#216 : Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light

Technology has fallen… society has collapsed. Retrograding to a more medieval type of life, the people of the planet of Prysmos adjust to a more ‘primitive’ existence. Cars and high rise skyscrapers have ‘evolved’ into horse and buggy and fortified castles and the once beloved technologies that many of us in our modern world are dependent on has been superseded by another form of wonder, the wonder of magic. As the intro states, “Those who control the magic, control destiny. They are the Visionaries.” A short run toy show that was and still is one of my favorite Saturday morning pastimes. Behold Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

Vis_01Sunbow, the once fabled production studio has created many propaganda toy shows that at their hearts were to promote mainly the products of Hasbro. Yet somehow with Sunbow, the shows are in my opinion more superior than the toys. They take on a life of their own as a whole world is created around each toy line and supersedes the predominantly plastic creations with an organic mythology. Am I interested in collecting vintage Hasbro lines? No, I prefer to watch The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem and the Holograms and the little brother from 1987, Visionaries. An action figure line that also included holographic elements… magical light!

Vis_02Truth be told I did have two of the holographic chest plated figures as a child, Leoric and Arzon. Those two have since left my existence, but the show where both of these gentlemen originated is still a part of my viewing rotation. The plot is a simple one of two factions, the Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords, who either uphold justice, or raise trouble on the planet Prismos. Yet there is also a third wheel as well, a neutral maverick, the wizard Merklin, who gave each Knight and Lord their specific magic. He is almost like a dungeon master from the veins of Dungeons and Dragons who sets the mood and pace periodically and is perhaps the most valuable character to the whole plot.

Vis_03What makes Visionaries so great is that for only a 13 episode run you get some of the most bang for your buck in terms of an 80s cartoon. Every episode has it’s merit! Why is this so? Mythology and interesting characters, simple. The world of Visionaries is much like more Earth based sci-fi like Vampire Hunter D, or Fist of the North Star. Mix this with a strong medieval themes and you get something a little different from the era. Almost like Aura Battler Dunbine without the robot mecha… though Visionaries does have a couple vehicles that can qualify as a type of mecha. … or maybe if one mixed LEGO’s Classic Space and Castle themes together?… Each character has their own personality archetype which adds to the plot line and is reminiscent of the first initial seasons of say The Transformers, or G.I. Joe when everything was small and simple.

Vis_04Then there is the presentation which is very polished. Visually we have to thank a Japanese studio for the grunt work of creating the ocular quality that is present in Visionaries. Take a guess which studio got the job? It’s a personal favorite of mine… TMS, Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Yet again we have another cartoon which got to use the talents of this studio and trust me it will not be the last time we hear from them again. TMS after all was contracted from time to time well into the 1990s. Could Sunbow have used TMS for The Transformers, or G.I. Joe, or Jem instead of relying on Toei and AKOM? Maybe, but no need to argue over what has passed.

When it comes to toy shows, there are plenty that filled the landscape of 1980s popular culture. Many new heroes and villains often came out of nowhere and sparked the imagination of a particular generation. Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light was among this crowd and is sadly in the more cult status position due to the limited run. This was a solid action adventure that still showcases the previously mentioned great stories and visual treatments. Yet there was also voice acting too as actors made these characters come to life in many ways. Can Visionaries be one of the best Saturday Morning Cartoons of all time? I vote YES!

#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”.