#229 : Tobira o Akete / Open the Door

Once the door has been open, you will never be the same. So true when certain circumstances happen in our lives it can feel as if one has entered through a gateway, a portal if you will, that signals that life will never be the same again. Enter the fantasy genre which is full of stories of entering into parallel worlds where your once ordinary existence is flipped upside down. Humble little old you is actually a hero in disguise and all you had to do was go through the door… literally. A case in point, lets watch a movie from 1986 named Tobira o Akete, or Open the Door. … the title says it all!

ToA_1Protagonist, Miyako Negishi, or Neko, is a literature major at a private university… whoa, an anime about a college student?! I mean I know they exist, but talk about something different from the usual high school, or junior high standard. She is quite the distant type who at times sits by herself in lecture classes and does not have any interest in hanging out with classmates, or meeting any boys. She garners a secret, which only a select few know about and that she keeps hidden due to past troubles with this hidden trait. Neko can apparently do magic, though I prefer to see her as an esper with psionic abilities. She does have confidants to share these abilities with and with them she comes to life. They include Haruka Saiki, a friendly flirt (though he likes to be called a city boy) who can teleport and a newcomer, one of Neko’s classmates, Keichiirou Yamagishi.

ToA_2Upon a full moon meetup all three of our cast members soon gets whisked away into an alternate dimension transporting them into a medieval like society where Neko is heralded as the much exalted hero as foretold from prophecy. Here she is given the name of Neryulla who was once the heroic princess who vowed to return to avenge her fallen people at a later date. So the other second coming? The welcomed stranger in a strange land is nothing new to fantasy anime, it’s often labeled as Isekai, but really… another one of these? Why not? Sword and sorcery mixed with a coming of age story is a good combination, particularly if coming to terms with one’s level of comfort in terms of romantic relationships. Neko is asked “Do you believe love always fails?” And her expression is something that hit close to home with me.

ToA_3Tobira o Akete was one of several releases from the Magic Bus studio in 1986. I know three of them at this moment including this movie as well as Grey: Digital Target and They Were 11. This trio is a choice grouping in terms of well made animated features that are not on the top of the well known charts. A nice selection of dark horse choices for 80s recommendations. Visually Magic Bus aways delivers sharp looking quality so nothing new here. Yet again it is the story and characters that draw me in and in particular our heroine Neko who is quite unsure of herself. And yes she begins to grow as a character and marches forth to save the day by the end, which we have seen many, many times, but this time round it felt a little different. I can’t explain how so, but this is quite an appealing fantasy adventure story.

ToA_4Now we come to the moment where we pick which door to look behind to see which prize we are going to win! This is no game show here and really there is only one choice because well… there is only one choice. Often there is too much selection and deciding which anime to watch next can be a shot in the dark, but this not a new experience for me. I initially watching Tobira o Akete several years ago when I gave a panel on 1986 in 2016 and it was one of those productions I rushed through, but now I am glad I gave it more space to be in my viewing experience this second time around. Tobira o Akete, Open the Door, the title says it all… it’s a simple invitation.

#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#20 : Grey: Digital Target

Imagine life as a constant war and your main ambition is twofold. The first is just basic survival. And the second being that after all of the struggle you are guaranteed citizenship in an utopian city. Kill or be killed, trust no one and above all else get out alive. This is the world of Grey and this is his movie. An adaptation from the original manga by Yoshihisa Tagami, welcome to Grey: Digital Target.

grey1The world of Grey is a cruel one where people volunteer to join their town militia and fight those who live in the other towns. Along the way you acquire the money to live and the credits to advance up the ladder of rank to obtain citizenship in the city where you will be free to live as you please. No one has ever seen this supposed city, only rumors fly as to what it is like. Each town is run by a computer and that computer is connected to the main computer, Big Mama, that sways influence over the entire world. Imagine the Matrix crossbred with the Hunger Games with an 1980s attitude; you pretty much you have Grey: Digital Target. It is possibly my favorite post apocalyptic science fiction war drama and I am here to spread the word on this under appreciated dark horse.

grey2But more about this man Grey. Often nicknamed ‘Grey Death’, our protagonist (can’t say ‘hero’ because he is a total anti-hero type) is known for being cold, distant and only out for himself. Rumors abound he sells out his teammates and takes in all the glory. Perhaps, but Grey is also hungry for vengeance and retribution. Underneath the stoic face and facade is a man with a piece of his past missing, that being his girlfriend Lips (yes that is her name). She became a trooper herself and before her death, Grey was not so ambitious or callous. After the fact, he has become a man to be reckoned with, but humanity still remains in his heart that has yet to be rediscovered. And as for his iconic helmet, it used to be belong to Lips and he wears it as a memento, but you would think a red helmet would be easily noticed? But it looks cool and that is what truly matters… it’s all about style.

grey3Why I really love this movie is due to the fact is gritty. Nihilist, punk rock type grit. Color, flash and dazzle are always fun, but when you are dealing with war, you have to keep it rough and dirty. Also you have to view life in the world of Grey: Digital Target as almost an allegory for contemporary life. Maybe not so much being physically at war, but how often do you or did you fight for something that you heard others tell you was the ultimate goal that turned out to be a let down for you personally? Sometimes the greater gifts of life are from what we trust in ourselves or discover on the way. Life is much more than what the so called ‘mother computer’ of culture dictates to us. So question the status quo!

If you are in the States and collect VHS this is one of those rarities that was only available on tape only (not sure for my friends in Europe did you all get this one?), though it is around digitally as well. Also check the manga too as the ending is a bit different and dire compared to the heroic open end of the anime. Plus, as the credits roll you get a really catchy pop song, Love is Heart. Why do I still hunt for, watch and continue watching older anime, because you find gems in the garden like this one. Time to get back to digging in the dirt.

… also the studio that made this production was Magic Bus and every time I see that name I always get The Who’s Magic Bus going off in my head. Yeah I’m a dork 🙂