#126 : Magical Angel Creamy Mami

cm_1To be forever young… is it truly possible? My two cents says that without question and I will stake everything on it, that all magical girls do remain forever young. The pride and joy as well as perhaps the biggest backbone for all that is shojo in anime, the magical girl, is a genre and an archetype without peer. The 1980s witnessed a rebirth and reinvention of the magical girl and one in particular would be a leading example for one particular studio as well as a generation. In 1983, Studio Pierrot would marry magical girls into the world of the pop idol with Magical Angel Creamy Mami… thus a legend was born.

cm_2Two things hit me when I watched this show. First it’s adorable; can’t deny that. Though when you mention to people you are watching a classic title like Magical Angel Creamy Mami, especially those who are not in the know about anime in general, they may think it is some sort of porn title. IT’S NOT!!! Cream Lemon yes, Creamy Mami NO! This is a sweet wholesome show, something you can watch with the whole family… just an awkward title. And second, did Jem and the Holograms derive any influence from this show? Magic transformations and pop music idols are rampant in both shows. Maybe its a coincidence? Although to be frank both shows are completely different in approach, but I could not help but find a parallel between two shows made around the same time. Anyway on with the main program…

cm_3Miss Yuu Morisawa… our protagonist… a plain jane, average in many ways and very independent, but in a sweet way. She does not technically stand out, even to the boy that she is infatuated with (shame on you Toshio), yet behind the normality there lurks much potential. I appreciate that she is an opposite to the popular Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon). Yuu is not quote, a dumb blonde, a ditz… annoying. Perhaps this is more than likely why I have issue with watching Sailor Moon. Yuu is the type of character I can identify with, I can root for and also hold a series together. Often times a show is as good as it’s cast, story and plot can be interchangeable, with the main character acting as a bedrock, perhaps the identity of a show itself. It was you Yuu Morisawa that made me love Creamy Mami.

Blessed with magical powers from outer space (Feather Star… nice name for a planet), Yuu is given her traditional magic wand within a fancy compact and two cute mini alien cats as guardians, which aid her as she turns from a ten year old into a glamorous sixteen year old with a singing voice and purple hair. PURPLE HAIR… love it! Yet, this power is only granted for one year. Our story thus creates a dichotomy. Average school and pop princess must find a balance in both scheduling, and knowing one’s true identity. Yuu is level headed enough to know that Mami is still Yuu and not get lost into the world of celebrity as it at times can get ridiculous. Not a bad twist of fortune for the daughter of a family that runs a local crepe shop.

cm_4Underneath all the magical girl fun, the great color pallet used, the slapstick comedy and the danceable music, we have a romance. Perhaps even a love triangle, that is between two people, yet three identities. Again I have to reference Jem for that one. Yuu and Toshio are made for each other yet there are sparks that fly, but when the moments are right, there is true love. Be on watch near the middle of the episode running for a great plot twisting that will not again play out until the near end. The entire show turns upside down as the secret of Mami is revealed to a special someone.

Magical Angel Creamy Mami opened the flood gate for Studio Pierrot’s other mahou shojo shows that featured Persia (Magical Fairy Persia), Emi (Magical Star Magical Emi)  and Yumi (Magical Idol Pastel Yumi) later in the decade. But there is only one original and that is you Mami. Shine bright forever! Between you, Minmei (Macross) and Eve (Megazone 23), I have my power trio of pop idols that help keep me young… FOREVER!

#122 : Swan Lake

SW_1I call to court the fact that Disney has too much of a stranglehold on the so called ‘Princess’ genre. Are there any princesses left that don’t belong to Disney? … any hands in the audience? … Oh, Miss Odette from Swan Lake, you are not part of the Disney pantheon, though Barbie has sure used your story and there is that Swan Princess movie too, but we won’t count these for the moment. Many tales of princesses, eh… lets say fairy tales, have been brought to life from the great artists of Japan, many of which came to life in the 1970s and 80s. Swan Lake is one of the many and in 1981 Toei’s adaptation would see a release in theaters.

SW_2Certain anime titles are with us since our beginnings. Swan Lake is one of the many titles that during my childhood in the 1980s became the genesis point for my love for Japanese animation. With TV series such as Voltron and Robotech and Toei’s Little Mermaid on VHS, Swan Lake would make its way into my consciousness via a chance TV broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. As a younger version of myself I recognized the character designs to be similar to many of the titles listed above and without the knowledge of what or where Swan Lake came from, I enjoyed it. Such was the era before the internet and the word anime came into our lexicon… you loved a cartoon because it resonated with you and that was all that we went on back in the day.

SW_3Based on the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, expect to see fine visuals mixed with the classic and powerful, yet refined music of Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake is a love story between two star crossed lovers, a handsome prince and a captive princess who has been enchanted to become a swan by day and a girl by night in the clutches of an evil sorcerer. …and… don’t forget the love story between a pairing of two squirrels as well. And yes those two little ones do play a part into the story beyond just being cute animal characters. This is classic romanticism, yet kind of old hat as it is about a guy rescuing a girl in captive. It’s a time and tested formula, yet it is nice to see the roles reversed. That being said I have nothing against the formula this time round as this story can also hold more esoteric meaning beyond the exoteric surface. Fairy tales and myths are filled with esoteric concepts and add a BIG reason for me to revisit these classic stories again for another frame of reference.

SW_4And what of a supposed ‘Black Swan’? Let’s throw a monkey wrench into this entry. Odette our heroine is so innocent, dressed in white, passive, blonde hair… she is the essence of clarity and purity as a symbolic figure. Hence why Rothbart, the sorcerer, finds her so attractive as she is the total opposite to his dark ways and look. A true essence of polarity. AND… he is one dirty old man for wanting a young trophy wife as a status symbol. Ecchi! A very similar dynamic to Vampire Hunter D with Count Magnus Lee and young Doris. But what of this ‘Black Swan’ mentioned earlier? Rothbart has a daughter at about the same age as Odette, Odile. She may be my favorite character as she is the ‘bad’ girl. Well not bad, just independent, dark and gothic and a little conniving. Her daddy can have Odette, though Odile thinks its odd, but that leaves her to be with that stud of a Prince. It must be his haircut that makes him so popular? Anime and romance… it’s never simple.

True unconditional love and magic under the moonlight mixed with heroic virtue and a classic soundtrack. You know you want to watch? … Swan Lake you were with me since my salad days of youth and you still hold a place in my collection and my present. If Disney ever makes claim to do a version of Swan Lake they are welcome, but I will more than likely stay with my old friend out of respect.

#116 : Aim for the Ace (TV series)

AftAtv_1The sun beats down as sweat drips from your forehead onto your hands. Those hands are gripping a tennis racket and as you pant for a moment of breathe you concentrate your stare upwards to your opponent. It’s your turn to serve, its match point and you are about to finish the game of your life. … (shakes head) … Wow, daydreaming really takes your mind away from where you are. Almost as if you are in the ‘game’ so to speak; the game of tennis in this instance. We are not here to discuss the actual sport itself, but an anime about a girl’s rise into the world of high school tennis. Serve, smash, volley… welcome to the original TV adaptation of Aim for the Ace.

AftAtv_2For shojo sports anime, Aim for the Ace is perhaps the grand dame of the genre. The elder spokeswoman, yet not the originator. A volleyball themed series from 1969, Attack No. 1, is from my research the first anime to show girls in the world of sport. Aim for the Ace is perhaps remembered better because of the popular and excellent film adaptation from 1979, but this entry will look at the previously released TV series of 1973. Both tell the same story with a small amount of variation to story, both were created at TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) under the direction of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) and both are hallmark titles representing the growing sophistication of anime in the 1970s. The movie may have a more technically sophisticated presentation (which is ‘SO’ important in our HD obsessed world), but the TV series has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that I found endearing.

AftAtv_3Like many sports entries, Aim for the Ace is a simple coming of age story. Our heroine Hiromi Oka, though being a complete amateur (and at times a klutz), wins a spot on the coveted varsity team at Nishi High School. Nishi’s coach Jin Munakata sees much potential in the abilities of Hiromi, which in typical shojo fashion starts a soap opera of drama between the other girls on the team. Kyoko Otawa, in particular, would loss her spot on the varsity squad, which brings out a very jealous and deceptive character. And then there is the queen herself, the best player on Nishi’s squad, Reika Ryuzaki a.k.a. Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly). At first, Rieka lives up to the sempai relationship towards Hiromi by becoming a shining example to follow. Yet when Hiromi’s skills begin to improve and challenge those of Reika’s is when we see the dark side of the beautiful butterfly. Needless to say the greater length of this TV series lends itself to more story and character development compared to the movie.

AftAtv_4Visually, Aim for the Ace is a great example of manga come to life. Gorgeous watercolor like backgrounds and rougher lines push the look of being hand made. There is a simplicity within the rawness that makes it feel honest and have a lot of heart. So while this may have been par for the course for animation back in the day, it is welcome to see a cartoon not look too overly polished and sophisticated like many productions of today. Then again this was all completed under the direction of Osamu Dezaki and I have many times commented on how much I enjoy the way he approaches animation. Dezaki knows just how to make it all look so… so… so damn good!

Much like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, Aim for the Ace was cancelled early due to low ratings (well thats what Wikipedia says!). All three series through the effort of loyal fans, reruns and eventual film adaptations would become legends. Often in our current glut of all that we have nowadays, how often does this opportunity of a second chance gets to come to a fruition. But much like many of these other shows from the 1970s, Aim for the Ace would get it’s second chance, but if you ask me, it was just right for what it had to bring to the table the first time around as well. I loved the movie, but I also loved this TV series for what it was, still is and always will be… a forerunner… a classic… a beautiful anime!

#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#104 : Aim for the Ace (movie)

AftA_movie1I often find that the older I get, an interest in professional sports and following a team, or such, is not something to aspire towards. Yet I respect sport and competition and my love for anime is strong, if only there were anime about sports… oh, yeah there IS! And LOTS of them too. There are several I have enjoyed and are quite good as well. And then there are entries that are legendary, hall of famers so to speak. Aim for the Ace is part of that higher echelon of sports legends. As I make my way through the original 1973 Aim for the Ace TV series I had to stop and take a break to revisit the cinema version of 1979.

AftA_movie2The influence of this movie is epic and goes well beyond the sport of tennis and sports anime itself. I am sure Studio Gainax and a young Hideaki Anno loved this story because Aim for the Ace is written all over Gainax’s first OVA release and Anno’s directorial debut Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. The name totally gives away the influence, but also the story in and of itself is a close facsimile except tennis was swapped out for a sci-fi world with mechs. Still in both stories the concept of aiming to be your best! And not just the best in your own frame of reference, but also to your fellow peers and most importantly, to a mentor who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself. It’s a type of story that never gets old because don’t we all need a reminder to pick ourselves up and try again if we stumble?

AftA_movie3Aim for the Ace’s story begins with it’s starry eyed protagonist Hiromi Oka, a new student at Nishi High School. She and her best friend Maki join the illustrious and highly noted tennis club and soon she has her eyes on two particular individuals. The first being the all-star of the girl’s varsity team, the amazingly talented, most beautiful and girl with perhaps the best hair in all of anime (seriously where do you get all that volume and curls?), Reika Ryuzaki better known as Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly, so fitting). The second is Nishi’s new coach, Jin Munakata, a former champion, who is a tough yet fair mentor whose presence brings out a little fear and sweat. His first objective is to test the team, to see which of the hundred or so members are most fit to play on the school’s varsity squad. Hiromi is still very much a rookie and when her time comes to test her skills, she connects with one ball that impresses the coach in more ways than one. So much so that she lands a spot on the varsity team… wha, say what? Now the drama, no, more like soap opera begins!

AftA_movie4While watching the original TV series concurrently with this film, I could not help but notice the jump in animation quality and complexity. The fluidity of the film is a quantum leap from the TV series and could be down to a number of factors. First, the idea that you go from TV to movie is obvious since there is often a budget increase. The second is the six year gap between TV to the movie. This second reason is a strong point to a theory I have about how the 1970s is perhaps the most important decade in all of Japanese animation. Stories grew into more sophistication, many traditions and cliches settled themselves during this time and drawing and animation began to mature and become more complex. Such an awesome decade and Aim for the Ace is a great example of the growth of anime during this era. Ah to be born in the ‘70s… wait I was born then… 1979 no less… so that means I am the same age as this movie… interesting!

Now for the final wrap up… Aim for the Ace, is based on a great shojo manga (check!), was made at the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsha (check!), was directed by the creative and artistic Osamu Dezaki (check!), and it still stands the test of time (double and triple check!). Aim for the Ace wins in straight sets!

#100 : Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Macross_1It’s #100 and I saved this one for this occasion. 🙂 In the far future of the year 1999… oh wait it’s 2018 now… don’t you hate it when the once thought of far future becomes a past memory? Well let pretend it’s 1982 once again, when a little show created by a bunch of anime and sci-fi fans hit the airwaves. Their story as stated before began in the year 1999 when suddenly a warp gate opens, bringing a behemoth of a spaceship into our local area of interstellar space. And much like a wild meteor with a mission, this ship came down like a speeding bullet onto a little island in the South Pacific. Ladies and gentlemen we humans are most definitely not alone anymore and this lone fictitious event in the sky is the beginning to THE most important anime in my whole fandom and life.

Macross_2Love is something you can’t describe with simple language and if you can, it really is not the passionate love you should feel from the bottom of your heart. In 1985, as an impressionable six year old, via an adaptation named Robotech, I fell in love with the most beautiful of space operas. NO, one of the greatest mecha anime ever. NO, the greatest love story that I have ever encountered. Well… maybe all three combined. I had experienced a story, characters and emotions that resonated with me on a level one cannot define. This was and still is a title many of us hold in the highest regards as something beyond special. It was one of my gateway anime and remains to this day the yardstick that I measure anything else I watch up to it… Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

Coming from my perspective and fandom and with all the variety of opinions already stating what happens in the show, the only thing I can give is what Macross has given to me on a personal level. Macross is not a television show, or even an anime. It is a part of my family, pure and simple; close knit family to be exact. These are my adopted brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and best friends. Even though the cast are not with me in the physical plane, they have been instrumental in keeping me alive, healthy and happy. Macross for me is the Beatles’ In My Life, “there are places I remember… some have gone and some remain… all these places have there moments… In my life, I love you more.” I don’t see this posting as another entry, this is a soliloquy in the form of a love letter.

Macross_3Much credit to Macross is given to Shojo Kawamori (way too much!) almost as if it was “his” project alone, which of course is NOT true! But again where did Macross come from… a manga, toyline, yada yada… nope? It was it’s own creation, completely original and influenced by a group of young creative fans. An almost proverbial otaku’s dream come true, the purest form of fan service. Not the emphasis on the usual definition of fan service, but the wanting to add reference upon reference making the story grand and sentimental. You can give credit to others like Noburo Ishiguru or Ichiro Itano, but one individual makes Macross very special (my opinion)… the greatest character designer ever (again my opinion), Haruhiko Mikimoto!

Macross_4Mikimoto’s eye designs are always what win me over. Beautiful eyes with a romantic quality, they glisten like stars in the night (Mikimoto insists it was a shojo influence). Therefore this is the best looking cast ever (my opinion yet again), particularly our main cast… the perfect trio, handsome Hikaru, elegent Misa and adorable Minmei. Beyond the ‘main’ cast you have a huge subsidiary group and all of them get a couple minutes to show their individuality, but I have only been speaking of those of us who are all Earth born. Macross, after all, is an epic space opera and humanity meets another race from a far off area of the universe. Remember that spaceship I mentioned earlier that crashed onto the Earth… it is of interest of giant alien race, the Zentradi.

Macross_5Thus the plot begins… a spaceship gets refurbished, an alien invasion leads humanity into outer space, a war ensues, a young girl’s dream of becoming a pop star comes true, a love triangle becomes difficult and the questioning of the origins of both humanity and the warlike Zentradi are tied to the mysterious Protoculture (not exactly the same thing as in Robotech folks)… and stretches over 36 episodes in total. Wow! Busy show indeed and never boring. No wonder Macross reached the tops of popularity since there is something for everyone to enjoy. But then again like I said before, this was a show made by fans of anime, manga and sci-fi. They knew which buttons to push to get the reactions which we all can identify with.

Macross_6Wait a minute… I forgot to go into detail about one important piece of Macross that I love. One word… MUSIC! Music plays a major role in the plot and the soundtrack is oh so good. I love music, I play music and great music in an anime is a thumbs up from my end. Kentaro Haneda’s orchestral work is inspiring and certain tracks, in particular Dog Fighter, are anthemic. The character of Minmei and her pop idol status was one of the first iterations of this character archetype. Love it or hate it, Macross would not be the same without Minmei as the cheerleader so to speak. She was the true star of Macross, yet not the major protagonist who was Hikaru. Her simple pop songs, a blast of culture more precisely, changes the course of events in this show. Love conquers all, literally.

The closing titles features a song called Runner, a sentimental ballad. And I will end this entry by saying that Macross and I have run together a long, long time (hard to admit you are getting older, but wisdom is worth the age!). Hand in hand, Macross and I will run forever. …with 100 postings down, it’s time to write another 100! 🙂

 

#87 : Maison Ikkoku

MI_1The tale of being young and finding your way in the world will never grow old. So many people believe their best years were in high school… my only word of advice… run from these people because so much of life is ahead of you. Every person and collective generation desires to create their own life outside of their families and root communities. We have a burning desire to aspire to certain goals, such as getting into college and graduating into a profession and become laser eyed focused to this type of a singular standard. And then for example, crazy neighbors cause a lot of distractions that break concentration. And then… just by chance the most attractive person you have ever seen enters your life. Hmm… this is starting to sound like Maison Ikkoku.

MI_2Rumiko Takahashi’s work is beloved the world over. Many of her ‘epic length’ series are standards for fans… any Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha fan reading? But what of Maison Ikkoku? The middle child between Urusei Yatsura and Ranma keeps the comedy Takahashi is known for and yet, it stands on it’s own. Instead of fantasy and science fiction we get a story set in a world we can all relate to. I don’t want to say the ‘real’ world, because ‘real’ and ‘reality’ are all derivative to our points of view, but perhaps the natural mundane world is a better fit. Oh the joys of being young and hungry for success and life in general. Maison Ikkoku is an awesome romantic comedy in line with others from that well remembered decade, including: Kimagure Orange Road and Touch.

MI_3Maison Ikkoku is at it’s core the story of one young man who is very ambitious. Yusaku Godai may not be the brightest light bulb in the batch, but he is quite determined to get into a university and become a school teacher. Yet studying is a little difficult while living at Maison Ikkoku. Godai has rowdy neighbors who often get drunk, yell and party all  throughout the night hours. Among them we have a bar hostess who often wears sexy lingerie when at home, an average house wife who has a penchant for alcohol and some guy who sneaks into rooms through open passages and is a complete mystery. No one knows what he does for a living, or does he even work at all? Godai quickly decides that enough is enough. His future should not revolve around these goofballs and he resolves to move out immediately. Then… fate happens. Out of nowhere and right before he is ready to step out the door a new manager arrives with her huge fluffy dog.

MI_4Say hello to Kyoko Otonashi, a young widower looking for a new start. She is a goddess in the eyes of Godai and so completely unavailable from his perspective. Kyoko is a little older, seems more mature and is… gulp… just to pretty to confess his love. Maybe, just maybe, if young Godai can get into a decent college and finish that teaching degree he may have a chance to show he can be a great partner. Poor Godai, you just do not have the confidence to confess your love to Kyoko. Just be yourself my friend, or get a little drunk to take the edge off. Hey wait a minute… that did happen in this show… one of the funniest moments in my book. Of course these pesky neighbors are in on the act as well and make things a little more difficult for our love sick hero. Also of mention is the eventual arrival of a rival suitor who comes from a well to do family and is a tennis instructor. Yusaku Godai, Kyoko Otonashi and Shun Mitaka… one of the best love triangles in all of anime.

Why does romance have to be so complicated? Often times it is due to the lack of communication between those who only desire is to be honest between themselves. We laugh at the silly mishaps between these characters because we have all be in similar circumstance… admit it. It is best to laugh at ourselves through an outside perspective to know that in the end we are only human. Maison Ikkoku is more than just a 1980s romantic comedy anime, it’s a story about you and me.