“Let’s do the time warp agai…” Oh wait!… wrong Picture Show. This is The Chocolate Panic Picture Show. The… what? I often like to search the dusty bins of odd ball OVA titles from the 1980s and I like goofy animator playhouse styled productions that are more valuable as strict visual art than the usual story based spectacle. And what we have here is a title that fits into both categories nicely, but I really have no clue what I just watched. For some, this would be a detriment, for me it’s makes me resort to my inner five year old… Again! Play it again! Play it again!!!
According to research The Chocolate Panic Picture Show was based on a manga based on the old film the Gods Must Be Crazy. AT the time of writing I have yet to see it in full and am only familiar with clips and remembering the old VHS cover; very funny from what I have seen. From my eye I see similarities to a personal favorite, Birth in terms style. Character designs, spastic comedy, fluid motion and at times flat backgrounds. Then two and two come together under the name of artist and animator Yoshinori Kanada, who was instrumental to both projects. Also one cannot discount the name of Gainax. Apparently The Chocolate Panic Picture Show was Gainax’s first professional production. Hmm? I always thought it was Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise? I stand corrected.
Now according to the entry on My Anime List, which is a direct quote from McCarthy & Clements The Anime Encyclopedia, this is what the say about The Chocolate Panic Picture Show…
“Jaw-droppingly racist musical in which grossly caricatured Africans Manbo, Chinbo, and Chonbo causes chaos in civilisation despite the efforts of their pretty tour guide/bedmate to tame their zany, grass-skirted cannibal ways.”
Racist? Maybe, but I didn’t see that way. Cannibal ways? I saw no cannibalism. And the three main characters have names? There is a hint of that at the end with the final song going over the credits, but who knew. … Unless I am missing something from the manga, all I got out of this half hour was surreal imagery on the par with being a close shave towards hard corps psychedelia. Funky music, bright colors and no concept of gravity, or any other law of physics are what you have to work with here. Now I know I see things differently than others some of the time, but The Chocolate Panic Picture Show from where I stand is nothing like the above quote. Of course until one sees this OVA in it’s entirety how will you know what it is? Maybe like reality, The Chocolate Panic Picture Show is what you perceive out of it. Nothing is mutually exclusive.
So in the end I don’t know just what The Chocolate Panic Picture Show means. Perhaps it just is what it is and that is all it needs to be. For me it’s like a rollercoaster ride into the bizarre and sublime, beyond verbal explanation and great to watch. Or, just listen to the music and DANCE! That’s all the explaining I need 🙂
I want to preface this with a little Pink Floyd lyric… “Remember when you were young. You shown like the sun. Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” I can take this a couple ways in regards to Gunbuster. First it is a love letter homage to an era of anime and special effects shows from the 1960s to about 1980. This is Studio Gainax remembering the beauty of discovering such fantastic visual fun in their youth. But, I have to point out our main heroine, Noriko Takaya, as the second reason. In this six episode OVA everything and everybody to some certain extent got older and or eventually left the material plane of her existence. All except Noriko, who because of traveling so much in sub-space remains forever young and in the process missed out on being with most of her peers. How many times have you felt that no matter what you did, you could not share it with certain individuals you truly loved?
Gunbuster begins amid much promise and joy as sixteen year old Noriko Takaya is a new student at an Okinawa high school that specializes in training space pilots. She hopes to someday be like her father (an admiral who died while serving in space), like her idol the beautiful and talented Kazumi Amano and prove herself able to the Coach Ohta (COACHEE!). Right from the word go we are essentially brought into a shojo sports anime that passes itself as a sci-fi mecha series (Aim for the Ace+Yamato+Getter Robo+Top Gun (wait that’s a Hollywood film)=GUNBUSTAA!!). Who knew one had to train in robots and run laps, do sit-ups and various other forms of exercise. I thought our heroes just climbed into mecha and magically knew how to pilot them from instinct?
As stated earlier this is a love letter, the real definition of “Fan Service.” Aside from a couple shots of the usual “Fan Service” this show drips references of the many series I listed earlier and more as cues to say this show is for you or us. You loved this show, this type of character, this scene, etc.? Gainax is a studio founded by fans after all and this is them paying homage to the highest degree. It’s anime about anime. And what makes Gunbuster special is the fact that yes, there are a lot of these references, but it also tugs at you over time. Similar to Evangelion or Nadia (both directed by Hideaki Anno) we start off in fun and games and eventually step into the darker side. But Gunbuster is not so much grim as it is poignant. Young Noriko grows up learning about falling in love, reconnecting with the her lost past and maturity in general. It has a sweetness that is missing from Evangelion or Nadia. And it is this tenderness that makes it hold up still today. Plus, the artwork and animation is gorgeous and handled with the greatest of care. Even the last episode fades to that old standard of black and white. The first time I saw it I thought something was wrong with my TV.
Now Studio Gainax aside, if there is one individual who makes this OVA very special for me, it would have to be the great Haruhiko Mikimoto. I love this man’s work (I DO!, I DO!, I DO!) and for me, nothing and I mean nothing tops his character designs. The elegance and grace that is apart of his early signature style shows true form here and I rank the designs as great as the work he did for the original Macross and Orguss. “I wish they all could be Mikimoto girls” (to the tune of Beach Boys’ California Girls). There is always a certain twinkle in the eye of those who are conceptualized by my man, right?
Gunbuster may have been the second official project of Studio Gainax, and the directorial debut of Mr. Anno, but it would set a precedent that would follow for this group into the 1990s. It also reflects back to those of us who were excited about the future and the possibility of traveling through outer space like it was driving down the highway and piloting large mecha… but alas all we have are smart phones and wifi, kind of a let down when you compare it to our utopian vision of the future. Still there is a possibility if we all believe it is possible and stay young in heart and mind. Let’s raise a toast to you Gunbuster… we love you. KANPAI!!!