#123 : The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

wwoo_1“We’re off to see the wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz… ” again, yet this time round it’s a little different. Of course the 1939 MGM film is for many the de facto standard barring even the original novels. In terms of anime, I grew up with a 1982 cinema version, but wouldn’t you know there was another version of L. Frank Baum’s creation created in the same decade? Years ago I passed this alternate off as some other show that didn’t need my attention. But being older, wiser and hungry for a diet of anime produced in 1986 for a panel I did in 2016 led me to this version of the Oz saga, a TV series known as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

wwoo_2Four of the Baum books filled 52 episodes of adventure. Let us count them off… The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Marvelous Land of OzOzma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz as the credits state. This series expands beyond the well known plot of the original novel and in many ways stay very true to the essence of the books, while incorporating creative liberties as needed. Encompassing four distinct arcs, the plot moves in a much more relaxed and leisurely pace compared to that of a film. Story and character have more time to develop, but there are times when I felt there were moments of filler. Such is the nature of any longer running anime, yet the filler is not so much a waste, but supplementary.

A little girl from the farm country of Kansas circa 1900 is swept away into a magical world filled with many friends, foes, colors and imagination far beyond the plain and mundane. Sounds like a shojo standard… could the Wizard of Oz really be Japanese in disguise? Of course not, look to Alice in Wonderland as a previous example of a swept away magical adventure. Both titles mentioned previously are early western examples, but this is not a comparison of east vs. west. I would say this is more like an archetype that transcends boundary. Influence from one story teller to the next and be it as Alice in Wonderland, or Wizard of Oz, either one may have led the way to anime like Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, etc., etc. The story with ‘A Thousand Faces’ per se where imagination and fantasy have no territorial bounds.

wwoo_3The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had an early release in the west during the 1980s, perhaps on cable, and from the look of the credits emphasized the post production and dubbing done by Cinar (some of the casting was featured in Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold) more than the original animation by Panmedia. Such was kind of true back in that decade where you try to cover your tracks without having to hint that this was a ‘foreign’ production. Those were different times and may I say a little ignorant. The English dubbed version is what I know, but the first episode is also available under many sources in the original Japanese with subtitles. Both presentations are excellent, but the original Japanese opening is extremely charming and can pass as a period pop song that makes you want to dance.

wwoo_4The joy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz surrounds the fact that this production can be for all ages. Though it is more of a children’s show, it is without a doubt a great option for the whole family, especially if you want to introduce the very young with a story that is somewhat familiar. Years ago I could have sworn I caught this series on a chance Sunday morning as a rerun and as I said earlier dismissed it. But then caught up to the now and I got a second chance to give this version of the Wizard of Oz a chance and perhaps it is now my preferred go to. I just was not ready, but when the time came I was in the moment. Have fun with this one if you get a chance to experience it! 🙂

#120 : Belladonna of Sadness

BoS_1On the surface you may think Belladonna of Sadness is some pornographic psychedelic fest of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Hedonism at it’s height and yet far from it. Yes this is an erotic movie, very sexual indeed at certain parts, though much of what is brought out through the sexual act is not pleasurable or idealized. With pleasure comes pain, much like any responsibility, including love. Belladonna of Sadness is a title for ‘mature’ adult audiences, told partially through an erotic perspective, with so much more going on that to dismiss this film as simply a wild psychedelic skin flick would be an injustice.

BoS_2Mix elements of The Beatles Yellow Submarine, Gustav Klimt, the Ryder Waite tarot deck (or maybe even Yoshitaka Amano’s deck… I use this one) and beautiful organic line work accented by watercolor fills and you get a general idea of the look of a tale of a Medieval maiden by the name of Jeanne (is it me or does she remind you of Fujiko Mine from Lupin III?). Recently married to her beloved Jean (a perfect pair of opposites/polarity?) the honeymoon is completely spoiled due to the kings need for taxes. When Jean is unable to pay the fees it is up to Jeanne to come up with a solution. Selling her soul to the Devil and exploring the dark night of the soul via sex and witchcraft, Jeanne soon becomes targeted as a witch. Yet she admired by the townspeople as she brings help to the suffering via her femininity and the use of belladonna, a nightshade that can be a medicine, hallucinogen, or poison depending on the dose. Now for the ultimate question, are Jeanne’s methods and new role, both of which exist outside the established patriarchal order, considered methods of evil, or balance?

BoS_3Belladonna of Sadness may be an anime, but it does not follow or accept the traditional look typical of Japanese animation as stated previously. The look is more akin to western sensibilities, yet I doubt any western studio would dare to give life to a project like Belladonna of Sadness. I give thanks and respect to Mushi Production and studio head Osamu Tezuka for creating such an uncompromising piece of art. The animation most of the time is sparse and at times is nonexistent in sections where the only movement was the action of scrolling long still collage images. Is this animation, or fine art passing as a film? Still shots could pass as canvased paintings much more so than just painted acetate cels. Much akin perhaps to Angel’s Egg, Belladonna of Sadness could belong in an art gallery setting instead of the usual theater venue.

BoS_4The original source material, a novel by Jules Michelet named La Sorcière (The Witch, though the title is better known as Satanism and Witchcraft) is unknown to me, but this did not block my own interpretations. Much of the themes reflect the history of the subjugation of the divine feminine and the fear of our more ancient principles and primal desires. The aspects of the darker subconscious, raw sexuality, the use of psychedelic substances as a way of altering ones consciousness and the worship of the feminine as supreme Goddess. Is the Goddess a witch, or a savior? …think Lilith, the untamed feminine. Reminds me of the Hindu goddess Kali… just what is God? SHE is darkness, the void, wild and terrifying beyond compare. The polar opposite to the Abrahamic ‘father’ image. In medieval European society and even still in our ‘modern’ cultures, much of what is listed above was and is still at times considered heresy. Yet this is only because that is what we have been told. Where is truth? How can such darkness be natural? And just what, or who is the Devil really?

Like any hallucination that takes the your mind, your ego, your essence into a different sphere of consciousness, viewing Belladonna of Sadness changes your perception of anime and perhaps even a part of yourself. Be gentle when viewing this film as mind blowing adventures always leaves something behind that you must take full responsibility for as it is now a part of your experience. Belladonna of Sadness is more than a movie, it’s a full blown awakening.

#92 : Sherlock Hound

SH_1“I say Watson. There is even an anime adaptation of me… and I am portrayed as a dog? Mmm, interesting.” And not only that Holmes, or Hound, but you had the blessing of the magic touch from one of Japan’s top directors. Hayao Miyazaki, working with studio TMS, was on the brink of fame and fortune with the release of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1984, a year that also featured a collaborative television show with the Italian broadcast and production company RAI. Sherlock Hound would be the fruit of this collaboration.

SH_2Italian and Japanese design and sensibilities reminds me of, and I am sorry if you are not into cars, but I think of that beautiful machine, the Honda/Acura NSX. It’s graceful, elegant and high quality. This is an example of the complete best of two different cultures filtered through a project. Sherlock Hound is perhaps one of the finest looking television anime of the 1980s. Rich in fluid motion, witty humor, crisp details and beautiful colors. There is no mistaking that this was produced at TMS; such a high mark portfolio piece. And while Miyazaki is credited heavily for this show, it must be known that he was only around for the first six or so episodes before licensing issues came to the surface. Miyazaki would leave TMS to continue work on first the manga of Nausicaa, which led to the film production. Still, the influence of the master was still ever present once the show got back on track a couple years later.

SH_3Sherlock Hound is a very loose adaptation of the crime fighting detective who always seems to be one thought ahead with every clue he finds. “Hello?” Along with Dr. Watson and occasionally the bumbly Inspector Lestrade, Hound (or, just Holmes in the original Japanese dialogue) has to foil the exploits of his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. Across the 26 episodes I am reminded of another franchise very familiar to TMS. I think of Lupin III, yet it is almost the inverse of Sherlock Hound. Instead of cheering on the thief and laughing at the authorities, you laugh at the thief and the authorities (Scotland Yard and Lestrade) and cheer on the third party who seems to be more effective than the officials that are in charge. Now that makes me think of Batman as Gotham City’s police squad may be good at handing out parking tickets but leave the real work for the caped crusader. Goes to show that in order to do it right, you have to find an alternative source. Off to Baker Street we go to solve our problems.

SH_4Nostalgia, at least for me, is strong with Sherlock Hound. The glory years of the mid to late 80s Saturday morning cartoon boom, which also includes the independent syndication market that had shows on everyday after school during the week, are very much in harmony with this show. Yet I didn’t see Sherlock Hound during my youth and yet it could have fit in quite well. In particular are the shows that Disney cranked out, you know Duck Tales, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers et al since you have the anthropomorphic animal characters in fun adventure situations. And then there was the British cartoon of Danger Mouse, which is similar to Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond, with dry humor so beloved in the British Isles. In all honesty, they don’t hold a candle to Sherlock HoundSherlock Hound holds to an even higher standard as mentioned above that draws me as a ‘mature’ adult. And yet, it is brilliant for an audience of any age; it’s almost perfect? Truly, lightning captured in a bottle.

Sherlock Hound is an easy recommendation and invites you in from a number of possible routes. Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Do you enjoy Hayao Miyazaki’s work and style? Are you looking for a great anime to watch with the whole family? Are you an old school otaku? Do you like great animated action that’s fun? If you answer yes to any of these, I would consider you a candidate for this show. Try or rewatch Sherlock Hound for the first or 101st time because this round is on me 🙂

#80 : Little Princess Sara

I like a story that represent the cycles of how we live our lives. After all, business marketing and historians may disagree on this stating everything is always up and up. Life and nature, my friends move in a circle. We reach peaks of success that must in turn draw itself back into the darkness and end up going into the so-called ‘Hero’s Journey’. The changing of the seasons and even your life as an individual all go through this process every day and year like clock work. It is never linear in fashion and neither is a great story. And I know such a story from 1985, Nippon Animation’s Little Princess Sara.

Sara_1I have become a fan of the World Masterpiece Theatre series over these last couple of years. These are stories familiar to many of us in the west, which instead of the heavy lines of a printed text we get an animated version in full color… “come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination”… I couldn’t help but include that line (Willy Wonka forever!). And we must all begin somewhere and for me, World Masterpiece Theatre would begin with the 1985 entry, Little Princess Sara. Having never read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original writing and only knowing a sparse amount of detail, I was essentially going into this one blind. And in many ways, that is an advantage. Well, at least in my mind it is. No expectations are the best expectations.

Sara_2Sara Crewe is a very fortunate young lady. She has a supportive family even though her mother had passed on some time ago. Her father, who is quite the successful businessman, is loving and a source of stability for young Sara. She has almost everything she could ever ask for and in turn is not spoiled and honors what she has. Being as she is to become a proper lady of her generation (we are talking late 1800s Europe here), she is sent to be educated at a prep school in England, while her father will return to their home to continue his business in the British colony in India. She is soon brought to the attention of Miss Minchin, the headmistress of the seminary she will be attending.

Sara_3Settling in with her treasured doll and an assortment of new friends, classmates Ermengarde and Lottie, and allies such as Peter the stable boy and Becky the maid, Sara begins to enjoy her time at the seminary. Until… fate had to reigns it’s hand to announce that Sara’s father had passed away without any known inheritance. Sara’s identity switches from student to servant in order to stay at the seminary. And this brings a smile to those who didn’t like her in the first place. Such an example is Lavinia, who in the tradition of Mean Girls, could be the spitting image of Regina George. She is such a snot-nose and of course has a couple cronies that agree with every little conniving idea she musters up in that twisted brain. But what of who is in charge, Miss Minchin? Does she give any grace to our downtrodden Sara? Hardly, after all ‘Minch’ rhymes with bitch so you can see where this is leading towards.

Sara_4Can Sara once again rise? Return to a state of glory and humanity? The answer is yes, but the heartache she endures makes this one tragic tale with a very happy ending. Passing through the dark night of the soul is always a painful period for anyone, but handling it with grace and dignity will always lead to a finality of compassion. Much like a typical soap opera, the emotions and circumstances are heightened for dramatic purpose, but they show the difficulty she must endure to in turn, wait for the proper season to rise again. Have some tissues ready at certain moments. I may have gone through a box, or am I just exaggerating for dramatic purpose? I leave that up to your opinion of the story.

Thank you Little Princess Sara. You gave me my initial sojourn into the World Masterpiece Theatre and for that I am grateful. I have seen a handful of the collection and I have many more to open up to. And since most of these are subtitled, that count’s as reading material, right? Even though the printed copy is no where near the front of my face? Maybe? Nothing wrong with text, but I do like all the animated pictures! 🙂

#60 : Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period

Japan, the feudal era of approximately the early 1580s, is where we find a demon lord that has come to power… He is looking to unite the country all for himself… There is a legend of a comet splitting the sky telling of his coming, but also of a legend of three weapons that have the power to take this dictator down. These three weapons: a long sword, a halberd and a short sword. That legend is Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period.

Yoto_1Is it me, or does Yotoden feel like a 90s production (it was originally released in 1987)? Almost like mixing up Ninja Scroll, Record of Lodoss War and the more serious elements of Rurouni Kenshin? Maybe? Or, maybe not, but for me it showed the direction where a certain branch of OVAs were heading towards in the next decade. Much like Lodoss War, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, or even the original Heroic Legend of Arislan (Arslan), Yotoden is an epic. A BIG EPIC! And yet it is contained into a small amount of space (just three episodes). Yet, that space gives enough to show off our main cast of heroes: Ayanosuke, or Ayame, the tough pretty girl, who has the short sword; Sakon, the quiet rebel wielding the long sword (he could be a proto-Kenshin with that red hair) and Ryoma, the big guy with heart, who has the halberd.

Yoto_2Much in the tradition of shonen action, our heroes have to fight through foes before getting to the final big boss. Except… we have no gratuitous filler; we have a tight schedule to keep here. These foes are the seven Oboro ninja and the boss is known as Nobunaga Oda or could it be his henchman Ranmaru Mori? And much like other shonen adventures, there is a heavy, heavy emphasis on… action, yes, but the supernatural, even more so. Monsters, demons and omens written in the stars make a huge chunk of what ties the whole story together. Maybe if the original novel by Takeshi Narumi was more focused on direct realism it would have been say more like Legend of Galactic Heroes in approach, but this is me on a soapbox. It’s a fine fantasy story, with great drama and even the little tinge of a possible romantic feelings between Ayame and Sakon. Not a bad combination of elements if I say so. I mean why tell history the way we think we thought it was instead of making it into what you want it to be?

Yoto_3Two versions have been released of this early J.C. Staff creation. The first, the original 1987 three part OVA of approximately 45 minutes each, which bear the name of the title of this writing (though only on VHS here in the west). The second is a collected movie version from 1989 called Wrath of the Ninja (DVD is available in the west with an optional dub) and was a minor staple on cable television during the late 1990s. Pick your poison as both are action heavy and move at an even pace. I like the original three parter since it goes a little more in depth (I am partial to the episodic format), much like my relationship with one of my favorite 90s OVAs, Macross Plus.

Yoto_4Now I will be the first to admit that I am no expert in Japanese history, or the so-called historic or samurai genres which number in the plenty. But, what I have seen, has been a good watch. It may not be the most natural cup of tea for me in particular, but the flavor is a welcome experience. I like Yotoden enough to give it a watch every couple years, but I doubt it will ever be top ten or twenty in my book. I like it and it should be a hidden gem recommendation that often does not see enough time in the sun. Fight on fine warriors of the magical blades and bring about the prophecy of justice.

And whoever did the character designs… nice job my friend. (According to Anime News Network it was Kenichi Ohnuki… I leave it up to you to check his resume)

#51 : Fire Tripper

Is love predestined? Can love transcend time? Can you recognize a soul male in the most unexpected place? If you can answer yes to these three questions then you have an amazing life and partner and understand a higher level of law of attraction. Let’s look at a love story that transcends space and time but, watch out for fire or explosions as we enter the world of Fire Tripper.

FT_1The first entry in Rumiko Takahashi’s Rumik World OVA series, 1985’s Fire Tripper represents what I love about the so-called queen of comedy mangaka. True she is well known for her long, very long, series that are some of the most popular titles in all of anime… I want a show of hands of those of you who love Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2 or InuYasha? While these shows are classic, I personally like her shorter tales. And the Rumik World collection are perfect gold for me. Give me Maris the Chojo, Laughing Target, Mermaid Forest or… Fire Tripper. Also… give me a more serious storyline (I’m melancholic in temperament).

FT_2Suzuko is your typical schoolgirl except for two things. One, her best friend and next door neighbor is a little boy named Shu. Shu adores Suzuko like an older sister and her nature toward him is almost maternal. And two, in the presence of being caught in an explosion and fire, Suzuko can… travel through time. No, seriously. In one of these explosions she is transported back to the medieval civil war where she meets a tough young man named Shukumaru who has an adopted sister named Suzu. As the plot unfolds it turns out that Suzuko and Suzu share a bell necklace and that Shukumaru has the same scar as young Shuhei. Do I see a pattern here?

FT_3So… sorry to spoil the plot here kids, but these two individuals have known each other in two distinct eras of time as young children and the older senpai type relationship. Now with the passing hands of destiny, they can meet each other during the primes of their youth and realize their connection is meant to be. I may have written it out here as a little corny or staged, but trust me if you have not seen Fire Tripper it is farther from the truth. What we see is the growth of what seems like two completely incompatible people learning to look beyond the proverbial first impression.

FT_4Historically speaking, at least for me, Fire Tripper was the first production of Rumiko Takahashi that I gave a chance to. I was never too big on Ranma’s comedic antics and I tried a couple episodes of Urusei Yatsura, but did not feel like watching the near 200 episode count. Fire Tripper would fall on my lap one day and like destiny so to speak I fell in love instantly. And from there I would move onto Maris the Chojo and Mermaid Forest, my two favorites by Takahashi. So now I realize why Madame Takahashi is held in high regard. I just needed the proper medium at the right time so to speak.

When looking back at all the anime that has been created, we often find many a diamond in the rough. Many shine brightly, or uniquely on their own accord. In the course of time loves shines above all and Fire Tripper shines like no other… ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’.

#37 : The Mysterious Cities of Gold

mcog_1I had no idea my childhood was incomplete. Years ago I kept running into this show that a lot of people said was one of the best 80s cartoons. How can that be, I have seen the really big ones… or so I thought. And to my gleeful astonishment, it counts as an anime as well. A co-production of DiC (many favorite memories from this company) and Studio Pierrot, this 1982 show aired in France and Japan, on the NHK no less. Later it would be dubbed in English and shown in England and North America, but alas I did not have Nickelodeon (no cable TV at my house). I may have missed my chance back then, but thanks to the internet and DVD I would get to travel back to the 16th century to discover the awesomeness of The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

mcog_2Que that classic soundtrack by Shuki Levy (the Mozart of 80s cartoon themes) because we are about to embark on a great adventure. Young Esteban, an orphan boy in the care of a Spanish priesthood, who has this mysterious power to bring about the sun, stows away on a ship bound for the ‘new world’ of South America. Envious of the sailor’s travels, Esteban learns his family lineage is from this area of the world. Aided by Mendoza, a man who saved Esteban from drowning years ago while in the Atlantic Ocean, Esteban begins his quest for adventure. While on board he would meet an Incan girl named Zia, who is held prisoner as she is said to know how to find the illustrious cities of gold. Eventually the ship is wrecked and Esteban, Mendoza, Zia with Mendoza’s lackies Sancho and Pedro wash up on shore to eventually meet a native boy of the Hiva (or Mu) people, Tao. Together they search the vast expanse of South and Central America searching for these ‘mysterious’ cities of gold, evading the Spanish, meet natives, try to locate the missing family members of Esteban and Zia and find two great treasures: an awesome sailing ship and a golden condor. I want to sign up for this trip!

mcog_3How did I miss out on this? I loved many of DiC’s productions (and for many I still do). A majority of them were tied to toy lines, but not this one. Based loosely on Scott O’Dells’ The King’s Fifth, the only thing this show had to sell was the story. Getting back to DiC, I see many similarities between The Mysterious Cities of Gold and other shows. Esteban looks like a miniature Jayce from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (one of my all time favorites). His hair is similar (missing the white streak), he wears a medallion and his costume is very close. And Mendoza looks very similar to Herc from Jayce as well. Also the group dynamic is similar to again Jayce and another early collaboration with Japan, Ulysses 31, but each show has their own chemistry. So we have a new take on a familiar formula. I like it.

mcog_4My only gripe is that as the show progresses, it goes from a period piece to a more sci-fi affair, particularly with the appearance of the Olmecs. Since when are the Olmecs bad guys, I mean we don’t know much about this ancient group. Why turn them in alien like trolls? Besides this minor issue (and trust me it is only minor), it is a solid paced serial adventure that grows each episode as you continue on. Will our cast find all the cities of gold? Can Mendoza be trusted? Is the abundance of gold the real treasure? And how come this ‘new world’ is more ancient than the ‘old world’ of Europe and such? Atlantis perhaps? That remains to be seen. Also don’t forget to catch the the mini documentaries that aired at the end of each episode. WAIT, we have an educational element as well? How many more boxes can this show check off on the list of being ‘most awesome’?

Shows come and go, but legends never die. And shows that depict historical setting are more interesting than the real thing… occasionally. For The Mysterious Cities of Gold this rule can apply…“Goodbye, till next time”