#178 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (OVA Series)

Sunrise and mecha usually equate to the ever present name Gundam. As a studio Sunrise has a long resume of mecha titles. Some have a famous pedigree and many are only known by a select few who yearn to go beyond the bigger names. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is not a new topic here at CAM. I reviewed the TV series here way back when I was getting started and SPT Layzner needs another shout out. Beyond it’s short comings and twist in plot in the middle of the series, I believe this is one of the best mecha titles of the 1980s. Early cancellation would create problems in finishing the story, but a brilliant solution was available for SPT Layzner. The year was 1986 and direct to video releases were a growing market. Blue Comet SPT Layzner would end it’s sojourn as an OVA.

LayzOVA_1I debated if it was worth the time to review this OVA version of the Layzner story as a separate entry from the TV series. So much of what is presented is a condensed retelling of what is familiar if you have seen the previous incarnation. Of the three episodes, the first two: Eiji 1996 and Le Caine 1999, could be skipped as there is really nothing new under this sun. It is the third episode, Seal 2000, where we find missing links to the rushed ending of the former TV series. Interspersed between some familiar scenes of action and drama we find the hidden passages that make this third episode a more concise and well rounded finale. Much like another Sunrise property Ideon, the TV series would be rushed at the end and would have a second chance of telling the true ending in the form of feature films. All is now complete for Layzner, no stone unturned. That being said, while there is a lot of recognizable sameness, this OVA version is in a small way original to the TV series.

LayzOVA_2Episode one tells the story of the first arc, which for my money is one of the greatest mecha story arcs I have ever seen. Too bad it was condensed heavily. The once far future of 1996, which from 1985 eyes was still a possibility, features a group of students that land on Mars. Suddenly there is an attack by unknown mechs (Layzners) featuring one renegade blue robot defending the Earthlings. Piloted by the troubled Eiji Asuka, he eventually becomes an ally to the group of students as the struggle to survive on Mars and eventually find a way back home to Earth.

LayzOVA_3Episode two recalls the second arc, which jumps the shark from space mecha action and turns into dystopian dictatorship in a cross between Blade Runner and Fist of the North Star. We rejoin our cast of heroes three years into the future. Eventually they reunite to combat the established Gradosian empire who invaded the Earth after defeat at the end of the first arc. The signature Blue Layzner also returns along with Eiji as they now continue their rebellion and solve the mystery of the new Maiden of Cuzco. A new nemesis is also introduced, Le Caine, whose ambition for power blinds his judgement. Episode three finalizes the second story arc and can act as a substitute for the final couple episodes of the TV series. Here we learn of the link between the peoples of Earth and Grados, traverse to South America, Nazca, Peru to be precise, to find the great Seal of Grados and enjoy plenty of heavy mecha action. The final showdown between Eiji and Le Caine is the pinnacle of this episode.

LayzOVA_4You can view this OVA as a shorthand version instead of diving completely into the TV series, almost like Cliff Notes. Remember that much of the drama, character development and finer details will be lost if you take the OVA path over the TV series. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is best viewed by watching the TV series first and then following up with this OVA to tie up loose ends. The shorter path sometimes is the more tempting, but often will lead to missed opportunities. … Eiji may you continue to run like Melos on your “Lonely Way”.

#177 : Dancougar: Requiem for the Victims

Hold on! Thirty eight episodes and this story I have been watching for some time is not over yet!? … Often times a series has a proper ending, or some kind of closure that can be taken care of in terms of a follow-up movie, or OVA to iron out details that seemed odd or rushed. Yet not for the 1985 mecha series Dancougar. Maybe the show was cancelled, or perhaps there was a need for more creative freedom to allow for the final installment to eventually surface as an episode length OVA? The story is far from over, for we must now tie up all these loose ends from the previous 38 episodes to conclude with Dancougar: Requiem for the Victims.

Dan_Req_1Save the final boss fights for last and make it really good! The television series had a lot of potential and I tried to be fair towards it in my initial review, but seeing a lot of mecha anime, I felt this has a lot of super robot re-hatching that had been in place since the mid 1970s that by 1985 was a little derivative. The look of the show is very spot on for the period, still I personally recommend other mech titles from 1985 in terms of watching priority: Zeta Gundam and SPT Layzner. Still, Dancougar had an attitude that was appealing, nice character designs and a fine robot that would have made a great toy to promote. Now after 38 episodes of story we find the Cyber Beast Force with two remaining obstacles to complete before a proper ending could be declared. Shinobu, Sara (still has awesome hair!), Ryo and Masato have to take down long time arch rival Death Gaia and Emperor Muge himself to rid the Earth of the tyranny of the Zorbados Empire.

Dan_Req_2The choice of ending the show as a single shot OVA is an interesting one. Perhaps the creative freedom I mentioned before was a strong reason for this decision. Not being tied to the restrictions, or standards of content for television allowed a greater amount of creativity. Also the possibility of having a higher budget could yield a more polished product… this is a nice looking production. Yet again, this was the mid 1980s and the OVA market was a new and fresh, as well as lucrative market to release animation to the public. You can watch the initial episode run for free, but for the finale, you’ll have to pay for it. For great mecha action, it’s worth the price.

Dan_Req_3It has been some time since seeing the TV series and watching Requiem for the Victims was a breathe of fresh air that reminded me of what I enjoyed in Dancougar proper beyond any personal issues. Also Requiem for the Victims accomplished what it set out to do, which was finish the Dancougar story in a very dramatic fashion… just who were the real victors in this war? As always in war, both sides lose to a certain degree even if one side declares a triumphant declaration. Ironically though, Requiem for the Victims would would not be the final finish for Dancougar as a franchise; out of endings come new beginnings.

#176 : Fight! Iczer-One

One could argue that Fight! Iczer-One could possibly pass as a modern anime besides the fact that it was all analog cel drawn animation. Fight! Iczer-One fits strongly into an action fan service styled affair that was a little unique for 1985. Perhaps this is one of the predecessors to this kind of genre that is popular to certain fans? When it comes to very early action OVAs Fight! Iczer-One is one of the better known titles and it’s fun to watch, but  I will be the first to admit that it is not on my go to list. Needless to say I salute those of you who are diehard fans, because after all it’s these little eccentric titles that we attached ourselves to that round out our fandom beyond the obvious big name titles.

FI1_1Fight! Iczer-One has it’s followers and fanbase and is part of what is the yuri (girl’s love) sub genre, inserted with a lot of high octane action. As an action OVA it does a great job and is equal parts ecchi fantasy of pretty girls either kicking the crap out of each other, or having crushes and romantic fascinations, Lovecraftian horror elements and super robot mecha plot lines standards. Truly, a creative and different mix of ideas. I wonder if Fight! Iczer-One possibly had an early incarnation of going towards hentai/porn before before settling into it’s current guise? Project A-Ko, though not exactly similar, but kind of similiar to Fight! Iczer-One followed this, but in a more playful way. And according to research, yes, Fight! Iczer-One does have ties with the Cream Lemon hentai series. Fight! Iczer-One on the other hand is dark, really dark (and I usually like dark stuff?), and borrows the previously mentioned H.P. Lovecraft down to the naming of the invading aliens, the Cthulhu. From another angle, this has early LGBT themes expressed in anime and that is a positive!

FI1_2The call of the hero to join the fight is strong with Fight! Iczer-One. The previously mentioned Cthulhu are searching for a new home world. They are also in the process of stopping the renegade Iczer-One from gaining contact with her perfect partner on Earth, Nagisa. Iczer-One is Earth’s only hope and her tracking down of her partner is vital to the proper workings of the Iczer-Robo. Nagisa of course is just your typical school girl where all life is perfect until one dark day when she begins to be harassed by the Cthulhu’s invading monsters. Add to this her chance meetings with Iczer-One seem awkward. “Who is this girl in the funny outfit following me all the time”, I can imagine Nagisa saying? Things change when the Cthulhu invade Nagisa’s parents and it takes her a while to get over the crybaby phase of, “Why do I have to fight? Why did this happen to me?”

FI1_3My favorite part of Fight! Iczer-One is director and character designer Toshihiro Hirano. I love his work as a whole with titles like Megazone 23 (pt. 1) (character designs only), Dangaioh, Vampire Princess Miyu and Magic Knight Rayearth (CLAMP!) standing out as personal favorites. His designs for women in particular are very appealing in a doll like way… maybe it’s in the eyes? Hirano ranks up their to Haruhiko Mikimoto and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (and others that are not coming to mind at the moment) in my book for character designs in anime. The budget had to have been good for Fight! Iczer-One because the production looks very good in terms of detail and drawing. Many of the early OVAs and even movies from the 1980s that had the budget and care given to them were what made us go, “DAMN! Where have these cartoons been all our lives?”

FI1_4Fun, unique and a whole lot of ‘kick-ass’, Fight! Iczer-One is a standard for the early OVA market of the mid 1980s. Maybe not my favorite by a long shot, I do give Fight! Iczer-One all the respect it deserves. Also being a quick trilogy makes Fight! Iczer-One easy to digest. That and who is to say it is not one of my guilty pleasures that I don’t want to admit to? Also, how many anime have guest appearances from from Zeta Gundam that’s not another Gundam series? Can you spot Kamille and Fa? I wonder if they needed the extra money and picked up Fight! Iczer-One as a side job?

 

#173 : M.A.S.K.

The old tagline once said that “Illusion is the ultimate weapon”? Can one consider M.A.S.K. to be one of the top tier of 80 cartoons? Oh YES! Now I don’t really have much nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but then again you may say otherwise. I have been with this show and watched it over the 35+ year history. I have it on DVD, I used to have some of the toys and I love making and remaking the vehicles out of LEGO. I love this show (obvious), so you might say I have strong nostalgia for M.A.S.K., but I prefer to see this relationship like a marriage. This is not part of my past, but a continual place within my present moment. M.A.S.K. and I, till death us do part… yeah right we’re both immortal 🙂

mask_1For the last couple of weeks while organizing my LEGO collection, I have had one show running in the background that I from time to time take a break to watch. Take a guess which show? Hmm… LEGO and M.A.S.K., is this 1985, or 2020? Does not matter in the slightest. Funny how M.A.S.K. is considered a niche property now, because I still remember it being one of the top shows of the time that we talked about at school. Of course those days are long gone (or maybe not?) and us die hard fans that still enjoy the crimefighting of the M.A.S.K. team against the conniving V.E.N.O.M. in a pseudo-mecha show. Wait a minute, there are no giant robots and the closest thing is T-Bob (yikes!), but still, you have to acknowledge piloting mechanical vehicles as a close substitute.

mask_2Matt Trakker, the blonde alternative to Batman’s Bruce Wayne, has it all. An expansive fortune that he seems to be donating to nearly everyone, a loving yet slightly mischievous son and a bunch of friends who all put on helmets with a special power and drive vehicles that transform to fight against the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. What should we call this club of crime fighters… why not M.A.S.K.? Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (Yes! Command with a ‘K’). You know, it would have been nice to have some back story in one of the episodes of how this all came about! There were some mini-comics that came with some of the toys to fill that void… and I have never read them as I don’t know where to find them. But everything else listed is what M.A.S.K. is all about. “M.A.S.K. crusaders working overtime fighting crime.” The theme song alone is all the backstory you really need anyway.

mask_3M.A.S.K. is in essence two shows in one. Season one is what a majority of us love and is basically described above. For the shortened season 2, the direction moved into more of a Speed Racer like racing series that seriously “jumped the shark”. Hey what happened? Those episodes are watchable, but are awkward… seriously why break the winning formula? I stick with season one, though if you like season two more I salute you for being loyal. The credits listing has many Japanese names that helped to polish the show into action. Assembled in Japan, but designed in the U.S. and Europe via the once awesome company DiC. One such name is Shinji Aramaki, who as a mechanical designer is brilliant. Megazone 23, Genesis Climber Mospeada and Madox-01 should give you an idea of his resume. It would be nice to know which studios did actually animate this show, because some of these episodes still look really good even today.

mask_4Perhaps one could say that M.A.S.K. is a prime example of a ‘toy’ show showing a half hour of shameless promotion. Yet if one only sees M.A.S.K. in this light alone, one would be missing out on the subtleties that makes M.A.S.K. magical. Often seen as a mix of G.I. Joe, The Transformers and even the A-Team, M.A.S.K. is the ultimate combination, more than the “ultimate weapon”. Exotic locations, fun action, great humor and puns, a smaller easier to digest cast compared to the previously mentioned G.I. Joe and The Transformers and a theme song (Shuki Levy you rock!)/opening credit sequence that is jaw dropping… who could ask for anything more? A show that took itself seriously by not taking itself seriously… brilliant.

#167 : Robotech

In the year 1985, inside a basic home in a small town of the Midwestern U.S., a single television show that aired the afternoons I got home from school would alter the course of my personal history… as an anime fan to be precise. I remember very well the time was 4:00 pm and the channel on the television would land on the number 11 and for a half hour from Monday to Friday, it would be time to watch this odd show in the mix of a ton of other possibilities called Robotech.

RT_1Now I will be the first to admit that Robotech is not quote unquote official anime, it is in my own phrasing ‘adapted anime’. Eventually many of us who grew up with this show, would progress on to see and experience the original three series that made up Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada), but I have not forgotten my roots. While Robotech is often poo poo-ed in some fan circles, and I can agree with all the DVD releases being a bit excessive and Harmony Gold being very stubborn, but let’s look at this show for what it was for me as a kid, a mere budding anime fan. This was my gateway drug, a very powerful one at that for my generation. Terms like anime and otaku and large scale franchises like Studio Ghibli, Pokemon and Shonen Jump were unknowns for a little kid growing up in the mid-1980s in the Midwest of the U.S. This was most likely true for you as well if you are of a similar age as myself. This was the wild west of late Generation X where we didn’t have all the fancy terminology, conventions, or even the internet. All we had was a gut sense reaction saying… you know… I really like something about THIS show.

RT_2Often times anime that is broadcast here in the west, particularly the U.S., is often reinterpreted, adapted, or perhaps censored to a certain degree. Free speech?! Robotech changed names to more Anglican terminology, or got close in translation, or just left some of them alone, took out Japanese references like text, etc., totally changed the meaning of protoculture, shoe horned three unrelated series into a single timeline and added a fresh soundtrack. … Might I say, what a fine soundtrack it still is! … And the final product, which if you take into consideration had a short time of assemblage and production, is quite well done for the time. Carl Macek, the main producer behind the show, should be given a medal for what he did to put together Robotech. He had a job to do and did the best he could. If anyone ever bad mouth’s Carl’s work on Robotech, at Streamline Pictures, or his later works, I will ask the question, what would you do if you had these tasks?

RT_3Now let’s consider what Robotech did right, or left in tact so to speak. The concepts of interracial relationships, a transgender, or gender non-conforming character and even characters showing a side of doubt, depression, or anxiety were not seen much in terms of general television in 1980s. Yet, a “kids” show had it all and opened up a world of a more diverse human experience. Characters did not go to a hospital planet when they become mortally wounded, they died! And in terms of dialogue, Robotech never talked down to you with immature of more childish language to appeal as safe to the public. It was an anomily, lightning in a bottle and even though Robotech is far from perfect (and I ask you just what is perfect?), it is at least genuine in terms of expressing a total array of human emotion and experience through the lens of sci-fi fantasy.

As an impressionable youth in the aftermath of the original Star Wars run, barraged by other cartoons and comic book super heroes, Robotech, amongst other anime at the time would become my go to for fantasy, adventure and defining a personal sense of mythology. I owe my love of anime to Robotech and I often find it ironic that even though I see Robotech as a large epic, it is unknown to many younger, or newer fans of anime. Some older fans dismiss it, some are stuck on it as the only “anime” they know and others like myself, see it as a first step into a world of wonder that continues to grow each and every day.

… and yes, I prefer the unmastered original version 🙂

For reviews on the original anime that made up Robotech:

Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross
Genesis Climber Mospeada

#160 : Mobile Police Patlabor (OVA series)

PatOVA_1PATLABOR! Veni Vidi Vici… and then… retirement. Yes there have been reboots of more recent for Patlabor, but in essence like Space Battleship Yamato, or even the Beatles… well maybe the Stone Roses as we are talking the late 1980s here, Patlabor would have it’s time in the sun with the original ‘band line-up‘ in tact for only a minute period of time. A manga, TV series, two films (I am not going to count WXIII as a third) and a follow-up OVA would be born from a little seven episode OVA created by a partnership in 1988. What happens when super talented folks in the anime industry unite for a project? They make a classic. … now then, can we get the old band back together?

patova_2One of the greatest mecha shows that is also a comedy, a drama, a showcase for parody and a cop show all rolled into one nice neat seven episode package. Very tidy and an example of bringing together talented minds to make something original and special. The main creative group behind Patlabor, known as Headgear, consisted of manga artist Masami Yuki, mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi, writer Kazunori Itō, character designer Akemi Takada and director Mamoru Oshii. I leave it to you to look up their resumes. The direct to video OVA had proven itself as an affective medium to distribute anime for almost half a decade and the diversity of projects showcased that this was a free for all medium. When Patlabor was released in 1988, it was positioned at a good place and time. Independent and smaller focused projects were abundant and ranged from well done productions to experimental eccentricities to the laughably bad. Yet as fans we love them all! 1988 would kick up the notch with several releases that elevated the OVA into a format that became a viable art form including Patlabor, Gunbuster and the behemoth Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

PatOVA_3Patlabor as a mecha show speaks to those who were fans of giant robot animation as children and still are even as adults… myself included. Watch the opening credits and feel all that enthusiasm from both past and present collide… “nothing’s impossible.” The aspect of going to work and fulfilling a role in society is something many of us understand well and is a main contributor to the storyline of Patlabor. The cast of Special Vehicles Section 2 are not super heroes, nor space pilots, they are your average everyday police officers… who pilot, or work with mechs while solving a case. The whole concept of mecha in Patlabor is perhaps the most extreme portrayal of giant robots as standard everyday equipment. a real “Real Robot”… no pun intended. Yet the mascot like patrol labors, the Ingrams, are not the be all end all of this show.

PatOVA_4The true stars are the cast and what a mixed bag indeed: an aloof, but genius captain; an enthusiastic tomboy who names her Ingram after her dog; a cynical rich kid; a gun crazed lunatic; a nerdy husband, a gentile giant and an American transfer round out the crew of SV2. The dynamics between each personality is what fuels Patlabor. The episodes are a mixed bag of ideas, some of which come out of left field. You get your introductory episode, a bomb defusing episode, a Godzilla inspired episode, a summer camp murder mystery episode and even a two parter that vaguely reminds me of a prototype for the future film Patlabor 2: The Movie. References galore pop up time and again, but in clever and funny ways that makes the comedy of Patlabor pure gold. One example that left me laughing… “What do you think your piloting? Great Mazinger? Dangaioh?”

Who would have thought that this little project would grow into a massive success? And the beauty of it all is that as Patlabor grew it seemed to have gotten better… perhaps because we get hungry for more adventure of the SV2. Traditional mecha anime, piloted robots, by this time had waned in popularity on TV in terms of younger fans except for a few exceptions. All of us seasoned fans, perhaps a little bent on nostalgia, welcomed the initial Patlabor OVA that filled a need to those of us who may have grown and taken on additional roles into society, but are at heart are still enthusiastic fans of animation. We all may have jobs now, even our heroes, but were still at the root of it all the same. Now, time to go to work!

#156 : Godmars

GM_1GOD… MARS! ROKUSHIN GATTAI! I get chills every time I hear that when our hero Takeru Myojin prepares to bring together the six robots that make up the ultra cool Godmars mech. Released in 1981 during the space opera and mecha high times in the anime world, Godmars is a fine mix of the two. It’s far from a perfect mech show, or anime in general. So many anime fall into this pit trap, yet we still attach to them anyway because we found some redeeming qualities that end up resonating with us. Now strap in and get ready for one of my favorite super robot tales from way back when. This is Rokushin Gattai Godmars, often shortened to Godmars.

Godmars holds a special place in my heart in that this was the first super robot show I tackled to completion beyond the ‘Voltron’ universe (be it GoLion, Diarugger, or Voltron itself). The time had come to grow up and move beyond the usual pastures and venture forth into the lands where alternate antiquated robot shows lived. Pictures and articles at first fulfilled speculation, next came the process of tracking down media. Godmars would present itself via a VHS tape of the 1982 compilation movie. Soon the film and the entire TV show became available on the fansub circuit and became the avenue that I digested the missing parts of the Godmars storylines. … Now disc based media exists as well, an eventual purchase on the horizon… maybe?

GM_2Loosely based on an original manga (Mars) by the legendary Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Godmars turned into an epic space drama; a huge departure from it’s more Babel II-like roots. Takeru Myojin, our protagonist, is a 17 year old member of the Cosmo Crasher squad, a group dedicated to Earth’s protection during humanity’s age of heavy space exploration. This all takes places in the far off future of 1999, which for 1981 made sense, but nowadays seems a little… dated? It is 2019 when I am writing this entry and where is all the cool space travel and super hi-end technology? Back to what 1999 could have been… it seems that the Earth has encountered a race of aliens, hostile of course… why not friendly ones? An emperor named Zul, along with his Gishin empire, are determined to conquest the universe and Earth is the next stop.

GM_3It turns out Takeru is not an Earthling and is in fact originally from Gishin. He was found as a baby by his adopted father and raised on Earth… hmm… sounds like Superman. Takeru learns his true identity is Mars and that he also has ESP abilities. So he is an esper?… yet another late 70s/early 80s trope. That and he soon learns he has a guardian robot which he can pilot as well, Gaia. OK then, I wonder if he has any surviving family on Gishin? Turns out he has a twin brother, Marg. Wow, talk about a lot of elements for a run of the mill mecha series! Plus let’s not forget the big bot of Godmars as well. Takeru while piloting Gaia combines with five other robots to create this nicely designed piece of engineering. The only thing that is missing here is a romantic element… and Godmars has that as well, via the conflicted character of Rosee (pronounced Ro-zay). Lots and lots of ingredients in this stew of a series… and this is only the first of three story arcs.

GM_4It is Takeru Myojin for me that makes Godmars special. He is not the usual mecha/shonen archetypal character. Neither the funny goof ball, nor the hotshot masculine tough guy, or even the bratty complainer, Takeru is at the other end of the spectrum being more sensitive and gentle. A nice change of pace and a great way to show masculinity can have a tender side. On the other side of the fence, my only real issue with the show was that the romantic elements and sparks between Takeru and Rosee are never really flushed out. and even though this is a shonen action show, I really wanted to see at least one kiss between these two… just one! Not the end of the world, but I am a sucker for anime couples… maybe there is some fan fiction somewhere?

While it was not a gateway drug, Godmars became for me a crucial next step into my journeys into classic mecha anime. The heavy melodrama and space opera were key elements I needed at that time of my fandom as this was just the answer to my many questions needing a solution. The only thing is that from one would come many more series to watch, yet I never forgot what Godmars showed me in the beginning and I still enjoy a watch from time to time.