#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’

#89 : Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos

MRRoC_1I want more robot fun like classic Transformers! Not all these reboots, or rebrands. Just give me some good old fashioned G1 thank you. Japan would produce three further series and a one off OVA under the Transformers banner after we here in the west decide to drop the robot toy show like a forced divorce. OK, we have options here, but lets be a spoiled child and say… NO! I want more! I remember that other toyline/show from way back when… Challenge of the GoBots. But I want an anime! Was there a Japanese domestic market afternative version of the GoBots? The original toyline, also an import like Transformers, was named Machine Robo and the heavens speak, “Yes, you have an option.” Oh really? BOOM! Oh hey… look what showed up on our laps this time round. Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos has come over today to play.

MRRoC_2This show is so freakin’ entertaining, cliche and goofy. Just a whole barrel of FUN! Machine Robo embrace’s everything… sentient transforming robots, humanoid non-transforming robots, power-up super robots and the Devil Satan 6. Devil Satan 6? These kids are the usual bad guys you see every week from the Gyandlar Empire doing all the dirty work and going up against our band of heroes who live on the planet of Chronos. Ah hence the name of the title. These heroes include Rom Stol (our main hero and kind of like Casshan, or Megaman), his sister Reina, Blue Jet (who is actually red and a badass swordsman), Rod Drill (nice name, is that a drill in your pocket, or…?) and Jim (Reina’s bodyguard/ride). Who came up with the names of this cast? Now this pertains to the first half of the show, then things change and we get even more characters, a redemptive villain and a more serious plot. Just one question remains… what is this Hyribead everyone is looking for? I leave that for you to find out.

MRRoC_3Now all of the stated above sounds interesting enough, but this did not solidify my interest in this show. One big, HUGE!, factor sold me on this anime and that was the way Rom Stol made an entrance. These are never at the beginning of the show, but instead occur somewhere in the middle or near the end when Rom is about to open up a can of whoop ass. First we have to take a cue from spaghetti western’s and throw in some mariachi music with emphasis on the guitar and trumpet. Next we need to see our villains as stunned and confused. Then we need Rom to recite some over the top philosophical speech, lets use the one from episode two as an example , “What keeps you from bending to evil’s violent ways, the spirit of justice one uses to fight fear is what people call freedom.” Then the baddies reply with, “Who are you?” or “Who said that?” Rom’s only response before jumping in to attack is, “You don’t deserve to know my name.” I eat it up every single time.

Now what about that opening credit sequence? It can rival any Shonen Jump or mecha show combined. After all this minute and a half sequence is selling us on a hybrid of Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, Transformers and super robots. If only it had magical girls and big hair as well then it would maybe be the greatest average anime of all time. And finally that ending theme… woo yeah that’s a great dance track, “Sweet dreams forever…”. Come on you know you want to shake your booty at the end of every episode. 😉

MRRoC_4Toy shows often have the reputation of being a dime a dozen. They are throwaway, disposable and serve the purpose for quick marketing hype. Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos is guilty as charged in regards to these characteristics, but it is worth my dime every single time. I think we look pretty good together and you think our shoes are of leather (actually we got canvas, Converse style)… sorry, but I had to throw in some of the The Who’s Substitute lyrics because… when it comes to a substitute for G1 TransformersMachine Robo: Revenge of Chronos is a winner!

#88 : Dragon’s Heaven

DH_11980s OVAs… everyone and anyone had an opportunity to create one so long as you had an idea. Similar to the burgeoning Alternative Rock scene that was starting to take hold in the west, Japan’s animation market gave opportunities for designers and animators to take up the directors chair. As an example, if M.D. Geist is one expression of a mecha designer given free reign to create a little project where that individual has total control, then Dragon’s Heaven is the alternative. For the case of M.D. Geist, Koichi Ohata created what is perhaps the greatest worst schlock-fest anime with an anti-hero villian as our protagonist. And as for Dragon’s Heaven, Makoto Kobayashi would create something a little more tender and… special.

DH_2Special?… so Dragon’s Heaven, what makes you so appealing? The first five or so minutes begin with live action footage of a stop motion model of a mech, which details the back story of a post war world before coming into full cel animation to show we are now in the present. How odd to begin our ‘cartoon’ this way, but it works; almost like a low budget Jim Henson styled intro from say the Dark Crystal. The main animated section continues afterward for a half hour and details how a sentient robot, Shaian, wakes up after a long slumber to become reunited with a new pilot. This pilot is a young girl, Ikuru, who happens to stumble upon this dinosaur, or perhaps dragon?, of a robot. Together they save the world from Shaian’s former adversary and live happily ever after. Afterwards there is about ten more minutes of live action which documents the creation of the beginning of the OVA.

DH_3Dragon’s Heaven is cute and cliche, but its one of those heart warming stories that needs to be in mecha more often. You know the type of show where your best friend is a giant robot and the both of you do everything together and watch out for each other. Not unlike a sweeter Gigantor/Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo or Giant Gorg. Dragon’s Heaven reminds me of the thesis project I would have killed to have made when I was in school. Not that I studied animation, but just the fact of the simplicity of the piece and how it was presented is very attractive. Flat bright colors and a sparse esthetic to the backgrounds add to the lo-fi atmosphere. Somehow this kind of feels a little familiar? It was only looking through Makoto Kobayashi’s resume online that it hit me. Of course, face palming myself… Birth. Oh how I love that OVA as well! So that was Kobayashi’s mecha designs on Birth… you learn something everyday. That being said, Dragon’s Heaven is a close distant cousin to Birth by way of Kobayashi? I approve.

DH_4Many anime often end up being called buried treasure, but Dragon’s Heaven is the truest definition. Made by AIC, this one gets lost in between the bigger and more epic Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis series. Released in 1988, Dragon’s Heaven had competition from high budget giant OVA productions like Gunbuster and Patlabor. This little one had to come up against many a giant back in the day and yet Dragon’s Heaven still lives on because of word of mouth. I am proud to be one of the few to continue this legacy. Dragon’s Heaven… it’s that little old anime from 1988 that you can’t help but love.