1984… 35 Years (and counting) of Love / A Film Trifecta

1984… ‘Anime’s Golden Summer of Love’. And let me say first and foremost, that this statement is my personal opinion. I am of course paying homage to the famed ‘Summer of Love’ from 1967 that was the high point of the hippie counterculture. An idealistic paradise of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll during an era of intensity and danger. The anime version that I am putting a label on is nothing like 1967, but was a year of ‘Love’ in more ways than one. I was a five year old living in the U.S. during 1984, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of what actually happened in Japan. What I do know is that 1984 could be a serious contender for being a tipping point year in anime. And this is was all down to three beautiful and classic films.

The stars must have been aligned a certain way for a year that featured the directing talents of Noboru Ishiguro with Shoji Kawamori, Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki. Three plus one geniuses in terms of animation, story telling and visual presentation. A couple dozen productions made their way into theaters in 1984, but the three movies that these gentlemen directed perhaps… stole the show. One was a reimagining of a popular romantic mecha science fiction TV series, one was a sequel to a film that was part of a long running screwball comedy and the third was an adaptation to an original manga that rocketed it’s creator into superstardom. Funnily enough, only one of the films was released in the summer time, but we are taking this as a collective metaphor.

Let’s start in February of 1984, February 11 to be exact. Oh wow, personal bias… that’s my birthday. This was the release date of Mamoru Oshii’s entry, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer. Urusei Yatsura was Rumiko Takahashi’s first huge success and with the successful TV series and manga, films began to follow. The second is the topic of this discussion and it would be the first time that Mamoru Oshii would show his more signature approach to crafting a movie. While Urusei Yatsura was known for high school slapstick silliness, Beautiful Dreamer would show something else. Oshii’s use of the surreal, odd angles, subtlety, lighting and the sublime would be interjected into the project creating something different from the usual Urusei Yatsura fare. These approaches would eventually become his calling cards, but they began to show there potentialities with Beautiful Dreamer.

March 11, 1984. A popular manga from an anime veteran would see release into theaters. This was the work of the now famous Hayao Miyazaki and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would be his second time behind the directors chair for a film. Miyazaki’s tale of a young heroine passionate for making the world a beautiful and peaceful place struck a chord with audiences and in a BIG way. Nausicaä’s messages of environmentalism and compassion took sci-fi and fantasy down to earth literally. In an era of far out grand space epics, we are thrust to return to our immediate surroundings and confront the issues plaguing in front of us: reconnecting with and preserving nature, witnessing the corruption of power and greed and standing up for what is true and moral that is within our hearts. The film’s success would give us one of Miyazaki’s most beloved characters with Nausicaä, who would become a benchmark for many of his later creations. Miyazaki’s success and growing popularity from Nausicaä would lead him with his partner in crime, Isao Takahata, to found their famed Studio Ghibli.

We now come to summer, July in fact. Debuting on July 7 would be our final film, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love… say that three times fast. Macross was a huge hit on TV for being an amalgam of everything otaku related at the time. Mixing aliens, space opera and mecha with tenderness, romance and beautiful character designs (hooray for Haruhiko Mikimoto!), Macross would reach a large fan base and encapsulated the height of passionate sci-fi idealism of the era. A reinterpreted film would show it’s hand in 1984 bringing the characters back to life yet again after the now defunct TV series left the air. This would be an alternate retelling and helming the directors chairs would be two men, series director and long time industry veteran Noboru Ishiguro and mecha designer/sci-fi fan Shoji Kawamori. Together they resurrected the giant Macross ship for another voyage that left fans, including me, jaw dropped and spellbound.

Of course 1984 was so much more than these three films and in the future I will include a more in depth focus for the year as a whole, but these three movies are something special. This ‘Summer of Love’ came to me because of the fact for the title of the Macross film; an exercise of putting two and two together. But pondering on this title I thought ‘Love’ could stand for a labor of love. All three of these films were created during the analog era of painted cel animation, “Look mom no hands computers.” All three of these films are a testament to the sweat and effort during that era as these productions were well crafted, painstakingly detailed and hold up in terms of quality today. These are three films that I love (one more than the other two because I am an uber fan of Macross) and treasure and I hope that you do as well.

#100 : Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Macross_1It’s #100 and I saved this one for this occasion. 🙂 In the far future of the year 1999… oh wait it’s 2018 now… don’t you hate it when the once thought of far future becomes a past memory? Well let pretend it’s 1982 once again, when a little show created by a bunch of anime and sci-fi fans hit the airwaves. Their story as stated before began in the year 1999 when suddenly a warp gate opens, bringing a behemoth of a spaceship into our local area of interstellar space. And much like a wild meteor with a mission, this ship came down like a speeding bullet onto a little island in the South Pacific. Ladies and gentlemen we humans are most definitely not alone anymore and this lone fictitious event in the sky is the beginning to THE most important anime in my whole fandom and life.

Macross_2Love is something you can’t describe with simple language and if you can, it really is not the passionate love you should feel from the bottom of your heart. In 1985, as an impressionable six year old, via an adaptation named Robotech, I fell in love with the most beautiful of space operas. NO, one of the greatest mecha anime ever. NO, the greatest love story that I have ever encountered. Well… maybe all three combined. I had experienced a story, characters and emotions that resonated with me on a level one cannot define. This was and still is a title many of us hold in the highest regards as something beyond special. It was one of my gateway anime and remains to this day the yardstick that I measure anything else I watch up to it… Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

Coming from my perspective and fandom and with all the variety of opinions already stating what happens in the show, the only thing I can give is what Macross has given to me on a personal level. Macross is not a television show, or even an anime. It is a part of my family, pure and simple; close knit family to be exact. These are my adopted brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and best friends. Even though the cast are not with me in the physical plane, they have been instrumental in keeping me alive, healthy and happy. Macross for me is the Beatles’ In My Life, “there are places I remember… some have gone and some remain… all these places have there moments… In my life, I love you more.” I don’t see this posting as another entry, this is a soliloquy in the form of a love letter.

Macross_3Much credit to Macross is given to Shojo Kawamori (way too much!) almost as if it was “his” project alone, which of course is NOT true! But again where did Macross come from… a manga, toyline, yada yada… nope? It was it’s own creation, completely original and influenced by a group of young creative fans. An almost proverbial otaku’s dream come true, the purest form of fan service. Not the emphasis on the usual definition of fan service, but the wanting to add reference upon reference making the story grand and sentimental. You can give credit to others like Noburo Ishiguru or Ichiro Itano, but one individual makes Macross very special (my opinion)… the greatest character designer ever (again my opinion), Haruhiko Mikimoto!

Macross_4Mikimoto’s eye designs are always what win me over. Beautiful eyes with a romantic quality, they glisten like stars in the night (Mikimoto insists it was a shojo influence). Therefore this is the best looking cast ever (my opinion yet again), particularly our main cast… the perfect trio, handsome Hikaru, elegent Misa and adorable Minmei. Beyond the ‘main’ cast you have a huge subsidiary group and all of them get a couple minutes to show their individuality, but I have only been speaking of those of us who are all Earth born. Macross, after all, is an epic space opera and humanity meets another race from a far off area of the universe. Remember that spaceship I mentioned earlier that crashed onto the Earth… it is of interest of giant alien race, the Zentradi.

Macross_5Thus the plot begins… a spaceship gets refurbished, an alien invasion leads humanity into outer space, a war ensues, a young girl’s dream of becoming a pop star comes true, a love triangle becomes difficult and the questioning of the origins of both humanity and the warlike Zentradi are tied to the mysterious Protoculture (not exactly the same thing as in Robotech folks)… and stretches over 36 episodes in total. Wow! Busy show indeed and never boring. No wonder Macross reached the tops of popularity since there is something for everyone to enjoy. But then again like I said before, this was a show made by fans of anime, manga and sci-fi. They knew which buttons to push to get the reactions which we all can identify with.

Macross_6Wait a minute… I forgot to go into detail about one important piece of Macross that I love. One word… MUSIC! Music plays a major role in the plot and the soundtrack is oh so good. I love music, I play music and great music in an anime is a thumbs up from my end. Kentaro Haneda’s orchestral work is inspiring and certain tracks, in particular Dog Fighter, are anthemic. The character of Minmei and her pop idol status was one of the first iterations of this character archetype. Love it or hate it, Macross would not be the same without Minmei as the cheerleader so to speak. She was the true star of Macross, yet not the major protagonist who was Hikaru. Her simple pop songs, a blast of culture more precisely, changes the course of events in this show. Love conquers all, literally.

The closing titles features a song called Runner, a sentimental ballad. And I will end this entry by saying that Macross and I have run together a long, long time (hard to admit you are getting older, but wisdom is worth the age!). Hand in hand, Macross and I will run forever. …with 100 postings down, it’s time to write another 100! 🙂

 

#1 : Megazone 23 (part 1)

For an updated perspective on Megazone 23 (part 1), click here.

M23_1Megazone 23 could be my favorite one off OVA of all time. True there are two other parts, well three since part three is a two-parter. Megazone 23, the first one, the original, is in my mind enough of a self contained story in and of itself. After all “there can be only one!” It is a quintessential time capsule of the era (1985). Plus, to me, the open ended ending is priceless. If ever there was a production that had everything, and I mean pretty close to everything I look for in an anime, this is one of a select few I draw from my collection without a second glance.

M23_2Megazone 23 is far from the first anime I was exposed to, but I can say for sure it was the first that solidified me as an otaku. Before Megazone 23 I had a good working knowledge of well known titles at the time and that I was aware of: Robotech, Gundam Wing, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Record of Lodoss War… you get the picture. Mostly well known popular stuff, quasi-casual may be a better term. I needed to locate more niche material. So I landed on Megazone 23 and Area 88, not a bad combination if I say so.

M23_3Begun as a so called follow-up to a show most Robotech fans should be familiar with, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23 had an interesting start. I often consider this show to be the true sequel to Macross (another nod to Robotech), if not in name, as it shares a majority of it’s key staff including director Noboru Ishiguro and character designers Toshihiro/Toshiki Hirano and Haruhiko Mikimoto (three men I have the highest of respect for). I won’t get into the historic details too much, but the production started off as a TV series with various working titles until the main sponsor pulled the plug. No money, big problem, what to do? Release it direct to video since that is a growing market and thankfully, that is what happened. Who knows how much of the plot was cut to fit it into an approximate 80 minute running time? But in the end who cares, it worked.

As for the story we have a young man (Shogo) who loves motorcycles, living in the world on his own who meets a girl (Yui) and then ends up meeting the mecha (Garland) and then a nemesis (B.D.) and then a 1980s equivalent to Hatsune Miku (Eve, Kumi Miyasato’s songs are great). Then all hell breaks loose as things begin to unravel much like a peeling onion. I often think of Megazone 23 as the ultimate growing up story where everything you have learned about life and reality is ripped from right under your feet.

M23_4Being the fact that this production was released direct to video, it gave those who grew up with mecha as their preferred genre an even more “realistic” grown up story following the growing sophistication of epics like Gundam, Macross and Votoms. Of course the growing popularity of the fighting genre (Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya) signaled an end to the television dominance of mecha. Zeta Gundam, also a 1985 release, is in my mind the capstone to an era in television where mecha grew in sophistication and serious subject matter that did not come back again until possibly Evangelion. Many of those who grew up in the 70s/early 80s now needed a new avenue to find material and in many cases material to match their growing maturity. Megazone 23 was in the perfect place at the perfect time.

And as for release in North America, there would be three attempts. First as part of Robotech: the Movie, which did not last long (even Carl Macek disowned it). Then came Streamline Pictures (Carl’s official release and a solid one) and finally ADV (the dub is totally rad man, hear it to believe it, but it is also a good effort). Both the Streamline and ADV release saw DVD releases, but are out of print.

Also is in some ways Megazone 23 can be considered an early cyber-punk release. Of course American cinema like Blade Runner and Streets of Fire were the bigger influences, but from Megazone 23 we would grow into the likes of Bubblegum Crisis, Akira and the early Masamune Shirow adaptations (Black Magic M-66Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police) later in the decade. Speaking of Streets of Fire, released in 1984, the cast see it in the cinema during the story, talk about paying homage.

If there is one thing that bothers me about Megazone 23, it is how much another “Hollywood” property gets a lot of the credit for the concept of living in a manufactured society run by a computer, even though Megazone 23 told the story first, sort of. Director Noburo Ishiguro has mentioned how the concept is very similar to a couple of Robert Heinlein’s short stories, so Megazone 23 may not have been the first either. All told The Matrix may have sold the idea in a large scale both culturally and financially, but Megazone 23 will always be my tale for a controlled manufactured society.