#202 : Fist of the North Star 2

Legends never die, heroes are immortal… with all that in mind, let’s have a sequel! Considered the genesis point of shonen fighter that defined the genre we know today, Fist of the North Star was as much evolutionary as it was revolutionary. The epic tale of the wandering martial artist Kenshiro has only just begun after the conclusion of the 1984 TV series. A film adaptation would follow in 1986 and a multitude of reboots have abounded ever since. Yet in 1987 a true sequel, or perhaps continuation was released to TV. Familiar faces have returned and new foes await in Fist of the North Star 2. Are you, “A tough boy (or girl)” that knows what it means to be “livin’ in the 90s”?

FotNS2_1Round Two! Now then, is this going to be nothing more than just a wash, rinse and repeat series almost as if the first Fist of the North Star never ended? I thought the battling was over; Raoh was defeated and peace was brought back to the land. Didn’t Ken and Yuria get to live happily ever after and settle down, build a house, raise a family, etc.? Not completely. Three truths exist in life: death, taxes and shonen fighters are often never over even when it is over. Just add yet another arc again and again and again if the going is good. So don’t expect nothing new in terms of what you have seen before, well except for the characters we meet during this 43 episode sojourn.

FotNS2_2Let us now return to more familiar names. Kenshiro is obvious, this is his show after all, but two faces you may not recognize completely are Bat and Lin. During the first series they were both young children who were often under the care of Kenshiro like a surrogate father. For Fist of the North Star 2, Bat and Lin reunite and fight along side Kenshiro as they have grown into adulthood. A true surrogate family reunion. Many new quests include finding the Celestial Emperor, a journey to the Island of Asura and the distant memories as well as the ever powerful influence of the once mighty Raoh still permeate throughout the land. In usual fashion, Kenshiro ends up wanting to go it alone eventually, feeling he is the one with the cross to bear the heavy load. Oh yeah… and can you believe it… Lin has a twin sister too?

FotNS2_3I have remarked in the past how I appreciate the type of protagonist Kenshiro is. He may be ripped and very masculine, but his quiet and caring demeanor (towards those who are just and kind) and ability to move, or fight, when the time is right is more an aspect of the feminine. He is well balanced, the definition of yin and yang in harmony, but there is more that makes Fist of the North Star appealing outside of the fighting. While Mad Max and Bruce Lee are obvious visual influences there were a couple others that I noticed watching this sequel series in particular. Fist of the North Star is the ultimate lone wolf samurai story, or put another way, perhaps the best Western ever told not in the Wild West. This is totally a Spaghetti Western in every way, but for the fact that Fist of the North Star is a Japanese cartoon about the martial arts. I prefer the cartoons (obviously) 😉 … Who needs cowboys anyway?

… and then wouldn’t you know it, about halfway through the series we do encounter cowboys.

FotNS2_4You can have too much of a good thing. I enjoy Fist of the North Star overall, but in all honesty I was getting a little tired getting through this second series. It’s a great sequel, but like many shonen fighters I often wonder when they will ever end. This second series in many ways can be considered like Dragon Ball Z to the original Dragon Ball in that for both franchises we are just moving into an evolved portion of the plot that takes place years later. After all these years I will be the first to say that after all this fighting, Ken please consider retiring. You must be tired and you have earned your time to relax my friend. But Ken as he is will most likely never retire as he is always on some sort of a journey.

By the way… even though the opening sequence said everyone was fightin’ and livin’ in the 90s… Fist of the North Star 2 didn’t look much like the 90s that I remember. Oh well, maybe I was not livin’ I guess. 😉

#196 : Cybernetics Guardian

A dystopian future, rapid scientific advancements, hidden secret societies, high intense action and the coming of a savior of darkness to cleanse the world… yeah that sounds fun, but what else have you got to offer? Well how about massive lion’s mane hair? Oh yes, now we are talking. A possessed beast with massive hair that defies gravity, yeah I don’t care how bad the plot is, or is not, I think we have here a hit for an OVA. But then a familiar name appears, Koichi Ohata. Oh no, not M.D. Geist… again! Never fear, this time we have something different. This time we’ll dive into Cybernetics Guardian.

CG_1Meet now our protagonist. This John Stocker fellow has a bright future ahead of him. His job is to test out a mech suit made of astenite, a metal that draws in transformative psychic energy and has been used variously in many medical applications to great success. All goes well until a test accident awakens hidden powers inside Mr. Stalker. A demonic presence named Saldo begins to emerge which heightens even more so after John Stalker’s body is kidnapped by a masked and robed figure. He is taken back to his childhood home, the slums of the city known as Cancer. There evil priests revive in process this beastly creature that was once John Stalker to lay ravage onto the city of Cyber-wood.

CG_2Simple and basic, this story is a generic tale seen in many comic book scenarios… “Unleash the beast within”, or “OMG, what has happened to me, I’m possessed!” Except this time our protagonist gets the ultimate coif… it has to be a weave! Cybernetics Guardian is definitely anime and has the feel we expect from Japanese hands, yet I can’t help but witness a more Western influence. The characters look more Caucasian than usual, which of course is subjective to my eye, but even the setting feels like Los Angeles from Blade Runner, which of course borrowed many Eastern elements. So perhaps we have a draw of sorts with no real side taken between East or West? Visually in terms of color and mood there just is something different in the palette that draws more into the more indie or underground American style. Maybe it’s just me?

CG_3For being a short one off production and a product of Koichi Ohata, Cybernetics Guardian is actually decent to watch. Nothing against Ohata, but many of his productions have a schlock feel too them with a touch of the ultra violent. Cyberbetics Guardian has a little of this as well, but there is also some substance under the showing off of hyper active macho gore. M.D. Geist I liked, though it is a bit on the ridiculous (so bad it’s entertaining), and Genocyber I could never get through a whole watching (just not my thing). Yet Cybernetics Guardian is a happy medium and can function well as there is humanity in the John Stocker character, unlike say Geist. By no means a top of the line OVA release Cyberbetics Guardian is well executed in terms of paint and pen and has enough of of an okay story to watch through, just not very often. It might be the crown jewel of Ohata’s early work?

#188: Dallos

“And if the band your in starts playing different tunes… I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” There is tension in the air… on the moon of all places, which has no breathable air except for the enclosed colonies where the inhabitants live. These colonists who mine resources to feed the Earth are beginning to find their social treatment and political conditions unbearable. Beyond these tensions on the dark side of the moon is an odd mystery. A gigantic mechanical device that many of the inhabitants revere as a deity sits in utter silence. The name of this mysterious giant as well as the production that features it is a landmark title in the history of anime, Dallos.

Dallos is known for two distinctions in the general knowledge category of anime. The first was the fact that it was the original direct to video release, known better as the OVA. The second was it was directed by Mamoru Oshii (Angel’s Egg, Ghost in the Shell), which is partially true. Also directing was a quiet legend, mostly unknown here in the west, Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman, Salamander, Lily C.A.T.), who as the senior of the two should honestly be listed first. As the first OVA release, Dallos broke ground in terms of distribution of anime at the time. Within a couple years the category became a viable market for projects that may have had the budget, subject matter, or space for creative freedom to afford itself to be either on television or the cinematic big screen. Long before the internet, or digital sharing, the OVA was a gray area to work in as an in between, a place Dallos fit into very well.

With a slick presentation, Dallos does perform in terms of the action sequences in terms of detail and fluidity, but the story is something that still leaves me questioning. Though we do have a good cast of characters, no one really stood out in this hard sci-fi dystopia as the major focal point. The young, slightly angsty Shun Nomomura is our obvious protagonist, yet the overall collective and environment felt like the star of this show. Dallos is an anime about society under Orwellian social control, an anime about the status quo bourgeoisie versus the working class proletariat, an anime about native Earth born humans versus spacenoids (Gundam?), an anime about the varying opinions of generations. All great themes, but unfortunately with all this great drama, it never focused itself into a cohesive narrative that went anywhere, or answered to any conclusions.

Mixed with the underdeveloped story is the concept of the supposed deity like machine Dallos itself. A giant mechanized mystery on the far side of the moon that looks like a face has no real mythology beyond the respect by the original moon settlers. This older generation, well into the twilight of their lives, try to explain this to the younger elements with little acceptance. Such is youth to take life into their own hands, but they to will soon learn. Autonomously Dallos defends itself  during the uprising tensions, but as to any explanation as to what the mechanical behemoth stands for, or even it’s purpose for existence is a pure mystery.

The DVD copy that I own also contained a retrospective containing interviews with many members of the crew from Studio Pierrot including Oshii. Even though this was not an episode of the OVA series it was my favorite part of the whole viewing process. Perhaps the inclusion of two directors for one project weakened the possibilities of what could have been? The discussion of doing a hard sci-fi production with no promotional material, like toys or model kits, and having heavy subject matter was a great idea, but needed more time for polishing the final product. Dallos had so much potential, but is nothing more than an experiment that just did not fall completely into place. A visual treat for sure, but a disappointment in terms final explanation. A longer narrative run could have helped? Although Studio Pierrot’s upcoming OVA for 1985, Area 88, performed flawlessly as a short run episode count series as well. Area 88 by the way was directed by Toriumi.

#144 : Bubblegum Crisis

BGC_1The year of 2032… Mega Tokyo… hey what happened to regular Tokyo?… all hell has broken loose with these so called Boomers trashing the place. These androids are even too much for the illustrious AD Police, even with all their firepower and sophisticated technology. I demand to see how much of the tax revenue is being spent for this organization. We must therefore have a need for a third party to aid in this scenario. Welcome to the ’Hurricane’ world of the Knight Sabers. A world where a quartet of armored young women are the best answer for peace and justice. A world known simply as Bubblegum Crisis.

So Bubblegum Crisis… it’s like Blade Runner with both the action intensity and sexiness turned way up high. Plus, get extra hairspray as this is the 80s; tease that hair kidos! I guess if one is to make their own anime homage to a Blade Runner-like universe, one must do it very LOUD! Make is sexy! Drop all that film noir moodiness and introspection and let the action tell the story. And for good measure why not add in a little bit of The Terminator, Batman and Streets of Fire for good measure. Plus why not also spice things up with a little sentai squad action, wearable mechanical armor and good looking characters via Kenichi Sonoda. Hmm, explosions and attractive people with a dash of cyberpunk for good measure, now I see why this OVA gained some notoriety. For a time Bubblegum Crisis defined what anime was for many fans, but as we all know, anime is so much more than just well animated hi-octane action stories.

BGC_2OK just who are these Knight Sabers exactly? A lingerie store owner, a motorcycle obsessed rock singer, an aerobics instructor and a junior member of the AD Police make up our heroic quartet. Interesting… just shows you don’t really know people that well outside the office. While their day jobs are quite ordinary, the Knight Sabers crime fighting skills are anything but. With the aid of skin tight wearable armor that aids in performance, these girls can kick some serious butt. Seriously! Kind of like Saint Seiya with super high end technology that has a more fetish like approach that could rival the robot designs from say The Humanoid? With high heels too! Gatchaman may have thigh high boots, but the Knight Sabers have stilettos. And it is these spike heeled suits that do the best damage against the Genom Corporation’s never ending renegade Boomer population. The AD Police try their best, but they often have a better role as spectators. The fighting style that the Knight Sabers employs reminds me a lot of Casshan… come to think of it he had a streamlined body suit too. Holy cow, where are all these references to other anime coming from?

BGC_3Bubblegum Crisis is perhaps the biggest creation of the studio AIC. Built on the bedrock of Megazone 23 and two other Sonoda designed entries, Wannabies and Gall Force, Bubblegum Crisis is AIC at it’s height. Perhaps these three previous entries led the way like stepping stones towards Bubblegum Crisis? Who can say, but everything was right and in place to bring the Knight Sabers to the OVA market, which by 1987 was really in high gear. Bubblegum Crisis is in many ways an original creation that is an homage to so many pop culture references. Fans of sci-fi and anime making their own anime their way.

BGC_4I know Bubblegum Crisis is beloved by many established fans and everyday is introduced to new ones via whatever method you choose to watch. I will say I like it, but I don’t get all the hype. Maybe because this was one of the best options back in the day as it was easy to come by and it spoke towards certain demographics. I will admit it’s a classic, animated very well (almost seems like each episode is a mini movie; late 80s OVA quality!) and a nice example of cyberpunk as a genre. As a piece of action entertainment Bubblegum Crisis is stellar, but for me at least it starts to wear down particularly in the later episodes. Still, it is fun and has a rockin’ soundtrack, can’t complain about that!

#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?

#77 : Toward the Terra

I love science fiction, can’t help it because a). it’s in my DNA to be into the future and far out subject matter and b). I was born into a generation where there was a flood of it. Right place at the right time indeed. In my early days of searching for more of the grandiose tales of the future and outer space I would come across a tale of social dissatisfaction, totalitarian government, social order and the rise of the individual and evolutionary diversity that can’t be ignored. This was the pride of 1980, the promise of a decade to come, the beautiful and austere Toward the Terra.

TtT_1Often we think of science fiction as a grandiose showing of space battles and action, but the real focus of great science fiction is in the commentary of the social condition of the now. These are the great myths and stories of our contemporary age told to criticize actions that need to be addressed right now. It is about our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. The Toei produced film adaptation of Keiko Takemiya’s manga, To Terra, is one of my favorite tales of social critique. Kind of like The Matrix meets Star Wars mixed with the mood and the finding of one’s humanity of Blade Runner. Why do I watch anime, cartoons, or whatever you want to call this stuff? Toward the Terra is one of my best answers.

TtT_2In a society where children are born of test tubes and raised by foster parents until the age of awakening, 14 years, there are those who don’t fit into the criteria. Jomy Marcus Shin is one of these children. He acts impulsively, has odd nightmares and a strong sense of individuality. The government has their eyes on him, because he may be one of the Mu, an advanced form of humanity with esper powers that is a threat to the conformity of the current status quo. The system must hold it’s population in check to keep humanity from making the mistakes of the past that destroyed the great planet of Terra, Earth. Individuality is the enemy, being special is the enemy, being different is the enemy, being who ‘YOU’ really are is the enemy.

TtT_3Along with Jomy are two other important characters, the first being the leader of the Mu, Soldier Blue, who is looking for his successor. Despite his youthful appearance he knows his advanced age is creeping up on him. And the second is the mysterious Keith Anyan, one of the system’s elite who was literally, born and prepped for his position in life. Keith much like Roy Batty in Blade Runner has to come to terms with his existence and what is right not for the system, or government, but for the greater of the human race. These are not our only characters, an understudy of Jomy named Tony will also appear later in the story that spans over the lifetime of this generation. Much like a Legend of the Galactic Heroes kind of epic with all the characters and drama, but without all the military tactics.

TtT_4As I have said earlier this may be a tale of the future, but this is a tale of the now be it 1980, or 2017 (the writing of this blog). How much do we lose as we grow up? How much of yourself is really you? Are you really honest with who you really are? Are you happy, I mean really happy? These are questions asked in the film, but are also questions we ask ourselves not in some far of distant galaxy far, far away. Seriously, we all have asked these questions. And why can’t more science fiction follow this format? This was what made sci-fi oh so awesome back in the days of yore, but alas they are a little more rare in these days… or are they?

For those of you who are more into the modern style of contemporary anime, you are in luck as there is another adaptation, a TV series, of Toward the Terra that was released in 2007. The manga is available as well, but of the three options I prefer the film that I have been writing about. We all have a choice and I respect your decision, but this movie moved me the most, made me feel the most and as of recent upon re-watching this movie, I connected on yet another level. I can’t explain it in words, I only hope you enjoy this wonderful story as well.

#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.