#36 : Panda Go Panda/Rainy Day Circus

pgp_1There is the old saying that ‘anime’ is not for kids. It’s oh so mature and again… not for kids. For some ‘anime’ that is very true, but for all of anime itself, no. Is Doraemon for kids? Yes. Can a lot of the shonen and shojo titles that some consider ‘not for kids’ have an appeal and are made for a younger demographic? Yes. And Studio Ghibli titles, do many have an appeal to children, i.e. My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky? Yes, yes, yes and YES! What about an early film series from Miyazaki and Takahata, like Panda Go Panda and it’s sequel Rainy Day Circus? Yup, it’s all for the kids.

pgp_2Way back in the early 1970s, after their tenure on the first Lupin III TV series, our intrepid heroes Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were looking to do a project on their very own. A good decade before opening Studio Ghibli these boys had the idea that they could make a movie themselves, by their rules. The idea was simple, let’s make a version of the western tale of Pippi Longstocking. They even went all the way to Sweden to get the rights and in the end were rejected. Now what? Well why not take this character design that Miyazaki made who looked like Pippi and insert something else that could make it sell. What about pandas? They were fairly new to the zoos in Japan. Hmm… sounds like an idea that can work… OK we have a movie!.

pgp_3Thus Panda Go Panda was born. A simple tale about a girl who befriends a large papa panda (Papapanda), who looks like a creepy version of Totoro. Don’t quote me, but that dude is kind of scary to me. And a little baby panda (Panny) joins the mix as well as our young hero Pippy… I mean Mimiko becomes the mommy? And that’s as deep as this little story and the follow up Rainy Day Circus follows the formula. Both stories are cute as they are targeted towards young children and I don’t see anything non-offensive, except that giant daddy panda. Everything to him is nice, the weather is nice, the bamboo is nice. Maybe I am overthinking a simple kid’s movie?

pgp_4These two tales are the innocent days of being four, five and six where anything can happen because your imagination was not corrupted by TV, the internet or peer groups. I want to reclaim my innocence, then I could fully appreciate these titles. Though for the time these are great looking movies and with the shorter runnings time of just over half an hour each make them more palatable than say the longer Toei movies of the time like Puss n’ Boots and Animal Treasure Island. Besides all this, the historic significance of Miyazaki and Takahata making their own project is of great importance. Miyazaki contributed designs and the story and Takahata oversaw the whole production as director. Truly the best example of proto-Studio Ghibli.

Anime is not only for adults. Never has been and never will be. True we have titles that are made for more mature eyes, but you have to have titles that can be enjoyed by those before the years of puberty. Because anime in the end are cartoons and all cartoons are are images put to video. And cartoons, be it anime or not, are not mutually exclusive to one age demographic. There are cartoons for kids and cartoons for adults. Some of it is called anime and that is stuff made in Japan for Japan that ends up getting out to the rest of the world and we all fall in love with it. If you have kids and you love Studio Ghibli, well your kids now have the perfect gateway anime Panda Go Panda and Rainy Day Circus. In the end, we all win!

#19 : Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko

One thing hits my mind when I begin each watch of Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko… Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The gentle piano music that Yohko plays, at least to me, sounds very similar to the dreamy and romantic Debussy classic. Our young heroine is in love and is totally crushing on a boy she wants to share her feelings with. As she plays on, she says that this music reflects the love in her heart and will give her the strength she needs to expose her affection. What a way to start an anime!

leda1With music in hand via a recording being played on tape via a Walkman (ah nostalgia) Yohko walks down a road to see her beau. And as they both approach the anxiety builds. They both pass by and all is silent. In disappointment our heroine sighs, she just couldn’t say it. OK now we need something exciting… how about we do a shojo cliche? The surface begins to melt away and she is soon sucked into a weird teleportation where she confronts an evil looking bishounen asking for Leda’s heart. She refuses and cries out to vanish and then soon appear in a strange surreal land where her greatest adventure is about to begin. Sound familiar? Much like Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, or a number of other productions our heroine is about to have a sublime experience.

leda2An experience where she encounters baddies, a short friend, a cool mech that looks kind of like something from Castle in the Sky, Mr. bishounen again and she transforms to gain powers and a sword while rocking her red hair in a side ponytail (ah nostalgia… again). Oh and a talking dog too. I mean come on, who hasn’t seen a talking dog? Yohko never has apparently (note: if you never seen this, it is one of the funniest moments). I mean my cats, they talk, so what is the big deal? 😉 Sounds like a lot of magical girl standards and yet there is no magic wand and gibberish spoken within a stock transformation sequence. In the end what we have is a coming of age story mixed with the concepts of love, music, over coming fear and being honest to yourself. And… it’s a fun ride in the process.

leda3A production of my beloved Kaname Production, 1985’s Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko is one the studio’s best and is a hallmark of quality classic shojo (my opinion). Though it is a stock and trade story of the average high school school wisked away to become the ultimate hero in a foreign land, Yohko leaves it mark and is a favorite of my collection. Only released here in the U.S. on that good old format of VHS, I am honored that two copies of this rare release have found their way to me, sub and dub. In fact the dub was done by the same company and actors that did Macross: Do You Remember Love, if anyone has info on this company or actors please send it my way. I will be able to sleep better at night knowing this 😉 (strange, yet true?)

leda4What I find is how productions like Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko can get lost in the classic anime shuffle, but then again during ye olden days of fandom most fans were predominately male and I am sure if Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko was up against say Akira I am sure most of the ‘boys’ would have picked Akira (maybe?). Which is a shame because back then in regards to my personal exposure, when I thought of anime from the 1980s, shojo was not even on my radar. Times and circumstances have changed and now I have a treasure trove of stories that are not testosterone driven. And now with each new experience with older shojo titles I have something magical and fresh. Maybe I am saying something about myself? Even so, I love a strong female protagonist who is strong, independent and still feminine. Girl power for the win!

So now I will sum up Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko with only one word… ADORABLE 🙂

afterthought: Hey Gurren Laggan fans! I wonder where Gainax got the idea for a bikini clad redhead named Yoko? Though missing an ‘h’ in the spelling the resemblance is close enough. What do you think?

#8 : Angel’s Egg

No matter what anyone says, anime is primarily a pop culture vehicle, a marketing tool to promote an already established manga, toy line, established franchise, or at times, a video game. It is true that animation is a skilled craft that requires artists to create the final product from writing to drawing to special effects. But in the end, it is not a piece of fine art that can hang in a posh museum along the likes of Van Gogh, Pollack, or Warhol. All except for this one example that I am aware of.

AE1Angel’s Egg is without question one of of the most uncompromising pieces of animation I have ever seen. It has no agenda to sell you anything. It is art for art’s sake with a story and journey that is left for the audience to decide what it is actually about. Compared to a majority of anime of the 1980s that are big, fun, colorful and or action packed, Angel’s Egg is none of that. Dark, austere, quiet, lyrical, gothic and yet quite beautiful, Angel’s Egg is not an animated movie, but more like a poem come to life through visual interpretation.

AE2The stark, post-apocalyptic world, sets the tone for the only two characters that are to the best of my knowledge, unnamed. The first is a girl who seems curious about the world around her and has as a companion a giant egg that she holds to dearly as if it was a doll. Along her unknown journey she encounters our second character, a young man who ends up tagging along. He is curious about her behavior and the reason she holds dear affection towards the egg. The only thing that I can interpret from this young man is that possibly he may have been a soldier due to the fact he carriers a large weapon like object that looks similar to a giant cross. What sin does he have to bear, or what sin will he commit? Along their journey they witness many a strange sighting from ruins to faceless fishermen who hunt ghost like whales that they can never catch. The ending and turning point like most of the reviews here, I will leave for you to find out.

So where did this film originate from? From the mind’s of two men. The first being the artist and character designer Yoshitaka Amano, a name known to those who are fans of Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D. The other is one of Japan’s best known auteur directors, Mamoru Oshii. Production began right after Oshii’s time on Urusei Yatsura, particularly the dream like film Beautiful Dreamer, you could tell he wanted to push the boundaries much further. The act of expressing something very deep and also, very painful. Oshii has stated that he had a hard time getting work after this movie, but you have to give him credit for being brave enough to give the world something this different.

AE3Due to a lot of interpretation of this movie, and most of Oshii’s work in general, many state Christian symbolism and influence. I agree that the symbology can be viewed from a certain point of view, but like any religion, it all comes back to the one truth when studied properly. The theme of Angel’s Egg is in my personal view about a great loss of something very special within one’s life that it makes the pain unbearable to bear any longer. There are many interpretations of what Oshii was trying to express from his own life. What was his pain? Many interpretations can be or may not be correct, but in the end it is how it affects you as the viewer. And the question you must ask, how does this relate to my personal experience? Angel’s Egg, a masterpiece like no other.