#31 : Arcadia of My Youth

aomy_1“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.

aomy_2Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.

aomy_3As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.

aomy_4The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.

In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.

 

#30 : Mobile Suit Gundam

1979 was a breakthrough year. And Mobile Suit Gundam was a breakthrough series, or was it? I see Gundam as a continuation, an evolution and a product of it’s time expressing the then fashionable mecha genre with space opera not unlike Space Battleship Yamato or Star Wars. But where Yamato was emotional and Star Wars was heroic, Gundam was intense passion. And that passion became a franchise bigger than it’s own name, an elephant in the room that now seems to define mecha itself. But nothing compares to an original and for me when you go back  ‘the’ original, it is hard to move ahead to what seems like a copycat for cash.

msg_1The original Gundam may have broke the mold in regards to looking at the large robot as a piece of utilitarian hardware instead of this super hero deus ex machina. But, Gundam did not happen in a bubble or was a happy accident. The mecha genre had been building through the 1970s and the likes of Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam’s creator/director) and Tadao Nagahama both pushed story and character development through the later part of the decade. Two shows from 1977 deserve the place as major stepping stones leading to Gundam, Nagahama’s Voltes V and Tomino’s Zambot 3. If you love mecha and consider Gundam to be the true beginning of mecha as serious storytelling, you may have to scratch that surface again.

msg_2Why do I love the original Gundam so? Simple answer… it’s good. Damn good… no great. An epitome of the concept of the large epic space opera. Top it off for it being harder sci-fi as well. Warp drives and far out deep space are out. We are going to stay close to the Earth sphere for this story. Let’s strip out a bit of the super fantastic and make it about political ideals. A corrupt unified government, the Earth Federation, versus an even more corrupt family dictatorship, the Zeon (Jeon?) Empire that can likened to the Godfather or I Claudius. And everyone else is in between and by due fact of geography resides to one of those sides, which is where a majority of our main cast resides. Many aboard a Federation ship called White Base, which houses the Federation’s newest prototype, the RX78-02 Gundam.

msg_3And this tale has one of the greatest rivalry combinations pitting an electronics obsessed otaku kid who wants nothing to do with fighting or war against a blonde elitist pilot who must be in disguise in order to carry out his own personal revenge for the wrong done to his family. Amuro vs. Char, a combo remade too many times in each successive Gundam series that may look good on paper, but never approaches the original. In between both men are two women, Char’s distant sister Sayla Mass, who is close to Amuro, and the woman of mystery who flirts with the hearts of Amuro and Char, Lalah Sune. It is more than a rivalry of who is a better pilot, or for which side of the conflict they fight for. It is personal and full of blind angst that can’t be expressed except between two lost souls needing conflict to justify their existences. As Marshall McLuhan says “Violence as a Quest for Identity.” This is a bonafide soap opera.

msg_4And this is just another robot show? Well at least it was in 1979. Ratings were not too hot, but a certain group of fans caught on, very similar to original Yamato. And both would get a second chance in the theaters. My chance to experience original Gundam came after encounters with first Gundam Wing, which left me a little empty, and the first half of Zeta Gundam, which left me a little confused. I tried original Gundam next and I could not go back. Zeta Gundam made much more sense and I became a die hard fan of the Universal Century timeline with two conditions: first it has to be helmed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and two, it has to feature Amuro and Char. Gundam is not Gundam without these combinations for me similar to the way I see Macross as being the story of Hikaru, Misa and Minmei.

msg_5Of all the hype for Star Wars or the newest Gundam release, the original Mobile Suit Gundam will always stick out to me. Well Zeta Gundam is a love of mine as well, but there would be no Zeta Gundam without the original. Also no Macross as well, so it is to be said if Gundam never came out who would have known where or if my fandom would have occured. If you ask me where do you start with Gundam, I have only one answer. Start at the very beginning with the original Mobile Suit Gundam.

#27 : The Rose of Versailles

rov1I’ve got my cake and I am eating it too! The French Revolution was a time of insanity. Political overthrow, bloodshed and ideals permeated the landscape of 18th century France. Fast forward to 1970s Japan, mangaka Riyoko Ikeda would pen a story of love, politics and gender identity into this historic environment. Historically accurate, hardly, but a passionate soap operatic historic shojo masterpiece, indeed. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité live on forever and ever in The Rose of Versailles.

rov2The house of de Jarjayes is expecting a child. This military family of the commander of the Royal Guard expects, no, demands a son, but alas a beautiful baby girl is delivered instead. In haste General de Jarjayes demands that this child be raised as a boy instead, after all a male heir is crucial. This child christened Oscar Francois de Jarjayes (say it three times fast, isn’t French a sexy language? L’amour!) is our heroine and by the time she comes of age she becomes the guard for a future future queen of France, Marie Antoniette (a.k.a. spoiled brat). Who says being born into nobility or privilege is an advantage? There is always a price.

rov3Oscar without question has too be one of, if not the most honored, strongest and most well rounded female characters in anime or otherwise. And beautiful as well… flaunt that hair. And with issues as well, being forced to be a man, when she is definitely a woman and has natural feminine tendencies that cannot be repressed. Trans peeps you know what I am talking about! One of my favorite moments that highlight this idea was when Oscar went to a ball and rid herself of the military uniform to wear a gorgeous gown and have all her hair done up. She looked damn good, I remember cheering at the top of my lungs… Go girl go! And she stole the show at the ball and yet no one knew it was Oscar. After all Oscar is just a boyish soldier… yeah hardly.

rov4And of course there has to be love interests. The first being her childhood friend, a commoner, André. Now these two are one good looking couple, imagine the children if things could have been. Andre is genuine, honest and always supportive to the woman he loves. Contrast this to ‘Mr. Captain von Handsome’ himself (I need to trademark that), the blonde Swede aristocrat who also has feelings for Madame Oscar as well, Hans Axel von Ferson (actually a real person as well). He is also a decent soul, but the dude needs to decide Oscar or Ms. Antoniette (brat). Of course he has pedigree over André, but where does Oscar stand? You going with the nice country boy or the sophisticated suave dude?

rov5Production was done by the awesome TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and two directors held the high post of being in charge. Tadao Nagahama, who is noted for the Robot Romance Trilogy (great mecha!), began the series and in traditional fashion told a very straight forward and emotional story. Sadly at about half way through production, he would succumb to a fatal case of hepatitis leaving the director’s chair to go to one of the masters, Osamu Dezaki. With more intense lighting, triple takes and pastel stills in hand (all signature to Dezaki) the show became even more dramatic all the way to the tragic ending.  Osamu Dezaki equals genius (can you tell I am a fan?). From start to finish it is 40 episodes of win; a soap opera turned up to 11. All those who are nice get a little pushed over by those who are a bit too arrogant. Madame du Barry I am looking at you! I looked up bitch in the dictionary and there was a portrait of her… no surprise 😉

For those of you in Europe I am envious that you got this show amongst many others as well back in ye olden days. Icon may be the best word to describe The Rose of Versailles. But also yardstick as well. No show can equal it before or after and true there have been elements borrowed in other shows, but it’s not The Rose of Versailles. Great shojo or otherwise have to measure up to this gem. The Rose of Versailles est très belle et magnifique. J’temps beaucoups!