#190 : Riding Bean

Know this name of Kenichi Sonada. In terms of 1980s anime, his character designs are a staple, in particular sci-fi and action titles associated with the studio AIC. Bubblegum Crisis, Gall Force and Wanna-Be’s are examples of his work during this tenure, but another side of Kenichi Sonoda was his work as a manga artist creating his own original titles. In the 1990s would come the release of a fan favorite, Gunsmith Cats, but in 1989 another one of his creations would bring Sonoda’s personal vision to anime for the first time. A distant cousin, side story, or alternate tale  of the Gunsmith Cats universe, that actually came first… may we look into Riding Bean.

RB_1The style of Kenichi Sonoda can be summed up in few words: action, fire arms, fast cars (in particular the Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang) and Chicago. Sweet Home Chicago home of Sears Tower, The Blues Brothers, deep dish pizza and a rogue individual by the name of Bean Bandit. Who is this man Bean Bandit? He’s tough, he’s bulletproof (in particular his jacket and headband) and he can drive fast. Not fast like professional race car drivers on pavement, but more like the ‘good ol’ boys’ of the past who ran moonshine throughout the southern United States, or perhaps professional rally drivers. He can’t wake up from a taser to the neck, but a hot frying pan to the face does the trick. Bean is a brick… Chuck Norris you have met your match!

RB_2Bean’s profession is that of a hired driver who for a price will get you out of dodge better than anyone. His ride is the famous Roadbuster. … Gunbuster? … no, no wrong anime. A customized ride that looks like the offspring of a Porsche 959 and a Ferrari F40, but with the engine up front. Of course Roadbuster could symbolize Bean himself as well since car and driver are essentially one when both elements come together. Along for the ride is a familiar Sonoda name from Gunsmith Cats, Rally Vincent. Her skills as a sharp shooter are still there, but the appearance is different… blonde hair over the dark. Together as a team aboard the Roadbuster, Bean and Rally out run the Chicago Police Department time and time again.

RB_3Never will I proclaim any anime to be the best at anything and if I have in the past then I repeal that notion, but Riding Bean may be the best one off action OVA ever made. At only 40–45 minutes it is never boring, dull, or badly done in terms of story, characters, or animation quality. Though the violence does at times get brutal, it is not the focus of this OVA. Riding Bean is a comedic wild ride that expresses the absolute obsessions of it’s creator Kenichi Sonoda. Not one of my favorite picks on any list, Riding Bean is an anime that I do enjoy nonetheless when I do see it and many of you out there are die hard fans of this OVA. Get onboard and take a ride with Bean!

#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!

#151 : Inspector Gadget

I have a call on my secret hotline phone. Be right back … “Oh hey Chief (wait?… I have a boss?)… what… you’re where?… Wow Chief! I didn’t recognize you.”

“Here’s your assignment Classic Anime Museum.”

“This time review Inspector Gadget, as this was quite a popular cartoon during the 1980s and has spun off into several reboots. Of course focus on the original here as it was animated in Japan even though it was created for the Western market and watch out for M.A.D. agents. … This message will self destruct.”

“Got that Classic Anime Museum?”

“Sure thing. The Classic Anime Museum is always on duty. Oh by the way here is your note back.”

BOOM!!!… Now cue up that theme song that borrows themes from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and let’s get started! Go Gadget Go!

IG_1Ah yes, I remember Inspector Gadget very well. Who didn’t? OK some people who watched cartoons as a kid in the 1980s may not have had the opportunity, but I think that would be a rarity with this show. Inspector Gadget was huge and is one of those shows that is beautiful in being very neutral in presentation. Thank you for not shoehorning specific demographic requirements DiC. The only requirement is the asking of, “do you want a funny show, a very silly show?” Simple. Now then, Inspector Gadget may not have been my top pick for a cartoon as a kid (say what?), but I did enjoy it and remember it very fondly. Maybe because it had a weird time slot and it often was on when I was still in school (can I skip class?) and the only opportunity to watch the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ was on days off (hello summer break!). Thank goodness for today’s DVD releases and streaming sources. Needless to say, 80s cartoons without Inspector Gadget is like cereal without milk, peanut butter with out jelly… you get the idea.

IG_2Our hero, this man Gadget, is either the world’s greatest police officer, or just plain clueless. I vote for the later. He always solves his cases, but seems to have hidden help from his pet dog Brain and his niece Penny, a.k.a. the real problem solver. In truth, Penny is the true hero of this show and Uncle Gadget is the comic relief, as well as the star of the show. So the question that begs to be asked is how did these cases end up getting solved? Answer… fantastical 80s sci-fi style technology! Penny uses a computer book to find or calculate out all her answers and theories to learn what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents are up to. Who needs a MacBook Pro? That and her well mannered intuition compliments Gadget’s total lack of analysis. If you have to do a job right, give it to a kid, they are smarter than you think!

IG_3Each episode, or case if you will, is much like a 12-bar blues song and follows an almost strict formula. See enough episodes in a row and you begin to almost predict the next move, or scene strategically like in a game of chess. Just don’t over do it, one need never to get bored of Inspector Gadget. The concept of the show is partly a parody, or maybe more so an homage to the spy and police genres as a whole. Mix together one part Get Smart, one part James Bond, one part Mission Impossible and one part the The Pink Panther. Shake with a little French, Canadian and American pre-production via the legendary company DiC and finally garnish with stellar production animation from the Japanese Studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and you get Inspector Gadget. Also adding in the iconic voice work of Don Adams for Gadget does not hurt either. This of course draws on his former work in Get Smart, but I often think what if Peter Sellers had a shot at the role? Recalling the references to The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, this could have been up Sellers’ alley, though I would want him to keep his native British accent. This is total bias from a Sellers fan so… let’s continue on shall we (where’s my copy of Dr. Strangelove?).

IG_4Inspector Gadget… never fear as our hero is always on duty. I do fear for those poor M.A.D. agents who end up finding Gadget is more harm than help in regards to solving a case. I hope M.A.D. has a good insurance package. That being said I am glad Gadget is on our side, but it begs the follow question, since the original release back in 1983, is Gadget still fighting crime today? Are Penny and Brain still around? Does Penny use a Macbook Pro now? Could Gadget be near retirement? Will we ever see Dr. Claw’s face? One will never know. GO GO GADGET FOREVER!!

#91 : Cat’s Eye

There should be honor among thieves. After all, and I am quoting from another anime, “It isn’t stolen, merely borrowed without the benefit of paperwork” (GoShogun: The Time Étranger). Some thieves acquire for greed, others for survival and others for getting back what is rightfully their own property. As this particular story goes, we have three sisters in Japan with a mission to collect artwork that was created by their estranged father. Always one step ahead of the cops and another step ahead of our hearts, lets meet the Kisugi sisters, better known as Cat’s Eye.

CE_1Mix three parts Lupin III, one part Dirty Pair, one part Charlie’s Angels and a dash of Shonen JumpShonen Jump? For real? Indeed, one of the few examples of SJ anime with female lead characters I can think of. Cat’s Eye was created by the same dude, Tsukasa Hojo, that did City Hunter (also SJ); both shows look similar in approach. Earlier it sounded like I was making some fancy schmancy coffee a lot of you folks drink from Starbucks. Funny to throw in that reference because the Cat’s Eye girls own a coffee shop… named Cat’s Eye. Way to state the obvious ladies without getting caught; you three get bonus points from me. What a combination, these girls are skilled with stealth, athletic ability and can make a mean cup of joe (helps out if you have to pull an all nighter?).

CE_2Enough of these intros, we need to meet the Kisugi sisters. Let’s start with kid sister Ai, she is the tech geek and yet still in high school. Then there is older sister Rui with long curly hair, beauty mark and red lipstick (she may be my favorite). Finally, we have middle sister and our main protagonist, Hitomi who does a majority of the  thievery. Often times she herself is considered Cat’s Eye, kind of like Ken the Eagle in Gatchaman. Now for a great twist in regards to who Hitomi’s boyfriend is. He is Toshio ‘Toshi’ Utsumi and he works across the street from the Cat’s Eye coffee shop and he is a cop and his main assignment is the capture of Cat’s Eye. The poor guy must not be very bright knowing his beloved is also his biggest nemesis.

CE_3As stated before, our girls only steal artwork that belongs in the collection of their artist father, Michael Heinz. Wait I thought Cat’s Eye were the Kisugi sisters and this guy’s last name is Heinz? Perhaps its a nickname or the girls took their mother’s maiden name? At any rate, these girls are honest and always leave a calling card stating when and where they will strike next. These are usually business card sized and they are delivered ninja style like shurikens, very bold. Speaking of ninja skills I often thought these girls honored that tradition with their abilities of stealth and agility. Except this was all set in the 1980s, so they have to wear tight leotards. The era of aerobics left influence in both the girl’s costumes and both ending credit sequences. Flashdance anyone?

CE_4How odd that both Cat’s Eye and Lupin III were made at TMS (awesome studio). Talk about a great crossover possibility… that never happened. Also odd is how this show leads you on with the plot. Do we ever find the whereabouts of Michael Heinz? Spoiler, but no. At the end of the first season it seemed that the next half of the show would focus on this plot point and it did… vaguely. Almost as if it was just filler material. Hmm… Shonen Jump adaptations and filler episodes, yea like that never happens? Needless to say I was disappointed once I got to the end, but I had a good time getting there anyway. Plus, Toshi never catches Hitomi in the act. And while it is true that a few episodes flirted with the possibility of discovering the truth, Cat’s Eye ends it all in a stalemate. Maybe I am being too hard on this show?

A final word of warning if you have any of Michael Heinz’s artwork! Be prepared if one of Cat’s Eye’s calling cards appears because these girls always get the goods. Cat’s Eye the group may steal art, but Cat’s Eye the show stole my heart. An ode to my favorite holiday gift from 2017, good times! Why didn’t I see this show sooner?

#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?”