#209 : SilverHawks

Now this may just be me, but these pre-intro trailers really spoil the plot of each episode! … Are you a hardcore 80s cartoon fan? Several 80s creations have had life outside the decade either by nostalgia, reinvention, or a combination or the two. Many more exist as rumors, or more like a secret code that big kids like us never grow tired of. I pull a couple DVDs off the shelf and after gazing at the covers remember many things, but will they still hold up in terms of entertainment? Fun, adventure and deep space science fiction on today’s episode of The Classic Anime Museum… with… SilverHawks.

SH_11986… September 8, a Monday afternoon… If I am doing my math right I was in the beginning stages of the second grade in my elementary school years when a new cartoon would catch my eye. If memory serves me correctly I had anticipated the arrival of the SilverHawks for a couple of weeks knowing that it was created by the same folks behind ThunderCats and it was set in space this time. Seven year old me was drooling at the mouth as SilverHawks would become one of my favorite shows at the time hitting crucial buttons of joy. Cyborg soldiers, “partly metal, partly real” who act like the new sheriffs in town who take on the criminal gang of Mon-Star. And those SilverHawks were buff as all hell, true hard bodies. Do you remember the workout videos featuring Tamilee Webb? Buns of Steel, Abs of Steel, etc.…Yeah that sounds like the SilverHawks to me!

SH_2Sci-fi obsessed as we were in the 1980s, SilverHawks was very typical of depicting a future with high technology, space travel and alien encounters. Star Wars looked to be a huge influence, but also the American comic book hero character. Though based on a toyline, SilverHawks exudes the Marvel and DC type of characters who work as a team: X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Justice League. And while I am sure anime influence may not have been top on the listing I can compare the SilverHawks to sentai groups like Gatchaman, or more appropriately to the cyborgs of Cyborg 009. Once completely human both the cyborg soldiers of Cyborg 009 and the SilverHawks have been enhanced to become the ultimate fighting machines. Of course for Cyborg 009 this was done outside the characters’ wills for a criminal organization. These nine would rebel to fight against their creator. SilverHawks featured volunteers who fight for justice and peace and all the usual American apple pie sort of things that in reality is not always the picture perfect truth.

SH_3Every show needs some sort of identity markers from logo and typography, toys, characters, plot points and even a mascot at times. For SilverHawks the concept of mascot became legendary with the cybernetic enhanced Tally-Hawk. How many times did I want his talons to grip my forearm as I stare into his eyes; such a beautiful bird. Hawks and birds of prey in general have always been a personal favorite for me. The elegant grace, power and intensity of these birds are truly beautiful. While SilverHawks featured many characters from the heroic, to the diabolical, to the sly and even the goofy, none compare to Tally-Hawk whose only dialogue was a screech that said more than the length of a Russian novel. If Tally-Hawk was a Pokemon, I choose you!

SH_4Like many other Rankin/Bass titles, the design and pre-production was done in the U.S. while the heavy lifting of paint and pen ended up with a Japanese studio. In the case of the mid-1980s this was Pacific Animation Corporation. Though this show may not technically be anime in name it is certainly in spirit. Watch the opening credit sequence as an example. With ThunderCats lightning struck in a bottle in terms of success and in many ways SilverHawks would ride that wave as a sort of phase two. Does this show still hold up for me today? Yes and no. The early episodes still hold merit in my fandom, but the overall mythology lacks the breadth of ThunderCats and often times SilverHawks is a one trick pony that repeats itself. Yet as a single ride pony show it still is fun, in short bursts… “Ya know what I mean.” … a little nod to you Seymour 😉

#163 : Frosty the Snowman

FtSM_1According to this calendar right in front of me it’s December and it is yet that time of year when many of us get ready for that holiday known as Christmas. While many of us get a little cynical at this time of year due to all the high amounts of stress, the over spending, or eating a little too much, we often over look a basic fundamental. The daylight is short and it’s colder outside for us in the northern latitudes (I envy you all in the southern hemisphere), but… but there is still something to look forward to on the near horizon. I myself don’t technically celebrate Christmas anymore, yet I am still within the festivities (I prefer to see it as the Winter Solstice), I still love and treasure Christmas cartoon standards like Frosty the Snowman and I feel no matter how you celebrate this time of year, Frosty’s story can inspire all of us to try yet again.

FtSM_2It all started with a simple song about a snowman who came to life all with the help of a magical hat. Recorded originally by Gene Autry and Jimmy Durante and re-recorded by nearly everyone you can name under the sun, Frosty the Snowman is a playlist staple during this time of year. Yet there is also the animated cartoon brought to us from Rankin/Bass from way back in 1969 to enjoy as well. Wow!, this makes Frosty 50 years old this year and he still does not look like a day older than… how old was Frosty anyway? A newborn? After all, he just came to life one day from a magic silk hat picked up by a bunch of kids during recess. Just a throw away item from a supposed magician whose rabbit sidekick has infinite times more talent than him. Yet this mean old magician wanted that hat back after seeing the potential of bringing a snowman to life. Tisk tisk. “It isn’t yours anymore, you threw it away!”

FtSM_3The story is a simple travel adventure with Frosty, Hocus Pocus (the previously mentioned rabbit and my favorite character!) and Karen (one of the children from the school) making their way from their little modest town all the way to the North Pole to see Santa Claus… who else! The North Pole of course is a cold place year round with lots of snow, so it makes a perfect habitat for a naive and jovial snowman. Plus Santa Claus will be his neighbor, always a bonus. They run into a cop who swallow a whistle, get chewed out from the train ticket attendant for not having any money and are always one step ahead of that mean old magician. Give up the hat man, it didn’t go with your complexion anyway. Will our heroic trio make it to the North Pole? Will they meet Santa?

FtSM_4Now for the fun part… just what is Frosty the Snowman’s connection to the Japanese animation industry? Rankin/Bass for years have used several studios in Japan for a majority of their work and Frosty is no exception. A studio by the name of Mushi Production would hold the honor of doing the heavy work of making Frosty come to life.… so it wasn’t just the magic hat after all, hmm? Mushi Production was Osamu Tezuka’s original studio that turned out many a classic like the 1963 version of Astro Boy, 1965’s Kimba the White Lion and 1967’s Princess Knight and even the adult gothic film that put the studio into backruptcy, Belladonna of Sadness. Frosty the Snowman, even though considered an outsource job, is a good cousin to what we call anime.

A film I am sure we have all seen 1,000 times and perhaps may get another 1,000 views into our near futures, Frosty the Snowman connects us with what we love about the winter. It is a time to reflect, remember and contemplate on where we have been through out the year, yet it is also a time to start new into a new year, the future. Winter is a like a bridge and sure as clockwork Frosty the Snowman will be a part of of our winter festivities and traditions for generations to come as it has for generations in the past. No matter how you celebrate, have a great winter and holiday everyone!

#129 : ThunderCats

I want to look at ThunderCats without any nostalgia pretense. No rosy glasses and no holding the show on a pedestal because it was a part of my youth. I will most likely slip up and that is ok, but let’s see what happens. Once upon a time ThunderCats was one of those cartoons that was as familiar as breathing. It was popular, major popular. It was one of my favorite shows and an enjoyment each afternoon I got back home from school. Still, can ThunderCats still hold up today without any pretense? I have a one word answer, YES!

tcats_1Rankin/Bass was a production studio that defined entertainment for many of us. Many of the classic Christmas specials, movies like The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit and Flight of Dragons and various TV projects hold your definition of how Rankin/Bass has left it’s mark on you. As a six year old in 1985 and interested in sci-fi and adventure I found a little show by the name of ThunderCats and this series became my definitive personal definition of Rankin/Bass. I was well aware of many of the previous examples as well, yet ThunderCats struck a chord and in a sea of many new and fresh shows during the decade of the 1980s ThunderCats is one of a few shows that have had staying power in my life and hopefully yours.

tcats_2So what keeps ThunderCats relevant all these years later? The mythology, the world building and the characters. This was an original show, as after all this was an action, sci-fi, fantasy tale where the heroes are cat-like humans. I love CATS! Classic designs and characters. Yet ThunderCats is also a great mix of what is already known and an amalgam of the ‘Heroes Journey’. A mix of 80s anime aesthetics, traditional American superhero team sensibilities, Arthurian Legend elements, a Tolkien-esque world of various life forms and terrains and one of the most powerful opening sequences demonstrate the beauty and strength of this show. It’s HUGE! It’s also organic. So why is ThunderCats great? Simple. It’s a living and breathing legend that sustains itself.

tcats_3So ThunderCats is the perfect cartoon then? Well, not really. It all depends on one’s attitude. Some characters can get annoying, certain plot points can be a bit over the top and with the second season there became way too many characters in my opinion. But again, this is a cartoon, so sit back and relax. One could complain about a number of other things, but a TV show should not be one. Just take what you can from the experience and you will find in the end, it all fits together. Like one big family were everyone has a particular role to play in the grand scheme of things. Plus, as the show progresses we become more aware of the mythology and history of both Thundera and Third Earth.

tcats_4With all the reboots of ThunderCats of more recent times, I have not given them much consideration. The original show did it so well and with integrity that I never found a reason to watch an alternative. ThunderCats was well written, voice acted brilliantly and animated beautifully. One of the best looking and consistent in regards to all forms of production for the era of the mid 1980s. There are some shows you look back on from when you were young and you can ask yourself what did I see in this? Yet ThunderCats has stayed with all of us as it is simply timeless. The setting, music, vernacular, syntax and storylines used are beyond the idea of time. Besides being the great old fashioned painted cel, analog, style of animation, nothing can really paint ThunderCats as being ‘old’.

On a final note, ThunderCats is a ‘sexy’ show… everybody was ripped, wore skin tight costumes and were just perfect ideals like ancient Greco-Roman statues. This was a ‘kid’s’ show? Then again in the 80s, a lot of shows were ‘sexy’. Look at He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Jem and the Holograms as examples. Perhaps this is yet another reason why these shows still resonate with our adult eyes, it’s ‘sexy’. … I can’t keep a straight face anymore 🙂