#136 : Alpen Rose

Spinning around with my bare feet on the grass at a park I begin to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of… Alpen Rose. Alpen Rose. Those red flowers. These cross shackles that hold me…” … Love and romance, adventure and suspense, mystery and amnesia and being on the run from an obsessed bishonen Count and Nazis during the eve of WWII… are you excited yet? Pack your bags because you are scheduled for a tour of Switzerland, Austria and France circa 1939/1940. All aboard!

AR_1Based off a manga and debuting on television in 1985, Honoo no Alpenrose first came into my life through a condensed two episode OVA compilation released in 1986. If only I could see  the original 20 episode TV series? I like a non-abridged version whenever possible. Thankfully this version fell into my lap and became a recent priority. So what exactly is Alpen Rose? To begin the title refers to two specific references. The first is a flower that grows in the Alps region. During winter snows and freezing temperatures this flower never loses it’s will to live and stays in full bloom. Impressive! Alpen Rose is also the title of an important piece of music toward the plot of the series. An anthem to be precise! A subtle and tender song speaking out against Nazi oppression. A song to rise up and believe in life and freedom… very fitting to be named after a flower that represents choosing life and beauty in the face of strife and hardship.

AR_2We begin after a plane crash in the heart of Switzerland. A young girl with her pet parrot returns to consciousness unsure of who she is. She is soon met by a boy her age, Lundi, who gives her the name Jeudi and helps her start a new life. By the way the parrot is named Printemps by the way (All this French! I like it!) A few years pass, Jeudi is now a teenager and is working as a nurse’s aide when she is reunited with her beloved Lundi. Then the chase begins when both characters encounter a bishonen count who has loose ties to the German Nazi’s and has an obsession with Jeudi. She is totally underage… creepy! Along the way Jeudi and Lundi meet many new friends, but the most important would become a third party, an young anti-Nazi composer prodigy, Leonhardt/Leon, perhaps my favorite character (has to be those locks of hair!). This is turning into a love quartet. OK Jeudi for whom does your heart desire for?

AR_3Alpen Rose is one of those titles where I can’t help but love, yet I do have mixed feelings. Often times an anime series starts off with a great plot line and resolves at around the half way mark. The show continues on, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Jeudi’s journey to rediscover her past identity, find her parents and solve the riddle of why the song Alpen Rose has special significance made the first half a nail biter. From there it became a prelude towards the war between the Allies and the Axis. Our cast of characters became  part of the bigger zeitgeist of the moment. Yet the second half did reveal some new twists and discoveries which provided interest. The show is solid and even paced throughout, but the ending was a little rushed… now begins WWII… the end. Hey now!

AR_4Many big names are tied with the production of Alpen Rose. Tatsunoko was the studio responsible for bringing the show to life… and they have a great track record! The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi, who would go onto super stardom scoring films for Hayao Miyazaki. In fact he already did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind the previous year! Often times when encountering shojo material I often run into magical girl shows and high school romantic comedies. Both genres have merit, but I have a soft spot for the historic romantic drama. Something a little more serious with an element of old classic style. Alpen Rose fills these qualifications fantastically and I am so thankful I finally got to see the entire TV series. I will watch this one again!

 

#75 : Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Mention the name Hayao Miyazaki today and you will be told he is the king of the world in regards to anime. Now imagine mentioning Hayao Miyazaki’s name in the spring of 1984 and the otaku world would say that this guy is the new rocket in town and he has his sights set on the stars and the infinite beyond. The film adaptation of his manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, did more than move the masses and set the ground work for the future of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki would present us with one of cinema’s greatest and most honorable heroes.

Nau_1Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind cemented Hayao Miyazaki into super stardom and led to the formation of Studio Ghibli. He had been in the anime business for almost a couple decades by this point, but this one film changed everything overnight. So am I saying that Nausicaa is that powerful? That this is a film that can change destiny? Uh huh! And why is this? Two reasons. One, Nausicaa grounded fantasy and sci-fi so to speak (as did Fist of the North Star, also 1984). This is not about spaceships, or laser blasters. It’s about our Earth’s environment, the aftermath of great devastation and the corruption of those who don’t work in accord with their natural environment and within themselves. Which to be honest, is one and the same; as above so below. But more importantly, it’s about the heart. Miyazaki can pull your heart strings like few others and Nausicaa represents a spirit more often needed in anime or entertainment in general. This movie was ready at the right time.

Nau_2Now… what about our hero, Miss Nausicaa? How can you not love her? She is a role model for everyone who has a way with animals, an understanding of nature and a love of flight and freedom (so Miyazaki). Her powers can tame the wildest of beasts, build a garden from what many consider poisonous plants and fly a glider like a bird. Yet she is vulnerable as well because she is surrounded by factions that want to shake her standing on what she believes in and what is right to her. Despite these controversies she holds her ground and stays honest to herself and she knows how to get her hands dirty when needed. A princess and yet a tomboy who follows her heart… so noble. She would be the first in a line of strong female characters that Miyazaki would bless us with. Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), San (Princess Mononoke) and Chihiro (Spirited Away) are all representative of the Miyazaki heroine archetype.

Nau_3Miyazaki has always been the showman compared to his partner in crime, Isao Takahata. Yet when Miyazaki goes into a more serious direction, he does not slouch. Even at this early stage of his career, he still showed the ultra professionalism that oozes from his work. This was a time where fame and fortune was just around the corner and he was hungry to prove himself as an auteur and while he did direct the awesome Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa would be his first total vision. But he needed help and various names are linked with this film. Takahata produced, a young Joe Hisaishi provided the epic score (which reminds me of his then current work on Mospeada and Birth) and Hideaki Anno, years before his time at Gainax, would be a key animator during one of the climactic scenes (I am not saying which one 😉 ).

Nau_4Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is more than just another anime title, or even one of Miyazaki’s best films, it is required viewing. You call yourself a fan of anime? Let me see that you have seen this movie? Yeah I figured you have 🙂 as my readers have good taste. A timeless classic worthy to be in any collection, unless it is the Warriors of the Wind release (I have never seen that one). To Hayao Miyazaki, I thank you for making this movie that has made generations of fans cheer, cry and believe in a greater good. While many productions in the 1980s mark the times that they were made in, few can be considered eternal classics. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is and always will be a permanent classic.

#56 : Genesis Climber Mospeada

mospeada_1Long ago, and yet supposedly set in the early 21st century, a band of six individuals bonded together out of fate to be a resistance squad to fight against an alien invasion. And what a rag tag group as it shows you never know who your friends will be. But at it’s heart Genesis Climber Mospeada is a mecha show with a unique transforming concept. And like the name of Mospeada being a type of motorcycle, this show has been around with me for a long, long ride. Strap on your helmets, we are about to head out on the open road.

mospeada_2As for the unique concept mentioned earlier, I have always enjoyed the gimmick of the motorcycle becoming wearable mecha armor. IT’S SO TOTALLY COOL! I remember the first time I saw the so-called transformation way back when and I said in awe, “Whoa… that’s different… I LIKE IT!” Of course this may not be the first time it happened in anime, I have no proof of what was first, but the idea would repeat itself in Megazone 23 (another favorite of mine). Of course both of these shows featured the mech designs of Shinji Aramaki, who would later become a director of a couple CGI movie adaptations that fell flat for me.

mospeada_3Our story begins with Stick (I liked the mistranslated Stig as well) Bernard, a young pilot coming from Mars who is part of a military unit intent on reclaiming Earth after the invasion of the Inbit. Tragically after being shot down by the Inbit’s insect like mechs, Stick finds himself alone as the lone survivor of the failed mission. In typical military fashion, he continues on to find the Inbit’s main headquarters of Reflex Point. But along the way he would gain allies: a desert rat scrounger (Ray), a crybaby kid (Mint), a hot shot blonde with skills (Houquet), a cowardly, but dependable mechanic (Jim) and a lounge singer who turns out to be a soldier who uses the singing act as a matter of hiding out from the Inbit (Yellow, the first individual I ever saw who pushed gender stereotypes). These six gain camaraderie by pursuing Stick’s goal of finding Reflex Point and finding others who are willing to fight for the cause.

mospeada_4One aspect that makes this show great is the fact that to me at least it feels like a western. Our cast are like strangers that come into a town every episode and while each episode is it’s own story it builds towards the whole of the totality. It’s one of those solid series that works for me on a personal level and is one of those shows that has three distinct reasons that make it shine. One is that it is a product of that fabled studio known as Tatsunoko, you got to love the tradition (Speed Racer to Gatchaman, to production on Macross and Evangelion). Two, the character designer Yoshitaka Amano. Not the lilting gothic look most of us are used to, but still the same quality. And of course the music is by old Joe… Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack is more rock and jazz compared to his grand work with Hayao Miyazaki’s films, but still memorable.

mospeada_5Now to compare to Robotech: The New Generation, I actually have a slight favoritism toward the Americanized adaptation (let me explain). Not saying it is better by any means and I am not flying a flag on stating the original is the measuring stick to follow either. Some of the story development I just preferred in the Robotech version and I can point to two direct points. One, Yellow Belmont (Lancer) was voiced by only one person, a male. True he has the dual gender identity, but keep it honest with the singular voice, just slightly changed. Yellow can rock a dress, but he is an androgynous man , ‘The Lonely Solider Boy’ (just better consistenancy). And two, the character and saga of Rainy Boy (Dusty Ayres). His revenge story in Robotech seemed more interesting than just being a mercenary working along with the Inbit to win back his freedom. Definitely one of my favorite anti-hero characters of all time; tragic, yet powerful.

I often think that the initial anime you are exposed to leaves the most indelible marks on you as you progress into fandom. Some you may out grow due to aging or peer pressure, some you may continue to grow into your first experiences and some you end up trying it on again to find it still works the same as before. Mospeada has always been a strong contender in my book and I am sticking with you till the sun sets in the west for the final time. Long may you run Mospeada… long may you run.

#55 : Venus Wars

VW_1You and me go back quite a ways, eh Venus Wars? True story… I introduced a couple of my friends in high school to Robotech and eventually they would become a little bitten with the anime bug. I can’t say for sure of where they are today as I have not seen them in quite a while, but one of them ended up getting Venus Wars on that old standard we all loved a long time ago called, VHS. I remembered it as a good film and oddly enough it would be one of those properties that acted as a bridge between my early years of initiation and my later years of being a hard corps classic otaku. I just got a copy on Blu-Ray and re-watched it for the first time in HD. Do I still find Venus Wars enjoyable?

VW_2So apparently in the future (2003 ah what a year) a comet collides with Venus and over a short period of time. The second planet from the sun becomes habitable, though life is difficult. Farms don’t yield the prospects that politicians promised and in due time tensions heighten between the nations of Aphrodia and Ishtar. Now enter our main cast… the first being a group of young bike racers and their entourage called the Killer Commandoes who compete in a sport mixing traditional racing with more contact and rough house like Roller Derby and the second, a spunky reporter arriving from Earth to get the scoop on an impending war. And just like that Ishtar invades invades Aphrodia exciting our reporter, Miss Susan Summers, and shocking our bikers and crew: Hiro, Maggie, Will, Jack, Miranda (I love you Miranda!) and the grizzled team manager Gary. Soon Miss Summers will come into contact with the Commandoes and there first order of business is to get rid of one of Ishtar’s tanks at their beloved stadium.

VW_3So… let me sum up the rest of Venus Wars with one name, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Venus Wars looks like a YAZ show, it acts like a YAZ show, so I have to love it (Yeah for YAZ!). The director and character designer of the likes of Crusher Joe, Giant Gorg and Arion (and don’t forget he was character designer of the original Gundam), Venus Wars would be his final work within the frame of animation until the adaptation of his recent more manga, Gundam: The Origin. This film is based off of his manga (no surprise), which from peaking at a couple of chapters, seems to be a little different. Hmm? No problem though. Venus Wars is kind of a mix of Gundam with Akira. Hiro, our main protagonist, is similar to Amuro Ray, though I have to give more credit to his ‘character’ to that of Zeta Gundam’s Kamille Bidan. He has a major chip on his shoulder.

My only gripe on this movie is that it ends oddly for me. Our hero Hiro (is that a pun?) is active in the deciding battle and from what I can tell this was the only battle he was in? Then he gets honored by his unit and is let go to find his friends (which ends up with him reuniting with girlfriend Maggie) all the while enjoying a music sequence of him riding around. To be honest, I should get off my high horse, but it just seemed like a bit of an elongated finish after the climax that seemed to have come a little too soon. I will now retreat from the soapbox.

VW_4As I mentioned earlier my first exposure to this movie was at a friends house back when on VHS. A few years later when I was in a small town stopping at a video rental store (do you remember these?) I came across a used copy of the original DVD release by Central Park Media. It had been a while since I saw the movie and it was on my mind for some reason. Then lo and behold it was in front of me. Fast forward to a month ago and purchasing the new Blu-Ray release and wow how it looks pretty. Maybe no where near say an Akira, Wings of Honneamise, or Patlabor: The Movie, but it is very fine indeed for a fun action flick. Look at all the pretty colors 🙂 Nothing beats hand drawn animation!

You and me have been together quite a while, eh Venus Wars. Motorcycles, war, young people coming of age, action and all on the planet Venus to top it off. You may not be the best movie of all time, but who cares, you are a fun ride still today as ever. Venus Wars, you have been a loyal companion, may we ride again in the future.

…also to all my Studio Ghibli fans… you know Joe Hishaishi right? Well the soundtrack to Venus Wars was composed by none other than him. How about them apples?

#21 : Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive

Recall the Disney version of Robin Hood. You have your traveling minstrel rooster, saying the animal kingdom has their own version of the story and might I add it is “what really happened in Sherwood Forest” at least according to our journeyman friend. When you often say the three words ‘Love Live Alive’… now is it ‘Live’ like I want to live through this or I saw that awesome band ‘Live’? Sorry… you think of an attempt on Harmony Gold to squeeze a couple more bucks from the Robotech name. But this blogger has another version of this story and this is what really happened. In 1985, same year that Robotech aired ironically, this little OVA was released in Japan. Here is the real story of Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive (thats a long title, eh?). Oh de Lally Golly What a Day!

mlla_1I know the Robotech version emphases ‘Live’ as I want to live through this, but I may be wrong and I don’t care because I read ‘Live’ as I saw that awesome band ‘Live’. And speaking of music, that is the backbone to the OVA as we follow the ‘Lonely Soldier Boy’ Yellow Belmont and what he has been up to after the Inbit invasion war. He still rides his blue Mospeada bike, bends gender better than anyone and performs his music all over. A soldier he may have been, but his heart belongs to fashion and the stage. And it is the career that he deserves as he recalls memories of his recent past. But what about the music as the backbone to this story?

mlla_2Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive is a simple love letter. Did you love the show from a couple years back? The staff at Tatsunoko studios have a little something for you to reminisce. The music mentioned earlier that is either recorded or performed live by Yellow splices between flashbacks of his old companion’s adventures that recall the nostalgia in period correct MTV style. This was not in the Robotech version (grr!), but what of this music anyway? Who actually wrote these songs? How about Joe Hisaishi! All you Studio Ghibli fans should know that name. That’s right, Joe has a back catalog of various musical contributions including this OVA and the original TV series. The grand orchestral sounds of the Ghibli films though are not present. Here we have Joe’s sensibility in the flavors of rock and pop. Midnight Rider is my favorite track followed by Mind Tree in case you have the soundtrack handy.

mlla_3I honestly don’t know how popular Genesis Climber Mospeada was in Japan and really it does not matter. Be it the Robotech or original version of the 25 episode show, I liked it very much for the small rebel bandit unit and morphing motorcycle armor, so badass. But again in my book, it is the characters I love most. Yellow was my favorite character from the show anyway and having a video about him makes Love Live Alive double special. Besides being creatively talented and often the strong voice of reason in the group, Yellow was the first individual in my life that I recognized as gender non-conforming, though I did not know what that concept was for years to come. Again, how this OVA got made about a character from yet another scifi mecha show is beyond me? I should not ask and just accep,t after all it was the 1980s in Japan, all kinds of productions got green lighted.

As a fan of either telling of this show I appreciate this short direct to video one off.  I can’t say much more since it is what it is, a string of music videos spliced between moments of Yellow’s current life told in about a span of an hour. …and like what wise people say about cover songs, nothing beats hearing the original. Live on Yellow and rock on!

#4 : Birth

I have seen many opinions in regards to this one off. Some like it, some think it’s too weird, some think it’s garbage. I LOVE this OVA and I am out and proud of it. True it is an acquired taste, but I think I may know what turns off some, but also what turn’s me on to this oddity. What is it? Well that little ol’ production from 1984… Birth.

Birth1Birth was a title I was lucky to come across very cheaply. Remember when you could get a brand new title off of Amazon for under $4.00? I believe I spent around $3.50 (the glory days of $2.99 shipping). I see it as one of the best return on investments I have ever put into any DVD, because I have watched Birth time after time after time and loved it more each time. And just what is it about Birth that I love so much? I mean it is basically a long chase scene and treasure hunt that ends with the whole universe… whoa wait, don’t want to spoil the ending now. Now… I present my reasons, so read on.

An animator’s playhouse: As someone who has a background, education and interest in art and design I often view certain anime a little differently. In this case I see this property as a fun time for all the animators and staff who worked on it. Very creative, but not serious and artsy fartsy (if you want to go that route try Angel’s Egg). If I could get a gig like this, I would say yes in a heartbeat.  Plus Yoshinori Kaneda had a big hand in it’s conception (see recommendations below). So expect lots and lots of motion. Plus, it was animated by one of my favorite, now defunct, smaller animation houses, Kaname Production. Also, Hideaki Anno (Mr. Evangelion) had a hand as well as an up and coming animator.

birth2Characters and their design: The design and animation of Birth is very much in contrast to almost a majority of what came out in Japan in the 1980s. The characters are very organic and blob like, maybe a touch liquidy. Is that is why the planet is called Aqualoid? Plus our main cast is a rag tag group. Our main duo, Rasa and Nam, are either brother and sister or boyfriend/girlfriend, in any case they are close and watch out for each other. Boa is a goof ball space trader who has a lolita complex for Rasa. His business partner, Kim, is often the voice of reason in their partnership. Plus you have your array of minor character including the Inorganics, other humans and these blob type things, one of whom belongs to Rasa and is named Monga. MONGA! MONGA!!!

birth4Humor: I find Birth to be amazingly funny. True some of the humor is ridiculous, but it works well for my tastes. I mean you have the scenes where Rasa is called out as a jiggly-butt by the Inorganic bikers or they have the comment “Just because a woman is smart does not mean she can sell a cow.” Or, the kid Inorganic hitting on Rasa and after rejection he has a scene at a beach. Or Bao just being Bao. All in all it is weird, spastic and goofy.

birth3A higher reason: Now how can Birth be deep? Well, the notion of the spirit like Arlia (hey she’s a pretty ghost according to Nam) explaining the universe is made up of several levels and that the Organics and Inorganics are both a product of the same source makes you think twice, what am I really watching here? Even goofy cartoons can add a like mind bend. Plus at the ending… oh yeah can’t spoil it if you have not seen it.

Music: And finally… the soundtrack… composed by the one and only… Mr. Joe Hisaishi. Oh yeah, Miyazaki’s favorite composer did this one too. It has a similar vibe to what he did on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Not very orchestral and more synthesizer and pop/rock in it’s approach.

This is one that I think needs to be viewed in order to have a proper frame of reference. Or having the option of viewing it with someone who is familiar to the property to point things out or hear them chuckle at certain times. As I mentioned above this is an acquired taste, so take what you will from it. If anything this showed the freedom of the era it was produced because we just don’t see this kind of odd ball stuff being released as often anymore, unless there is a huge marketing campaign behind it. As for me if I need to make a top 10 of 80s anime, this is one I would include (honest).