#221 : Starcom: The U.S. Space Force

“All Starmax and Star Wolves… Scramble!” It must be Saturday morning in 1987 and excitement is in the air from that opening statement. Do you remember Starcom: The U.S. Space Force? Oh yes, now this is what I call science fiction of the upcoming future, that may perhaps be the now(?)… how can this present day be the future promised? Part of me really wants to be a space cowboy still and yet the best I can ever get to that reality of riding in a spaceship are relegated to shows like Starcom. Yippee-ki-yay buckaroos and strap on your helmets because I’m off to the stars for this one!

Starcom_1Starcom represented one of the best toy ideas from the 1980s, regardless of gender stereotyping. While it did not have the big budget punch of say The Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, or LEGO, Starcom did have a certain niche that makes it still today a cult favorite. Space exploration, day to day general working equipment and also military combat all wrapped up in an almost Star Trek like future, or maybe more like Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Such a great toy line, one that I often held to what the future could become, and one that I did not have… which is ok. Motorized in strategic places and including magnets in others (including the figures’ feet!), Starcom had a lot of play value… plus no need for batteries!?!. Amazing. The only time I remember playing with these toys was at a house that belonged to a related cousin of my dad. I got along well with the two sons and on the floor was a ton of Starcom. The image is a little fuzzy, but that memory I vaguely remember was a good one.

Starcom_2Now then this is not a site about toys, what about the cartoon? As a show Starcom: The US Space Force is an interesting bird. 13 episodes in total it was a great installment for the Saturday morning lineup of the time and stood out in many ways. A large cast of characters, a broad outlook for space travel and exploration and an exciting atmosphere for what could be our future (I am still waiting!), Starcom has so much to offer. That and this is one of the best looking shows of the era and to no surprise it was animated in Japan. By TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) no less, can you see the great line work, color, lighting and events fluid movement in various camera angles? A gorgeous show… that in some ways is kind of limiting as well.

Starcom_3Now this is a personal opinion, but I think Starcom didn’t live up to it’s full potential as a cartoon. True there were only 13 episodes made, and we can take that into account, but I feel so much more could have been flushed out. The two factions of Starcom and the Shadow Force of Emperor Dark (nice hair man) never get into any real political struggles. True this was a toy show and the point was to show off all those awesome spacecrafts flying around, but really no stories depicting the a large scale drama of the two sides. The majority of the show highlights the ‘Big 3’ of Colonel’s Derringer, Griffin and Corbin (Dash, Slim and Crowbar), the three commanders of the three branches of Starcom, with only minor appearances from other Starcom members. Hey guys, share the spotlight a little… please? And then there’s the background music, which is awesome, but some of it sounds familiar to another DiC produced show. Is it me, or did DiC borrow some of the soundtrack from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? It was good once, so why not recycle it? I mean who would know? … besides hard corps Jayce nerds (LIKE ME!)

Starcom_4Please don’t think I am trashing Starcom as a show. Despite these flaws that are more personal than anything, this show is really top notch. Visually, as I said before, it’s one of the best looking shows of the era. The writing is clever, with comedic puns that never grow old (I have a bad feeling about this!) and on the other end of the spectrum a touch of sophisticated nuance. This is classic hard sci-fi, more in line with original Gundam, with plot lines that seemed a little more mature than the usual stop the bad guys narrative. Nantucket Sleighride, Caverns of Mars and Hot Enough For You? are three great episodes that really showed the bigger potential of the Starcom universe. I still wonder when we will have the chance to live and work in space just like in Starcom? As an idealist I still believe it can happen in my lifetime!

… now I have heard that the Shadow Force logo is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda’s Triforce, but I think it looks just like LEGO’s logo for the first iteration of Blacktron, except swapping yellow for red?

#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.

#151 : Inspector Gadget

I have a call on my secret hotline phone. Be right back … “Oh hey Chief (wait?… I have a boss?)… what… you’re where?… Wow Chief! I didn’t recognize you.”

“Here’s your assignment Classic Anime Museum.”

“This time review Inspector Gadget, as this was quite a popular cartoon during the 1980s and has spun off into several reboots. Of course focus on the original here as it was animated in Japan even though it was created for the Western market and watch out for M.A.D. agents. … This message will self destruct.”

“Got that Classic Anime Museum?”

“Sure thing. The Classic Anime Museum is always on duty. Oh by the way here is your note back.”

BOOM!!!… Now cue up that theme song that borrows themes from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and let’s get started! Go Gadget Go!

IG_1Ah yes, I remember Inspector Gadget very well. Who didn’t? OK some people who watched cartoons as a kid in the 1980s may not have had the opportunity, but I think that would be a rarity with this show. Inspector Gadget was huge and is one of those shows that is beautiful in being very neutral in presentation. Thank you for not shoehorning specific demographic requirements DiC. The only requirement is the asking of, “do you want a funny show, a very silly show?” Simple. Now then, Inspector Gadget may not have been my top pick for a cartoon as a kid (say what?), but I did enjoy it and remember it very fondly. Maybe because it had a weird time slot and it often was on when I was still in school (can I skip class?) and the only opportunity to watch the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ was on days off (hello summer break!). Thank goodness for today’s DVD releases and streaming sources. Needless to say, 80s cartoons without Inspector Gadget is like cereal without milk, peanut butter with out jelly… you get the idea.

IG_2Our hero, this man Gadget, is either the world’s greatest police officer, or just plain clueless. I vote for the later. He always solves his cases, but seems to have hidden help from his pet dog Brain and his niece Penny, a.k.a. the real problem solver. In truth, Penny is the true hero of this show and Uncle Gadget is the comic relief, as well as the star of the show. So the question that begs to be asked is how did these cases end up getting solved? Answer… fantastical 80s sci-fi style technology! Penny uses a computer book to find or calculate out all her answers and theories to learn what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents are up to. Who needs a MacBook Pro? That and her well mannered intuition compliments Gadget’s total lack of analysis. If you have to do a job right, give it to a kid, they are smarter than you think!

IG_3Each episode, or case if you will, is much like a 12-bar blues song and follows an almost strict formula. See enough episodes in a row and you begin to almost predict the next move, or scene strategically like in a game of chess. Just don’t over do it, one need never to get bored of Inspector Gadget. The concept of the show is partly a parody, or maybe more so an homage to the spy and police genres as a whole. Mix together one part Get Smart, one part James Bond, one part Mission Impossible and one part the The Pink Panther. Shake with a little French, Canadian and American pre-production via the legendary company DiC and finally garnish with stellar production animation from the Japanese Studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and you get Inspector Gadget. Also adding in the iconic voice work of Don Adams for Gadget does not hurt either. This of course draws on his former work in Get Smart, but I often think what if Peter Sellers had a shot at the role? Recalling the references to The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, this could have been up Sellers’ alley, though I would want him to keep his native British accent. This is total bias from a Sellers fan so… let’s continue on shall we (where’s my copy of Dr. Strangelove?).

IG_4Inspector Gadget… never fear as our hero is always on duty. I do fear for those poor M.A.D. agents who end up finding Gadget is more harm than help in regards to solving a case. I hope M.A.D. has a good insurance package. That being said I am glad Gadget is on our side, but it begs the follow question, since the original release back in 1983, is Gadget still fighting crime today? Are Penny and Brain still around? Does Penny use a Macbook Pro now? Could Gadget be near retirement? Will we ever see Dr. Claw’s face? One will never know. GO GO GADGET FOREVER!!