#42 : Dragon Ball

Besides Pokemon and Studio Ghibli, Dragon Ball could be considered the ‘franchise’ in anime that equates a license to print money. Even me mentioning it here made Dragon Ball another $25… just because. Dragon Ball Z in particular cannot die if it tried and there were moments that Akira Toriyama tried to make it happen and FAILED! But I never got into all the testosterone over the top fighting of that series, which made me look at the original Dragon Ball for years as a passover. But, in due time I thought to myself, give that original a chance. Many folks say it is a gem of comedic action. So I purchased those blue Funimation boxes… and I must say I really… liked it. Who would have thought it.

DB1Seriously as repetitive and repetitive and repetitive it was, it was a good show. Did I mention it was repetitive because I will mention it again so watch out! Hot off the success of Dr. Slump and Arale-chan, Akira Toriyama thought he should make a rendition of the traditional tale of The Journey to the West mixed with his humor and splashes of 80s sci-fi. And it paid off… BIG TIME! Although to me the show goes something like this… our heroes go and look for the dragon balls, they collect them and make a wish and then we have a martial arts tournament and then we look for dragon balls again, collect them all and make a wish and then have another martial arts tournament. Over and over again with the final tournament taking place a few years later. Repetitive indeed, but entertaining even more so.

DB2A classmate of the 1986 season that along with it’s Shonen Jump brother Saint Seiya would bring about the revolution of what shonen, or more precisely fighting, anime would become. Heavy sci-fi and mecha began to wane and the super hero in the making journey of a hero who would have a number of adversaries became the new standard. The fighting genre though not born in 1986 became the defacto standard and it is because of Dragon Ball that the damn broke open wide to flood us with a multitude of popular series. Rurouni Kenshin, Naruto, One Piece, etc. all owe a debt to Dragon Ball. But, don’t forget ‘uncle’ Fist of the North Star as well and brother Saint Seiya (because I love Saint Seiya so I have to mention it again). But in terms of influence and staying power, Dragon Ball takes the cake.

DB3And what of our hero? Little Son Goku, the ever innocent feral child who is well… kind of adorable. I mean this kid is like the goofy clueless little brother I wish I had. And it is from Goku’s naivety that we get some of the best humor. The first arc of the series, which introduces a majority of the main cast family is a much watch. If you can’t commit to the whole series, give the first 13 episodes a go if you have yet to see Dragon Ball. If this would have been the series in and of itself it would be perfect. Kind of like an OVA, but as this was a TV series and a popular one at that it would keep going and going and again we get back to that old word… repetition. Make the formula and tweak it ever so slightly each time you have to repeat and you get a journey that could possibly never end.

DB4And eventually this original series did end, albeit  a few years later with the cast all grown up. Oh the end of childhood. After all we had to make way for the further adventures of Dragon Ball Z. So then I look back and think what were my favorite moments? Many abound such as Goku climbing to the sky to train with Korin, watching Emporer Pilaf bumble up again and again a lot like G.I. Joe’s Cobra Commander, the world’s most comfortable pair of underwear, watching Tien Shinhan turn from hard corp baddie into one of the most honorable characters, or Goku wondering why Bulma does not have a tail or ‘balls’. But then there was that visit to the Penguin Village where Arale-Chan lives. I may not want to dive into Dragon Ball Z, but Dr. Slump (which I mentioned earlier) is extremely tempting.

I must say, yes, I am a convert. Even that theme song is so catchy. And like in any proper fighting anime I have to get back to training, which for me is watching more stuff, or pulling what I can from memory. So the big question I have for all you… if you had all seven dragon balls, what would you wish for?

#33 : Neo-Human Casshan

cass_1If you want to be a superhero, there is one main rule to follow. True you need to have some kind of power that makes you… super? But, even more important, you have to have a great costume. Casshan’s uniform is second to none and has left an influence onto future creations, not unlike Megaman. A helmet clad cyborg hero in a world that has flipped upside down trying to make it right again, while looking awesome in the process. I call that worth a watch! Tatsunoko redefined the concept of the superhero in the early 1970s and this was their second concept to hit the market. A reborn human, or a cyborg, better known as Neo-Human Casshan.

Say Casshan… one thing before I begin. The spelling as ‘Casshern’, what is this? Hearing the original language track and I hear something closer to ‘Cassharn’ so ‘Casshan’ is more appropriate? Enough of the being on the soapbox. …

cass_2Oddly I came to the original Tatsunoko production of 1973 not first in my journey of watching all that is Casshan, but last. I watched the 90s OVA first (I thought it was ok), then Casshern Sins (I loved it) and then the original. For some weird reason I thought the original series, before even watching a minute of it, was going to be a little bit of a brighter and more fun series. Of course I had seen the original Gatchaman, Tatsunoko’s first superhero series (and a good one), and that was a bit of a more serious affair and the same was also true for the original Casshan. My gut instinct was wrong, just don’t ask me what I ate that day to have me come to that original conclusion.

cass_3Casshan like in every other adaptation is the lone warrior, the anti-hero, the one who is unjustly given a role to make right in a world that has gone wrong. The cause of these issues was an accident that brought a robotic creation of his father’s, BK-1 or Braiking Boss, to life. Braiking Boss’s awakening corrupted his logic and function, which in turn makes him the main bad guy of the series. To counter this error, Dr. Kotaro Azuma’s son Tetsuya volunteers to be reborn as a cyborg to fight the robot army of Braiking Boss. And it is this army that has taking over humanity. Their purpose is to eradicate the human race because these robots think the only way to clean up the pollution and problems of Earth is to destroy the inhabitants that created it. Kind of like Frankenstein meets Fist of the North Star? And speaking of FotNS, Braiking Boss you sound a bit like Raoh (Kenji Utsumi voiced both roles).

cass_4Mixed with the social responsibilities are Casshan’s personal struggles of the break-up of his family and his distancing behavior of forgetting his former identity of Tetsuya Azuma. His personal angst is most apparent to his friend Luna, a long time friend and maybe a love interest. But to me the most touching moment of his troubles are his interactions with Swanee, a robotic swan who acts as a spy for Casshan, but also Swanee contains his mother’s soul or essence. The interaction between these two are the most heartfelt as Casshan, or should I say Tetsuya, really wants to reconnect with a relationship with family. And who says being a super hero is easy? With every duty comes a cost.

In terms of western story telling, Casshan reminds me of the lone cowboy, but to be eastern appropriate, Casshan is the lone samurai. Except he is not alone. Fighting along side is a re-invention of the Azuma family dog Lucky now known as Friender. And if dogs are man’s best friend, then robot should be added to the equation as well. The pairing of these two make a formidable combination and to state it again, both are great examples of design. And speaking of design, Casshan has the great look of the early Tatsunoko shows of the 1970s and perhaps 1970s anime in general. This show looks like it was made by hand with heavy emphasis on strong lines that scream pencil and ink. Beautiful and rough.

Heroes come and go, but legends never die. Thanks to a couple reinventions the name Casshan will live on longer. Much like Yamato and Gundam, remakes can sell ideas to a new generation, but never hold the honesty of the original. Neo-Human Casshan you are a one of a kind.

#5 : Saint Seiya

SS05Doing a Shonen Jump title finally? Oh yeah. This is Masami Kurumada’s Saint Seiya for crying out loud; my favorite Shonen Jump title period, bar none (well… I love Cobra too). Fist of the North Star laid the ground work, Saint Seiya’s 1986 fellow classmate Dragon Ball went globally huge and beyond and every show in between Rurouni Kenshin to Naruto and beyond owe a debt to this show. Don’t ask me how cool this show is because you can feel it from the opening credits sequence songs, first Pegasus Fantasy and then Soldier Dream. Air guitar time baby.

SS01The draw to this show was a natural given for me. Combining a free interpretation of Greek mythology, with an astrological bend of how a constellation provides power and how unlocking the inner cosmos in you makes you a stronger individual. All all it I love and hold a strong belief in. “As Above, So Below” defines this show. And also, what a heavy use of melodrama, unlike that of Dragon Ball, which of course is a very fun show, but does not hold a candle to the seriousness of Saint Seiya. Interesting as both of these productions came to air in 1986, a year that kind of kicked television mecha to the floor (something that I still need therapy for). In 1985 we had Zeta Gundam, then 1986’s ZZ Gundam. And to be honest as a huge fan of Zeta (intense drama), seeing ZZ (goofy comedy) was a bit of a let down. And Saint Seiya, at least for me, filled that void (not that I saw the show live in ‘86, but you know what I mean).

SS02Like many Shonen Jump styled fighters the basic plot is pretty simple and very formulaic (though that is not a bad thing). You got your heroes defending justice and the goddess incarnate Athena/Saori (the devine feminine for the win), you got your baddies (many end up seeing the light and change sides), they tangle and in the end our heroes triumph, though they get a bit beat up. And in Saint Seiya, they get their asses KICKED (I will never forget episode one with Seiya fighting the giant Cassius as an example). But that’s ok, our bishonen-like quintet wear armor to protect them, although it takes as much of a beating as our heroes. And who are our heroes, the Bronze Saints? We have our main man the headstrong Seiya, rational and momma obsessed Hyoga, Shiryu who ends up fighting bare chested because he is cool like that (or gouges his eyes out! DUDE?), pretty boy and gentile Shun (popular with the ladies) and then Shun’s older brother Ikki who learns to overcome his anger and hatred to become possibly the most powerful of the group (that is when he is around). A good mix of personality for this “sentai” squad, but they are only the just the tip of the iceberg. Add in the minor characters, baddies and the just as awesome Gold Saints and we got ourselves one hell of a ride.

SS04For a long time I thought that Shonen Jump derived shows were too ‘casual’ or not for me (the snobby mecha sci-fi otaku that I am). I tried a few Shonen Jump shows and liked some of them, but none of them really clicked. Then I thought, why not, Saint Seiya is a classic for many around our globe and it has several themes that I love. So I gave it a big chance (114 episodes for this original series is no small feat). The one thing that I could identify is that Saint Seiya reminds me of what I loved about classic sci-fi or mecha anime, many from the same animation studio the powerhouse of Toei, heavy melodrama. Kind of like Japanese styled tragedy with Greek tragedy and it worked oh so well. It goes to show, you never know if you will truly like or not like something until you give it a chance. And I am glad I did, though I now like to call out the signature fight moves all the time like… PEGASUS RYU SEI KEN! or DIAMOND DUST! or NEBULA CHAIN! The joys of being an otaku.