#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!

#159 : Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight

Odin_1Oh, Oh, Ohh, Oh Deen!!! Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight, or is it Odin: Starlight Mutiny? May I call you Odin for short? Ever wondered how a laser powered sailing vessel would fair in the vastness of outer space? We all know that old battleships (Space Battleship Yamato) and trains (Galaxy Express 999 and Night on the Galactic Railroad) can tackle the great void of the cosmos, but a ship with sails… is it possible? In anime anything is possible… ANYTHING! Anime and the imagine can be ever expansive, yet it has to finally materialize into some substance to achieve true satisfaction. With Odin, we spend a long time traveling around, but do we ever get anywhere? Not really, but we get to head bang to heavy metal along the way.

Odin_2Many will say from the word go that Odin is a bad anime, a bad movie period. I am not here to judge one way or another, but I will say as a fact that it took me three attempts to get through this movie to finish it the first time eons ago. Why three times? I fell asleep the first two times. Odin, the alternative to melatonin. From past watchings I was under the spell from others who painted this as one of the greatest monstrosities ever created by Japan’s animation history. In many ways there is merit to this hypothesis, yet a recent rewatch has changed my tune slightly. One thing that I kept in mind this time round was to treat Odin as a large scale blockbuster action film with lots of action on a huge scale, but limited in terms of being a blockbuster. Also everything has it’s flaws… focus on what is working.

Odin_3My main issue with Odin is that it is the embodiment of excess gone wrong… ego and arrogance to the Nth degree. A true poster child of 1980s overabundance in one extreme direction. This is a big budget movie with lots of ideas and yet not enough follow through at the end product stage. What may have worked before in another guise and time may not always catch hold with the public at that current moment. Yoshinobu Nishizaki, the producer and anime exec responsible for Space Battleship Yamato, thought otherwise. If resurrecting the sunken battleship Yamato and turning it into a space epic with heroes and glory could yield success, then maybe Nishizaki could do something similar again. By the time of Yamato’s retirement in 1983 with the release of Final Yamato, perhaps the concept of epic space opera romanticism had runs it’s course?

Odin_4The story as a whole makes sense, but it gets scattered easily from the bombast and spectacle. A group of young men board the Starlight to become the main crew and run in abundant enthusiasm accompanied with heavy metal. GO!! Once on the bridge they meet their more mature superiors who want to follow everything by the books because they are after all in charge. A clash of generations? While on their maiden flight they answer an S.O.S., rescue a mysterious girl and discover alien artifacts. They learn of the civilization Odin and somehow the girl has memories of this civilization, even being able to read the language. The old men want to go home, but the boys want to go discover this new find. Enter mutiny and locking up the old men. Now we set sail for Odin, whatever it is. Could they be a mechanical civilization? Why is the Odin race very warlike? The Starlight crew find an Odin outlying base and subsequently attack it. Then the old men die leaving the ship in the boy’s hands. So should the boys go home? No way, they have to go to Odin! The End… or should I say to be continued, yet there is no more story to tell.

If Odin had life as a TV series maybe the story could have worked out. All the possibilities were there: the budget, the voice cast, the art and designs, but sadly they could not fully come to fruition as a whole. You could watch the abridged version at 90 minutes as a substitute, but the longer cut, well over two hours, has the full story; just pace yourself. The greatest reward if you finish the longer cut is a metal ballad music video that runs over the credits… “Searching for Odin my love…”  … Arguably the best part of the movie?

#157 : A Journey Through Fairyland / Fairy Florence

AJTFL_1May I present the love child between Disney’s Fantasia and the Isao Takahata directed Gauche the Cellist. Classical music framed around animation is nothing new, but how many can fall under the banner of Sanrio? The quintessential company of cute is so much more than Hello Kitty and for a time Sanrio released full length animated features. Released in 1985 A Journey Through Fairyland, originally titled Fairy Florence, would be the final film of the original lineage of Sanrio produced cinema treasures and it would go out in grand style and cement a legacy that is often over looked in anime. Join us as we celebrate a true ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ under this ‘Moonlight Sonata’.

AJTFL_2Our protagonist Michael is an aspiring oboe player and attends a very posh conservatory. Fancy! Music is very much Michael’s passion… yet not his only joy. It seems he also has a way with plants, a true green thumb. Music and botany… an interesting combination, just don’t forget about occasional allergies. This balancing act of interests has Michael in the green house caring for the flora and fauna often, so he is often late for rehearsals and may not be practicing enough to keep up with the rest of the orchestra. His teacher seems to agree and is concerned as the boy has a great talent that may be going to waste. After one particular practice Michael finds an abandoned flower in the campus courtyard and rescues it by taking it back to the nursery. Saving the flower’s life he discovers the flower fairy Florence who invites him on a journey he will never forget.

AJTFL_3As Michael’s quest begins we can start to see the similarities to the two films mentioned previously, Fantasia and Gauche the Cellist. My my, you look so much like your parents! Fantasia’s open visual interpretations are very obvious when Michael begins his quest with Florence. With wild colors, crazy creatures and a little dancing, I think we have ourselves a party! The basic story however is akin to Gauche the Cellist. Hmm, sounds familiar… a musician having trouble playing their instrument and needing some encouragement and support in getting their groove back… sure sounds similar to Gauche the Cellist. Except where is the tanuki this time round, or Indian Tiger Hunting? As for both films influencing A Journey Through Fairyland, I don’t consider it cheating or stealing. Maybe more like ‘borrowing‘ these ideas? “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” (Thank you GoShogunThe Time Étranger)

AJTFL_4While light and easy in plot development, A Journey Through Fairyland more than makes up for this in terms of visual presentation. It’s just pretty… no wait… purrty. And with a fine cross section of western compositional classics from Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Tchaikovsky (wait a minute… no Satie!) to color one’s ear drums, the pastel visuals become the frosting on the cake for your auditory and ocular pleasures; its easy to get lost in these unfolding visuals. Can one have a visual version of a sweet tooth? Perhaps A Journey Through Fairyland could be considered psychedelic to a certain degree? Or better yet, A Journey Through Fairyland is like being wrapped up a big fluffy oversized warm blanket that makes you feel all safe, warm and super cozy. Very soft, gentle and easy to relax with so just breath in and chill out. A Journey Through Fairyland, a meditative family film. Or, perhaps the anime equivalent to microfiber, or memory foam?

A Journey Through Fairyland is unequivocally true fantasy with no need for boundaries. Limitations… yeah they can be checked in at the door, but they are not allowed in. There is no gravity here to tie down ones’s imagination, or creativity so sit back, get comfy and enjoy the ride. A Journey Through Fairyland is a pure example of what I call an animator’s playhouse where anything goes. This movie helps us remember that there is magic in the world and all around us. See that tree, magic… see that flower, magic… hearing the distant sounds of music, magic… and even watching classic anime… now that’s definitely a special kind of magic, but you already knew that. 🙂