#202 : Fist of the North Star 2

Legends never die, heroes are immortal… with all that in mind, let’s have a sequel! Considered the genesis point of shonen fighter that defined the genre we know today, Fist of the North Star was as much evolutionary as it was revolutionary. The epic tale of the wandering martial artist Kenshiro has only just begun after the conclusion of the 1984 TV series. A film adaptation would follow in 1986 and a multitude of reboots have abounded ever since. Yet in 1987 a true sequel, or perhaps continuation was released to TV. Familiar faces have returned and new foes await in Fist of the North Star 2. Are you, “A tough boy (or girl)” that knows what it means to be “livin’ in the 90s”?

FotNS2_1Round Two! Now then, is this going to be nothing more than just a wash, rinse and repeat series almost as if the first Fist of the North Star never ended? I thought the battling was over; Raoh was defeated and peace was brought back to the land. Didn’t Ken and Yuria get to live happily ever after and settle down, build a house, raise a family, etc.? Not completely. Three truths exist in life: death, taxes and shonen fighters are often never over even when it is over. Just add yet another arc again and again and again if the going is good. So don’t expect nothing new in terms of what you have seen before, well except for the characters we meet during this 43 episode sojourn.

FotNS2_2Let us now return to more familiar names. Kenshiro is obvious, this is his show after all, but two faces you may not recognize completely are Bat and Lin. During the first series they were both young children who were often under the care of Kenshiro like a surrogate father. For Fist of the North Star 2, Bat and Lin reunite and fight along side Kenshiro as they have grown into adulthood. A true surrogate family reunion. Many new quests include finding the Celestial Emperor, a journey to the Island of Asura and the distant memories as well as the ever powerful influence of the once mighty Raoh still permeate throughout the land. In usual fashion, Kenshiro ends up wanting to go it alone eventually, feeling he is the one with the cross to bear the heavy load. Oh yeah… and can you believe it… Lin has a twin sister too?

FotNS2_3I have remarked in the past how I appreciate the type of protagonist Kenshiro is. He may be ripped and very masculine, but his quiet and caring demeanor (towards those who are just and kind) and ability to move, or fight, when the time is right is more an aspect of the feminine. He is well balanced, the definition of yin and yang in harmony, but there is more that makes Fist of the North Star appealing outside of the fighting. While Mad Max and Bruce Lee are obvious visual influences there were a couple others that I noticed watching this sequel series in particular. Fist of the North Star is the ultimate lone wolf samurai story, or put another way, perhaps the best Western ever told not in the Wild West. This is totally a Spaghetti Western in every way, but for the fact that Fist of the North Star is a Japanese cartoon about the martial arts. I prefer the cartoons (obviously) 😉 … Who needs cowboys anyway?

… and then wouldn’t you know it, about halfway through the series we do encounter cowboys.

FotNS2_4You can have too much of a good thing. I enjoy Fist of the North Star overall, but in all honesty I was getting a little tired getting through this second series. It’s a great sequel, but like many shonen fighters I often wonder when they will ever end. This second series in many ways can be considered like Dragon Ball Z to the original Dragon Ball in that for both franchises we are just moving into an evolved portion of the plot that takes place years later. After all these years I will be the first to say that after all this fighting, Ken please consider retiring. You must be tired and you have earned your time to relax my friend. But Ken as he is will most likely never retire as he is always on some sort of a journey.

By the way… even though the opening sequence said everyone was fightin’ and livin’ in the 90s… Fist of the North Star 2 didn’t look much like the 90s that I remember. Oh well, maybe I was not livin’ I guess. 😉

#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”.

Special : Streets of Fire

Hold on… have I seen this movie before? Of course I have, it’s Streets of Fire and there’s my DVD copy over there on that shelf. Yet this is not what I am asking initially. So many scenes, moments and characters all seem very familiar, yet I am not talking about Streets of Fire the movie. In the 1980s, within the framework of Japanese animation, Streets of Fire, like many other cultural emblems of the era, would find it’s way into many productions as either parody, reference, or even a total recreation of the story itself. This cult film dismissed by the mainstream would find an unexpected audience outside its native land to become an aesthetic icon that colored many anime of the mid to late 1980s.

SOF_1Truth be told I doubt I would ever watched Streets of Fire if I didn’t keep bumping into it time after time while watching classic anime. And as this is a site dedicated to anime I am not going to review this movie too much in detail. It’s labeled as a “Rock and Roll Fable”, a musical of sorts and in my eye borrows heavily from the 1950s. That is if society was a post apocalypse set in the 1980s where everything around you is from the decade of Eisenhower. And much like a western, this is a tough time where street gangs hold power that even the cops can’t deny. Streets of Fire is the prototypical story of the kidnapped princess who can only be saved by an outsider who is brave enough to stand up against this menace.

The influence of Streets of Fire can be seen in many anime from the 1980s. I can identify three that I have some first hand knowledge of, but if you have others to contribute please do. Now let us examine our three examples: Megazone 23 (Part 1), Bubblegum Crisis and Zillion: Burning Night

SOF_M23Megazone 23’s reference to Streets of Fire is an obvious one, yet it does not quote scenes from Streets of Fire at all. Early on in the OVA when protagonist Shogo Yahagi meets up with a group of friends, they go to the cinema to watch a movie. Guess which movie? It’s even labeled on the outside marquee. The scene is short and is part of a longer sequence displaying the quartet’s night out on the town. Still, Streets of Fire is ever present and must have been a favorite film at the time of production for certain crew members. This inclusion helps to solidify the time period of Tokyo for Megazone 23 , the mid-1980s, which according to the vocalic Eve Tokimatsuri, was the most peaceful time in history. Really?

SOF_BGCNext we move to Bubblegum Crisis , which by and large has a majority of influence from Blade Runner in terms of setting, story and renegade androids. Yet Streets of Fire will show its influence as well. The opening scene where we see crowds pour into a nightclub to see the band Priss and the Replicants (very Blade Runner) play has Streets of Fire written all over it. This mirror’s Streets of Fire opening where we see the concert of returning local star Ellen Aim. Even the songs from both productions have the same tempo and attitude. Take your pick which is the better song as both are great: Bubblegum Crisis’ “Konya wa Hurricane” vs. Streets of Fire’s “Going Nowhere Fast“. Priss even wears an outfit in red and black, just like Ellen Aim!

SOF_ZillionThe most unapologetic anime to cover Streets of Fire is the follow up OVA from the television series Zillion, Zillion: Burning Night. An almost complete remake from the ground up, the Burning Night OVA screams Streets of Fire more than both the original TV series, or even the Sega Master System games. Shot for shot, the plot is nearly identical from the opening concert, to the abduction of the damsel and then the subsequent rescue. Of course the story varies just slightly as we have to accommodate the cast of Zillion, including turning the alien Nohza into human characters. I had seen Burning Night prior to Streets of Fire and this was were I kept saying to myself, “Wait a minute, haven’t I seen this before.”

Three examples and possibly more as well show that a movie from another time and another place can have an impact on the animation we love. Streets of Fire is more than a cult movie, it is a close distant cousin to Japanese animation. Such is the joy of pop culture… wash, rinse, repeat and copy what works for you.