#39 : Night on the Galactic Railroad

notgr_1I lay awake at night and often think and wonder. A child’s question of, “Mommy, what happens to us when we die?” Or, “Why do we have to suffer?” come to mind. Deep questions, but very important to have a sense of knowing that death is not an end and that life’s lessons can be hard, but beneficial for growth. In the end we all have to make sacrifice and when that sacrifice is to better another for no reason beyond providing a moment of respect, then that is unconditional love and true friendship. This is my friend, who I love, Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_2Childhood can be a difficult time when you are a small and quiet child. Particularly when you grow up as a boy as you can be an easy target for bullying from other children. This is even more true when you are not involved with your fellow peers. Giovanni is such a child. He often falls asleep in class, not because he is a slacker, but because he has to sacrifice for his family. With an absent father and sick mother, young Giovanni has to work to help the family unit. He is essentially alone in the world around him, but his life is about to be turned upside down. On a quiet night he is welcomed to join an incredible journey as a locomotive arrives in a field he is laying in out of no where. And like in Galaxy Express 999, this train does not run on tracks, but flies through out the expanse of outer space… the only way to travel.

Aboard this train he meets his classmate, Campanella, who has always shown compassion towards Giovanni and the two of them enjoy a travel to the stars and beyond. Along the way they meet other travelers and discover the beauty of what the universe has to hold. Each circumstance brings it’s own experience or story as Giovanni and Campanella both enjoy their voyage. Is this all a dream? Could it be the line between life and death? Why are these two boys on this train ride into the great vastness of the universe?

notgr_3Let us look at the concept of sacrifice once again as we all know you can’t get something for nothing or achieve without giving up something in return. The basic law of compensation. The ‘Flame of Scorpio’, which may be my favorite bit of dialogue in the whole movie, I think wraps up the whole idea of giving for a greater cause. Of any ‘children’s story’ I have come across, this has to be the most spiritual, deep and melancholy. As C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” So true for Night on the Galactic Railroad.

notgr_4Plus, this movie has anamorphic cats for it’s main cast. I’m a cat person, so there is a little bias, but from early on the production crew wanted to portray our main cast as other than obvious humans. After all a cat can have a human experience too, as they have a particular sense of their own consciousness. Mix that with the references of Miyazawa’s Buddhist ideals and a sprinkle of Christian symbolism makes this a film that can be understood no matter your beliefs. Faith and spirit always return back to the one source. And that source is the beauty of the darkness and space and the reality of the material and closeness of the cosmos and our own Earth. Night on the Galactic Railroad reminds us about the joy and terror of the unknown as that unknown brings exponential rewards.

How does one describe such subtle beauty? In the vastness of the dark of space, or on our planet Earth, we can often feel out of place or alone. But in all the space between most of us there is always someone who will want to share a moment of time with you? And some of those moments might be the best and/or the last time another may share only with you and you alone. Never underestimate the power of those who love you or, the power of the universe itself or… the power of this movie.

#38 : Space Adventure Cobra (movie)

For most of us, and long before the newer releases, we had two avenues to see Cobra. You either started with the movie being discussed here, or the TV series. And though it is the same character and surroundings, both options are very different. For me I went with the TV series first. When I got to the movie I thought… wait a minute, this is kind of… not the same. Almost like watching the Ghost in the Shell movie compared to the GiTS: Stand Alone Complex series, there is something a little not unlike the other here.

sac_m1As stated earlier the setting, characters and feel are still very much like the TV show, but Cobra the movie, is much more surreal. Surreal to the point of being psychedelic? And perhaps I dare to say slightly darker tone. Wait, how can Cobra be dark? This is Cobra, one of the heights of fun space adventure science fiction. But, if you see the film you will understand. Even the look, going back to the surreal and psychedelia, wraps itself into the movie. It’s director Osamu Dezaki’s vision through and through filled with vivid color and odd moments of spectacle. Without question it is one of the most visually appealing films of the 1980s. You can watch this film on silent and still have an experience you will have a hard time to explain with mere words. And as this is a space sci-fi movie, the experimentation of techniques used here are… far out, but not lost in a mess.

sac_m2The story is a reimagined tale of the first arc of the Cobra TV series and manga. Cobra gets caught up with the beauty triplets of Jane, Catherine and then Dominique as they try to search for the lost treasure… no wait that was dropped… they are searching for love? Well the girls are and guess who is the one who is loved? It’s Cobra himself; I wonder if Lady Armaroid is jealous (Cobra’s female robot sidekick). But, love? I said that the TV series was sexy and this movie is in a way as well, but it’s a more monogamous, perhaps tri-gamous, as Cobra is not being the usual ladies man. How can he? We have to keep to a tight schedule on this movie and only the sisters are for him to admire. It works.

sac_m3Of course the crew are aided with advice from Professor Topolov/Toporo… and where did this guy come from? He is always floating in a bubble and he is kinda creepy. Almost like a chaperone for Jane and the girls… who thought up this guy? And then Cobra has to duel it out with the classic villain of no compare, Crystal Boy/Bowie! That dude is creepy no matter where he is presented, be it TV or movie. Pure genesis having a naked crystal clear man as your antagonist (very,  very bold).

sac_m4My only gripe is that the Japanese voice cast for the film is not the same as the TV show. It’s well done, but it is odd who a television series and a movie made the same year could not share the same cast? A little disappointing, but hey the English dub is not too bad. So I can watch Cobra in English? OK, plus it’s Dan Woren’s voice as Cobra. It’s no substitute for the TV series, but it is equal in it’s own way. You have to see both to understand. But what makes either version great, and in particular this movie, is the production quality. Tokyo Movie Shinsa back in the day always had a great look and with Dezaki as director, it shines even brighter.

A toast to Space Adventure Cobra… and maybe be like Cobra and enjoy a cigar, or maybe not as it is not healthy.

#37 : The Mysterious Cities of Gold

mcog_1I had no idea my childhood was incomplete. Years ago I kept running into this show that a lot of people said was one of the best 80s cartoons. How can that be, I have seen the really big ones… or so I thought. And to my gleeful astonishment, it counts as an anime as well. A co-production of DiC (many favorite memories from this company) and Studio Pierrot, this 1982 show aired in France and Japan, on the NHK no less. Later it would be dubbed in English and shown in England and North America, but alas I did not have Nickelodeon (no cable TV at my house). I may have missed my chance back then, but thanks to the internet and DVD I would get to travel back to the 16th century to discover the awesomeness of The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

mcog_2Que that classic soundtrack by Shuki Levy (the Mozart of 80s cartoon themes) because we are about to embark on a great adventure. Young Esteban, an orphan boy in the care of a Spanish priesthood, who has this mysterious power to bring about the sun, stows away on a ship bound for the ‘new world’ of South America. Envious of the sailor’s travels, Esteban learns his family lineage is from this area of the world. Aided by Mendoza, a man who saved Esteban from drowning years ago while in the Atlantic Ocean, Esteban begins his quest for adventure. While on board he would meet an Incan girl named Zia, who is held prisoner as she is said to know how to find the illustrious cities of gold. Eventually the ship is wrecked and Esteban, Mendoza, Zia with Mendoza’s lackies Sancho and Pedro wash up on shore to eventually meet a native boy of the Hiva (or Mu) people, Tao. Together they search the vast expanse of South and Central America searching for these ‘mysterious’ cities of gold, evading the Spanish, meet natives, try to locate the missing family members of Esteban and Zia and find two great treasures: an awesome sailing ship and a golden condor. I want to sign up for this trip!

mcog_3How did I miss out on this? I loved many of DiC’s productions (and for many I still do). A majority of them were tied to toy lines, but not this one. Based loosely on Scott O’Dells’ The King’s Fifth, the only thing this show had to sell was the story. Getting back to DiC, I see many similarities between The Mysterious Cities of Gold and other shows. Esteban looks like a miniature Jayce from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (one of my all time favorites). His hair is similar (missing the white streak), he wears a medallion and his costume is very close. And Mendoza looks very similar to Herc from Jayce as well. Also the group dynamic is similar to again Jayce and another early collaboration with Japan, Ulysses 31, but each show has their own chemistry. So we have a new take on a familiar formula. I like it.

mcog_4My only gripe is that as the show progresses, it goes from a period piece to a more sci-fi affair, particularly with the appearance of the Olmecs. Since when are the Olmecs bad guys, I mean we don’t know much about this ancient group. Why turn them in alien like trolls? Besides this minor issue (and trust me it is only minor), it is a solid paced serial adventure that grows each episode as you continue on. Will our cast find all the cities of gold? Can Mendoza be trusted? Is the abundance of gold the real treasure? And how come this ‘new world’ is more ancient than the ‘old world’ of Europe and such? Atlantis perhaps? That remains to be seen. Also don’t forget to catch the the mini documentaries that aired at the end of each episode. WAIT, we have an educational element as well? How many more boxes can this show check off on the list of being ‘most awesome’?

Shows come and go, but legends never die. And shows that depict historical setting are more interesting than the real thing… occasionally. For The Mysterious Cities of Gold this rule can apply…“Goodbye, till next time”