#121 : Appleseed

Appleseed_1AppleseedGhost in the Shell’s often over shadowed older sibling. What comes to mind when I think of Appleseed? A nice, simple and powerful title for sure… iconic. There was all that CG material made a few years ago that I found to be dull yet flashy and fancy, but still… dull (very boring, my opinion). Thankfully I was aware that the tree that sprouted all those CG apples bore fruit a couple decades earlier in a shorter and much more analog version created for direct to video. Appleseed beyond the original manga, and those CG projects (nails on a chalkboard), is for me an OVA from 1988 that beyond the action had a theme that made me think and is the reason I come back one more time, every time.

Appleseed_2Is it me, or does this OVA smell a lot like Blade Runner (as well as concepts from ancient Greek mythology)? Many a cyber punk story often quoted Blade Runner since that movie set a standard that still holds up today. Still… Appleseed really borrows a lot from the 1982 film: the setting although it seems to have more sunlight, a particular character’s name and the idea of cybernetic technology in co-existence with mankind. We have a tale of a dystopian utopia, our possible future, or perhaps an allegory on our current circumstances. A perfect, clean environment that still has problems and issues because with all the polish and brightness, the polarity of darker forces must exist to ensure balance… all told with a lot of firepower and action. Masamune Shirow how do you do what you do so well?

Appleseed_3Olympus, the setting of Appleseed, is a great example of the utopian safety bubble showing signs of cracking and discontent. An ideal world where only good and cleanliness exist is in truth ‘unnatural’, night must follow day and winter always comes after a summer. And as much as you grip for control and authority, there will always be elements that stand to defy the status quo that slip through the veritable cracks. This is after all, a post war environment, as outside the city limits of Olympus is a perpetual no-man’s land, a literal hell. Here many humans exist on the edge of survival. If they are ‘lucky’ they get rescued and with help and rehabilitation are brought into Olympian society to exist with the main biodroid population. Biodroids are manufactured to be human in appearance and fit into the regime of the Olympian landscape. Many of these rescued humans fit into this paradigm with no issue, while others perceive and/or even fight back against what they see as a cage, or perhaps, a prison.

Appleseed_4Three of these rescued humans play the biggest roles in this drama. Our protagonists Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires (who looks more robotic than human?) work for the state as police officers, SWAT to be specific, which allows them to use their guerrilla combat skills that kept them alive in the hinterlands outside of Olympus. They have conformed for the most part into the society of Olympus. These two are perhaps an early attempt for the likes of Major Kusanagi and Batou of Ghost in the Shell… maybe? The third member is also a fellow police man, one Calon Mautholos, who unlike Deunan and Briareos, see a different reality due to the depression and eventual suicide of his wife. She saw Olympus as a cage and this leads Calon to align himself with more shady characters. Such as the terrorist A. J. Sebastian (hmm… Blade Runner again?) who believes that the society and government of Olympus is controlling and corrupting the human population and distancing themselves from their more primal behaviors. Calon joins forces with Sebastian and tries to stay one step ahead of the dynamic duo of Deunan and Briareos, who are after Sebastian when he escaped from an earlier raid.

Appleseed questions reality and duty towards a state or cause almost to the same degree as say Patlabor 2: The Movie. Though not as sophisticated as Patlabor, Appleseed does a great service for a simple one off OVA. And even though this has one of the most extreme cases of adulting up an English dub, you can always watch the original Japanese, which features some well known classic cast members. With all the love, popularity and hype for Ghost in the Shell, I seem to resonate and return to Appleseed more often. How about you?

#114 : Space Runaway Ideon

Space. The universe itself is vast and beyond scope. Space opera as a genre is also larger than life, but often you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Themes and characters are bigger than life, but still relatable on some level. What if space opera could represent something even bigger than just off hand spaceship battles, or fun times trekking through the deep vastness of the beautiful great void. Can space opera encompass the function and consequences of the living universe, call it ‘God’ perhaps, depending on the actions you and your civilization make? After finalizing Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise would gives us an answer in 1980 with Space Runaway Ideon.

Ideon_1Space Runaway Ideon may be the most epic and most importantly, the most sublime sci-fi epic in existence within the realm of Japanese animation. Gundam is one thing, Legend of Galactic Heroes is another, but Ideon is it’s own animal. Ideon ventures into unique territory in terms of emotion, intensity and characterization. Known often as a series where everyone and everything dies (Kill ’em all Tomino!), the true meaning of this series is so much more. The death and sacrifices are all consequences and actions of conflict and hatred. This of course is a product of ignorance and xenophobia to an extreme that once the negativity reaches a certain point, the only option left is total and complete destruction.

Ideon_2Even with all this seriousness one must remember that Space Runaway Ideon is first and foremost a mecha show. And what a giant robot indeed (105 meters/344.5 feet for a height), the Ideon is imposing beyond belief and is one of two mechs that literally scare the $h!& out of me (the other being Giant Robo). This is not so much for the overall size or power, but more so on the presence a mecha exudes. It’s about total respect. All this from what looks like a mix of a Gundam’s GM and Gun Cannon added together on a heavy dose of steroids. Literally… as this is a robot that can split a planet in half. This is power beyond power, almost ‘God’ like, hence why I give the Ideon such respect.

Ideon_3Beyond the drama and the Ideon robot itself, Space Runaway Ideon like many of the best mecha shows is about the relationships of it’s cast. And like many Tomino shows, this cast is large. Our story concerns two factions that make contact on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Earth based humans like us have begun colonization on the planet which they call Solo. Beyond the colonization, many of the scientists and researchers have discovered several artifacts from a past civilization including three huge truck like vehicles and a buried spaceship. The second faction known as the Buff Clan (yes that is their name) are on a mission to locate the legendary power of the Ide. They come upon this same planet, which they call Logo Dau and eventually both civilizations meet. In response, both sides start a conflict showing the darkest side of human interaction towards someone or something that is unfamiliar, or different.

Sadly Space Runaway Ideon would be become a victim of cancelization, most likely due to a lack of ratings not unlike the previous year’s Mobile Suit Gundam. This left several holes in the plot and a rushed ending. All the build up of 38 episodes led to an ackward final 39th. Yet the story was not over for in 1982 two movies would be released to finish the story properly. The Ideon: A Contact would act as a review and prequel to the awesome and powerful The Ideon: Be Invoked. I highly recommend both movies if you want to get the whole story of Ideon.

Ideon_4To conclude with Space Runaway Ideon, let us examine a quote by Albert Einstein… “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” If that decision in the end is a hostile one, there is nowhere to go except toward ultimate destruction… think about it. This applies not only to anime space opera, but also our lives as well. Similar to, but not the same as Evangelion, Ideon addresses the power of how we sometimes view our environment and ourselves and what happens in regards to how we react toward it. Space Runaway Ideon was and still is a show beyond any experience I have known and I will always count it as one of my all-time favorites.

#102 : Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder

VtLRS_1Do you want a proper story about revenge? How about a sequel that is more like a crucial missing chapter? Do you enjoy Armored Trooper Votoms? I hope you answered yes to all three of these questions because Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder is perhaps one of the best examples of the early use for the OVA market to add depth to an already strong property. Prepare to strap into the Scopedog once again for yet another mission and this time, it gets personal.

VtLRS_2Chirico Cuvie may be the most fascinating character is mecha history. He is not heroic, hot blooded, or even a rookie to being in a mech. He is a stoic, slow burning and taciturn battle scared veteran. In more direct terms, he is one of the deadliest of the deadly, one of the Melkian army’s most feared killing machines, a Red Shoulder. Yet, Chirico and a handful of other cynical grunts are seen as undesirable for their acts of showing defiance towards the established military they are a part of. Biting the hand that feeds you! Years later and having survived the atrocities of the Hundred Years War of the Astragius Galaxy these four men reunite for a solitary cause, to go after the man who made them into Red Shoulders and then left them for dead. Their target is General Yoran Pailsen. After escaping a secret mission, torture and interegation and then the troubles of Uoodo City, Chirico joins these other three men and begin to plan. But can these four independent dissidents work well together?

VtLRS_3While Chirico may be the star of the show, he only represents half of this OVA. The second half belonging to his future adversary, the troubled and mysterious Ypsilon. We see his birth so to speak as he opens his eyes for the first time in an almost Garden of Eden like setting with the other so-called Perfect Soldier of the Votoms universe, Proto One, or in the eyes and heart of Chirico, Fyana. She mentors the naive young man before the influence of the training and brainwashing he receives from the secret society that Chirico is so interested to find out about. Watching this OVA gives a little perspective towards the humanity that was once in Ypsilon. It just goes to show that villains are just like the rest of us, just a little more perverted (hey not in that way kids) from internal or external circumstances.

VtLRS_4The beauty of this OVA is the fact that is acts like the lost 53rd episode of the TV series. Or, perhaps it should be episode 13 part 2 as this story sandwiches nicely between the first two arcs of the TV series: Uoodo City and the Kummen Jungle Wars respectively. No matter how this OVA is defined, The Last Red Shoulder is required viewing in the Votoms universe ONLY… if you complete the original TV series first. The plot and characters will make perfect sense as we see elements from the later parts of the TV series make small, but vital entrances. The production of a few more model kits may have paved the way to help finance The Last Red Shoulder, but the real substance so to speak is the revenge story and the new characters that we get to invite into our space for the time of about an hour. But as you near the end of this OVA you may crave some action and you shall be rewarded. The only question is who will make it out alive?

The rich palette of seriousness and gritty texture is what makes Votoms a special mecha property. Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder smells of oil, blood and sweat, feels like bullet scared metal and looks of the dull nasty green of army surplus. War is hell and it can drive a man (or woman) to insanity, or leave personal traumas that need serious time to heal. Armored Trooper Votoms: The Last Red Shoulder brings you back into this dark world of dramatic hell that surrounds the politics and drama of the Astragius Galaxy and it does it so oh so excellently. Highly, highly recommended.

#97 : Armored Trooper Votoms

Votoms_1Armored Trooper Votoms in a certain frame of reference may be the greatest mecha anime of all time. And I say that again as a certain frame of reference since this may not be everyone’s idea of where mecha shows should tread. Several shows before and since have dived deep into realms of gritty military life and, or psychological science fiction, but nothing equals Votoms in terms of it’s presentation of both. This is a tale about a singular battle scared man coming to terms with his life and humanity in the dire of constant combat, but Votoms is also, perhaps, one of the most underrated love stories as well.

Votoms_2The year of 1983 brought many classic mecha shows to us and in particular the so-called real robot aspect of the genre. Sunrise would produce three gems: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s (Gundam dude) Aura Battler Dunbine, Takeyuki Kanda’s Galactic Drifter Vifam and Ryosuke’s Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms. Mecha shows by this time had grown into a wealth of expression and many of the best had strong leanings towards space opera. Examples such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Yamato and Gundam all left influence on many shows in the early 1980s. These are prime examples of classic heroism and this is definitely not the world Armored Trooper Votoms. Votoms is more akin to the noir drama of Blade Runner, the esoteric sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Vietnam War grit of Apocalypse Now. Votoms is a story of the hunted outcast searching for his purpose, not that of a perfect hero.

Sergeant Chirico Cuvie, a former member of the deadly Red Shoulder brigade, is a man on the run. Despite his stint in Gilgamesh’s Melkian army during the great war of the Astragius galaxy against the Balarant, Chirico finds life on the run just as difficult. During a mysterious last minute final assignment, Chirico becomes aware of a great secret. After interrogation and being left for dead, Chirico runs to find peace and safety. The only problem is everywhere he goes he can’t escape the proverbial battlefield. All Chirico wants to know is what the secret operation he was involved in was all about, who the secret organization behind the operation is, to have both Gilgamesh and Balarant off his back and… most importantly… who this mysterious beautiful woman that is so linked to his destiny is and why is it that he feels so attracted to her (Duh!… she is pretty and loyal to you).

Votoms_3The grit of militarism exudes not just in the story and politics, but also in the designs of the mechs themselves. The AT Scopedog is a timeless design for not being flashy, cool, or futuristic. The Scopedog is a basic run of the mill tank or army Jeep brought into the world of piloted robots. Clunky, functional and a nasty shade of green, the Scopedog is an antithesis to say a Gundam, or Valkyrie fighter (Macross). Ironically, the simple build quality of Scopedogs are fitting within the culture of model building since Chirico himself many times during the show either rebuilds, or modifies, several mechs. Yet there is one characteristic of a Scopedog that is distinctive… those roller skate type feet which allow them to roll on the ground. Of course this helped in production of the animation by keeping the drawing minimal at times, but still… it’s kind of fun!

Votoms_4The structure of the show is in four successive stages, or arcs and each one builds on the previous. The DVDs I have separate neatly into these so called movements: we begin in the streets of Uoodo (very Blade Runner), move into the jungles of Kummen (Apocalypse Now), and finish with the planets Sunsa and Quent (2001). Like an onion you slowly peel away the drama and suspense and end up in a world you never thought was possible when you first started. Uoodo was fun, Kummen was intense, Sunsa is my favorite for how dark and psychological it became and Quent turns everything on it’s head and then some.

Many times I write about anime from memory alone, or after I seeing something ‘new’ to me, I have to speak about it within a quick turnaround. Then there are times when the urge to dive back into the entirety of a show is most necessary. Votoms needed a re-watch and having seeing it with half fresh eyes, I can’t discount this masterpiece. After all… I am comparing this show to two live action movies that I highly respect and love, 2001 and Blade Runner. Perhaps I needed to grow into this show and now was the time to recognize Votoms brilliance.

… this could be Grey Digital Target’s soul brother and I love that movie too.

#81 : Space Warrior Baldios

Baldios_11980 was an interesting year for anime. On a personal note, I turned a year old, so I don’t have much personal memory. Only from researching and back cataloging through history, I found two of the most austere mecha space opera ever conceived. Space Runaway Ideon is the first, a show directed and created by Gundam’s Yoshiyuki Tomino (the year after Gundam to be precise) that took a mature stance dealing with themes of xenophobia and the awesome power of a collective conscious deity power. The second, and the subject of this entry, was Space Warrior Baldios, a tale about time travel, unrequited love, planetary destruction and pollution. Whoa… where have you been all my life Baldios?

Baldios_2I may forever have an incomplete appreciation of all that is Baldios. I have only come across the first five episodes of the 1980 TV series with an English translation. If I grew up in Europe this would be a different story. I know on the mainland, and in particular Italy, you had this on your TV screens back in the day. A compilation film would be released in 1981 and this is my only way, as of the moment, to enjoy the story as complete whole. Although… the TV series didn’t finish on a proper note anyway and the film actually gave a more finalized finality. Hmm… kind of like the Ideon films. I see a trend here? … The Baldios film is in my hands in two forms, the first being a fansub with the original Japanese dialogue and the second, a VHS release with an English dub by an early producer William James Ross. Definitely a treasured piece in my collection.

Another time, another place. The future and a heavily polluted planet known as S-1. Scientists work diligently to find a method to clean the pollution and restore this planet to it’s former glory. Enter our hero, Marin Reigan. After years of work his father, a top rate scientist, and his team have finally come to a solution. This does not go well with the military who become the higher authorities under the control of the totalitarian General Gatler. Gatler’s solution is to leave the planet and find new a colony. Marin’s father would fall victim to the rise of the military and in revenge Marin enacts revenge on his father’s murderer. That revenge killed a man who would put Marin into an interesting relationship with a beautiful female soldier. She is Aphrodia, or Afrodia, and her brother was the man Marin killed.

Baldios_3Once Gatler leaves S-1, Marin follows in pursuit in an awesome spaceship, the Pulsar Burn. In an odd twist of fate through traveling in null space (warping), Marin would end up appearing in front of our Earth in approximately the year 2100. Upon his arrival he is brought into question about who he is and if he has anything to do with Gatler’s army who is by now attacking the Earth. Soon he would gain the trust of the Earth’s military and scientists, including Dr. Ella Quinstein (such an awesome name). Marin’s Pulsar Burn would become part of a three part machine that unites to become the warrior robot Baldios to defend the Earth.

Baldios_4And this is only the beginning… Besides all the usual mecha space opera cliches we have to turn back to Aphrodia and her relationship with Marin. There’s is a fated and yet unrequited connection of love and hatred. How odd a couple can be so perfect and yet, so flawed. If anything this is the great draw of this show in how these two play off each other. Another draw of interest is the lack of children in the cast. Most mecha shows were of the shonen variety, so usually a character of a child, usually a boy, is included to say… this can be you in the story. In Baldios, we are in a hard and adult world. And finally, I have to mention the great twist of fate at the end; talk about a surprise ending. If you know how Baldios closes, you know one of the best endings in my honest opinion.

Baldios you are a rare bird in a sea of the usual in mecha and science fiction stereotypes. Space Warrior Baldios is dark and tackles issues that pertained to the world of 1980 and even still in 2018 (the writing of this entry). Should we allow war and hatred to destroy our relationships, our culture and ultimately the environment of the planet? A cautionary tale… a classic!

#77 : Toward the Terra

I love science fiction, can’t help it because a). it’s in my DNA to be into the future and far out subject matter and b). I was born into a generation where there was a flood of it. Right place at the right time indeed. In my early days of searching for more of the grandiose tales of the future and outer space I would come across a tale of social dissatisfaction, totalitarian government, social order and the rise of the individual and evolutionary diversity that can’t be ignored. This was the pride of 1980, the promise of a decade to come, the beautiful and austere Toward the Terra.

TtT_1Often we think of science fiction as a grandiose showing of space battles and action, but the real focus of great science fiction is in the commentary of the social condition of the now. These are the great myths and stories of our contemporary age told to criticize actions that need to be addressed right now. It is about our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. The Toei produced film adaptation of Keiko Takemiya’s manga, To Terra, is one of my favorite tales of social critique. Kind of like The Matrix meets Star Wars mixed with the mood and the finding of one’s humanity of Blade Runner. Why do I watch anime, cartoons, or whatever you want to call this stuff? Toward the Terra is one of my best answers.

TtT_2In a society where children are born of test tubes and raised by foster parents until the age of awakening, 14 years, there are those who don’t fit into the criteria. Jomy Marcus Shin is one of these children. He acts impulsively, has odd nightmares and a strong sense of individuality. The government has their eyes on him, because he may be one of the Mu, an advanced form of humanity with esper powers that is a threat to the conformity of the current status quo. The system must hold it’s population in check to keep humanity from making the mistakes of the past that destroyed the great planet of Terra, Earth. Individuality is the enemy, being special is the enemy, being different is the enemy, being who ‘YOU’ really are is the enemy.

TtT_3Along with Jomy are two other important characters, the first being the leader of the Mu, Soldier Blue, who is looking for his successor. Despite his youthful appearance he knows his advanced age is creeping up on him. And the second is the mysterious Keith Anyan, one of the system’s elite who was literally, born and prepped for his position in life. Keith much like Roy Batty in Blade Runner has to come to terms with his existence and what is right not for the system, or government, but for the greater of the human race. These are not our only characters, an understudy of Jomy named Tony will also appear later in the story that spans over the lifetime of this generation. Much like a Legend of the Galactic Heroes kind of epic with all the characters and drama, but without all the military tactics.

TtT_4As I have said earlier this may be a tale of the future, but this is a tale of the now be it 1980, or 2017 (the writing of this blog). How much do we lose as we grow up? How much of yourself is really you? Are you really honest with who you really are? Are you happy, I mean really happy? These are questions asked in the film, but are also questions we ask ourselves not in some far of distant galaxy far, far away. Seriously, we all have asked these questions. And why can’t more science fiction follow this format? This was what made sci-fi oh so awesome back in the days of yore, but alas they are a little more rare in these days… or are they?

For those of you who are more into the modern style of contemporary anime, you are in luck as there is another adaptation, a TV series, of Toward the Terra that was released in 2007. The manga is available as well, but of the three options I prefer the film that I have been writing about. We all have a choice and I respect your decision, but this movie moved me the most, made me feel the most and as of recent upon re-watching this movie, I connected on yet another level. I can’t explain it in words, I only hope you enjoy this wonderful story as well.

#71 : Space Battleship Yamato

When it comes to Space Battleship Yamato, I give the utmost respect. The original super otaku craze has all the justification it truly deserves and it’s not because it has a reputation, or a status of being one of the greatest series in all of anime history. It deserves my total respect, and hopefully yours as well for a singular reason. Science fiction can at times be too impersonal, or at the other extreme, too fun. And yet, Yamato is neither. It’s the beauty of the potential of humanity in the purest sense of the word.

SBY_1By the time I got around years ago to sit and watch the original series from 1974, I knew I was in for something great. I was well aware of Yamato’s pedigree and I considered this to be one of the keystones in the select elite of classic anime that all fans should see. Yamato was required reading so to speak and any other substitute just would not suffice. Initially the concept belonging to producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, with refinements brought in by a little manga artist by the name of Leiji Matsumoto turned this show from resurrecting the pride of WWII Japan’s naval fleet that flew through space into one of the greatest anti-war epics of all time. But, then again Matsumoto was no slouch when creating epic space dramas with feeling. Any fans of Captain Harlock, or Galaxy Express 999? Yeah I see you 🙂

SBY_2Matsumoto’s touch gave Yamato a humane touch and it is expressed in our two main heros, the young Susumu Kodai and the elder captain, Juzo Okita, the greatest father figure of all. Every time and anytime I witness Captain Okita’s death scene I always shed a tear; you were a good man sir. These two men along with the other members of Yamato including Yuki Mori (token female character), Daisuke Shima (Kodai’s friend) and the remaining crew fly toward the planet Iscandar (awesome name, I think it’s Sanskrit) to meet a woman named Starsha to receive the great Cosmo DNA. This gift is said to help clean the ravaged Earth from all the toil and radiation that has built up from the invasion from the Gamilan Empire. Gamila’s emporer Deslar will stop at nothing to prevent the Earthlings from getting this and in a span of 26 episodes we watch this drama unfold.

SBY_3There are many scenes from anime that have left an indefinite mark on me, but none can hold a candle to the scene after the crew of the Yamato defeated the Gamilan Empire on their home world. Was this a time to celebrate, to shout for victory, to show them who was boss… NO!!!  Absolutely not, because in the scene both Yuki and Susumu saw what that victory brought. Ravaged destruction, death and shock all from what should be seen as victory. How does someone face themselves to the consequences that they have enacted onto another living civilization? After all in the end Gamilas was a dying planet and despite the wrongful actions of it’s people, all that was wanted was to acquire a new home world. As Susumu said that since ‘we’ were young ‘we’ have been taught to win at all costs, but this victory… is quote… ‘bullshit’. In anime as in real life, we have had enough of military conquests. Better to extend a hand in friendship than raise a gun in superiority.

SBY_4This series, very similar to the original Mobile Suit Gundam, was not popular in the eyes of the masses during their original TV runs; a second chance would be around the corner. A theatrical release would resurrect both of these series and turn them into the superstars they are today. And while the film compilations are convenient, they don’t give the whole picture in my eyes. If you can’t watch all 26 episodes of Yamato, then yes see the movie. But… but, if you can witness the whole series there are little stories that make the difference, similar if this was a novel. Or, for bonus points, watch both 🙂 Or, if you are older than me, you would promote the old adaptation of Star Blazers as well. Even though I prefer the original Japanese, this dub, for it’s time, was special.

Space Battleship Yamato has influenced me, has shaped me, helped me ask questions, helped me cry when I needed a cry, helped me smile with I needed a smile. It’s a beautiful thing, as Captain Okita said in his death scene right before returning to Earth… “Earth, everything about you is beautiful.” How has the beauty of Yamato left it’s influence on you?