#174 : Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

Don’t judge an old dirty lamp by it’s appearance alone. A quick rub on the metal, ceramic, or whatever material you choose (I vote for lapis luzali) can bestow to it’s owner quite the unexpected surprise of abundant wishes. What do you wish for? All I want is an anime adaptation of Aladdin. After all Japan has animated everything it seems and there must be an alternative to the Disney version. Nothing against the Disney version, I just want to include an adaptation of this classic tale from the classic One Thousand and One Nights here at CAM. I may not have a lamp, but I did get my wish granted via a 1982 Toei production, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.

Aladdin_1Our story is a familiar one… a street punk who wants to do more with his life gets the chance of a lifetime to go search for a hidden treasure aided by a mysterious and perhaps villainous character who bestows a ring to the young man in case he comes into danger. Our hero finds this lost treasure, a lamp, but is soon trapped. Talk about being double crossed! With the magic of the ring and eventually the lamp our young man finds his way home and bestows a great luxurious meal once returned. Soon our young man meets a young lady, a princess in fact, who has run away from the palace to avoid selecting a suitor for an arranged marriage. Our young man has an idea and uses the lamp to grant his wish to become a prince himself so he could marry the princess. All is well… until the lamp and the princess are taken like a thief in the night. Our hero must now recapture both his prized lamp and his true love.

Aladdin_2Sounds like Aladdin, but this also reminded me of the previously mentioned The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots due to the fact that a common young man tries to pass himself off as royalty to impress a princess. A common story theme, but now my question to propose is did Disney see this version? The evil wizards, Grand Wazir and Jafar are similar looking. The genie is green instead of blue in the Toei version. Also no Robin Williams. The name of princess is Boudour and not Jasmine, much closer to the original Badroulbadour. Aladdin does get a ring in the original story, another point for the Toei version. Much like The Little Mermaid, Toei created a more faithful interpretation to the original source material. And even without the mega budget and musical numbers that the Disney version is noted for, the Toei version was released a solid decade before Disney’s version. Was the 1982 Toei version watched as source material? Your guess is as good as mine.

Aladdin_3For many years, Toei adapted fairy tales, or folk tale classics into full length animated features. Many of which would find release during the VHS era in the west with appropriate dubs. Aladdin was one I was not aware of, yet Swan Lake and The Little Mermaid I had known since childhood. Plus, there was The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots and The Wild Swans as well. Now I can include Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp amongst all these other stories as official anime! The Disney version is great as well, but now we have an alternate to bring into the fold. Funny how Teoi as a company wanted to be the Japanese equivalent to Disney way back in the company’s inception.

Aladdin_4This debate is almost like the SNES vs Genesis Aladdin games as both are different, but fun and entertaining as well. Take your pick! The same story told from a very different perspective. For me I will side with the Toei version because I always cheer for team anime, but I do like Disney’s version as well. Fun and adventure in a far off time and place that seems almost surreal, yet very familiar. And to add another feather into the team anime hat, Toei’s Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp is only an hour long, shorter yet I prefer compact and just the right size, but with no added filler. A nice simple tidy package. The perfect gift, or should I say film…  or better yet… the perfect wish.

#172 : Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers

A dark cloud hovers over Tokyo cutting off power, while the population disappears. Five young men clad in modernized samurai armor, one bringing a giant white tiger, join forces with a teenage girl and a young boy to confront this dark shadow. Oh yes, I forgot to mention there is a traveling monk who wields a staff and is in many ways like a guardian angel to the four boys who seems to show up at just the right time. Together they learn to work together and embody the virtues they stand for: grace, justice, righteousness, trust and wisdom. Welcome to Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers.

ST_1At first I wanted to dismiss Samurai Troopers as a bland Saint Seiya clone, but that was before even trying this delicacy of a show. Samurai Troopers is kind of weird though. I can’t call it a straight forward fighting anime in the style of Shonen Jump. I often equate influences of live action sentai shows, or perhaps Gatchaman and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai where our five heroes come into town ready to go like in any proper samurai, or western film. There is no real aspect of extended training, or a plethora of story arcs that equate an episode count to well over 100, 200, or more. I also get a mecha vibe as well, since the armors are almost mechanical in nature. Plus the armors combine and this was a product of Sunrise, a studio known for many great mech shows including that little franchise known as Gundam. The transformation sequences make me think of henshin heroes, or even magical girls. The stock sequence of the boys transforming is enough to make any proper magical girl shout out… “hey why can’t we get one that fancy?!” Samurai Troopers just is what it is, an amalgam and a great action show in general.

ST_2As an action show characterization is in the passenger seat to the fun and fighting. The five youths that are the Samurai Troopers are very cliche in a typical sentai squad kind of way with main hero Ryo taking a majority of the screen time. Seiji, Shin, Sho and Toma have minor arcs of an episode or two, but I wish they could have had more presence. Their main adversaries the Dark Warlords are a quartet of typical badies who are quite sour in temperament… except one. Shiten from the beginning showed to be the outsider, a man of some moral character that eventually sees the light for his past actions. Shiten’s place at the end of the first arc and in the entirety of the second was a welcome surprise and solidified him as a personal favorite for me. In the end Samurai Troopers is all about saving the day, but looking ever so fashionable samurai armor… with ever greater transformation sequences.

ST_3Like many shows one can liken it to a ride at an amusement park. The most ideal would be to start at ground level and progressively move up to the finality. Very few anime ever follow this pattern and Samurai Troopers much like a roller coaster starts off building up, waning a little in the middle and then builds ups even more towards the end. Samurai Troopers follows two story arcs in the 39 episode run, though they end up tying together as one. The first arc felt as if it ended quite abruptly and then at the start of the second, at least for me, it took a little effort to get going. Yet after a handful of episodes the story came back to attention. Think of a director in a film calling cut and rethinking what has happened and saying, “hey we could have done this better!” So begins phase two and the true promise of the story of Samurai Troopers would bear fruit.

ST_4Many in the west came to know an alternate release, Ronin Warriors, which besides some name changes and some “totally” 90s slang is very faithful to the original. Impressive, plus the cast was familiar as it was accomplished via the Canadian Ocean Group, a very familiar cast who dubbed many shows in the 90s. Short and sweet, simple and straight forward, adventurous fun with action, this is what Samurai Troopers is all about. I also want to give a quick thanks to Ashley Capes from The Review Heap for requesting Samurai Troopers. Visit his site for other great reviews as well!

#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#169 : Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora

“QUESTION!” Time to dive really deep into this pile of forgotten anime titles. Let’s investigate the bottom of this bin and find something special. Ah ha ha, nice choice. Have you ever heard of an OVA trilogy by the name of Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? “QUESTION!” What happens when you combine a pretty heroine packing a sword and a shield, a goofy transforming sidekick, a handsome, yet cruel villain, space travel, fantasy and a pair magical jewels? You get the plot for the beginnings of an often under appreciated mid-1980s OVA series. OK, I think we have the makings for a good story here… time to watch. Popcorn please!

DDHF_1Let’s meet our beautiful heroine Miss Fandora (Fandora-sama), who so happens to be a bounty hunter by trade. She treks all over the galaxy with her partner Que, who happens to be a shapeshifter. And she always, seems to be short on money after each job. So far this sounds similar to Rumiko Takahashi’s Maris: The Chojo? Now’s the time to diverge. Part of her uniform is the red Jewel of Lupia, which is a prominent part of her crown like headdress. Did she borrow her fashion sense from She-Ra: Princess of Power? Drawing power from this jewel, and using it for the plight of what is good, she takes down each successive criminal using a sword and shield. Also the rays from the jewel bother Que in that he seems to sprout a tail that is quite reptilian. Dear sir, is your true identity that of a a dragon!? After the opening we find she has the eye on a very prized, yet elusive criminal, one Yogu-sogos. His bounty is the highest in the universe, yet his location and even his identity remain a mystery.

DDHF_2Based on a concept by Go Nagai, Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would bear fruit under the production and vision of a little studio by the name of Kaname Production. Kaname is a studio that I love… love!, more like obsessed?… and many of their works are featured here, so why not add one more! Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would be the second warrior maiden heroine brought to us from Kaname in 1985, the other being the Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Both have their character and are similar, but they are also very different in terms of story… and budget. Fandora could pass as the budget version of Yohko as Yohko’s OVA looks very cinematic and lush, while Fandora’s OVA could pass more for television standards. Yet this is not a fair comparison, that’s like comparing an apple with an pomegranate. Both offer nutrition and taste delicious, but one is more expensive in terms of cost. Yet, both can satisfy in their own way!

DDHF_3Each successive episode lays the groundwork for the last. The first episode can stand alone as a single entry and I wonder if that was the case in terms of production? We learn the basics of our characters, find out who Yogu-sogos is and end on a cliff hanger. The second episode brings in more character development with the introduction of a tragic couple’s ill fated relationship and a young boy by the name of Sohto/Soto. And yet even more action with Yogu-sogos and this one also ends on a cliff hanger. The third episode shows the resurrection of Fandora and introduces much of her secret back story, and Que’s as well, which leads to the climatic ending! And sorry, no cliffhanger this time round. The pacing is well done and each successful episode builds from the last, showing Fandora, Que and Yogu-sogos as a well rounded trio for our main cast by the end.

DDHF_4Truth be told, this was one Kaname Production title that I had on the back burner for some time and much like anything from that studio, I really like it. Though Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora does not hold a candle to Kaname’s masterpiece, Windaria, it is still a fun action cartoon with a strong protagonist that has those signature eyes associated with Kaname’s female characters. The only thing I scratch my head about is why is it called Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? Fandora is the heroine, a hunter is her job and dimensions are what she and Que warp through to catch crooks… where is the dream part?

#168 : Dream Hunter Rem

The world of dreams is a mysterious one. Often times we live out our greatest fantasies, or anxieties, in the dead of night when the subconscious is open to play. It is in particular that nightmares come into question for this entry as we explore an anime where our heroine works within this world of dreams. A variant of the magical girl, Dream Hunter Rem is a cult classic OVA series that beyond the cute clothing, can be quite intense and dramatic… horror and suspense at it’s best. So, what did you dream of last night? I had a vision to tell you all about Miss Rem’s stories.

DHR_1The usual case of an anime property that keeps ongoing with sequels is that it starts off really strong and them fades off, or the quality of consistency remains equal through out and when you are finished you feel a sense of satisfaction. Dream Hunter Rem is the opposite to both of these statements. This is a series that started out fair, decent if you may, and as each successful OVA was released the stakes, quality and storytelling would grow in leaps and bounds to the point that by the end of the third and final OVA I was sad to see it go. Who would have thought a half hour hentai stripped down from it’s more pornographic roots and re-released with a filler episode in a more mainstream and general style would spawn two sequels and leave behind legacy… albeit in the ranks of cult stature.

DHR_2Rem Ayanokōji has it all… an adorable cat (Alpha), a cute dog (Beta), a Colt 44 Magnum (is this a real gun?), a Honda City Turbo and a detective agency… not bad for a junior high aged girl. Oh and I forgot, teal green hair! Rem’s business is based off her gift of diving into other’s dreams and subsequently relieving evil thoughts and spirits that can possess us and give us trouble. A true exorcist who knows her trade. When all else fails call Rem! This gift robs her of having her own dreams and one of her goals is to get them back. She usually sleeps near a client, or even sometimes in the same bed. While in her dream dive when she encounters any foes that become problematic, Rem can transform into a bikini like costume and with sword in hand kick some butt! Reminiscent of another 1985 magical girl, Yohko from Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Even her cat and doggie can transform too into more fearsome examples of their breeds to help out when she is in a pinch. Wait a minute, what happened to the gun? I guess the silver bullets she uses can only go so far.

DHR_3Several characters aid in support of Rem through out the three episodes including two men who act like her unofficial partners. This includes Detective Sakaki, a surrogate father figure, and a mysterious monk, Enkō. Enkō, much like a guardian angel, protects Rem similar to the dynamics of Miyu and Larva in Vampire Princess Miyu. Their destinies are intertwined and by the third episode, which in my opinion is the great work of the episodic trilogy, we learn that they have shared many a past lives as dedicated lovers. Soulmates never die?  A common feature to all three episodes are Rem’s classroom intermissions. Need a mid-episode break? These segments introduce you to the science behind dreams and how the brain functions during our times of rest. How often do you find OVAs that are covertly educational? … if even for only five minutes.

DHR_4Always remember to never fear because Rem can protect you at night my friends. Nightmares beware and evil spirits run and hide… I know a dream hunter who will aid me in case I get an itch of fright. Sleep soundly, sleep tight and awake tomorrow to see the bright sunny light. A simple poem I dedicate to our beloved Rem, who forever will be our guardian of the nocturnal, have a good night and Amen … “Stars shining bright above you, Night breezes seem to whisper “I love you”, Birds singing in the sycamore tree, Dream a little dream of me.”

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.

#163 : Frosty the Snowman

FtSM_1According to this calendar right in front of me it’s December and it is yet that time of year when many of us get ready for that holiday known as Christmas. While many of us get a little cynical at this time of year due to all the high amounts of stress, the over spending, or eating a little too much, we often over look a basic fundamental. The daylight is short and it’s colder outside for us in the northern latitudes (I envy you all in the southern hemisphere), but… but there is still something to look forward to on the near horizon. I myself don’t technically celebrate Christmas anymore, yet I am still within the festivities (I prefer to see it as the Winter Solstice), I still love and treasure Christmas cartoon standards like Frosty the Snowman and I feel no matter how you celebrate this time of year, Frosty’s story can inspire all of us to try yet again.

FtSM_2It all started with a simple song about a snowman who came to life all with the help of a magical hat. Recorded originally by Gene Autry and Jimmy Durante and re-recorded by nearly everyone you can name under the sun, Frosty the Snowman is a playlist staple during this time of year. Yet there is also the animated cartoon brought to us from Rankin/Bass from way back in 1969 to enjoy as well. Wow!, this makes Frosty 50 years old this year and he still does not look like a day older than… how old was Frosty anyway? A newborn? After all, he just came to life one day from a magic silk hat picked up by a bunch of kids during recess. Just a throw away item from a supposed magician whose rabbit sidekick has infinite times more talent than him. Yet this mean old magician wanted that hat back after seeing the potential of bringing a snowman to life. Tisk tisk. “It isn’t yours anymore, you threw it away!”

FtSM_3The story is a simple travel adventure with Frosty, Hocus Pocus (the previously mentioned rabbit and my favorite character!) and Karen (one of the children from the school) making their way from their little modest town all the way to the North Pole to see Santa Claus… who else! The North Pole of course is a cold place year round with lots of snow, so it makes a perfect habitat for a naive and jovial snowman. Plus Santa Claus will be his neighbor, always a bonus. They run into a cop who swallow a whistle, get chewed out from the train ticket attendant for not having any money and are always one step ahead of that mean old magician. Give up the hat man, it didn’t go with your complexion anyway. Will our heroic trio make it to the North Pole? Will they meet Santa?

FtSM_4Now for the fun part… just what is Frosty the Snowman’s connection to the Japanese animation industry? Rankin/Bass for years have used several studios in Japan for a majority of their work and Frosty is no exception. A studio by the name of Mushi Production would hold the honor of doing the heavy work of making Frosty come to life.… so it wasn’t just the magic hat after all, hmm? Mushi Production was Osamu Tezuka’s original studio that turned out many a classic like the 1963 version of Astro Boy, 1965’s Kimba the White Lion and 1967’s Princess Knight and even the adult gothic film that put the studio into backruptcy, Belladonna of Sadness. Frosty the Snowman, even though considered an outsource job, is a good cousin to what we call anime.

A film I am sure we have all seen 1,000 times and perhaps may get another 1,000 views into our near futures, Frosty the Snowman connects us with what we love about the winter. It is a time to reflect, remember and contemplate on where we have been through out the year, yet it is also a time to start new into a new year, the future. Winter is a like a bridge and sure as clockwork Frosty the Snowman will be a part of of our winter festivities and traditions for generations to come as it has for generations in the past. No matter how you celebrate, have a great winter and holiday everyone!