#146 : Astro Boy (1980 TV Series)

AB80_1I bow down before thee, for you Astro Boy are the head patron saint of all anime. But wait, this is not the original version from 1963 that is often considered among the first modern anime to be conceived. No, this is not that version from 2003, nor that animated movie that was… umm… yeah. This telling of Astro Boy is like the middle child of the family, a reimagined version from 1980 that was under the full direction of it’s original creator, the man himself, Osamu Tezuka. I bow yet again. For this time round we present Astro Boy in FULL COLOR!, an upgrade from the black and white of the 1960s. So fancy! Heroes we look up to and admire come in all shapes, sizes and ages, but how many have the heart of an innocent child? Or even better, is an innocent child who is curious and sensitive to himself and everyone around him? Astro Boy is this and that’s why we fans love you!

AB80_2The character of Astro Boy… he is so cute and a lot like a stuffed animal. I just want to hug him and keep him safe from harm, but more than likely he will be the one protecting me instead. A mix of Superman, Frankenstein and Pinnochio that is rolled into an idealistic hope for the future, Astro Boy tells stories with an aesthetic originating in the 1950s/60s with animation advancements from 1980. We are in an idealized utopian world of the nuclear family, school days and good always triumphing over evil. Progress, optimism and the coming of advanced technologies spearheaded with science that includes a product that defines the show, robots. One of those robots is a young boy who was a clone of a boy who was tragically killed in an auto accident. The grief and guilt from the boy’s father led to the birth of our protagonist Astro Boy, which by the way, is the plot for the opening episode.

AB80_3The joy of Astro Boy is that really and truly is a show for children. And yes, it can also be enjoyed by the whole family, or even us youth minded adult types. The storylines for each episode are mostly simple to digest and easy to follow and often times you may be asking yourself, am I too old for this? And then the truth begins to shine from underneath, as is the magic of Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka’s humanitarianism and depth are renowned in every work he created, but it is in full display in Astro Boy. The bright colors and simple designs are just a package for the drama and lessons that each episode portrays. Nothing is held back, including at times the cost of one’s life. Astro Boy is a show with a high body count and often depicts some sort of sacrifice. The difference is that there is always a moral teaching behind everything. Tezuka does not lie to children and shows that loss and even death are a part of our lives and that violence is not always the answer. Tezuka’s Unico movies are of a similar caliber.

AB80_4Each episode is self contained so there is no overarching serialized story that comes to a final conclusion. The episodes featuring arch nemesis Atlas are the closest to a having a larger narrative and offers much in terms of drama. Atlas became my favorite character and his tragic story alongside his beloved Livian, brought much in terms of maturity and personal reflection. Many times anime portrays the villain, or antagonist, as a more appealing character than the hero; Atlas belongs with this grouping of classic beloved bad boys… and girls. On another note one special episode stands out. A crossover story, which features Tezuka alums Black Jack, Rock and Sapphire; a welcome treat for those of us who are fans of the ‘God of Manga’s’ work.

I whole heartedly recommend Astro Boy as a starter anime if you have young children. And for those of you who are full grown, such as myself and I am sure you as well, the 1980 version of Astro Boy is something of an oddity to consider if it crosses your path. Relive the 1950s/60s from the perspective of the 1980s in the current moment of whatever year you consider the present. In the end it’s all the same.

#144 : Bubblegum Crisis

BGC_1The year of 2032… Mega Tokyo… hey what happened to regular Tokyo?… all hell has broken loose with these so called Boomers trashing the place. These androids are even too much for the illustrious AD Police, even with all their firepower and sophisticated technology. I demand to see how much of the tax revenue is being spent for this organization. We must therefore have a need for a third party to aid in this scenario. Welcome to the ’Hurricane’ world of the Knight Sabers. A world where a quartet of armored young women are the best answer for peace and justice. A world known simply as Bubblegum Crisis.

So Bubblegum Crisis… it’s like Blade Runner with both the action intensity and sexiness turned way up high. Plus, get extra hairspray as this is the 80s; tease that hair kidos! I guess if one is to make their own anime homage to a Blade Runner-like universe, one must do it very LOUD! Make is sexy! Drop all that film noir moodiness and introspection and let the action tell the story. And for good measure why not add in a little bit of The Terminator, Batman and Streets of Fire for good measure. Plus why not also spice things up with a little sentai squad action, wearable mechanical armor and good looking characters via Kenichi Sonoda. Hmm, explosions and attractive people with a dash of cyberpunk for good measure, now I see why this OVA gained some notoriety. For a time Bubblegum Crisis defined what anime was for many fans, but as we all know, anime is so much more than just well animated hi-octane action stories.

BGC_2OK just who are these Knight Sabers exactly? A lingerie store owner, a motorcycle obsessed rock singer, an aerobics instructor and a junior member of the AD Police make up our heroic quartet. Interesting… just shows you don’t really know people that well outside the office. While their day jobs are quite ordinary, the Knight Sabers crime fighting skills are anything but. With the aid of skin tight wearable armor that aids in performance, these girls can kick some serious butt. Seriously! Kind of like Saint Seiya with super high end technology that has a more fetish like approach that could rival the robot designs from say The Humanoid? With high heels too! Gatchaman may have thigh high boots, but the Knight Sabers have stilettos. And it is these spike heeled suits that do the best damage against the Genom Corporation’s never ending renegade Boomer population. The AD Police try their best, but they often have a better role as spectators. The fighting style that the Knight Sabers employs reminds me a lot of Casshan… come to think of it he had a streamlined body suit too. Holy cow, where are all these references to other anime coming from?

BGC_3Bubblegum Crisis is perhaps the biggest creation of the studio AIC. Built on the bedrock of Megazone 23 and two other Sonoda designed entries, Wannabies and Gall Force, Bubblegum Crisis is AIC at it’s height. Perhaps these three previous entries led the way like stepping stones towards Bubblegum Crisis? Who can say, but everything was right and in place to bring the Knight Sabers to the OVA market, which by 1987 was really in high gear. Bubblegum Crisis is in many ways an original creation that is an homage to so many pop culture references. Fans of sci-fi and anime making their own anime their way.

BGC_4I know Bubblegum Crisis is beloved by many established fans and everyday is introduced to new ones via whatever method you choose to watch. I will say I like it, but I don’t get all the hype. Maybe because this was one of the best options back in the day as it was easy to come by and it spoke towards certain demographics. I will admit it’s a classic, animated very well (almost seems like each episode is a mini movie; late 80s OVA quality!) and a nice example of cyberpunk as a genre. As a piece of action entertainment Bubblegum Crisis is stellar, but for me at least it starts to wear down particularly in the later episodes. Still, it is fun and has a rockin’ soundtrack, can’t complain about that!

#121 : Appleseed

Appleseed_1AppleseedGhost in the Shell’s often over shadowed older sibling. What comes to mind when I think of Appleseed? A nice, simple and powerful title for sure… iconic. There was all that CG material made a few years ago that I found to be dull yet flashy and fancy, but still… dull (very boring, my opinion). Thankfully I was aware that the tree that sprouted all those CG apples bore fruit a couple decades earlier in a shorter and much more analog version created for direct to video. Appleseed beyond the original manga, and those CG projects (nails on a chalkboard), is for me an OVA from 1988 that beyond the action had a theme that made me think and is the reason I come back one more time, every time.

Appleseed_2Is it me, or does this OVA smell a lot like Blade Runner (as well as concepts from ancient Greek mythology)? Many a cyber punk story often quoted Blade Runner since that movie set a standard that still holds up today. Still… Appleseed really borrows a lot from the 1982 film: the setting although it seems to have more sunlight, a particular character’s name and the idea of cybernetic technology in co-existence with mankind. We have a tale of a dystopian utopia, our possible future, or perhaps an allegory on our current circumstances. A perfect, clean environment that still has problems and issues because with all the polish and brightness, the polarity of darker forces must exist to ensure balance… all told with a lot of firepower and action. Masamune Shirow how do you do what you do so well?

Appleseed_3Olympus, the setting of Appleseed, is a great example of the utopian safety bubble showing signs of cracking and discontent. An ideal world where only good and cleanliness exist is in truth ‘unnatural’, night must follow day and winter always comes after a summer. And as much as you grip for control and authority, there will always be elements that stand to defy the status quo that slip through the veritable cracks. This is after all, a post war environment, as outside the city limits of Olympus is a perpetual no-man’s land, a literal hell. Here many humans exist on the edge of survival. If they are ‘lucky’ they get rescued and with help and rehabilitation are brought into Olympian society to exist with the main biodroid population. Biodroids are manufactured to be human in appearance and fit into the regime of the Olympian landscape. Many of these rescued humans fit into this paradigm with no issue, while others perceive and/or even fight back against what they see as a cage, or perhaps, a prison.

Appleseed_4Three of these rescued humans play the biggest roles in this drama. Our protagonists Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires (who looks more robotic than human?) work for the state as police officers, SWAT to be specific, which allows them to use their guerrilla combat skills that kept them alive in the hinterlands outside of Olympus. They have conformed for the most part into the society of Olympus. These two are perhaps an early attempt for the likes of Major Kusanagi and Batou of Ghost in the Shell… maybe? The third member is also a fellow police man, one Calon Mautholos, who unlike Deunan and Briareos, see a different reality due to the depression and eventual suicide of his wife. She saw Olympus as a cage and this leads Calon to align himself with more shady characters. Such as the terrorist A. J. Sebastian (hmm… Blade Runner again?) who believes that the society and government of Olympus is controlling and corrupting the human population and distancing themselves from their more primal behaviors. Calon joins forces with Sebastian and tries to stay one step ahead of the dynamic duo of Deunan and Briareos, who are after Sebastian when he escaped from an earlier raid.

Appleseed questions reality and duty towards a state or cause almost to the same degree as say Patlabor 2: The Movie. Though not as sophisticated as Patlabor, Appleseed does a great service for a simple one off OVA. And even though this has one of the most extreme cases of adulting up an English dub, you can always watch the original Japanese, which features some well known classic cast members. With all the love, popularity and hype for Ghost in the Shell, I seem to resonate and return to Appleseed more often. How about you?

#119 : The Transformers: The Headmasters

Essentially this is a matter of deciding between A or B. 1987 would be a turning point and in way an ending for the original Transformers G1 storyline that began back in 1984. In the west we had The Rebirth, a three episode finale. Only three episodes to tie up everything and… and introduce another year’s toy line!? Hey Hasbro and Sunbow, way to go for being cheap! Now in Japan, Takara and Toei would create their own alternate series, The Headmasters, with a 35 episode length, which means more space for a story. Now that is more like it! My vote will be in favor of Japan on this one so this means it’s time to… Transform HEAD ON!!!

Warriors from deep space arrive during a climatic battle on Cybertron and in time, turn the tide for the everlasting war of The Transformers. The only thing is that these Transformers are not like others that have come before. They are two in number, one being the actual Transformer itself, of about human stature that transforms into a head that connects to a vehicle or animal that becomes the body… the Transtector to be more precise. A brand new concept for The Transformers, but a subtle variation of traditional mecha anime. This is for all intensive purposes a robot and it’s pilot, but with additional play mechanics for the toys. A brilliant idea! These are The Headmasters and this was their show as these characters, amongst others as well, slowly took over from the previous well known cast of heroes and villains.

And in style these previous generations of heroes go out in style. Fans demanded to have Optimus Prime back, but that architype had it’s day in the sun and in The Headmasters they let him heroically die again sacrificing himself for the greater whole. Blaster and Soundwave both die and resurrect into Twincast and Soundblaster, Ultra Magnus would fall sadly and Galvatron gets what is deserved for an evil tyrant. Rodimus and Kup voluntarily retire… WHAT!? But don’t fret we get to keep Wheelie and Daniel and Arcee becomes an almost surrogate babysitter to these two (now thats just not right boss). … Well now, I have to take back that all our old favorites part ways for the best pastures.

Now as for this new cast of Headmaster characters (say hey to Chromedome and Cerebros/Fortress), the Headmasters show delivers one key important feature over the Rebirth… mythology. The concept of a group of smaller Transformers retreating from Cybertron to land onto a strange planet (named… Master) to begin a new life is a little more interesting than just combining with humans on a whim. Survival becomes the order of the day and the creation of the Transtector body helps to turn the tide for these miniature Autobots and Decepticons. A revolution that sparks an evolution.

I often find criticism towards the The Headmasters questionable. When I first watched this series I had a little of a knee jerk reaction as The Headmasters follows a more traditional Japanese shonen adventure pattern. At the time it would seem to be sacrilege to view the Transformers with different sensibilities toward plot and particularly humor. Yet I still found this show very entertaining, but a recent rewatch helped to reopen my curiosity. Having familiarity towards anime in general will lessen this blow, but I know some folks who have watched this show are strict diehard Transformers fans and not into anime. The ideal would be to be a fan of both as you get the best of both worlds! … And yes the Omni production English dub that floats around is quite laughable in it’s interpretation, but don’t let that stop you from following through with this series. Give it a try with the original Japanese track and subs and then decide.

The beauty of The Headmasters is that it opens up an alternative view. If you want to finish off the classic G1 Transformers you can stick with The Rebirth trilogy, but you would be missing out on another point of view. I began this posting by saying this is a choice between A or B. A… B… ah well, which one? Or perhaps why choose at all, have both! Because in the end this is not so much choosing an option… more like having the official album and the sought after bootleg at the same time. Thank you Japan, Toei and Takara for The Headmaster… “Transform Dash!”

 

#112 : The Transformers: Scramble City

TFSC_1Now if that wasn’t a blatant toy commercial wrapped into the guise of an OVA, then I don’t know what is. Truth be told, I don’t mind because this OVA is for the original G1 Transformers. I grew up a fan of the transforming robot sci-fi epic and I am still loyal to ye olden tales of The Transformers (Autobot fan for life!). Yet this one off half hour entry was not on my radar screen back in the day. I had no idea it even existed, but as years passed I kept hearing about a story by the name of The Transformers: Scramble City. What makes this entry into the G1 saga so unique?

TFSC_2It is the year 1986, Hasbro In the west and Takara in Japan would unveil a new line of The Transformers for the upcoming year. The question would be how to promote this line prior to the third season of The Transformers cartoon (by the way if would be the second full season in Japan)? In America a huge blockbuster of a theatrical film was in the works and would be released in the summer. This film would not make it’s way to Japan until 1989, well past the lifespan of the first G1 timeline. Ironic since the film is crucial to the overall epic story of The Transformers. Yet Japan had another way to introduce the 1986 line. It would be a one shot direct to video release since the ever growing OVA market was blossoming.

The Transformers in Japan up to that point was only adapted material from America. The first two seasons were combined into the first series to be shown in Japan. Ironic how an original Japanese toyline would go to America, get adapted for that market and then return to it’s homeland with a different name (Diaclone and Microchange) to enjoy even greater success. Everything related to The Transformers in the realm of animation up to that point was western in origin, until Scramble CityThe Transformers are often categorized as anime, but the original G1 98 episode show technically is not. Yet Scamble City does count as anime since it was produced for the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM… any car enthusiasts out there?).

TFSC_3The story begins as a retelling of the beginning of the original TV series. Scenes from the first couple of episodes fly by into more contemporary scenes from what would be the second season. Optimus Prime and the Autobots are at a stalemate against Megatron and the Decepticons, a new strategy is needed. Now begins the original material where we see the Autobots building a large city type fortress. Now we meet a new character, Ultra Magnus, who is in charge of the construction. In essence this fortress is yet another character, remember Metroplex? Who knew that these two characters where on the scene before the plot of the movie?

TFSC_4Yet the construction of Metroplex is not the only main feature. The concept of how the toys play is also brought into the fore by the introduction to many of the famous gestalt combiners that include one robot as the body, two for arms and two for legs. A battle ensues near the end of the OVA (no surprise…) and one by one the Aerialbots, Stunticons, Protectobots and Combaticons become Superion, Menasor, Defensor and Bruticus. Sometimes certain members switched from arms to legs and at other times combined with different teams. Superion found that out the hard way! The OVA calls this ‘Scramble Power’, which is nice because we never had any cool naming conventions for the combining capabilities here in the west.

The Transformers: Scramble City was and still is a good little oddity in the G1 universe and is perhaps the most honest piece ever created for The Transformers. Just a simple toy commercial, but a very creative and longish toy commercial. Or perhaps it was a long lost episode for the second season here in America? We may never know…

#109 : The Transformers: The Movie

TF_movie_1Years before maturity and discovering talented filmmakers in the line of Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman, there was the seven, or perhaps eight year old version of me that was in love with what I considered… The Greatest Movie Ever Made! The Transformers was the hottest cartoon on TV and one of the hottest toys of the mid 1980s, but all of this fails in comparison to the awe, wonder and larger than life spectacle of the generically named The Transformers: The Movie. How do I feel about this movie after thirty plus years of watching… well, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it is still an important stepping stone and a fun experience.

TF_movie_2No matter what anyone says about The Transformers: The Movie, I admit the plot is cheesy, the characterization is generic and you can even say that it was a cheap ploy to dump the previous year’s line from toy shelves. But… you can’t deny that this film is gorgeous to look at. Vibrant colors, fluid motion and excellent drawing exudes quality. Right? Watch that introduction again with Unicron attacking the planet and tell me what you think. The TV show looked pretty good, but this film is, visually, a masterpiece. Of course it was animated at Toei and funded by Hasbro, so that is a good combination. In fact for the release date of 1986, it was a nicer looking film than the Fist of the North Star film… come on Toei, what about the local community? I suppose the American dollars from Hasbro helped… most likely.

TF_movie_3I see no reason in going over the plot as it is the simple Autobots vs. Decepticons fare, except with a new cast of characters voiced by many a famous name at the time. Does anyone remember Judd Nelson or Robert Stack? But the standout moments for me include Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime’s ascension to Autobot leadership, Megatron’s metamorphosis into Galvatron (so well animated), the introduction of the Quintessons and “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” “Don’t worry they’ll reciprocate.” Of course the big issue of this movie was the fact that characters died… brutally. Why is is that here in the west we have to hide death and impermanence from children? After all, we would be a greater society if we wouldn’t hide this stuff under the rug. STOP TELLING LIES TO CHILDREN!

TF_movie_4Now did I cry over Optimus Prime’s death? Not that I remember, but I did feel loss. I even then accepted the fact that the great leader had to sacrifice for a newer generation. I for one have nothing against Hot Rod for jumping in to help out, and some fans don’t like Roddy, but I really do like the kid… one of my all time favorite Transformers in fact (I see a bit of me in him). Optimus would have the most heroic of heroic deaths and went out with honesty and integrity, unlike his some of his fellow Autobots like Ironhide, who groveled for mercy, or Prowl, who belted out smoke and fire (yowzers). Yet nothing compares to the death of the king of backstabbers, Starscream. Perhaps one of the best characters ever in The Transformers, Starscream would get his just desserts in perhaps the most violent shooting I have ever witnessed. “Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?”

What I find ironic about this movie and even to a small extent the original G1 totality, is how much it is not recognized in the general popular culture. The Transformers are now known the world over in the guise of various re-imaginations. Every generation has ‘their’ show or movie to call ‘their’ own. But what of the original source material? Much like other subjects, you can never really know the whole truth unless you go all the way back to the beginning. Perhaps I am just settled in my ways as an old G1 fan. Still with any franchise or knowledge for that matter, you have to dig into the past to find true perspective in anything.

TF_movie_5In the end I have seen The Transformers: The Movie more times than I care to count. I am sure I will watch it again, but due to ingrained repetitions, I can recite the entire film blindfolded and with plugged ears… maybe. It is generic, slightly dated and fodder for a lot of nostalgia for some of us, but in the end again… it is a great film to look at. Hand drawn animation at one of it’s finest hours and a fun flick to share with friends, some popcorn and maybe even show a tear at times. It was the cornerstone of my childhood and a long lasting influence that exists into the present. The Transformers: The Movie still has ‘the touch‘ 🙂

“Till All Are One”

#107 : Cyborg 009 (1966 movie)

Cyborg 009 equals the epitome of ‘Old School’. Or, perhaps that is a mistranslation; I prefer ‘Old is Cool’. Because with age comes wisdom, or so I keep telling myself as I keep adding up solar cycles and still retain the heart and soul of my youth. A product of the 1960s, Cyborg 009 reflects the era with the rise and hope of big technology, growing social equality and Cold War politics. Cyborg 009 represents a story about brand new heroes in a (once long ago) modern age heading towards an uncertain future.

C009_movie_1Many adaptations of this Shotaro Ishinomori manga have see the light of day, but this film from 1966 was the very first time the cyborg soldiers of Professor Gilmore came to life on a screen brought to you by the great old studio, Toei Animation. The story begins simply with a young race car driver, Jo Shimamura, becoming involved in a nasty crash (knife in a tire, yikes!) and is subsequently hauled off in a mysterious ambulance. He soon awakens to find he now has incredible powers, including an ability to run extremely fast, and new clothes as well (I like the new threads man). Jo has had cybornetic enchantments and is now known as Cyborg 009 (you are the star of the show my friend, hooray), a tool for the evil counter organization Black Ghost (great name). 009 also meets eight other cyborgs, his new fellow comrades, who rebel against Black Ghost in the name of justice and freedom. An uprising ensues as the team of nine cyborgs kidnap Professor Gilmore and escape.

C009_movie_2Often Cyborg 009 can be seen as Japan’s version of the X-Men. Yet I see them as one of the great early examples of a sentai squad. Ishinmori should know that concept very well as he is the creator of the Super Sentai live action genre. But then again, I see the cyborgs as a reinvention of family. There is a tight bond between these nine individuals and even though they all come from different countries, ethnicities and backgrounds, they fight together and care for each other. Very forward thinking and yet perfect for the 1960s and even today to show that no matter who you are, or where you are from, we are all brothers and sister of the human race. It’s the formation of the greater family you can build when you embrace diversity and individuality. We all have a role and a part to play to help the greater good, it’s just all of us lack the technological enhancements of our brave nine heroes.

C009_movie_3There are a few oddities I caught from this release compared to the more popular, or better known releases of Cyborg 009. First, 009, is clad in white while the others have their uniforms in purple. All except 003, she gets to be closest to most adaptations with a pinkish shade of the standard red. And red is also the color of her hair, instead of the usual flaxen hue I am used to. Do blondes have more fun? Not this time around, it’s all about the auburn. And for some reason 007 (who is British, love the James Bond in joke) is portrayed as a kid. These characteristics are also carried into the second film, Cyborg 009: Monster Wars (on my radar to find) and the first TV series of 1968.

C009_movie_4Though the art style might be archaic to our more modern eyes and honestly this may not have been the most sophisticated film made at the time, Cyborg 009 makes up for it with pure fun. This feels like a period television series amped up just slightly, including cinemascope widescreen (fancy), that still retains much of the simple limited animation used during the era. Think Astro Boy and Speed Racer as a frame of reference. Yet it is a very attractive movie with bold colors and designs. If you are looking for a basic starter into Cyborg 009, this movie is a great option as it is action packed and about an hour long. Plus you’ll get to experience Cyborg 009 during the time of it’s genesis with all the hope, innocence and at times cheesiness that made the 1960s so great. For without the likes of Cyborg 009Speed Racer, or Astro Boy, we would not have the fruits of all the great animation that we treasure today. Thank you Cyborg 009 and thank you Shotaro Ishinomori.