#115 : Project A-Ko

PAK_1Who needs Prozac when instead you can have Project A-Ko instead. You will have zero side effects, except having a big smile on your face and laughing most of the time. Now that’s a prescription we can all agree on. An 80s otaku’s wet dream of self referential parody fit into a sci-fi school comedy that has a plot so big and out of left field that it could only be… well, brilliant. A staple for any collection, the one, the only, the Project A-Ko.

PAK_2If ever an anime encapsulates the decade of the 1980s (well at least up to 1986 at least), it was Project A-Ko. Rising from the ashes of a failed pornographic project (odd start, eh?), Project A-Ko would turn into a self referential love fest for 80s otaku culture. And in case you miss the references to classics such as Macross, Captain Harlock, Fist of the North Star and Creamy Mami just to name a few, you are still in good hands. A joke is a joke and humor knows no boundary, but if you get the reference, you laugh twice as hard 🙂 Also of note is that we have another level of parody. Wait… more? OH YES! Heard of Jackie Chan? He had a movie out at this time known as Project A and this as well crept it’s way into the film in no minor way by of the title itself.

PAK_3The plot of Project A-Ko encapsulates around a triangular relationship. Super-heroic (literally) A-Ko/Eiko is the best friend of perhaps the queen of all crybabies, C-Ko/Shiiko. They laugh, walk to school and go shopping together. Plus, they are in the same class; talk about being tied to the hip! This does not bode well with another fellow classmate, the snobby rich girl B-Ko/Biko. She wants C-Ko for her own and jealousy exudes on to how she can foil the impressive A-Ko with various nefarious plots including using her posse, building mechs and finally making a powered suit that leaves little to the imagination. This suit and the final fight she starts with A-Ko to claim her supremacy becomes the center point of climactic action and in my opinion the cornerstone of this film. Beyond a normal high school cat fight, this altercation between A-Ko and B-Ko is more like a beautiful dance than an all out brawl.

PAK_4And if that wasn’t enough for a plot, let’s also add in some humanoid aliens who are in search of their long lost princess… C-Ko. Bizarre beyond definition is why everyone, and I mean everyone has something for C-Ko? She is one annoying character don’t you think? To each there own I suppose. Loud, immature and lacking in cooking skills (scary bento lunches) and as I said before the chronic crybaby. I am not here to judge, but I must call into question the rationality for begrudged rich girls and alcohol infused alien ship captains. Then again, rationality and this film are distant cousins six times removed.

Outside the plot, there is another memorable piece that is special to Project A-Ko, namely the soundtrack. Not because it fits the movie so well and encapsulates the era, but because it represents rarity back in ye olden days of anime. The soundtrack was outsourced to a couple young musicians, Joey Carbone and Richie Zito, in the Los Angeles area. This Japanese product used American music sensibilities to spice it up it’s presentation. The East met and collaborated with the West on a project decades before it became commonplace to our zeitgeist. Besides the instrumental tracks written and performed by the boys, there were three stand out songs sung by three different ladies. One of whom was none other than Samantha Newark, better known as Jem of Jem and the Holograms. Samantha of course was the speaking voice of Jem, but this movie showcased the fact that her voice acting wasn’t her only talent. She is a diva of a singer as well.

Project A-Ko is simply too much fun. An entertaining movie that never takes itself too seriously. The exception though would be in the drawing department. Project A-Ko is an animation playhouse created by individuals who expressed their joys and talents into a project that may just be the best goofy action movie ever made.

#98 : Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer

UY2_1Imagine living in your own dream world; anything goes! This is your ultimate utopia and if you apply any boundaries, they are of your own choosing. Who would be in this dream world with you? What would you do together? Once upon a time there was a property by the name of Urusei Yatsura that during the 1980s was one of the hottest tickets around. This show (and the manga) put Rumiko Takahashi on the map and brought a young director by the name of Mamoru Oshii into the spotlight. Before Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor and even Angel’s Egg, Oshii would showcase his signature style for the first time in Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. 

UY2_2The year was 1984 and going to the cinema was the thing to do for an otaku. I consider 1984, the anime Summer of Love. The Macross crew would release Macross: Do You Remember Love and Hayao Miyazaki wowed audiences with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Mamoru Oshii, who at the time was the director of all that was Urusei Yatsura, followed the script so to speak… and then a second film with Ataru, Lum and crew allowed Oshii’s individual style that we know so well to blossom for the first time. With both writing and directing duties, Oshii would bring his contribution of Beautiful Dreamer into the class of 1984. Oshii’s dreamworlds began to be a part of our worlds.

UY2_3I will be the first to admit that I may not be the best reference for Urusei Yatsura. I have seen the first handful of episodes and have a general idea of the plot and all the hijinks  including the lecherous main character, Ataru, and his jealous love interest/who happens to be an alien Lum. You know Lum (I hope)? The bikini clad girl with the horns on her head… a timeless design. Now, what I am familiar with is Mamoru Oshii’s artistry which he uses tastefully in Beautiful Dreamer. He adds elements of surreal imagery and circumstances and completely bends the rules to what you consider a particular property to be. Think Patlabor 2 in regards to Patlabor as a whole, or perhaps the Ghost in the Shell film in regards to the original manga. He puts his philosophical and symbolic spin into action that only Oshii does so well. Like a skilled painter, his style is his own. And where Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell can get very heavy into drama, being that this is a film is in the Urusei Yatsura universewe still retain the comedy and dynamism. Mamoru Oshii brilliant with fun and comedy? Oh definitely YES! 🙂

The plot begins with a school festival where everyone is pitching in with their own contributions, decorations and such. Many of the usual cast are putting together a cafe of sorts, which includes a tank in the middle of their particular classroom. Wait, a tank?! How did they get that upstairs? Anyway… events seem as if things are repeating themselves as various characters start to see that the reality of their surroundings keeps moving in a loop. If you travel, you end up back at the same spot and occasionally you lose contact with others. Just what is happening here? Eventually the entire world turns into a ghost town… on the back of a… turtle (it ties in with traditional Japanese mythology)? The only normality is the Moroboshi house, which becomes the safe haven for our cast since there is a constant supply of food, water and electricity for some reason. I’ll say it again, just what is going on here?

UY2_4Not being completely up to par with the Urusei Yatsura universe, I will be the first to say that I did not have much trouble following the film. Watching Beautiful Dreamer purely as an Oshii film worked well enough for me! There has been a Blu Ray release recently here in North America, but my viewing of this film came from a recent VHS find.  … Oh whatever has happened to you, oh great Urusei Yatsura? Rumiko Takahashi’s other work, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma and Inuyasha have all eclipsed this once behemoth property. Yet Urusei Yatsura you still live on be it YV series or movie adaptation in our memories… and even perhaps, our dreams…

#74 : Hikari no Densetsu

HnD_1More anime needs an emphasis on rhythmic gymnastics. And I am being serious here folks. I never in my mind would have thought that before I watched Hikaru no Densetsu, a simple sports shojo anime about this graceful and elegant sport that I would be smiling gleefully from ear to ear. And in a short 19 episode run I would be crying for just a little more. Sometimes you find diamonds in the rough and sometimes you find perfectly polished gems ready to reflect the light of the sun so clearly. Hikaru no Densetsu (Legend of Hikari) shines beautifully.

HnD_2When I gave a panel on the anime of 1986 a couple years ago, I knew I had many well known titles to talk about. 1986 is in my eyes an all-star year and with names like Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Maison Ikkoku, Castle in the Sky, M.D. Geist and many more all have a large reputation that cement my standing for the year. And then there was this little show on my list of ‘to watch’ anime, which was headlined by Hikaru no Densetsu. I had at that point no knowledge of this show and no serious expectations either. I found out quickly that it was about a young girl named Hikari and it centered around her school days and her talent as an up and coming rhythmic gymnast. Once I began the show I could not stop, I got the Hikari bug very quickly. Perhaps because Hikaru no Densetsu filled a void that I needed filling from my 1985 panel the year before. That void was left by Touch and the need for a quality romantic sports anime was fulfilled.

HnD_3Each episode opens with the same intro sequence, and I will say I am a sucker for that theme song. Many themes are often exciting, fun, or danceable, but Hikari’s theme is a ballad. A soft, gentile and relaxing song; what a nice change pace. Beyond the intro we learn of our main heroine Hikari Kamijo, a student who has a dream of being a great rhythmic gymnast much like the fictional champion Diana Gueorguiva. Hikari is a part of her school’s team where she is one of the many junior members under star standout Hazuki Shiina. Add to this Takaaki Ooishi, one of the two male leads, who is also a gymnast and a romantic interest for both Hikari and Hazuki. And the other male lead, who is kind of a bit of an odd ball as he is a rock musician and not a gymnast. Mao Natsukawa, who is Hikari’s neighbor, may be out of place with the rest of the cast, but he did compose one of the pieces Hikari used in her routines and also has some romantic feelings for Hikari as well. Now that’s a solid quartet.

HnD_4I have to give a salute to Tatsunoko Production, not for being a great classic studio (which you are and you know it), but for the quality of the fluidity of the movement during the gymnast routines. If it took extra effort or budget to pull this off then my hat is off in appreciation. You didn’t cheap out when the moment was needed and for that you get yet another gold star from me because I love you anyway! And I have to give a salute to those of you in Europe. You got to watch this show, amongst many other, way back in the day. LUCKY! And from some light research, both Italy and France in particular had a very warm reception towards the show. Just how popular Hikari was I can’t say for sure, but I have found many fan sites in regard to their local adaptations. Even the English fansubs I got a hold of had the French dub as well with the usual Japanese track. Very nice.

The lessons I have learned from Hikari no Densetsu… watch more sports anime, watch more shojo anime, just keep watching more anime as you don’t know what you will find. Hikari will eventual become the champion she desires to be and Hikari no Densetsu the show, deserves a trophy for being what it is. Nothing more than a simple little show that puts a smile on your face. A true winner!

 

#63 : Kimagure Orange Road

I have seen what could have been my ideal youth… should have been my ideal youth… could never be my ideal youth. And that is OK as this was never to be my own story, but a story about a young man of fifteen years of age having the best time of his life (wait till you get to 30 kid!). This is a TV series I could have seen earlier… should have seen earlier… could only appreciate to it’s fullest extent seeing it recently. The 48 episodes of joy known only as Kimagure Orange Road.

KOR_1Along with Touch (1985) and Maison Ikkoku (1986), 1987’s Kimagure Orange Road solidifies a trifecta of ‘shonen’ romantic comedies. And I am quoting ‘shonen‘ since Maison Ikkoku is considered ‘seinen’, but all three tell the story from a young man’s point of view regardless of the age demographic. KOR, for the record, has two distinct differences. First, there are fantasy elements, since Kyōsuke and his family are espers and can levitate objects, teleport, or create illusions. Thankfully this is used sparingly and in good measure so it does not become too much of a cliche. The second, KOR’s original manga was shown in Weekly Shonen Jump. And for a publication known primarily for fighters, it shows the diversity that the publication can offer when it allows.

KOR_2Our story begins simply… climbing a large staircase up a parkside hill, our protagonist Kyōsuke Kasuga catches a large red hat floating in his general direction. When he reaches the top he sees a girl, with long flowing black hair and they both discuss whether the staircase has 99 or 100 steps. That girl, Madoka Ayukawa, becomes the apple to Kyōsuke’s eye almost immediately. I mean why not, she is self confident, tough, a bit aloof and yet downright feminine and gorgeous. And thats all and good, except Kyōsuke has an admirer of his own after an amazing trick shot with a basketball (using those powers again!). Cute and peppy Hikaru Hiyama is obsessed with her ‘Darling’ Kyōsuke and with conflicting feelings Kyōsuke likes Hikaru, yet deep down he knows he truly loves Madoka.

KOR_3Mix this main trio with Kyōsuke’s younger twin sisters, his father, his two friends, a jealous admirer of Hikaru (poor Yūsaku) and cool headed Master, the head of ABCB (the main hangout of the cast) and we have enough ‘Kimagure’ happening on the ‘Orange Road’. Oh yeah, don’t forget Kyōsuke’s cousin Kazuya who shows up later in the show! Now even though this show is known for comedy and the unexpected, I often felt a very cool, relaxed and laid back feel to the show. I can only take so much slapstick (maybe because I am not that fun, NOT TRUE) and much like music, it’s the silences, the rests, where the true humor. Almost as if everything builds to the punchline and when it hits you are ready, but also surprised. Sophisticated in a way and well written. Plus the romance between the main trio is almost platonic and casual since Kyōsuke, Madoka and Hikaru are all friends, classmates and a bit nervous to admit their true feelings (like many of us).

KOR_4One final thing I have to thank this show for is a great and solid ending. It takes two episodes and kind of puts everything back into full circle. For a show that is not very linear, this finale is like whipped cream with a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. I ate it all up. And for something completely different (I mean why not?)… I usually love opening sequences and themes from the 80s. The second opening for KOR, which features the song Orange Mystery, is set in a artsy MTV video setting. It’s totally rad! and it may be my favorite opening of all time as I find it satisfying beyond words. In fact I want to watch it again… hang on a second…

What started years ago as an experiment involving a couple of episodes has finally become a finished goal. Kimagure Orange Road may be a well known cult classic, but it was one of those old titles that was on my back for a long, long time. I always viewed it as one of those key shows that was important to get under my belt, at least from my eyes since it had a fairly positive reputation. So now that weight is off my back and the feelings I gained from it are now deep in my heart. Kimagure Orange Road is magic, in more ways than one.