#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?

#86 : Baoh

baoh_1A question to all you loyal fans of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure… who’s your daddy? Or perhaps, who is your older brother may be more precise? 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell (who here remembers East Germany?), Dragon Ball decided to add the Z and Saint Seiya would call it a day on the small screen, a lone wolf, short, direct to video release of a Hirohiko Araki manga would hit the shelves of video stores. Behold all that is Baoh.

baoh_2Now here is how to tell a story… A teenage boy caught up in an accident is taken in by a secret group and has a worm implanted into him to make him into the ultimate fighting, or perhaps, killing machine. Wait a minute a worm? Eww… that is gross man, but hey I didn’t create this story. And while he is being transported in statis he becomes awakened with the help of a psychic girl (Thanks for waking me up kid, that was one hell of a dream). Both escape for the hills so to speak and this so-called group does everything and anything in their power to get their prized experiment back. And hopefully before our hero, Ikuro Hashizawa, evolves towards his full potential. Hmm, kind of cliche…I smell elements of Black Magic M-66, or even maybe M.D. Geist (maybe?), but who said those are original ideas either. And if Baoh is cliche, then it does cliche oh so much better.

baoh_3Now this may be the shortest anime based off a Shonen Jump manga? Don’t quote me on this, but in a sea of triple digit episode TV adaptations a single release OVA, that does not even span an hour, is quite the welcome rarity. There is no room for filler here kids, in fact there is hardly any room to give any back story or character development. And yet we do get some… amazing. We start this story in media res and don’t stop till you cry out… NO, I want more. And then you play it again and perhaps again after that as well. Just don’t forget to put the TV on mute and crank up your old Van Halen albums (David Lee Roth era) just in case you run out of ideas of how to make Baoh even more fun! I personally recommend Atomic Punk from the first VH album. “I am a victim of the science age, a child of the storm, whoa yes!”

baoh_4I recently commented on how Blue Sonnet was a fun ride from start to finish and that was accomplished in a very short period of time, just five episodes… count ’em. Baoh is the equivalent of two of those… yeah… TWO! And for that short space, it does one thing so well… and that is… be awesome. I usually write more for these entries, but I don’t want to spoil Baoh in case you have not seen it yet. Seriously, describing the whole plot is pointless as you must see it to believe it. Baoh, you were and are a fine definition of action entertainment from the closing of that fine decade of the past; 1980s forever. Cigarette lighters take to the air and salute.

afterthought … maybe now is the time to finally give JoJo’s a try.

#58 : Akira

Akira_1You my friend are like Bob Dylan. You are the spokesman (or perhaps spokes-anime?) of your generation. And such a fitting title to boot. Akira. It’s short, sweet, bold and makes you wonder what the movie is about? And for several years, if not a couple decades and change, I still ask myself this same question. And from all the viewings I have come to my own meaning since I am not all that familiar with the original manga. In any case, Akira stands as one of the quintessential definitions of what anime can become… huge, epic, thought provoking and awesome red motorcycles. For many otaku of a certain generation here in the west, it stands as one of the first anime that either: a) made us anime fans or b) solidified our love of Japanese animation to a level we had no idea that could be reached or even existed.

Akira_2Epic, sublime and down right dangerous… this is the world of Neo-Tokyo in the aftermath of a devastating war. Politicians and the military try to fight for power to control the masses and yet let the society kind of deteriorate at the process while they greedily grab cash and power at any quick moment. Remember the scene where the counsel member who tried to escape with his briefcase of money only to die in an alley from a heart attack? And it is in and on these streets that have gone to waste we find our main characters. They are street punks, juvenile delinquents, who ride motorcycles and fight rival gangs. And two of them will be our heroes so to speak. A small, quiet, insecure yet angry young man named Tetsuo and a cocky self assured leader who has quite possibly one of the most iconic motorcycles to appear on any screen, Kaneda.

Akira_3Eventually these boys will come into contact with the military authorities and their lives will be changed forever. Either through contact with what looks like old children who have esper type abilities or perhaps awakening a power within himself (could it be possible to awake this in all of us?), Tetsuo begins his journey of becoming a power beyond control as he is carried off to be examined. The struggle begins now as Tetsuo, who only wants to be left alone, is constantly being controlled. And much like school shootings of recent history in our ‘real world’, Tetsuo is a textbook example of allowing a potentially good kid go bad. He is to blame for the eventual destruction he lays out on the city, but that blame belongs to us as well as we let potential young people rot away into self pity and depression. His responsibility is ours and ours is his.

Akira_4My view of Akira is that no matter the environment or circumstances, we are the creators or destroyers of our world be it within the confines of the body or what we perceive to be the outside world. The more we try to control the outside environment, others around us or use the gifts given to us to harm or disconnect us from the natural surroundings, we are doomed to failure. But from failure and destruction much like a phoenix, there is great potential to start again. All endings are beginnings and likewise all beginnings are endings (the constant cycle of life and time). It is how we adapt to these changes that will show the results.

Go big, or go home. Such is much of the work of original creator Katsuhiro Otomo, as all hell will break loose and get out of control if we allow the weeds to permeate the garden so to speak. Akira is also a hallmark of the quality of one of the best studios in Japan, TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). You can see this as an action film, a fluid piece of animation, or an allegory to what potential we have in all of us. I cannot deny the awesome power of what Akira is for me as a fan; it is required viewing to truly appreciate the power of what anime truly can express. No matter what, I will always cheer GO! GO! Akira! 

…Now I need to find a dealership that has Kaneda’s bike. Any idea what make or model it is?

#52 : Ai City

“Everything today is a bargain sale of imitations. That’s why they’re after something real.”

I have an odd attraction to something that leans a little to the bizarre and artsy in anime. I love classics like Angel’s Egg and more modern fair like Mawaru Penguindrum. I also love psychedelia music, art and film be it the original stuff from the 1960s or works that draw from it’s influence from decades later. But what I really like is a). style and b). expression. And Ai City is all of this and something more and to be honest the ending still makes me scratch my head. I LIKE IT!

AC_1Let us consider a cyberpunk atmosphere that could be the future and yet looks like the present moment, whatever that present may be when you are reading this. Kind of like Akira, but instead of the Blade Runner-esque darkness and political intrique… well leave a little of that in for good measure… we need something a little more lets say 1980s and fun. Lets add in a discotheque feel and bright colors that invade into this dark climate. Now we are prepared for this 1986 film. And of course, throw in the fact that a majority of our main cast are espers with powers referred to in that catchy awesome song A Psychik Man. It says… “he’s got super psychic powers.”

AC_2The film begins with a chase between a bike gang who is headed by a pretty lady known as K2. They are chasing our main group of heroes in a car with our main man K driving (he gave the awesome quote at the beginning). His passengers are Ai, or is it I?, who apparently is a clone of K’s former girlfriend, but is younger in age and calls K Papa (?). And in the back seat we have a bumbling drunk detective named Raiden (comic relief) and a big old fluffy cat. Yeah for cats! Needless to say K and K2 meet up and we see how these two espers, or headmeters, charge up and fight. Not so much super saiyan style like in Dragon Ball Z, but they have these gauges in their head that change number amounts. Just watch out if they reach infinity.

AC_3K and Ai have escaped from the confines of an organization named Fraud and K2 is one of their lackeys. After the confrontation between K and K2, K2 disappears and comes back with a state of amnesia and she ends up wearing a Playboy bunny type costume and goes gaga over ohjisama Raiden. No lie to that, its that off the hook! The leader of Fraud, the menacing Lee (this dude reminds me of some offhand villain from Space Adventure Cobra) is having none of it and dispenses more lackays, one a bishounen named Mr. J to recapture Ai. And I will leave it at that because this is a movie that needs to be seen to believe. I have only describes the first third or so so just when you are about to get near the end be ready for an all-out artsy fartsy, off the wall, psychedelic experiences put to celluloid. Everything can and will fall apart. Now see what happens afterward.

AC_4The title itself makes me wonder… which one is my correct assumption for what it means? Of course one of the character names is Ai, which in Japanese means love. So ‘love city’ and could this girl named Ai/‘love‘ be the ultimate meaning of this movie? The idea that love and manifesting one’s happiness and not forgetting that primal emotion could be the key to all of life. Also, and I am no scholar in this area, but in that little book known as the Bible, in the Book of Joshua, there is a city that is captured and destroyed named Ai. And yes, at the end of the film, literally, all hell breaks loose. Or, could it mean Ai as in I, like your ego and watching that come crumbling down to rebuild a new self in case you have a faulty view of yourself and the world? These are a few of my interpretations and many are kind of deep. Maybe I should watch it again because I could be still missing something.

Fluid animation, a fun soundtrack and a stellar lineup of voice actors make this oddity a huge winner in my book. That and once you get to the ending. guess what? We basically start all over again from the beginning. For real? … yeah. Ai City may be out there and different, but it is never, ever boring. And to get back to the beginning, you remember that quote? Ai City ain’t no imitation, it’s FOR REAL!

#46 : Black Magic M-66

BMM66_1You know what I love about the OVA format? In particular, the ones that came out in the mid-1980s… besides it was an awesome time for creativity… it is the fact you would get miniature one offs that were self contained. Under an hour was all the investment you had to give, which come on everyone, that’s not much time. And these were not promotions for a bigger project. These were the real deal and short and sweet. Masamune Shirow, known well for Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, would get his first anime adaptation in 1987’s Black Magic M-66. The rest they say is history.

BMM66_2Upon watching this one-off I am sure one thing will pop up in your mind. HEY NOW! This is very reminiscent of The Terminator. I am sure I am not the first to proclaim this, but it oozes the killer machine on the run, just not with Arnold Schwarzenegger stating, “I’ll be back.” This time we have a female bodied android and she is many times more dangerous and deadly. After a military plane crashes into an unassuming forest we find that two of these M-66s have escaped. Thus the military is hot on the trail along with guerilla reporter Sybel, who is our protagonist. Eventually one of the M-66’s gets taken down, but the other would find it’s way into the big city. And it’s target… I leave that to you to find out. There is no point spoiling this story.

BMM66_3…One thing I will say, wait for the scene in the elevator with Sybel fighting off the M-66. Well maybe not fight… more like, trying to stay at least one step ahead of this robot. This OVA may not have had the biggest budget, but the effect of turning and perspective in that tight space was impressive. I give you props AIC, even though most everyone else seems to give more attention to the other sibling you also produced in 1987, something called Bubblegum Crisis. Now back to our main content…

BMM66_4I will give this OVA three things that it does very well. First, as stated previously, it’s about 45 minutes long. And while it is a clone of cheesy action sci-fi adventure, it does not overdue it with a lot of Hollywood grandeur. It is like a compact sports car; a fun ride that does not get in the way. Second, props to making our main protagonist a tough lady. And being a Shirow work, she is in top shape and can take care of herself. I actually prefer Sybel more than Ghost in the Shell’s Major Kusanagi, because she is all too human and at times makes a mistake. And as mistakes are made I come to the third reason, that of humor. This show takes itself seriously to a minor point and that point is often broken because after all, this is a fun show. The is often the case with Shirow’s manga and I think the adaptations of Ghost in the Shell in particular paint Shirow as too dark. Au contraire. I often wonder if a lot of Shirow’s work is intentional satire.

As a beloved early staple of the VHS era, Black Magic M-66 has fallen out of favor and is often like that rare first album by a band that is passed over due to higher caliber releases that followed in the wake. It’s worth at least one view and maybe a second if you browse through a collection and say, “Well… this is a quickie. Why not?”

#1 : Megazone 23 (part 1)

Megazone 23 could be my favorite one off OVA of all time. True there are two other parts, well three since part three is a two-parter. Megazone 23, the first one, the original, is in my mind enough of a self contained story in and of itself. After all “there can be only one!” It is a quintessential time capsule of the era (1985). Plus, to me, the open ended ending is priceless. If ever there was a production that had everything, and I mean pretty close to everything I look for in an anime, this is one of a select few I draw from my collection without a second glance.

Megazone 23 is far from the first anime I was exposed to, but I can say for sure it was the first that solidified me as an otaku. Before Megazone 23 I had a good working knowledge of well known titles at the time and that I was aware of: Robotech, Gundam Wing, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Record of Lodoss War… you get the picture. Mostly well known popular stuff, quasi-casual may be a better term. I needed to locate more niche material. So I landed on Megazone 23 and Area 88, not a bad combination if I say so.

grab018277.pngBegun as a so called follow-up to a show most Robotech fans should be familiar with, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23 had an interesting start. I often consider this show to be the true sequel to Macross (another nod to Robotech), if not in name, as it shares a majority of it’s key staff including director Noboru Ishiguro and character designers Toshihiro/Toshiki Hirano and Haruhiko Mikimoto (three men I have the highest of respect for). I won’t get into the historic details too much, but the production started off as a TV series with various working titles until the main sponsor pulled the plug. No money, big problem, what to do? Release it direct to video since that is a growing market and thankfully, that is what happened. Who knows how much of the plot was cut to fit it into an approximate 80 minute running time? But in the end who cares, it worked.

As for the story we have a young man (Shogo) who loves motorcycles, living in the world on his own who meets a girl (Yui) and then ends up meeting the mecha (Garland) and then a nemesis (B.D.) and then a 1980s equivalent to Hatsune Miku (Eve, Kumi Miyasato’s songs are great). Then all hell breaks loose as things begin to unravel much like a peeling onion. I often think of Megazone 23 as the ultimate growing up story where everything you have learned about life and reality is ripped from right under your feet.

6a7abe908923891d76f7a1ac5c7596c81436012095_fullBeing the fact that this production was released direct to video, it gave those who grew up with mecha as their preferred genre an even more “realistic” grown up story following the growing sophistication of epics like Gundam, Macross and Votoms. Of course the growing popularity of the fighting genre (Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya) signaled an end to the television dominance of mecha. Zeta Gundam, also a 1985 release, is in my mind the capstone to an era in television where mecha grew in sophistication and serious subject matter that did not come back again until possibly Evangelion. Many of those who grew up in the 70s/early 80s now needed a new avenue to find material and in many cases material to match their growing maturity. Megazone 23 was in the perfect place at the perfect time.

And as for release in North America, there would be three attempts. First as part of Robotech: the Movie, which did not last long (even Carl Macek disowned it). Then came Streamline Pictures (Carl’s official release and a solid one) and finally ADV (the dub is totally rad man, hear it to believe it, but it is also a good effort). Both the Streamline and ADV release saw DVD releases, but are out of print.

Also is in some ways Megazone 23 can be considered an early cyber-punk release. Of course American cinema like Blade Runner and Streets of Fire were the bigger influences, but from Megazone 23 we would grow into the likes of Bubblegum Crisis, Akira and the early Masamune Shirow adaptations (Black Magic M-66, Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police) later in the decade. Speaking of Streets of Fire, released in 1984, the cast see it in the cinema during the story, talk about paying homage.

If there is one thing that bothers me about Megazone 23, it is how much another “Hollywood” property gets a lot of the credit for the concept of living in a manufactured society run by a computer, even though Megazone 23 told the story first, sort of. Director Noburo Ishiguro has mentioned how the concept is very similar to a couple of Robert Heinlein’s short stories, so Megazone 23 may not have been the first either. All told The Matrix may have sold the idea in a large scale both culturally and financially, but Megazone 23 will always be my tale for a controlled manufactured society.