#17 : Armored Fleet Diarugger XV

There are times in one’s life that things just seem to come full circle. There are moments where you feel you have heard, or experienced part of the story and you have to know more, or know it all. One must experience the full totality of a tale when one is ready to understand it… or in this case, when an anime gets released on DVD. I have had a few of these moments in regards to adapted shows of my youth and this is one of them. Let’s look at Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_1Voltron was a cornerstone of my youth and to my early experiences with animation from Japan. Voltron was hugely popular and had it’s fifteen minutes of exposure during the mid 1980s. I was along for the ride as I was at the right age bracket to get swept up. We all loved the five heroes in the robot lions battling it out against the likes of the bad guys of Planet Doom (I wonder if anyone is nice from there?). But, Voltron was originally setup to be a trilogy, showcasing three unique super robot shows from Toei. In reality we ended up with the adaptation of Beast King GoLion, an original follow up to GoLion and the odd step child, the adaptation of Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_2I have always liked the Vehicle series, Diarugger’s western treatment, and by no means am I saying it is better than the Lions, it was just… different. Something about it spoke to me. A harder edged space opera, mixed with a little political intrique. No matter what the adaptation tried to either cover up or present, I had a feeling that something more was going on in the background. And by the time I came across the officially released DVDs (a little advice: GET a release when it feels like the time right to avoid the over priced markup when they go out of print) that we had here in the U.S. I had a mission and it was simple. That mission was to see what actually this show was really telling. And after the first couple episodes, I knew my hunch was correct.

Dairugger_3.jpgGone is the knowledge that the crew of the Rugger Guard knew of the Galveston (Drule) Empire ahead of time. Gone is the fact that every episode seemed to be on a different planet when often it looked like they were at a location for a couple episodes. Gone are the existence of the ‘hospital planet’ or ‘escape pods’. (because after all no body really dies, right?) And yes ‘Chip’ is really not ‘Pidge’s’ brother (different show and timeline). What we do have is a 52 episode journey that slowly unfolds, builds and grows where the emphasis from my eye, is more on the overarching story than individual characters. And yes, there are many characters (I will discuss this in the next paragraph). It’s kind of like the original Star Trek updated to the 1980s with a heavier plotline and a big robot added for good measure (got to sell those toys after all, and what a toy it was). My personal favorite is episode 13 The Enemy Within the Mind, an episode with a lot of suspense and where no laser blast, sword swing or punch is thrown. Different? I though so.

I know some people give flack to the show for having the fifteen manned mech. “It’s too many characters… ” Or is it? Macross and the Gundams have larger casts. Or how about Legend of Galactic Heroes? Now there is large cast. So the team that forms the big bot is fifteen strong, who cares. True we don’t get to know all of them intimately, but still it works. After all the it breaks the mold of the usual one, two, three or five manned teams. I give kudos for being different. The origin for fifteen lays in the name Diarugger, the rugger part. A rugby team comprises of suprise, fifteen people. And later in the show we see an actual game of rugby. How about them apples?

dairugger_4So the circle has now been complete and the smile on my face is large indeed. Diarugger is without question a dark horse entry into the ginormous field of mecha shows made during it’s era. The ending is one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen as I felt true closure unlike the tie a bow on it Voltron version (I still love you Voltron, but seriously I need a solid ending). A true diamond in the rough that has always been under our noses since the days of innocent childhood. To badly quote a John Lennon lyric… “All I am saying, is give Diarugger a chance.”

#16 : Dominion Tank Police

With the buzz and in some cases dismay for the live action interpretation of Ghost in the Shell it makes me think back… it has been a virtual cash cow for the original manga creator Masamune Shirow. Ghost in the Shell this, Ghost in the Shell that… yes the Major is a sexy assassin and there is all the political drama, but really… Over Kill! Appleseed has had it’s moment as well, too bad I was sleeping through the boredom of the CG movie (the old OVA is not perfect, but watchable to me). What ever happened to Dominion Tank Police? “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo.”

dtp1Acting as a prelude to the manga, we follow young Leona Ozaki as she transfers away from the motorcycle division into the “very professional” tank police and see her transform from an innocent girl wanting to do the right thing, into a tank obsessed lunatic. Oh them boys really corrupted her. She may be the naughtiest of the lot? But then again how can she not be an obsessed tank otaku when she has the sleek and little Bonaparte to ride in. If ever a tank was “cute”, this would be it. If you dare as scratch him you are in for reaming.

dtp2Now as for other characters, you have an assorted lot, but here are my top picks: Al, who may be the straightest arrow; the Chief, who is always one moment away from cardiac arrest and the ever epitome of male/macho bravado Lt. Charles Brenten, the guy who makes me laugh harder than anyone. And then of course you have bad boy Buaku and his team of cat girls, Anna and Umi Puma. Those Puma Twins, ever famous from the striptease (which may be the most famous scene in the OVA), are possibly one of if not the biggest sex symbols of 80s anime. But you know, I always liked the scene where they were goofing off and acting like rich debutants.

Going beyond the comedy and characters, we have a world of serious consequences. The setting of Newport City is quite dire due to heavy pollution. If you want to breathe that lovely outside air, you better have a gas mask. An environmental message mixed in with slapstick comedy? Very crafty indeed. But the other message of heavier consequence confronts our main badguy, Buaku, coming to terms with his creation and life purpose. Interesting in the second half we see a sensitivity and humane gentile nature from Buaku, of all people. And from a piece of ‘artwork’ that he considers his existence.

dtp3The one odd thing about the comedic aspect of this OVA is the fact that you have law enforcement that is a rag tag group of goof balls and in some cases, insane lunatics, using military grade weaponry to deal with day to day criminal activity. Funny in the 80s, but when I think about certain events that have happened more of recent where our ‘real’ police are using very similar equipment I get a bit of a shudder. What kind of messed up world does the police need tanks? Newport City with Leona and Brenten is acceptable, but keep these heavy duty war machines off my roads and everyone else’s as well. It makes Dominion almost prophetic to the real “future” of today. SCARY!

dtp4I have not forgotten thee. How could I? As of the material I have seen based on Shirow’s work, Dominion Tank Police is my personal favorite. Maybe because for a couple reasons I could ramble on about, but in all honesty… it’s completely un-politically correct and at least for me…hilariously funny. Imagine adding Dave Chapelle to the mix? Maybe add some Chuck Jones Looney Tunes direction. Nah, leave it as is because it works, SO DON’T FIX IT! Then the second half gets a bit sentimental as mentioned before. I know some are not big on this part, but hey we get to have some sympathy with the antagonist. Also Dominion Tank Police defines for me watching good old anime on that good old format, VHS (maybe because the out of print DVD is a bit pricey and VHS copies are like a dime a dozen). But Dominion Tank Police on VHS is like the Beatles on vinyl… good times. And please, watch the English dub, it’s beyond priceless.

Just remember… “Love your tank like a brother no matter what!”… “Love your tank like a brother?”

#15 : Touch

touch1A one hundred episode plus series is no small feat, in both the production and the stamina for one to stay the course in finishing it. Some series continue on and on and on and on (I can think of many a Shonen Jump title) with no real end and then, keep on going due to the fact that the popularity and economic factors are ever strong. Then other series have set endings and go on to a cult like status of being crowned the “greatest anime ever made” (Legend of the Galactic Heroes, great yes, greatest depends on one’s point of view). And then there was one show from 1985 based off of manga by Mitsuru Adachi that told a story over a four year time span that was one of the most beloved and popular series of it’s time; it could even still hold its viewer records today, kind of like M.A.S.H. I now present my favorite long runner, at a total of 101 episodes, Touch.

touch2Touch has nothing fancy to show. The designs are flat and plain. The setting is mundane and ordinary. What you see is what you get and what you get comes up to the surface so strong that it shows where the real value stands in the characters, story and pacing. Touch is a coming of age high school series concentrated on the Usegi twins: Kazuya (soft spoken, hard working, popular and determined) and Tatsuya (aloof, insecure, not popular and a slacker with hidden talents he shies away from with a mask of bravado) and their best friend who has lived next door since child birth, Minami Asakura, who both boys love dearly. And baseball as the glue that holds it all together. The supporting cast is just as strong although I wished you got to know more of the players on the Meisei High School team a little better. A few get spotlighted, but again they are the backing to the the twin boys. A shonen series without rivals would not be much and you get a good cross section including: goofy Terishima, chivalrous Nitta, jealous Yoshida and the cruel Coach Kashiwaba. And then you have Punch, the funniest, most mischieveous dog ever (my opinion, never knew dogs could laugh so well)? But none hold a candle to the gentle giant Harada. True he may look like a tough guy, but his real skill is being a therapist to the unsure Tatsuya (future Psych major?).

touch3Gameplay when shown is intense, the character relationships are honest, the sad moments bring massive tears and the ending, though a little open ended as of course the characters lives will go on, is solid to close this chapter on the lives of our heroes’ youth. If only all our youths were this ideal and in almost in a way… perfect? But nothing in truth is perfect. Sometimes we lose those we love, we questions our abilities, we wonder if we will ever be brave enough to face loving another, or we just are not sure what we are doing. All of this is in Touch and the trio of our main cast I could see in myself when I look in a mirror. When a show becomes so personal as if it is family, you know you have encountered something rare. Some series you watch because you want to, and then there are those which make you wonder what took you so long to get around to it? But when the time comes time to taste the flavors of something slow, gentile and personal, it can almost feel like being in love with someone special. And for me Touch was and still is beyond special.

Touch also reaffirmed another love I have and that is for the game of baseball itself. Not following a MLB franchise and being a jock-like individual, but the fact that it is a great game with dynamics and strategy that gets lost in the tribal mentality of many fans. Touch reminds me of, but is not completely similar to the movie Field of Dreams. Again a story using baseball as the glue that holds the narrative of several characters redeeming their talents or relationships. We all deserve that one time in the sun, be it in the case of Field of Dreams: a chance to bat once as a professional, re-pursuing your writing, or the reconnection and understanding between a father and son. For Touch, it is Tatsuya getting his time to show that he is not without possibility, untalented, or unloved. Sometimes passion takes time, a little guidance and a moment to just give in to fate. I for one know that to be true in regards to areas of my life.

touch4.jpgI cannot not recommend this show to anyone. I truly do love this show and loved watching it from one to 101. It took me a long time to get around to it, but presenting the anime of 1985 in a panel gave me the opportunity. It is one of those shows that for me, reaffirms my love of anime and shows that you have yet to see all the really good stuff. And as an older fan sometimes I get tired of all the flash and dazzle of fantasy, sci-fi and/or high production values. Sometimes I want a show like a glass of lemonade on a hot day or a hug from mom, real comfort food. Because sometimes, after all, simple is best.