#128 : Glass Mask

gm_1“All the world’s indeed a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers”… The world of the acting… the lights, the crowds, the glamour… if ever a profession was and is over idealized in our society, the actor, or actress may be the top candidate. From the earliest days of known history those who have been involved in acting understand the necessity of wearing a proverbial mask, a persona. Certain masks, or persona, are strong and stabile, while others are fragile, like glass. Welcome to a story were we enter into the world of drama, with with heavy doses of melodrama too boot, known simply as Glass Mask.

gm_2Maya Kitayama, our protagonist, has a serious passion for acting and theater. Desperate for getting a ticket to a play in a nice theater, she works hard with her mother in a restaurant and has lofty dreams to be an actress. She is plain (seriously! Maya you are pretty, come on!), working class and outside the inner circles of acting, yet, because this is anime and fiction, she has a guardian angel to save the day… and in black. Chigusa Tsukikage, a once famed retired actress known for her role of the Crimson Goddess, is this angel… in black. Black because of her long black dress, classy like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, and her long full locks of curly black hair. Her elegance is never questioned even though she is advanced in age, which makes her a true role model to show beauty is ageless.

gm_3Tsukikage-sensai approaches Maya with a proposal to join her theater academy. Maya’s dream has found an outlet, yet there is a price. Tsukikage-sensai is quite strict and tough and her training towards Maya is at the pinnacle of tough love. Like a slap in the face every once in a while! Ouch! Yet Maya perseveres, and much like a coach in a sport, Tsukikage-sensai’s tenderness is shown, internally of course, as Maya’s talents begin to flourish. Speaking of sports, let me add a fill about how Glass Mask could possibly be a sports anime in disguise. The rivalries, training and aspects of competition are both in Glass Mask and sports anime titles. I sometimes thought I was transported back into shows like Aim for the Ace, Hikari no Densetsu, or Touch, but with a quick head shake realized this was Glass Mask. Be it a sport, or theater, you have to say there are more similarities than differences.

gm_4Now for a different topic… let’s discuss nepotism. As Maya moves up through her journey to become an actor she comes into contact with several theater companies and even a minor movie role, she runs into much favoritism and jealousy. She is quite talented, very raw and passionate about the craft. She does not mean to cause any friction so to speak, but she is often noticed for being just too good and instead of being welcomed back, she often times has to move on to another opportunity. So true in real life as certain organizations, groups, friends, etc. that we all have had has at least one time in our lives preferred a safer choice than a newer, fresher alternate. Such is the life of being talented, as it is lonely as well as rewarding. Still, Maya has much support from her friends from Tsukikage-sensai’s academy, a close male friend, who could become a possible love interest, and a mystery man who always seems to send a note with purple roses at the right place and time. Purple Roses?

Sadly Glass Mask is quite short at 23 episodes as it seems there is much more of a story to tell. And with some basic research one finds that the manga spans 49 collected volumes and is still unfinished. The story presented in this television series flowed well and was consistent with interest, yet I still hungered for more. In 2005 an updated series was released, if that floats your fancy. For me though, Glass Mask is a hallmark of classic shojo, which has been a thorn in my side in regards to availability. Not so anymore with a slick Blu Ray release here in North America. To be, or not to be is not the question… the question of the moment is… where can I find purple roses?

#116 : Aim for the Ace (TV series)

AftAtv_1The sun beats down as sweat drips from your forehead onto your hands. Those hands are gripping a tennis racket and as you pant for a moment of breathe you concentrate your stare upwards to your opponent. It’s your turn to serve, its match point and you are about to finish the game of your life. … (shakes head) … Wow, daydreaming really takes your mind away from where you are. Almost as if you are in the ‘game’ so to speak; the game of tennis in this instance. We are not here to discuss the actual sport itself, but an anime about a girl’s rise into the world of high school tennis. Serve, smash, volley… welcome to the original TV adaptation of Aim for the Ace.

AftAtv_2For shojo sports anime, Aim for the Ace is perhaps the grand dame of the genre. The elder spokeswoman, yet not the originator. A volleyball themed series from 1969, Attack No. 1, is from my research the first anime to show girls in the world of sport. Aim for the Ace is perhaps remembered better because of the popular and excellent film adaptation from 1979, but this entry will look at the previously released TV series of 1973. Both tell the same story with a small amount of variation to story, both were created at TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) under the direction of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) and both are hallmark titles representing the growing sophistication of anime in the 1970s. The movie may have a more technically sophisticated presentation (which is ‘SO’ important in our HD obsessed world), but the TV series has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that I found endearing.

AftAtv_3Like many sports entries, Aim for the Ace is a simple coming of age story. Our heroine Hiromi Oka, though being a complete amateur (and at times a klutz), wins a spot on the coveted varsity team at Nishi High School. Nishi’s coach Jin Munakata sees much potential in the abilities of Hiromi, which in typical shojo fashion starts a soap opera of drama between the other girls on the team. Kyoko Otawa, in particular, would loss her spot on the varsity squad, which brings out a very jealous and deceptive character. And then there is the queen herself, the best player on Nishi’s squad, Reika Ryuzaki a.k.a. Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly). At first, Rieka lives up to the sempai relationship towards Hiromi by becoming a shining example to follow. Yet when Hiromi’s skills begin to improve and challenge those of Reika’s is when we see the dark side of the beautiful butterfly. Needless to say the greater length of this TV series lends itself to more story and character development compared to the movie.

AftAtv_4Visually, Aim for the Ace is a great example of manga come to life. Gorgeous watercolor like backgrounds and rougher lines push the look of being hand made. There is a simplicity within the rawness that makes it feel honest and have a lot of heart. So while this may have been par for the course for animation back in the day, it is welcome to see a cartoon not look too overly polished and sophisticated like many productions of today. Then again this was all completed under the direction of Osamu Dezaki and I have many times commented on how much I enjoy the way he approaches animation. Dezaki knows just how to make it all look so… so… so damn good!

Much like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, Aim for the Ace was cancelled early due to low ratings (well thats what Wikipedia says!). All three series through the effort of loyal fans, reruns and eventual film adaptations would become legends. Often in our current glut of all that we have nowadays, how often does this opportunity of a second chance gets to come to a fruition. But much like many of these other shows from the 1970s, Aim for the Ace would get it’s second chance, but if you ask me, it was just right for what it had to bring to the table the first time around as well. I loved the movie, but I also loved this TV series for what it was, still is and always will be… a forerunner… a classic… a beautiful anime!

#93 : Galaxy Express 999 (movie)

If one must set out for a voyage to the stars, you must do it with an element of style. An ordinary spaceship will work for many, but come on now… let’s push the boundaries of imagination. What about traveling through space in a train? Hmm?… I like it… all wood grained and classic black iron, now that is classy! As well, a voyage to the stars should be something personal, a journey to not just discover what is out there, but also what is within yourself. Galaxy Express 999 is such a journey that once you ride this train line, you will never be the same.

GE999_movie1Here is an idea… let’s say you want to honor your goal to achieve immortality by adopting a mechanical body and the only way to do that would be to board a train to the stars that will take you to this fated destination. Only problem is that this train ticket is quiet expensive and sought after. Plus, you also wish to avenge your mother’s wrongful murder since you have so much spare time with all this other stuff going on. Are you in consensus with our hero Tetsuro Hoshino for a ride on the Galaxy Express 999? Great… we have a ticket for you, except you have to have the classiest lady in all of anime join you in your journey.

GE999_movie2Leiji Matsumoto’s vision of science fiction is beyond brilliant. What sets him apart is his use of tenderness and emotion. I always shed some kind of a tear due to the enduring qualities and almost simplicity of Galaxy Express 999. That almost motherly womb of nurturing I get from this movie is summed up in that lady I mentioned earlier, Maetel. Her name is derivative of mother, matter, maternal, Mary, or mare (sea/waters) at least that is my hypothesis. Beyond being a near protective saint, she has the longest blond hair I have yet to see and dresses in a Russian styled black fur coat and hat. So classy! If the story tells the meat of the experience, Maetel represents the symbolic image of this story. I hate to see her as a mascot, more like an ascended master in the form of an anime heroine.

GE999_movie3The essence, or perhaps theme of Galaxy Express 999, is beyond the awesome space operatic elements. Often we are watching a story set in the future, but the true teachings are of the present moment. Life is something to be cherished and in two ways particularly. One, the fact that we are mortal and the time that we have is precious and our presence in this very moment is precious. And two, love yourself for who you are and what you believe in; your highest dreams and aspiration. Love yourself, love the environment and welcome all opportunities, you never know who you may meet on your journey when you just go with the flow. Just ask our hero Tetsuro.

GE999_movie4Galaxy Express 999’s movie adaptation is more than just a basic re-telling of the epic TV series. True we follow Tetsuro Hoshino’s path of maturity, which is sped up and abbreviated due the compression of the mammoth length of the manga/TV series original, yet we also have the inclusion of Matsumoto’s other great sci-fi epic which ran concurrent with Galaxy Express 999. That being of course Space Pirate Captain Harlock. This movie could be the ultimate expression of the constant retelling and reimagining of all that is the Leijiverse. And not just Captain Harlock the character, crew and mythology, but also that TV series’ director, Rintaro. Always a visual feast, so typical of Rintaro, this may be his most coherent film where the story does not get lost within the presentation of powerful imagery.

Stories of the hero’s journey number in the infinite and often times we are telling the same over yet again with a slightly different veneer. The origins of Galaxy Express 999 may borrow elements of Night on the Galactic Railroad and Star Wars (or perhaps Yamato?), but in the end it is something far different. A classic among classics, a step above the rest, Galaxy Express 999 may be one of the best coming of age stories ever created. Thank you Leiji Matsumoto and Rintaro for this great gift.