#210 : Take the X Train

If ever an anime made me scratch my head and go what in the world did I just watch, then Take the X Train is perhaps near the top of the list. Just exactly what genre is this OVA? It’s like a comedy and a suspense thriller and perhaps a horror flick(?) and I may be stretching it… a mecha production. Not so much piloting a robot, or cybernetics, but consider this concept… the combining of man and machine on a metaphysical as well as a physical level. Take the X Train is a ride you will never forget. ALL ABOARD!!

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100“This work is dedicated to the Jazz great, Duke Ellington,” proclaims the opening credits. A send up to one of his well known hits, Take the A Train, Take the X Train is not so much like the Duke in terms of style. Maybe more like Miles Davis in his more experimental works, or even better, Ornette Colemen, or Cecil Taylor. Why I say the later two is because while the plot is comprehensible, this anime is a free form piece of art, more like Free Jazz than the Duke’s sophisticated Big Band style. Do I love Jazz by the way? Oh yeah, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk I wear on my sleeve. Jazz is even used as the background music, bur only occasionally… hmm?

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 100Visually this is a very tasteful movie in the style of the already mentioned Jazz in pictures. The editing, design, everything seems to be to be like an art house film, not at all pristine and mainstream. This is not in the same vain as say Angel’s Egg, but maybe more like California Crisis: Gun Salvo (my opinion). Then a familiar name appears… actually make that two. First was the studio, Madhouse, who always makes anime with a little bit of edge and artsy flavor no matter the genre, or the director. The second is the director, a favorite of mine due to his visual narrative approach mixed with a little avant-garde attitude, Rintaro. His work is definitely an acquired taste; examples include: Space Pirate Captain Harlock, the Galaxy Express 999 films (GE999 and Adieu), Bride of Deimos, Dagger of Kamui, Harmeggeddon, and the Labyrinth section from Neo Tokyo.

XTrain_3Trains of course are at the focus of this OVA, as well as our main protagonist, Tour Ishihara. An average guy, though a bit goofy and kind of eccentric, Toru works for a company that is planning to revitalize and market a more retro attitude for the train market. One train is at the focus of this committee, which goes by EF 5861, a train that Toru thinks is a junk heap. Watch what you say my friend, as this train has a certain destiny that coincides with yours. In other news, one night after a fun time with his girlfriend (this was the most awkward love scene I have ever seen), Toru waits for the next train in a crowd when all of a sudden the lights go dark and sparks fly all over the atmosphere and in particular the tracks. Then passes a mysterious locomotive… could it be a ghost train…is this all for real? May I introduce our other main character, the X Train.

XTrain_4With no expectations coming in I was amazed I found another interesting gem of an OVA buried in the garden of lost anime titles. While a little bizarre, the artsy nature of Rintaro brought out a certain charm in Take the X Train, which is by the way based on a novel by Koichi Yamano (I give credit to fansub ending credits for this bit of info). The only thing I won’t miss are Toru’s twitching pulse and occasional nose bleeds; every time it always gives me the creeps. Now for a send off, check out Duke Ellington’s recording of Take the ‘A’ Train. It swings!

#195 : Bride of Deimos

Shojo + horror, or occult subject matter = yes indeed in my book. Be it CLAMP’s early work like Tokyo Babylon, or X, or 80s titles that range from the comedic, Tokimeki Tonight, or the dramatic, Vampire Princess Miyu, I enjoyed them all. Add to that the skills of Studio Madhouse and the director Rintaro with his use of color and imagery and I become even more tempted. Lastly, discovering a previously unknown one off OVA is always welcome. Three strikes and I am not far from out, but totality in… or perhaps I should say win. Let me introduce you to The Bride of Deimos.

BoD_1The underworld… a beautiful woman hangs while she slowly rots away tied to what appears to be a binding of thorns. Reminds me of the opening of The Rose of Versailles where Oscar was bound up just the same, though not in the manner of being crucified. Calling out to her lover Deimos, Venus desperately requires a new body to sustain her immortality. The ever androgynous bishonen figure of Deimos knows all to well this process as he has been through this many times before. And like any hunter, he works on his next prey, a high school girl named Minako Ifu, who is the physical reincarnation of Venus. Minako meanwhile has a friend who is currently into botany and both have an interest in the orchids at a local convention. Her friend soon visits one of the contestants homes who bloomed a very beautiful blue orchid to find out how they grow such beautiful flowers. Ever worried, Minako treks towards this home to find out what secrets are being kept all to the chagrin of Deimos.

BoD_2Reminiscent of the myth of Persephone where a young maiden is dragged down by the prince of darkness and the underworld, Hades, Bride of Deimos is filled with Greco-Roman re-interpreted myth. Deimos himself was the god of dread, a brother of Phobos, fear. Sounds very uplifting? This relationship of tempting the innocent girl to go down the darker path is often seen in many cultures, but Persephone‘s is the most familiar from my experience. Outwitting the Devil, temptation, or even death is very much true in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, where a knight is in constant struggle to stay one step ahead of Death himself by playing against the black angel in a game of chess. Minako is always outwitting Deimos, refusing his charms and even advice when he means well to keep her safe. Much like a guardian angel, Deimos is always on watch towards Minako and will save her every time she is in danger.

BoD_3Rintaros work always seems to bring controversy. He often puts so much effort into the visual storytelling that the plot often gets lost. In the bold colors, drastic lighting and occasional psychedelic madness that he is known for, Rintaro creates a mood that is often times closer to fine art than entertainment. His style is an acquired taste and works well with my palette, but I know others often mock his work. Something looked just right the moment I started Bride of Deimos and finding his name along with Studio Madhouse definitely rung out many ah-ha moments. Of course this was why this was an attractive anime for me! Added to the darker occult subject matter made this an even more tempting found prize. So many wonders and interesting material from the shojo end of the spectrum exist in plenty that I never knew before.

Even though many times we fear the dark, or the darker aspects of life, it is from those moments we start anew. Like a new moon in the middle of the night, light will return again for both the moons phase and the sky. Deimos may symbolize dread, but there is always a flip side to the so called negative we often label on quick judgement. Take a walk on the wild side if you will because every one deep down loves a bad boy who has a good heart. Could you be the next Bride of Deimos?

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.