG_1Kosaku Hatanaka is a hungry young up and coming boxing talent that has promise, but a major flaw. His punch delivery is brilliant, but he desires for something else. Becoming a boxing champion is not so much it, though he wants to perform well. Kosaku is obsessed with eating food almost all the time, which presents problems for keeping him at his class weight maximum. Can you blame him though? Being half starved, he often gorges a meal in secret, which either keeps his weight too high, or worse, throws up in the ring… gross. A recent binge meal came from a chance encounter with a young nun who felt sorry for the young man’s condition of monitored starvation. She feels guilty and from this chance encounter blossoms a relationship that I would have never thought could have existed… a boxer and a nun… now that’s different.

OPG_2Owing up to his ‘sins’, Kosaku begins to train harder. He even takes to the streets where he runs and shadow boxes, often times with comedic outcomes… watch out for that right jab! Soon a rival comes forth to challenge this hopeful talent. Can Kosaku stay the course and commit to his talents? Nope… temptation is always around the corner and much like any addict he begs one of his gym mates for ¥500, or even ¥1,500 just to satisfy his cravings for ramen, or kabobs. His coach is aghast and offers a barbeque meal and suggests he should retire so he can pig out when ever he wants. All the while Sister Angela, the ever faithful nun, still believes in him, but is angered that he can’t see his flaws are hurting himself and those around him.

OPG_3Though the roles of boxer and nun are a unique combination, the underlying character archetypes are ever present in a romantic comedy. Kosaku is not stupid, but naive and a little immature, while Angela is strong willed, yet tender. She is faithful to what is good inside Kosaku, though it does push her buttons from time to time. Such is true in any relationship, it is the learning for accepting flaws both inside us and with a significant other that allows us to grow and prosper as human beings. After all to learn more about yourself don’t look in a mirror, just see how the dynamics in your relationships play out, be it love or friendship. Often times where we screw up is where we learn our biggest lessons. … Kosaku, put down those snacks! Will the boy ever learn?

OPG_4Another point to remember with One Pound Gospel is to look at the director, Osamu Dezaki. Known for his creative use of still shots and lighting, he let’s most of his signature skills take a back seat to support Rumiko Takahashi’s original look… though he does from time to time fit in the Dezaki magic! Boxing is nothing new for Dezaki as he directed the influential Ashita no Joe, a true classic. That being said, Dezaki and Takahashi make a great combination that delivers action, comedy and sincerity. One Pound Gospel is more than a knockout of a great romantic comedy, it’s a real winner.

#173 : M.A.S.K.

The old tagline once said that “Illusion is the ultimate weapon”? Can one consider M.A.S.K. to be one of the top tier of 80 cartoons? Oh YES! Now I don’t really have much nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but then again you may say otherwise. I have been with this show and watched it over the 35+ year history. I have it on DVD, I used to have some of the toys and I love making and remaking the vehicles out of LEGO. I love this show (obvious), so you might say I have strong nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but I prefer to see this relationship like a marriage. This is not part of my past, but a continual place within my present moment. M.A.S.K. and I, till death us do part… yeah right we’re both immortal 🙂

mask_1For the last couple of weeks while organizing my LEGO collection, I have had one show running in the background that I from time to time take a break to watch. Take a guess which show? Hmm… LEGO and M.A.S.K., is this 1985, or 2020? Does not matter in the slightest. Funny how M.A.S.K. is considered a niche property now, because I still remember it being one of the top shows of the time that we talked about at school. Of course those days are long gone (or maybe not?) and us die hard fans that still enjoy the crimefighting of the M.A.S.K. team against the conniving V.E.N.O.M. in a pseudo-mecha show. Wait a minute, there are no giant robots and the closest thing is T-Bob (yikes!), but still, you have to acknowledge piloting mechanical vehicles as a close substitute.

mask_2Matt Trakker, the blonde alternative to Batman’s Bruce Wayne, has it all. An expansive fortune that he seems to be donating to nearly everyone, a loving yet slightly mischievous son and a bunch of friends who all put on helmets with a special power and drive vehicles that transform to fight against the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. What should we call this club of crime fighters… why not M.A.S.K.? Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (Yes! Command with a ‘K’). You know, it would have been nice to have some back story in one of the episodes of how this all came about! There were some mini-comics that came with some of the toys to fill that void… and I have never read them as I don’t know where to find them. But everything else listed is what M.A.S.K. is all about. “M.A.S.K. crusaders working overtime fighting crime.” The theme song alone is all the backstory you really need anyway.

mask_3M.A.S.K. is in essence two shows in one. Season one is what a majority of us love and is basically described above. For the shortened season 2, the direction moved into more of a Speed Racer like racing series that seriously “jumped the shark”. Hey what happened? Those episodes are watchable, but are awkward… seriously why break the winning formula? I stick with season one, though if you like season two more I salute you for being loyal. The credits listing has many Japanese names that helped to polish the show into action. Assembled in Japan, but designed in the U.S. and Europe via the once awesome company DiC. One such name is Shinji Aramaki, who as a mechanical designer is brilliant. Megazone 23, Genesis Climber Mospeada and Madox-01 should give you an idea of his resume. It would be nice to know which studios did actually animate this show, because some of these episodes still look really good even today.

mask_4Perhaps one could say that M.A.S.K. is a prime example of a ‘toy’ show showing a half hour of shameless promotion. Yet if one only sees M.A.S.K. in this light alone, one would be missing out on the subtleties that makes M.A.S.K. magical. Often seen as a mix of G.I. Joe, The Transformers and even the A-Team, M.A.S.K. is the ultimate combination, more than the “ultimate weapon”. Exotic locations, fun action, great humor and puns, a smaller easier to digest cast compared to the previously mentioned G.I. Joe and The Transformers and a theme song (Shuki Levy you rock!)/opening credit sequence that is jaw dropping… who could ask for anything more? A show that took itself seriously by not taking itself seriously… brilliant.

#171 : Scoopers

Wow the title alone is enough of a grabber… just what in the world is Scoopers? An anime about a young couple who run an ice cream shop?… no. Maybe an anime about a  pet scooping service that goes around to the parks when your dog leaves a souvenir?… no. Wow you got me… maybe Scoopers is about journalists in a sci-fi, slightly cyberpunk universe, trying to catch the next big ‘scoop’ on guy who has been blowing up satellites and space shuttles? No way, that sounds to good to be true and yet… it so is. OK, we have the basics out of the way, lets throw that tape (or digital file) into the old dusty VCR ( or whatever your media player of choice is) and hit play!

Scoopers1A supposed Mr. X and his organization are the responsible party for the havoc of blowing up these satellites and space shuttles. Who can stop this dastardly foe but for two… reporters? Enter Yoko and Beat (BEATO!) who work for for the organization Private Eyes. “Private eyes are watching you. They see your every move.” Yoko is a strong and determined lead and Beat is a combination of things. He is a Yoko’s partner, a photographer, Yoko’s bodyguard and would you believe it… he’s an android too! He gains super powers when Yoko pulls out her compact and hits a couple of buttons, almost like a remote control. Talk about killer makeup! Together they track down the hide out of Mr. X at the amusement park of Techno Land, but what lays in store for them is more than any roller coaster ride.

Scoopers2Scoopers is one of those 80s OVAs you find at the very bottom of the undiscovered bin of lost oddities. It resembles a lot of retro action properties of the time, City Hunter, Space Adventure Cobra, Dirty Pair and Lupin III in terms of style, color and attitude. It just lacks staying power and being a one off OVA may be part of the issue. The concept of guerilla journalists who are more like crime fighters is a fun concept and the sci-fi high technology is a nice touch. Nothing like the element of fantasy of what we thought the future might be like from the perspective of the 1980s. And speaking of hi-tech, check out those computer graphics interspersed with the cel drawn animation. For the time that was high end stuff, but it is kind of laughable now.

Scoopers3Can I return back to Lupin III? It seems that Scoopers and Lupin III have something in common; are kind of related… perhaps siblings? When watching the credits one name jumped out at me and made me go, oh wow! Does the name, or I should say pen name of Monkey Punch ring a bell for any of you? He is the original creator of everyone’s jacket wearing thief, Lupin III and he also is responsible for Scoopers as well. Nice to see some of his other work. The character designs and some of the behaviors favor a Lupin style with Beat being similar to Lupin and Yoko being an alternate to Fujiko. Wait!… Monkey Punch, why not have a crossover of Lupin with Scoopers?

Scoopers4Scoopers is a lot of fun and finding off the wall, weird, bizarre, or out of this world older anime is the joy of combing through the lost archives of what Japan released way back yonder. This is what being a classic anime fan is all about because just when you think you have seen everything, something else shows up and say, “Um, you missed one!” I  am glad Scoopers founds it’s way into my viewing experience, although the ending… yeah we need to talk about that… kind of a let down and makes you want, or hope there is a second installment in some form. And yet in the end, we have to make due with what see, which is an aircraft flying off into the distance carrying an escaped Mr. X. What’s his final fate, will he get to some sort of trial? Will justice prevail? And will the story and photos from Yoko and Beat make the top headline? Your guess is as good as mine.

I want to give a special thanks to Kingmenu Subs for their work on Scoopers. Thank you and keep up the good work!

#166 : Stop!! Hibari-kun!

Be on the lookout for white alligators! … In essence Stop!! Hibari-kun! is like many screwball high school romance, or family comedies that can be easily overlooked. And with it being a Shonen Jump property, I am sure Stop!! Hibari-kun! goes more with High School Kimengumi in the overlooked pile being it is a sibling to more popular heavy weights like Dragon Ball, or more fitting Kimagure Orange Road (romcom over action). Gender identity, yakuzas, family and comedic sequences that stretch the boundaries of believed reality and science are what makes this 1983 TV series a laugh out loud insane asylum, though there is one joke I don’t see as all that funny, but I take it in stride.

SHk_1Every show of this category has it’s niche that defines the comical plot and undertones that define other characters actions. Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! has two with the first being that Hibari is an early example of an openly honest transgender character in anime. Through she is often referred to as he, or a crossdresser, or sometimes… a… ‘pervert’? For real? Men who decide to wear women’s clothes, women who like to be more masculine, or those beautiful souls who identify as trans are not perverts! Hibari as a strong willed character defends her identity with ease because she knows she is awesome at everything… literally, she is a prodigy at almost anything! Yet as someone who grew up not as confident, and also identifies somewhere different on the gender spectrum, ‘pervert’ was a word I often associated with myself for years and even decades out of shame and guilt. Times and attitudes may be changing, but sometimes personally, we all have to catch up to ourselves to a certain degree.

SHk_2The running joke of the cute ‘girl’ is really a ‘boy’… transwoman!… creates havoc on Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! other main protagonist Kosaku Sakamoto. After his mothers death he comes under the care of the Obari family, who happen to be yakuza, yet another layer to add to the plotline. Kosaku notices that old man Obari has only daughters and eyes onto Hibari… and then the secret gets out and this creates tension within Kosaku. Wow, she is adorable, but she is… this can’t be right… oh Kosaku… you know you want her! All the other boys at school are jealous that she likes you, but they see her as any other cis-girl. As even the opening credits says, color TVs have many shades of color and the same thing applies to boys and girls. If only Stop!! Hibari-kun! came out more recently instead of 1983, Kosaku may be more open to a relationship outside the cis-normative binary.

SHk_3Beyond the upsetting of traditional gender roles and stereotyping, the majority of Stop!! Hibari-kun! is the loaded with stock and trade high school, family and yes even yakuza antics that can ring true no matter the show… you have to laugh because this show is very funny. This of course includes the entire cast, which by show’s end must contain the entire population of the world of Stop!! Hibari-kun. The comedy, action and even certain characters go into levels of campiness and surreal insanity that kept me wanting each successive episode. What will happen next time?, top that?, or boundaries?… limits?… let‘s break them up! This is the advantage of using animation as a medium for comedy as why be subtle when anything, and I mean anything can be possible. Yet the most poignant moment of the show was Hibari meeting someone else who is also transgender, using the term newhalf. It gave her a sense of grounding and me as well that despite all the silliness, white alligators and insanity, we can also have a sparse moment that recognizes we are not alone even if we feel a little different.

SHk_4My biggest complaint beyond the use of the word ‘pervert’ was that Stop!! Hibari-kun ran far too short in the episode count. Just 35? I was getting warmed up, but alas certain show runs are often limited; I am fortunate we got we have that is available. This was a welcome entry both as a comedy and also as a show depicting someone who is transgender. I often wonder what happened to Hibari? Did she fully transition, or does she live fluidly, or something else? Maybe the manga has more to say on this… it often does usually. Don’t Stop! Hibari-kun!

Side note… the actors who played Kosaku and Hibari… Tohru Furuya and Satomi Majima respectively are husband and wife!

#162 : Twinkle Nora Rock Me!

TNRM_1There is more Nora?! Either I am crazy to jump into the Nora pool again, or maybe I am a believer in second chances. Twinkle Nora Rock Me!… can I consider it a ‘bad’ anime? Yes, but it is so so bad that it goes into the category that I call entertaining beyond explanation. I had no expectations this time round, so I let myself go. Word of advice…sometimes the worst anime ever made can be the best to watch. I admit to this and maybe you do as well… and you love it like me. I found redeeming qualities in Twinkle Nora Rock Me! that episode one lacked and I am count these blessings. Your opinion may vary, but I am sticking with mine.

TNRM_2I have seen many poo poo this entry of Nora as well, but I enjoyed this second coming. I declare myself to be the minority here! Yes some of the animation is like a couple frames per second and looks like a limited budget show. Yes the plot is all over the place. And yes, it has dancing, but I see this as a redeeming factor. Have a good time now folks and let’s not take watching anime that seriously this time round. Have a little dance and party. Nora as a character in Twinkle Nora Rock Me! is at least interesting. No more just being some cute girl on display, Nora is a full fledged bounty hunter this time round and has esper abilities. Where was this from the first episode of Nora? No time to complain this was a welcome addition, perhaps this was part of the original manga as well? I am still interested in finding a couple chapters to read to see what was originally there…

TNRM_3Nora, a bounty hunter, goes after bad guys one by one, but she meets one who is like hulking giant and she puts him in his place. Big bad guy has a brother, another felon, who has magical and esper qualities. Nora makes a point to go after bad guy’s brother, bringing a fan along who desires to be a dancer. Nora too has the moves as well, but she has a job to do. Dance and rock out later, but first things first, capture the esper magician. And how does she do this… with magical esper abilities of her own. Who knew she had so many talents to match her beauty? With both brothers captured and subdued there is only one thing left to do… dance! “Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your booty.” Silly yes, but entertaining to a certain frame of mind!

When choosing an episode of Nora to watch, one can liken it to the Lupin III jacket color reference. Will you watch her in the green outfit (Nora) or in khaki tan outfit (Twinkle Nora Rock Me!)? You may choose neither and yes both are not even close to the level of masterpiece, but when push comes to shove I choose the khaki version. The other bonus to Twinkle Nora Rock Me! I forgot to mention is it is only a half hour instead of the first episode’s full hour. The lesser of two evils, hehe!

 

#161 : Nora

Nora_1Why in my right mind did I obsessively want to see this OVA? As a product of 1985, a year I love so much in terms of anime, Nora was on one of my watching bucket lists. Or perhaps it was the design of Nora herself, who is adorable and pretty… I’m jealous of her hair! My hope is that the original manga is way better in terms of story, plot, and even character development because this OVA adaptation of Nora is… eh… bland. Please universe grant me a chance to read a chapter, or two of the manga to prove my hypothesis wrong by stating that Nora is an example of what we refer to as a… Bad Anime! If blonde jokes were true, and of course they are not (Blonde = Genius!), then Nora would be the poster child, or the dictionary definition of that stereotype even though she is not dumb at all. Just very bubbly, goofy and ever popular… but kind of ditzy.

Nora_2Nora Scholar is on her way to a space town, or if this were Gundam, a colony, to take a vacation. I believe it was called Frontier, but please don’t make me rewatch this again to see if that is correct. While on her flight she meets a middle aged bald guy who is a well known professor and they become very good friends… creepy; not so attractive middle aged men and young ladies always screams red flag in my book. Add to that we also gain a third wheel, another old fart who is supposed to be a genius, but is just a cynical drunk. Why not have some handsome young stud of a man accompany Nora? But then again, I think this was a seinen production, so I am sure Nora would be the ideal fantasy girl for older guys who would want to chase someone younger. Sigh! I feel for you Nora.

Nora_3The high IQ drunk invented a computer, Artfiend (nice name?), to take over the functions of the town, or maybe it is the computer that runs the town and it has run amuck… whatever! Bad stuff starts to happen, the gravity stops working as an example because this computer has an issue with the human race. Who can stop this wild menace, but our triple threat of characters with Nora at the helm. She kindly talks to ‘Artie’ and reprograms him much like a mother talks to a child about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Bad Artie, bad! You be nice now, OK! … and that is basically… the story. Stopping a renegade computer from wrecking up the entire place… I dunno… I am sure there are better options with a similar story. I vote for the opening episode of the Dirty Pair “How to Kill a Computer.” Better yet can the WWWA hire Nora and at least salvage something from this OVA? Hence forth we have the Dirty Trio (that sounds totally wrong, lol). Is Nora worth a rewatch? Not this time as I’d rather rewatch Odin first.

#160 : Mobile Police Patlabor (OVA series)

PatOVA_1PATLABOR! Veni Vidi Vici… and then… retirement. Yes there have been reboots of more recent for Patlabor, but in essence like Space Battleship Yamato, or even the Beatles… well maybe the Stone Roses as we are talking the late 1980s here, Patlabor would have it’s time in the sun with the original ‘band line-up‘ in tact for only a minute period of time. A manga, TV series, two films (I am not going to count WXIII as a third) and a follow-up OVA would be born from a little seven episode OVA created by a partnership in 1988. What happens when super talented folks in the anime industry unite for a project? They make a classic. … now then, can we get the old band back together?

patova_2One of the greatest mecha shows that is also a comedy, a drama, a showcase for parody and a cop show all rolled into one nice neat seven episode package. Very tidy and an example of bringing together talented minds to make something original and special. The main creative group behind Patlabor, known as Headgear, consisted of manga artist Masami Yuki, mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi, writer Kazunori Itō, character designer Akemi Takada and director Mamoru Oshii. I leave it to you to look up their resumes. The direct to video OVA had proven itself as an affective medium to distribute anime for almost half a decade and the diversity of projects showcased that this was a free for all medium. When Patlabor was released in 1988, it was positioned at a good place and time. Independent and smaller focused projects were abundant and ranged from well done productions to experimental eccentricities to the laughably bad. Yet as fans we love them all! 1988 would kick up the notch with several releases that elevated the OVA into a format that became a viable art form including Patlabor, Gunbuster and the behemoth Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

PatOVA_3Patlabor as a mecha show speaks to those who were fans of giant robot animation as children and still are even as adults… myself included. Watch the opening credits and feel all that enthusiasm from both past and present collide… “nothing’s impossible.” The aspect of going to work and fulfilling a role in society is something many of us understand well and is a main contributor to the storyline of Patlabor. The cast of Special Vehicles Section 2 are not super heroes, nor space pilots, they are your average everyday police officers… who pilot, or work with mechs while solving a case. The whole concept of mecha in Patlabor is perhaps the most extreme portrayal of giant robots as standard everyday equipment. a real “Real Robot”… no pun intended. Yet the mascot like patrol labors, the Ingrams, are not the be all end all of this show.

PatOVA_4The true stars are the cast and what a mixed bag indeed: an aloof, but genius captain; an enthusiastic tomboy who names her Ingram after her dog; a cynical rich kid; a gun crazed lunatic; a nerdy husband, a gentile giant and an American transfer round out the crew of SV2. The dynamics between each personality is what fuels Patlabor. The episodes are a mixed bag of ideas, some of which come out of left field. You get your introductory episode, a bomb defusing episode, a Godzilla inspired episode, a summer camp murder mystery episode and even a two parter that vaguely reminds me of a prototype for the future film Patlabor 2: The Movie. References galore pop up time and again, but in clever and funny ways that makes the comedy of Patlabor pure gold. One example that left me laughing… “What do you think your piloting? Great Mazinger? Dangaioh?”

Who would have thought that this little project would grow into a massive success? And the beauty of it all is that as Patlabor grew it seemed to have gotten better… perhaps because we get hungry for more adventure of the SV2. Traditional mecha anime, piloted robots, by this time had waned in popularity on TV in terms of younger fans except for a few exceptions. All of us seasoned fans, perhaps a little bent on nostalgia, welcomed the initial Patlabor OVA that filled a need to those of us who may have grown and taken on additional roles into society, but are at heart are still enthusiastic fans of animation. We all may have jobs now, even our heroes, but were still at the root of it all the same. Now, time to go to work!