1978… Two Words… Leiji Matsumoto

According to research on the web, the year of 1978 had just under 40 entries for new productions of animation in Japan. Minuscule by today (2019) as 40 a week (that may be pushing it, but 40 is a nice number) is more within the climate of the current constant stream of media barrage. 1978 was a simpler era, a quieter era, an era that may have emphasized quality over quantity? That of course is subject to opinion. Media was big business back in the late 1970s, but nothing compared to the BIG business of today. Still many gems survive from this calendar year, but in opinion… 1978 will forever be remembered for the quadruple legacy of one man’s work.

Let’s start with a couple heavy weights… I can’t discount the name of Hayao Miyazaki, how can you? To some of us, he is like a Greek pantheon god, high on the mountain top watching from afar. Yet in 1978 he was still an up and coming name to be reckoned with and good fortune would shine upon him with a television series directorial position. The show, an adaptation of Alexander Key’s Incredible Tide became known as Future Boy Conan. If you ever wanted to watch a Miyazaki movie with all the humor, drama and class that defined his later work all wrapped up into a television series, here is your chance! Beyond Helly Kitty fame, Sanrio at one time also created great animated films. Of the ones I have seen they are all high in quality and artistry, but one of their best was released in 1978. The tragic Ringing Bell is a story about revenge and corruption of one’s feelings and emotions. Though heartbreaking, it also serves as an allegory of understanding one’s deepest desire for resolution over pain and the consequences of taking certain actions.

1978 was also a year of reinvention and second chances. Gatchaman would return to the scene with both a movie adaptation of the original 1972 TV series and a brand new sequel creatively titled Gatchaman II… very original (wink). More shojo tennis excitement abound in Shin Ace o Nerae! (New Aim for the Ace!); put that on my to find list! Lupin III would come out of the shadows years after the original TV series to take the big screen with the The Mystery of Mamo. … Now let’s give focus towards Space Battleship Yamato. 1977 brought the battleship back to life yet again with a film adaptation of the previous TV series and with new found glory and a boost of popularity, a sequel would follow. 1978 brought Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, a moving tragic tale that was supposed to be the climatic end to the sci-fi epic. The fans and even some of the creators felt this was not fair and later in the year a second TV series would debut and retell the film’s story with an alternate ending that was more hopeful.

Now for the name of the hour, the man who in my opinion owned 1978 and is one of my favorite creators of all time, Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto was a key player for the entire Yamato franchise providing both the design aspects and the humanistic emotionalism that made Yamato appealing. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg for the quartet of projects Matsumoto had his name on in 1978. The new Yamato projects mentioned previously are the first. The second was a TV series that re-envisioned Journey to the West, in SPACE!, known as Sci-Fi West Saga Starzinger. Third is that great TV version of a journey to the stars aboard a classy train where a young boy learns about the hardships and beauty of life accompanied by the best dressed woman in all of anime (Maetel!); Galaxy Express 999, a bonafide classic. And four, need I say more than the original Space Pirate Captain Harlock; the man, the myth, the legend… how I adore this show!

Other television series of interest include: The Adventures of the Little Prince, Treasure Island and The Perrine Story (World Masterpiece Theater, love! and wanna see it!) for historical literary interests; Daimos and Daitarn 3 for your mecha interests and Captain Future, which sounds really fancy, let’s say it again children with some bravado this time, CAPTAINFUTURE! Very nice. And for magical girl interest, there is Majokko Tickle, never heard of that one! And don’t forget there was a movie adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story Thumbelina and a TV special on the life of Anne Frank, Anne Frank Monogatari: Anne no Nikki to Douwa Yori.

In truth, 1978 was much more than just Leiji Matsumoto, but how can I view the totality of 1978 as a whole without him? Without question, this was the height of his creative potentials as well as a boon period of science fiction… Star Wars came out the previous year. Matsumoto’s highly emotional and melodramatic space operas filtered though a lens of classic romanticism and adventure spoke beyond that present moment. He may have had the market share of the times, but he was only one piece in a grand puzzle of great anime. 1978… such a great year!

The Spirit of 1979

I have a soft spot for the anime of 1979. Why? Well, these are my ‘twin’ siblings so to speak as I was born in February of that year. This means as of 2019, we all celebrate a big 40 years of existence on this material plane. 40… people think I am 28 or something when they meet me and perhaps like my brothers and sisters of 1979, we all hold a timeless classic quality. We all still look good for our age and have matured like fine wine. Anyhow, I have not seen every production released that year, but the ones in which I have, well, they all have left an imprint onto me. My favorites include: Aim for the Ace (film version)Anne of Green Gables, the original Mobile Suit GundamRose of VersaillesGalaxy Express 999 (film version) and The Castle of Cagliostro. That’s a fine listing if I do say so myself.

I can also include Space Battleship Yamato: the New Voyage and Taro the Dragon Boy as well since I have seen them, but they did not leave near the impact on me as the titles listed above. Of course I have a wishlist of titles that I have not seen as of this writing. I am in no hurry to find these titles, but I know eventually they will crop up into my view list. The second series of Cyborg 009 and magical girl Hana no Ko Lun Lun/Flower Angel rank on the top of that listing if I can find them in their totalities. And maybe even Yamato ripoff Space Carrier Blue Noah if I so wish. Maybe. I do have the DVD set of Gatchaman Fighter so that will take precedent; I enjoyed the first two series of Gatchaman. Oh yeah I forgot, thanks Anime News Network’s encyclopedia… The Unico pilot movie was in 1979 too. I know I have that one on file.

So a big happy 40th birthday to all of us. May we continue to stay young and inspire generations in the future. KANPAI!

#93 : Galaxy Express 999 (movie)

If one must set out for a voyage to the stars, you must do it with an element of style. An ordinary spaceship will work for many, but come on now… let’s push the boundaries of imagination. What about traveling through space in a train? Hmm?… I like it… all wood grained and classic black iron, now that is classy! As well, a voyage to the stars should be something personal, a journey to not just discover what is out there, but also what is within yourself. Galaxy Express 999 is such a journey that once you ride this train line, you will never be the same.

GE999_movie1Here is an idea… let’s say you want to honor your goal to achieve immortality by adopting a mechanical body and the only way to do that would be to board a train to the stars that will take you to this fated destination. Only problem is that this train ticket is quiet expensive and sought after. Plus, you also wish to avenge your mother’s wrongful murder since you have so much spare time with all this other stuff going on. Are you in consensus with our hero Tetsuro Hoshino for a ride on the Galaxy Express 999? Great… we have a ticket for you, except you have to have the classiest lady in all of anime join you in your journey.

GE999_movie2Leiji Matsumoto’s vision of science fiction is beyond brilliant. What sets him apart is his use of tenderness and emotion. I always shed some kind of a tear due to the enduring qualities and almost simplicity of Galaxy Express 999. That almost motherly womb of nurturing I get from this movie is summed up in that lady I mentioned earlier, Maetel. Her name is derivative of mother, matter, maternal, Mary, or mare (sea/waters) at least that is my hypothesis. Beyond being a near protective saint, she has the longest blond hair I have yet to see and dresses in a Russian styled black fur coat and hat. So classy! If the story tells the meat of the experience, Maetel represents the symbolic image of this story. I hate to see her as a mascot, more like an ascended master in the form of an anime heroine.

GE999_movie3The essence, or perhaps theme of Galaxy Express 999, is beyond the awesome space operatic elements. Often we are watching a story set in the future, but the true teachings are of the present moment. Life is something to be cherished and in two ways particularly. One, the fact that we are mortal and the time that we have is precious and our presence in this very moment is precious. And two, love yourself for who you are and what you believe in; your highest dreams and aspiration. Love yourself, love the environment and welcome all opportunities, you never know who you may meet on your journey when you just go with the flow. Just ask our hero Tetsuro.

GE999_movie4Galaxy Express 999’s movie adaptation is more than just a basic re-telling of the epic TV series. True we follow Tetsuro Hoshino’s path of maturity, which is sped up and abbreviated due the compression of the mammoth length of the manga/TV series original, yet we also have the inclusion of Matsumoto’s other great sci-fi epic which ran concurrent with Galaxy Express 999. That being of course Space Pirate Captain Harlock. This movie could be the ultimate expression of the constant retelling and reimagining of all that is the Leijiverse. And not just Captain Harlock the character, crew and mythology, but also that TV series’ director, Rintaro. Always a visual feast, so typical of Rintaro, this may be his most coherent film where the story does not get lost within the presentation of powerful imagery.

Stories of the hero’s journey number in the infinite and often times we are telling the same over yet again with a slightly different veneer. The origins of Galaxy Express 999 may borrow elements of Night on the Galactic Railroad and Star Wars (or perhaps Yamato?), but in the end it is something far different. A classic among classics, a step above the rest, Galaxy Express 999 may be one of the best coming of age stories ever created. Thank you Leiji Matsumoto and Rintaro for this great gift.