#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.

#97 : Armored Trooper Votoms

Votoms_1Armored Trooper Votoms in a certain frame of reference may be the greatest mecha anime of all time. And I say that again as a certain frame of reference since this may not be everyone’s idea of where mecha shows should tread. Several shows before and since have dived deep into realms of gritty military life and, or psychological science fiction, but nothing equals Votoms in terms of it’s presentation of both. This is a tale about a singular battle scared man coming to terms with his life and humanity in the dire of constant combat, but Votoms is also, perhaps, one of the most underrated love stories as well.

Votoms_2The year of 1983 brought many classic mecha shows to us and in particular the so-called real robot aspect of the genre. Sunrise would produce three gems: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s (Gundam dude) Aura Battler Dunbine, Takeyuki Kanda’s Galactic Drifter Vifam and Ryosuke’s Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms. Mecha shows by this time had grown into a wealth of expression and many of the best had strong leanings towards space opera. Examples such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Yamato and Gundam all left influence on many shows in the early 1980s. These are prime examples of classic heroism and this is definitely not the world Armored Trooper Votoms. Votoms is more akin to the noir drama of Blade Runner, the esoteric sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Vietnam War grit of Apocalypse Now. Votoms is a story of the hunted outcast searching for his purpose, not that of a perfect hero.

Sergeant Chirico Cuvie, a former member of the deadly Red Shoulder brigade, is a man on the run. Despite his stint in Gilgamesh’s Melkian army during the great war of the Astragius galaxy against the Balarant, Chirico finds life on the run just as difficult. During a mysterious last minute final assignment, Chirico becomes aware of a great secret. After interrogation and being left for dead, Chirico runs to find peace and safety. The only problem is everywhere he goes he can’t escape the proverbial battlefield. All Chirico wants to know is what the secret operation he was involved in was all about, who the secret organization behind the operation is, to have both Gilgamesh and Balarant off his back and… most importantly… who this mysterious beautiful woman that is so linked to his destiny is and why is it that he feels so attracted to her (Duh!… she is pretty and loyal to you).

Votoms_3The grit of militarism exudes not just in the story and politics, but also in the designs of the mechs themselves. The AT Scopedog is a timeless design for not being flashy, cool, or futuristic. The Scopedog is a basic run of the mill tank or army Jeep brought into the world of piloted robots. Clunky, functional and a nasty shade of green, the Scopedog is an antithesis to say a Gundam, or Valkyrie fighter (Macross). Ironically, the simple build quality of Scopedogs are fitting within the culture of model building since Chirico himself many times during the show either rebuilds, or modifies, several mechs. Yet there is one characteristic of a Scopedog that is distinctive… those roller skate type feet which allow them to roll on the ground. Of course this helped in production of the animation by keeping the drawing minimal at times, but still… it’s kind of fun!

Votoms_4The structure of the show is in four successive stages, or arcs and each one builds on the previous. The DVDs I have separate neatly into these so called movements: we begin in the streets of Uoodo (very Blade Runner), move into the jungles of Kummen (Apocalypse Now), and finish with the planets Sunsa and Quent (2001). Like an onion you slowly peel away the drama and suspense and end up in a world you never thought was possible when you first started. Uoodo was fun, Kummen was intense, Sunsa is my favorite for how dark and psychological it became and Quent turns everything on it’s head and then some.

Many times I write about anime from memory alone, or after I seeing something ‘new’ to me, I have to speak about it within a quick turnaround. Then there are times when the urge to dive back into the entirety of a show is most necessary. Votoms needed a re-watch and having seeing it with half fresh eyes, I can’t discount this masterpiece. After all… I am comparing this show to two live action movies that I highly respect and love, 2001 and Blade Runner. Perhaps I needed to grow into this show and now was the time to recognize Votoms brilliance.

… this could be Grey Digital Target’s soul brother and I love that movie too.

#96 : GoShogun

If you wish it, it will come! Ever since I fell in love with an OVA from 1985 by the name of GoShogun: The Time Étranger, I had a yearning to see the original 1981 TV series. For a long time I had two options: raw episodes or the odd adaptation of Macron 1. I tried the raw and got through five episodes, but had to concede defeat. No fansubs to be found and no official releases anywhere… and then like a gift from the cosmos, perhaps it was Beamler energy (will explain later), an official release here in North America would materialize. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… ZERO! Let’s watch some Sengoku Majin GoShōgun.

Goshogun_1As stated before this has been a long time coming and if it was not for Time Étranger I doubt I would have cared to even watch this show. Although I love mecha shows from the late 70s/early 80s, my main reason to finally see this show was not the action, nor the sci-fi, nor the GoShogun robot (which by the way, is a nice looking design). My reason was the main cast of six characters I fell in love with in the OVA. And while that OVA was a dark character study steeped in suspence, the original television show is mostly light hearted fare sprinkled with times of satirical reference and the occasional moment of seriousness.

Goshogun_2Our heroes known as Good Thunder include a group of three heroes who come from unheroic circumstances. One is a spy who failed in her mission and was sentenced to death (Remy Shimada). Another is a tough guy with a warrant on his head who covered for a crime of a friend (Killy Gagley). And the last, a former soldier whose wife was killed on the day of the wedding (Shingo Hojo). These three are brought on board the Good Thunder (also the name of a ship) by way of the mysterious Professor Sabarath (absent from the OVA) to protect the ship’s precious ‘cargo’ and pilot the robot GoShogun. Not your usual group of heroes, but then again who says you need experience to pilot a super robot? Sabarath also brings on board a young boy, Kenta Senada, who’s destiny is linked with this ‘cargo’ (reminds me slightly of GaoGaiGar).

Goshogun_3Now for that  ‘cargo’, it is called Beamler energy (told you I would explain this). Beamler allows teleportation and becomes the McGuffin device for the so-called evil empire of Docouga with their three second in commands (a bishonen snob, a big lug and a pill popping pirate type). Beamler though is evolutionary and changes with time and this lays influence into the story line. Sometimes Beamler is stabile, sometimes beyond unstabile and all the time, it is a great mystery of the beautiful universe we live in. But for my money, the big attraction so to speak is always in the appearance of the GoShogun robot, or it’s three component that join with the robot to complete it. Not only do Shingo’s King Arrow, Killy’s Jack Knife and Remy’s Queen Rose have the ability to join Goshogun, but these three also unite into another robot the Try-Three. And while Shingo is the so-called main leader of this Getter Robo like trio, it is Madame Remy who gets the control board when united as the Try-Three. I bet the original toyline was fun to play with! 😀

Goshogun_4By 1982 a compilation movie would emerge and is worth tracking down to serve as a nice sip of tea into the mythology of this show and it served the purpose of a minor stopgap before taking on the whole show. Seeing the entirety of Goshogun gave me such a smile on my face, but alas, a smile is ephemeral and I must soldier on to more anime. And yet… it is such a feat to see something you yearned for so badly that became a part of your universe. The once impossible hole for viewing Goshogun is no more and I happily display the DVD with all the other Goshogun artwork and Time Étranger releases I have collected over these years. Now to find a space and time to re-watch it all over again!

‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the My world’