Special : Watership Down

WD_1This is the real real world… this is nature interpreted through an artist’s particular vision and, or vernacular. A veritable John Constable, or even at times a J.M.W. Turner landscape coming to life with all the lush blues, greens and browns that echoes a quiet summer’s day with a punch of yellow and orange. An organic world of basic survival, gut instinct and presence within the moment. Except our vantage point of view is not from our familiar human senses, but from those of the animals of the wild we commonly call rabbits. This is the epic of the heroes journey set in an honest portrayal, a grand adaptation of the original source material (how often does that happen?) and a story that will last for thousands of years. This is the original animated version of Richard Adams’ Watership Down.

I am totally, totally breaking the rules with this entry. Watership Down has absolutely nothing to do with Japan in either the source material, or the production. It is British in origin, British in terms of production and vocal casting and American with director Martin Rosen. The adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel technically should not be here… yet I MUST include Watership Down on this website. I love this film and draw so much inspiration from it. It may be perhaps my all time favorite animated creation. So much so that in one of my classes in college, I used Watership Down as visual material for one of my best design projects of my academic career. Watership Down is not just any other movie, it is my personal spiritual myth, my Holy Book.

WD_2Watership Down begins with a core element that is something we must all face, that of the unexplained. Fiver’s sixth sense of impending danger and Hazel’s trust in him to go on a great journey to find a safe land, paradise, Arcadia (Captain Harlock reference) is not of the rational. I often think sometimes animals in the wild have an intelligence that a portion of humanity has lost. A true deep connection to the universe that does not question the motives behind signs, or feelings. Call it whatever you wish, but to our lapine friends they put their trust to Lord Frith. For it was Lord Frith who bestowed the gifts of swiftness and cunning to El-ahrairah, the original chief of the rabbit race. With cunning, quick decision making, or trickery and a fast stride a rabbit can and does survive. Yet often we humans lose this ability to see and feel our true essence because of the conformity structures we try to belong to. When one “Let’s go and let’s God” (God as your personal definition) we become closer to those of the wild and in essence our truest selves.

WD_3Hazel is not the only one to believe Fiver’s calling. A group of deserters join including a former Owsla (Army) officer, Bigwig, to find this special land of safety. They must traverse unknown terrain, encounter obstacles and at times lose a comrade. They must learn just who to trust and keep faith that their journey is true even when deviation becomes tempting. With a gorgeous film score, exceptional voice acting (I became a fan of John Hurt immediately) and the natural style of the artwork, both characters and backgrounds, I often feel that I am outside in the world of nature and with our little friends on their quest. Sometimes fiction looks more real than fact? Watership Down is a masterpiece that took itself seriously and is a true labor of love. This movie can’t hide from the apparent details.

WD_4Animation and in particular the traditional painted cel has always been a source of joy and a personal sanctuary for me. Watership Down is a testament to this style. After the movie, I felt obliged to buy and read the book which I have gone threw a handful of times. Either medium provides the depth and assurance I sometimes need to know that I am one with this universe and that the cycles that we all live through are worth the ups and downs. Many talk about the so called violence in this film, but they are missing the true core. This is an honest and mature look at our lives and not some flashy over dramatization to appeal to a low common denominator. To Richard Adams, Martin Rosen, Angela Morley, the cast and production crew I heartedly thank you for giving all of us such a beautiful epic.

#129 : Thundercats

I want to look at Thundercats without any nostalgia pretense. No rosy glasses and no holding the show on a pedestal because it was a part of my youth. I will most likely slip up and that is ok, but let’s see what happens. Once upon a time Thundercats was one of those cartoons that was as familiar as breathing. It was popular, major popular. It was one of my favorite shows and an enjoyment each afternoon I got back home from school. Still, can Thundercats still hold up today without any pretense? I have a one word answer, YES!

tcats_1Rankin/Bass was a production studio that defined entertainment for many of us. Many of the classic Christmas specials, movies like The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit and Flight of Dragons and various TV projects hold your definition of how Rankin/Bass has left it’s mark on you. As a six year old in 1985 and interested in sci-fi and adventure I found a little show by the name of Thundercats and this series became my definitive personal definition of Rankin/Bass. I was well aware of many of the previous examples as well, yet Thundercats struck a chord and in a sea of many new and fresh shows during the decade of the 1980s Thundercats is one of a few shows that have had staying power in my life and hopefully yours.

tcats_2So what keeps Thundercats relevant all these years later? The mythology, the world building and the characters. This was an original show, as after all this was an action, sci-fi, fantasy tale where the heroes are cat-like humans. I love CATS! Classic designs and characters. Yet Thundercats is also a great mix of what is already known and an amalgam of the ‘Heroes Journey’. A mix of 80s anime aesthetics, traditional American superhero team sensibilities, Arthurian Legend elements, a Tolkien-esque world of various life forms and terrains and one of the most powerful opening sequences demonstrate the beauty and strength of this show. It’s HUGE! It’s also organic. So why is Thundercats great? Simple. It’s a living and breathing legend that sustains itself.

tcats_3So Thundercats is the perfect cartoon then? Well, not really. It all depends on one’s attitude. Some characters can get annoying, certain plot points can be a bit over the top and with the second season there became way too many characters in my opinion. But again, this is a cartoon, so sit back and relax. One could complain about a number of other things, but a TV show should not be one. Just take what you can from the experience and you will find in the end, it all fits together. Like one big family were everyone has a particular role to play in the grand scheme of things. Plus, as the show progresses we become more aware of the mythology and history of both Thundera and Third Earth.

tcats_4With all the reboots of Thundercats of more recent times, I have not given them much consideration. The original show did it so well and with integrity that I never found a reason to watch an alternative. Thundercats was well written, voice acted brilliantly and animated beautifully. One of the best looking and consistent in regards to all forms of production for the era of the mid 1980s. There are some shows you look back on from when you were young and you can ask yourself what did I see in this? Yet Thundercats has stayed with all of us as it is simply timeless. The setting, music, vernacular, syntax and storylines used are beyond the idea of time. Besides being the great old fashioned painted cel, analog, style of animation, nothing can really paint Thundercats as being ‘old’.

On a final note, Thundercats is a ‘sexy’ show… everybody was ripped, wore skin tight costumes and were just perfect ideals like ancient Greco-Roman statues. This was a ‘kid’s’ show? Then again in the 80s, a lot of shows were ‘sexy’. Look at He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Jem and the Holograms as examples. Perhaps this is yet another reason why these shows still resonate with our adult eyes, it’s ‘sexy’. … I can’t keep a straight face anymore 🙂

#125 : The Hobbit

hobbit_1“Hello, what’s this?” One often finds unexpected treasures on unplanned journeys that alter the course of destiny. Or maybe it was all preordained? Enter the rich and full harmonics of John Huston’s voice… “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”… now thus this classic journey begins yet again. Long before Peter Jackson’s film adaptations and well before I knew the name J.R.R. Tolkien had any meaning, I enjoyed a cartoon produced by Rankin/Bass and animated by a Japanese studio named Topcraft. It is simply named The Hobbit, just like the original book, and what a grand adventure it was and still is.

hobbit_2“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead…”, or perhaps it is also what has gone before. I have always found animation when done properly, can become the modern mythology that we all need as a society. At least in my case, many of the central core myths and legends are these moving drawn pictures which have shaped my reality, philosophies and life. When animation meets a literary mythical giant, then you have the opportunity for something really special. The Hobbit is an excellent piece of evidence towards this hypothesis. As a kid I had no notion of Tolkien’s legend or reputation and even still I am not the biggest fan, but I do know when a story is more than just an ephemeral experience.

hobbit_3The Hobbit is a classic Joseph Campbell styled ‘Hero’s Journey’ were one leaves a comfortable life of safety and routine to become transformed through an unexpected event, meeting, or situation. Bilbo Baggins is a metaphor for you, or me, and his joining up with Gandalf and the company of dwarves through his adventures of Middle Earth could be yours as well, though maybe not as fantastical. What’s your favorite part of Bilbo’s journey? Meeting Elrond, Bard, or even Smaug? Perhaps the run in and troubles with trolls, or goblins? My favorite, and perhaps for you as well, was the meeting of Gollum and Bilbo’s subsequent finding a shiny ring… my precious. But not just any ring. This ring is the legendary ring of power in the forthcoming Lord of the Rings. Gollum’s voice actor in this version sets a standard in my book for being so odd, eerie, corrupt and psychotic. A brilliant performance that sends shivers down the spine and also makes one want to imitate each intonation out of respect.

hobbit_4The artwork has a storybook quality almost like when you are a kid and each page unfolds with a new image that brings surprise. Or perhaps, an unfolding medieval scroll that has the grit and organic quality that feeds into the imagination. The designs are a combination of Tolkien standard illustrations and the odd character designs that are attributed to much or Rankin/Bass’ output from the late 70s/early 80s. Think The Last Unicorn, Flight of Dragons, or The Wind in the Willows. Almost a hybrid of western and Japanese sensibilities that are grotesque, but appealing in a way. No one looks heroic or fashionable and this again gives the story a little more of a grounded appeal. Almost as if this production did come out of the dirt and rocks of a landscape, very natural.

The grunt of the animation and drawing was accomplished by a studio named Topcraft, which evolved eventually into a fairly well known studio known as Ghibli. Heard of that one, it’s fairly famous and popular? After all, Topcraft was the group that Hayao Miyazaki worked with on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. However, Rankin/Bass had been a client of Topcraft during the 1970s and 1980s and this version of The Hobbit is a prime example of that partnership. Nice work everyone!

Short (as compared to an elongated live action movie trilogy), concise, well animated and with some sing along songs that add charm, the Rankin/Bass versioning of The Hobbit is still a standard go to for many of us. For me it is an early treasure, or perhaps a discovery, from my youth that still holds value into the current day. The Hobbit is one movie that I consider as ‘precious’, yet it does not corrupt like a particular ring. It instead enriches the soul.

#114 : Space Runaway Ideon

Space. The universe itself is vast and beyond scope. Space opera as a genre is also larger than life, but often you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Themes and characters are bigger than life, but still relatable on some level. What if space opera could represent something even bigger than just off hand spaceship battles, or fun times trekking through the deep vastness of the beautiful great void. Can space opera encompass the function and consequences of the living universe, call it ‘God’ perhaps, depending on the actions you and your civilization make? After finalizing Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise would gives us an answer in 1980 with Space Runaway Ideon.

Ideon_1Space Runaway Ideon may be the most epic and most importantly, the most sublime sci-fi epic in existence within the realm of Japanese animation. Gundam is one thing, Legend of Galactic Heroes is another, but Ideon is it’s own animal. Ideon ventures into unique territory in terms of emotion, intensity and characterization. Known often as a series where everyone and everything dies (Kill ’em all Tomino!), the true meaning of this series is so much more. The death and sacrifices are all consequences and actions of conflict and hatred. This of course is a product of ignorance and xenophobia to an extreme that once the negativity reaches a certain point, the only option left is total and complete destruction.

Ideon_2Even with all this seriousness one must remember that Space Runaway Ideon is first and foremost a mecha show. And what a giant robot indeed (105 meters/344.5 feet for a height), the Ideon is imposing beyond belief and is one of two mechs that literally scare the $h!& out of me (the other being Giant Robo). This is not so much for the overall size or power, but more so on the presence a mecha exudes. It’s about total respect. All this from what looks like a mix of a Gundam’s GM and Gun Cannon added together on a heavy dose of steroids. Literally… as this is a robot that can split a planet in half. This is power beyond power, almost ‘God’ like, hence why I give the Ideon such respect.

Ideon_3Beyond the drama and the Ideon robot itself, Space Runaway Ideon like many of the best mecha shows is about the relationships of it’s cast. And like many Tomino shows, this cast is large. Our story concerns two factions that make contact on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Earth based humans like us have begun colonization on the planet which they call Solo. Beyond the colonization, many of the scientists and researchers have discovered several artifacts from a past civilization including three huge truck like vehicles and a buried spaceship. The second faction known as the Buff Clan (yes that is their name) are on a mission to locate the legendary power of the Ide. They come upon this same planet, which they call Logo Dau and eventually both civilizations meet. In response, both sides start a conflict showing the darkest side of human interaction towards someone or something that is unfamiliar, or different.

Sadly Space Runaway Ideon would be become a victim of cancelization, most likely due to a lack of ratings not unlike the previous year’s Mobile Suit Gundam. This left several holes in the plot and a rushed ending. All the build up of 38 episodes led to an ackward final 39th. Yet the story was not over for in 1982 two movies would be released to finish the story properly. The Ideon: A Contact would act as a review and prequel to the awesome and powerful The Ideon: Be Invoked. I highly recommend both movies if you want to get the whole story of Ideon.

Ideon_4To conclude with Space Runaway Ideon, let us examine a quote by Albert Einstein… “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” If that decision in the end is a hostile one, there is nowhere to go except toward ultimate destruction… think about it. This applies not only to anime space opera, but also our lives as well. Similar to, but not the same as Evangelion, Ideon addresses the power of how we sometimes view our environment and ourselves and what happens in regards to how we react toward it. Space Runaway Ideon was and still is a show beyond any experience I have known and I will always count it as one of my all-time favorites.

#103 : Horus: Prince of the Sun

Horus_1I often wonder, was Horus: Prince of the Sun ‘born under a bad sign’? Many circumstances attempted to derail this early gem of the modern era of Japanese animation. It went over budget, it took more time to finish and even the parent animation company of Toei and it’s producers wanted to shelf this film. Why? This film had and even still has so much potential; it took chances and sounded a battlecry for a new generation of animators. And there in lies the answer as Horus: Prince of the Sun attempted to break free of the conservative standards of the day by telling a different story in both concept and direction. The results of this would honor Horus with critical notoriety over the years as one of the crowning achievements of the 1960s.

Horus_2By 1968 Isao Takahata had become a solid veteran in the animation industry and gained a reputation as a leader of those younger up and coming members of the industry in the 1960s. With both TV and film work of various degrees under his belt there was one achievement that this young man had left to fulfill and that was to direct a feature film. This opportunity came, but at a price. As mentioned before from the start this movie had some nasty karma associated with it. Producers at Toei, money and time all had a hand in stopping this film, but Takahata with his quiet demeanor and steadfast approach to being a director made sure that this film would get made, finished and then released.

The major controversy of this film can be traced into the story itself. The Norse mythology and look that was used was nothing more than a cover for another story that existed underneath. Japan’s native population, the Ainu, had for generations been looked down upon yet their culture was rich and diverse. A new generation wanted to adapt a traditional tale of the Ainu and present a more serious subject matter to give animation a more mature option. Both progress and change are a part of civilization and this new generation of artists and animators wanted to be at the vanguard of this movement. This was the 1960s after all and be it America, Europe, or Japan, the youth of the period were questioning and protesting against the rules and the establishment of their day.

Horus_3The story is a quintessential tale of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ (all hail Joseph Campbell) where our young hero Horus, sometimes translated to Hols, must integrate into the greater whole of civilization. This is a common theme I find in Takahata’s work and both sides of the extreme can be seen in Grave of the Fireflies (going against society and/or being ignored by society) on one end of the spectrum and Pom Poko (the community coming together for a common concern) on the other. Horus soon settles into a town and becomes a local hero after conquering a giant pike (fish) that prevented fish from being a food source to the local people. Soon afterwards he meets a wayward girl, Hilda, with a mysterious and unknown past and a large, very large, chip on her shoulder. Hilda is quite a complex character and her relationship with Horus is complicated and becomes a key element for the plot of the story as the film progresses forward.

Horus_4Horus: Prince of the Sun not only took more seriously the storytelling, but also on a technical level, the animation itself. This film amongst other examples of the era raised the standard of the quality of Japan’s output. Disney was the standard and Horus: Prince of the Sun is on par with the quality of the venerated classic Disney films. In certain aspects it excels, in particular with the action sequences with the pike fight and the final showdown. Of course Japan has always had an edge (my opinion) in regards to action and the movement and fluidity required to make those sequences work.

This is a film that has taken a few views on my part to fully appreciate the greatness to what Horus: Prince of the Sun truly is. Due to the issues with the production of the film it has it’s own way of unfolding the plot, which took me a little getting used to, but once I understood the whole of the scope of this film I came to love this movie. It’s classic Takahata and I recommend you to watch this one at least once to see where anime once was, where anime was going and see where this film has left it’s influence today.

… on a personal note, I dedicate this posting to the memory of Isao Takahata who passed away recently. Thank you good sir for your work and I for one will never forget the stories you shared with us all.

Isao Takahata
Oct 29, 1935 – Apr. 5, 2018

#100 : Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Macross_1It’s #100 and I saved this one for this occasion. 🙂 In the far future of the year 1999… oh wait it’s 2018 now… don’t you hate it when the once thought of far future becomes a past memory? Well let pretend it’s 1982 once again, when a little show created by a bunch of anime and sci-fi fans hit the airwaves. Their story as stated before began in the year 1999 when suddenly a warp gate opens, bringing a behemoth of a spaceship into our local area of interstellar space. And much like a wild meteor with a mission, this ship came down like a speeding bullet onto a little island in the South Pacific. Ladies and gentlemen we humans are most definitely not alone anymore and this lone fictitious event in the sky is the beginning to THE most important anime in my whole fandom and life.

Macross_2Love is something you can’t describe with simple language and if you can, it really is not the passionate love you should feel from the bottom of your heart. In 1985, as an impressionable six year old, via an adaptation named Robotech, I fell in love with the most beautiful of space operas. NO, one of the greatest mecha anime ever. NO, the greatest love story that I have ever encountered. Well… maybe all three combined. I had experienced a story, characters and emotions that resonated with me on a level one cannot define. This was and still is a title many of us hold in the highest regards as something beyond special. It was one of my gateway anime and remains to this day the yardstick that I measure anything else I watch up to it… Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

Coming from my perspective and fandom and with all the variety of opinions already stating what happens in the show, the only thing I can give is what Macross has given to me on a personal level. Macross is not a television show, or even an anime. It is a part of my family, pure and simple; close knit family to be exact. These are my adopted brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and best friends. Even though the cast are not with me in the physical plane, they have been instrumental in keeping me alive, healthy and happy. Macross for me is the Beatles’ In My Life, “there are places I remember… some have gone and some remain… all these places have there moments… In my life, I love you more.” I don’t see this posting as another entry, this is a soliloquy in the form of a love letter.

Macross_3Much credit to Macross is given to Shojo Kawamori (way too much!) almost as if it was “his” project alone, which of course is NOT true! But again where did Macross come from… a manga, toyline, yada yada… nope? It was it’s own creation, completely original and influenced by a group of young creative fans. An almost proverbial otaku’s dream come true, the purest form of fan service. Not the emphasis on the usual definition of fan service, but the wanting to add reference upon reference making the story grand and sentimental. You can give credit to others like Noburo Ishiguru or Ichiro Itano, but one individual makes Macross very special (my opinion)… the greatest character designer ever (again my opinion), Haruhiko Mikimoto!

Macross_4Mikimoto’s eye designs are always what win me over. Beautiful eyes with a romantic quality, they glisten like stars in the night (Mikimoto insists it was a shojo influence). Therefore this is the best looking cast ever (my opinion yet again), particularly our main cast… the perfect trio, handsome Hikaru, elegent Misa and adorable Minmei. Beyond the ‘main’ cast you have a huge subsidiary group and all of them get a couple minutes to show their individuality, but I have only been speaking of those of us who are all Earth born. Macross, after all, is an epic space opera and humanity meets another race from a far off area of the universe. Remember that spaceship I mentioned earlier that crashed onto the Earth… it is of interest of giant alien race, the Zentradi.

Macross_5Thus the plot begins… a spaceship gets refurbished, an alien invasion leads humanity into outer space, a war ensues, a young girl’s dream of becoming a pop star comes true, a love triangle becomes difficult and the questioning of the origins of both humanity and the warlike Zentradi are tied to the mysterious Protoculture (not exactly the same thing as in Robotech folks)… and stretches over 36 episodes in total. Wow! Busy show indeed and never boring. No wonder Macross reached the tops of popularity since there is something for everyone to enjoy. But then again like I said before, this was a show made by fans of anime, manga and sci-fi. They knew which buttons to push to get the reactions which we all can identify with.

Macross_6Wait a minute… I forgot to go into detail about one important piece of Macross that I love. One word… MUSIC! Music plays a major role in the plot and the soundtrack is oh so good. I love music, I play music and great music in an anime is a thumbs up from my end. Kentaro Haneda’s orchestral work is inspiring and certain tracks, in particular Dog Fighter, are anthemic. The character of Minmei and her pop idol status was one of the first iterations of this character archetype. Love it or hate it, Macross would not be the same without Minmei as the cheerleader so to speak. She was the true star of Macross, yet not the major protagonist who was Hikaru. Her simple pop songs, a blast of culture more precisely, changes the course of events in this show. Love conquers all, literally.

The closing titles features a song called Runner, a sentimental ballad. And I will end this entry by saying that Macross and I have run together a long, long time (hard to admit you are getting older, but wisdom is worth the age!). Hand in hand, Macross and I will run forever. …with 100 postings down, it’s time to write another 100! 🙂

 

#78 : Saint Seiya: The Movies

Saint Seiya, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways… I can forgive many of the short comings of Saint Seiya. In essence, it is a run of the mill shonen fighter, but the inclusion of Greek mythology, astrology and heavy melodrama make it a heavy favorite for me. The original TV series I love dearly, the manga was great, the Hades Arc OVAs which finished the original manga adaptation was welcomed. A couple years ago, the company Discotek released a bunch of SS materials. I bought a few of these DVDs and here is what came of that purchase.

SS_M_1I will only make comment on the four SS films that were released from 1987 to 1989. All of these were released by Discotek and fall into my blog’s concentration on anime of the 1970s and 1980s. Several other productions would appear decades later, but these four titles will be under the spotlight: Evil Goddess Eris (1987), The Heated Battle of the Gods (1988), Legend of Crimson Youth (1988) and Warriors of the Final Holy Battle (1989). All four are out of canon to the original manga and ironically The Heated Battle of the Gods is an alternative to the filler Asgard Arc from the TV series. These films are more for fun and I am sure were created to keep the SS marketing machine going.

SS_M_2All four movies are very cliche and are so formulaic that I end up predicting the whole plot before the beginning credits. Though each film has it’s own pace and variation on the so called theme, or leitmotif of the fightype formula of successive adversaries leading up to, they all kind of go like this… A great arch enemy descends and brings five subordinates. In the process Saori/Athena either gets kidnapped, or wooed away (if this enemy is oh so charming and handsome). Then our five Bronze Saints begin there quest to save their sacred leader. Usually Pegasus Seiya goes first and then gets that crap kicked out of him, but defeats the adversary. Next comes Cygnus Hyoga and the process repeats and then we get to Dragon Shiryu. He as well falls after a great fight, but Shiryu ends up having his cloth removed because we all have to witness his owe so muscular chest. Seriously, watch any SS and this always happen.

SS_M_3Next we get a double feature with Andromeda Shun, the ‘cute’ one who is more of a pacifist, also falls victim to his adversary. And that is when Shun’s brother Phoenix Ikki shows up and says, “Yo, you be messin’ with my brother? I’m gonna mess you up good!” Then Ikki puts the smack down. Seriously, always bailing out your younger brother. When will Shun learn to take care of himself? Later, Athena falls into further peril and all five of the boys, though being deeply beaten, trek towards the final showdown to take down the big bad enemy. All five boys take a stand one at a time and then like a miracle of the heavens, the Sagittarius Gold Cloth appears. Of course it chooses Seiya every time and all the boys cry out “Seiya, Seiya” and after that… Seiya reborn to perfection and full of strength draws the bow to shoot the golden arrow to save the day. Then all is happy ever after. …you can’t make this all up?

SS_M_4Of the four films, three are 45 minute shorts so it makes sense that they are not the most deep in regards for plot. You are cramming a supposed arc into less than an hour! The third film, Legend of Crimson Youth, which is over an hour long, has a plot that bends the predictive formula and has a bit more drama and… is my favorite of the four. Plus, in this film, we see the resurrection and inclusion of the five Gold Saints who fell during the Sanctuary Arc of the TV series: Gemini Saga, Cancer Deathmask, Capricorn Shura, Aquarius Camus and Pisces Aphrodite. Gold Saints forever!, they add to the plot greatly. This was also a film which celebrated the 20th anniversary of SS’s parent publisher, Shonen Jump.

So in final, I would watch these one at a time and… Nothing is ever a substitute for that original Sanctuary arc of the TV series 🙂 These are, as mentioned earlier, sideline stories that are not a part of the original plot so take these for what you will.