#210 : Take the X Train

If ever an anime made me scratch my head and go what in the world did I just watch, then Take the X Train is perhaps near the top of the list. Just exactly what genre is this OVA? It’s like a comedy and a suspense thriller and perhaps a horror flick(?) and I may be stretching it… a mecha production. Not so much piloting a robot, or cybernetics, but consider this concept… the combining of man and machine on a metaphysical as well as a physical level. Take the X Train is a ride you will never forget. ALL ABOARD!!

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100“This work is dedicated to the Jazz great, Duke Ellington,” proclaims the opening credits. A send up to one of his well known hits, Take the A Train, Take the X Train is not so much like the Duke in terms of style. Maybe more like Miles Davis in his more experimental works, or even better, Ornette Colemen, or Cecil Taylor. Why I say the later two is because while the plot is comprehensible, this anime is a free form piece of art, more like Free Jazz than the Duke’s sophisticated Big Band style. Do I love Jazz by the way? Oh yeah, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk I wear on my sleeve. Jazz is even used as the background music, bur only occasionally… hmm?

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Visually this is a very tasteful movie in the style of the already mentioned Jazz in pictures. The editing, design, everything seems to be to be like an art house film, not at all pristine and mainstream. This is not in the same vain as say Angel’s Egg, but maybe more like California Crisis: Gun Salvo (my opinion). Then a familiar name appears… actually make that two. First was the studio, Madhouse, who always makes anime with a little bit of edge and artsy flavor no matter the genre, or the director. The second is the director, a favorite of mine due to his visual narrative approach mixed with a little avant-garde attitude, Rintaro. His work is definitely an acquired taste; examples include: Space Pirate Captain Harlock, the Galaxy Express 999 films (GE999 and Adieu), Bride of Deimos, Dagger of Kamui, Harmeggeddon, and the Labyrinth section from Neo Tokyo.

XTrain_3Trains of course are at the focus of this OVA, as well as our main protagonist, Tour Ishihara. An average guy, though a bit goofy and kind of eccentric, Toru works for a company that is planning to revitalize and market a more retro attitude for the train market. One train is at the focus of this committee, which goes by EF 5861, a train that Toru thinks is a junk heap. Watch what you say my friend, as this train has a certain destiny that coincides with yours. In other news, one night after a fun time with his girlfriend (this was the most awkward love scene I have ever seen), Toru waits for the next train in a crowd when all of a sudden the lights go dark and sparks fly all over the atmosphere and in particular the tracks. Then passes a mysterious locomotive… could it be a ghost train…is this all for real? May I introduce our other main character, the X Train.

XTrain_4With no expectations coming in I was amazed I found another interesting gem of an OVA buried in the garden of lost anime titles. While a little bizarre, the artsy nature of Rintaro brought out a certain charm in Take the X Train, which is by the way based on a novel by Koichi Yamano (I give credit to fansub ending credits for this bit of info). The only thing I won’t miss are Toru’s twitching pulse and occasional nose bleeds; every time it always gives me the creeps. Now for a send off, check out Duke Ellington’s recording of Take the ‘A’ Train. It swings!

#208 : Super Dimension Century Orguss

The opening theme says it all, “Where are you going, when are you coming home?” … Atomic, biological and chemical weapons are all heavy duty in terms of destructive power… but this pales in comparison to dimensional weaponry. For a young and carefree pilot who ends up completing the arming sequence for a space time oscillation bomb, the consequences of dimensional weaponry would alter not only his life, but affect the entire structure of the Earth itself. Anything was up for grabs for this stranger in a strange land, yet how much of a sacrifice must he yield himself towards in order to return the world to equilibrium. It all began in the future of 2062, but we remember this tale from a mecha anime from 1983… Super Dimension Century Orguss.

Orguss_1Following up the success of 1982’s Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Big West advertising and Studio Nue would strike out again the following year with Orguss. Retaining much of the staff from the previous year including director Noburo Ishiguro, character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto and music composer Kentaro Haneda to name a few, Orguss would despite similarities adapt to change. Shoji Kawamori did not stay and the services of Tatsunoko, who did the heavy lifting of animating Macross, would be supplanted by Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Thus we have a slightly different product. As a Macross fan I am often jealous of Orguss as TMS in general always has a certain patina that cries quality in terms of line work and color palette. Orguss is for that time (and even now!) an attractive looking show, but what about the bigger issue? What of the story and the characters?

Orguss_2Speaking of characters, let’s start with our protagonist Kei Katsuragi. Fighter pilot, happy go lucky and the biggest ladies man I have ever seen, Kei is a complete 180 from Macross’ Hikaru Ichijo. He eyes all those who are cute to his ocular perceptions, but in the end he is ever faithful to the ones he is truly in love with. The series begins with him in an intimate moment with his girlfriend at the time, quite bold, which is interrupted by her father barging in with a shotgun. Not many times I have seen that to open a piloted robot show. And like Lupin III, he escaped unscathed to be picked up by his best friend and fellow pilot Olson (or is it Orson?). Together they are part of a mission to use the previously mentioned space time oscillation bomb in order to get rid of a space elevator. The mission goes awry, but Kei feels it is only right that the mission

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Arriving in a parallel alternative Earth, which at the time he does not know, Kei is thrust 20 years into the future into a world born of his consequences. Here he meets friendly nomadic traders known as the Emaan, who oddly have tentacle like antennae coming out of the back of their heads, the aggressive Chiram, a militaristic society and Jabbi (I’ll let you figure out who he is!). All parties involved have interest in capturing, or obtaining Kei… why? Because he is the chosen one, or in more precise language the singularity (or, differentiated idioblast… what did you call me?) This makes him quite valuable on the market. So what are the issues that the Earth is facing in Orguss? First it is suffering from excessive heating, global warming to the extreme. And second, the mixing of races and landscapes on Earth are appearing from different dimensions due to the explosion of the previously mentioned space time oscillation bomb. Space and time are unstable and guess who is the one who can right these events? A little hint, he’s a womanizer fighter jock who happens to be named Kei! Now I know that name from somewhere? (sarcasm)

Orguss_4Oh Kei, look what you have done! Orguss is an interesting show in that we have a character that has to come to terms with fixing past issues that resonate with the present. Call it karma, fate, or what have you, Orguss is a show that strikes a chord as a mech show for a more mature audience looking for an alternative to the usual space opera of the time. Like Macross, we again have transforming mechs and a heavy romantic subplot which makes Orguss ever more enjoyable. Just be ready for the final climactic moment, as the scene appears to be very open ended, but from my eye brought in an element of the tragic, which really left me surprised… and a little teary eyed.

#207 : The Fantastic Adventures of Unico

Take one… Sanrio… a company known for all that is ‘kawaii’, cute… the home of the beloved feline, Hello Kitty. Sanrio was also at one time a film production company, which created at least one animated feature film a year during the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. They created anime that was very much on the side of the previously mentioned cute factor, anime for children and families to share and anime that also featured a twist of heartbreak. Take two… Osamu Tezuka… the “God of Manga” (much respect to you sensei) and the father of many beloved titles and characters. Take three… Unico, a creation of his from the 1970s, would be published in a Sanrio shojo magazine that by 1981 was ready for the animation world. Add these three elements together and we get The Fantastic Adventures of Unico.

FAoU_1The story of Unico is perhaps one of the most unfair tales of exile that makes me look into the mirror, both personally and collectively. Why are those who are humane, pure and a giver of love and joy often the ones who are a target to those in authority? Simple, they are a solution to the problems that these authorities have either created, or promise to handle if you give up your freedom. Yet these innocent ones when pushed will fight back and defend because they are those who are not corrupted, those who have a heart of pure love to give… those who only want the best for everyone. A baby unicorn named Unico is one of these unsung heroes that because he was born different has a destiny that may be on the side of unfair, but also rewarding to those who meet him.

FAoU_2After angering the Gods, the West Wind is called forth to take little Unico away. What’s his crime? Besides being adorable… he makes everyone happy, he gives love and he will be your friend no matter who you are. He sees the essence inside of each of us and loves us for that and that alone. Talk about a criminal? I guess they feel the same way with Rainbow Brite too? Here’s a theory, maybe Unico is LGBT and the Gods are bigots? I mean he looks a little gender non-conforming and is open to love anyone no matter their gender. Maybe… but then again, he is a little kid who has not been corrupted by adults, or culture. Instead of taking little Unico away, the West Wind decides to hide him in a remote area… at least until he is spoted again and she must find yet another place of refuge for the baby unicorn. The question remains if Unico will ever have a place of permanent residence.

FAoU_3Unico’s journeys has him meet a little devil who has no friends and eventually a cat who wants to be a witch. While light on plot, this film could have gotten away with a shorter run time (maybe by half/45 minutes?). The story of the cat, who becomes a girl becomes the major focus of the movie and could have been the entire plot in its own right. Some make too much of a mention of the creepy baron who seduces the girl, the one who was a cat, by getting her drunk. Hard to believe that much of the themes and situations in The Fantastic Adventures of Unico would label this as a family movie, but then again this was made in a different time. Back in the 70s and 80s animated films had a little more edge and danger and showcased to us at the time that not all the world was squeaky clean and perfect, i.e. The Transformers: The Movie and Watership Down.

FAoU_4Most Sanrio films leave me crying a little on the inside. Inside?! Come on now, I shed tears outside as well since the emotions can be so great. Tezuka as well is a genius at bringing out the feelings with the universally moral messages we all can relate too. You never forget a story that touches your heart. Even at the end of The Fantastic Adventure of Unico Unico is once again swept away with the West Wind to another place to secure his safety and longevity. This in a way is a gift wrapped in silver lining. Unico will still be alive another day, will still spread love to another lonely soul and leaves a trail of influence to all those he has met already to live their lives with a little more joy. Maybe one day he will meet you as well?

… one more thing… did you see the Hello Kitty cameo!?